Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 13- Missouri State Park System and Bowl Season

As I was racking my brain about where I would donate today in honor of "Dump Guy," I had an e-mail come in from my sister-in-law.  She had quickly suggested yesterday's donation via text message, but she had another place in mind that she really wanted to use.  Perfect!  This can be tied into some sort of opposite-of-the-dump-donation scheme. 

Today's donation was made to the Missouri State Park System in honor of Ash, our future game warden.  She explained the importance of today's organization beautifully.

A special meaning? Just read their mission statement, and that should say enough. "The mission of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources is to protect, preserve and enhance Missouri's natural, cultural and energy resources for present and future generations." There are so many unique places in every state, but most people don't know about them. The state parks try to capture these areas and make them known and available to the public. And thats pretty much what I dedicate my life to... that and protecting the resources and the people who use them.

We're on board.  We're also proud of Ashley for the work she is doing each and every day. : )  As always, here's the link because I know you're just dying to donate! 

https://www.dnr.mo.gov/parksdonation/

******
I've mentioned many a time that fall/Thanksgiving/college football season is my favorite time of year.  I must admit that when the season was over this year, I was a tad bit relieved.  This was partly due to the fact that the last half of the season got a little rough for our boys and for us as fans (although we are still psyched for the future of the program).  This was also partly due to the fact that I might now actually be productive and get something accomplished on Saturdays.  During football season, Tom and I are up in time to watch Game Day, and we don't go to bed until the last game of the day is over.  We don't get our lives back until after the last game of the season has been played.  Does that sound a little sad?  Hmm.... maybe.  I wouldn't have it any other way.

After a brief hiatus, it is thrilling to have a few weeks of college football back.  I was a bit disappointed while watching the first few bowl games because they weren't very exciting and I'm not in a pool this year.  How do I know who to root for if I don't have my picks in front of me?

Little by little, however, my enthusiasm is returning.  This was a fun day for college football.  If you watched the Tennessee- North Carolina game (or even the Kansas State game), you know what I mean.  It ended... and then it wasn't over at all.  After a review, officials discovered that North Carolina had spiked the ball with one second left, so they allowed the team one more second for one more play.  This was all the Tarheels  needed to kick the field goal that would tie the game and send it into overtime.  It was crazy and exciting and fun to watch, and I don't even care at all about either of the teams.

The game had more than one overtime and eventually ended in a Tarheel win.  ESPN did an excellent job with sports image juxtaposition by flashing between the crying Tennessee QB and the celebrating North Carolina team.  As the montage ran, the phrase "...the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat..." danced through my head.  Have I mentioned how much I love college sports and college football?  Oh, only 2000 times?

As I type, we're watching the Nebraska-Washington game, and UW has somehow managed to hold onto their lead into halftime.  This very well may add to the excitement and fun bank of college football today.  For the first time in a month, I will have sweet dreams of touchdowns and YAC and victorious celebrations (but not excessive celebrations... ahem...too soon?). 

I love college football, and yes, I would marry it. 

Thank you, bowl season, you made my day.  

Day 12- PAWS and BD's Mongolian Grill

I wrote about Ashley Ferri last year because of the way she opens gifts.  She really makes the givers of each gift feel as if they have chosen and wrapped up treasures.  It's just plain nice, and we had another lovely Christmas with her.

I thought that maybe she would also be good at giving, and I asked her to choose a charity for us to donate to in her honor today.  She didn't disappoint.  Ashley asked us to send her donation to the shelter where we adopted General from, and we were happy to oblige.  The organization is called PAWS (Pets are Worth Saving) in Anna, IL, and they do great work.  They are a not-for-profit group, and it is also important to us that they are a no kill shelter.  They count on donations of money, food, and supplies as their primary source of funding to keep them going.  They gave us our General, one of the most precious gifts we have received to date, and all they asked in return was a small donation.  We have been donating there regularly ever since, especially when they send us extra flyers with pictures of adorable animals on them that say times are tough.  The work that they do to rescue and care for animals is oh so important.

http://www.petfinder.com/shelters/pawspaws.html

Here's the baby picture we found online that got us interested in our sweet boy and PAWS three years ago this winter.  If this doesn't make you want to donate, then I just don't know what would.  I hope that Ashley squeals with delight about this donation the way that she does when she opens presents. : )


******

It's been a while since I've done a math lesson.  Here goes.

Carolyn + Ryan + Love + Monogolian BBQ + Tom + Me + Love= a wonderful evening with great friends

I don't know who this BD guy is who keeps popping up all over the place, but he sure does know what he's doing with a grill.  There are few things as exciting as cramming a bowl full of all the steak and vegetables I can, having someone grill it, stuffing it into a tortilla with rice, and seeing how much of it I can fit into my stomach.  Add catching up with some of my favorite people, and this made for quite an enjoyable dinner.  The extra credit bonus is that we discovered that Tom and Ryan share a deep love for kitten videos.  They just may end up being as good of friends as we are!

Thank you, BD's Mongolian Grill, you made my day.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 11- A Hole in the Roof Foundation and Sweatsuit

Mitch Albom published a new book last year, and I bought it as soon as it came out.  It was called Have a Little Faith, and I figured that it would be an excellent Christmas gift for someone. 

True confession of a Mitch Albom fanatic- I kept it for myself.  I read almost the whole thing in one sitting.  It touched me deeply and inspired me in every way and made me want to be a better everything.  I friggin' loved it.  You should probably read it.  That's your vacation homework.  Quiz on Monday.

I whole-heartedly support just about anything my buddy Mitch does, so of course I am thrilled to donate to his charity, A Hole in the Roof Foundation.  This charity ties in directly with everything he wrote about in Have a Little Faith (the foundation itself is named after a church he profiled), and it is based in my home state.  Here's what they do.

"The mission of A Hole in the Roof Foundation is to help faith groups of every denomination who care for the homeless to repair the spaces in which they carry out their work and offer their services. The seed that gave root to the Foundation – and also inspired its name – is the I Am My Brother's Keeper church in Detroit, MI. Here, despite a gaping hole in the roof, and no matter how harsh the weather, the pastor tends to his community to provide spiritual nourishment and a sanctuary for the homeless."

http://saydetroit.org/saydetroitorg/aholeintheroof/
http://mitchalbom.com/d/node/5646

If you haven't donated with me yet, this would be a great one.  I'm just saying...
I want to be Mitch Albom when I grow up.

******
We made another trek back to Michigan today for more Christmas.  We are totally and completely spoiled, I know, but at least we try not to take it for granted.  This evening's gift unwrapping resulted in another embarrassment of riches.  I know I use that phrase a lot lately.  I really like it. :)

Usually during the drive, my food baby and the button on my jeans declare all out war on one another.  This ends up in all kinds of turmoil and a number of different unpleasant situations.  When the button wins, I end up with dents in the food baby that hurt well after the jeans have been discarded for the day.  When the food baby wins, I end up forgetting and walking into a restaurant/gas station/public place with my button undone and my fly unzipped. 

My solution?  A sweatsuit.  Since I didn't think I had anyone to impress during my eight hours in the car, I donned my gray painting pants and a Michigan sweatshirt for the ride today.  There was no power struggle.  Food baby and the pants were fast friends and nestled gently together the whole way.  Sweatpants and shirt kept me warm as I ran the dog around and pumped gas.  They even kept my core temperature up for the four hours that I was a passenger, the time when I'm usually really cold.

Even though I was made fun of for this comfy suit of sweats, I was quite pleased with our day together.  I may invite this outfit out for another car ride or two.  If the next dates go as well as this first one did, I'm totally sold.

Thank you, sweatsuit, you made my day.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 10- MusiCares and Hot Chocolate

Let's see if you can follow this logic.  I wrote about my iPod on this day last year and how it helped us to get through the looooong drive home from Michigan.  Okay, maybe it's more like looong, not looooong, but you get the point.  One of the songs that helped us through was "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz.  Love that guy.  I looked up information about which charities Mr. Mraz is involved in so that he could help to "pick" for today.  One of the organizations that stuck out and seemed to fit was MusiCares.

