Monday, November 30, 2009

Idaho Spuds and Buds

Highlights of our Thanksgiving weekend in Idaho:

Turkey Bowl and Turkey Trot

The Nielson men got together for some athletic competitions on Turkey Day. After a game of football, they had a race on the high school track. These boys are competitive, and unkind words were exchanged, but, after several heats, Ryan and Nate came out victorious. (Funny that they were the only two who didn't strip down to their skivvies for aerodynamic advantage!) It was hilarious.

Family Feasts

We enjoyed Sal's homecooking the entire weekend. Of course, the actual Thanksgiving meal was a highlight.

Family Fun

The "love bird" couples had fun decorating gingerbread houses with Sal (Mom) and Tan (little brother).

Family Fotos

Aren't we cute?

"Love ya tender," Nielsons!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Teacher's Worst Nightmare

Every year, during Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, I grade like a maniac. I may have been known to even neglect my family a time or two in favor of holing up somewhere to grade.

Well, apparently the Fates wanted me to change my anti-social behavior this year.

Before I left school yesterday, I thought, I will have so much time to grade while I'm in Idaho this weekend!  So I packed everything--two sets of quizzes, two sets of essays, a pack of journal responses--into my expandable file folder and stuffed it in my bag.

On the first leg of my trip, I graded a set of quizzes before settling down to read a good book.  (Hunger Games--it was excellent.)  I was so involved in my book that when I arrived at my layover airport, I continued reading for several hours before convincing myself, Rachel, you really need to keep grading!

So, grudgingly, I put down my book and opened my bag to find my expandable file...GONE.

This was my reaction:


I sat frozen and stunned for a full minute before I could compute the fact that, yes, I left the entire file on my first plane; yes, it's probably gone forever; and yes, I'm going to have to explain this to 150 teenagers on Monday.

I approached the Delta info desk and told them that I had lost something important and asked if there is any chance that I will be able to get it back.

"It's not likely," the worker said.  "A lot of times people aren't nice enough or honest enough to turn stuff in."

"Umm, I don't think it would be valuable to anyone but me.  I'm a high school English teacher, and it's all of my students' tests, quizzes, and essays," I responded, the pain evident in my voice.

He shook his head and started to laugh. "I bet some kids were just praying you would lose that bag!"

I bet they were.

Now I'm just praying they find it!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Music to my ears...

"Mrs. Nielson, I've been looking forward to this class all day!"

It's not very often that I get to hear comments like that...especially from my male students.  But I've been hearing this and other similar sentiments a lot lately since my 11th grade classes have been reading and acting out the play version of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.

My students love this unit, and this is why:

I turn my classroom into the "set" as a mental hospital, and I make them wear costumes and act out what we are reading.  Surprisingly, they love it and run to class each day to get their costumes on and their props ready.  Yesterday, the characters in the play did an Indian war dance, so guess what...I had a pack of wild eleventh graders whopping and hollering, shuffling up and down the aisles of desks.  OH SO FUN!!!!!

Unfortunately for them, our next unit is the huge research paper.  What a juxtaposition!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Three for the Price of One

Last night, some of my fun girlfriends invited me to go to the midnight showing of New Moon with them.  After considering the fact that I had to get up at 6:00 a.m. to teach a full day of school, I decided--what the heck??--and I went.

It was so much fun.  We smuggled in Cheetohs, Doritos, and Hot Tamales, and we just chomped and giggled away while watching what was quite possibly one of the corniest movies I've ever seen.  (But in a fun way!)  We screamed with all of the other girls when Jacob, the sexy werewolf, first took off his shirt, and we gasped in horror at the creepy, red-eyed Volturi.  At the climactic moment of the film, just when Edward was about to get killed by the vampire authorities (we knew he wouldn't...but still...), the movie started to wobble...and then slow down...and then, it STOPPED.

My first thought was, "Riot."  Honestly, I was afraid that the hordes of Edward-loving maniacs might pummel the poor worker who came running in to fix it.  He calmly assured us that they were having technical difficulties, and it would just be a few minutes.

Well, FIFTY minutes later, the film got rolling again, and we finally got to see Edward reunited with his precious Bella.  To compensate us for our lost time and to ease our aggravation, the theater gave each person two free movie tickets. JACK POT!  I was more than appeased, especially considering that during the entire fifty minute break, I had a grand old time chatting and laughing with Karli and Tasha.  So fun!

