Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I'm really good at to-do lists, as you can tell. I really, really like to color code them, and I spend some time each Monday making lists for the week. My problem, as you can see, is follow through. Again, I refer you to the picture above. I have crossed off only a few items, and it's shameful.

I bring this up because I was walking by a student of mine this afternoon while he was working with a specialist in the afternoon. As I passed, the student was wrapping his teensy fingers around another child's throat. Instantly, both his teaching assistant and I responded.

"J, say you are sorry. Make sure you tell the other person what you are sorry for. Remember, sorry means you are going to try your best not to make that mistake anymore."


"J, you can make better choices than that. I know you are upset about your punishment, but you chose that by the way you acted."

I sound GREAT when I am dishing out redirection to my students. Harder, is taking my own advice. So, here you go.

I am sorry for not completing the things on my to do list in a timely manner. I will try harder to use my time more productively. I am sorry to myself for making choices that stress me out because of how much I have to do, or lead me to neglect the many important relationships in my life in favor of things that are silly.

My epiphany today was a pretty big one. If I treated myself the way I treat my students, I'd dole out some tough love that would inspire change. If I followed my own advice, I'd be able to focus and take my time to do things the right way because I wouldn't constantly be rushing. I'd be able to use my time in more meaningful ways, whether it be spending time with friends and family or crossing items off my to do list. I am going to try harder to be the kind of person who really follows through. Hopefully, this public declaration will help.

I guess I'm pretty smart after all.....

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Slow Down

I read a lot of thought-provoking things today. It all started with my morning Google Reader browse whilst I walked to the train. Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog about the bankruptcy of Borders, and thoughts on where this leaves the book industry as a whole. I also finished Fahrenheit 451- a book I had never experienced before, and also deals with the questions of literature's value in a technology-driven world.

When thinking about Borders, and books, I often end up thinking about my job. I love my students immensely, and when I think about myself at that age, what I remember most are books. I'm not sure I can say the same for my students. While I don't think they will grow into the kind of adults that shun fiction and non-fiction in favor of wall-sized tv. However, I will say that I have had to encourage reading stamina in my students in a way that I'm not sure people my age had to be coaxed into. With my kids at school, we've practiced, over and over and over, the art of finding a quiet place to read, and several ways to read a book. I've timed the whole class many times to see how long we could read for. At the same time, in my personal life, I find myself making less time for reading and more time for other things. I catch myself refreshing my facebook over and over again, just to see if anything is new. I find myself now, on my Thursday date night with myself, with the tv on in the background, and even blogging has been difficult for me to maintain focus on.

Now, more than ever before, we as a society are making decisions from a wide menu of options. Will we internet browse? Catch up on the DVR? Text friends? Speed off to the mall or to town to check out the latest options there? I know after reading Rebecca's blog today, as well as the news coverage, I started thinking about the choices I am making with my time and my money. As we advance in technology, it is getting easier to ignore the power of books and education to help us make informed decisions. NCLB has made teaching a numbers game looking for results FAST. We use technology to help us find answers and to entertain us and to connect us FAST. We support big businesses because it is FAST. However, the really important things take time. Building reading stamina. Losing yourself in a book to find the answers you are looking for. Maintaining relationships with people you love, and continuing to hold them close as time passes. Holding yourself accountable for your life decisions. All slow things.

I'd like to challenge myself (and you) to build some slow, thoughtful habits. I'm hoping to use the long weekend coming up to become a more thoughtful decision maker. I'd like to slowly build more stamina to use the technology I have in a more thoughtful way, to spend some time in a quiet house with a good book each day, and to really connect with my husband and the many other people I love. I'd like to start spending my money in ways that allow me to connect with and support businesses and causes that are meaningful. I feel that making these changes, in my own small way, will help me to feel more at ease with the directions I see things moving in my career and in society. Slow down everyone, you're moving too fast.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Travel Through Food

I have a bad case of the February itchies. You know the ones I'm talking about. As far as I'm concerned the only good things about February are birthdays of many people I love and the fact that it's a short month. That's it. Right now I'm hungering for travel to places I can't quite afford. I'm yearning for sundress season, and I consider it downright offensive that Target, that mecca that is usually my happy place, is showing bikinis and sundresses right when you walk in. What jerks. Recent uncertainties about work have made me reluctant to book a trip for spring break, so I've turned to other comforts.

