Sunday, December 21, 2008

Oh the weather outside is FRIGHTFUL...

We've had so much snow these past few days in chilly Buffalo. It's hard to say just how much because it's blowing around and causing huge drifts that could be misleading, but I'd say at least a foot...maybe more...and the snow's not stopping!! The whole city is basically snowed in--schools are closed, church was canceled today after Sacrament Meeting, and it was quite the endeavor to navigate our little Civic through the drifts on the way home.

Ryan has been shoveling walks non-stop. He shovels ours, and a couple hours later, it needs to be shoveled again. I am his cheerleader: I watch through the window and make sure the heat is turned up for when he's done. Am I a good wife or what?? He's also been helping neighbors dig out their cars and clear their driveways. He's a good man with a sore back.

Here is some video footage, although I'm not sure it does it justice. We are just praying we can fly out on Wednesday morning and make it to Idaho to celebrate Christmas with Ryan's family.

With the storm, it's been hard to get out and do anything fun the past couple of days, and I am going a little "stir crazy," but we are making the most of our snow-bound days.

We have some friends from church who live on our street, so the other night, we walked down to their home and watched WALL-E. This is the dessert I made for the evening. I am quite proud of my homemaking skills.

Tonight, we had a few of the neighborhood kids over to decorate a gingerbread house. They love "Mr. Ryan."

So, I have to go now because I am actually going to venture out into the snow to help Ryan shovel the driveway...this is about his fifth time doing it in the last two days...

P.S. I have to add that this morning was one of the weirdest storms I've ever encountered: There was thunder and lightning during the blizzard. WHAT THE??!! Buffalo is such an odd place!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Waste of a Perfectly Good Snow Day...

I woke up this morning absolutely dreading going to school: It was freezing in our apartment, I was exhausted, all my clothes are dirty and I had no idea what to wear, Ry is done with school and was going to be home all day without me...I don't know if I've ever NOT wanted to go to school so much.

That's when I got the glorious phone call: Snow Day!!

Rejoicing and thanking Heaven for sending me a Christmas present, I snuggled back into bed for a couple more hours of sleep.

Well, it's now almost 3:00 in the afternoon, and I am feeling very grumpy. How often do I get snow days? Not often at all. Why would I waste one? I've done nothing either productive OR fun today. I've just lazed around in my bathrobe. I HATE THAT.

I could've woken up at a decent time and been productive: I could've done the laundry, graded all my students' projects that have been sitting in a stack on my desk for the past week, and gone to the gym.

OR I could've slept in and then spent the day being unproductive and having fun: I could've made a yummy, fun breakfast and watched Elf while sipping hot cocoa with Ry or read a good book or written my Christmas cards.

I DID NEITHER. I woke up late, felt mad at myself for waking up late, laid in bed for another hour feeling mad that I woke up late, and then wandered around the apartment feeling mad that I woke up late.

Come on, Rachel, either be productive or do something fun. Don't just waste the day away wishing that you were being productive.

I frustrate myself so much sometimes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mishap at the Gym

Last night, I had a very traumatic mishap at the gym. Only now am I able to write about it and laugh. Last night, I was not laughing.

To start off, the good news is...I'm running again. For those of you who knew me in a former life before I became a perpetually-stressed teacher, I used to be somewhat of a runner. In college, I ran 4-6 miles every weekday and often more than that on weekends. I ran six half marathons and seriously considered going for the full marathon...but then I became a teacher. In my first year of teaching, I had 207 students, I didn't know what in the heck I was doing, and I basically spent 20 hours a day planning lessons and grading papers. Surviving became my top priority-- certainly not running. I was lucky to get an hour-long night's sleep, let alone an hour-long run. Well, that's an exaggeration. I usually got at least 3-4 hours of sleep. Needless to say, that year, I stopped running all together.

Over the last couple of years, teaching has gotten a little easier, but somehow I haven't been able to convince myself to start running again. Oh, I've gone through spurts when I'd run for a week or two...but my heart wasn't in it.

Well, folks, I've recommitted myself, and I am proud to say that most nights these days, you will find me at the UB Gym pounding the treadmill or the elliptical machine, trying to get back in shape. I hope my determination to keep it up lasts longer than a few weeks.

After last night, I'm not sure it will...

When I got to the gym, I was very disappointed to see that all of the machines in the Cardio Room were in use. The Cardio Room is where the girls and the wimpy guys hang out, and this is where I am comfortable. The only other treadmills are in...the dreaded Weight Room.

The Weight Room is where all the buff bodybuilder dudes hang out, and, before last night, I had never stepped a toe in there. But since I was in a hurry and couldn't wait for a machine in the Cardio Room, I nervously approached the off-limits Weight Room. With much trepedation, I crept inside, trying not to be noticed. I looked around for a sign I thought for sure would be on the wall: "No Girls Allowed." (Or more appropriately, "No Weakling White Girls Allowed.")

Of course, no one in there was on the treadmills...they were benching 300 I quickly found a machine and sheepishly started jogging at my very moderate pace. Feeling sure that everyone was watching me and rolling their eyes, I increased the speed a little. After about 15 minutes, I started to feel really tired and hot. What's wrong with me? I wondered. Why am I such a wimp??