Although quite sleep-deprived at school today (I got home from the movie at 3:35 a.m.), I was able to muster up enough energy to have a few spirited discussions about the movie with my students.  (You better believe they were at the midnight showings!!)  I love being able to talk about relationships, life, and literature with my students--even if the discussion centers around cheesy vampires!

Tonight, Ry and I utilized the free tickets and saw another new release film, The Blind Side.  It is the true story of a family who made a remarkable difference in the life of a troubled teenager, and I have to say, it was infinitely more inspiring than New Moon.  I left wanting to be a better person.  In fact, as we were driving home, Ry and I spotted a guy pushing his truck down the road, and we looked at each other and knew we better stop to help.  It's a little ridiculous how good it made us feel to help this fellow; the family in the movie changed someone's life, but, hey, we helped push a broken down truck, and that's a start, right???  Ha!

I love going to the it's been a good couple of days!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You know you're getting old when...

*You listen to NPR on the way to and from work each day. "Oooh, reading disabilities, foreign elections, and Haitian folk interesting!"

*You quote lines from movies, and your teenage students just look at you like you're insane. Umm....they've never seen Tommy Boy...they've never seen The Princess Bride...THEY'VE NEVER SEEN BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. ??????!!!!!!!???????

*You are ecstatic when you get to go to bed at 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night.

What else can be added to this list?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Best Day Off EVER

I had Wednesday off of school for Veterans' Day.  I was torn between wanting to hang out with friends and wanting to be productive.  This is always my dilemma.

Luckily for me, one of my favorite friends in the world, Natalie Dayton, knows me all too well, and she called with this proposition: "I want to hang out with you on your day off, but I know how you like to be why don't we get together and make a bunch of meals to freeze and use when we are busy and stressed?"  JACK POT!  Do I have amazing friends, or what?!

Natalie is an awesome cook, and she had read my rant earlier in the week about my inability to cook, so she picked three of her "easy meals" and taught me how to make them.  I went home with tupperwares and foil pans full of food.  I was one happy girl.

The best part of the day was being with my friends.  (Laney came too.)  Let's just say that giggling and chatting makes cooking a whole lot funner!  (Yes, I know that's not a real word.)

One of the recipes that we made is Natalie's divine chicken and wild rice soup.  I am obsessed with it. So before I stuck it in the freezer, I saved some in a little tupperware, just for me.  And all day at school today, I kept thinking about that delicious soup awaiting me at home for dinner.  The thought got me through the day.  When I got home at 7:00 p.m., I was definitely ready to chow.

The problem was...the tupperware was EMPTY in the sink.

Oh man, Ryan better be glad he wasn't at home.  I take my food very seriously, and I was beyond livid. I stomped around the house for ten minutes, thought about going to get myself some Wendys to punish him (no idea how that correlates), and ended up eating a bowl of lame Frosted Mini-Wheats instead.  Grrrrrrrrr.

So when I heard Ry walking in from his tennis match, before I even saw him, I shouted, "You are in big trouble, Mister!"

I felt kinda bad for yelling at him when he then pulled out a yellow rose that he had purchased for me.  He claims that this uncharacteristically romantic act was intended to be thoughtful, not propitiatory; but I think he knew that he would be in deep water for eating all of my precious Natalie Dayton soup.

Fortunately for him, we have a big tupperware in the freezer...just waiting to be thawed out next week!

Here's the recipe for anyone who wants it.  It is so yummy!  Just be sure to hide it well if you don't want it to be devoured by sneaky husbands.

Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

4 chicken breast halves or equivalent amount of tenders
1 box Long Grain and Wild Rice mix (Near East Brand is best, but Uncle Ben's is easier to find.)
2 cans chicken broth
4 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 Tbs. cornstarch
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
Salt and pepper

-Sprinkle the chicken with 1/2 of the poultry seasoning and salt.  Cook it in a tiny bit of olive oil over medium heat.  Cover to avoid drying out.
-At the same time, cook the rice according to the directions on the box.
-In a large pot, melt butter. Add chopped carrots and celery and pepper to taste, and sauté for about 10 minutes until tender. Add flour, cornstarch and the rest of the poultry seasoning, and whisk together quickly. 
-Add stock and milk, whisking quickly as you pour.   Cook over medium-low heat stirring often.
-When the chicken and rice are finished, cut chicken into bite-size pieces and add both to the soup. 