"MusiCares provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. MusiCares' services and resources cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, and each case is treated with integrity and confidentiality. MusiCares also focuses the resources and attention of the music industry on human service issues that directly impact the health and welfare of the music community."

http://www.grammy.org/musicares

That's where our donation will go today.  Sound good?

******  
 I finally got the hot chocolate and fire I was promised today.  It had mini marshmallows (the hot chocolate, not the fire).  Yay!  


Sure, the fireplace made the whole house smell like gas (um... by the way, please check on us if I don't post tomorrow), and we had to turn it off before we could truly enjoy the fire.  Yes, I heard a crash and an "Uh oh!" from Tom whilst he was making the hot chocolate in the kitchen.  I hollered but did not investigate, and everything seemed as if it was okay.  These things just add to the memory making.  Come to think of it, that gas might just make our memories of this evening even more euphoric... 


Thank you, hot chocolate, you made my day.



Day 9- St. Louis Area Foodbank and Guy on the Phone at Gingham's

Today's donation task was an easy one.  I had to find something that would tie in with my thankfulness for "Foods from Home" for last year.  While I am grateful to have both a home and food every day, I understand that many people go without one or the other-- or both.  There is a wonderful organization in our area that is working hard each day to fight hunger in our community, the St. Louis Foodbank.  Tom became acquainted with this place when he volunteered there earlier this year, and he has seen the amazing work they do firsthand.  Our donation will be going to the St. Louis Foodbank today, and we only wish that we could give more.

If you'd like to add on (yes, please!), here's the website.  http://www.stlfoodbank.org/  With just $1, the foodbank can provide four meals.  That means our measly $5 could provide twenty.  With $5 more, we could be up to 40!  Who's with us?

You can also search the database on the website to find a list of agencies closer to your own home.  It's just that simple.  Why not?

******
 We flew back to STL from DAL from SAT this evening.  Our lives are marked by airport language and highways these days.  We were eager for some dinner on our ride home at 10:30 pm, and we wanted to avoid fast food at all costs.  Luckily, our favorite mom 'n' pop restaurant is open 24 hrs. a day and is located just off of 70 and 94 on our way home.  Even more luckily, they serve excellent homestyle food.  We are regulars there after Sunday church, but we have also learned from experience that the grilled cheese and soup dinner is worth a little drool. 

I called to place our order while Tom was scraping off the car (hey, I offered and started scraping, but he took over).  A man answered.

"Hello!  Gingham's!"  He sounded as friendly as I had expected he would.  It was as if I had called an old friend or relative.  In fact, depending on which relative we're talking about, he may have even been more friendly.
 "Hi.  May I place a takeout order, please?"
"Of course!  Of course!  What can I get for ya?"  I asked what the soup specials were, and he recited them with glee.  I ordered, and he repeated it back.  At the conclusion of our conversation...
"Ok, it will be ten minutes.  Thank you!  We look forward to seeing you."

It wasn't even what he said, it was how he said it.  It was as if he really did appreciate our business, and he really was happy to talk to me... while he was working the night shift... the day after Christmas... at a little restaurant where he probably doesn't make much...  none of those things came through in his voice at all.  He was just a guy who treated me kindly and seemed to enjoy his job.  That's just plain refreshing.

Thank you, guy on the phone at Gingham's, you made my day.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Day 8- Student Fund and Christmas

Even before I became a certified teacher, I was planning.  I was constantly tossing around ideas in my head and buying supplies when something cute struck my fancy and figuring out how I might decorate my room... all of it.  Now that I am legit, the thinking continues.  I must admit that I get a little annoyed when people comment around this time of year (or Spring Break or summer, for that matter) about how they wished they were teachers because they want the vacations.  The thing is, unless you are a teacher or have lived with one, you have no idea how many hours it takes to be an effective teacher.  If I'm not grading or lesson planning, I am thinking about the kids.  I am a workaholic during the week, and I will spend a great deal of time on my coveted "break" doing things to get ready for next semester.  It's possible that I care about the kids too much sometimes, and I could focus more on my own life.  Yet, I can't help but think that the day I stop caring too much is the day that I should find another profession.

It is absolutely wonderful to have a mother who is a teacher.  We share ideas and war stories and experiences.  Beyond that, quite simply, she gets it.  Again, if you're not a teacher or are not close with one, you may not know what "it" is.  We do, though.  This became even more clear when I heard back from my mom about where she wanted the donation for today to go to in honor of her family.

Every day teachers see ways that we could make the world of a student a kinder place.  Some kids need shoes, as you've already mentioned in your blog.  Some need lunch money. All kids love a trip to a candy jar or a pizza party to celebrate their achievement.  Others can't afford to buy things like a shirt with the school name/logo.  I would like to give you a check, knowing that you'll know what to do with it. 

She totally gets it.  I am touched and honored by the trust she has bestowed upon me to spend our money on my kids.  Once again, I am reminded of what makes my parents so darn special.  I already had a wish list of things I would like to do for my kids who have so little and need so much, and now the wheels are in constant motion about what I might do with some money added into the equation.

I don't want to get too much into my specific plans because I want to preserve the privacy of my students.  What I will say is that one of the students I wrote about this fall has a birthday coming up in January.  I know this because the student mentioned it to me every single day before break for about a month.  I will use part of the donations from today to make absolute sure that this is a special birthday.  Given what I know about this kid, the acknowledgment at school may be all there is.  As for the rest of the donations, I will do my best to make students feel safe and valued and loved.  When I put my ideas into action, if they are things I think I can share, I will. :)

If you'd like to add to today's donations, clean out your closet.  I know many male and female students in need of basic winter items- hats, gloves, boots, coats, all of it.  I also know students who need clothes that fit, shoes with no holes, and a variety of other things that I just know are sitting around unused in closets all over the place.  Your local schools would be over the moon to accept whatever you have, and my school would be too.  Let me know if you have anything and are just looking for a place to send it!  

******

Christmas.  I don't mean to sound lazy, but if I have to explain to you why Christmas made my day today, then you probably won't get it anyway.  Does that make sense?

Tom and I have joked for the past few weeks that we were failures at Christmas this year.  It took us more than a week to make time to decorate our tree and our house.  We made cookie dough, chilled it, and never actually turned it into cookies.  Again, we had a million other things to do.  We ended up eating half of the dough and having to throw the rest of it out before we left.  In keeping with our tradition of the past few years, we decided on our big ticket gift... but... you guessed it, we never ended up buying it (although I should add that Tom did a lovely job with the "stocking stuffers" that he did buy).  Last year I had all of our gifts purchased and most of them wrapped by Thanksgiving.  This year we shopped last minute (last minute for us, at least), and I still have gifts I need to wrap for when we head up to Michigan.

The awesome part about Christmas is, even though we "failed' this year, it was still an excellent Christmas.  All of the stuff I mentioned is just that-- stuff.  None of it has to do with the true meaning of Christmas.

Luke 2:9-12
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.


We held hands and prayed and sang and laughed in Mass.  We delighted in family and ate all day.  We found great joy in the joy our gifts generated.  We did not fail after all.  Not even a little bit.

Merry Christmas!  Joy to the World! 

Thank you, Christmas, you made my day.

Day 7- American Heart Association and Hoelscher Family

The Christmas Eve 2009 blog was about my Mierzwa family, of course.  I have spent more than twenty Christmas Eves in the house of my Grandma Ginny cracking up at the... um... individuality and wackiness of my family.  For this donation, I asked my dad to think about someplace that might be fitting to donate to in honor of his family.  He made an excellent choice:  

This will be the 34th Christmas the Mierzwa family will celebrate without my father and your grandfather, Frank Mierzwa, being physically present, but he will be there in our thoughts and stories.  Heart disease took him from us, so I think a donation to the American Heart Association would be appropriate.  Ongoing research and improved treatments have helped many other families keep their husbands, fathers, and grandpas around a lot longer, and it would be nice to support that continued work.  I will be sending a check to them on top of your donation.