That's the last thing I remember--at least while standing on two feet.

Suddenly, I was flat on my back on top of a rack of weights about six feet away from the treadmill. My body tumbled off the rack and onto the floor. I had not fallen off the treadmill...oh no no...I had flown off the treadmill.

You can imagine the reactions: Everyone in the entire place--every single bodybuilding meathead--froze mid-lift and stared. No one ran over to help me--it's like they didn't know what to do.

Jumping to my feet, I started exclaiming, "I'm okay! I'm okay!" and dashed back to my treadmill. Not a soul moved. They just kept staring. Turning towards the wall, so I wouldn't have to face any of them, I pretended to start know, just a little post-exercise, non-chalant strech, right? Well, no one was buying it. They continued staring, as I not-so-convincingly played it cool and finished my stretches. Too bad my treadmill was still running beside me. That didn't add to my "cool" facade.

Realizing that I was going to have to turn around and make my graceful exit eventually, I finally grabbed my sweatshirt and made a bee-line for the door. I swear to you, no one had moved a muscle or said a word. They were still staring at me--completely frozen in shock.

Trying to make a joke out of myself, as I walked by a big black guy near the door, I said, "Well, I guess that's my clue to call it a night!" He didn't respond. He sat there open-mouthed as I turned and ran out.

As soon as I was out of the Weight Room, I was sobbing. I wasn't hurt; I was just so so so mortified. You know that feeling? When you're so embarrassed that you just start to cry?? I immediately called Ryan and blubbered, "Ryan, something r-r-really bad just happened!"

Of course, he thought I'd been attacked or something, so he asked in a panic, "What's going on?!"

"I f-f-fell off the treadmill!! Sob sob sob."

Thankfully, I have a very sweet and understanding husband who was willing to drive me to teach my Seminary Bible Study class at the church (I was going straight from the gym) and listen to me bawling about how, "I can't do anything right! Not even run on a treadmill!!"

I know my reaction was overly dramatic and emotional, but sometimes when things like this happen to me, it's an outlet for all the other frustrations I've been holding in. I was initially crying because I was embarrassed by my impromptu stunt woman act at the gym, but it then turned into, "I'm a terrible Seminary teacher...I'm exhausted...School is so hard...I miss my mom at Christmastime...Why don't I do more to achieve my goals??" and the list went on and on.

By the time I got to Seminary, I was a wreck. I changed out of my sweaty work out clothes in the bathroom, put on some new mascara, and somehow held it together to teach about Angels for 45 minutes.

I still don't know what happened at the gym. What caused me to go flying off the treadmill? I didn't trip--I know that much. I think I either blacked out or fell asleep. Option #1 is possible because I hadn't eaten much throughout the day, but Option #2 is possible as well because I am quite sleep deprived and fall asleep in unbelievable places.

Needless to say, I ate a big dinner before going to the gym tonight. And I avoided the Weight fact, I don't think I'll ever be able to go in there again.

I told my students the story today, and they thought it was hilarious. Their favorite part was that I pretended to non-chalantly stretch afterwards. One of them said that I better watch out; from now on when people spot me at the gym, they will point and laugh and say, "There's the girl who flew off the treadmill!!"  

Let's hope that never happens, or my new-found dedication to running might swiftly and decisively END.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Highlight of Thanksgiving Weekend...

Every year, my family looks forward to the highlight of Thanksgiving Weekend...
It's not my dad's delectable pumpkin chiffon pie or my aunt's mouth-watering orange rolls.

It's not the hilarious conversations around the Thanksgiving table with my cousins, sisters, and grandparents. (During the middle of dinner this year, in the midst of a conversation completely dominated by me and my chatty sisters, my grandpa suddenly announced, "Ryan, I wish you would SHUT UP once in a while!")

It's not sleeping in late and then snuggling with Ryan for another hour.

It's not chilly jogs around the neighborhood with my dad, Ry, and my brothers-in-law.

It's not the new release movies that Dad pays for us to see at the theater. (What a treat! We saw two this weekend!)

It's not even gabbing with my sisters, who are my best friends in the world, until all hours of the night. (Aren't we pretty in this photo?:) )

The highlight of Thanksgiving Weekend is always...drum roll, please...the Annual Knock Out Tournament with the Labondes!!

The LaBondes are my cousins from Grand Junction, Colorado who are so fun to be around. The kids are significantly younger than us, but they have been a huge part of our lives, and they are actually more like siblings than cousins. Unlike the clumbsy, uncoordinated Westover side of the family, the LaBondes are actually amazingly athletic, so every year at Thanksgiving, we have a Knock Out basketball tournament with them on our driveway.