Namely, food. What is it about food that instantly takes us to an exotic place? Take last weekend, for example. On Friday, Kev and I ordered from a new Indian/Chinese restaurant that just opened not too far from my home. I ordered my standard Palak Paneer, threw on my sweatpants, and feasted. You know what? It legitimately helped. For an evening I wasn't stuck in the cold, worried about my job, or antsy to get out of the city I mostly love. The break in routine helps.

The best part, though, was definitely this:

I mean, who doesn't love a smiley on top of free samosas?

Saturday Kev and I went to a fancy dinner at a phenomenal place in the loop: Weber Grill. I had never been there, and it was a place that is usually out of our random dinners out price range. We dressed up, we ate steak and seafood, and we got Thanksgiving dinner full. After, we went to the always fabulous Les Miserables and lost ourselves in France for the evening.

I think this weekend and the fabulous food we ate really helped me turn a corner in my February blahs. No, my problems are not solved by any means. Yes, I would still love to be somewhere fabulous and warm and exotic wearing a free flowing uniform of sundresses and flip flops. Sometimes, though all it takes is a break in the routine, culinary and otherwise, to remind you that there are bigger things out there than the petty shit that may be bringing you down. I am better than the way these last few months has made me feel. I am stronger than the drama that has been cluttering my life. I am a fabulous person who can bloom in any climate, and I will make it through this winter and find my invincible spring inside. I am more kick ass than February, that's for darn sure.

Now excuse me while I go spread my awesomeness.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Being Tough is Hard to Do

February is a tough month around these parts. As a teacher, you're kind of stuck. The kids are crazy from having to stay inside in the subzero temps. The administration is freaking out about ISAT, next year, and insane amounts of data that don't always make sense. To add insult to injury, Target (and all of my other favorite stores) have started rolling out my adored sundresses and flip flops, and I'm still imprisoned in sweats that Kev could fit in and hoodies that transport fatty snacks. It's not an attractive time.

Yesterday, my friend E and I were discussing ways to get out of these winter doldrums, and we decided we needed some projects. We decided to do two polar opposite things:

1) Learn to crochet so we can make baby blankets for other people's babies. (Babies seem to be everywhere in my life. I swear, every time I load up my Facebook I see a new fetus in my feed. What's up with THAT?)

2) Try some new physical stuff. So today, we cashed in a Groupon that we had both bought ages ago and headed to boxing.

Yes, boxing. I can't even believe I did it. Me, who spends so much time at the arthritis clinic that everyone there knows me as "the young kid with the really nice blood" went to boxing. I knew I was in trouble when a beautiful, perky blonde girl with the most perfect calf muscles I had ever seen greeted me at the door and made me sign not one, but TWO waivers. I nervously asked her if she had any tips for newcomers.

"Oh no! This is the best place in the entire world and Robbie is THE BEST. You'll be fiiiiiiiine." she chirped. Her perkiness made me re-assess the situation. Here are the things I saw:

1) BOYS. I have never, ever been to a workout class with boys in it before. Sure, there's been the occasional muscular karma type dude in my yoga classes, and I've had an occasional greyhound hiding in the back of my spin class, but these were real BOYS. The kind who wrestle and drink beer and wear cutoff t-shirts and grunt while they do their knuckle pushups. They were warming up on bags right near mine. Yikes.

2) An Australian hyper man in red satin shorts swinging like an orangutang from the rafters our body bags were swinging from. Literally. Swinging. From. The. Rafters. Clearly, he had not been chasing kindergarteners around all day.

3) My terrified and crotchety eyes looking back at me in the mirror. I walked out of work crabby to the max today from work. Stupid state-mandated testing. Stupid people not believing in me. Stupid me not believing in myself. I was doomed.

I changed, then she grabbed my hands and started wrapping them. Then I got to wear the coolest things ever:

For the next 60 minutes, I huffed, puffed and punched a gigantic black bag. It almost knocked me over sometimes. I almost knocked it out sometimes. Through it all, a super spastic Australian man named Robbie prodded us onward while yelling things like "Higher! Kill it! Jab at the body, jab at the head! Men don't like love handles, but women HATE love handles! THROW AWAY YOUR LOVE HANDLES!" You know what? I loved it.