 I think it is absolutely wonderful that we can honor the family in this way, and I am elated that another donation will be added to my own.  That's what I hope for every day!  I never got to meet my grandpa, but I know that he must have been a great man because he was a part of raising my dad.  From my own father's incredible generosity and spirit, it is clear that he comes from good stock :).


Here's what your donation, added to ours, could do
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/

******
One of the tough things about being a married couple and a unit is learning to make sacrifices in order to do what is best for both people.  This becomes particularly clear around the holidays when time split equitably amongst ALL families is a must.  Tom shared with me that he had a conversation with one of his newlywed coworkers about this issue this year.  His buddy was lamenting the fact that he would have to miss his own lively holiday time with family in order to make it to his wife's family's celebration instead.  He was contemplating what the rules were and trying to figure out if there was anything that he could do to just continue to spend Christmas with his own family each year. 


We're becoming pros at navigating the great Christmas compromise after a number of Christmases together.  Tom let his friend know that you just have to make it work for both of you.  Sure, we'd both always choose to be with our own families above all else, but we don't make choices that way anymore.  We're a pair now.  We alternate Thanksgivings and Christmases between Michigan and Texas and wherever else our families happen to be each year.  We are lucky enough to have a week and a half off for break, which means that we can make it to see both families.  


It's hectic, and it's crazy.  We are constantly flying and driving and scheduling when we might be able to see as many people as possible.  By the end of break, we need a vacation from our vacation, and we wonder where the time went.  We are ragged from travel and still have laundry and unpacking and cleaning and grocery shopping to do when we get home from it all.  However, and this is a big however, I always come back to the fact that it is completely and totally worth it.  We are blessed to be able to spend time with BOTH families and all the people we love.


This was Tom's Christmas, so we spent Christmas Eve at his grandma's house near Corpus Christi.  I, of course, missed all of the fun at my Grandma Ginny's house.  I did not get to see the cheesy potatoes set on fire (although Amanda told me no luck on that this year), and I did not get to chat up the strays (people, not animals) who inevitably seem to wander into our celebration each year.  I missed my grandma and my cousins and aunts and uncles and the ridiculous gifts and the table of food and the Midnight Mass with Grandma Katie and all of the rest of it.  I did get a small taste of Grandma Ginny in her full glory on the phone, though.  "Merry Christmas!  Oh, sweetheart, we wish you were here!  It's probably a good thing that you're not, though, because there are no seats for you.  Ok, bye."


I also got something else.  I am learning a whole new set of traditions with a whole new family who will hopefully become old friends.  I got to be a part of the process of hugs and squeals on the way in.  I played Christmas Bingo (and didn't win... while Tom won twice).  I ate the traditional seafood dinner and sat at the kid table with all of the other twenty-something "kids."  I posed for family pictures.  I participated in the gift exchange and had gifts taken away just like every other member of the family.  I sang Christmas carols from the books they've used for years, including the family favorite "My Hand on Myself."  I attended Mass.  Most importantly, I felt welcomed and comfortable.  I felt as if this huge family had enough love that they could share some with another person.  Heck, they probably have enough for at least an additional ten people.  


There's a line in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" that I always think about when I'm with the Hoelscher family.  Andie, the main female character, is supposed to make Ben, the main man, fall in love with her.  Then, she's supposed to do all of the things that women do to push men away in order to try to get him to dump her.  The plan obviously starts to fall apart (it is a romantic comedy, after all), and this really begins to become clear when Andie goes home to visit Ben's family.  She wins them over, and the reality of her situation starts to hit her on the way home.


Ben: What's wrong? 
Andie: It's just that when your mom hugged me today..she really hugged me.....for winning a game of Bull****.

From the first time I met all of Tom's extended Texas family five holidays ago, I have felt as if they really hugged me.  Like they mean it.  They are warm and kind and funny and inviting.  It seems as if the fact that Tom loves me is enough for the rest of them.  It will never be easy to be away from my family for the holidays, but I am blessed that at least I married into a family like the Hoelschers.

Thank you, Hoelscher family, you made my day.



Merry Christmas!

Santa will be bringing Day 7 and Day 8 tomorrow when we get back to the Ferri homestead. :)

Merry Christmas! Rejoice!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 6- Allegiance Health and Erin

Last year at this time, we went to a basketball game and ended up in the ER.  My husband was given the terrifying task of driving precious cargo from Ann Arbor to Jackson, all the while hoping that something was not seriously wrong.  My dad spent a few days in the hospital.  I won't overshare and get into the reasons why because that's really not the important thing here.  What's important is that the people at Allegiance Health took care of him and got him home (albeit still in rough shape) for Christmas.

Today is an easy one.  We will be donating to Allegiance Health, of course.  I hope that they are continuing to take good care of the residents of Jackson and beyond and that someone else's dad will make it home for Christmas this year.

http://www.allegiancehealth.org/

******

My mother-in-law had a big birthday this year, and Tom and I wanted to make sure that we found some sort of meaningful gift that would fit the special birthday and make the special lady happy.  We decided that we'd find a top notch photographer to take some updated family pictures.  What mom doesn't love some beautiful pictures of her family?

We've had our photo session booked for an eternity, and today was finally the big day.  I could tell you how it went, but I like the photographer's perspective even better. :)

This afternoon I photographed a family who booked me many many moons ago as a gift for their mother. This was a first for me: ALL ADULTS! I've spent the last few hours laughing hysterically over the images so I may have found my calling in life...to photograph hilarious families. But, I won't share those just yet. ...Ferri family, I had fun and I hope you love your images. A few preview images coming right up...

 I don't want to post any of the pictures yet because Tom and I are the only people who have seen them.  However, suffice it to say that the preview has us looking forward to the rest of the pictures-- all 400 of them!  I am especially looking forward to our mustaches... intrigued yet?

 Thank you, Erin, you made my day. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Day 5- Vogrich and A Mid-Afternoon's Nap

I did a little online researching (er, stalking), and found a bio for Matt Vogrich (the object of last year's Day 5 affection) here.  After reading through his bio and discovering that he is involved in a few different charitable organizations, I made a donation here- Big Brothers Big Sisters..

You may still not have any idea who Vogrich is, even though he's getting some playing time this year, but surely you've heard of Big Brothers Big Sisters before.

"For over a century, Big Brothers Big Sisters has been helping change kids’ perspectives and giving them the opportunity to reach their potential. And we have over a century of volunteers, donors, and advocates just like you to thank.

It all started in 1904, when a young New York City court clerk named Ernest Coulter was seeing more and more boys come through his courtroom. He recognized that caring adults could help many of these kids stay out of trouble, and he set out to find volunteers. That marked the beginning of the Big Brothers movement.

At around the same time, the members of a group called Ladies of Charity were befriending girls who had come through the New York Children’s Court. That group would later become Catholic Big Sisters.

Both groups continued to work independently until 1977, when Big Brothers Association and Big Sisters International joined forces and became Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

More than 100 years later, Big Brothers Big Sisters remains true to our founders’ vision of bringing caring role models into the lives of children. And, today, Big Brothers Big Sisters currently operates in all 50 states—and in 12 countries around the world."

I think it's sweet that Vogrich is involved, and I'm sure that he gives his Little all kinds of reasons to look up to him. :)  I hope this year in the NCAA tournament (yes, please) he creates even more!

******
'Twas the day before the day before the day before Christmas.  We rose before dawn and before any alarm clock would have even thought of going off.  We were at the airport by 5 am.  Two flights and an hour long drive later, we arrived at the house of my in laws with a glorious Christmas sigh of relief.  Thank goodness for no delays and a relatively stress free trip!

