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...)