Thanks, Natalie, for a great day!  

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

An Introspective Night

I’ve had an introspective night.  I want to do something to better my community—but I just don’t know what.

I went to a grocery store on Main Street--one that I usually don't go to because it's scary--and I heard more profanity in ten minutes than I would in a two-hour long R-rated film.  The most memorable incident involved the young couple who was in front of me in line.  They got in a huge argument which included vicious insults and the worst profanities in our language.  The husband finally turned to the teenaged clerk who was checking them out and said, “Do you see what you have to look forward to when you get married?  Do you want me to hook you up with her sister?”  The clerk was speechless, as was I.  When they left, we looked at each other in horror.

When I got home, I read this article online, and I almost threw up.  Then, I sat on my bed for an hour and thought about our world. 

Ryan asked me why I read about this stuff—all it does is depress me.  I told him he is right, but sometimes I think I need to feel a little depressed about the condition of the world…because it awakens my desire to do something—anything—about it.

I live in a bubble.  The bubble of the privileged.  I can go for weeks at a time without feeling any real discomforts.  I have a warm bed, an awesome husband, plenty of good food, wonderful friends, a fulfilling job.  I sometimes say things to Ryan like “I hate my life!” when I am stressed about school, or I whine and grump when I am feeling sick or frustrated.  But let’s face it, Rachel…compared to 99.9% of the world, your life is perfect.  So get over it.

Sometimes, I have to admit it, I completely forget that there’s a big, grim world out there.  In my oblivious stupor of surfing the Internet, going to the gym, and planning weekend get-togethers with friends, I truly forget that any other reality exists.  Honestly, I often go through the day without doing a single thing for anyone outside of my immediate family. 

If I didn't take an occasional shopping trip to the "ghetto" store on Main Street, and if I didn't occasionally read heartbreaking stories in the newspaper, would I even remember what the real world is like?  I don't know.  I truly don't know if I would.

I can’t change the world.  I can’t change the culture of vulgarity that seems to be a spreading plague; but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t act.  I said to Ryan tonight, “I need to do something to acknowledge the rough world out there.  I cannot live in this bubble for the rest of my life.”

It’s more for me than for anyone else.  Just so that I keep my eyes open.  Just so that I remember how blessed I truly am.  Just so that I can look back on my life and say, “I was aware of the world, God.  I was aware, and I didn't just stand back and watch.”   

The problem is, where to begin??  How to find opportunities to serve?  What programs could I help with?  Where am I needed?  Even when I want to help, sometimes it’s so hard to find out how and where and when and what.  With no kids, this is the perfect stage of my life to engage in something meaningful in my community, BUT WHAT?!?

I'm not talking about a total life change or anything.  Just small things, to make some sort of a small difference.  Maybe I could do after school tutoring downtown?  Or help inner-city teens with college application essays?  Maybe I could help people who are unemployed with resumes and interviewing skills?  I have talents and abilities that surely could be put to some use...but how do I find the opportunities?

Tonight was a wakeup call.  I hope I don’t forget it or ignore it.  I hope I actually act.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Too much to ask?

My Christmas list:

1.  A personal cook.*
2.  A personal trainer.**
3.  A personal fashion consultant.***


*I cannot cook worth a darn.  To make matters worse, I hate it.  I blame my mother--she hated it too and never really taught me much about it.  I've been trying to cook and eat healthier meals lately, but I'm not good at it (which frustrates me), and it seems like such a production for just a few minutes of satisfaction.  Last night, I had a melt down and a slight screaming fit: "I AM NOT COOKING A SINGLE MEAL THIS WEEK!!"  Ry was bewildered but amenable to my decision.  So we're going simple for the next few days:  tomato soup, baked potatoes, pancakes...I just wish I had someone to cook delicious, healthy meals for us every night!

**I am pathetically out of shape.  Yes, I did run a half marathon five weeks ago, but I really haven't exercised since.  Why is my life so "all or nothing?"  I focus on one aspect of my life, go after it like crazy, achieve the goal, and then I'm just DONE.  It's really not the ideal way to live.  So this week, I joined a nearby gym, and I'm trying to get into it.  But, as is the case with cooking, I'm really not very good at it (which, again, frustrates me).  I can't even figure out how to do the exercises that the instructor is modeling because I have zero coordination.  Wouldn't it be nice if I had a personal trainer to develop a sweet workout for me and walk me through each move?