Highlights of this year's event included...
-My dad getting "knocked out" by six year old, Marcus.
-My aunt almost peeing her pants when running after the ball. (I have to admit, she is the one member of her family who is not athletic, and she claims that it gets harder to control your bladder at her age.)
-My little sister actually winning one of the games (with much help and cheating from one of the youngest LaBonde cousins.)
-Ryan beating the LaBondes in two or three games. (Finally...someone athletic in our family!)
-Me making a few "swoosh" shots from the free-throw line. It was a complete fluke.
-Chanting, cheering, jeering, and celebrating...the neighbors think we are insane!

To be honest, I'm not sure why this tradition is so much fun, but it is always my favorite part of Thanksgiving weekend.
P.S. All of the above traditions that didn't make the "highlight" status are actually also highlights!! I love my family. They are so much fun!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Teaching IS fun...I promise!

I must apologize for my rant about teaching last week. Here are some more fun photos from our class play to reinforce that I actually do love my job. :)

This was by far the funnest unit I've ever taught...the students loved it, I loved it...we're all sad it's over!

The patients play basketball in the Day Room of the mental ward...with Mr. Ruckley as the basket!

Nurse Ratched forbids the men to watch the World Series...
but McMurphy gets them to fight back!

McMurphy and Chief Bromden are in straightjackets...about to get Electro Shock Therapy!
(I put the overhead on them as a spotlight and then flickered it when they were getting "shocked." They pretended to get electrocuted. It's supposed to be a serious moment in the play...but let's just say, we were all laughing because of our terrible special effects.)

Candy and Billy "get married"

Monday, November 17, 2008

Blog Façade and the Truth about Teaching

WARNING: This post includes whining and a rather lengthy rampage. If you prefer not to hear my venting after a hard day at school, continue down the blog to the fun photos of my students, and you'll never have to know the Truth about Teaching. If you are intrigued and want to keep reading, fasten your seat belt. The Vent Session is about to begin...

A friend and I recently discussed the façade of blogs. On a blog, everyone's lives look perfect. Perfect kids, perfect spouse, perfect home, perfect job, perfect life...sometimes it can get a little nauseating! But the truth is, who's gonna air out their dirty laundry for the whole world to see? Not me. I'm not going to get online and post about a recent tiff with Ryan or an upsetting day at school or my recent self-loathing because I can't resist chocolate...(oh wait...I did post about that.)

Why would I want to write about that stuff? Why would I want to read other people's posts about that stuff?

I don't think any of us means to be dishonest or nauseating when we post on our blogs. I think we are trying to focus on all the positive moments in our lives and share our happiness with others. I think this is healthy. I think this is uplifting. I think this is natural.

I don't blame anyone for having a "Blog Façade."

But today, I'm breaking mine.

Get ready for me to air my dirty laundry.

On the weekends, all I can think about is how much I love my job. As I look back on the week, I remember the smiling faces, the insightful comments, and the "lives being changed." (Hence the cheery post last night about our class production and all the fun we're having!)

Then, Monday comes along...and I remember the truth.

The truth about teaching: IT'S HARD.

Here's a list of reasons why I think teaching is one of the hardest professions in the world:

*I blame myself whenever my students aren't succeeding. I find myself thinking, "If I would have presented the vocabulary a little differently, they would've done better on this quiz..." or "If I would've made class more engaging, they would've paid closer attention and written better essays." This self-criticism is almost never justified. Usually, I am truly doing all that I can to help them succeed, but they are simply choosing not to. They aren't studying; they aren't using their planners; they aren't listening; they aren't reading my feedback on essays...Even if I know this is the case, it tears me up when they aren't doing well, and it makes me question my own teaching abilities. That can get discouraging.

*The work is never done. I envy people who have jobs from 9-5 and can go home and forget about it. No matter what, I am never caught up. If I finish grading a stack of papers, I still have to prepare tomorrow's lesson, and if I've already prepared tomorrow's lesson, I still have to put together the next day's quiz, and if I've already put together the next day's quiz, I still have to call the parents of my students who are failing, and if I've already called the get the picture. This past Friday night, I stayed at the school until 9:30 p.m., and I still had to take work home to complete over the weekend. I was in the building for 15 hours, and I still wasn't finished. I will never be finished. (Well...until June 26th, and even then, I'll be expected to complete curriculum work over the summer.)

*When students are absent, I'm expected to get them caught up. This wouldn't be such a big deal if I only taught 30 students; but since I teach 120 students, several kids are gone every day...and then I have to worry about who missed what and what needs to be made up and how to reteach the material they missed. It's exhausting and one of my least favorite parts of the job.

*I internalize their criticism, and I am offended by their lack of motivation. I know I should just let all of this "roll off my back." After all, who cares what a bunch of 17 year olds think about my class? Who cares if they slack off and get bad grades? I DO. With the amount of effort that I put into teaching them, it honestly offends me when they are snotty to me or have a bad attitude about what I ask them to do. I want to say, "Look, kid, I spent fifty hours preparing this unit...and you better darn well sit up, put a smile on your face, and at least pretend to listen!!" (I actually did say that to a student one time.)

