Friday, August 16, 2013

Back to School

All summer long, the question for teachers and students is: "When do you go back to school?" There is always the day teachers go back which indicates the official end of summer. This day is a sad day. It's fun to see your friends on staff, hear about summer happenings and get excited about what you will do differently in the classroom.  But I don't miss the meetings.  I could rant and rave. All I'll say is that at last year's district-wide meetings, I vowed I would never attend one again, even if it means getting docked pay. The sky-high blood pressure and pounding headache just weren't worth it.  I'll leave it at that. 

But here is what I do miss about the First Day of School... the REAL First Day of School...when the kids have arrived. This is an AWESOME day.  This is the day teachers have been waiting for. 

I miss the freshman. The tiny freshman. It's funny that this is first on the list of things I'll miss because every other day of the year I generally avoid freshman at all costs. But on this day, they are so wide-eyed and weighed down by their ginormous binders as they cling with white-knuckles to their schedule as though its the blankie they gave up a few nights before.  They ask if I know where Room 135 is.  And I don't know where Room 135 is, but if they tell me what teacher they are looking for I can assure them I will give them GoogleMap accurate directions to the classroom.  I send them on their way, having heard nothing I've said, and watch as they ask the next teacher down the hall if they know where Room 135 is. Oh, the tiny freshman. 

I miss the seniors.  I miss how they enter the school with confidence but still wanting to earn the respect of the underclassmen.  It's amazing to think that 3 years before they were the tiny freshman. It's crazy what 3 years does.  But not as crazy as what changes in the 3 months since I saw them last. They are taller, with longer hair, tanner skin and many times, new friends. It's amazing what the summer does.  This year, especially, I'll miss the seniors as I've gotten to know an incredible group of senior girls through Young Life. One of the only regrets of not returning for the 2013-14 school year is that I won't be able to do life with Katie, Kenna, Kenzie, Claire, Elle, Emily, Morgan and Megan. 

I miss the shiny floors and lockers. Martin and Company always work so hard to get the halls of EVHS gleaming for the first day of school.  I love the cleanness of it all but it always makes me sad to think that as soon as the kids arrive, it will be back to normal. 

I miss the fresh start. How many people get a fresh start in their careers every year? That is one thing I love about teaching. No matter the reputation or the mistakes made in the past, there is always an opportunity for a clean slate. And it's the same for both teachers and students.  I just hope it's not like those shiny, fresh floors that are back to normal after 2 hours of school. 

I miss Back-to-School shopping. Ask my mom.  I couldn't wait for the day that the District 150 school supplies list arrived in the mail so that we could go to the School House for our mini Kleenex boxes.  And then the day came when I HAD to have the Trapper Keeper or Five Star First Gear binder from Office Max.  But my efforts to get a new pair of shoes by convincing my mom that my shoes weren't the "non-marking soles" that the school supplies list required always seemed to fail. So you can imagine my joy when I found out that one of the major responsibilities of the Department Head was to buy supplies for the rest if the department.  Yes, please!  A red stapler for Cross. Legal pads for Vogel.  And post-it notes for Kirk...NOT HOT PINK!

I miss planning the first day of school.  I always attempted to make it inspirational.  Like, "Dead Poets Society" inspirational.   So a few years ago I started teaching an American agovernment class in the auditorium. The first year I had 120 kids, then 80, then in the 50's... which is probably closer to the size it should be.  The goal was to give kids from our little school exposure to what a college lecture setting might be like... thinking that would help the transition to college a little more.  Having a captive audience on day one, I was trying to figure out how to get their attention, inspire them, and let them know that this was going to be a good class.  I gave a welcome of sorts, then played JFK's Inauguration speech.  I asked if they heard it.  "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country."  I talked about a fresh start, setting yourself apart, and setting goals. And just before the bell rang I said this: "If JFK doesn't hit you, maybe this will. If you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip?" The bell rings and 50 high school seniors are nodding their heads to Eminem's "Lose Yourself" and whispering to one another... "Did our teacher just quote Eminem?"  Yes she did kids, yes she did. 

