29 December 2008

900 Projects Down, A Million More To Go

We're finally homeowners! Michael and I moved into our new house at the end of October. The home-improvement projects never seem to end: painting walls, cleaning carpets, polishing the hardwood floors, replacing anything that's broken or damaged, installing shelves. Even though these projects take up a lot of our time and energy, we have enjoyed every minute of it. We took a few shots in front of our house for our Christmas card.

There are times when we feel as if we're "playing house" or on vacation, and that the previous owners will show up at our front door, wanting their home back. I know that owning a home isn't really a vacation. It just seems that we've achieved that quintessential American dream, and I can't believe that we are actually living it, especially in these difficult economic times. Michael and I count our blessings every day: for our jobs, our home, our health, our family, and for one another.

We had the chance to entertain Michael's family a couple of weeks ago for an early Christmas. Michael's parents, sister, and her husband and children all came. I love playing hostess and the fact that Michael has a large family, so I was estatic about the opportunity. We had a big lunch, and afterwards opened presents. It's always entertaining to watch kids open gifts. Our nephews, Matthew and Jay, wanted to play or use every gift they opened. They were hilarious! They also enjoyed playing in our yard. I had the chance to teach them how to blow dandelions (yes, there are weeds in the yard). The boys probably spit more than they blew on the delicate flowers. Yet, they had such a great time in their learning experience, they picked every dandelion they could find. We also played hide-and-seek in the closests upstairs. I had forgotten how much I liked playing that game when I was little.
My winter break from work will be over in a few days. The school year is halfway through already. Shoot, it's almost the 2009! I look forward to the change that's to come and for the chance to start fresh with a few resolutions. Best wishes to everyone. :)

24 October 2008

Tents, Campfires, and the Great Outdoors: A Few of My Favorite Things

I have been on fall break all this week, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank goodness for weeks off from a job like teaching! I love what I do and feel this career fits me in more ways than one, but that doesn't mean it doesn't cause me stress. There are sleepless nights worrying about my students, time crunches and deadlines on paperwork, and, of course, days where everything electronic seems to be on the fritz.

Since I was given a gift of 5 days away from the daily grind, I planned a 3-day/2-night camping trip with 2 of my friends--Janaki and Christy. Janaki had to work, so it ended up being just Christy and me. After a couple of weeks of trying to decide what camping locale worked best for the both of us, we decided on Fort Mountain State Park. It's located between Chatsworth and Ellijay, GA, and they had the option of walk-up camping (park your car and walk up a hill to your site). There's a lake in the park where people fish, as well as lots of hiking trails, overlooks, and even a couple of small monuments. Here's a link:

The morning I woke up ready to hit the road toward Christy's apartment, the temperature outside had dropped to the 40s. Michael, seeing this, took one look at me and sarcastically said, "Have a great time!" knowing full well that I get chill bumps if the temperature is below 85 degrees. I threw my gear in my truck and made my way to Atlanta, stopping first at Wal-Mart to purchase a set of thermal undies...just in case.

The drive to the mountains was beautiful, as the colors were changing on Georgia's deciduous trees. We stopped in Fairmount, GA for a tasty lunch. I believe we were the only ones under the age of 45. We were probably the only ones not wearing camo or a trucker's hat, as well.

When we drove into Fort Mountain State Park, we realized that the park itself is quite small, but the views from its cliffs are spectacular. We pitched out tent and set up camp, then set out on a short hike before dinner. Here's a look at our trip in a few of my favorite photos:

Our water supply.

The divining rod didn't work too well on finding water. Instead, it brought us to a bottle of rum and some Coke. I suppose if the campfire won't keep us warm, this will.
If our water ran dry, I had a divining rod to lead us to another source!

Christy and me at the overlook at the end of our first hike. It was rather short, but the view was incredible.

Coming back from the overlook, we ran into this tower. We weren't all that impressed, but it was something to see.

We hiked around the lake in the park as the sun was starting to sink. The water was so still, it looked like glass. This was a scene to be remembered.

I can't believe I spotted this yellow beetle on a yellow dandelion. I'm no photographer, but I can work the macro zoom on my camera. This was taken on a hike early the next morning.

