Friday, January 29, 2010

My New Favorite Hobby

I've found a new hobby these past couple of weeks.


This is, in truth, a new hobby for Rachel Westover Nielson, as I've spent the past ten years or so in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation.

When I was a busy high school honors student (involved in far too many extra curricular activities), my mom would often wake in the middle of the night to see the hallway light shining under her bedroom door. This was a sign that her middle daughter was still awake, and she would emerge in a huff and put me to bed. "Something has to go, Rachel--and it can't be your mental health!"

Unfortunately, my habits didn't change much when I headed to college. I remember admitting to my father during those 18-credit hour semesters that I felt "guilty" if I got more than four hours of sleep a night. To this, he too informed me that I needed mental help.

Well, beginning my career as a teacher did not provide the mental therapy that my parents prescribed. My first few years on the job, I was lucky to get home by 8:00 p.m., and then there was dinner to make, church service to complete, an apartment to clean, a husband to love. I don't think 3:00 a.m. was an unusual bedtime at all in those chaotic days.

But things have suddenly changed. I think after ten years of pandemonium, I got tired. I suddenly let myself get a taste of sleeping. I started taking naps after work. (Gasp!) I started taking naps at work. (I have a couch in my classroom that is oh-so-comfy.) I started going to bed before midnight. (My mom is rejoicing in heaven.) And guess what?

I like it.

The other night, after a stressful evening of working on our budget, I looked over at Ryan and said, "Well, I'm tired. I'm going to bed."

It was 7:45 p.m.

He was flabbergasted; I was too. But in a good way.

Today at school, one of the other teachers asked, "Rachel, are you still running all the time?" (He was referring to the half marathons that I have trained for over the years.)

"No, not really." I responded, not even feeling a twinge of guilt.

"Well, what are you doing instead? Have you replaced running with another time-intensive hobby?"

I thought about it for a second and then laughed. "Yeah. Relaxing."

My oh my is it wonderful.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Here comes Debbie Downer.

I had a tough day at school today. Meet my students:

Student A: Did not have anything accomplished on his research paper yesterday. Nothing. No sources, no outline, no Works Cited. Amazingly, he came in to class today with a lengthy, complete paper, ready to turn in. Based on this student's track record and academic potential, this seemed suspicious to me--especially since the upper right hand corner of the essay was noticeably torn off. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this student had gotten an essay from a friend in another class, torn off the friend's name, and was attempting to turn it in. When I asked the student if he was sure that he wanted to submit the paper (hint hint), he started shaking, refused to give me the essay, and then refused to let me make a xerox copy of it to verify his sources. Of course, this was all my fault--I am the terrible teacher who dared to notice an attempted case of plagiarism and call a student on it. He informed me that I am "ridiculous" before he stormed out of the room in a huff.

Student B: Has been absent for over a week and has mountains of work to catch up on. However, during today's "work day" in the computer lab, she chose to sit at her computer and fill a Microsoft Word document with 3,000 smiley faces instead of doing anything productive. I did not immediately notice this unwise choice because I was helping 25 other kids who had their hands raised and demanded my attention. When I did notice the document of smileys, I sighed deeply and said, "Oh, Student B, is this really the best thing you could think of to do with your time today?" She just stared at me blankly.

Student C: Approached me after school with a scowl: "Mrs. Nielson, we need to talk about the grade on my essay because I am not happy about it." Oh the entitlement. Oh the demands. How dare you give me a C on a paper?? Well, Student C, the paper was crappy, and you can do better. Why don't you just revise it, as I've given everyone the option to do? But no, that takes work--and my students don't like it when I make them work. And this is a student who I had thought was respectful...I guess that's only when she's getting her way.

I could continue with Student D, Student E, Student F...but there aren't enough letters in the alphabet to capture each of the students with whom I work and each individual situation, problem, and complaint that I deal with on a daily basis. I have 130 students--some of them are wonderful; but many of them are just plain difficult.

