Friday, December 30, 2011

One Year Ago...

I know, I know, I know...where have you BEEN Kristen?

It's been a super busy semester. I recreated 2 of my classes and I've felt as close to a 1st year teacher as I want to get. There's been tons of puppy training and lots of workouts/training for myself in my continued effort to get fit. Kickboxing has been a GREAT workout for both body and mind as well as got me out of the house a bunch. A lot of my evenings have been spent doing these things in addition to visiting my students at work, many of whom work after 5pm which means a lot of nights gone on my own time. That's something I'm going to work on for next semester...

Anyway, A year ago today I was recovering from my 2nd sinus surgery. I can remember feeling really, really good about it as I sat on the couch with my mom watching TV that night. I knew it worked this time and had full confidence that I could finally pursue being healthy again. I was right! Not that it is easy to see progress from day 1, but I've come further in the last 365 days than I have in 4 years and I'm committed to continuing my quest!

I've also continued my passion to cook healthier, home-cooked meals for myself. The guy who got me cooking, Jamie Oliver, just released a new cookbook full of meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes. I made my 1st tonight ($30 and 50 minutes later) it wasn't exactly frugal for 1 person but it tasted delicious and I'll have leftovers for the next few days! (BTW it is tray baked chicken, crushed potatoes with rosemary and garlic and creamy spinach paired with a strawberry fizz with mint).

I'm hoping to step up my running this coming year too. After doing my 1st 10k race in the spring, my friend Sarah has convinced and inspired me to run a half marathon. I'm still searching for a destination but I did see one in California in October.... =) It doesn't hurt that Sean Astin has been writing about all of his half marathons this year and if he can do it, I can do it. That guy has inspired me a lot over the years (and is now following me on Twitter!).

Anyway, I am still prepping for next semester. Teaching keyboarding for the 1st time (I at least have the 1st week planned and the semester scaffolding in place) and I'm facing the challenge of teaching 2 separate classes in the same 50 minute period head-on (Still have planning to do on that).

On the family front, I had a great holiday season. I spent a lot of great days with my parents at the MSI and on walks and just enjoying their company. I saw my niece three days in a row. I saw my sister 3 days and my brother-in-law two days straight. I got to meet my brand new cousin, Ellen and her parents whom I haven't seen since Christmas season. Plus my cousin Lauren and my Aunt, both of whom I am so happy to see! Thank goodness the internet exists and I can keep up with these folks all year long.

Then there was the big birthday bash in Chicago. Friends from all over Chicagoland and Ohio came in and joined in a great evening of conversation, reunion, laughter and cheer. I think everyone walked out with more things than they walked in the door with, which just shows you the kind of folks I'm close with. Special food. Homemade beverages. Framed photos. Cards. So lucky.

We've got 366 days next year. Bonus! And with the mild winter we've had so far, there are only about 3 months of winter left which I won't complain about. We could have had a whole 5 months of cold like last year so raise a glass to that not happening!

2012 is going to be fantastic. Can you feel it? Let's wrap up 2011 for all the joys and hardships it brought us and the lessons we learned, taught and shared with each other and from each other. Toast the year that has passed and the year to come. May yours be joyful, happy and filled with memories to cherish! Happy New Year!

(FYI, How I Met Your Mother is on and I'm struck as I type this of Neil Patrick Harris aka Doogie know...)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Good Day Sunshine!

I woke this morning and felt like I had had a great night sleep and was rested for the first time in weeks after having my 1st sinus infection since surgery last December.

It was one of those days, for the 2nd time this week, where I woke up and just knew it would be a good day. It didn't hurt that I had the Beatle's Revolver album circulating throughout the morning with Good Day Sunshine playing despite the rainy mist falling outside.

The puppy was fairly swift in doing his outdoor duty (yes, I was tempted to write doody) and that enabled me to only be about 10 minutes behind schedule by the time I got out of the shower. I managed to leave for work right on time which I haven't done in about 2 weeks.

It's rare to have those blissful days where work isn't bad, in fact it is going pretty well. I'm swamped with Junior Class stuff (Homecoming Class t-shirt orders, U-crew fan club t-shirt orders, float building meetings, Post Prom meetings with the principals, etc) and my job site visits with students which have ramped up.

I suppose the point of this particular blog is to report that looking at the bright side of things is the best way to live your life.

Dwell on the negatives (and I think I've been doing that the last few days) only causes bad days. Which can turn a bit more long-term when there is a stalled low frontal weather system over the great lakes region causing gray, rainy days for nearly a 2 week period! Sure, I could have complained today about giving up my prep to meet with my juniors. And the fact that I'd been visiting kids for 1 1/2 hours after school when I would rather be at home taking a nap or playing with the puppy. Or realizing that by getting home near 4:20 allows me less than an hour before I'd have to workout which means the dog may get mad and destroy more areas of my apartment (he'd burrowed into the wall and shredded a portion of carpet last week in the evening when I didn't give him enough attention).

But no. The meeting went great. The kids are creative and want to make things the best they can. My students were all doing great things at work. I had a quick chat with my sister who sadly had to attend to my niece who was causing a few issues in the cleanliness department. And despite not working out, I can sit here tonight and watch Piccolo sleep on the top cushions of the couch back sound asleep with his fluffy tail hanging down the side. How can that not make your day better?

So take the time to look at your day and find the good points. They are there. You just need to pull back the curtain!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering Our Generation's Day of Infamy

I love history. You know this. I also believe solemn dates need to be observed and remembered. As a people, Americans remember the big days - 4th of July (Independence Day) and we remember Veterans Day (in November).
But do remember when Pearl Harbor Day is?
Chances are, you don't know.

I find this fact incredibly sad. Pearl Harbor was the original Day of Infamy for our country. It was December 7, 1941 and was passed as an official holiday (remember the term comes from holy day) only in 1994. Perhaps that is why so many people don't know the date. We don't get a day off. But I bet you those folks who lived through that period of history remember hearing about it.

Perhaps it is that my grandfather was in the military and I have heard a large number of stories about his service. From WW2's Battle of the Bulge to his action in the Korean War. From my dad, who during high school lived in Hawaii and vividly recalls missile drills living on the base there and seeing military equipment lining the streets near Honolulu, years after World War 2 had ended.