I miss teaching kids how to shake hands. This is another lesson on Day 1. I tell kids that one of the best ways to make a good first impression is to have a good handshake. We talk about what a good handshake looks like: firm... go "web to web"... no dead fish, make eye contact and about two "pumps". Then, when kids realize that I'm going to shake their hands, you should see them rub their sweaty little palms on their pants. And then see their smiles as I commend them on their nice hand shakes. And then, I learned from Roberto (Class of 2008) the next lesson.  "Miss! You just shook my hand after you shook everyone else's hand in the class!  Don't you have some hand sanitizer??"  The germ-a-phobe in me instantly connected with Roberto. My liter size bottle of hand sanitizer is a quarter empty after Handshaking 101. 

I miss greetings from kids in the hallway.  I let them know that I expect them to acknowledge my existence if they seem me in the hallway...instead of avoiding eye contact, staring at the wall or fake texting.  I explain it shows that they have confidence and maturity.  I have seen students instantly morph into more confident human beings in the hallway by this one simple act and I love it!

I miss discovering the kid in class who is not what you expected. Teaching seniors has its pros and cons.  One of the biggest cons is that I don't know 75% of the student body... until they become seniors. And then I know 100% of the senior class as I'm the only government teacher. So I've watched these kids in the hallway for 3 years.  I've said many times, I wish I could walk down the hallway during passing period with my hands over my ears, eyes ... and sometimes nose. A lot what happens in the hallway you just don't want to know. That is all I know of these kids before they enter my classroom. But after I get to know them for an hour, a week, or a semester, I genuinely really like them.  I love how kids will surprise you if you give them a chance. 

I miss walking down the hallway to my friend Gretchen's room.  On day one I always look to see if Gretchen and Kelly and I all have the same lunch, just like the kids. We often work through our lunches but usually catch each other for a few minutes to catch up on whatever we missed out in carpool.  Which reminds me... 

I miss carpool.  The carpool has transformed much in my 7 years since joining it but one thing always remained the same. Gretchen. Some of the best prosfessional development happened in the 46 mile round trip from Edwards to Gypsum.  We absolutely solved most of the world's problems, not to mention our own. And we shared in each other's accomplishments and challenges. I can tell you exactly where we were rounding the bend on the west side of Wolcott when Kelly told us she and Matt were pregnant with Owen.  I recall just pulling out of the school parking lot onto Valley Road when Gretchen told me she was chosen to be a master teacher.  And the tradition in the carpool was to cue Alice Cooper's "School's Out" on the last day of school just as we roll out of town with the windows down.  And although it wasn't carpool, I can tell you exactly where I was between Copper and Frisco, leaving the valley this summer, when Gretchen told me, "Weaves, I've got a bomb to drop.  I'm pregnant!"  I can't believe I'm missing this time in life for Gretchen and Eric. I attempted to make a 24-hour stop over in Vail to meet the little one in January but don't think it's gonna work out.  Sad. But I'm more than excited for them!  

I miss the first few weeks of school, when I try to keep having all the fun of summer AND work full time at the same time. And then I discover that the pace can't continue.  But its fun while it lasts. 

I miss the Pep Fest during the first week of school. The energy is amazing. Students and staff are pumped. Opportunities abound.  And our Principal Doan always seems to have something no his sleeve.  You know it's going to be a good year. 

But I'm not there to experience all the things I'll miss about the 2013-14 school year. And it leaves me wondering if I'll ever experience those things again... 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

"The Friendly Confines": Two True Stories to Confirm that Wrigley Field is Appropriately Named

I've been to Wrigley Field twice in my life.  Here are the accounts of those two experiences.

At the end of June, my best friends from college, Annelise and Missy, and myself planned a weekend rendezvous in Chicago, where Missy lives and where Annie used to live.  Missy had already made plans for the Saturday night of the weekend that we chose.  But not just any plans.  She and her husband, Todd had been given tickets to a concert from his brother for Christmas.  But not just any concert.  It was Jason Aldean...who just happens to be Todd's favorite musician...confirmed by the fact that he sang every word of the song "Dirt Road Anthem" (including the country/rap part) at their wedding reception.  But the concert wasn't at just any venue.  it was at Wrigley Field.  

