Thursday, December 2, 2010

1st Field Trip 2010

I've been pretty nervous about today. I dislike taking field trips. It's like taking small kids to the grocery store. You never know if they could act up or talk to loud or just not follow directions. In the confines of a classroom, I can manage my students. They've gotten really good at following directions and being quiet and respectful. What on earth would they do in public. At a County Courthouse, no less?

One thing I had no doubts about - these students were ready. They were participating in a mock trial. The case involved teens texting while driving in bad weather. One of the teens in the car was severely injured and now suing the other teen. The case hinged on liability. Was the teen who was texting at fault, even though the teen was not texting at the time of the crash? Was it just bad weather to blame? Did the kids in the car deserve some blame for getting in the car knowing this teen liked to text behind the wheel?

We walked to the courthouse .4 miles. It was around freezing, near 32 degrees. Thankfully, there is an old shopping center halfway between school and the courthouse and we were able to cut through the mall and heat up a bit. Once at the courthouse, everyone went through security which I think made the students realize this was a bit more serious than just a mock trial.

Mr. Holland, our judge for the day, led us upstairs to our courtroom. For the most part, students were really quiet! I think they were extremely intimidated by their surroundings. He pointed to where each "character" should sit from the attorneys to the witnesses to the jury. Then we held the trial.

Myself, Ms. Newton and Mr. Furrer sat in the stands. For the most part, my students "performed" like professionals, writing exceptional opening and closing statements. Their questioning was a bit rough, although since I had them to everything themselves, that was bound to happen. I gave them a bit of prompting but other than that they did all the research themselves!

There were a few laughs. The jury found for the plaintiff in the end with a little assistance from me. They worked hard and I'm so proud of them.

After the courtroom we took a brief tour of the courthouse. We went first to Mr. Holland's office/chambers. Students asked good questions such as how he got the job and what it is like to work there. I had one student ask about a document hanging on the wall (I figured it had some cool story behind it). Turns out it was a copy of the Gettysburg Address. Cool!

Then we headed to the Abe Lincoln exhibit. This entailed a brief video program in a little room depicting a few of the cases Lincoln tried right here in Champaign. For example, I didn't know he tried the first capital murder case in Champaign!

In the end, I am so glad I did this. Now I get to cruise into Finals. Next week we'll be doing review for the finals. Then the week after is Finals week.

So there you go. The latest in my teaching saga. I have so many blogs to catch you up on. I'll work on them soon!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Here it is. The Friday after Thanksgiving. Did you ever wonder why we call it Black Friday? I did and so I did some fact checking. Turns out the moniker has only been around for the last 35 years or so. Black is the meaning of accounting books and the stores, which typically have their biggest sales of the year on this date, hope to find themselves safely "in the black" when it comes to raking in the cash of sales. And since 2005, that has been the case increasingly more, although internet sales are making a roaring attracting to those (like me) who hate standing in lines.

It has been a fantastic weekend in Chicago. I pondered for about 30 minutes last night on heading out early to be one of the few, the dedicated, the crazy Black Friday deal hunters. I've never shopped on Black Friday. I hate shopping, except in rare moods. Although, I really love this time of year because I have specific gifts to buy for OTHER people. I love giving gifts.

In the end, though, I left the condo at 10:30 and was on Michigan Avenue by 11am. I popped into a few stores. Here's what I discovered in the 2 hours I was "shopping." Department Stores and even Apple were not overwhelmingly crowded. I wandered in to Apple to price check something and found that there were plenty of service people, including a guy on crutches wearing a Santa hat. I played with an iPad. I touched the Macbook Air (it really is light!). I checked out some of the other gizmos in the store. But in Macy's, Nordstroms and Apple there was room to walk, plenty of registers available with no line or very limited line. On other hand, places like Express and Banana Republic were lines that were at least 100 people long. I stood in one for about 15 minutes and then decided to just drop the gifts near the nearest shelf and buy them online. Really, is standing in an hour long line worth saving an extra $5 when I could just do it online (and probably pay cheaper taxes?).

But the best part of this weekend so far has been Thanksgiving Day. My sister and brother-in-law came over with all the fixings. Turkey, apple-raisin stuffing, cranberry, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and a mixed batch of veggies that included string beans, carrots and asparagus. It was perfectly delicious.

We then played a game. My mother, being a avid recreation specialist, wanted to start a tradition of playing games during family holidays. I'm all in. I love games. I really love when people sit around a table and talk or play and are actively involved in something together. That was one of the things that kept my high school friends and I so close. Whether it was Spades (which got us through countless weekends) or the Annual Gender-Team Trivial Pursuit game, we enjoy each other's company and always feel like we step away knowing each other just a bit more, even if that means how competitive they are.

Last night the game was Settlers of Catan, a Germany game that I learned 2 summers ago. I've hooked my teacher friends on it down in Champaign and introduced my parent's to the game on Friday. They liked it. But last night was fun. We had noises for different parts of the game (wheat was often said in a high pitched wheat! tone and Sheep were often followed by a baaa noise). My sister and Bro-in-law played as a pair and were so cute to watch. And mom won the game. We were all very close to winning, which makes it all the more fun.

I'm thankful there are 2 more days left to enjoy. I've got the place to myself tomorrow and I plan on doing all of my leftover grading. I'll probably read a bit more and I'm going to have to investigate whether or not there is another Sherlock Holmes film being made. We watched that tonight (another tradition - movie one night during the Holiday weekends). It was very interestingly filmed and acted. Odd plot, too. But all in all, pretty good.

So there you go. About 2 miles walked in the chilly but gorgeous city. A lunch with friends at a local pub. An evening with my parents. An afternoon with my whole family. And 2 more days to go. LOVE IT! There are so many things to be thankful for and if I wrote them all this would be a terribly long blog post. So to those of you who have weathered through the storms these last few years (and the ones to come) - thank you. To my family, I couldn't love you more. And last but not least, thanks to God. I couldn't do anything I do with out You.

On to Birthday, Christmas & New Years! It's the most wonderful time of the year....

Thursday, November 4, 2010

I Need To Breathe

What a week! The calendar has flipped to November and I realize that we are now in the home stretch towards Thanksgiving and Christmas...and my favorite time of year.

While the weather in Illinois has been unseasonably warm and very dry, the idea that it is November hasn't really matched the fresh, new page before me on my wall. True, it is very dark in the morning and in fact, I took the garbage out a few mornings ago at about 6:30 a.m. in about 34 degree temps and the moon and stars were still shining brightly above me. How very odd. When I drive to school around 7:15 a.m. the sun is just starting to make it's journey above the horizon and is blazing a bright spot on my dashboard. Temporarily blinded as I heat eastward, it's light is causing the window, freshly scraped of frost with bits of ice still clinging to its surface, to free their bonds and melt away, the sun's heat the last it can take before evaporating.

I get home around 3:30-4 p.m. most days and the sun is just settling into its path to hide for the night. I like to open my windows and sit on my couch looking westward and follow it's trail. I usually doze off for a few moments as the heat calms me, unless my brain is in overdrive thinking of the many things left to do before nightfall and bedtime.

I didn't intend to write about nature but perhaps my blog title led me to realize just how much we rely on the fiery orb to pass the time. I rarely venture out once dark, unless it is to meet up with Buddies or swing dance. But this past week I ventured to Campusland and saw the band called NeedToBreathe. It's a rare occurrence to see a show this time of year. Concert season usually is in full swing during the summer and early Sept/October but by November things taper down except the holiday shows. But this was a band I began listening to last year. They are a combination of jam band, John Fogerty, Jonny Lang, CSNY and Sister Hazel all sort of wrapped up into one. They hail from South Carolina and are technically a Christian rock band. It has been a while since I was blown away by a show. But this was amazing.