I had a brief discussion with a friend yesterday and she argued that we've made 9/11 too big, that we are ignoring the thousands of other horrible things going on in the world. I remarked that Americans tend to put a major focus on certain anniversaries, 10-year anniversaries in particular. I agreed with her that we did put a large emphasis on this. However, shouldn't we?

The attacks on New York and Washington are among the largest terrorist attacks in human history. Sure there have been attacks in Egypt, the UK, Spain and numerous other places in the last decade. But this attack was on our soil. On our flag. On our way of life. It was big.

I remember 9/11/01 vividly, although some things have lost clarity over time. I was living on Geneva Terrace in Chicago at the time. I know I took the red line to the loop that morning, sometime around 7:45. I don't recall if I walked to the Fullerton stop or if I took the bus to the Division stop (which is more likely). I recall people talking about plane crashes and New York. I assumed they were talking about a movie of some sort. I got off the train at Jackson and walked to the eye doctor, where I had a scheduled appointment, just steps from the Sears Tower.

At the doctor's office they were playing the country station, US99. Not long after my eyes were dilated the radio dj's started saying "oh my, oh my," "a 2nd plane has hit the towers in New York." It was at that point that the office assistants, both women, started panicking. The eye doctor (this was my first and as you will read, last visit) started swearing at the women. He was saying stuff like "Shut up! They are joking. It is shit. Pull yourselves together." It's not the stuff you want to hear from your doctor, especially as my brain began to put two and two together with what people on the train had said and what the radio was broadcasting. With this doctor screaming profanities and the radio now saying Chicago was a potential "next target" I wanted to get out of there.

What I walked into when I got to Jackson Blvd. was beyond anything I'd ever seen. People, filled the streets. Traffic was practically stopped because they couldn't drive through the crowds. All the major skyscrapers in Chicago had been told to evacuate. People were crying, screaming, trying to hail cabs & buses. There were no free cabs. Buses, what few could get through, were packed like sardines. It was closing in on 9:30am and there was no way I was going to make it to work on time at 10am. I was going to have to walk the 2 miles north to work.

All along my route up Clark Street people were telling stories about what they'd heard on the radio or seen on TV. I was nervous because I hadn't seen or heard anything concrete and didn't want to believe what I was hearing until I had real evidence. The fear in the streets was palpable.

I got to work around 10:30. September 11th was my boss' birthday, that too, I remember. He was still hoping to celebrate, but he hadn't seen the streets of Chicago's Loop as I had. Celebrating a birthday didn't seem likely today.

We were given the option to go home early that day at work. It was a nice gesture and several people did go. I think I stayed until about 4:30, but that is a bit fuzzy. What I did between my arrival at work and my departure, I don't recall. It was probably every day, normal activity. Calling radio stations, faxing press releases, putting budgets together. We had festivals coming up in Virginia and Ohio. We had tour dates for other artists as well. It was those things I was probably just checking up on and pressuring to get those final tickets sold.

I watched 9/11 coverage for days afterward. I stood outside for the moment of silence that was held with 2-3 other coworkers a week after the tragedy. We stood by the fence on Goethe & Wells, next to the baseball field belonging to a grade school.

The following year, during the week of September 7, 2002, I was in Washington, DC with my parents before heading to Richmond, VA to work an REO Speedwagon show we had at Kings Dominion Theme Park. I remember our rental car had a New Mexico license plate and as we drove near the Pentagon, we could see a memorial service had been set up with chairs and a giant flag was flying. Dad drove the car really close to the Pentagon and we reasoned that we could just say we were tourists from New Mexico and had taken a wrong turn, should we get stopped. In the event, we turned around and drove a circle around the building, remarking how strange it was to see it still being repaired. In Arlington, where my grandparents had lived for several years, a race had been organized called the Memorial 5k Race. Our hotel was on the route and we got free pins in the shape of a pentagon with the word Remember and the date 9-11-01 with the 11 portrayed as the twin towers of New York and the 3 cities affected by the attack around the border of the pin. I have worn that pin every year since.

Back to today, I watched the services at all 3 locations and observed the moments of silence, just as people in each of those places where planes devastated the earth observed a moment of silence. One when each plane hit. One for when each tower fell. The bagpipers who circled the Memorial Fountains in New York where the Towers once stood made me think back to my grandfather's funeral at Arlington Cemetery in 1997. The service then was filled with pomp, a horse-drawn carriage, military escorts and gun salutes. The bagpipe core reminded me of that day. It made me understand what the families who were drawn to the Memorial were thinking and feeling, remembering their loved ones. Remembering the day as I lived it. So safe compared to the millions who were in the streets and buildings of New York that day.

We must remember. We must not forget. My students were, at the oldest, 7 years old the day we went to war against terrorism. They've grown up with a country at war, yet not affected by it, except those with loved ones in the military. They don't understand the emotions and the impact we who remember felt that day. The images, which are not shown except on rare occasions now, due to their very graphic nature, many have never seen.

I hope someday soon we can bring our troops home. I wonder how those in Iraq are doing as their country tries to recover from our war there. Will they ever be like America? Will the teenagers there have the technology we have? Will they worry about boyfriends, soccer games, going to college as much as my kids do? Do they now? Will our service men and women be in Afghanistan for decades to come, just as we've had troop in South Korea since the end of the Korean War, decades ago?

We can't wait for others to change the world and just sit and hope. We need to show and do. Use today as a day to look forward and take action. For those that can't. For those that already are. Vote. Write your Congress members. Use your head to really see how you feel about how things are going rather than listen to the TV pundits and your parents and friends. Be your own voice.

I'll continue to do the same.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The No-Blog Summer

Yep, I've been gone for a few months. Did you miss me?

I began this blog as a way to track my memories of starting my full-time teaching career and my move to Urbana in addition to the other randomness that constitutes my life. Turns out that I turned the lights off on the blog this summer to enjoy a teacher's bliss - summer.

So in an attempt to keep things fairly short, this blog will be mostly in pictures with a few notes here and there. Let's dive in!