After a scrumptious lunch, we afforded ourselves one of the smallest yet most wonderful luxuries.  We settled down for a mid-afternoon's nap.  It was warm and cozy and refreshing and just what the doctor ordered.  What a fabulous way to start break... at last!

Thank you, mid-afternoon's nap, you made my day. 

Day 4- Don the Shoe Salesman and Snowflakes

Last year I blogged about my quest for the perfect brown boots... blah blah blah.  The real point of the post was to recognize an amazingly calm and pleasant man who was working in a crazily hectic and unpleasant holiday retail work environment.

In honor of Don and in an attempt to think beyond adding to my own shoe collection, I have decided to donate to a charity called Shoes That Fit. 

"Shoes That Fit is helping kids improve their self-esteem and fit in at school by eliminating one of poverty’s most visible and debilitating marks." 

I see this issue firsthand at my own school.  We had a heartwarming moment earlier this year when one boy brought in a pair of gently used expensive shoes for another boy whose shoes had holes in them.  Neither one of them made a big deal about the whole thing.  They matter-of-factly carried out the exchange in the hallway while a few of us teachers looked on teary-eyed in the hallway.

http://www.shoesthatfit.org/

This charity receives no government funding and relies solely on donations that go straight to helping kids in schools across the country.  I'm sure as these kids come back from Christmas break and see all of the other kids in their new clothes and shoes, they would appreciate your help.  You may not know what it's like to walk a mile in their shoes, but you could help them to walk a mile in yours.

******
Now, on a mostly unrelated note...

My kids wrote "I Am" poems in class recently.  These poems followed a format that was designed to really get them to think about and express who they really are.  If it was taken seriously, I read things that really got down to the core of who my students are.  I was thrilled that most of my students actually did take it seriously.

In order to wrangle the kids yesterday, I had them make snowflakes.  They enjoyed this artsy craftsy departure from "real work," but I had my own plan in mind.  When the snowflakes were done, I had students attach them to construction paper and choose their favorite lines from their "I Am" poems (one per kid) to write underneath them. 

I hung all of these around the room today and did a walk through to really take a good look.  What I saw had me laughing and smiling and sighing and feeling the warm and fuzzies.  The snowflakes, as you will see, ranged from pink squares to beautiful works of art.  The lines of poetry ranged from "I hope to be taller than Jack" to "I am short and sassy" to "I am clumsy but full of grace" to "I hope that someday people will just love each other."  I only wish I could remember more. 

My master plan worked.  Each one of these kids is their own individual snowflake.  I know, I know, cheese alert!  It's true, though.  I have posted all over my wall exactly who these kids are.  I think that one of the most powerful messages you can send to a kid is simply, "I see you."  I will leave these posters up until the last snow melts as a daily reminder of all of the little special and unique characters I am surrounded by every day.  It makes me feel as if my room is becoming more of the safe community that I dreamed up and wrote about in my hypothetical future classroom teaching coursework stuff.  I really hope that my students feel the same way.






Thank you, snowflakes, you made my day.

  

Day 3- Caitlin and Heat!

Today is Caitlin's day because one year ago today she got engaged to Mr. Jesse Sheldon, a fine man if ever there was one.  It is only fitting that the two of them are off on their belated honeymoon today in a land far, far away.  Since I didn't want to bug my old friend cmil (she is now cshe, but I haven't made the transition yet) while she is on a romantic vacation, I took the liberty of choosing where to donate "her" money.

Bates College in Lewiston, ME will be the lucky recipient of today's $5 windfall.  Bates is a place that is near and dear to Caitlin's heart.  I'm pretty sure that she feels the same way about Bates that I do about the University of Michigan.  Yeah, it's like that.  She spent some of the best years of her life thus far learning and growing at this school, and she is still close friends with many of the people she met there.  Tom and I sat with our Seattle friends at cmil's wedding this fall, and the talk of our table was which one of the female guests was the infamous "Meatball" Caitlin always talked about from Bates.  Don't worry, we got to meet her and to hear the special Bates cheer and to connect with that part of Caitlin's world.

If Bates was good enough for Caitlin, it is most certainly good enough for me. 

http://www.bates.edu/

******
Speaking of schools (ahem... rough unneccessary transition... the donation and the gratitude journal will not always tie together), my heat is finally working at full strength in my classroom.  It's a holiday miracle!  I may be going a little overboard now.  Kids are leaving my room with their faces more flushed than when they come from gym.  Oops.  It's so nice to feel my hands again, though. 

Thank you, heat!, you made my day.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Day 2- Mother Nature and La Carreta

I thanked Mother Nature on this day last year.  She gave us a beautiful dusting of snow for our Christmas trip home without dropping a bunch of it on the roads.  That was nice.  The Weather Girls thanked her publicly in a song (you know, "God bless Mother Nature, she's a single woman too...").  That was fun.

Sometimes Mother Nature is not a nice lady, though, and sometimes she does not give people a reason to be thankful.  One prime example of this that still sticks out in my mind is Mother Nature's nasty tantrum that we know as Hurrican Katrina.  She really destroyed a lot of lives and communities and one amazing city.

I was inspired by a speech George Clooney gave this year while accepting a humanitarian award.  He commented that people do a pretty good job of rallying around a cause when it's current and at the forefront of the media coverage or when there's a celebrity telethon.  However, the real test of giving is continuing to remember these people who have experienced great devastation when they are no longer shown on the news every night or written about in the newspaper.  Just because they are no longer talked about doesn't mean that everything has been fixed or that they are not still experiencing extreme hardship and extreme need.

There's nothing I will ever be able to do to fix what Mother Nature did in New Orleans, especially with $5.  However, my small contribution can be added to a fund and to an organization that aims to "Make it Right." 

http://www.makeitrightnola.org/index.php 

From the Make it Right Foundation: As you know, it is our mission to be catalyst for redevelopment of the Lower 9th Ward, by building a neighborhood comprised of safe and healthy homes with an emphasis on high quality and sustainability, while preserving the spirit of the community’s culture. With your help, Make It Right is well on its way of reaching its goal of building 150 homes. Families have begun to move back into their homes and started rebuilding their community.

They have already completed almost 50 homes and helped to bring more than 200 people home.  This is a charity that produces results where you can really see what your money might do.  It is also an organization of innovators who are changing the way people look at the building industry in New Orleans and beyond.  Take that, Mother Nature!

******
Mas Poesia Mala

Mexican food
I didn't use to be a fan.
I'd much rather eat something
from Italy or Japan.

At burritos and chimis
I'd turn up my nose.
The only thing I liked to eat
were "elephant toes."

(Were those even Mexican, or were they just Jack Mex... you know, like Tex Mex from Jackson?)

Now it turns out that as my metabolism slows,
when it comes time to eat, almost anything goes!
I mean, my kind sir, I'd hate to be rude,
so I won't turn down any Mexican food.

Tom ventured out to La Carreta restaurant,
and with such tasty food, it may be our new haunt.
I really enjoyed my chimichanga and rice,
and from the chips to the salsa it was really quite nice.

Thank you, La Carreta, you made my day.





Day 1- Tom's Choice and Sheryl Crow

On Day 1 last year, I wrote about someone who I dearly love.  Day 1 this year is devoted to making a donation in honor of some of the people that he loves so dearly. :)  Here's what Tom had to say.

The Marine Corps has always held a special place in my heart and in my family's hearts. My dad served for twenty years and met my mom in the process. My brother, who is currently serving in the Marine Corps, will soon be a helicopter pilot. Working in the defense industry, my livelihood relies on the continued support of the U.S. Military and Marine Corps.

The men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces sacrifice everything to defend our freedoms, and that is something I will never take for granted. Injured Marines and armed services members often face a long and difficult recovery when they return home. The Semper Fi Fund provides immediate financial support for injured Marines and members of the other U.S. Armed Services and their families.