***I wore a very frumpy outfit to school today.  It was frumptastic.  But at 6:15 a.m. each morning, as I fumble around in the dark and throw on the first few articles of clothing that I can get my hands on, what can be expected?!  The problem is, I have a very critical audience.  I honestly don't know if there is an audience more critical than teenagers, and I can only imagine the internal comments that they have about my outfits every day.  How do you think they would react if I just shouted at them, "LOOK, I'M NOT GOOD AT THIS FASHION THING, SO CUT ME SOME SLACK HERE!"  Lately, I've tried wearing scarves.  You know, those cutesy ones that all of the fashion-savvy girls are wearing?  Anyway, I think I probably just look ridiculous.  But I don't know--because I can't tell.  Honestly, I have no eye for it.  That's why I need a personal fashion consultant to put together my outfits or at least approve/disapprove my choice before I walk out the door each morning.

Ahhh, such wishful thinking.  But alas, I am not Miley Cyrus or Britney Spears or Paris Hilton.  And so, I suppose that I will have to continue cooking my own meals (or resorting to cold cereal if I persist in my current trend), continue enduring ineffective workout sessions at the gym (I think it's more likely that I'll just stop going), and continue showing up to school in mismatched sweaters and skirts (and hope that my students don't judge me too harshly).


So, readers, I am wondering: What's on your unrealistic Christmas list?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Oh my.

Just returned from an emergency run to Wilson Farms. I know, I know, it's technically still Sunday...but the ox was in the mire (just remembered that tomorrow is my co-teacher's birthday, and we had no eggs for me to make her a cake), so I decided that 11:35 pm was close enough to 12:00 am, and I dashed down the road to buy a couple of eggs.

Wilson Farms is just at the end of our street--on the corner of Highgate and Bailey--so I drove there in about 30 seconds, hopped out of my car, and ran into the empty store. As I walked towards the dairy case, I got a strange look (candy corn pjs again) from the worker and the armed guard, and then--WAIT--armed guard? I did a double take. Oh yes, there was a big, black, armed guard standing with his arms crossed by the door.


So as I was waiting for the worker to come ring me out (she conveniently disappeared just as her only customer for the night stepped up to the counter), I struck up a conversation with the large guard.

"Are you here every night?" I asked.

"No, only Saturday and Sunday," he responded, appearing quite pleased that I was actually talking to him.

"But is someone here every night?" I persisted.

"Oh, yeah. One of us is."

"Wow, that's scary. I guess that means that there is a need for you to be here every night, huh?"

His response: "Girly, you have no idea."

Note to self: If ever you need eggs in the middle of the night again, it might be best to drive the 10 minutes to Wegmans in Amherst. Better to lose gas and sleep than to lose your life.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I came home from church today feeling a little overwhelmed.

During the meeting, Ryan had his arm around me--trying to peacefully meditate, I'm sure--and I just kept sighing, adjusting, crossing and uncrossing my legs, sniffling.  Basically, I was grumping.

"What's going on??" he finally asked.

"I'm mad," I stated, matter of factly.

"At me?" he asked.  (Poor Ryan, he puts up with a lot.)

"No, at everything else," I responded--and left it at that.

Do your family history.
Serve your neighbors.
Keep your house clean.
Cook healthy meals.
Exercise daily.
Read your scriptures.
Pray fervently.
Be a missionary.
Engage in your community.
Keep a journal.
Stay informed on current events.
Be a good wife, teacher, daughter, sister, friend, Relief Society member...someday, mother...

It's all a little much for me sometimes.

And that list of basics doesn't even include some of the "non-essential" goals that I have for myself, such as writing a book, learning Spanish, helping at the orphanage...SIGH SIGH SIGH.

This week, Ryan asked me what the meaning of life is.  (I think he is discouraged by school and trying to figure out how to find more joy on a daily basis.)  I thought about it, and I told him that I think it's "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself." Luke 10:27.  I think that's the reason why God sent us to this crazy see if we would love Him and love our fellowmen.

Two simple commandments.  Yet, life's not so simple, is it?