Saturday, October 31, 2009

I'm guessing my students weren't expecting to see this when they walked into English class yesterday...

"Happy Halloween!!!"

The staff at our school picked "Clowns" as the theme for our costumes this year.  Yes, it was with the intent to freak out the students.  I think it worked.

My mom made that clown suit in the 1990s, and she wore it every single year for Halloween.  It's been collecting dust in the costume closet at home for the past six years, so I asked my dad to send it to me when I found out our staff theme.  I'm glad to report that we made VERY good use of the clown suit this year.  Ryan even made an appearance in it for our church Halloween party on Wednesday night:

And of course, Miss Deborah got in on the clown action with us:

After spending an entire school day in that hideous outfit, I decided I wanted to dress up as something different for the costume party we attended last night.  Spur of the moment, Ry and I created Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter costumes.  I had actually thought ahead and gotten the stuff for Alice, but Ryan's costume was truly a 15-minutes-before decision.  He is a good artist, and he can always create costume pieces in a flash, and I am so impressed that he created his Mad Hatter cap in a matter of minutes.  Of course, at the time, I was actually annoyed because he was making us late to the party (he got a lecture about planning ahead which I'm sure he did not appreciate), but all of my annoyance disappeared when we WON THE COSTUME CONTEST!  Hurrah!  Win Rachel a caramel apple, and she will forget all grudges and love you forever!!

We were not even close to the cutest people at the party.  Check out my favorite little baby, dressed as a hot tamale:

I am obsessed with her and wish she was my daughter!!

Anyway, Halloween is fun!  Fall is fun!  Last night, when I got home from school, the weather was temperate and perfect, the yellow leaves were falling, and the sun was setting.  I wanted a better view, so Ry and I climbed up on our roof.  (It is very easy to get onto from our porch balcony.)  We sat on top of the world and enjoyed a serene autumn scene.

It probably would've been very romantic...if I wasn't wearing creepy clown makeup.  Umm, yeah.  Sorta ruins the moment.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Care packages and Cupcakes

My cousin Amber sent me an awesome Halloween care package: a spooky apron (which she sewed herself) and all the supplies to make harvest cupcakes with the Cookie Club kids. Since I hadn't had the kids over in forever (and was feeling quite guilty about that), this was the perfect opportunity! We had fun!

Thanks, Amber, for being the best cousin ever.

As a random side note, I decided that I am officially the dorkiest woman alive (or at least the teenage boys in my neighborhood think so). We live in a borderline "rough" neighborhood with lots of young, aspiring thugs. What I mean by "aspiring" thugs is that they are all really nice kids, but they are trying to dress and act like homies. Our sixteen year old neighbor Preston, for example, acts so tough around his friends, but he has been known to come over for Cookie Club and put on a girly apron to help.

Yesterday morning, I ran over to his house to invite his younger siblings to join us for baking. Preston answered the door wearing baggy jeans, puffed out boxers, and a skull cap. He immediately looked a little embarrassed to see me in my candy corn pj pants. I soon found out why: All of his friends were over playing video games.

"Hi, guys!" I said to the room full of big, gangsta-looking teens.

They only grunted in return.

After inviting the little kids, I said to the video gamers, "If you guys get sick of that game, you can come bake cupcakes with us." Apparently they didn't pick up on the sarcasm in my voice. They just stared at me.

Wow. I am a loser.

So, anyway, later that day, I came jogging up the street at the end of my run, and the same group of guys was playing football. It was lightly raining, and I looked like a drowned rat. My glasses were all fogged up and smeary; I was wearing my infamous, matching "track suit" (which is a little short and small these days); and I run like a duck, which certainly doesn't add to my "coolness factor." As I approached them, the ball was fumbled and came to a rest at my feet. So, I picked it up and tried to throw it back to them. It fell to the ground about five feet short of my target. And keep in mind that the target was only ten feet away from me to begin with.

Wow. Such a loser.

"Did you guys get your cupcakes?" I asked, referring to the plate I had sent home with the little kids.

"Yeah," one of them said and, without another word, continued playing.

I guess they don't want to be seen with me. I can't imagine why. :)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Congrats, Ash!

My beautiful younger sister-in-law (Ry's sister) got engaged today. I am so excited for her!!

It stinks to be so far away (we haven't even met the lucky man yet!), but we will be thrilled to celebrate with them when we are home for Thanksgiving in just one month.

Congrats, Nate and Ashley!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Good Old Joera

Ryan is in love with another woman. Her name is Joera. I think she lives somewhere in India.

This affair began 90 minutes ago, when he dialed up the Net 10 cell phone company's customer service line for the twentieth time this month. He was connected with Joera. Like all the other representatives he has spoken to/yelled at, Joera had a thick accent and robotic responses to all of his questions. But unlike all of the other representatives he has spoken to/yelled at, Joera actually knew what she was doing.

So instead of shouting at her in exasperation, he was shouting for joy. Sitting in the other room, I heard random outbursts of, "Joera, it's working!" and "CODE ACCEPTED!!" (Yes, he was actually calling her by name, and she was calling him 'Mr. Ryan' in response. It was kinda cute.)

I don't think Joera the Great really knew how to respond to her exuberant, American admirer. At the end of the call, Ryan informed her that, if he was in the same room as her, he would "probably give her a hug."

The poor woman was completely flabbergasted--and speechless. I spoke up and said, "Ryan, don't be creepy."

Oh, Joera. We love you so.

Amber, this one's for you!