This donation, albeit small, is in honor of my dad, my brother, and all the other members of the U.S. Armed Forces.

http://semperfifund.org/

Donations to this fund are, quite simply, important.  They allow this organization "to alleviate some of the financial pressure from travel, childcare, and lost income that these families face during their loved one’s extensive hospital stay, as well as to assist in a variety of ways during rehabilitation and recovery."  Believing in this mission and helping the Fund to achieve its goal is a way to serve those who preserve our freedom.

******
In keeping with the military theme, I have been listening to a poignant Sheryl Crow Christmas song on repeat for the past few days.  It makes me feel hot-chocolate-in-front-of-the-fire warm.  It is beautiful and simple and hopeful and heartbreaking and breathtaking.  It is truly lovely to hear a song with lyrics that are meaningful.  These things don't come around as often anymore.  Does that make me sound like an old fuddy duddy?  Don't answer that... I mean it anyway. :)

It seems to me that this song may be of some comfort to military families, if there is any comfort around the holidays.  I think it extends beyond that too.  It makes me think of my grandpa on this first Christmas without him.  I know that this holiday will bring with it a great deal of sadness along with the joy for my family because we have lost our own veteran and hero this year.  However, his home with us was only temporary.   

"Once the angel did appear to say be not afraid
But the angels watching over you is the prayer that I will pray
And as we gather around the tree, and sing those Christmas songs
We'll hear your voice above the fray, until you're safely home."

I think he's safely home now.



 Thank you, Sheryl Crow (and, more importantly, the men and women serving our country), you made my day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Promises Promises

I just fell asleep sitting up.  Does that do a sufficient job of explaining my current mental state and abilities?

I have some charities picked out and ready to go to get me on track and to get this giving thing kicked off.  However, I want to be able to give a little blurb on each one and its importance/meaning, so I fear that I may have to put the actual post off one more day.  I want to do this right.

My last day with the kids for the year is tomorrow.  They have a half day, and then they'll go on their merry way to break.  I'll do the same at 3:30.  I may even jump up and click my heels together on my way to the car.  I told my students that their homework tonight is to abstain from sugar consumption and soda drinking until 12:20 tomorrow.  They laughed politely (or maybe out of pity?), and I could just tell that they were thinking about going home and dissolving sugar cubes into a two-liter and drinking it.  I actually saw some of my students do this last year.  That kind of thing has a way of burning itself into one's brain, eh?

I'm sure that tomorrow will be just fine.  In fact, I may even be a little sad when the kids are on their way out the door because I won't see them for a few weeks.  I always feel that way before a break, but I get over it pretty quickly :).  Tomorrow night I will be able to come home and do laundry, pack, and relax a little.  Tom promised me that we could light our annual fake fire in the fireplace (he's frugal, it doesn't happen often, and it is darn special) and drink hot chocolate.  I will also make the giving the priority that it should be.  I promise.

I, JR. Ferri, do solemnly swear that I will catch up on my blogging tomorrow and get my act together.

That's that.  Now back to my sitting-sleeping...


   

A Sappy Series of Statements and An Announcement

Seasons of Love, RENT

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love? Measure in love
Seasons of love
Seasons of love

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand journeys to plan.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned,
Or in times that he cried.
In bridges he burned,
Or the way that she died.

It's time now to sing out,
Though the story never ends
Let's celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends
Remember the love
Remember the love
Seasons of love

Oh you got to got to
Remember the love
You know that love is a gift from up above
Remember the love
Share love, give love, spread love
Remember the love
Measure, measure your life in love.

**Disclaimer- If you don't want to read all kinds of soul searching and rambling, scroll down until you see ANNOUNCEMENT :) **


Something has happened to me that just does not happen to me.  I am "speechless."  Wow.  I don't even know where to begin.  I have been putting off really trying to grasp and reflect on this year as a whole... because how is that even possible?  "Seasons of Love" from RENT (one of my all time favorite pieces of art) does a beautiful job of trying to express the feelings that I'd like to share, and I only hope that I can do an adequate job of once more attempting to sum up what my heart would like to say.

Over the course of the past year, I have held myself accountable to expressing gratitude each and every day in order to try to feel gratitude every day.  I did, and I did.  It wasn't always easy, but it was always important.  I experienced sadness to its fullest extent and stress to its fullest extent and annoyance and irritability and exhaustion and disappointment and anger and the complete set of negative emotions.  However, I also experienced some of the most profound feelings of joy that I have ever had and could ever imagine.  The thing is, it didn't matter which kind of day it was.  My goal was the same.  I have a million things to be thankful for, and all I had to do was pick 365. 

On the best days, it was almost as if I was cheating because I could rattle off some cheesy train-of-thought reflection about how wonderful life is.  I could be lazy.  Don't get me wrong, some of these turned into fabulous blogs and pieces for me to share.  Many of my dear friends got engaged.  My first best friend had her first baby.  Most of the people I love lived to celebrate another birthday and another year to make the world a happier place... or at least to make my world a happier place.  I was blessed enough to experience personal and professional successes that I have been working for and waiting for my entire life.  I spent time with people who belong in all different sections of my heart and all different sections of the country.  I listened to great music, ate great food, read great books, taught great kids, and watched terrible television.

I can't help but thinking, though, that sometimes my gratitude was best expressed on the days when nothing was going right.  These days challenged me and forced me to find things within myself that I may not have looked for or recognized otherwise.  They required me to reach out a little harder and squeeze a little tighter.  There were times when I just wanted to pout or vent or rant or go to sleep or pretend that I forgot because I was feeling lazy (or all of the above), but I had to sit down instead and get over myself.  Every single breath of life in this body is a gift from God and an opportunity that should not be wasted.  This idea of thankfulness and gratitude is so much larger than me, and I have learned a great deal about perspective.  Sure, I still allow myself to feel all kinds of feelings, but I have a much better grasp of which feelings deserve a spot in my heart and on my tongue.  I am and will always be a work in progress.  I am constantly working to make that progress.

I also started to feel accountable to something beyond myself.  I started to hear from people that they were reading and actually cared what I had to say.  My original intention was just to share this with the people who are closest to me, but the more I heard that others were reading too, the more I appreciated the sense of accountability that this created.  Some people even shared with me that they had made this blog a part of their daily routines.  I not only had something to prove to myself.  I now had an audience of people and an opportunity to try to spread positivity and a message about the the power of positive thinking.  I loved that it reconnected me with people who I never even dreamed would stumble across the blog and care what I had to say on a daily basis (like one of my most faithful readers, Ashley K... thanks so much for your support).  I loved that it kept my parents and family up to date on what I was up to during those chaotic weeks when I was terrible about staying in touch otherwise (a special thanks to my parents who put up with me and always bring up the blog when we talk to let me know that they're reading and that it matters to them).  I loved that it started up all kinds of conversations with all kinds of people.  The greatest compliment is to hear that I have made someone smile or laugh or cry... or most of all, feel inspired.  Words are so incredibly powerful, and it rocks my world to hear that the way I choose to use mine could make other people feel something too.  I'd like to thank every single one of you for reading and for allowing me to matter to you in one way or another, but for fear of leaving someone out, can we just leave it at you know who you are?  The blog became almost cyclical.  I received so many kind words from so many kind people that I contemplated writing about them many a time.  However, it seemed a little self indulgent and easy, so I decided against it.  In any case, please know that your thoughts and words have touched me deeply and strengthened my purpose and resolve in every way.