If you went camping with us back in '02 to Cumberland Island, you understand the inside joke pictured here. Peanut butter and bread, anyone?

That's right, all you available bachelors out there...she can cook in the kitchen AND on a campfire!
Christy and I had a great time camping at Fort Mountain. We'd recommend it to anyone looking to camp for just a couple of days. There are sites with electricity hook-ups, in case there are folks who can't part from their TVs. Our biggest complaint was that the site where we stayed (walk-in site #2) wasn't prepared well. You couldn't put your tent anywhere that wasn't on a slope, and the ground was very rocky. We only had our sleeping bags (no pads or cots), so sleeping was tough. Turning over meant you had to fight with gravity so as not to end up on the other end of the tent. Rocks under the tent (they were EVERYWHERE, as well as unavoidable) made our bodies ache the next day. We were so frustrated by this, we attempted to sleep in Christy's car the second night. I couldn't catch a wink--I felt too closed in and was revved up on caffeine. We ended up back in the tent, this time lining our sleeping bags with all of our clothes for extra padding and comfort. I slept better this way.
Now I can't wait for spring break. I'm hoping another camping trip can be planned, especially one where folks don't get left out because of work. :)

20 September 2008

Movin' on Up

We finally bought a house! Michael and I have been searching for the perfect home for weeks, and we found it. Our real estate agent discovered the listing after it had been on the market for only 3 days. We made our offer the day after we viewed it. Basically, we grabbed it before anyone else could.

The house is in Jefferson, GA in a one-street neighborhood. It's between both of our workplaces, although a little closer for me since 5:00am comes very early when you're teaching little ones. The property is large enough for us to have a garden AND hold a front-yard football game (1.7 acres, to be exact). There are 3 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths with a bonus room and formal dining room. The sellers painted almost every room in the house right before the viewing, but we're going to paint just about every room they tackled. Their painting skills are obviously lacking. It's a great home, though. We can't wait to move in at the end of October.

Here are some photos.

01 August 2008

My response to an editorial

So I read a very funny editorial today about Crocs (yes, those silly rubber shoes, and I couldn't get past some of the atrocious things people posted on the message board. Here's a link to the article:


Here's what I posted on the message board:

To those of you who think debates such as this are a waste of time, I don't think you caught on to the journalist's jocular writing voice. Mr. Tuttle obviously wrote this piece to stir the water a little and make us think about yet another fad that has a tight grasp on our minds and wallets.
Think back to any past fad. You could probably name a few and even express regret for pouring money into at least one of them: Doc Martens, pacifier necklaces, slap braclets, slouch socks, Ugg boots, Starter jackets. I could go on, but you get the point.

This editorial is also meant for entertainment. A movie is a form of entertainment, yet you would pay to see it after reading its title and watching a few commercials on it. You have this thing called a brain that helps you decide if you even want to make the effort to go and see it. If after seeing it, it doesn't entertain you, you're out $9. With this piece of writing, your brain told you what it would be about based on its title, and then you made the decision whether you would read it. If you weren't entertained, no big deal. You're out several minutes of your day. La-de-freaking-da, not the end of the world.

If Mr. Tuttle offended you, then you need to get a life. Many published works are meant to push your buttons and test your debating skills, and this piece is a great conversation starter safe for ANY group of your peers. It's even safe to discuss at work because it's free of politics!

If your Crocs honestly make you happy and you completely disagree with Mr. Tuttle's words, then be the bigger person and quit taking personal jabs at him AND his son. What adult with a sound mind (ahem, "nicca") thinks they have the right to call another person's son an ass?

Sure, there are awful things going on in the world around us: war, drug use, street violence, abuse and neglect. But some of the hateful words that I have read on this message board are quite offensive and can have a powerful influence over the children that some of you might have. What's worse: telling your kids your opinion on a pair of brightly-colored rubber shoes, or that it's OK to pass negative and demeaning judgment publically on someone you have never met?

I wonder if my mom would be proud...