There is nothing fake about these guys. Two brothers, Bear and Bo, front the band along with long-time friends on bass and drums. The harmonies were fantastic. The instrument-playing first rate and the energy level was high. Don't give me anything fake. Show me you love what you are doing, you believe in what you are singing and I'll buy into it hook, line and sinker. It doesn't hurt to have guitars, keyboard, drums and several voices singing lyrics that are generally positive (and a banjo and tambourine mixed in for good measure). That to me is what a good band is.

Most of the airplay these guys get is for their slower tunes. But they can sure turn the volume up. (Sound is never good in their videos...they like their bass but here you go - a version of A Girl Named Tennessee.

I've always kinda liked the southern, country/rock boundry when it comes to music. These guys seem really humble, you can TELL they have fun doing what they do and I appreciate their songwriting abilities. Plus, this is only the 2nd time I have ever seen a band come out for a 2nd encore and perform completely unplugged - no amps. no mics. The first was a band called Nickelcreek. Then there was NeedToBreathe...

Now the unplugged performance is done right it can give you goosebumps. They're perfect for small venues, like this one at the Canopy Club and if the audience is quiet enough you can hear every strum and every vocal note. This crowd was largely college-aged so they weren't as quiet as I'd have liked but I still got goosebumps. Here's a video of one of their acoustic numbers - Washed By the Water (Don't even tell me you don't get goosebumps!)

I went solo to the show. Mostly because everyone that loves the band was preoccupied that night. No big deal though, since I learned long ago that it's perfectly fine to go do things alone so long as I really am interested. You learn real quick as a single, quarter-century adult that if you can just get over the embarrassing part of doing things alone (eating out, going to a movie, sitting in a coffee shop, going to shows) then it's not so bad and there is a minor chance of meeting like-minded people. I didn't meet anyone that night (more because I wanted to be able to see in the standing-room crowd and was captured by the music and getting a great photo). The show started at 7 p.m. and was done by 9:30 p.m. and I was at home by 10! Very odd but so glad I went.

Do you Need To Breathe? I've been working hard at getting out of the house. Socializing has been minimal this year with being sick and somehow having more grading than last year (how did THAT happen?). Not only has this band's music made me feel a little calmer but it's making me soak in the world around me a lot more. I hadn't been taking the time to see the sun and moon and stars the way I did over the last few weeks had I not starting taking a few moments for myself. Get out there. Give yourself some TLC and know that tomorrow is a new day. Just breathe.....


PS - next week more on Italy, school and MSI fun to come!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween weekend in Urbana-Champaign

I attended my 2nd annual Halloween Swing Society Dance here in the land of University of Illinois. Usually, the folks down here don't swing with strangers but there were a lot of unfamiliar faces last night at the Union on campus. By strangers, I don't mean people I didn't recognize, because I don't know many people that swing. What I do mean though, is that many of the costumes made it hard to discern who some folks were or even their gender.

For example, there was one person (I figured it was a guy by the type of shoe he was wearing) who was dressed in a thin, purple, sheet-like material. On top of his head was gold-foiled decorations that looked like antlers or baby tree branches. He also had a red bike light that flashed under the sheet and around his head. Keep in mind that I could not see this person's face at all. I had danced with several gentleman in the first 1/2 hour I was there and with every dance partner, speculation on what this person's costume signified was a topic of conversation. And none of us knew.

So as I came back down the hall towards the ballroom where the dance was taking place, I encountered the strange purple creature and decided to just ask him (could it be a her?) what he was. Turns out this person wasn't just going to tell me. I had to guess.

Avoiding my initial instinct to walk away, I played the game of charades that he'd begun. After about 5 minutes of frustration I finally guessed germs. He then spoke and corrected me saying bacterium. Sheesh! Must be some science grad student or professor. A far cry from my first thought of a Sesame Street character!

Sesame Street characters were present. The Yip Yip monsters were a big hit, although they took their costumes off to dance, unlike annoying bacterium. Two guys dressed as G.I. Joe's came in green face paint, camouflage and complete with green boards and toy guns to complete their plastic toy look (the green boards were put on only for the sake of photos).

I liked the girl dressed as an upside down flower pot. The pot was on her head and she wore a flowered dress. Pretty original. A carebear was present as was a jester. A male cheerleader took the cake for scariest costume. Another original costume was the Chilean miner. 2 guys were dressed as priests. Several guys and girls were Avatars from the movie, one of the female avatars winning top costume prize.

One avatar couldn't decide what his costume should be though...he had blue face, a white, short wig, blue ears, tight blue pants and a blue Star Trek shirt. I was confused but he was a good dancer so I just my mouth shut since I didn't want to get another cryptic answer to "What are you?"

All in all, the dancing was great last night. Several new dancers which were pretty good. A few that really were not. For those that dance, you know the pain I speak of when I say a dance lead takes your and and PULLS you towards the direction he wants you to go rather than leads you there. There is a big difference and usually my shoulder and rotator cuff know it.

I've noticed that down here they teach beginners cross-hand but don't teach them that cross-hand implies to a follow that you are asking them to rock-step and then go past them as the lead does a move. I had several guys stay in cross-hand making it very awkward because my natural instinct is to travel or do a tuck turn.

The good dancer were a ton of fun. I haven't had the chance to Lindy much when I do dances at U of IL. People tend to swing most of the time. But last night was different. Tons of Lindy Hop and although my moves are a bit rusty, I loved every one of those Lindy dances.

I'll leave you with one final image from last night. Someone had either choreographed or is obsessed with Michael Jackson's Thriller. As soon as it came on (right after the costume winners were announced), several folks came out to the floor and laid down. Now, I have never seen the entire Thriller video dance done live nor do I remember the whole video but about 12 people did the entire dance from start to finish. I'm not sure if it was cool or weird but I think my mind is still processing it. Perhaps it was the fact that Superman, a witch, Lucille Ball and assorted other costumes were the ones doing the dance. I think the verdict is still out.

I'm looking forward to more dances coming soon. And especially to dancing in Chicago during the holiday break. I encourage you to check out swing dancing. It is fantastic exercise and the crowd of people are usually really, really friendly. It's been a great outlet for me and so glad I took the leap!

Now to go plan the rest of my Halloween festivities...

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Confessions of a Foodie

I've never considered myself a foodie. I love food. I love cooking. I really enjoy baking. But when one of my students pointed out to me that I seem to never talk about eating out, I realized just how deep I am into the world of culinary therapy.

I teach students who spend 1/2 their school day working, many in restaurants. As part of my job I have to visit each of these students and thus various restaurants in the area. I never eat when I go though (although, if I have several visits in a row during dinner time I will cave in but this is a rare occurrence). One student said to me this week, "Ms. B. you don't ever eat do you?" And I had to laugh. He meant I never eat out. And they are right. I used to eat out a LOT. But sometime in the midst of having food allergies and then later while I was unemployed after grad school I learned that I really, really like cooking. It started as a safety thing, cooking with things I knew I could eat. Then it became a financial thing, cooking because it was cheaper. Now it has turned into not only a stress-relieving after work activity but a challenge to try new foods and new recipes and on occasion create my own!

My most recent creations were inspired by Jamie Oliver, the British cook once called the "Naked Chef" and who is known in the USA as the Food Revolution guy. He was the person who inspired me to start cooking about 10 years ago when the Food Network was still a fledgling network on cable tv. His Green Chili recipe was absolutely delicious. I've also made some banana bread and pumpkin bread, two of my go-to favorites!