*I am "on stage" all the time. I always have to be peppy, I always have to be prepared, I always have to be excited about what we're learning. What if I need to go to the bathroom in the middle of class? Too bad. What if I'm feeling sick and exhausted and want to rest for a minute? Too bad. What if I found out last night that my great-grandpa is dying of cancer? Too bad. In almost every other profession, you can take a bathroom break; you can rest and surf the web for a few minutes; you can keep a "low profile" at work the day after receiving bad news. In teaching, you really have to press forward and keep teaching those little angels/monsters, no matter what. (By the way, none of my great-grandpas are alive...the bit about the cancer was made up to illustrate my point.)

*The grading. Oh the grading, grading, grading!! Think about it: 120 students, 15 minutes per paper, at least two major papers per quarter. That's about 3600 minutes or 60 hours. And that's not even including all the little assignments and quizzes throughout the quarter. Multiply one quarter by four, and you have about 240 hours of grading essays throughout the school year. Now does it make more sense why some older teachers stop assigning writing?

*As if the grading isn't bad enough...what about the planning? Every day, every single day, you have to come up with well-developed lessons including activities, assessments, worksheets, etc. And you're not just coming up with one lesson per day; you may teach several different courses, and you have to plan a separate lesson for each.

*Some kids are just jerks. And why are they jerks? Because their parents are jerks. Although this is not always the case, most times it is. How can I, as a teacher, combat that? If the parents enable their kids and never hold them accountable, how can I instill in them the importance of responsibility? If their parents have taught them to lie in order to get what they want, how can I teach them that dishonesty is despicable?

*Finally, perhaps one of the most discouraging aspects of my job is hearing the conversations in the hallway: profanity, sex, alcohol, racism, unkindness. It breaks my heart. I really think I see the best of my students in my classroom. I expect them to be kind to each other, and they are. I share with them what I value, and so they share with me what they value. After reading an essay about how much a student loves his grandpa, it is very disconcerting to see him in the hall pushing kids around and yelling the f-word. I can't help but think, "What would your grandpa think if he saw you acting like that?" I just don't understand why teens have to pretend to be so "tough" and "rebellious" when they are actually wonderful people inside. It makes me sad.

So there you have it. The truth. The bleak, overwhelming, disheartening truth. My job isn't all cotton candy, care bears, and skipping through fields of daisies "changing lives." If I've given that impression, it was just my Blog Façade.

I have to admit that writing this post was very cathartic, and I feel much better after a discouraging Monday.


1) I love my job. I really do. But boy is it hard, and boy is it exhausting. Anyone who says that teachers are overpaid is, well, a lunatic. (Send them to my classroom, and we'll cast them in our play!)

2) I understand that there are some "solutions" for many of the problems I've listed above, and I do actively pursue those.

3) Some of you may have picked up on the fact that I am a bit of a perfectionist ( say the least), and I know that this characteristic makes teaching much more work for me than it is for others. I just hope that my dilligence translates to my students learning more. (Over the past three years, I have gotten better at cutting out frilly extras in order to save my sanity.)

4) There are many many many wonderful kids in this world, and the majority of my students are awesome, appreciative, and amazing. I'm sure they have equally wonderful parents.

5) It's not as a bad as it sounds. I piled everything up into one post for dramatic effect. I think it worked.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Learning Inside a Loony Bin...

I'm in the middle of teaching my favorite unit of the year: the play version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It is a hilarious and very touching play, and the students love it because it's set in a mental hospital so the characters are...well...a little loony. The main character is also quite crude, which of course goes over extremely well with high schoolers. For the unit, I actually turn the classroom into the mental hosptial, and I make the students audition for the lead roles. Surprisingly, they get really into it, and all of their classmates vote and "cast" the play. Then, as we read it, I direct them, and they act it out--costumes and all. The students love it because they are moving around, acting like lunatics and saying hysterical things. It's especially good for my special education students because it's hands-on learning. One of my male students who has a reading disability and is usually very quiet asked me if he could play a part that would "make the class laugh." I cast him as Mr. Scanlon, the mental patient who thinks he's building a bomb to "blow up the whole stinkin' world." Whenever he says a line and his peers chuckle, he beams from ear to ear. I love it.

To make matters even cooler, last year I suggested that the school put on the play as the fall drama--and they decided to do it. So, this weekend, all of my students will be attending the play. They are really excited to see what we've been studying in class performed live, and I think it will be a great review and reinforcement. (It's their "final project" for the unit; I told them they could either see the play or write a paper...surprise of all surprises, they all chose to buy a ticket to the play.)

The play is Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Orchard Park High School. If anyone is interested in going, let me know. I will probably be there all three nights, and I think Ryan and some friends are going to join me on Friday night, It really is a great show.

These are some photos from my make-shift class production; I'm sure the school's production will be much more professional, but we sure have a lot of fun acting in room 322! (As you can see...)

McMurphy's just chillin' in the Loony Bin

In the real show, I don't think McMurphy and Nurse Ratched would be this excited to see each other... :)

The Aides tie up one of the patients

McMurphy fends off the Aides "lion tamer fashion."

Nurse Ratched may look sweet...but don't be fooled! (The student is actually very sweet, but she sure plays a vicious Nurse's awesome.)