In June I got a new companion for my home and quite a little buddy he is. My puppy, Piccolo (which means small in Italian) is constantly making me laugh and when he wants to be, is incredibly smart.

Also in June my beautiful, wonderful niece was born.
July brought cousins in from Italy. Lara & Martina enjoyed an entire week in Chicago on their first trip to America. We had a BLAST and I did things I never thought I'd do. For example, we went to the 103rd floor of the Willis (Sears) Tower. I've never once been inside the Sears Tower and I have a fear of falling so that was amazing. We hit every major museum in the city, the zoo and even a baseball game. And laughed a lot. Apparently I say a few things incorrectly. And they learned a lot of new words and tried a lot of new foods.

I was fortunate to work 3 shows this summer and attend 2 of my favorite shows, REO Speedwagon and Sister Hazel.

And thus the summer concludes. I'll expound on these a bit more at a later date. Once I get my teaching legs back next week!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

June is Awesome!

I watch a lot of How I Met Your Mother so if you read the title of this post just as Barney Stinson would, well, then you get the gist of how great June has been.

June is officially my favorite month. It's the month where my summer vacation starts. It's the month I got my puppy, Piccolo, who has been just an adorable, small, bundle of fur and fun. I laugh constantly. He sleeps funny, often on his back with paws twitching when he dreams and he loves to chase his tail. He caught on to words like sit and "high five" right away. I'm impressed every day how much a little pup can make your life fuller.

June is also the month my miracle little niece entered the world. I look at pictures of her constantly. Maddie is so precious, small and has eyes that just soak up everything around her. Holding her was such a pleasure. (I can't wait til I have a little baby someday! Don't worry Maddie, you'll have cousins at some point!) Her Mom & Dad are doing great. I'm so thrilled for them, too!

June was also the month of celebration for weddings. My friends Mandy & Matt got married at the end of May (almost June) and it was such a celebration. Coworkers David and Allison got married yesterday and it was wonderful to witness their relationship from "officially dating" to "we're engaged!" to the actual ceremony. It was also nice to see all my coworkers over the holiday, especially all gussied up!

We're only half way through the month so I am sure there is more in store. Although, I don't know how many more blessings a person can receive in a 30-day span! It has been a great reminder that although there are big things that I wish I had, there are so many other things that I already do have that make life simply perfect.

I am living the dream.

Friday, May 20, 2011


What a week!

I had a laundry list of things to accomplish when this week started and so far, most of them are complete. It finally feels like the summer is coming. I'm in the tunnel and the light is more than just a a small hole at the far end. It's now giving a soft glow, slowly reaching towards me as I reach it. This almost sounds like something a person expecting Judgement Day tomorrow would say, actually. Let's get the facts here guys: We weren't told a specific date by God.

Okay back to the post.

I began the week with the following tasks to do:
1. Enter all birthdays people had bought to put in the student planner
2. Scan all the ads for the student planner & create 5 pages of ads for my department to put in as a shameless plug
3. Submit the entire planner to company to print
4. Turn in all my finals for those taking them in the Learning Center & Lecture Hall
5. Find a place for Prom 2012
6. Find a place for Post-Prom 2012
7. Collect $$ from kids selling candy for class of 2013
8. Go to middle school next door to try and sell birthdays for the student planner (failed, by the way).
9. Grade any leftover items
10. Find a vet
11. Register for Puppy class
12. Finish tallying all of my student work hours and make copies to give to students
13. Submit course to possibly teach this summer
14. Do laundry
15. Bake cookies for students

Yep, lots of things, outside of the ordinary clean, cook, take out trash, etc. Let's just say I have gotten everything done EXCEPT #5 & 6, which are both works in progress.

I made Italian Wedding Cookies for all my students today. Actually, I've made them in batches all week. Always nice to give a little "love" to kids when they are stressed out. We do that with babies & puppies, don't we?

I've been meeting with my Sophomores all week to discuss picking next year's Prom location, now that we finally have a date. One student and I went to visit our current top choice. It felt weird and I always swore I would never have a student in my car, ever. It was the only way though and all went just fine. It was a nice space and hopefully big enough. The lady in charge of the space is VERY nervous about hosting us. Right now I'm hoping that our other 2 possibilities work out better. I think it will still go smoothly but it's best to have all party's involved to go into happy. I recall many a concert where the venue was NOT happy with us doing a gig at their place. It made life difficult.

In other news, we've made a LOT of progress on the Dual Citizenship hunt. Between Mom's investigations (and my prodding) and my contacts, we've found that my great-grandparent's marriage cert DOES indeed exist as does my grandfather's birth cert, both of which I will need to prove citizenship descent. The ONLY missing piece at this point is my great-grandfather's birth cert in Italy. I'm really struggling to find it but I may have uncovered a few details. I'll make a new blog on this mystery soon.

Puppy planning is the other big thing on my to-do list. I still don't know which of the 6 pups in the litter I am getting and had hoped to know by now. I pick the little one up on June 2nd. I've got a car booster seat (cool!). Amy is giving me her dog crate (her dog, by the way, is named Bacon and is my current favorite puppy!). I signed up for puppy training today. The people at PetSmart are so helpful. Plus a former student was there who I had in Law last semester. She said he learned so much and still had all the resume examples I had given her. And that she had gotten the job because of my help. THIS IS WHY I LOVE BEING A TEACHER! I also bought some puppy treats and a few mini tennis balls. In addition, I have a heartbeat pillow, a little toy that you heat up in the microwave to help the dog sleep and a doggie bed and bowls. I'm nearly ready. Last weekend I prepped the bathroom which is where Piccolo (my dog's name means small in Italian) will be starting out and adjusting to new life. I also cleared a corner in my living room to put the doggie bed and toys.

Obviously, my list was mostly school-oriented stuff up above but I'm getting so many other things done. I got my bike turned in to get tuned up prior to Bike the Drive next weekend. I got my oil changed on the car. Got gas for the drive to Chicago for Mandy & Matt's wedding. I did 2 seriously tough turbokick workouts and am still sore.

So there you go. Awesome week. So much done. And so much more to look forward to.

6 more work days (4 with students). Bring ON SUMMER!


