Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Before you buy your 2010 Twilight calendar, consider this option...

I thought I would alert everyone to a great cause.

Ryan and I oversee volunteer work for an orphanage for persons with disabilities in El Salvador. The orphanage is run 100% by private donations (which can sometimes be difficult to raise), so one of our recent volunteers used her talents as a photographer to develop fundraising materials for the orphanage.

One of the products that she created is a 2010 calendar featuring 12 of the kids (one per month). She took all of the photos, and then I wrote a little biography about each of the kids. The calendars have been printed in Spanish to sell in El Salvador and English to sell here in the States. They are really beautiful.

If you need a 2010 calendar, instead of going to Barnes and Noble to get a generic one, you could purchase this one, and 100% of the proceeds go directly to improving the lives of the children. The calendars are $15 each or four for $50 (if you want to give them to family and friends). It would make a great holiday gift, as everyone needs a calendar, and then you could also tell your loved ones that the proceeds from their gift will be benefitting a wonderful cause.

The children are truly remarkable. They are so full of love and happiness, and they have blessed my life immeasurably. I can't wait to hang the calendar in our apartment, so the kids can smile at me every day.

If you are interested in purchasing a calendar, please leave a comment or send me an email at rachel.nielson@hotmail.com, and I will get you the order form. If you know anyone else who might be interested, please pass on the info to them. (Or if you are interested in posting something about it on your own blog, PLEASE do. I am trying to get the word out about the orphanage!)

Here is a slideshow featuring many of the photos that are in the calendar, as well as capturing the spirit of the children who live at the Hogar. Put it in "full screen" and turn up the volume to get the full effect of Molly's beautiful photos!

(Photography by Molly Hunter, song by Mercyme.):

Monday, September 28, 2009

Survival of the Not-So-Fittest

I survived my half marathon in Akron, OH this weekend. I was slow as a snail, but, hey, I survived (and it actually wasn't too painful, surprisingly.) Look...I won a medal:

Don't be fooled. It was a consolation medal. Everyone who participated got one. I am a pathetic runner--in fact, I almost got lapped by the first place marathoner. As I was running my last 1/4 mile, I heard the announcer say that the top marathoners were coming up the street behind me, so I started hauling. I decided it would be a disgrace if I couldn't finish a half marathon before they finished a whole marathon. My oh-so-determined thought was, "Those crazies are not going to beat me!!" I am proud to say, they didn't! I made it in about 30 seconds before they did. Boo ya.

Here I am in the wee hours of the morning, just before the race began:

And a little video footage:

Ryan didn't know that you can't turn a camera sideways to film.

The hardest stretch was about miles 7-9. At that point, I got really grumpy and tired and started noticing the grammatical errors on fans' signs. (Sorry, I know that's not nice...)

After mile 9, I got cheerful again, and the rest of the race wasn't too bad. Here I am at about mile 10, posing for an "action-shot." (Ry never knew when I would be rounding the bend, so he was always caught unawares and without his camera ready.) In this shot, It looks more like I'm dancing a spastic ballet than running a 13 mile race! It was very awkward, especially since about 50 fans were standing there watching me pose like an idiot.

At mile 12.5, he actually got me in action:

And at the finish, I had some awesome fans waiting for me:

My old RA from BYU, Betsey, and her darling daughter, Nora.

Nora looks much cuter in my medal than I do.

My supportive husband (who did my training runs with me even when it was 11:00 pm on a school night)

It was a good experience, and I'm glad I did it.

The rest of the weekend was wonderful too. We were staying with Betsey's family, so Saturday afternoon, they showed us the sights of Cleveland, and Sunday afternoon, they showed us the sights of Kirtland (a historical place for our church).

Nora overlooking the city of Cleveland.

Nora enjoying the beautiful day at Kirtland. There is a really sweet spirit there, and I loved seeing all the historical sights and picturesque scenery.

