Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Beautiful Sister and her Beautiful Baby

I am obsessed with my nephew. He is so fat. My whole family (except for me) was together in Colorado this weekend for his blessing in church. I wish I could have been there to squeeze his chubby legs!! Good thing he is coming to see me in Buffalo this summer!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Happy Birthday (Week) to Me...

I like to celebrate my birthday for an entire week. It gives me an excuse to eat as much junk food as I want and to demand favors from my very accommodating husband. ("Ryan, can you do the dishes tonight? I mean, it is my birthday week!")

My actual birthday isn't until Sunday...but I had an early birthday present this weekend when Katie Halverson, one of my favorite people in the world, came to visit for Memorial Day. Kat and I met in our college dorm hall, and we've been great friends ever since.

Some fun photos in many "exotic" locations around the area:

Mormon temple at Palmyra, NY

Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Niagara Falls

Some fun anecdotes:

-I've always called Katie "Kat." Well, a couple of weeks ago, I learned a very irritating yet catchy camp song entitled "The Cat Came Back" (Thanks, Adrian!), and for some reason, now I cannot say "Kat" without that tune popping into my head. Consequently, I was singing it all weekend, and Ryan and Katie wanted to kill me. The story gets better: On Monday morning, Kat and I were supposed to wake up at a decent hour to go shopping, but, of course, we kept hitting the snooze button and couldn't get our rear ends out of bed. Ryan was in the other room studying and got annoyed by the blaring alarm every five minutes, so he thought of a clever way to wake us up: He went to youtube and pulled up a stunning rendition of my camp favorite, and he blared it in the other room. Katie and I burst out laughing, and, sure enough, hopped up to start the day.

-This is the second time we've taken Deborah to Palmyra. Some of you may remember that she got a "Cadillac" electric wheelchair last time, and that's what we asked for this time, but instead, we got a "Monster Truck" four-wheeler. (Apparently, the electric chair had not been charged.) Now, I've seen some pretty crazy wheelchairs in my day, but this one takes the cake. Deb was lounging like a queen as Ryan huffed and puffed and pushed her along the trails and up the hills.

-On our way home from Palmyra, we were listening to some church talks on CD, and suddenly the choir started a special musical number. I joined in my best opera soprano, hitting the high notes with vigor. When I paused, Deborah announced, "Oh no, girl...that has got to go!" Apparently, I don't so sound good singing opera.

-We had our spunky neighbors over for dinner, and during the middle of the meal, David, the adorable seven year old, announced that he "had to go #2" and started running for the bathroom. His mother forbade him to use our bathroom (apparently, he can stink up an entire house) and made him run home to go. On his way out the door, he said, "Nobody touch my food!!" and then he looked at Katie, pointed two fingers to his eyes, and then pointed them at her, as if to say, "I'm watching you!" She burst out laughing.

It was a great weekend of fun with one of my closest, dearest friends. I love just talking and laughing with Katie.

Best birthday present ever!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The non-crafter gets crafty (and actually enjoys it!)

A friend of mine, Karli, is incredibly artistic, creative, and cute, and she convinced me to join a "card club." For this club, each member has to create handmade cards every month, and then we exchange them. For those of you who know me well, I am SO not a crafter...I have no patience for it and no "eye" for it. So, I really only joined the club because I wanted to hang out with Karli.

The first month of card club, I cheated and had my crafty older sister make mine. (Thanks, Sarah!) The second month of card club, I cheated again and had Karli make mine. ( was a really busy month, and she offered!)

But this month, I actually buckled down and made my own cards--with the help of Karli, of course. This is a sample of my finished products:

It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be and, amazingly, it was quite enjoyable! In fact, last night, as I was driving home from work, I found myself brainstorming ideas for NEXT month's cards and getting excited. WHAT IN THE DEVIL??!! I am turning into a new woman! Before we know it, I am going to be a stay-at-home mom with six kids quilting up a storm in my free time!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Still Life

This year, I have been the advisor of Still Life, the Orchard Park High School literary magazine. I agreed to take on this additional responsibility because I am a sucker who can't say "no" to anyone--but, in the end, I am so glad that I decided to advise this club! The literary magazine is a collection of poetry and prose written by our high school students; writers submit their work, and then the student staff critiques and rates the poems and chooses the best 50 or so to be featured. Then, the staff designs a magazine to feature all the writing, intermingled with artwork and photography from OPHS students.

I loved advising this club so much because it was a great group of students who actually love to write. They were a motivated, creative, and all-around delightful group of kids (unlike many of the students who I work with in my classroom all day long!) Don't get me wrong...I love the students I teach too...but it was a renewing "boost" at the end of the day to work with excited, dependable student writers in an after-school club.

This past Thursday night was the final "poetry reading" at a local coffee shop. Many of the poets, writers, and artists featured in Still Life attended with their families, and it was a memorable and inspiring night. The kids were all so excited to share their work.

Although I've never been much of a poet, these students have inspired me to start trying--and I am going to write a poem about each member of the Still Life staff to give to them for graduation. I can't wait! Even if the poems are lame, I know they are going to be thrilled...they are such nice kids, and I love them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Down in the Dumps

I have been so discouraged about teaching the past few days.

I never stop grading, and sometimes I think it is literally going to destroy my mental health. I try to figure out ways to shorten assignments but still make them meaningful; I try to figure out ways to assign less or grade more efficiently. It is just so difficult when I have 115 juniors, and I want them all to improve as writers. I get tired of spending all my free time grading. It's no wonder the attrition rate for teaching is like 50% in the first five years.

I've also found that students (and their parents) are only obsessed with grades and don't even care about the learning. They are willing to do anything--well, except work hard--in order to get a high grade, including cheating. I cannot stand cheating. It cheapens everything that I do in my classroom. I can no longer even give homework assignments because so many of them come back copied or plagiarized, and I don't want to take the time to read every word and double check for cheating--so I've started making them do almost all of their responses in class where I can monitor that they are working independently.

I wish they would stop worrying about their stupid 97% averages (which, by the way, is not actually indicative of the ability levels of most of these mediocre students) and start worrying more about becoming better readers, writers, and people. I had to take two phone calls from crazy parents this week: One father was concerned that his daughter "only" had a 94% and wanted me to accept one of her late assignments. (I didn't.) Another mother called in a panic because her daughter "only" had an 87% this quarter--and I must add that this student is definitely not a 90s-level writer or reader. I have no idea how she's been getting 90s in her other English classes over the years. This mother wanted to know "what went wrong" and why her daughter had "such a low average."

I sometimes honestly consider a career change--not leaving teaching all together, but instead teaching in a different setting--such as a prison. You may laugh at that, but I am serious. I hear the class sizes are small, no overbearing parents are involved, the students actually want to learn, and a security guard is present to deal with any and all discipline issues. Sounds pretty ideal and probably quite rewarding.

It's my personality to be a perfectionist, and I let all of these factors of my job really bother me. I am constantly thinking about what I can do differently in order to make my job more enjoyable while also being an effective educator. I drive myself crazy thinking about teaching.

Sometimes, I think teenagers these days get a bad "rep" as lazy and entitled; but I have to admit, many of the students that I work with would fall into at least one of those categories. It's a rare teenager indeed who works hard, takes responsibility for his/her actions, acts respectfully, and has well-adjusted priorities.

I have to get up in six hours and start another day, so I better get to bed and try not to lie awake thinking about teaching...

I would like advice.