Monday, May 16, 2011


Today, Shuttle Endeavor lifted off for its final voyage towards the stars. I made the decision last night to show the launch in my 1st hour class. It took place at 7:56am Central time, just before 1st period began.

I was hesitant because anyone from my generation or older can remember the Challenger explosion. All those classes tuned in to watch the first teacher, Krista McAuliff, soar to space only to explode just seconds into the flight. Nonetheless, I went forward knowing that this was history they may never see and just might remember. The 2nd to last Shuttle to ever orbit the earth. Atlantis will be the last one from this NASA program.

I had just 2 students at the time of the launch. One had never seen a Shuttle launch. The other said he'd seen it on tv before, but I have doubts he had seen the real deal LIVE on tv. It was textbook perfect. Around 8am, the boosters were deployed and just after the announcements concluded for the morning, the main rocket booster had been loosed. At that, I started class and moved on with my day.

A normal day in most ways. Perhaps these kids won't remember. But just maybe they'll think back on those 8 minutes and remember that they were in high school to see one of the last Space Shuttles liftoff. You never know what kids will remember. I'm sure something will stick.

Next week is finals. One of my traditions is one of those things that "stuck" with me from Mr. Haut, my favorite science teacher. He gave every student a sheet of paper to use on the final exam. You could cram as much as you wanted onto it and write really small (not very useful) or just a few key terms you couldn't remember from studying (very useful). I recall using my ever-present color-coded system for chapters, terms and formulas. When it comes to finals, I give my kids that same 1/2 sheet of paper (color coded by class) and let them write on it and use on the final.

So we're down to 10 more school days, 9 with students. I can't believe it is here already. 4 more days teaching/preparing for finals. 4 giving finals. 1 cleaning my room and 1 just wrapping up the year with whatever I hadn't already completed.

Liftoff to summer in (days) 15..14..13...12.........

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Crossing the Finish Line

Another big weekend in the books for 2011!

I spent the better part of Saturday morning on 1st street prepping for the 10k race and part of the Illinois Marathon race events. It was my 1st 10k and I have been training since February! I posted many months ago that I was going to challenge myself to get fit now that I'd had a successful surgery back on Dec. 30th. As I drove toward the race I caught the National Anthem on the radio which signaled the start to the festivities and the beginning of the wheelchair race.

The walk to the starting line from where I parked was pretty chilly. It was about an eight minute walk as it turned out. I didn't park where I had planned (at the iHotel) and pulled into the first parking lot I saw still had tons of spots. Turned out I didn't focus enough on where I parked because it took some time after the race to figure out exactly which brown brick building I had parked near of all the identical buildings in the Research Park area on 1st.

I jumped, stretched and pumped myself up for about 20 minutes while waiting for the GO! signal. I'd been cold at one of the last Shamrock Shuffle 8k's I ran and felt really tight as I ran that race. I was doing all I could to stay warm. The half marathoners were lined up behind us and the marathon runners behind them. It definitely felt weird being at the front of the line! I'm used to being near the back. The announcer told us to high-five our neighbors and with a final good luck to the guy in the orange shirt next to me and a high-five we then turned towards the starting banner and mentally began the countdown...

When the GO! signal was given, I headed out telling myself, "don't go out too fast! Pace yourself!" I say this every race and I have been fairly good the last 2 races I ran to heed this advice. I thought I was doing well at the start because everyone, and I do mean everyone, was passing me up! After noticing the large numbers of people whipping past me looking confident, I began to feel my body's motion. I felt my legs, the feel of the road and then checked the iphone I was running with to see what my pace was (10:13?!?!!!). Wait, was that correct? Yup, I was running WAAAAY to fast. Despite the runners blazing trails past me, I was still motoring. I hit the 1 mile mark just over 10 minutes into the race and a few feet later got a lovely cramp in my right side just below my ribs.

Darn it! I wanted to prove I could run the whole darn race. That was now out of the question since I knew I had to walk if I wanted get back on track in this race. With 5 miles to go, I gave myself a 3 minute walk, massaging my side to help it along (that probably did nothing but it mentally made me think I was doing something helpful since I couldn't be running).

I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason and I think that cramp was one of those things. As a result, I spotted some runners near me who were going about the same pace as I was. One was a gentleman in his 50's with a blue race shirt and a yellow headband. The other a girl in a pink shirt that had a cute running saying on it (which I never got around to reading!) And so it was, for the next 5 miles, I kept those two folks in my sight and ran.

For the most part, I ran all 5 miles. There were a few hills and I decided that I'd walk barely slower than I would running up the inclines so I walked up the hills. I was a bit embarrassed on the hill just after the turn from Armory (which had the biggest uphill climb of the race) and then south onto Prospect which had traffic stopped. Here I am walking, with about 1 mile to go, past cars of people who were probably watching us as we ran past. It was enough to get me to motor up the legs again and keep pushing.

We neared U of IL's Memorial Stadium and my thighs and calves were burning. I was ready to complete the race but just wasn't quite there yet. We turned in towards the Stadium and just before we hit the tunnel leading into it I decided to sprint. It was about .1 mile and I knew I could do it. I wanted to make an entrance. Who wouldn't? As a swimmer, I was always great at finding a few drops left in the tank to push myself as hard as possible and finish strong. I used that same method to complete this race.

I finished in 1 hour, 11 minutes and 57 seconds. The only other time I had gone the full 6.2 miles was the weekend before, on a glorious afternoon along Chicago's lakefront and on that occasion I had gone 1 hour, 20 minutes, barely able to run much of the last mile. I was so proud of this race. And it really, really was a big accomplishment.

It was also an accomplishment to come home, grab a 2 hour nap and then sit in a car for 2 hours as I drove up to Chicago! I had stretched dozens of times since running the race but getting out of that car was tough. As my Dad, who has run 5 marathons, said to me, it's got nothing to do with stretching - it's lactic acid. Yup, it sure was. Painful but such a great feeling. It is your body saying "thank you for pushing me." I actually wanted to run a long run again today. Yes!