Ryan and I also managed to get to Cedar Point amusement park on Saturday night. We got there at about 7 pm and stayed until midnight, and not too many people were there, so we hit all 17 rollarcoasters and many other rides as well. It was a fun date--although I was exhausted by the time we got to bed at 2 a.m. It had been a long day of running, sightseeing, and walking around an amusement park.

What is it with me and awkward poses?? Here I am, lounging in the Cedar Point Skyride!

After such a fun weekend, I am happy, exhausted, and SORE!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Back to Busy

So, as I've mentioned in previous posts, the new school year has started, and I am back to busy!

Honestly, teaching is so busy and so exhausting. After an early morning (5:30 a.m., and I'm up...7:15 a.m., and I'm teaching) and a full day on my feet entertaining teenagers, I come home from school every day and have to take an hour long nap before I can even think about tackling dinner, errands, lesson planning, grading, and jogging. (I am still training for the half marathon, so runs are not optional.) It's crazy!

BUT...I honestly love my batch of students this year. They seem very hardworking and very tolerant of my terrible jokes--so you can't beat that. Even those who are not very smart, they seem to have a desire to learn and work hard. Plus, they keep me laughing. Kids say the randomest things. For example, a dippy girl in my 11th grade class informed me today that her employer is "like totally sexist" because he "only gives hours to the pretty girls." But then she went on to proclaim, "But I am really lucky because I am pretty so I get hours!"

On a recent quiz, I asked the students to write a sentence with vivid, sensory details, and a student wrote the sentence, "This morning, I woke with a start and my baby turtle was swimming like there was no tomorrow." (UHHH??)

 Finally, in a student's response to the Obama speech, she wrote, "President Obama has inspired me to reach for my dreams. Now that I've heard his words, I know that I can actually achieve my life-long goal of becoming a pastry chef." I'm sorry, but I burst out laughing when I read that. You go, girl!

In general, I would say that I love my job. Busy as it is, it's fun, challenging, and rewarding. What more could I ask for?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Taking a stand...

I just want to say that I think anyone who doesn't want their kids to see a speech by the President of the United States about the value of education is CRAZY.

Heaven forbid the President of the United States express his concern for the youth of America. How dare he?! I mean, as a parent, I don't want anyone else telling my kids that education is important! I'm the only one who is allowed to be their role model! After all, you just never know what a sneaky Democrat might say to the youth of America.

I mean, he might say terrible things, like...

"But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life -- what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home -- none of that is an excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude in school. That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. There is no excuse for not trying."

"I know that sometimes you get that sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star. Chances are you're not going to be any of those things."

"The truth is, being successful is hard."

Yes, I definitely don't want my children to hear those messages--especially from a man who has overcome so much in his life and who, for better or for worse, young people around the nation know and look up to and will listen to.

COME ON PEOPLE...to protest this message?!?

Give me a break.

58 and still going strong...

My cutie of a grandma just called me and told me that today is my grandparents' 58th wedding anniversary.


I have the best grandparents EVER. They have been an active part of my life since day one: The day of my birth, my dad didn't come home from work when my mom told him that she was in labor, and so I was almost born on the living room floor. The paramedics thought that they could make it to the hospital in time...BUT...I was born in the ambulance on the way! My grandma came over to the house during all the pandemonium and comforted my older sister, who was scared and confused. Grammy and Grampy have been comforting us ever since!

When my mom was in the hospital for her bone marrow transplant, we lived with my grandparents for a few months. We were 8, 6, and 3, and my grandparents lovingly cared for us in one of the most difficult times of our lives. I have memories of snuggling on my grandpa's lap when I was sad and missing my mom.

Now that I am an adult, I still turn to my grandparents for advice and comfort. I often call them after a long, hard day at school, and they encourage me and convince me that I am the best teacher in the world. (Grandparents are great for boosting confidence!)