I am convinced--utterly convinced--that with the exception of the President of the United States, teachers have the hardest job in the entire world.

Enough whining. Time for bed.

I get to do it all over again tomorrow.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


My little sister is a Chemistry teacher. She once showed me a video that she made to explain the principle of entropy to her high school students. As I remember it, entropy refers to a universal law (thermodynamics, I believe) that all matter will naturally settle into the state that requires the least amount of energy to maintain. One of the definitions of entropy on (just looked it up) is the "inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society."

Surprisingly, since viewing Laura's video many months ago, I've thought about entropy a lot. This principle of Chemistry seems to describe my life perfectly:

Exhibit A: Ryan and I deep cleaned our apartment yesterday; within several hours, the place looked like a disaster area again. Why is it so hard to keep our living space in order?

Exhibit B: On January 1, I made several lofty goals for 2010; on January 17, I'm already back to my disordered, disorganized, distraught self. Why is it so hard to be disciplined?

I am blaming entropy. It's not my fault....there's no use fighting it. It's a universal law.

What examples of entropy do you see in your daily life?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I'm chewed up.

Little known fact about me:

I am a huge pen-chewer. It is a totally unconscious bad habit; I truly have no idea that I am doing it.

This was quite embarrassing for me in college when I would ask a friendly girl next to me if I could borrow a pen to take notes during class. At the end of class, as I handed it back to her, I would suddenly realize...The shaft of that pen is now destroyed. Literally, destroyed. When I am concentrating, when I am stressed, I chomp pens down to nothing in a matter of minutes. Sometimes I actually bite off chunks of the plastic. It's probably bad for my teeth. (Sorry, Ry.)

My students occasionally ask to borrow pens during class. Without thinking, I say, "Sure, they're in the cup on my desk." Then I have to hear comments like, "Ewwww! I'm not touching that!" (To which I respond, "Get your own stinkin' pen then!") or "Mrs. Nielson, do you have a dog?" (To which I respond, puzzled, "No--why?" and then I realize.)

My closest friends often return my pens to me. They'll say things like, "I found this on my kitchen counter, and I knew exactly who it belonged to!" I guess I have a rather distinctive bite mark.

Anyway, I just finished a five-hour long grading session. It was painful.

I started with a brand new mechanical pencil. I ended with this:

I truly had no idea that I was chewing on anything as I graded. Crazy, huh?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Not totally according to plan...

In the weeks prior to New Year's Eve 2009, I envisioned a perfect evening. You see, all of my sisters would be home for the holidays--and we all have wedding anniversaries at the end of December. So why not celebrate together, on one of the biggest nights of the year, at one of those swanky parties downtown?

In my mind, the evening was going to be a mixture of fun and romance. The fun would involve a triple date with my sisters and their husbands to go dancing at a hotel downtown, and the romance would involve Ryan and I staying overnight for some alone time. (The hotel had a dance/overnight package deal.)

This is what I pictured:

1. My sisters and I would spend the afternoon getting really dolled up. We would spread the curling irons and makeup across the counter of my dad's bathroom, and we would giggle and chat as Laura did the up-dos and Sarah did the make-up.


Apparently, Callum wanted to be with the boys.

Laura did a great job on my hair. She even made the clip!

2. The guys would spend the afternoon cooking us a fancy dinner. They would chop and marinate and steam and bake...and they would like it! After all, what man doesn't like to spoil his wife on their anniversary--especially when he knows that she is going to walk down the stairs looking like a hot mama?


Logan is an incredible chef, and he actually spent several days preparing the meal. It was six courses! Ryan said it was "the best meal of his entire life."

Ryan and Sam couldn't help too much with the exotic cooking, but they sure did set a beautiful table!

3. The women would then waltz downstairs and "wow" the husbands--who usually only see us in PJs and ponytails.


Don't worry--the fur coat was a total joke! I did not actually wear that thing out of the house!