1. What is your all-time best Halloween costume?
My personal favorite is "Patsy" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I think I was in about 8th grade when my BFF Lizzy and I put together this costume. She was the King, and she galloped around the neighborhood on an imaginary horse. I was following close behind, clapping my coconuts.

2. What is your favorite Halloween tradition?
How about a tradition that I would like to start? When I was in college, my good friend's mother always invited me over for the family Halloween dinner. All of the food was spooky, silly, and fun. I thought it was a great way for the family to bond before the kids went their various ways for trick-or-treating and parties. I want to have an annual Halloween dinner with my future family.

3. What is your favorite Fall tradition?
I like pumpkin waffle dinner feasts with our best friends in Buffalo.

4. What is your favorite book?
To Kill a Mockingbird!!

5. Name 3 great things that happened to you today.

- I didn't have to teach a formal lesson because my students are revising their essays in the computer lab.
-I chatted with one of my favorite people, Natalie Dayton, at a meeting for church.
-I came home from work to a clean kitchen. (I love that Ry!)

6. What is your all-time favorite dessert?

Probably plain old brownies and ice cream. But I like all desserts.

7. Tell me something you look forward to doing in the next month.
I look forward to visiting Ryan's family for Thanksgiving. I miss them, and I can't wait to meet my sister-in-law's serious boyfriend and give him the R&R stamp of approval.

8. Tell me something you are going to give someone else for Christmas.
I am going to give Deborah an olive wood ornament that I got for her in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

SURVEY: What would you do with 40 hours?

(a) Read several interesting novels.
(b) Deep clean and reorganize your house and everything in it.
(c) Watch 20 movies that you've been wanting to see.
(d) Grade 115 eleventh graders' essays.

I chose option (d). Yes, folks, I truly did. My students did the math this morning. Over the past two weeks, I spent over 40 hours grading their essays--in between teaching full-time and dealing with "life" and all of its related responsibilities.

This morning, I said to them, "I am forcing you guys to revise your essays because I spend a lot of time on the comments, and I don't want you to just look at the grade and toss the paper in the garbage. I want you to look at what I wrote, strive to change your weaknesses, and improve as writers."

One of them said, "Mrs. Nielson, how much time do you think you spent?"

I thought about it and then responded, "I guess I don't really know. I spend about 25 minutes on each essay, and there are 115 of the math."

I was shocked when they told me the answer. "That's about 40-50 hours, Mrs. Nielson."

???!!!????!!!???!! (stunned silence)

"No, Johnny, you're wrong. Do the math again," I insisted.

"No, really, it's actually 40-50 hours."

I stood there in shocked horror, and then screamed out, "I HAVE NO LIFE!! YOU GUYS, I HAVE NO LIFE!"

They were amused.

I was not.

I know, I know. I could cut back. Scrimp a little. Cut corners. Believe me, I'm trying to. But after eight years of tutoring/teaching writing, I've streamlined the grading process as much as I possibly know how to while still making the feedback formative and meaningful. A major essay just takes 20-25 minutes to read and thoughtfully respond to. Writing instruction just takes time.

But, oh, think of the things I could have done with that 40 hours:

(a) Watched the Pride and Prejudice BBC mini-series six times.
(b) Driven to Colorado and back.
(c) Worked a full-time second job (earning money!)
(d) Made Ryan enough decent meals to last us several months. (He's lucky if he gets one per week.)
(e) Made a dent in my "to-read" list, which currently has 55 titles on it.
(f) Completed all of the major projects that are in piles on my floor: scrapbooks, cleaning, journaling, filing, bills, stuff for the non-profit...

And what did I do? I graded papers instead.

I sure hope they learned something.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ready or not, here it comes...

It's here.


In Buffalo, it's a seven-month endeavor.

I hate it.

From October to April, I am shivering in our dank little apartment. I swear, it is colder inside than it is outside, and because of the horrible insulation, our heating bill in the winter is, to say the least, outrageous.

Ryan and I have been bundled up in our bedroom this week. We crank the little space heater, put on our heavy sweatshirts, and study/grade papers with a mug of hot cocoa nearby.

And it's only October 3rd. Will I last until May when it warms up again?

There are no guarantees!!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Lean and Hungry Look

Last night, I “video chatted” with my little sister on my computer using Skype. (I did this because I temporarily lost my cell phone, and Ry’s phone is still not working, so we had no way to communicate with anyone.) She had just gotten back from the gym and was eager to show me her muscles. At my request, she also angled the camera so that I could see her six-pack. (She is a tiny, fit little thing.)

Well, I decided that I better show her my six-pack as well—so I hunched over to make sure that my rolls were especially prominent, and then I angled the webcam so she’d have a great view. “Ewwwww!” she shouted.

I loved it.

Today, my co-teacher showed me a fantastic article that literally had me dying of laughter and wiping tears from my eyes as I read it at my desk.

It’s based on this quote from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:

“Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”

The article, by Suzanne Britt, starts like this...

“Caesar was right. Thin people need watching. I’ve been watching them for most of my adult life, and I don’t like what I see. When those narrow fellows spring at me, I quiver to my toes. Thin people come in all personalities, most of them menacing…Thin people turn surly, mean, and hard at a young age because they never learn the value of a hot-fudge sundae for easing tension. Thin people don’t like gooey soft things because they themselves are neither gooey nor soft. They are crunchy and dull, like carrots…”

I like this woman's logic!

To read the essay in its hilarious entirety, click here.

So to my little sister, and all other skinny stick people, I say--GO EAT A HOT FUDGE SUNDAE.