They are an example to me of a loving, fun, and devoted marriage. I am so lucky to have them in my life.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

"With great dissatisfaction,"

That was my "heated" closing to a complaint letter I wrote this morning to the Net10 cellphone company.  Do I have vicious rhetoric, or what??

I also threatened that I would "tell all my friends and family to avoid Net10" and would "post my negative experiences with Net10 on my internet site." HA HA HA! My dinky personal blog is hardly an internet site and certainly no threat to Net10...I bet they are super scared by me.

Anyway, I had to follow through on my threat, so I am passing on the info to all of you: Net10 stinks. Don't use them. Every time we've had a question, their customer service line has given us a huge run around, kept us on hold for hours, and failed to solve a single problem for us. We have had such a negative experience with them--every step of the way.

I guess you get what you pay for. We were pumped to no longer have an expensive cellphone contract with Verizon, but the cheap price of a Net10 phone comes with crappy customer service in foreign countries and faulty products that don't work.

Net10, I am greatly dissatisfied with you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


President Obama gave a rockin' speech to the youth of America today. I recommend watching it.

I don't always agree with Obama's political views and decisions, but I would say this speech is very timely and very very applicable to the lives of the teenagers who come into my classroom every day.

Many of them were moved and motivated by it...and so was I.

Monday, September 7, 2009

It was a zoo today...

Ry wanted to go to the Buffalo Zoo today. Apparently, he wasn't alone in this desire--I think the majority of Buffalo had the same idea as he did. (It was $1 day.) When we first pulled up and saw the crowds, I was not happy. Ryan told me to smile for the camera, but I gave him this face instead:

P.S. I look so lovely because we also went running at the park near the zoo.

Ryan thought that my grumpiness was so humorous that he decided to try it out:

Once we got inside, it was kinda fun--the people were as interesting to watch as the animals. $1 Day at the zoo attracts an interesting demographic. (And hey, we were among them.) I've never seen so many tattoos, crying children, and low-rise pants in all my life.

This morning, I finished reading the book The Life of Pi, which is about the son of a zookeeper and his adventures with animals, so it was great timing for me to go to the zoo. I kept thinking about scenes from the book as I peered into the cages.

The polar bear cheered me up, as did the lion...

It was a fun outing. Ry and I had been bickering a bit all weekend, so I'm glad that he still invited me to go with him. He's a pretty good sport for putting up with me when I am grumpy.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


1. My two weeks of "no treats" is over today. That makes me happy. Was I perfect? No. I ate a piece of zucchini bread one day, which we all know should actually be called zucchini cake based on the amount of oil and sugar in it--but hey, it has a vegetable in it, so it doesn't count. I also ate a bowl of frozen yogurt with fresh peaches...but again, fruit and yogurt are good for you, so I thought it was acceptable. Overall, I am extremely impressed by how well I did. You go, Rachel. I walked right past the dessert table at the church fiesta, ignored the cookies by the register at Subway, and turned down the divine desserts at a girls' get-together last night (homemade Oreo ice cream, caramel brownies, peanute M&Ms, Sour Patch Kids...it was cruel). I've found that not eating treats at all is so much easier for me than eating treats in "moderation." So Ryan asked me today, "Are you going to continue this indefinitely?" My answer: No way! Bring on the brownies! Mostly, I just wanted to see if I could do it. And I hope now that I see I can, I will have a little more self-control and health-perspective when I'm faced with a dessert table.

2. My next big goal: Running a half marathon. I've been training, and I am signed up for a race on September 26th. I hope I can be in shape by then. I'm scheduled to run 8 miles this Saturday. I ran 7 miles last Saturday and somehow survived, so wish me luck.

3. School starts tomorrow. I will admit it, I am stressed beyond all reason. The beginning of the year is so weird for me because I don't know my students yet. What if they are wackos? Once I know them, I don't worry about controlling them, but right now, I feel sort of vulnerable standing in front of them and trying to teach. Who knows how they will react! I'm also not looking forward to 5:00 a.m. when the alarm rings.

Time for dinner...