31 July 2008

Rain--something sacred in the South

Today, I had a goal to fulfill: to begin unpacking my teacher materials in my new classroom.

But first, I had to clear out all the materials left by the previous teacher before I could begin unpacking my things. Preplanning is next week, and I want my room up and running before I have to commit my time to meetings and paperwork. Typically, I would spend time on the weekend prepping my room, but it's an impossibility at this school. They lock the gates to the driveway at the end of the week, prohibiting anyone from coming in during their free time. I may eventually come to appreciate being shut off on weekends.

Back to my goal for the day...

The air conditioning in the school building hasn't run all summer, so my classroom was stinking hot. Hotter than other rooms in the building because it's upstairs. The school's bookkeeper told me it probably wouldn't be as stifling indoors today, since it was overcast and the outdoor temperatures had fallen a few degrees. Even though I genuinely adore her, I still knew better. A stuffy room was quietly awaiting my arrival, ready to make me sweat more than I do at the gym.

I came prepared: I wore a loose sundress to avoid swelling up from oversweating in clothing that fits more snugly. I had a large box fan running the 3 hours I spent in my room and paused every few minutes to stand in front of it for temporary comfort. I made use of the water fountain down the hall, filling up my Chik-fil-A cup 3 or 4 times to stay hydrated. I even fashioned a cooling device out of paper towels by soaking them in water and wearing them around my neck.

You think all this effort would help cool me...

But every movement I made caused me to sweat: hairline, back, knees, elbows, neck. I felt slimy, but I had work to do. I had to make neat piles of the things that weren't mine, dust shelves that had never met my friend Formula 409, sweep glitter out of drawers, fix the crooked hanging file holder frame. My organized "to-do" list on the white board was ignored--when I saw something that had to be done, I did it and poured more sweat into it.

And then relief finally came. In the form of rain.

My blinds had been closed to shut out any extra heat energy. I didn't see it or hear it coming down. I just had that crazy 6th sense feeling that told me to peek out the window.

I was glad I did.

I didn't even hesitate or give it a second thought. My sandals were off my feet in 0.2 seconds flat and I was out the door and down the stairs, looking for the closest exit. A flower pot just outside the door was heavy enough to prop it open (so I wouldn't get locked out).

All it took was 30 seconds. 30 seconds of twirling in rain that fell in sheets. 30 seconds of fulfilling my duty as a former GHPer who doesn't try to avoid a shower at all costs, but lets the rain soak her to the core. 30 seconds of wondering if I applied waterproof mascara this morning, and then realizing that I shouldn't have asked the question in the first place. 30 seconds of asking myself why I didn't do this more.

The rain cooled and relieved me, and at the same time, put me at risk of ridicule from my new co-workers moving about elsewhere in the building. I had let the rain drench my hair and clothing. My feet squeaked slightly on the tiled hallway floors. And if someone had stopped me to ask what had happened, I would probably would have responded, "I was hot."

Sure it had been overcast all day, but with the drought, days like this are usually just a tease. Rain has become so sacred in the South that we no longer curse it for its inconveniences. We find ourselves sitting in front of the nightly news, fingers crossed, ready to do a rain dance for extra luck. When the weatherman tells us it's finally coming, we celebrate as if we have won the lottery. We'll take it any way we can get it.

Today, I took it like Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain: with utmost joy.

30 July 2008

The summer's end...

What the heck happened to my summer? Before it began, I thought I had lots of time--that is, once I married my college sweetheart. Now I only have a week left before I go back to work. Before pre-planning, I will have to unpack all my classroom materials and set up my classroom. So much to be done, and all without air conditioning until next Thursday.

But seriously, I figured without a job at GHP this summer that I would have all this free time on my hands and the chance to do something new--take cooking classes, volunteer at a shelter or hospital, learn kickboxing. Instead, my summer was filled with all kinds of fun activities that kept me busy! Aside from my own bachelorette party, wedding, and honeymoon, there were friends out of town to visit, engagement and dinner parties to attend, family to dine with, summer school students to watch over, wedding presents to open, and patio vegetables to tend to.

Since I'm a teacher now, I will always have these summers to fill with various activities.