Kevin (who is 6'5") plays Chief Bromden--the giant Indian who pretends to be deaf and mute until McMurphy comes along and befriends him.
P.S. Thanks to the friends who loaned me scrubs, labcoats, and a leather jacket to spice up this production!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Because I Have Been Given Much...

During my teen years, my mom started giving us Gratitude Journals every Christmas. She encouraged us to write down a few things we were grateful for every night, and this is a habit I've tried to keep up in the years since. I've noticed that writing down what I'm thankful for has helped me 1) recognize just how blessed I really am, and 2) notice little "tender mercies" sent from Heavenly Father as I go through my day: Ry and I will have a spontaneous dance party in the kitchen, or I'll get a phone call from my sister just when I am feeling lonely, and I'll think, "This is going in the Gratitude Journal tonight!" Writing down my blessings has made me more aware of my blessings.

Lately, I've been thinking about my mom. Okay, well, I am always thinking about my mom...but I've been thinking about her even more than usual. In spite of all of the health problems she faced throughout her life, she was always profoundly grateful for her blessings and tried to teach her daughters this quality. When I was about six, my mom decided that the hymn "Because I Have Been Given Much" would be our family song for the year, and, as a family, we memorized all three verses and sang it at every Family Home Evening. Interestingly, before that year, we'd never had a family song, and we never had a family song after that was just that song that she wanted us to memorize. We have the cutest home video of my little sister (who was only three) sitting in bed under her Little Mermaid sheets singing all three verses of "Because I Have Been Given Much" word-for-word. She can't pronounce her Rs or Ls, but she keeps singing: "Because I have been bwessed by thy gweat love, Deaw Lowd..."

It was only later in life that I started to really understand what the words of the hymn mean and why my mom wanted us to learn it:

"Because I have been given much, I too must give. Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live, I shall divide my gifts from Thee with every brother that I see, who has the need of help from me."

This is how my mom lived her life and how I must remember to live mine. It is so easy to get caught up in my own challenges, struggles, and frustrations and forget about how richly I've been blessed. The last few weeks, I've been selfish. I've felt sorry for myself because teaching is outrageously busy and hard and because Ryan is too overwhelmed with school to spend a lot of time with me. Wow...these are really not challenges to whine about, are they?? Again, writing it down really puts it into perspective. With all the suffering that occurs in the world, I need to stop worrying about myself and start sharing my blessings with others. That's what my mom would do.

I am grateful for my mother. More than almost anything else in my life, I am grateful for her.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I want to be a health nut.

Imagine, if you will, a skinny young woman named Sally. She and her newlywed husband Mike invite another young couple over for dinner, and they chat, eat, and get to know each other. Fairly expected scene, right? Well, after dinner, Sally gets up to go get dessert prepared. She returns with four large dinner plates--each plate filled with 1/4 of a pan of brownies, towering with ice cream.

" you think you got a little carried away here, Sal?" Mike asks, chuckling as she sets the plate in front of him.

She is genuinely confused. "What do you mean?"

"Well, most people don't eat 1/4 of a pan of brownies in one sitting."

"They don't?" she asks, settling down in front of her own feast and digging in.

Sally is a real person; she is, in fact, my mother. And according to my father, this story is the absolute truth--no exaggeration. To make matters even worse, he claims that she not only finished her 1/4 of the pan--she cleaned up the scraps of everyone else's as well.

Now does that help explain why I consider chocolate one of the food groups? It's hereditary! I can't help it!

Seriously, I am completely obsessed with junk food. I mean, I know everyone loves chocolate and sweets; but I think I take it to a whole different (and slightly frightening) level: When I bake cookies, I easily eat at least 15--and that's not including all the dough I devour; when I'm stressed after school, I go down to the vending machines and buy candybars or bags of cookies to comfort my frazzled soul; and when I should be listening in church, I find myself fantasizing about the dessert I will make later that evening. (Brownie Trifle, Hot Fudge Pudding Cake, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins, Peanut Butter Shakes.... ) Sometimes it feels like dessert is all I'm living for!

The truth is, I don't want to be obsessed with junk food anymore. Not only will it lead to steady weight gain year by year--more importantly, it will eventually destroy my health. I recently read an article in Newsweek about how the poor American diet is a major contributor to the high rate of cancer fatalities in this country. It scared me because, considering my family history, I certainly don't need to do anything to increase my risk for cancer.

I truly admire people who are healthy. And I don't mean people who are on a diet--I mean people who have a consistently healthy lifestyle, who don't gorge on french fries, brownie batter, and doughnut holes every chance they get; people who eat fruits and vegetables--and actually like it; people who have no problem saying, "No thanks!" to the cookie tray that's passed around at church gatherings, not because they are trying to lose weight but because they recognize the dangers of eating excessive sugar, and they take care of themselves.


The question is...HOW??? How do you change who you are?? How do you change what you value and crave? How do you change your entire lifestyle?

I need help. Please give me advice.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fuddy Duddy Halloween

So...I think I'm getting old before my time. I mean, I'm only 24, and I am already turning into a complete and utter FUD. Guess what I wanted to do on Halloween? Get ready for this because it's pretty exciting...go get a space heater, hang insulation on our windows, and go to bed early. Am I a party animal or what?