I've begun to investigate using various types of flour when I bake these days. One I want to try is almond flour, made from ground almonds. Not only does it reduce the carbs in your recipes but it ups the protein quotient which is a necessity when you are on a diet that requires a ton of protein. Since I haven't had the extra $$ to buy almond flour, I've been substituting 1/3 of the flour for soy flour, which has a similar affect only a little less of a difference. The smell is not very appetizing but the taste in the bread is no different and makes the breads a little more healthy. Mind you, I still add in chocolate chips because I LOVE chocolate but with nuts thrown in too, they manage to be healthier overall than with plain flour.

Next on my list are a few more Jamie Oliver recipes including a cassoulet (Omitting the mushrooms of course). Ever since spending time in Italy, where pork is huge, I've made more things with pork than ever before. This looks delicious and could fill a few meals over a week. Yum!

So there you go. A quick update on my newest obsession. And in case you were wondering, I've eaten out 3 times in the last 3 weeks. Other than that it has been home sweet home and boy has it smelled good!


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Assorted Thoughts

6 weeks ago I wrote my last blog. I never ever meant for it to be so long between posts but it has been a very hectic 6 weeks. So here goes...

It is autumn which means ragweed, temperature swings and, in the middle of farmville, a lot of corn harvesting. Each of these things on their own make for a really rough allergy season for someone like me. Combine them and you get a serious out-of-the-park grand slam of a sinus problem.

I'm not normally one to complain and when I do I usually feel guilty. But I think that should anyone walk in my shoes in the fall they wouldn't handle what I go through for more than 24 hours. Imagine your body fighting really hard, but you can't see it until it begins to shut down. My asthma kicks in, my nose stuffs up and I start to feel tired all the time. This has lasted for 6 weeks and it often means coming home from work and hitting the couch or falling asleep for the night by 5pm (although I try to make it up past ABC World News at 5:30).

On Friday I finally started to feel better. I'm trying some new medication, extremely powerful antibiotics and had a shot of steroids which feels like I'm on caffeine all day and all night. (Remember, I don't EVER have caffeine!) But I finally feel good. Energy level is up. Nose feels okay and I had my 1st workout in nearly 6 weeks! Welcome back KB!

It was also Homecoming Week. We had the usual dress-up days and football game (we lost but played much better than last year). The Homecoming Dance went well too, although I ended up at one of the doorway exit spots near the end of the night because I was the only one who couldn't smell the apparently rough odors coming from the ladies restroom at that end of the hall. My Sophomores won every single event during the week including the dance competition at the assembly, the assembly games and the Float building award. I am so proud of these kids!

Last weekend I had the 1st movie night of the semester. We watched OO7 Casino Royale. We ordered 3 medium pizzas and all but 1 slice. I've never seen that happen before with just 6 people!

My car is finally getting fixed as well from the accident that was 2 months ago (when I was sideswiped by a motorcycle who didn't see me stop and hit me from behind). My baby should be ready by Tuesday. In the meantime I am driving around a sporty, old-fashioned Chevy Cobalt. Cute car and more along the size of vehicle I'm used to driving. It will be weird to go back to my big vehicle.

This weekend I made my 2nd batch of pumpkin bread of the season. I've been incorporating soy flour since it has less carbohydrates than regular flour. Eventually I want to start using almond flour as a substitute since it is all protein. At any rate, I've brought some to school and have been freezing a loaf each time. Delish!

I have also completed my video recap on my trip to Italy. I plan on putting it on DVD this week and sending a copy to my family in Modena. It has brought back a lot of memories and I incorporated some songs and singers that we heard on the bus while driving between destinations.

Finally, this past Friday, I had our 2nd annual Interview Seminar for my work-study students. 25 area HR representatives from companies like Kraft, Carle Hospital, First Mid Bank and the City of Urbana came to give our students mock interview practice. The feedback was extremely positive. I had our Principal and other administrators come down to see how it was going. Again, I'm so proud of my students this year! Even the ones who didn't dress up (some because they don't own dress clothes) had great, articulated answers according to some of the Interviewers.

So there you go. A brief look at the last few weeks. Only 9 more weeks until I'm 1/2 way through the school year. Can you believe it? 2 till Halloween. 6 till Thanksgiving. 10 till Christmas. We are heading into my favorite time of year. I'm going to try and take photos of how Christmas feels here and back up in Chicago. That is if it ever gets cold!


Friday, September 3, 2010

Italy Part 5: Nature's War & Peace - We head south to Pompeii & Sorrento

The last time I was in Italy (2007) I stayed in the north part of the country visiting Venice, Rome, Florence and Pisa. This morning would be my first visit south of the capital city of Rome towards two drastically different locations - Pompeii and Sorrento.

We awoke around 6:30 and had breakfast around 7 a.m. This was our first day together as an entire 48-person traveling group and if I learned anything on my last bus tour, this was when our various links would bond to form friendships that could last to the many corners of the world once we left Italy and our holiday behind. We loaded up the bus with our bags on time at 7:30 and headed out of Rome around 8am. Just after we departed Rome proper, our tour guide, Angie, began to explain a bit more about Italy, its culture and what we were in for during the next two weeks. Each person was then invited up to the front of the bus on the microphone to introduce themselves. This lasted until 9:30 when we stopped at our first Autogrill (the best highway truckstop I've ever been to which are located all over Italy).

The Autogrill is unlike American pitstops. Enter any Autogrill and head up to the 2nd floor. Everything is a one-way direction so everyone enters into the first area which is comprised of a sandwich shop/coffee shop with fresh sandwiches which you purchase first then bring your ticket to pick up your sandwich. There is no order involved here. The plan is essentially get to the front of the counter if you can and then hand your ticket over, hoping some of the pushier Italian women don't butt in before you can make the pass. It is a free for all, especially if it is nearing lunch time. If you don't want the coffee or sandwich, you can continue in the one-way direction to the mini-grocery store. Following the single aisle, much like in a haunted house, you walk past the crackers, cookies and other snacks, then the varieties of meats and fresh cheeses followed by books, toys and other goods that would keep people occupied on their travels. Should none of this satisfy you, the 3rd floor is a cafeteria style restaurant with all sorts of Italian meals and desserts. It is more expensive up here and much more tempting to over-eat so I tend to stick to the sandwiches and waters located on the 2nd floor.

Halfway between Rome and Pompeii we passed the famous abbey of Monte Cassino, originally built by St. Benedict who founded the Benedictine Order. It is set on a high hill overlooking a lower valley where the highway now lay and was the sight of a vicious battle during the Second World War. We continued south after our 1/2 hour lunch stop and eventually reached Pompeii.

I don't know that I'd ever seen pictures of Pompeii that showed the area around it. I knew about Mt. Vesuvius but I don't think I realized how near to the Sea Pompeii and the volcano lay. Had I not known our first destination, I would have expected the entire area to be resort towns (which many of them are). Yet if you look away from the beautiful Mediterranean beckoning from one side and face inland, the entire area resides beneath the slumbering volcano which scientists say is overdue for another big eruption.

We pulled into the parking lot of Pompeii to find tons of vendors and a restaurant along with a store selling Limoncello, a popular lemon-based alcohol from the region. Lemons grow everywhere in this tropical region. Everyone headed upstairs past the vendors to stand in line to use the "magic room," our code word for bathroom on the tour. During the next 2 weeks we'd hear, "I need magic" or "Angie, where is magic here?" which was extremely amusing.

We then gathered to pick up our audio devices and meet our tour guide, a man in his 50's or 60's who spoke with a definite Italian accent in English and over enunciated a lot when he spoke. He explained how the entrance to the town had two doorways - one was for people and was smaller with stairs. The other, the one now used by visitors, served as a path for carts and animals and had a very large slope up into the town. All around the entrance were gorgeous, vibrant pink flowers which stood in marked contrast to this town which was left in a state of death still being uncovered from the ashes. What had been saved however was breathtaking. The frescoes on the walls were still vibrant and I could only imagine how much brighter they would have been when new.