My weekend ended with a lovely shower for my little sister. She will always be my little sister, although as adults I feel like we are equal in age. It is great to see her happy and to imagine how much her life is going to change with a baby girl in the house in just a matter of weeks. Baby Sip got so many great gifts and I think Momma was really touched. She's going to be a great mom!

By the way, sorry for being away from this place for so many days! Lots of fundraising and meetings with my Sophomores, a Banquet for my Coop students, another Banquet for Rotary which sponsors awards for some of our Business students and finally Prom this weekend which I work with my Sophomores. I'll be back soon with news on my new family addition, a puppy.

Enjoy May guys! It will be cold here tonight but warmth is on the weather forecast for the weekend. Bring on Summer. 28 Days away!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lazy Weekend

This is actually the third blog I've written this week. The last two seemed more like personal journals and so I decided not to publish them. At least not yet. So here I am, delaying today's 10k training by writing another blog and watching the Cubs game.

I have had a great weekend so far, as far as weekends alone can go. I was craving a burger and fries yesterday but I have done such a good job at keeping to my budget and not eating out that I decided I couldn't break it. Instead, when I went to the grocery store, I purchased some ground beef and splurged on Ore-Ida fries (crinkle cut since that is what I was envisioning). On a whim, I bought some greek yogurt and fruit, in an attempt to make a healthy fruit salad that is PCOS-diet friendly. I made it about an hour ago. It was so tasty I had to sneak a bowl of it, which I am eating now. Greek yogurt has a ton of protein in it and balances out the carbs in the fruit. This is so divine!

Yesterday was among the laziest Saturdays I've had this year. It was rainy til about 5pm. I slept until 8am then went to the bookstore to check for a book that I had heard about. Since B&N was having their teacher special week, I bought 3 books! The one I had intended, it's sequel and a book about the GI diet, something I know I need to consider when I eat but haven't really investigated yet. Trust me, it is not easy to always eat protein whenever you eat/drink something with carbs. I'm improving by leaps and bounds and actually feel healthier when I eat. I'll read the GI book soon and keep you posted.

The remainder of Saturday was spent reading the 2 books I had bought (280 pages each). Sometime around 5pm I went to the grocery store, made my amazing burger dinner followed by a box of dairy-free brownies I needed to use up before they expired (still amazing as any brownie I've ever had - gooey and chocolaty!) Then I watched some sports and a Hallmark movie and then bed.

I've been resisting going to church down here. I found a place with a large congregation (about 1/2 the size of what I'm used to), good worship and pretty good preaching but it still isn't Park. I miss the maps. The challenging voice in Jackson and JR's message. I miss seeing a room full of people my age. Thankfully a good friend pushed me to go back and being Palm Sunday, I made sure I did so this morning. The message was insightful. So many things about that day 2000 years ago that I hadn't thought about. I have some studying and reading up to do.

I made another burger for lunch (no fries this time). Let me tell you, a burger loaded with pickles, lettuce and just a hint of mayo is phenomenal. Pickles make the sandwich. The toasted bun does too.

That brings us to now. The Cubs are tied in the 8th. Looking okay. I hear the Hawks are on but I didn't see them on any channel here. Hopefully I can find that game. Bulls are on tv tomorrow night against Indy. I hope they win again. They are on fire right now! White Sox lost again today. Dodgers just aren't their team to beat this week.

I promised myself that if I had some fruit salad I would go for a run. It's a 52 min run today which will probably be about 4 miles. I've got 13 days until the 10k race and I have yet to reach the 6 mile mark. I'm not worried. I've done pretty good on these run 2 minutes walk 3 minutes routine and I think I can step it up a notch by the race. Correction, I know I can. I'll be thrilled to say I've run my first 10k race. Can't be too much harder than an 8k, can it?

Alright, time to get suited up. Chat with you all again soon! Hopefully with a bit more substance to report...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Italy Part 7: I visit a Tuscan Winery

30 June 2010 (above photo courtesy of Il Palagio website)

IMAGINE scenery filled with lush green grass, green trees, and occasional mountain slopes that look more like cliffs that cut through the country side. On this particular day on our journey, we were heading from Cambria in the south through Lazio and then Toscana, known in English as Tuscany.

If you know anything about Italy, it is probably the people, cities and events that have happened in Tuscany more than anywhere else in this country. Florence, Siena and Pisa are all cities in Tuscany. It has been home to Michelangeo, Dante, Petrarch, da Vinci, Galilei, Vespucci, Puccini and of course, the Medici.

With all of this in mind, our bus headed towards a Autogrill for our mid-afternoon stop. Greeting us there was a group of very handsome looking Polizia. They were young and as we all hung out front we tried to subtly take photos with them in it. Italian police don't like you to take photos with them. Nonetheless, I snapped one with them in the background. It's not the best but does the trick to remembering this gorgeous group of men!

We continued on our trek through the gorgeous scenery of Toscana and soon arrived down some narrow, winding roads just about 30 minutes south of Florence. This was immaculate landscaping. A combination of natural meets planned. Rows of grape vines butted up against rows of olive trees. Nestled between them was a gorgeous, 800+ year old building. Much of the building was stonework but one side was a mustard yellow shade with brown accents. The stones were a mismatch from the various centuries but it gave the "castle" so much character. I think the translation from Italian to English should really make this building to be a fort, not a castle, but it was called Il Palagio (Palace).

We toured the grounds along the olive trees where baby olives were just starting to sprout, chickens roaming near a small barn nearby. We also entered inside the building through a large, iron door to the basement of the ancient winery (can something 800 years old be ancient?) where dozens of huge barrels full of aging chianti lined the dark, cellar walls. We saw what is claimed to be the largest wine barrel in the world. I took a photo with it but you can't tell because I couldn't get the whole barrel in the shot.

We then had a lovely wine tasting paired with cheeses, crackers and tapenades under a awning draped courtyard. My group sat in rows of chairs and toasted (Salute!) with each sampling. It was a gorgeous spring day and we had so many great memories ahead of us, despite the numerous memories I had already made in Modena and in Sorrento/Capri.