I have been looking over my upcoming schedule for the school year, trying to make sure Michael and I have all the events on our calendar that are most important--weddings, births, holidays. There are so many happy events we have to get excited about! On top of those (and me being in a new school system), we're still looking for a house. Moving into a new home has the potential to throw a kink into the schedule, even though buying a home is the next step in our lives.

With the holidays and breaks I'll have coming up, I have free time within the school year to plan some mini-adventures. I actually get an entire week off in October...and then another week in April! Looks like I get to do some camping.

Anyone want to recommend a hiking backpack for such adventures?

23 July 2008

Beyond "Black in America"

Issues of race are nothing new, but the depth of some of these issues go deeper than most white Americans are willing to acknowledge.

I remember asking myself questions about race and ethnicity as early as kindergarten. You know, questions that only a child both thinks in their head AND verbalizes. The questions that usually result in your mother's face turning beet red, and then she's off like lightning, running as far away from the epicenter of the question bomb, your hand in hers so tight, you wonder what you possibly could have done wrong. After all, it was only curiosity, and we're taught to ask questions when we don't know the answers.

e.g.--Was Michele white or black? Can she be both? How long ago did Charlie move to America from China, and does he eat Chinese food every night? Do all white kids have both mommies and daddies?

My questions nowadays are more complex. You'll see them threaded throughout this blog...

I grew up in a diverse community. The PJs were across the street from my high school. There was a large growth in the minority population in schools from the '80s to the '90s. Many of my friends were (and still are) minorities. As I settle into the happiness that is found in relationships with my heterogeneous peers, there are still folks who might say: Well, a lot of 'em ain't black.

Since when am I supposed to have a certain percentage of black friends before I can be considered tolerant or understanding of other races? Should I only be seeing my friends' color? Or should I be seeing them for their character or ambition or positive influence over me?

To an outsider, though, it would be easy to see the social divide in my former school district. The county's school system had strict district policies, which meant you attended your neighborhood school. If you lived in a poverty-stricken district, you went to school with other poor kids. One of my childhood friends and I attended school together right through 6th grade, but the county redrew the district lines (mind you, we lived only a couple of miles apart). I stayed in the same district as before: culturally, racially, and economically diverse, and becoming more so by the minute. She attended school in another district: about as diverse as a bowl of white rice with a fleck of pepper in it. If it wasn't already obvious, race and SES went hand-in-hand in the county. My friend's school--mostly white. My school--if we're going to stick to the rice metaphor, think of it being kind of like fried rice...a little bit of everything.

Here's a link to the school district where I grew up: http://gwinnett.k12.ga.us/gcps-mainweb01.nsf

In Clarke County where I have taught for the last 4 years, the district policies are loose and our students' families take full advantage. Rumor has it that by the time a child reaches the 5th grade in our county, he will most likely have attended 3 or more different elementary schools. We only have 13. Classrooms are transient for most teachers, never having the same roster from Day 1 through Day 180. The reason why the county doesn't have stricter policies on these districts: because they are afraid of discriminating against the poorer communities. The reason why kids change schools so often: they don't perform on grade-level, the parents blame the school/teacher/community, so they try a new school.

Here are my next questions: If it worked in my childhood school, why can't it work for Clarke County schools? Would it be better for children to have a neighborhood school K-12 for consistency and stability, or to be able to attend a new school when things don't work out? Does neighborhood schooling even have a direct effect on a child's success in education?

A lot of my friends don't realize that Clarke County schools are considered inner city. Most students--black and white--are from families below the poverty line. A high number of black children have behavior issues and a negative outlook on education. PTO meetings are usually attended by the few white, middle-class parents while the black, lower-class parents can't attend because they don't have a means of transportation. While there are many single-parent households in our schools, a large number of them are black females.

After watching "Black in America" (http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2008/black.in.america/) earlier tonight, I thought about my students and what it must mean to them to be black in our country. Some of my kids would not even know the definition of "country" or be able to locate North America on a globe. Others would tell you to be black means that you talk and dress a certain way. Only a couple of them would say that it doesn't matter what color you are, that we're all brothers and sisters in God's eyes (yes, I have had students say this to each other--tear jerker, I know!). I'm very open with my students on issues of race. A classroom is a safe environment, and children should not have to worry about asking the questions they have on this topic.