This being the case, Annie and I were left to our own devices to find entertainment for Saturday evening.  We had dinner with Missy, Todd, his brother and friend.  Then we joined them for the walk to Wrigley Field.  

We snapped a pic in front of the stadium, they went to the show and Annie and I looked at each other with a "what now?" look.  I suggested the Cubby Bear, a place an out-of-towner like myself thought was "iconic" while her look gave the impression that there were better places to hang out in Wrigleyville.  But she humored me and we went inside. 

We went to the bathroom and encountered a swarm of college-aged girls wearing their "country best" talking about stuff that college-aged girls wearing their "country best" talk about while they are in the bathroom.  Then we got a drink.  We sat at tables that were being methodically removed to make room for a dance floor.  Just before our table was taken away, two guys approached our table.  One was dark and tall...kind of resembling a cubby bear himself.  The other was short and slim and much quieter than his friend.  They ask if we were going to the concert tonight.  We responded "no", in a kind of a regretful tone.  They asked if we would like to go to the concert tonight.  Annie and I shot each other a puzzling glance and before we could respond they told us they had 2 free tickets.  I asked "No strings attached?"  They said "No strings attached."  In unison, Annie and I said we would take them!  As the "cubby bear", whose name was Chris, was producing the tickets he began to explain how they happened upon having 2 extras.  

The story turned about to be a rather sad one.  Chris and his wife, who were living in Philadelphia, had this weekend in Chicago planned for over a year including tickets to the Jason Aldean show.  Another couple was supposed to be joining them.  But now, Chris and his wife were going through a divorce and everyone had backed out of the trip, for obvious reasons.  So Chris was stuck with 4 concert tickets and a non-refundable condo for a weekend in Chicago.  Not wanting to throw it all away, he called up his friend, Aaron (short, slim, quieter...), whom he had grown up with in Buffalo, NY.  With 2 days notice, Aaron books a flight to join Chris for a weekend in Chicago.  And now they were sitting at the bar in the Cubby Bear assessing their options of whom to offer the two extra tickets to and Annie and I were the best they could find.  How friendly!

So, we're going to the concert!  I may have been slightly more excited about this than Annie as she's not much of a country music fan. But we both love live music and how often do you get free tickets to a concert at Wrigley Field?  Well, I never had, until now.  

The tickets weren't bad, along the 3rd base line, lower deck but covered (I'm sure there are more appropriate terms to describe where we sat but you get the idea...).  We had already missed the opener, Jake Owens but as we were taking our seats we were serenaded by Kelly Clarkson.  We texted Missy to let her know we made it to the show.  She came to hear the story of what had transpired and then went back to her seats right behind home plate.  

The seating arrangement became Annie, Me, Aaron and Chris.  We were enjoying the music... and maybe the people watching even more (placing bets on when the girl in front of us passed out, or what exactly the nature of the relationship was between the man and woman in front of us...Aaron thought they were mother and son which would have been weird considering their close proximity to one another and then the fact that he planted a fat one on her).  Annie was having a not so enjoyable experience as the girl next her kept encroaching on her space...even after we had moved over to leave an entire seat between us.  As Annie was guarding herself from thrown elbows and sweat flinging from hair, I struck up a conversation with Aaron.  He was still living in Buffalo.  I told him that I used to compete in a horse show outside of Rochester, New York.  He was familiar with the area and then told me that, speaking of horses, he had just gone to the Kentucky Derby.   I told him my brothers had gone to the Kentucky Derby for my brother's bachelor party.  He says he went there for HIS bachelor party.  Well, whaddya know!  Aaron is getting married in 6 days!  I nudge Annie... "Annie, he's getting married! In 6 days!"  That's one heck of a wingman to join your buddy for a "what could have been" weekend, the weekend before you get married.  AND, once heck of a fiancĂ© to be ok with it!  