Up next...we arrive in Firenze - Florence - Home of the Renaissance.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Here Comes the Sun

SPRING break was last week and boy did I need a break! Not that my students have been difficult or the grading is crazy (quite the opposite) but it was apparent that I needed to refuel. Actually, I have 1 student who is tardy nearly every day, the 1st period of the day, by 20-30 minutes. (It's a 50 minute class). He came on time, even after the time change, for 9 days straight. I praised him, encouraged him and it seemed to work. He broke his streak this week but I encouraged him none the less. So good things are happening.

There is something about knowing a vacation is coming that makes you want it that much more. Your body starts to show signs of needing rest. Either that or you become more attune to your need for it. Whatever the case is, it was suggested I go to Florida to visit my parents for a few days and after some hesitation, hopped a plane and made it to West Palm Beach.

Let me tell you - sun is underrated. Warm weather, which had been virtually forgotten in Illinois since approximately October, was literally a breath of fresh air. I fell into the Florida lifestyle pretty quickly.

To wake up, patio doors wide open and comfortable air wafting through the home is glorious. Heck, sleeping without 1-2 pounds of blankets and comforters over me was wonderful, too. The sun was out almost the entire week. It really is like the commercials where women scoff when a small cloud passes in front of the sun. I soaked it all up!

I spent a few mornings out doing my 10k training (really behind due to the cold I had but I figure I can still keep training past the 10k and just focus on finishing rather than getting a great time or trying to run the whole thing). My runs were through the gated community where our home is so the traffic is minimal, especially that "late" in the morning when most of the residents are already out on the golf courses or up reading the morning paper. My scenery included wild turkeys, people driving by on golf carts, multiple people out walking lap dogs (is that all people own in Florida?) and the many palm and coconut trees.

We spent 1 day at the beach walking along the shore after a drive down the Intracoastal. Jellyfish were prominent and I have an unreasonable fear of them, so I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have. I recall once as a child down there seeing blue jellyfish littering the beach. Someone must have put the fear of God into me and ever since it's ruined my beach walking along the Atlantic Ocean. Thankfully my parents mentioned they've started a shell collection, so I had a reason to look down for shells in addition to the black blobs of jellyfish. It was almost like I was 9 years old again and all you had to was distract me with a game and I'd keep putting one foot in front of the other. I realized, too, I was spoiled by Chicago's mostly pristine beaches where the worst thing you could step on is a cigarette butt.

We ate out a few times. I had lunch with my mom and cousin Kathy who lives just 20 minutes or so from our place along with her sisters. I haven't seen Kathy since 1991 so that was wonderful. I love spending time with family. We get such short time on this earth and none of it promised so it makes me genuinely happy. I'll have to get to Florida more often! Dinners tended to be healthy and somewhere near water.

We spent one afternoon on a tourboat seeing the extravagant houses of the rich who live in the Intracoastal in Ft. Lauderdale. Insane. The yachts are gargantuan and the houses are enormous. There are some where you think to yourself, "only 2 people live there?" and others were you learn the people are there just a month or two or in one case, have never set foot inside! It was on the boat that I got my extreme sunburn. I did it on purpose, so no complaining. I've got a tan almost complete now. You'd think a former lifeguard would know better. But I do that once a summer.

To match my sunburn, I also had my hair colored. I waited till after my day in the sun to do it, because I didn't want to spend money and then sit in the sun lightening it. I went in to my south Florida salon and discussed doing a strawberry blonde color, similar to what my childhood hair was. Apparently, strawberry blonde means something different down there, because I ended up with strawberry hair with blonde streaks. I hated it at first but it has really grown on me. I think the sunburn made it look a bit off at first. Now, with the tan coming in and seeing it on my head for a few days, I really like it!

Among the highlights of the trip was also a chance to go through my grandmother's photos. No one had gone through them since she passed and I was anxious to see if there were any in the many boxes in the hall closet of the trip she and my grandfather took to Italy. I found a TON of absolute gems of a photo. Tin types from the 1800's, photos of my great-grandma as a kid. Photos of my grandma in her 20's in her long hair and long-legged trousers. A photo of my grandfather's 1st communion. And lots from my childhood and my mother's childhood. In my final hours of sifting, I found the file of their Italy trip from 1974. And inside was a single photo with a few relatives in our native city. At last, I had a photo of these mysterious relatives. And even names!

Needless to say, I had a fantastic trip. I've come back and am anxious to go back down there some time this summer. I've also already sent a letter to the church in Italy in the town where we're from, along with the photo and my family tree, asking if any of the women in the photo are still living or if they could provide any documents for me. I'm more determined than ever to complete my Italian citizenship this year.

I've got 42 more days of work. I double checked my plans for the rest of the year and most seem to be in order. There is a lot to do before May 31st but it will all get done. Year 2 will be over. I can't believe we're in the home stretch!

Hope you all are having a good end of March. The warm weather is coming. And you're gonna love it!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Trying to Take Evil Out of the Classroom

I began the difficult task today of teaching my students how to do their taxes. How many of you would know how to do your taxes without the assistance of tax software or an accountant?

Well, I had a bunch of words on the board and the weekly schedule with THREE DAYS of tax practice this week for my Coop kids. So when 3rd hour came and my Law class walked in, to tackle the big topic of reviewing for their Contracts quiz, I was confronted with an interesting question.

I have an inquisitive student in Law. He's brilliant. And observant. So after several kids had called me over to ask questions on their review guide, this student called me over and asked, "Are you trying to take evil out of the classroom?"


It must have shown on my glass face. So he pointed at the board and said, "taxes."

Right. Are taxes evil? It depends on how you look at them. Where would we be without them? Our roads would be crappy. Funding for defense, social security, medicare, research and many other things, not the least of which is the 6% we pay towards interest on our massive national debt.

So we need to pay taxes. As I told my students, if you have to pay them every year, would you at least like to be informed about why and how they work?

Most didn't know when Tax Day was. Many didn't understand that you got credits and exclusions and deductions. Ohhhh, so many things to teach!

So I suppose I am taking evil out of the classroom. Funny way of putting it but I found it pretty humorous. After all, something big and daunting can be seen as evil until you study it and understand it a little better.

Like Bill Cosby said, "Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it." At least in this case, decide to understand it so you are no longer afraid of it.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Can you believe I haven't blogged since Jan 31?