Honestly, after a long week at school, sometimes I feel so exhausted on Friday nights I can't believe it. I just need the evening to recup. Plus, I usually only get Ryan's undivided attention one night a week because he spends the others studying, so our "to-do" list has grown long over the past few months; a lot of times our Friday night date is just grabbing something for dinner and then running errands and getting stuff done. Luckily, I always have fun when I'm with Ryan, no matter what we do.

This Friday (before we headed to Home Depot for the space heater) we tried Mighty Taco, a fast food chain that is famous in Buffalo. I had heard rave reviews, and let's just say it didn't live up to my expectations. I think it was the processed ground beef swimming in grease. Nasty.

Anyway, our actual Halloween evening was quite lame, but we did celebrate the week before at a couples Halloween party thrown by some friends from church. It was a great party with delicious food and great people.

Ry and I showed up as Harry Potter and Hermione Granger. We look pretty authentic, don't we? (There is a mirror behind Ryan's head that sorta looks like a wig, so ignore that part. But we did use spray-in color to dye his hair black! It actually looked cute on him...but then again, what doesn't? Oh no, I'm gushing about Ryan again...)

I also dressed up for school on Friday. The staff all decided to dress 80s, so I busted out my cousin's 1980s prom dress. My co-teacher Sherry poofed up her hair, and all the kids thought it was a wig. We had fun.

(As a side note, Sherry is a special education teacher, and she teaches three of my 11th grade classes with me because I teach all of the 11th grade special education students. These aren't students with severe mental or physical disabilities--they are in regular classes but have reading disabilities or dyslexia, etc. Sherry and I work together to make the lessons, assignments, and assessments accessible for them. Many of them struggle academically, so it's so nice to have two of us to help them succeed. I absolutely love her, and we have a blast together.)

A lot of my students dressed up on Friday, but my favorite costume was Kim the Banana. She is one of my very favorite students because she is so positive, nice to everyone, and confident. You'd have to be confident to wear this get-up to school!

I love that Halloween gives us a chance to be a little goofy. It's the one day of the year that no one will be mocked for dressing differently or acting's great.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cute Classroom!!

My older sister is an elementary school teacher and therefore has the cutest classroom you've ever seen. Theme bulletin boards, bubble-lettered name tags, colorful pillows in the reading corner...all the fixins'. Let's just say, it gives me a complex. For the past two years, my classroom has been pretty bland and boring, and I always justified myself by saying, "High school teachers aren't expected to have cutesy classrooms!" The truth is...I would've loved to have had a fun classroom, but I was too bogged down with hundreds (literally) of papers to grade and dozens of novels to read and a year's worth of units to plan. (The first few years of teaching are brutal.) Well...after two years and two months of teaching...I am proud to announce that I finally have a cute classroom!! I took some photos to prove it:

My big, fun bulletin board at the back of the room, displaying student work

The students illustrated events from the short story we've been studying, and I put them up like a "story board"

Fun Halloween decor! (Look closely and you'll see the ghosts hanging from the windows!)

A display to teach them about the different types of prepositional phrases
I also have a gumball machine that is almost as tall as me that dispenses huge gumballs, but I forgot to take a photo of it, so you'll have to take my word for it.
Pretty cute, huh?? I am so proud of myself! :) Elementary school, here I come...

Halloween costume? No! Just a typical day in Mrs. Nielson's class!

I am crazy about teaching...literally. I go a little crazy and do some crazy things on behalf of my students. This week, we read a short story entitled "The Devil and Tom Walker" by Washington Irving (it's an awesome story, by the way!), and the devil is described as having wild and matted black hair, wearing a black tunic and red sash, and riding a black horse with red eyes. the end of the story, the devil knocks three times on Tom Walker's front door and then wisks him away. So, right before we got to that point in the story, I slipped out of the room (my co-teacher kept right on reading the story aloud), and then, just as she got to the right point in the story, I knocked three times on the classroom door.

Confused, a student opened it...and I strutted in wearing this oh-so-flattering get-up. You should've seen their faces. Sixteen year olds are WAY too cool to dress up themselves, but they sure get a kick out of it when I humiliate myself! Surprisingly, I actually got the boy who was reading the part of Tom Walker to get up and gallop out of the classroom on the "devil's horse" (which Ryan made out of a broom, trash bags, and rolls of toilet paper.) The costume is hideous, and I look hideous in it...but I bet they'll remember the story forever!! ("Remember that time Mrs. Nielson came into our class dressed up as the devil?") Isn't my job fun??

So...I can't believe I'm actually going to post this embarassing video footage, but, what the'll probably get a good laugh. (Ryan certainly did.) My co-teacher wanted me to gallop around the hallway in my costume, which of course I was NOT willing to do in the middle of the school day with the students there. (Humiliating myself in front of MY students who know me is one thing...a bunch of that's a different story.) Anyway, she got me to do it after school when no one was around but the janitor (who already knows I'm crazy), and we were cracking up. I love my co-teacher, Sherry. (Sorry the video is tilted the wrong way...we are teachers, not experienced camera women.)
Please don't blackmail me with this:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Toto, I don't think we're in Utah anymore...