The biggest thanks of all goes out to my incredible husband.  Tom, I could have found a reason to be thankful just for you for all 365 days of the year.  Someone brought up the question of whether or not marriage and monogamy could truly be forever the other day at lunch, and I'm sure that I must have been the most annoying person in that conversation.  Because of you, true romantic love is a fact and not a question for me.  I believe in you with my whole heart, and this leads to an even stronger belief in us.  When we met, we found each other to be pleasant and attractive and pleasantly attractive, but I had no idea that I would ever find you to be even more good looking on the inside.  I won't elaborate more because I don't want to have to send out barf bags to anyone who is still reading after all that, but please know this.  You will always be more than enough.  Way more.  I still feel all the things I've always felt, but each days adds an even more intense sense of friendship and partnership to what we have.  Did you know that friendship could be intense?  Anyway, thanks for staying up late with me all those nights while I finished typing to keep me company or to read what I had to say.  Thanks for listening and listening and listening and reading and reading and reading.  Thanks for being the only person I trusted to "guest author" a few posts... as if either one of us had a choice in those situations, eh?  Thanks, thanks, thanks.  Just thanks.  For everything.

I attempted this weekend to go back and read all of the things I had posted over the past year.  By the time I got to April, I was completely and totally overwhelmed and overcome with emotion.  I can attend church regularly, but I'm not sure if I'll ever really be able to express how incredibly thankful and grateful I am to get to live the life that I do surrounded by the people (and yes, dogs too, General... one of the other "characters" that provided me the most material this year) who I know and love.  I know I have said this more times than I can count over the past year, but I am blessed.  I have been given so much more than one person deserves, and I want to devote my life to showing God and everyone else I can how much this life means to me.  I watched an interview with Oprah recently where she said something that really struck a chord with me.  When asked about her life, she commented that her philosophy could be summed up by an old Bill Withers song.  He sang, "Keep on using me until you use me up."  Keep on using me.

I'm not even past this summer yet in my blog reading.  It's too much.

There were times over the past year where I was judgmental of other people who did not share my same philosophy about life.  I didn't understand how other people could be whiny or negative when all they had to do was see the goodness around them and adjust their attitudes.  Once again, though, I realized that it was my own perspective that needed adjustment.  It's easy to be me.  It's easy to be thankful when I have been given so much.  It was this line of thinking that led me to an idea that turned into a plan that turned into the project that I will take on for the next year.


ANNOUNCEMENT

I could not be more excited to tell you about what happens next.  I spent the last year focusing on gratitude and on getting myself to a place where gratitude is a feeling that comes both naturally and often.  I think I get it now.  I have taken from all kinds of people in order to get to this point, and the best way I could thank them was with a blog entry.  They rode the ride, and all they got was this lousy t-shirt.

That's why this year my focus will be on giving others a reason to be thankful too.  For each day of the 365 days of this year, Tom and I will be donating $5 (or something worth that amount) to a different charity or cause (this will be independent of or in addition to what we are currently involved in).  The donations will be tied in with the entries I wrote last year in one way or another.  If I wrote about you, expect an e-mail or a phone call from me about which charity you would like the donation to go to for your day.  On other days, I will be looking for the most logical tie ins and reputable charities that make sense.

I understand that $5 will not change the world (or even make any charities get all excited).  I get that.  My hope is that my $5 will inspire your $5 and someone else's $5 and someone else's.  My hope is also that by researching and thinking about charity on a daily basis, I will learn to live a less selfish and more selfless life.  If my reaction to those sad puppy commercials is any indication, all I need is a simple cause or reason to pull out my wallet.  I plan to seek out these causes and reasons for the next year. 

That's the part that is measurable.  That is the part that I will be able to track and be accountable for.  What I really want to focus on is what will happen beyond that.  I hope to find all kinds of ways to give that have nothing to do with money.  When I am giving of myself and not just my wallet on a regular basis, that is the point when this project will truly begin to become a success.  Of course, I will continue with the gratitude as well.  Everything begins and ends there.

Will you join me?  If you are a reader, will you let me inspire you?  Will you let me guilt you into it at least?

Can we do this together?

Please let me know if you have suggestions or ideas or your own something or other that I might feature and donate to as part of this year of giving.  I want to use this year to help give others more reasons to feel thankful too.  A logical next step, no?  I want to give love and joy and hope.  I want to give dreams a chance.  I'll also give a lil money while I'm at it.

"I hate the giving of the hand unless the whole man accompanies it." Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love." Lao Tzu
"You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving." Robert Louis Stevenson


Stay tuned for a triple header tomorrow... I'll attempt to tackle Day 1, 2, and 3 to catch up and get on track for the year.  Get excited for a year of me saying "excited" an annoying number of times and many more sappy ramblings to come.

Thanks for listening.
 

    

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Day Off



After 365 days of blogging and gratitude and six hours of shopping (which was an excellent reminder of why I usually do my Christmas shopping by Thanksgiving), I am exhausted.  I need just one day off.

I'm really looking forward to sharing what I'll be blogging about for the next year, and I want to make sure that I take the time to write it right.  Therefore...

Stay tuned until tomorrow.  If all goes well, I plan to post a sappy reflection about the past year and an exciting (at least for me) announcement about what lies ahead for the ol' blog and me for the next 365 days.   Check in tomorrow... pretty please? :)


Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 365- Tacky Teacher Friends

Day 365... wow, is that right?  It can't be!  I'll get into a bunch of the sappy stuff tomorrow.  For now, it's time for one more day of gratitude. :)

Less than six months ago, these people were complete and total strangers to me.


They are now my coworkers, my community, my MO family, and my support system.


I am so incredibly blessed to also call these people my friends.  From the day I was hired, they welcomed me into their family, and they have been amazingly kind to me ever since.  They inspire me.  They accept me for who I am.  They allow me to vent.  They constantly keep me laughing, and they laugh at my jokes.   They know when to give advice and when to listen.  They are fantastic teachers and even better people.     

They also know how to celebrate tacky holiday sweater day in style.  The kids may have forgotten after our snow day yesterday, but we sure had a g with an o, o with a d, t with an i and an m and an e.  I look forward to many more good times to come...     

Thank you, tacky teacher friends, you made my day.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 364- Ice Day

Please excuse my Jerry Maguire-esque blog moment yesterday.  Today's blog will be much more simple, I promise. : )

I really enjoy a good Girl's Night Out, but I also adore a nice Family Day In too.  I got just that today on our ice day.  It was technically a snow day, but we didn't get any extra snow last night.  It is much more common around these parts to have freezing rain and nasty ice storms than snow.  Since the roads looked like skating rinks, everyone stayed home today.  

I heard the news at about 10 o'clock last night.  I would rather not have a lot of snow days because they just end up getting tacked onto the end of the year here.  Plus, we only have a few more days until our big break, and I'm doing fun writing assignments with the kids anyway.  However, that being said...

Today was just lovely.  Tom was supposed to be out of town, but his trip was cancelled.  We got to spend the day at home together with our little General, and we really had a good time.   We had our coffee and all of our meals together.  We caught up on our DVR and watched a movie.  We got almost all of our Christmas cards done.  We accessorized my tacky holiday outfit for tomorrow at school.  We danced and sang and played our favorite songs.  We sat together and did absolutely nothing for a while.  We snuggled with the dog.  We spent time at Target.  We had a Family Day In that was just right. 

During most weeks, Tom and I are often two workaholics (or... lately he has been a mgoblogaholic).  We work, we eat, we unwind with tv or books or computers, and we sleep.  We don't always make a ton of time to just hang out.  It was truly enjoyable to get a day together where anything we accomplished was a bonus and the main goal was simply relaxation.  It was fun to just be for a day without any kind of pressure about what we should be doing.  The added perk is that the things we did take care of will help to free up more down time on the weekend.

Thank you, Ice Day, you made my day.

Day 363- Weight Lifting

What a difference a few days make!  I kind of felt like a fraud on Monday.  I could muster up enough optimism to produce a blog and some positive thoughts, but I was upset.  Big time.  This close to the end of the year, I faced one of the biggest tests that I've had to my positive attitude.