Well, a few housekeeping items, first. My sinus surgery has been amazing....although this weekend I was gifted with my first cold since I was approximately 8 years old. I realize that swimming from age 9-18 kept me healthy and then having antibiotics on a nearly continuous basis between age 20 and 30+ prevented me from catching them. I'm braving through this and nearing my regular energy level. Good thing because kickboxing continues tomorrow!

But back to my Title. Fruition. It's been developing a lot this semester with my students. Little things that show me my students are opening their eyes. In February I took students to Chicago with another teacher to tour and learn about the Board of Trade. I think a lot of students had an eye-opening experience, that the world is bigger than they thought. That work can be harder than they thought.

Then last week I finally had my first speaker of the semester. I had tried to create a weekly speaker series with people from the various industries students want to work in. I had a woman from a local hospital speak about a nursing career. A lot of my students want to go into a medical field and they were extremely interactive with her, asking a lot of questions. Afterwards one of my students said it almost made her cry because it make her passionate to talk about her future medical career. YES!!

This week we're taking taxes. My taxes speakers haven't been responding to me (they hopped on board immediately last year) so it's going to be me teaching how to do them. Lord help me!
Meanwhile, my 2nd speakers, from WICD tv, will be coming in to talk about journalism. I have 1-2 journalism folks in my class. Hopefully they'll speak up and pick their brains.

It's a short one today. I'm tired. And it's past bedtime. So g'night everyone!

Take that next step towards your dream this week, and see where it takes you....

Monday, January 31, 2011

Immigration, Evaluations & John Barry...

It has been a busy week so I figured I'd give you all a brief summary of all that happened. Starting with today (WGN news is on in the background, tuned in to "snowpocalypse" coverage).

I assigned students in my law class to write a Justice Journal last week. My high schoolers write a bit about a current news story they find (trustworthy sources only). I graded them today just before my Einstein Bros. lunch and the best one I received was from one of my quiet, Hispanic Freshmen. Her article was about a proposed Rand Paul bill that would prevent children of illegal immigrants from being legal citizens. Her opinion was very strong in the opposite direction of my own. It was touching to see she found an article that ignited a passion for a topic she believes has meaning in her life. I have no idea if she has an illegal family member in the country but it reinforced the idea that an assignment like this does have merit and purpose. Besides, it was refreshing after reading a plagiarized Journal that stole full sentences from the article that a Junior student had read. Sheesh.

I had my final year evaluation last week with the Principal. She observed my Coop class. I was introducing the concept of maintaining a personal budget. It went REALLY well and the only critique she had for me was that I didn't have the bell schedule up in my room and I ended class 4 minutes early. This bell to bell teaching is tough but I've improved drastically this year.

We're in for some pretty tough weather this week. You know that when Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel is in downtown Chicago that we're in for the bulls-eye of the storm. Love it! We've had ice and freezing rain all afternoon. I listened to the "tink tink tink" on my windows until about 7pm. I love snow. We've got no school tomorrow. I'm hoping we are in school on Wednesday. If we get more than 1 additional snow day we're into June giving finals. Sorry, but by then I'd like my sun and warm weather on my own leisurely day!

FINALLY a few music references to leave you with. If you are curious about the colors for today's blog, I'll clue you in. The gray-ish blue shade was the color of the Dances With Wolves score, one of the most moving movie scores I've ever heard. I used to listen to it over and over and over when I worked at The New World Music Theatre. In fact, when they released my position, the box office manager kindly mailed the cassette tape to me (yes, it was that long ago) which I had left there by accident since she knew I loved it. I had taken care of her plants, after all. Speaking of that building full of memories, I may or may not work for Live Nation this summer. It would be only the 2nd year in 12 that I haven't worked in the music biz. Sometimes I miss all the action and marketing and smoozing. But I love teaching and watching students grow and learn more.

LAST but not least, my favorite NEW tune is by Francesca Battistelli. It's called "This Is the Stuff." Catchy. Fun. And a great pick-up in the morning, especially when I'm not in the best of moods after days without sunshine.

Alright off to sleep. I'm up late for a teacher!

Best of luck to all my readers on the eastern half of the U.S. Stay warm. Stay dry. Stay safe. Let me know how you endure! I'll be watching Dances with Wolves, completely moved by the suspenseful, beautiful music of John Barry.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Test Kitchen

I've been experimenting a lot this month with new recipes. I've been stuck in the Italian rut for a while now and I've tried to get out of it. I'm also trying to eat more balanced and for me, that means eating in a way that doesn't set off my insulin-resistance. (Another of my health discoveries of 2010!!)

If you are unfamiliar with insulin resistance, basically, anytime you eat carbs, your blood sugar spikes. So to fix it, you either severely reduce/eliminate your carb intake OR you make sure that every time you eat you get some veggies AND have 1/2 the grams of protein as you do the carbs without overdoing how much you eat. Therefore, I've been trying a lot of protein-packed recipes to add to my routine.

My latest attempt was a pad thai dish. I got the recipe from Food & Wine magazine. I had originally planned on making a Thai Basil chicken dish but couldn't figure out where I had seen the recipe (okay, I had found it at work during lunch on a website but couldn't remember which one. I knew when the recipe called for fish sauce I was probably not going to like it. But I walked to the grocery store anyway, got all my missing ingredients, including the fish sauce and came home to cook.

The Pad Thai looked great but now that I can smell, I knew I probably wouldn't eat it, even after 1/2 hour of prep and cooking. But I kept going and piled a few noodles and chicken and tofu and veg on my plate and took a bite. Nope, too fishy. Waste of money!

The experiment from 2 weeks ago was to replicate the chicken they serve at Chipotle. I had found a website with reliable intel that the recipe really was from Chipotle. A few people who worked at the restaurant confirmed it and despite that being pretty illegal, I forged ahead. First, I attempted making the cilantro-lime rice. PERFECTO! It tasted exactly like the Chipotle rice, although I did overdo the lime just a tad. But on the plus side I got to use my rice cooker again, which I'd been neglecting since this whole insulin-resistance business.