A few months ago, Deborah's mom invited us to her annual church choir concert. Last night was the big night--and MAN were we blown away. As the program began, and we were surrounded by black singers in flowing choir robes walking up the aisles and singing, "Amen! Amen! Glory glory hallelujiah!" in perfect harmony, I turned to Ryan and said, "This. Is. Awesome." I felt like I had stepped into the movie The Preacher's Wife (minus Whitney Houston of course).

The concert featured a jazz pianist, a lady rocking out on the drums, a spirited narrator preaching the Good Word, and of course a choir swaying, clapping, and praising God through music. People in the audience would randomly jump up and reach their hands into the air, calling "Hallelujiah!" One lady busted out a tamborine she had brought, while the lady next to us joined in the music by shaking her keys and stomping to the beat. The highlight of the evening was when random people in the audience started reaching for the microphone and wailing out their own improvised Gospel solos with the choir. WHAT?? Can all black people sing like American Idols?? That's what it seemed like last night as audience members just kept busting out the high notes. (And just because I know many of you are wondering, NO I did not take my turn on the mic! I would have made a fool of myself with my classical training trying to keep up with those Soul Sisters!)

It really was an inspiring evening. I love seeing how others worship God. The theme of the concert was "I Don't Feel In No Ways Tired," which is the title of an old spiritual the slaves used to sing, encouraging them to endure their hardships and trust the Lord without complaint. The narrator talked about how life can be stressful and tiring, but we can't give up or complain, and if we rely on Jesus, He can invigorate us and give us strength. She said that God will always say to His children, "I love you, and I'm not tired yet!" (The best part was, she didn't say "I'm not tired yet!" The choir behind her sang that phrase in harmony every time she pointed at them. She had them do it about fifteen times during the course of her sermon.) I thought it was a good point: God will never get tired of taking care of us, and we should never get tired of taking care of others.

I tend to get exhausted, whiny, and stressed out too easily. The message of the concert was perfect for me, and I left feeling uplifted and grateful for all the new experiences life in Buffalo has afforded me.

This is Deb's mom, Patricia, with Deborah, Ry, me, and Deb's daughter, Shavonne.

Here is some video footage from the concert. Unfortunately, our camera is a piece of garbage, so there's no sound, but you can at least see the choir. The man in the gray suit was their soloist, and he was awesome. I wish you could hear them!

Autumn in Buffalo...

Last weekend, it was freezing, gray, and drizzly in Buffalo. I was wearing three layers of sweatshirts in our apartment to keep warm. I kept thinking to myself in distress, Please tell me it's not winter already!! Buffalo winters are infamously long and dreary.

Fortunately, winter had not yet come to stay: It has been unbelievably gorgeous the past few days. Perfect weather, sunshine, colorful leaves, summer breeze...

It's not expected to last, but hey...we'll take it for now. After church yesterday, Ry and I went on a drive to see the leaves and then took a little hike called the "Eternal Flame." You walk through a forest and down into a ravine crevice, and at the end, you get to see a natural gas flame behind a waterfall. Pretty crazy!

We were charmed by this old cemetary on the side of a road.

The photo is blurry, but you should be able to see the flame flickering behind the water.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

King and Queen? Naw, just the lame chaperones.

Ryan and I had a hot date this weekend...

The high school Homecoming dance.
Try not to be too jealous.

For the past three years, I have chaperoned Homecoming with Ryan, and it is always an interesting event for me: On the one hand, it is very exciting to have my students meet Ryan. They have heard so much about him, and it is cute how so many of them run up to us and introduce themselves to him. I told them earlier this week that Ry would be with me at the dance, so when a few of the boys saw me standing alone in the hall, they said in a panic, "Mrs. Nielson, where is he?? Didn't he come??" They were very relieved to hear he was standing in the gym, and when they met him, one of them said, "It's the man of the hour!!" and shook his hand with a huge grin. Ry hears so many stories about my students, so it's also fun for him to be able to put names with faces.

The downside to chaperoning Homecoming, however, is it always leaves me truly frightened for my own future children. Oh my! The things the girls wear and the way the kids dance...let's just say it raises a few eyebrows. Apparently, the new style for formal dresses is skin tight and outrageously short. I saw one girl wearing a skin tight black dress which barely covered her butt; but to make matters worse, it was a deep-V in the back, and almost the entirety of her leopard skin print bra was hanging out. Oh but don't worry...she at least took the time to match her stiletto heels with her bra...they were leopard skin too. YIKES!!

At one point, as we were surveying the dance floor, Ryan asked me, "If the parents knew it was like this, do you think they'd let their kids come?"

How will I help my future children make good decisions and remain stable in the midst of the drama of high school? How will I help my teenage daughters see that their value lies in who they are, not what their bodies look like or what type of formal dress they wear? How will I help my teenage boys respect themselves and their girlfriends enough to shun dirty dancing and other accepted but inappropriate behavior?