We walked through temples, neighborhoods and past meeting places, bars, bakeries and even the Red Light district. I learned a lot about old Italy in Pompeii. First of all, there are no street names. If you wanted to describe where you lived or set a meeting point, you either picked "the bar" or said, "turn left at the goat-head fountain." Large, square water fountains exist every couple of intersections and were the key meeting points for people. Also, in ancient times, stepping stones actually had a significance. (This is cool.) Streets in Pompeii had sidewalks and streets. People used the sidewalks and animals and carts used the street. Stepping stones were placed 2 or 3 side by side so people could cross the street without stepping in anything unsavory that may lay in the street deposited by animals. A street with 2 stepping stones meant it was a one-way street. Streets with 3 stepping stones meant it was wider and thus a 2-way street!

We concluded our time in Pompeii with a quick lunch (I had cantaloupe and salad) along with a visit to the vendors outside and a free sample of limoncello (Bitter and sweet...and potent!) I bought a few postcards and a city patch, which I collect. At 2:15, it was then time to head a few minutes further south along the winding coastal road to Sorrento.

Sorrento reminded me a lot of Nice, France. It lays on the Mediterranean and is built on cliffs overlooking the Sea. There is a ton of shopping. The nicer stores line the main street but if you wander down any alley, there is a maze of streets selling all sorts of goods and knock-offs. And lots of gelato shops! The alleyways were where to go. Flags hung all over the walls that lined these streets. It was a festival-like atmosphere and people were everywhere day and night. Medieval churches also could be found in these back alleys which seemed weird but I saw them more as sentries over the revelry that had continued throughout time.

We had dinner that night at one of the backstreet restaurants. Pizza was the meal of the night along with the best caprese salad I've ever had with buffalo mozzarella, arugula and tomatoes. The wine was flowing freely and our table called out "Salute!" over and over again. The sights of tropical Sorrento and the food made for an incredible evening. That wasn't the end of our night, however. It concluded at an Irish bar, in Italy where the owner and his wife greeted us by blasting Italian music. This guy was constantly leading us in rousing renditions of popular Italian songs and contemporary ones. This was definitely La dolce vita - the good life.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Warning: Good Days Not Guaranteed

Today was one of those days that just never seemed to go right. We all have them. We don't always know they are coming. But they come no matter how prepared we are.

I woke up this morning to the sound and light show of a pre-dawn thunderstorm. I absolutely love rain, especially at night because I sleep really well. It also helps with my allergies by washing pollen out of the air. Anyway, this was the first night I'd slept the entire time in weeks. Pollen counts have been high for a while and last night was bliss.

I slowly pulled myself out of bed around 6:10. Normally I'm up and at it around 5:50 and in the shower and dressed before 6:15. Not so today. It didn't matter. I know how to quicken parts of my routine should the slow starts occur. Less Weather Channel and news watching tends to do the trick!

It was still pouring when I left my front door at 7:05. I had prepared the day before by putting my umbrella in my car should I get caught in the rain. I hadn't pulled the umbrella back inside last night and so I did the 10 yard dash to my car and climbed in, just a few drops gracing my clothes.

I made copies of a quiz for 1st period when I got to school then settled into my classroom. Made sure I had enough copies of my quiz for 2nd hour and looked back over my plan of "attack" for 3rd hour's Law class. All in order. Good.

The morning flowed quite nicely. Quiz grades were pretty good all around. I had secured another job for a student the day before, which is always good. It's amazing how many times I've called an employer when a student was in my office and got them an interview right then and there. So far each has been hired. Miracles).

And then 4th hour happened. 4th hour is study hall. I have 23 kids plus kids who are in there form other classes that aren't on my roster and kids sent down from their dean for the period. Study Hall is what broke me today. I received an email that morning saying athletes would be let out of their P.E. classes today and placed in study hall today. I opened the excel file attached to the email and it contained over 20 names for 4th hour. TWENTY MORE KIDS???? And this is supposed to be a "prep" hour (or so I've heard)??

Now, to rewind the clock a few days, I requested additional chairs in the Study Hall room last week, knowing athletes were coming eventually and that I probably didn't have enough. But the 5 extra chairs that were added didn't cut it. It took nearly the entire period to get these kids to adjust to the new rules of study hall, for me to get names on my seating chart and then check them against the list that I had received. There were not enough desks which caused quite a commotion and more talking than I would have liked. I was not pleased that there was so little heads up about how many kids to expect. I said as much to the assistant principal in an email.

Finally the bell for 5th hour came. My blood pressure was elevated and I was frustrated and worn out. It is my humble opinion that a single teacher should not be responsible for over 50 kids in a room. But, I'm a non-tenured teacher and not supposed to rock the boat - not yet. I had a lot more I could have written in that email to the asst. principal but that's not the kind of person I am and I also don't want to chop the waters.

I worked on a few things during 5th hour and then began to eat lunch. I ate and worked during 6th period, calling a few employers and then headed down to the guidance office to settle a few unanswered questions about students I have without jobs.

I checked my mailbox after that and inside was the summary of my first observation of the year by the principal. It didn't read so hot, although there were a few positive things mentioned. I had asked her to focus on classroom management when she observed me. Apparently I shouldn't be overlooking the side whispers that have always occurred in the classroom. I was told that while I student taught that was a strength I had. I didn't let those things distract me and only when they seemed to be a true problem to the students involved in the talking or those around them to interfere. That's how I was taught. That's what I do. Oh geez.

So I'm dreading tomorrow's meeting. I'll update you all when I get a chance tomorrow. Send me those happy thoughts!

Meanwhile I'll be thinking about the bigger picture. My glass is half full =)


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Italy Part 4: To Rome & A Tour

3 years ago in what seems like another life I visited Europe on a whirlwind tour with 50 people from around the globe. Now, I was in Italy with a firmer grasp on the language about to do an intense, in-your-face, fast-footed tour of this amazing country. And while all of that describes exactly how the tour seems now that I can look back on it - in the moment it was actually pretty leisurely and really, really amazing.

On Sunday morning the 27th, I said good-bye to the Pecchini's who accompanied me at the Modena train station platform. I had not expected to feel so attached to them as I had become. The Italy tour which I was heading towards had been my motivation to go to Italy. But while there I had discovered a family and fell in love with them. We took photos and shed a few tears and when the bullet train arrived I hefted my suitcase up onto the train (with my backpack on a la turtle) and waved good-bye. It was difficult. Yet, in my stomach were the butterflies that come before an adventure into the world of unknown. The next part of my journey was about to begin. (Photo courtesy of Martina Pecchini)

The train from Modena to Roma was pretty uneventful. I sat across from a cute, young Italian guy who slept the entire ride. It was a fairly full train with at least one of every pair of seats occupied in the car I was in. I attempted to take a nap but wasn't able to doze so I looked out the window and watched Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany roll by. It was a combination of farmland, town and graffiti-ed walls. Laundry was being air-dried on every building we passed. What a way of life. Not in the "instant, 40 minutes in the dryer, raise the electricity bill and rush onto the next thing" attitude we have here. In Italy, you have fast trains so that when you reach your destination life can slow down and be spent with the people around you. I love it.

I arrived to Rome's Termini station, feeling like I knew the layout of the place this time around. I found the train heading north towards where I wanted to go (Metro A line to Piazza del Popolo). From there I meant to transfer to the tram or whatever it is that takes me to Euclide station. Well, when I exited at Piazza del Popolo I couldn't find anyone to ask how to get to Euclide. There weren't too many people around and when I reached above ground there was a gruff looking tourbus driver who was already annoyed that tourists were asking him how to get to somewhere. I figured I'd just walk around for a few minutes and see if I could figure it out. I hate asking for directions in a foreign country. Back home I will ask 9 times out of 10. For some reason, on this day, I just coudn't do it. I'm sure it was pride. I paid for it in the end!