They were so impressed by our transformation that they made us do a little impromptu photo shoot. This is only one of the many ridiculous photos that resulted. We are crazy when we are together.

4. The family would sit around a candlelit dinner table and reminisce to the sound of soft jazz music. It would be a highly sophisticated affair.

Check? (Well, at least we tried.)

Sam and Laura look oh-so-sophisticated with their pre-dinner "mocktails."

And who's that sexy bartender?

5. After a delicious dinner, we would take some group photos (like Prom all over again!), leave the baby with Grandpa, and head downtown for a night of romance.


These two studs were happy to stay home and chill.

6. Here's where things would really get exciting: We would arrive at the downtown hotel to hobnob with other classy young people. I pictured a ballroom strung with white twinkly lights; I imagined myself admiring lovely cocktail dresses; I hoped for at least a few slow songs to cuddle up to Ryan--ideally something classic like Frank Sinatra. It would be a glitzy and glam evening.

Yeah...this is where my vision fell apart. (Just be glad that I don't have any photos to post right here.)

I was right about one thing: It did get exciting when we walked into the hotel (through a mob of waiting guests, a heavy cloud of cigarette smoke, and a barrage of profane words). The skin-tight, leopard-print, street-walker dresses were our first clue that perhaps we were overdressed (literally); and the girl who threw up on herself in the lobby was the real kicker. Logan literally had to jump out of the way. So much for ambiance!

Still hoping to make the best of the evening (maybe we could find a secluded corner to dance outside of the mayhem?) my older sister decided to try to pick up our tickets. She waited in what was supposed to be a line while we dropped off the luggage in our rooms. When I finally made it back to her through the masses of intoxicated, pimped-out party-goers, she had not moved an inch and dramatically threw her arms around me, shouting, "DON'T LEAVE ME HERE ALONE EVER AGAIN!!" It was hilarious.

The horde of people waiting to get into the dance was growing angrier by the minute, and the large bouncers seemed to be having trouble fending them off. At this point, we looked at each other and asked, "Do we really want to get trampled to death on New Year's Eve?"

So we left.

And outside, there were some delightful fireworks.

So the evening didn't go exactly how I had hoped, but it was still a ton of fun. And to be honest, my vision of a "perfectly romantic evening" was much more of a delusion than a possibility--after all, we went to the cheapest hotel-sponsored dance we could find. What can you expect?!? Not twinkly lights and Sinatra!


Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas is...

Ice skating on a frozen lake in the Colorado mountains...

Do we look like professionals? Believe me, we weren't.

Hanging out with the crazy LaBonde cousins...

Jordan and Laura were quite impressed by the "Slap Chop" that Sam ordered for Laura off of an infomercial. Good gift, Sammy!

Bundling up in ridiculous, warm clothes and creating snow creatures...

Laura enjoyed her long hat;
Ryan enjoyed his hot pink neck warmer.

This snow alien had a was awesome.

Taking a million family photos in an attempt to get at least one in which no one has closed eyes, a double chin, or a glasses glare ...

We weren't successful, thanks to my glasses and Sam's squint. Oh well.

Opening presents around the tree on Christmas morning...

My mother-in-law made me an adorable apron, and Laura made Sarah an adorable apron. Now, we both better learn to cook!

Spending time with the cutest old people on the planet, my Gramps and Grammy...

Notice the apron.

Grammy didn't want to wear her "church clothes" all day and asked to borrow some of our PJs. Laura's husband Sam is in the Navy, so we loaned Gram his Navy t-shirt and made her do a "stern Navy salute." Oh my, she is such a cutie.

It was a great week with family, and I am a little depressed to be back to "real life" and heading to work hoo.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Could this child be any cuter?


I loved seeing my nephew, Callum, this week. I even witnessed his first steps! (He took six steps while I was playing with him one evening; therefore, I must be his favorite aunt! Just kidding, Laura...don't kill me!)

I will miss him!