I know this is about 20 years down the road, but it still scares me!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Soundtrack of My Life

Have you ever noticed that the rising generation is obsessed with music?? To me, it seems like those iPod earbuds never leave their ears! Today, I even saw a two year old listening to an iPod. Crazy, huh?

Well, to play on this interest, I created an assignment for my seniors entitled "The Soundtrack of My Life." They have to pick three songs that have influenced them as people and then write a thesis-based essay about why or how these songs have impacted them.

I decided that I would write a model essay on this topic, so they could see what I am expecting. Last night, I started writing about the music and people that have become important in my life, and I got carried away...five hours later, I finished what was supposed to be a quick sample essay! :) It's been a long time since I've been excited about something I've written, and it felt so good to engage in the difficult writing process and then love the finished product.

The essay is very personal, but it captures why I am the way I am. I think it's important for teens to see that it's okay to share and to care. So today in class, I shared it with them, and now I am going to share it with you. If you are interested in reading it, click on the link below.

I hope you like it!

P.S. There is one sappy portion of the essay in which I rave about Ryan. After this, I promise I will try to stop obsessing over Ryan's cuteness on this blog.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

We love the Lemons!

Our neighbors, the Lemons, are basically the coolest people ever. In the family, there are four kids--Preston, 14, Mahogany, 12, Ebony, 8, and David, 7. Their mom, Laura, works two jobs to support them, and she is an awesome mom. She cracks us up with her spunky attitude. Tonight, they came over for dinner and a raucous game of "Spoons" (the card game), and whenever her kids got "out," she would say, "Sorry, Losah!" and we would all crack up. She is so loving but so funny too, and her kids love it when she teases them. Their family has so much fun together; when they enter our apartment, they attack us in hugs, and we can't stop smiling for the rest of the day.

One of my favorite Laura stories is when she came home from work one night, and Preston and his friends were racing in the street. Preston bet the boys $10 that his mom could beat them in a race. Well, being the cocky teenage boys that they are, they certainly didn't believe that a middle aged, husky mom could beat them, so they took the challenge. Apparently, she used to be a track star in high school, and she hasn't lost her touch...she kicked their butts. The boys were amazed, and Preston got $10 out of the deal. Unfortunately, I didn't see the event firsthand; I would have loved to see Big Laura charging down the street in her nurse's scrubs with the tough "thugs" trailing behind her! :)

The youngest, David, is a total character. He was born three months premature, and he has never caught up with his peers. He is TINY for a second grader, but he has a huge personality. Apparently, he had a tube down his throat for a long time when he was a baby, and when they removed it, it scratched his voice box; so he has a gravelly "grandpa" voice, which only makes his hilarious comments even funnier. The other day, he and Ryan made Jackolantern-shaped pumpkin bread. I was sitting at the kitchen table grading papers and listening to their conversation in the kitchen. Ryan had David standing on a chair next to the counter, slowly reading the recipe and putting all the ingredients into the bowl.  Ryan asked David if he wanted to try cracking the eggs into the bowl. What seven year old could resist such an offer? Well, his first attempt apparently ended up with egg squirting all over David's hands and Ryan's shirt; his second attempt led to an excessive amount of shells in the bowl.

"Uh oh!" David said in his scratchy little voice, staring sadly into the bowl.

"What should we do about all those egg shells, David?" Ryan asked.

David had an idea. "Hmmm...well, maybe if we stir it up real good and hide them, no one will notice."

I was chuckling from the other room but was very relieved when Ryan didn't go with this plan.

We are so lucky to have such fun neighbors that brighten our days and make us laugh!! They are awesome!

Playing Mom

Lately, Ryan has been quite intrigued by the idea of having a kid. This makes me feel...a little nervous. So, when my friends asked me to babysit the past two weekends, I thought it would be a great way to "test the waters." Last weekend, I watched cute little Madi Cardon (3 months) for the evening while her parents went to a hockey game, and this weekend, we watched fun little Max McIntier (3 years) for about 24 hours while his dad took the LSAT and his mom went to NYC with her parents. It was an adventure!! When Madi arrived, I think she had an upset stomach. She started screaming right when her mom left, and so I called Ryan and held up the phone and let her scream into it for a while. I was chuckling, picturing Ryan squirming in the library thinking, Oh no! Rachel's never going to give in now! Luckily, after one explosive diaper, Madi calmed right down and slept like an angel for the rest of the night. :) I think Ryan was even more relieved than me!

Isn't she adorable??

Max has tons of personality and kept us laughing the whole weekend with his funny comments and questions. I was nervous that he would be hard to entertain, but he perfect! We had a sleepover, and in the morning, he helped me make pancakes. While he was stirring, he asked me, "Rachel, during the movie last night, when I fell asleep, did you hold my hand?" I said, "Maybe." He said, "Why?" "Because I love you, Max!" I replied. He looked confused and said, "But I wasn't in the road!" :)

So, "playing mom" wasn't half bad! In fact, it was quite fun! (Don't tell Ryan...)