I found myself in the Piazza del Popolo which is a gorgeous place. It is known as the People's Square and is a huge piazza with an Egyptian obelisk in its center surrounded by a fountain. To the north is the Villa Borghese and the Borghese gardens. Forgetting I was likely no where near my destination and thinking I could walk to the hotel where I was to stay for the night, I headed north up the winding, hilly road to the Borghese gardens. It was hot. Probably around 90 degrees, as it would be the entirety of my stay in Italy. I had my backpack, purse and heavy suitcase that I was pulling behind me on cobblestones. Let's just say that if I wanted a workout I couldn't have designed one that was better. It was like doing a treadmill workout with 30+ pounds on my back and toting another 50 behind me in temperatures suited for a bikram yoga class.

After nearly an hour uphill and on cobblestones (not the smartest idea, which I knew within minutes but kept plugging along) I finally was approached by a nice Italian gentleman who worked in the Gardens as an information assistant. He walked me to a gorgeous 5-star hotel just outside the gardens so that I could hail a taxi. Best decision ever. I certainly by this time did not look like I belonged at this amazing hotel but the bellman kindly called the taxi and away we went. I definitely couldn't have walked the distance. It was a 10 minute ride. Every euro of the 11euro I spent was worth it at that point, even though I beat myself up for not being willing to ask for directions at the Metro station. Hey, I got to see the famous Borghese Gardens (although I'd have to go again to really soak them in). (photo courtesy

I arrived at the Hotel Regent in the early afternoon and the rooms for people on our tour were not ready yet. It was a nice hotel, although pretty far away from anything else. I met Brittany in the lobby and we chatted on the couch for a bit. When our rooms were finally ready we dropped off our bags (after the man at the desk joked with Brittany saying her room wasn't ready even thought it was) and then headed out for a little walk. Brittany was from Calgary, Canada and we chatted about several things during the 40 minutes we wandered. We then grabbed some bruschetta and water (yum!) and then went back to the hotel to prep for our 1st tour gathering. (photo courtesy Hotel Regent)

That night we met in a rectangle meeting room in the hotel and all sat around a long, wood table. People for the most part were not shy and folks chatted with the people near them. I still hadn't met my roommate yet, but I had the chance once the meeting began! Our tourguide, Angie, gave us a brief introduction to the tour, checked our passports and documents and then we headed for dinner in the hotel dining room. The first night together with new friends is always a bit awkward but I had met some of the girls on the tour online ahead of time and that helped to break the ice a bit.

I went to bed "early" around 9:30ish, having worn myself out with my misadventure earlier in the day. Our start the next morning would be too early, but early enough to warrant a good, sound night of sleep before we headed south to scenic Sorrento and solemn Pompeii.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Teacher: Year 2 Week 1

I haven't forgotten about all of you faithful and supportive followers but things have been a little nutty as I prepared to get back to teaching this past week.

I'll get back to sharing stories about my summer in Italy in a little bit but thought it would be appropriate to share how my 2nd year as a full timer has been!

I technically started working 3 weeks ago. Finding jobs for teens is really not easy these days. Especially in a college town. I've talked to a number of employers this month who have told me they are reserving spots for their college students who will be returning next week to reclaim their school-year jobs. Many are not hiring at all, the economy wiping out chances to expand or commit to hiring new employees, even it means hiring someone for just a few hours. So as we headed into actual school starting days I had only reached 2/3 of my students and of those only 1/3 of my students were employed. I was nervous.

Monday and Tuesday were staff institute days. Monday the entire district faculty sits in the gymnasium of the middle school and listened to district administrators share info and inspiration. On Tuesday all the high school staff gathered to discuss statistics and rules for the upcoming year. Overall things looked good except for the fact that the stats showed more of our students are from lower-income families and it isn't necessarily a race-determined statistic. The economy is hitting everyone is what that said.

Nonetheless I nervously sent an email to our principal and assistant principal to request a few changes in my program. I wanted to devise a way to keep students in school if they were unemployed so that they didn't just get an F for not getting a job. Staying in school and not leaving early (which students get to do in my program) would be a motivator to being employed. Thankfully they agreed with me. I was thrilled.

I had all my students starting yesterday and by the end of the day I had 20 of 30 employed. The last few need a large nudge to get to work. They aren't really filling out applications and those that are filling them out are dropping the apps off and expecting to just magically get a job. It is too bad they don't learn how to get a job until they've been in my class. That being said, I'm about on par with how things were going last year at this time which is good.

My law class is booming again this semester and filled to the brim with 31 students. I've had 4 chairs added to my room since monday. So far things are going well. My kids all seem to be behaving themselves and despite having a room tucked into a corner away from nearly anyone, they've all figured out where I'm located and are arriving on time.

I left school today with all of next week planned for my Coop 1 class and my Law class. That includes having everything copied and laid out on my back table ready to pass out. All I have left to do is finish planning Coop 2 (my new class) and create powerpoints and possible handouts. Shouldn't be too bad!

It's Sweet Corn Fest in Urbana this weekend. Apparently a big deal. I missed it last year. I love a good corn and will probably taste a few bites.

My next blog should come this weekend. I'll share the next memory from Italy - Pompeii and Sorrento. Photos are on Facebook should you like a preview!

Ciao for now,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Italy Part 3: I Head 'Home'

Last October I began my quest to visit Italy by sending out 30 letters to people with the last name of Poggioli in the Communes (the Italian version of a county) of Modena and Pavullo. All the records I have on my family show they came from the town of Pavullo.

It was around this time that I discovered the term "Jure Sanguinis" which means by Right of Blood. According to Italian law, I can become an Italian citizen so long as my family did not renounce their Italian citizenship. Essentially, I am already an Italian citizen but have not yet claimed my rights. From there I took another look at the immigration documents I had and found that just south of Pavullo sits a tiny village
named Renno and is likely the place where my ancestors were baptized.

I had 3 responses from my 30 letters. One of them was from a teenager who's uncle received my letter. Martina and I have been writing since November and it was with her family that I st
ayed in Northern Italy at the start of my trip. As I've stated before, the Pecchini's felt like close family and were incredibly kind and welcoming. I had dreamed that we'd visit Pavullo (renting a car was pretty costly so I had crossed that off my list of potential outings) but never thought I would. That was until my 3rd day in Italy when the Pecchini's and I got in one car and the Poggioli's in another and headed southwest into the hills and valleys of Emilia-Romagna towards Pavullo.

As with every other drive we'd been on over the last 2 days, I sat in the front passenger seat. The dictionaries were still out and we shared a lot of stories and vocabulary. Watermelon was a new term I had taught Martina and Maria Teresa among many others. I also was tease
d about being "il camello" which was a story I had shared the day before at lunch.

Pavullo is like central Illinois only its not flat as far as the eye can see. The farmland rolls in a variety of earthy shades among the hills and while barely an hour away from Modena, seems like it is a completely different country. Just like the difference between Chicago the "big city" and central Illinois where my Italian family settled. I always wondered, "Why central Illinois?" Seeing the landscape here answered this question.
(This photo was taken from the castle overlooking Pavullo...more on that in a second).

Breakfast that morning had been pretty fun and a great start to the day yet again. Ivan was up early and had the tv on nex
t to the breakfast table. He was watching some sort of car race. As we munched on pineapple, plums, a juliana torta and nutella we also watched part of an episode of "Joey" the Friends spin off and a children's program that taught the exploration of Magellean and Vespucci. I don't think I understood much of the show but the graphics and weird space theme gave me the gist.