In the meantime, I look over and Chris, who had been texting nearly the entire time, had tears streaming down his face.  I nudge Annie... "Annie, Chris is crying!"  She says, "He has been for the last 10 minutes that you've been talking to Aaron."  Whoops. 

So, back to the music.  It had started to rain right before Jason Aldean took the stage, but that didn't deter the fans in the outfield.  Everyone was having a good time.  Except for Annie who was still enduring elbows and sweat-dripping hair... Which was soon to turn to sweaty arms in her space and dirty looks.  I was beginning to have flashbacks of my Mumford and Sons experience in Aspen the previous year when Luke had to separate me from a girl whom I accused of being "the mean girl from middle school" (I'm so harsh I know) while she threw around the threat "I play hockey!"  We were all shaking in our boots.

Being a Weaver (which means we ask a lot of questions...maybe more so than the average human, I've been told), I asked Aaron what he did for work.  In a hesitating manner he told me he did construction.  I was picking up that he thought that was something to be ashamed of for some reason and that he didn't really want to talk about it.  So I went back to the music...for about 5 minutes.  Then I decided that since working construction is nothing he should be ashamed of, I asked him what kind of construction he did.  Again, he hesitated.  He told me, "It's a lie.  I don't do construction."  Oh?  He takes out his wallet and produces a business card that indicates that Aaron, is not a construction worker, but an MD.  I nudge Annie... "He's a doctor!"  He tells us that when you tell people you are a doctor, people immediately treat you differently so he tells strangers he works construction, but that no one had ever asked him "what kind of construction."  Guess he had never met a Weaver before.  

And then Aaron offered that if I ended up needing any medical advice on my travels in the next year to fell free to contact him.  How friendly!

I did eventually switch seats with Annie... For the last 30 seconds of the show.  Finally, the girl next to her had stepped on Annie and there was a brief scuffle in which she told Annie to "just chill."  Remember this girl has taken up two seats and is working on her third...Annie's.  I had experience in this kind of situation (re: Mumford) and successfully maintained the peace... And then the concert was over.  

How about that?  Free tickets to a concert with good music... But the story behind the tickets may have been even better.

And just yesterday, I was reflecting on my friendly experience at Wrigley Field (minus the sweaty-armed bully sitting next to us) and was reminded of my first, and only other experience at Wrigley Field.

It was the summer of 2002.  I was taking 9 hours of independent study classes and waiting tables at Damon's down on the Peoria riverfront (which ceased to exist after that summer and probably explains my considerably low income that summer).  I decided to take a few days off and visit my friend Mindi in St. Joseph, Michigan.  We had a fun few days hanging on her parents boat on the lake and then I headed back to Peoria.  I had just crossed the border into Illinois when I got to thinking, "I've never been to Wrigley Field.  I'm not on the schedule to work for a few days... I should see if there is a Cubs game."  So I called my dad to have him do some research for me.  This was obviously in the era before smart phones, when my dad often served as a smart phone.  "Hey Dad, I'm in Denver.  Is there a Schlotszky's nearby?"  "Hey Dad, Vail Pass is closed.  Does it say when it will open?" "Hey Dad, I'm in Miami.  I can't remember who I rented my car from.  Here is my password for life.  Can you look it up in my email?" (I actually think I called Luke for that one.)  "Hey Dad, I'm in Chicago.  Is there a Cubs game today?"  He says, "Yep! One o'clock."  The clock on the dashboard says noon.  "Pops!  I'm going to see The Ivy!  See you in a few days!"  As an aside, I wouldn't really call myself a baseball fan.  I think I just wanted the experience more than anything else.  I loved the spontaneity of it and I loved that as a 21 year-old girl was doing this by herself.  I thought I was cool.  