I walked out of that gym feeling better than I had in the last few weeks. I think I proved to myself that I could do it. And if I can box, I can certainly find a job that will make me happy, find the time to pay more attention to the details that escape me in every day life, and be a kinder person. I felt like I was going to die, I cheated on a few push ups, but I did it, and I want to do it again.

I tell you what, though, this being tough is really hard work. There were some really tough people in that class today, and I worked really hard to pretend to be tough too so that they didn't beat me up. Now I'm sleepy. Thank God for my snuggly clothes and well-loved blankets, because I'm pooped. Punching is HARD. Punching hard things is REALLY HARD. I feel the only way to remedy this situation is to sit on the couch, eat a pizza lean pocket, and call it a day with my favorite Teen Moms. After all, let us not forget it is Thursday. Our crochet project might be the way to go until these shoulders of mine stop aching. I wish they would stop tattling on me while I'm trying to hang on to my inner badass.

Oscar De La Hoya never had these problems......

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Snow Mania

It has been really snowy up in here. Last week, Chicago got hit with its third biggest blizzard in its recorded history and it was awesome. I freaking love snow, and I also really freaking love that snow day feelings never go away no matter how old you are. Last week, I got not one, but TWO snow days (Wednesday and Thursday) and Kev got one work from home day, which was pretty quiet for him. Last night, we got another inch and a half of snow, and I was half an hour late to grad school because of it. Yeesh. I'm a little relieved that no snow is expected for the next five days, mostly because we are running out of places to put it around here. Not to mention people are downright surly about their parking spots. Let me give you some photos to illustrate.

I guess I can see why people would put chairs in their parking spots after digging this out....

I mean there was a lot of snow. Definitely too much snow for fun-sized people.

I will say, though, it makes things look extremely pretty. Especially at the end of the day.

And lastly, and most importantly, all this snow means I got to spend extra time last week with my hot boyfriend. As an added bonus, the internet was out at our place, which means we had a legitimate excuse not to do grad school homework. That's why we're smiling so big.

I must say, I really like the snow. If it's going to be this cold, we might as well get some beautiful snow out of it. Epic weather, battling the elements, and the unpredictability of what is coming are some of the reasons I love Chicago weather.

Although, I'd also like to put in a request to the Big Guy Upstairs. Can we please get about 1 inch of snow each week so it stays looking pretty? City snow gets ugly awfully fast....

Monday, February 7, 2011

2010 Reading Challenge: Numero Dos

So yeah, here comes part two. 5 whole days later. Ooopsies. My goal this week is to get caught up with posts I have planned, so if I inundate your feed, so sorry.

The second reading challenge I did last year was also fairly simple. I needed to read 10 award winners, from whatever prize I liked. I went into this a bit skeptically, but ended up reading some of my favorite books of the year as a result. Here are some down and dirty thoughts on what I read.

1) The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell- (Arthur C. Clarke Award) This book blew my mind. To this day, I'm not sure if I would recommend it, mostly because I'm still not sure that I have spent enough time thinking about it to come to my own conclusions. I loved it, but I definitely want to read it again to sort my feelings out and let the themes marinade more. On my re-visit list for summer. (Side note: my kindergarteners hate reading books more than one time, even though I try to convince them often that it's like spending time with friends. Maybe they're not buying it because of the rash of kicking sprees our "friends" in our class have been having lately. Yikes.)

2) Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (Costa Book Award) I really read this book mostly because it was chosen as the Chicago Reads book of the year. I love the concept of the whole city having one big book club, and while I didn't really end up discussing this book with anybody, it packed a quiet punch for being such a slim, easy read. The themes of immigration and reinvention made me think about my students and the reasons behind their moves, as well as the person I am growing into as their teacher. Still waters run deep in this one.

3) Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (National Book Award Winner)- I devoured this one during a rainy Saturday on a small lake in Wisconsin and loved it. I'm a sucker for literary fiction told from alternating viewpoints and I loved how McCann managed to develop his characters so well when each only narrated such a small portion of the book as a whole. I also loved that much of the book was about the World Trade Center pre 9/11. I'll be passing this one to my bookish friends for sure.

4) A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines (National Book Critics Circle Award) Generally, I dislike books chosen by Oprah for her book club, and for some reason, this one was no exception. One would think I would have loved this story, as I love reading about civil rights and racial struggles, as well as the power of education to make things better, but meh. The book dragged on a little for me, and it seemed to repeat itself a lot. I forced myself to finish this one. (Side note: I am an absolute book monogamist, and I almost always finish a book once I start it, even if I don't like the book. Blame it on the Catholic guilt.)

5) Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (Pulitzer Prize Winner) I adored this book. I love a great sweeping epic novel, and this reminded me of one of my favorite authors in the genre, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I know a lot of people who refused to give this book a chance because of its hermaphroditic plot, but I'm so glad that I wasn't one of them. This might be my favorite book from this challenge. Such passion. Such thoughtfulness. Such simplicity in the heartbreaking narration. Love. Love. Love.

6) Tinkers by Paul Harding (Pulitzer Prize Winner) I really didn't like this book. I feel like Harding tried to hard for gorgeous writing and sacrificed plot as a result. It jumped around between times too much for me, and some of the connections drawn between the main character and his father were kind of obvious. Blah.

7) Vernon God Little by Pierre DBC (Booker Prize) This was another book I went into with high hopes, but it fell short. I understand that it's supposed to be a satire of sorts, but it just felt gimmicky and strange. I also found it to be unnecessarily crude for shock value, which surprises me to say because I'm generally not a prude about such things. Meh. If you want a book that raises great questions about school violence, pick up The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb. The first book to bring me to tears as I finished it since I read Where the Red Fern Grows.

8) Oh. My. God. I don't think I labeled a book on my list as being Award Winner #8. I skipped straight from 7 to 9 in my records. Therefore, I'm just realizing now that I didn't actually finish this challenge at all but that I lied to myself. AGGREWRJAGOWJGHGGHAGJFGGGGGGGGHHHHHH. Epic fail. Maybe people are just skimming this and I'll still look super smart. On to......

9) The BLind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Booker Prize) This was my first experience with Atwood, and I loved it. The twists and turns in the plot centering around two sisters were fantastic and left me shocked and gasping. I also loved that the narration was sprinkled with articles covering the fictional events in the plot. Atwood juggles first and third person narration with brilliance. I wish I had written this book. Maybe I can count this for numbers 8 and 9....

10) The Finkler Question. That dreaded question won the Booker prize this year, and I have to say, (and said it in the last post) I hated almost everything about that book. I was disappointed that it was so bad too, because my reviews of books that have won that award in the past were generally positive. Yeesh.

This will be the last of the bookish posts for awhile. Do people like them? Not like them? I personally am digging the little bite sized review formats for each book, because I like to save my in depth opinions for people who care to read such things or have read the book as well. Do people want more books? Less books? More of my silly life? More of my mediocre photography? Drop me a line and let me know.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Reading Wrap-Up 2010: Part 1

Yes, I know we are 1/12th of the way through 2011, but I needed a good chunk of time to compose my wrap-ups of the reading challenges that I did last year. This was my first foray into the world of reading challenges, and I loved both the requirements of the challenges I chose and the books that I was exposed to because of it. Without further ado, here are my notes on the books I read for the first challenge of the two that I completed last year. Want more reading updates? Friend me on GoodReads (username: nicolegas) or Twitter (@Colie025) for the latest scoops on my reading life.

The first reading challenge I signed up for over a year ago was the 2010 reading challenge. The premise of this challenge was simple: read 10 books published in 2010. I have to say that this was probably my favorite of the two reading challenges, because it exposed me to some great new books by authors I had never read before. Here's what I read:

1) Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert- I expected to love this book, all about the institution of marriage and full of definitions of marriage by people from around the globe. However, my affection for this book was tarnished by Gilbert's grouchy attitude. Her whining about having to get married got tiresome after awhile, and I didn't find her thoughts totally genuine. Overall, kind of meh.

2) Imperfect Birds: A novel by Anne Lamott- I LOVE Anne Lamott and can't recommend her books enough. This book was no exception. The writing and characters were quietly gorgeous and lovely, the plot kept me engaged, and the powerful bittersweet themes of mistakes, redemption, drug use, and aging really packed a punch. Love, love, love Anne Lamott and this book.

3)The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Steig Larsson- The Millenium trilogy was one of the few sets of books that Kev and I agree on. i was less than impressed with the amount of graphic battle in the first two books, but the treachery and deceit in this book, plus the closure inherent in the book itself, made it my favorite of the three. I'm a sucker for secret government plots, and so this was right up my alley.

4) Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman- After reading this book, I really wanted to take Kerman out for a drink and chat her up. Her narration of prison life was breezy enough to make this feel like a vacation read, but there was enough emotional depth to make it academically engaging. I do wish that Kerman had talked a little more about what led to her imprisonment in the first place. Everyone likes hearing good girl gone bad tales.

5) House Rules by Jodi Piccoult- I am a sucker for Piccoult's books. Yes, I know they are a bit fluffy, and her writing is not the greatest, but the themes she writes about keep me coming back every time. This book, about an autistic boy accused of a crime was a good brain candy read, although her books are so stinking predictable it's ridiculous. Flew through it when I needed a brain break, and it served its purpose well.

6) The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors by Michelle Young-Stone- This book got a lot of hype by my web pal Rebecca, and rightfully so. It was my hands down favorite book I read for either of my challenges last year. I loved the characters, I loved the plot, and I have begged my bookish friends to read it, too. One of those rare books that I picked up and could not put down. Go get it. Please.

7) Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris- This book was awful. I forced myself to finish it out of respect for how much I love Sedaris normally but the unnecessary violence and sarcastic animal characters did nothing for me. I have no idea what purpose Sedaris was trying to achieve, but it didn't do it for me. Did I miss something here? Yikes.

8) The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer- I received this book as part of LibraryThing's early reviewer program, and it was wonderful. I love a plot that twists and turns, and I love even more tales of complicated loves and mysterious losses. Lovely, heart wrenching writing and characters that were gloriously real and alive with faults, this was a great read.

9) Room by Emma Donoghue-There has been a lot of hype about this book. While I hated the phony narration of the main character, watching his mother's fight to keep them alive inside while locked in their own world was enough to make me read this entire book in one afternoon. I got sucked into this book the same way Law and Order: SVU always grabs me. How are there people in the world that would really do such things? How do victims cope? This one haunted me for a long time. Sidenote: Kev read it and never finished it. His hatred of this book was cause for some extremely spirited debate between us for quite some time.

10) The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobsen- If it hadn't been December and this book hadn't also been an award winner, which allowed me to double-dip with my other challenge, I would have never finished this book. I'm all for obnoxious book characters, but the main character in this book was so irritating that I found myself rooting against him. The book was overly long, tried too hard to have poetic language, and had characters who dragged the book down. Yikes.

Well, friends, there you have it. Look for upcoming posts about my second reading challenge of 2010, as well as the three (yes, 3) challenges I'm participating in this year. Happy reading!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Crazy Jobs

The talk of my crazy job today is the weather. Because Chicago is about to be hit with a crazy thundersnow of epic blizzarding proportions, school has already been canceled for tomorrow. Although we're not announcing it to the kiddos until closer to the end of the day, murmurs are afoot. I, for one, am just plain excited. Sure, this cancellation means that we'll have to make up a day at the end of the year, but right now is a miserable time to be at school, what with the darkness in the morning, the looming pressures of high stakes testing, and drama going on about job placement next year, so I'm happy to stay home in my robe reading books, catching up on homework, working out, and generally lounging.

This morning I was so excited about the snow that I bounded out of bed, which is a rather strange occurrence for a confirmed morning crabass like myself. Even more strangely, Kev was up and chatty at the same time, and we started talking a little bit about the many differences between our jobs. Kev noted that his bosses know that he takes the Metra to work, and that they would probably expect him to come in tomorrow regardless of weather. I voted that he lobby hard to "work from home."

I'm fascinated by people that can work from home, or people that have different jobs than mine. My favorite thing to do is to ask people about their jobs, which my husband and friends think is a terribly odd trait. However, it's a good reminder for me that not everyone's jobs come with the perks of snow days and summers off, but are also not full of whining kids and administrators who play favorites. Besides, if I didn't ask, I would have never found out about my friend who is a physician assistant. Her whole job is to assist with robot performed surgeries. Basically, she moves internal organs out of the way while a doctor uses a nintendo-like remote to guide a robot to perform precise surgeries.

That's freaking awesome.

So, moral of the story, I hope you remember today to try and find ways to value the positives of your job more than the negative, and to appreciate the people in your life who are unsung heroes in their jobs. This unsung hero will be home tomorrow, using her snow day to count the many reasons she loves her job. Happy Tuesday!