Anyway, we left at 9am and around 10am arrived in Pavullo. There was a huge market in town with a lot of knock-off and local goods being sold. It was a quaint village with brick streets, most of them closed to traffic due to the market. We walked through the town for about 35 minutes, stopping in the tourist information building (which we did in every town). The Pavullo folks had no brochures I could take for free but they were really fri
endly and told us to head up to the Castle that overlooked the town. We had a little trouble relocating our cars after walking but a few extra steps never hurt, especially when you are walking streets your ancestors once probably walked. Amazing!

Castello Montecucculo was once home to a prominent general, Count Raimondo Montecuccolo. Raimondo served in the Austrian army (national borders were fluid still in the 17th century, especially in northern Italy which wasn't unified until the 19th century) but was born at this castle and also fought for the state of Modena. His achievements eventually gained him the title of prince of the Holy Roman Empire. His former home is now an art and natural history museum. It had gorgeous vistas from its windows. I took several contraband photos here. I've never seen something so out of place! (This is an image of various rocks and stones found in the region. The stuffed taxidermy animals were really eerie).

Just outside the castle we took a few photos. Ivan found a few baby figs that were not ripe. I was warned not to eat them (I didn't know what they were at first. I've never seen an unripe fig!). We left them by a little waterpump fountain and a tiny Marlboro club car. I also posed for a photo next to a
metal sculpture of Raimondo on his horse near the castello entrance. What a tourist!

We drove just a few miles further south to find
a place to picnic for lunch. We stopped in an incredibly cute deli/store and purchased some meats, cheese, beer, dessert and BREAD! We continued the drive another few minutes down the road when I saw the sign: Renno. In my wildest dreams Renno was a destination. I hadn't told the Pecchini's that I had a connection to Renno. They had picnicked at a little picnic table that sits behind the church in Renno. There was a child's playground there, too. I think I was speechless for a few minutes.

We laid out the food and sat at the table. Ivan used the edge of the table to crack open the Heineken and everyone ate, chatting happily about all sorts of topics. The bells were ringing which seemed to me like a perfect sign of "this is where I should be."

When the minutes went buy and the # of times the bells tolled were beyond 12 we started to wonder if the bells were broken or if it was just a special day in Renno (turns out there was a funeral). We laughed a lot, mostly because the bells were getting a bit annoying. When done with lunch we played on the playground. What else are carefree adults to do?

We arrived back to Modena around 4pm. Of course, we had a detour first in Maranello, home to Ferrari. I bought a few gifts in the Ferrari store (when else is anyone I know going to be here?) and took some photos of Ferrari's zooming by on the street in red and yellow (Ferrari's most famous colors. The yellow is called Modena yellow). I took some photos at the Ferrari factory and again with some cars at the Ferrari museum/test area. Ivan climbed a fence to get some photos of the test track (made me nervous!). Again, I knew this was near Modena but didn't expect to see it!

The rest of the evening I sat chatting with the family in the garden. Ivan watered the plants while I showed Marty and Maria Teresa photos from my facebook page and images of Park Church back home to show them how different some of the churches in the USA can be. We snacked on more fruit and gas water. Dinner at 8:30 was spaghetti, something that the family doesn't normally make in the summer when it is hot. Apparently most meals in the summer are cold meals since turning on the oven makes things hotter. What a great idea! It was a lovely act for Maria Teresa to cook that night.

We watched the USA v Ghana World Cup match at 9pm (I said USA would lose since we hadn't been playing our strongest and they did). Ivan gave me some gifts including a soccer scarf and some books. Have I mentioned how nice these folks are? Maria Teresa gave me some Barilla pasta. In Italy, Barilla makes specialty noodle shapes for different areas of the country. I'm saving it for something special. Bed was at 11pm and I didn't sleep well that night (much like this late night I'm spending writing this!)

I'm blessed to have met (and am somehow related to) the Pecchinis. We're lifelong family now. I'm going to improve my Italian someday and definitely will go visit them again. It was tough to say good-by the next day. I had booked this trip looking forward to the tour and seeing so many wonderful places and revisiting sites I had seen 3 years previously. The days I spent in and around Modena were so unique and special that it would be hard to top them. If I had wanted a unique experience of Italy I had it. I hope I can return the favor someday for them! Grazie Pecchinis!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Italy Part 2: Through Time in Emilia-Romagna

I woke up this morning to the sounds of birds chirping outside my window around 7:15. I was likely among the first to wake up and decided to get in the shower and just soak in the morning. Mornings in Modena are orderly and beautiful.

Large window shutters much like garage doors on pulley ropes are opened in houses around us, including the home where I was living. There is something about this action that is like signaling the start of the day. Just like the birds chirping it was this sound that made me feel prepared to enjoy another day in the heart of Italy.

Around 8am Martina, Maria Teresa and I had breakfast. We gathered in the kitchen in our slippers/house shoes and chatted, dictionaries on the table next to our plates. Today's breakfast was comprised of tea, espresso, a breakfast torte, pineapple, a cereal similar to Special K and the ever present Nutella.

Lara joined us just after breakfast and we jumped into her car and drove to a parking lot at the Modena Station. From there we climbed
a set of stairs to the street above and walked into downtown Modena.

Modena (pronounced MA-de-nah) is in northern Italy in the Po River valley, just a short drive from the Apennine Mountains. It is smack dab between Parma (Parmagiano cheese anyone?) and Bologna (ham anyone?) and is known for its balsamic vinegar (I guarantee the bottle in your house is from here). People have occupied this area since the 3rd century BC and have witnessed the historical figures of Pompey, Cicero, Hannibal, Octavian and more recently it's native sons, Pavarotti and Ferrari. You can imagine the history that exists in the streets here.

Unlike much of the more tourist-traveled towns in this stunning nation, the cobbled streets of Modena are large-stoned and not necessarily close together. I spent nearly as much time looking down to be sure of my footing as I did admiring the beauty of its architecture.

Among its most prized buildings are its churches, palace, town hall and piazzas in centro storico (historic center). It contains UNESCO World Heritage buildings, which are scattered all over the country of Italy, including the Piazza Grande and Modena Cathedral. The Cathedral was begun in the 11th Century (yep, 1000 years old!) and is breathtaking. The arches that line the interior of the church are brick and just as you would expect in an old building - there is a feel of perfection in every brick and stone in the building and there is no wonder as to why it has stood the tests of time. The photo here is looking towards Piazza Grande and the colored banner in the foreground is the Catherdral Tower which is being restored. The neatest thing about Italian restoration projects is that the object being restored is often blanketed in a cover that replicates the object beneath it. Apparently these large banners cost the taxpayers quite a bit of money but as a tourist I loved the idea.

There is a
n odd object under glass in one of the historic buildings in Modena. It's an old oak bucket. It turns out that in 1325 Modena soldiers (then its own state) invaded the state of Bologna and stole the bucket. War ensued for the next 12 years and thousands of people died. Modena came out the victors and now the bucket sits on a pedestal in a room with some of the most amazing frescoes and ceiling gilt that could rival the gems of Rome or Vatican City. I made sure I signed the guest book. This could make a great story for 2 truths and a lie.

Before departing Modena we stopped at the market so that we could have something for lunch
before heading to our next destination, Reggio Emilia. What a lunch it was! Back at home in the garden of the Pecchini house we munched on prosciutto, celery, bread, bell peppers, salad and fruit cake as well as plums which were the best I've ever eaten.

We then headed to Reggio just a short drive away. Reggio is known for its University and is where Lara attended. There is a rectangular, timed jumping fountain as you walk through the University walls towards the center of town. The dozens of jets were quiet when we walked up but a family at the far end of the fountain took a step a bit too close and the jets plumed upwards from their hiding spots getting them a bit wet. It reminded me of t
he fountain outside of Navy Pier in Chicago.