I may not ever understand what it's like to be black or member of any other minority, but it doesn't automatically make me ignorant or intolerant. I'll just keep asking questions, so don't mind me when I do. I simply want to know.

22 July 2008

No caffiene after 6:00pm

It's 10:00am and I'm having a breakfast that consists of Pepsi and Wheat Thins because I'm too lazy to make a real breakfast for just me. That's right--the girl who cleans every piece of plastic, aluminum, and glass before she puts them into recycling, who organizes and then reorganizes her physical space for peace of mind, who normally wouldn't even have a soda with a meal or eat foods too high in sugar, fat, or salt--is taking the easy way out and is not apologetic for it.

I had yet another sleepless night last night (2nd time this week). I tried every trick in the book to help myself become sleepy: reading, watching TV, checking my email. None seemed to work. And if I still only had those phenomenal sobakawa pillows. I have some regret in returning them back to Target because for the week that we owned them, Michael and I both zonked out the minute our heads touched them. Problem was, they were too small. It finally occured to me that the reason I couldn't sleep was due to the fact I had consumed caffiene too late in the day--somewhere around 7:00 with my dinner--and it kept me wired. After my morning Pepsi, my caffiene intake will have to cease...until tomorrow.

When I went to check on our patio jungle this morning, every one of our beautiful tomato plants had toppled over from the gale force winds of last night's storm. The plants are too big and too heavy for their pots, so Michael and I have tried leaning them against various walls and each other so they wouldn't have room to move. Guess Mother Nature wins. I'll have to add one more thing to my list of things to do today: buy bigger, sturdier pots for our tomato plants. And maybe tomato cages, too.

Big plans next week. I get to move into my new classroom in Winder. New because it will be my first year at this particular school and because the physical classroom was recently constructed. Three cheers for new carpet! I feel that this is what the cosmos owe me for being stuck in my last classroom. Yeah, the one that kept me ill for 2 years straight with bronchitis, the flu, and various head and chest colds. There is so much mold, mildew, and various pests in that room (and whole section of the school building, for that matter) that I wish a health inspector would come through and deem it uninhabitable. Maintenance men who would come out to fix my leaky faucet or clean out the filter in the A/C unit used to complain about doing any work in this part of the school building, which is appropriately named the "Earth Shelter." It is literally built into the earth. You have to walk down a tunnel/hall from the main buildling to get to it, and once you're in the Earth Shelter, you're under a hill of dirt. Anyone can walk across the top of it, as there is a sidewalk and sets of stairs on both sides of the hill. All 6 classrooms have doors that open up to the playground behind it. But the poor teacher #7 who gets stuck teaching in the hallway area called the "pod" outside these classrooms due to lack of space in the rest of the school has no emergency exit convenient to her because if an emergency exit existed at the end of the hall, it would lead her into a 30-year-old wall of Georgia red clay. She could go through one of our classrooms for our exit doors--but then again, our whole school is on permanent lock down and she would need someone to let her in first. Unless they have a classroom in the Earth Shelter, none of your co-workers will come to visit you there. It's like they believe "Earth Shelter" is synonymous with "black hole." Yeah, I got used to walking out of the tunnel if I needed anything.

We're currently searching for our first home, as apartment life has worn us down. We meet with our real estate agent on Friday to look at a house in Jackson County (click here to see: http://framing.usamls.net/framing/default.asp?content=expanded&this_format=1&f_id=RTS%5DZ%5BWWWW%5BZ%5DSTR&mls_number=904031), but we have a list of about 10 more we're also ineterested in. What are we looking for in a house?
1. a big yard (for garden space--so the tomatoes won't be blown over)
2. a garage (years of sun exposure have not been too kind to our trucks)
3. storage space
4. a nice kitchen
We'll also need things like room for kids or couch crashers, but I figured it went without saying. I can post more homes of interest later.

Time to start that list. And maybe get some lunch...


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