So I head north on Lake Shore Drive and followed the signs to Wrigley Field ( smart phone or GPS).  I find a sign for parking.  I paid $16.  It seemed like a lot.  When I walked out from the alley I understood why.  The stadium was a half block away.  A guy on the corner was selling an extra ticket (if I knew then what I know now I would have tried my luck in the Cubby Bear for a free ticket!).  He wanted $10.  I had a $20 and eight $1bills. He gave it to me for $8.  Yes, I paid half as much for my ticket as I did for parking.  My seat was in the upper deck and it happened to be a rather cool, windy day,  AND it was Day Camp Day at the old ballpark. Considering that I was surrounded by approximately 500 screaming kids, I decided to find a better seat.  I bought a brat and a beer and made my way down to the 3rd base line.  I found 4 empty seats in the 4th row that seemed inviting.  I took a seat and a few minutes later 3 guys showed up.  I think they were rather amused by the single girl at the ball game, so they bought me a Cubs t-shirt.  How friendly!

And then they assured me that the guy they had given the 4th ticket to wouldn't show up.  Just as I asked the guys what they did for a living (I think they actually did work construction), the usher came down with the ticket-holder to my seat.  I got up to leave but again the guys assured me that it would be ok If I stayed.  The usher wasn't convinced so I found a new seat.  This time I went to right field and hung out with Sammy Sosa and enjoyed the rest of the game taking in all that makes Wrigley Field the unique place it is. 

And so my conclusion is this:  I know that the "Curse of the Billy Goat" has cast a long shadow on the Cubbies, but something must happen to people as they near the "Friendly Confines" and you just can't help but be friendly.  But maybe someone should have reminded the girl sitting next to Annie at the concert where she was...

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Living the Dream

This past year, my mom asked me what I would do with my life if money were no object. My immediate response was this: Each day I'd read through my favorite cookbooks and plan a menu, go to the grocery store (I LOVE going to grocery stores... even if I have nothing to buy... weird, I know) and then invite a handful of people to dinner. 

This summer, I've been able to live out this dream.  My Monday routine has been to find out what mom and dad have on their calendars for the week, plan meals accordingly, then go to the store for the shopping for the week. (Although not expected of me, this was my offer in exchange for "room and board" this summer). Below is a sampling of some of the menus I've made. 

Grilled Salmon with Quick Blueberry Pan Sauce, Roasted Carrots with Dill and a Simple Salad

Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Salsa, Roasted Beet and Goat Cheese Salad, Garlic Roasted Potatoes

Halibut and Pea Puree

Fig and Thyme Jam, Roasted Chicken with Herb and Garlic Pan Drippings, Creamy Rice Grits with Tomato Relish, Late-Summer Greens Saute and Pots de Creme with Riesling-Poached Grapes

Ribs, Tagliatelle with Corn Pesto, Chopped Salad and a Lemon Trifle

And I've cataloged all of the menus recipes and pictures on Evernote Food, an awesome tool for my organizational/OCD self. 

But today, I had the opportunity to work with my mom to plan a pretty special gathering... An engagement party... for my little brother, Luke and his fiancee, Rachel!  Luke proposed to Rachel last night on the hole of the 8th green at WeaverRidge, which is right behind my parents house. 

Being the thoughtful guy he is, Luke had asked my mom and I to plan this party a few weeks ago.  Rachel is staying in Illinois for the month before heading to Guatemala for 3 months while Luke heads back to Dallas. Today was the only day that both their families would be together and he knew that this event was important to Rachel so we had to seize the opportunity. Mom and I got to work and this is what the final product looked like. 

Chocolate Covered Strawberries, Lemon Raspberry Cake (from Trefzger's), (Luke made the Apple Pie in the pic for the Proposal); I forgot to take a picture of the cheese plate, Goat Cheese Cucumber sandwiches and Mango Chutney and Cheddar sandwiches

But more important than the party, I'm super psyched for the life Luke and Rachel are beginning together. Their story is a sweet one, and I'm excited to see how it will continue to unfold. Here is the story in a nutshell... 

AND, I'm excited to have another awesome sister-in-law. 

To Luke and Rachel... May you "live the dream" with the help of one another and The Lord. And may many be blessed by your life together. 

"Delight yourself in The Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."
Psalm 37:4