The most famous object in Reggio Emilia is the Tricolore.
It was in the current City Hall that representatives from several area "states" joined together to form a republic in 1797. This was in response to a threat from nearby France and the famous Napoleon. The standard o
f the Cisalpine Republic was the tri-colored flag of green, white and red, known as the Italian Tricolore. When Italy unified as the country we know today, the Tricolore remained its symbol.

The Museum/City Hall was closed when we arrived but Maria Teresa did a little sweet talking & someone gave us a private tour, including the Hall of the Tricolore. It was such a special moment and one I will never forget.

My day ended with a delicious meal at a pizzaria with the whole family including Lara's boyfriend and the Poggiolis. What I learned this night was that everyone orders their own pizza (About the size of a medium thin-crust pizza back home). That was my first surprise. The second lesson was this: Get a olive oil bottle and put some chilis in it. Then pour a dash of the chili oil over your pizza. Molto bene!
So much better than chili flakes. Boun appetito!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Tales from Amazing Italy: Part 1

Truth be told, I've been extremely busy since returning from Italy. I've had a number of people ask me if I am going to blog about all of the many experiences I had. I have been itching to do so, but I've also been wanting to savor the experiences and by taking a little longer to blog about them, it allows me to relive them for a longer period of time.

So it is, during a heat advisory and severe thunderstorm watch and Lord of the Rings:
Fellowship on tv that I begin to share with you my amazing journey to Italy....

My flight to Italy arrived around 8am on a Thursday morning. I took the Leonardo Express train from Fiumicino Airport (aka Leonardo da Vinci Airport). My first bit of fright occurred when I couldn't figure out where to validate my ticket. I had just 5 minutes before the next Express train left and finally I saw a British couple with a map in their hands and asked them where to punch the ticket. Sure enough, at the start of the track there were 2 yellow boxes, which I ran towards as the train pulled into the little station. Every train station in Italy has these yellow boxes and tickets need to be punched before getting on board. The Leonardo Express costs 14 euro takes you on a 20 minute journey through the graffitized and green countryside between the airport, which is near the coast and central Rome which is just inland. Without the Express train, the trip would take nearly an hour via regular train or quite a bit more in cash via a taxi.

I exited the Leonardo Express at Termini, Rome's central train station. It is a huge place, similar to Union Station in Chicago, expect with 3 times the number of tracks. There are f
ew signs pointing the way to the main track platform. In fact, most point you towards the underground walkway b
elow the tracks where track numbers line the many stairways leading to the platforms above. Confused but confident that I would figure it out, I booked a ticket for Bologna, in the north of Italy. I had about 30 minutes before boarding but when I went down below to get on the platform, the stairs leading to my track were closed with a sign on a door to the stairs saying track closed. Now I was very confused, because I wasn't sure how else to get to my track! It was now about 20 minutes to departure. Finally, I put on my "I'm lost" face and climbed back up to the main level of the station. The only track I could see from above was #1 and I needed track 30. It was then that a nice Italian train engineer spotted my confused expression and walked me all the way down, walking faster than I could go and pulling my luggage. I'm a bit leery at letting anyone handle my luggage, having heard horror stories about thieves in Rome but this guy was really making it his mission that I make my train.

It turns out, I just had to walk all the way along track #1 and once there, laid out before me, was a line of shops and a row of tracks all the way down to my right. We walked brisk
ly to Track #30 and onto the train I went. I knew enough to discern which cars were for first class and which were for second, so I climbed aboard a 2nd class car, hauling my heavy suitcase up with me and found a seat. I didn't realize that seat #'s were located on the ticket but I didn't care once I figured it out, about an hour into the train ride. Neither did the ticket check guy.

The train made 2 stops north towards Bologna. The 2nd to last was in Florence. We were delayed in Florence for unknown reasons and I texted Marty to say the train was running late. I had already arrived later than planned due to my lack of calculating baggage retrieval and distance to catch the train from the airport to Termini. The family was quite hungry at this point and had nearly arrived in Bologna when I arrived at the airport. Thankfully, I had had the idea to purchase some prized Chicago food at O'Hare before getting on the plane. The tasty Garrett's Popcorn was probably the best gift I could have brought them when I finally arrived in Bologna!

I was so anxious to meet Marty and Lara and Maria Theresa and Ivan that I rushed off the train down the stairs to the main lobby and out to the sidewalk in front of Bologna station. The only problem was that the Pecchini's were so excited to see me that they had made it onto the platform and were now waiting for me there. So... I hauled my suitcase now back down and then up the stairs to the platform yet again and it was all smiles and hugs from then on. We were all full of things to say, they attempting (much better than I) to say welcome in English and me to say (in Italian) that I was so happy to meet them. We didn't stay in Bologna but rather got in the car, ate some popcorn and drove to Modena.

Along the way the family began to point out different sculptures and monuments on the roundabouts. I started to take pictures which by the end of my trip became a bit of a joke between all of us. I think it was also on this first car ride that I pulled out my little yellow dictionary so I
could better say things. That dictionary would be in my hands the rest of the visit and so would Marty's big gray one. Everywhere we went the dictionaries were also. Completely m

We arrived to the Pecchini's house, a very cute and elegant home just outside the heart of old town Modena. The garage is the lower level of the house and there is a spiral stairway that leads to the 2nd floor and their front door.
They have a lovely garden which is well cared for and a table where I'm sure they spend many a meal during the warmer days of the year. Inside, everyone took off their shoes, myself included. They all had house slippers, which I didn't have but soon improvised my flip flops as house shoes. Before doing so though, Marty lent me her cute animal slippers. This made everyone laugh. I love this
family not only because they are so hospitable but because they are happy and seemingly carefree.

We had a little down time in their garden/patio talking and learning more about each other. I gave Marty and Lara t-shirts that said USA on them which they immediately put on which I found extremely cute. Especially with them both wearing them!! I also gave the family the book on Chicago architecture which seemed like a neat gift. Maria Theresa and Ivan really loved it I think and even brought it to dinner at the Poggioli's, which was the next stop on my Italian adventure that evening.

On the way to dinner at the Poggioli's, we stopped for gelato. Apparently the family's favorite gelataria was closed already so we went to the next best one. What we bought was a
container of deliciousness. Several flavors including mint, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry or some other type of fruit (which I can't recall). I hadn't had dairy in 6 months and I was a bit hesitant to dive in so quick to gelato but it sure looked appetizing and I knew that
by the time we left I'd have had my first gelato of the trip!

Dinner at the Poggioli's was wonderful. We had an assortment of peppers in olive oil, cold cut meats including prosciutto, roast beef and ham and Italian bread (not called Italian bread in Italy of course). Along with dinner was a lovely bottle of wine made right in
ena. Next came tortellini in a cream sauce which was hand made by Mrs. Poggioli and Maria Theresa. I have never had tortellini that wasn't in a soup. What a nice treat!

I felt like I belonged with this family straight from the moment I met them on the platform. That sense of belonging only grew as the days went by and as we saw more and more things.

I'll share the next part of the adventure soon. Stay tuned. Comments are welcomed =)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Chicago Blackhawk's Stanley Cup Parade

(All photos courtesy of

I sit on my couch right now with little butterflies of excitement in my chest, watching the 2010 NHL Hockey champs
taking their tour of Chicago's business district from the tops of double decker busses. Red busses no less. I am in love with this city.

As a kid, I attended two of the six Chicago Bulls rallies in Grant Park. It was so packed and so loud. We couldn't see anything. We could hear the players. I distinctly remember hearing Scottie Pippen's voice and Norm Van Leer. We took the train up in those days and just being on the trains was crazy because people were decked out in full fan gear. If there was an actual parade I don't think I knew about it. Standing in Grant Park was pretty special though, one of my cherished city memories.