I suppose I should explain.  My students took their district summative test last Thursday and Friday.  I have been working my tail off all year to do everything that I'm supposed to do (times ten) to make sure that these kids are learning all of the skills that they are supposed to be learning.  Beyond that, we reviewed for the three days leading up to the test to fully prep students and to go over some of the standards that we hadn't touched on in a few weeks.  I felt confident that I had done everything I knew how to do to teach them and prepare them, and I was absolutely confident that I had done everything that my curriculum director, principal, and department head had asked of me.  As my students handed in their tests, they expressed feelings of confidence as well, and a lot of them told me that the exam was easy.

My score sheets were scanned into the computer program that we use on Monday, and I was excited to pull up the results on Monday night.  I saw this test as being my own personal report card for first semester, something that would help me to figure out how I was doing as a teacher.  When I pulled up the scores, my excitement could not have faded more quickly.  The scores appeared to be disastrous.  I was devastated.  I spent the next few hours feeling as if I had failed my kids.  Sure, I could place a little blame on a poorly written test.  Sure, I may be able to place a little more blame on the fact that my kids are in a completely different situation from all of the other kids in the district and the fact that they experience great economic and emotional hardships on a daily basis.  However, at the end of the day, I was completely questioning my own effectiveness and carrying the weight of these scores on my shoulders.  It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't something to blog home about.

I spoke to my counterpart who had experienced similar results, and we reached out to the people above us to see if they could help us to make sense of how things could have gone so wrong.  I have received nothing but positive feedback and encouragement, so I just could not understand how these results were telling me such a different story about what was happening in my room.  I wanted to set out fixing things ASAP.  I wanted to know how to be better and how to give the kids what they need. 

We got some answers today from some members of administration, and I am breathing again.  One e-mail said something to the effect of, "A concern was expressed that you are trying so hard but not seeing results-- I beg to differ!"  The author of this e-mail had pulled our data and the data from last year, and she gave us bullet point after bullet point of good news.  We experienced significant improvement in 9 out of 14 standards and remained steady on the others.  On some of the more difficult questions where students had to compare texts and get into more in depth analysis, our kids "ROCKED" and improved from 56% mastery last year to 88% this time.  Their performance of DOK 3 questions (those testing a higher depth of knowledge) improved dramatically as well.  While the average score was scary, our author was able to pull bullet point after bullet point of positive information about specific skills and vast improvement.  We had been looking at all of our data completely out of context, and she was able to refocus everything and really put our scores into perspective in terms of where the kids are coming from and where they're headed.  With each sentence, I could feel the weight lifting off of my shoulders.

After that, today was an embarrassment of riches so to speak.  I spent the day having one on one conferences with my students where they were incredibly reflective, insightful, open, and honest with me.  The more I build these relationships and connections with my kids, the more I think the rest will follow, and the better I feel about what they are getting out of their time in my room.  The day at school ended with our principal taking the first five minutes of our faculty meeting to celebrate our Comm. Arts department.  He specifically mentioned our eighth grade team- how hard we have been working, how impressed he was with the progress we have made, and how proud he is of the results we have produced first semester.  I, of course, was both embarrassed and pleased by the compliments at the same time.  As I said at the start of this whole thing, what a difference a few days can make!   I can't even compare my feelings from Monday evening to those that I have today.

I am also coming to terms with the fact that I don't think I'll ever be completely-- hmm, what's the right adjective?-- satisfied? with how I'm doing.  It is important to me that I believe in my kids and their potential to the point that I may always be a bit frustrated.  I am only as effective as my belief in and support of them.  I have high expectations for my students and for myself.  I refuse to make excuses or to lower these expectations for any reason.  I need to continue to hold myself accountable each and every day for their learning and for my own, and I need to continue to celebrate their successes, big and small, whenever I can.  I mean it from the bottom of my heart when I say that I want to be amazing at my job because of what it will mean for the kids.  They deserve that kind of commitment from all of their teachers... even on the days when some of them (the students, not the teachers) show up to class with nothing (not even a pencil) and spend ten minutes talking about how they're hoping for a snow day... not that any of my students would ever do that... ahem...

It's a good thing that we get that snow day tomorrow (an ice day, really).  I'm exhausted from all this thinking.

Thank you, weight lifting, you made my day.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 362- Disco Tuesday

Since my kids started to check out about two weeks ago, I have been trying all kinds of things to keep them involved and engaged in what we're doing in class.  I put together a few fun assignments/projects/pieces for them to work on this week, and they will be doing a lot of working independently, reflecting, and writing.  My babysitting and management skills have already come in handy this week, and I can only imagine what Monday and Tuesday are going to be like next week!  Only five more days until break...

Five more days!  Five more days! 

I find myself chanting things like this under my breath occasionally.  I love my job, and I enjoy the kids, but I will certainly never turn down a chance for a break.  I'll also never turn down and opportunity to see our family and friends, to relax, or to spend my evenings doing something other than grading papers.  I digress.

Anyway... I grabbed one of my big cd holder cases out of my car on my way into the building this morning.  I like to play music while the kids are working, and I often work with some sort of theme (for example, when the kids were all complaining yesterday about how school should have been cancelled because there was a
-15 windchill factor, I made a tropical playlist to thaw everyone out).  Other times, I try to tie the music in with whatever we're working on.  When we were studying theme in literature, we listened to popular theme songs.  When we were reading persuasive texts written by Bono for Time Kids, we listened to U2.  You get the picture.

Today, however, I had begun to flip the switch into survival mode.  I figured I'd find something in my pack of cds that would be acceptable easy listening while students were writing.  Once I got into my room and settled in for the day, I realized that I had grabbed the wrong pack of cds.  Oops.  Instead of a vast array of wonderful choices, I had a random assortment of cds that I had burned over the years but neglected to label.  It was like an entire bag of the Dum Dum suckers with the question marks on them.  Who really wants to take that chance?  There were only a few discs that had some sort of label indicating what they actually were, and I had to make a decision... and fast.  Big Willie Style, Selena, or Disco Jams?  I could just picture all of the students groaning and whining the way they tend to do on occasion no matter what the choice is.  After an eeny meeny miny mo/scientific/coin  flipping kind of decision process, I dropped the disco cd into the player and figured that it would at least get a laugh.

Thus, Disco Tuesday was born.

I was shocked and pleased that class after class not only tolerated the disco cd-- they LOVED it!  They were tapping their feet and bopping their heads and singing along to songs that I never even imagined they had heard before.  They delighted in "Funky Town" as being "that song from Shrek," and I didn't have the heart to tell them anything different.  They were on their feet for "YMCA," many of them with backwards "C"s, of course.  Again, who am I to rain on their parade?  Speaking of rain, they sure did enjoy "It's Raining Men" too.  I was delighted with the number of little eighth grade boys (and girls) who were confident enough to dance and sing along to that one with reckless abandon.  I was also thrilled with the smiles and the joy.  These kids are not easy nuts to crack this close to break!

Although it sounds as if there was not a whole lot of learning going on, that's actually not true at all.  Disco Tuesday accomplished something very important for me.  It helped me to make sure that students were present in my room.  Keeping students in the room in that sense is often a huge part of winning the battle.  Disco Tuesday kept them engaged enough to tackle the writing assignments that I was throwing at them and to buy into whatever else was happening in my room today.  I think I may just "accidentally" pull that cd out again for another Disco Tuesday or ten. 

Now how am I going to top this on Wednesday...? 

Thank you, Disco Tuesday, you made my day.          

Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 361- Cheddar-Ale Soup

Tonight.
A new recipe.
A new kind of delicious.


It started with vegetables- carrots, onions, celery, and green onions.


Then there was butter and bacon and basil and oregano.  Look at that baby sizzle! 


There was a little chicken broth added and a little ale.  Of course, there was cheese.  A whole lotta cheese!


It simmered and melted and simmered and melted.


The smells wafted through the house, and I couldn't help but taste test once... or twice... or twelve times.  Finally, ta da!


Well, that was good.  It was a much need warm and hearty on a less than desirable cold and stressful.