I was also at the 2005 White Sox rally and it was amazing. I was scheduled to work that afternoon at Depaul University's bookstore, where I worked as an assistant textbook manager at the time. I decided to get
downtown early and stand amongst the sea of faces in the crowd ready to cheer on my team. I didn't expect it to be super packed because in this town, the Cubs seem to rule. But the crowds were 12-15 people deep along LaSalle Street. It was absolutely amazing. The busses. The people. The free squeezable souvenir baseballs. The ticker tape. It is a once in a lifetime experience.

Now I watch from 150 miles away on my computer and the feelings are still just as strong. I've watched from the busses dep
arting the United Center all the way to their approach to Michigan Avenue. The Shannon Rovers are playing, leading the procession. The players are
being interviewed, overcome with emotion and in just as much awe as the crowd probably is. It is almost better to be watching it on TV because we're getting the players perspective. And the ticker tape is thicker than in 2005!

Let me pause to say I've not been a huge hockey fan. The Hawks owners didn't allow games to be showed on TV and we never went to games. Baseball was the sport in my house growing up. But I am an Olympic fan and always watched a few hockey games. I have watched several Hawks games this year, including the many nail bitting moments of the Playoffs.

Michigan Avenue has never looked so packed. The city is awash in red and I am just loving the sights. I LOVE my home city. Ferris Bueller could not have been filmed anywhere else! There are few places where people hang out of skyscrapers, parking garages, climb lightpoles, children being foisted into the air.

The players are currently waving to the crowd. Patrick Kane is lifting the Stanley Cup. The ticker tape is so thick you can barely see anything, even on TV! The crowd's cheers overpower the sound of the announcers on WGN TV. Jonathan Toews appears to be shedding a few tears. Or maybe he's sweating from the heat. Now he picks up the MVP trophy. Let's not forget the western conference championship trophy is somewhere on one of those 10 busses as well!
I have no idea how they city plans to get the players off the busses and down to the stage at Michigan Avenue & Wacker Drive. The schedule is already behnid, so what's a few more minutes of delay? It's Chicago fashion, right? (Although I am impressed that this whole event will not cost
Chicagoans a dime).

Its time to sign off. The speaking will start soon and I think the players have already said what they could say to the news media riding the bus with them. The pictures
on days like this speak so much louder than words.

Congratulations Hawks! As announcer Pat Foley said the other night, "Lord Stanley's new address is now Sweet Home - Chicago!"


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

3.2.1.....SCHOOL IS OUT!

I attempted to blog on Monday but was down and I haven't gotten back over to give you a taste of the end of the year wrap up. So here goes!

If you recall from an earlier post, I had a senior who should have failed my class but their parents appealed to get the student a chance at graduating and my class happened to be the F closest to passing (at a 48%). I had set a deadline of 8am on Friday morning to submit the project that accounted for 75% of their final grade. If they did well and displayed hard work - I would pass them. If not, well, I wasn't going to go the extra mile for this student.

I had no finals to give this day. I came in around 7:45am just to be there for this student. Otherwise I technically could have arrived around 9am. I also had every single test graded and all my grades posted with 3 exceptions.

I paced the room a bit and at 8:00 stood in the hall when the bell rang. My student was nowhere in sight. At 8:01am I sent an email to the principal and counselor and told them the student was late and they had missed the deadline. Around 8:10am I went on with my day, putting textbooks away in the bookroom, using a scantron machine to print out question analysis sheets for my electronic tests and checking my mailbox just in case something had been turned in down there. You can probably guess what happened next.

Around 8:14, after visiting a fellow teacher, my student walked into my room and said they had the project for me. I told them I wouldn't accept it as it had missed the deadline, set a week and a half earlier. Here is a kid who told me they'd get it done in two days so that it could be complete prior to graduation. Now a week even after that optimistic submission date they were late. I ended up taking the envelope they presented and stated that I would make no promises. They said it was the earliest they could arrive this morning. I replied "Then you should have thought ahead and turned it in yesterday." You might predict their response - "I didn't have it done yesterday." Oh really??!

I fumed in my office for a few minutes. I paced. I talked it out as my department chair listened and agreed that this was ridiculous. I refused to open the envelope. He was curious and leafed through the pages. I could tell just by what he said out loud that things were missing. He suggested I go down and talk to the principal again. I blew it off for a few minutes trying to simmer down and then went downstairs, doing a few errands on the way, hoping the physical movement would allow me to rationalize. The principal didn't have much to say, other than the student was still in the counselor's office. I was a little frustrated at the lack of guidance I was getting from my administrators over this whole thing, although, as stated before, I understand why they didn't want to tell me what to do. By the time I got to the counselor's office the student had left. The counselor suggested I grade the project and then decided what it would have gotten.

So I graded it. As with every other student who turned in late projects, I downgraded each part of the rubric one grade from what the student would have received. All in all, the student received a low grade and, even being generous as I was on grading this project, their final course grade was still only a 59%. Had the student turned it in on time, they probably would have passed. I found out later from the counselor who had spoken with the father that his child had not worked on it at all until last minute and had been up late the evening before doing it. That right there backed up the grade I had originally given and was the root of this students' issues. The first being a lack of responsibility and consistent procrastination. But also a lack of parental interest and push to get their child to do what they should be doing.

So I spent the rest of my Friday cleaning my desk, filling out failure forms, missing book slips and filing papers. I had a pleasant rest of the day and after work went to lunch with a few coworkers and then that evening went to the end of the year staff party which was followed up by a night of cheering on the Blackhawk's Playoff game at my house.

Thus we arrive at the last day of the school year this past Monday. At 8am we had a staff meeting which was essentially a good-bye to the staff and a thank-you, good luck send off to those who were retiring. I then went back up to my office and cleaned off the surface of my entire desk, which was a pretty substantial task. I really was just stalling for time and digging for things to do. I wandered the building and talked to people. It was somewhat surreal. I will be back in the building a few times over the summer but it felt a little like a good bye. By the time I'm back in the building full-time I'll have had a wealth of experiences and will probably still be processing them all.

Monday after school was supposed to be the Buddy Shuffle. The new teachers and their mentors were going to have a cuisine tour of each other's houses as an end of the year celebration. After months of planning, Buddy Shuffle fizzled out and it ended up being a party at my place followed later on by a night at my department chair's house for Rockband Night. A lot of time was spent at my place talking, eating and laughing. We even pulled out Settlers of Catan, my favorite game which I have now gotten everyone hooked on. (Its hard to find, as it is a German game but its like Risk, Sorry and Monopoly all rolled into one with a built in method of play that keeps the game short).

Since school let out I have been extremely lazy. I have a list of errands to do before I leave for Italy but I am soaking in the ability to have nothing pressing to do. It's a purposeful rest as the next few weeks before I leave are pretty packed.

This Sunday I am going to join my fellow DAR women to pass out flags on Michigan Avenue for Flag Day. I'm also joining my high school friends for our traditional blanket pass, which occurs whenever one of the women in our group have a baby (the last being in December).

The week after is a possible show to work in the middle of the week followed by 2 days working for the Eagles. Got to admit this show is going to be a tough one, as none of the band members speak to each other and will probably need a bunch of runners for them, in addition to the opening acts (hopefully I can work with Keith Urban's folks again as I did 2 years ago on the Kenny Chesney tour). Then its a few days rest before soaring off to the land of wine, cheese, sun and serious history. As our tour guide is bound to say, "This is not a vacation. This is a tour." There will be no rest for the weary until I get back to the States!

Ciao per adesso. (Goodbye for now).