Thank you, cheddar-ale soup, you made my day.

Day 360- Christmas Decorations

We bought our Christmas tree last Sunday, and it sat in the garage for two days.  On Tuesday, Tom finally had time to bring it into the house.  We hoped all week that we'd have a little extra time to make it nice and pretty, but things have been crazy and hectic around here.

At long last, our house FINALLY threw up Christmas all over the place today.  Ahhhhhh.

We made the time to get the tree all decorated and beautiful, and I'm so happy that we did :).  It was fun to carry out our annual tradition where we spread out our treasures all over the living room and find a place for each special item one by one.  We laughed about the ornaments, sniffed all of the candles and pine cones, fluffed the bows, and relived the memories that we have attached to many of the items.  We had a few really special additions to it all this year too!  My mom created a gorgeous tree skirt for us with all of my favorite things on it-- felt and sequins and bright colors.  We also put out the cutest little towels that Manda made for us last year.  I absolutely love the fact that we are collecting all of these heirlooms that have so much meaning behind them, and we are creating our own traditions each year.

I'd like to post some pictures of all the beautimous Christmasness, but remember how busy and important we are?  Okay, maybe we're not all that important... but we are pretty darn busy.  Our next goal is to make time to bake our Christmas cookies this week.  I know that Tom will figure out a way to make sure that happens!  He doesn't care so much about the baking aspect, but he would be lost without his cookies...

Little by little, it's beginning to look (and feel) a lot like Christmas.  It's just so much more enjoyable to do everything else on our to do lists if we are surrounded by Christmas.  Want to grade papers?  Meh.  Want to grade papers while sitting in the middle of a Christmas wonderland?  Sure!! 

Thank you, Christmas decorations, you made my day.  

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Day 359- Cousin Eddie


Ummm, do you really even need to ask  what made my day today?



We went to a Christmas party tonight at one of Tom's buddy's houses.  It was our first ever Christmas costume party, and the idea was to dress up as some kind of Christmas related person/thing.  Since I am a proud member of the Griswold family, of course we dressed up as characters from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.  Tom was Cousin Eddie, and I was Frank Shirley (you know, the boss that he kidnaps at the end of the movie).  Not only was this easy to do, but I got to wear my old pajamas for the whole night.  I think I may have to strategize my way into more frequent pajama wearing at parties (and not just at pajama parties, silly).  I was able to eat everything I wanted without any kind of denim or button restriction at the waist, and I was pretty much ready for bed when we got home.  That definitely counts as a win.

Thank you, Cousin Eddie, you made my day.  

Day 358- Christmas Parties

This has been a looooooong week.  L-O-N-G.  It was lovely to cap it off with my work Christmas parties this afternoon.  The first party was in the library after school.  This was put on by our Not So Secret Society (of which I am a member).  We had an excellent turnout, some light snacks, and a successful White Elephant gift exchange.  Many people brought gifts that were more on the nice side than the funny, but that was alright with me because I took home some cute Christmas cookie jars.  My more traditional White Elephant gift was well-received, especially in its fairy (Ferri) bag :).

After we cleaned up that party, it was time for part two... happy hour!  Our turnout for this was much lighter, but most of my favorite people from the building were there.  We had half-priced appetizers, cheap drinks (although I mostly stuck with iced tea of the regular, non Long Island variety), and great conversations that weren't all about the kids for once.  It's hard for me to remember that six months ago these people were all complete strangers to me.  I am truly thankful to have found a building where I fit in so quickly and seamlessly with my coworkers.  The fact that I was willing to put off my dinner with Tom/Dateline/falling asleep on the couch embarrassingly early Friday routine for a few hours to spend time with them speaks volumes.

Speaking of the ol' routine, I am falling asleep as I type.  This semi-bland rundown of today's events will have to do for now.  Shel Silverstein would be able to finish this off in a cute and funny way where the writing trailed off as if I was actually falling asleeeeee

I'm not so sure that I can pull that off.

Thank you, Christmas parties, you made my day. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 357- Food E-mails

I was sitting at my desk today eating mini peanut butter cups that I had bought with the intention of giving them to my students.  It was my passive aggressive response to a number of them "forgetting" to study for my district test and forgetting their #2 pencils.  I'm not usually a sweets person, but the more of them I ate, the more forgiving I felt about the whole thing.  I know that my kids have a lot on their plates right now, and I know that it is a struggle for kids and adults alike to work full force up until the break.  I was on the upswing of understanding.

Then, I got an e-mail from my main man.  It was a reminder that I needed to place my order for dinner from Breakaway Cafe tonight.  This had completely slipped my mind, and I was instantly excited once I read the e-mail.  Tom and I used to go to Breakaway once a week last year.  It's a little restaurant that is located conveniently nearby both the UMSL and Boeing campuses.  We'd meet there last year when Tom was coming home from work and I was going to class.  It was our chance to have a little date on those nights when we wouldn't have gotten to see much of each other otherwise.  Plus, the food is pretty darn good there.  Tom had an exam for his online class that he had to take on the UMSL campus tonight, so we decided to have a little takeout from our old favorite hangout for dinner.  I ordered my standard honey mustard turkey melt with seasoned fries and a house salad with their absolutely crave-worthy house Italian dressing.  I told Tom that between that and my peanut butter cups, my whole outlook on life was changing.

To make matters even better, I got another e-mail while one of my classes was testing that really knocked my socks off.  Get this-- there is a lady coming from the PTO coming to school next Tuesday to bring us a spread of pies.  PIE!  I squealed a little bit at my desk.  What could brighten a kids-want-to-get-out-of-here-for-break-but-we-still-have-five-more-days-Tuesday more than a good old fashioned spread of desserts and pies?  Yes, I am easily amused and often easy to please.  I can most certainly be bribed with and excited by food.  I choose to believe that these are good things.

Thank you, food e-mails, you made my day.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 356- C-Dill

Our main Administrative Assistant (we'll call her C-Dill) is a hardworking woman if I've ever seen one.  She has about a million different responsibilities, but she seems to handle each one of them with ease.  I learned very early on that no matter what kinds of questions I had at school, the answer would almost always come back to, "Ask C-Dill."  The nice thing was that when I did ask her whatever it was, she would get back to me quickly and always seemed to know what to do.  She is a woman who knows how to get things done.

What makes this lovely lady even better is the fact that she is completely unassuming about what she does.  Although she is single-handedly running multiple school operations at once, she never finds it necessary to stop to tell people how busy and important she is.  She's way too busy and important to have the time to do that.  Instead, she stops to ask how people are doing and what she can do to help.  Isn't that refreshing?

C-Dill organizes all of our substitute teachers in the morning, and she also sends out a "Daily Absence Report" so that we can see who will be out of the building that day and who the subs will be.  Each name on that list equals extra work for C-Dill.  Today the list seemed to be at record length.  For one of the first times ever (at least since I've been there), she had to send out a revised list a few minutes after the first one that included even more names.  Then, there was another e-mail where another name had to be added.  On the THIRD e-mail to follow, she simply wrote "Another one bites the dust..." and the name. 

I literally laughed out loud. 

I had already been feeling a bit irritated with my students at that point because many of them have already checked out mentally for the semester (although, to be fair, some of these may have never "checked in" in the first place).  I was also a bit disturbed by a conversation I heard about whether or not George Clooney had been our president (you know, the President of the United States of America) and whether or not Canada borders our country that left me speechless.  Seriously, eighth graders?  C-Dill's e-mail gave me a much needed laugh and a much needed reminder about rolling with the punches and keeping a sense of humor about it all.

When I replied to C-Dill's e-mail to let her know that she had made my morning, she wrote back, "Geez…. For a minute I thought you were going to say you were sick… ha ha!"  This was followed by another e-mail with a jib jab video.

What a gem.  She's a keeper!

Thank you, C-Dill, you made my day.