So if the rice worked out, surely the chicken would! I compiled a large list of ingredients (including a whopping 3 cups of Worcester sauce) and marinated the chicken for 24 hours. I then pulled out my cast-iron stove-top grill pan (anything with that many hyphens must be bound for trouble, right?) and kicked on the stove. I put the chicken on the pan. It smelled great and even remembered to turn on the exhaust fan above the stove. The recipe called for high heat so I had the stove cranked up to 7 or 8. I never cook with it that high!

Sure enough, the smoke detectors started blaring about 12 minutes into the grilling process. So in the dead of winter, I cracked open all my windows and my front door and began flapping my hand towel at the nearest smoke detector to get it to turn off. I can only imagine what the neighbors were thinking!

If you recall, this post is about the disappointments in my test kitchen this month. Well, hate to say it but the chicken did NOT live up to the bar that the rice recipe had set. It was good, so long as the taste you were looking for was akin to A-1 steak sauce smothered over chicken. I couldn't taste the lime or the cilantro or the garlic at all.

I went back to basics this week. Not my norm but still, my comfort zone - Italian. So far it's been pizza, italian sausage with bell peppers and onions (classic!) with a pinch of red pepper flake AND what is apparently a staple in the region of Italy where my family is from, ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach. YUM! Hello leftovers tomorrow. It's not exactly up to protein-carb balance but I'm close. I've been getting my veggies in (add them to the pizza before it goes in the oven - so good!) and inching closer to the balance point. January is still "recovery month" and for now, I'm still working out the kinks. But all in all feeling a WORLD better than I have in years.

Baby steps, people. Small steps will keep you moving forward. So long as you keep doing that, you can reach the goals. What is yours?


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Random Day In Teacherland

I realized today, thanks to Twitter, that most people have no idea what goes on in any given classroom in a day. Or in my case, what exactly do you teach, again? Business, right?

So what on earth do I teach? Let me give you a brief peek at my classroom today. (And just to note, this is NOT what a typical day is like, it just happens to reflect today's experience from behind the desk).

Class starts at 8am. It snowed 2 inches overnight and it took longer than usual to scrape off the car. Normally I'm in my office on the 3rd floor by 7:30 and then by 7:40 I've gathered what I need for the day and head to the 2nd floor to my classroom.

I have a grand total of 5 students for my 1st period. Most teachers think this would be a dream. I disagree. I am all for smaller class sizes but in the realm of 15-20 students. Five is really tough in a 50 minute period. Especially today. At the bell at 8am, I had 1 student. The same thing happened yesterday and I made the decision to go ahead with my lesson plans no matter what. This student just gets private class, is all. Eventually, through the 50 minutes all 5 kids showed up but here's the kicker. Today's lesson was on Parliamentary Procedure. How do you teach how to run a meeting (including a cool simulation) with just 1 person? Who would 2nd the motions we make? Nonetheless, we had a good simulation with 4 of the 5 students and I think they understood how it works and why it is used. Quiz on Monday.

2nd hour I had 1/2 my students. There are a lot of kids out sick so I'm sure that accounted for a few of them. Today was a college-like discussion on the roles of women in the workplace since 1910. I had them read an article the last 2 days and respond to some prompts. I even added pictures to the article to match the various time periods. With my 4 gentleman and 3 women it was like pulling teeth. I don't know if everyone read the whole article (only 4 people submitted the homework) and the guys were pretty shy about talking about the subject. 50 minutes of torture which would have been much better should the other 8 kids been there to give input. Moving on...(downing my slim fast low-carb drink snack first).

3rd hour is my Law class. I finally had all but 1 student in this class. Students were asked to find cases and identify which court they would have taken place in. 3 students of 20 did the assignment. Ugh! Part of this was even Extra Credit! Really, nothing? So I moved from the levels of the courts to the 2 key types of trials - Civil & Criminal. Kids were silent as lambs the entire period. No questions. No curiosity. No tie-ins despite my hints and prompting questions. Wow.

I round out my morning with study hall. It's my least favorite class of the day. It's babysitting. Sit down. Stay quite. Do homework. The computer lab is closed today. No food in this room. Put the food away. You, move your seat since you can't stop distracting others. No you can't go see another teacher unless they've given you a pass. 50 minutes. Babysitting. Hey, at least these students had personality and energy! I just wish they'd follow the rules. Most of them are seniors and have never had to follow the rules in study hall. It makes it tough. Here's the clue. Hall=large room and Study=reading, doing homework or learning in some format. Put them together and you've got 4th hour. Just do it!

I spent the rest of my day working on finding places that are hiring for 2 students who need work hours. Calling different professions that may want to come speak to my class. Writing a quiz and review sheet. Working on a "chart" that shows what classes in my department are appropriate for which grade level (long overdue).

It is no wonder I am tired when I get home! Now you know what a teacher does all day. Granted, today was completely a-typical. Normally I have tons of conversation, questions and "a-ha!" moments. Today was just an off day. We'll see what tomorrow brings. That is if we have school. The current temperature with windchill is -6. (-21C which looks much more dramatic and the measurement my foreign blog readers use). All in all, I'm excited to rest this weekend. I feel sickness coming and I'm doing all I can to stave it off. Please stay away little sickness!

G'nite folks. More pleasant thoughts and perhaps another peek into my Italia vaca on the next edition.

Stay warm & dry! KB

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Italy Part 6: Isle di Capri

I sit here on the couch tonight eating ice cream, imagining that it is chocolate gelatto. It's not and I'm not fooled. But since it has been a week or so since I blogged last and I HAVE NOT even come close to sharing all of my experiences from the land of my ancestors, I figured I'd return to Italia and share what happened on our final day down in the south of the country.

In this blog we find ourselves transported back to Sorrento, the colorful resort town on the west coast of Italy about 2/3 of the way down the length of the "boot" and on the coast of Tyrrhenian Sea. It is warm and all of us are dressed in sundresses, shorts and tees, and flip-flops. Some of my friends already have had too much sun, the red hue a symbol of a fun trip so far. I had managed to stay bronze up until this point and am hoping to stay that way. I don't like sunburns. But knowing that today was all about being in the sun, I knew it was most likely to be a lost cause. But soooo much fun!

We walked about 25 minutes from our hotel in Sorrento, through the maze of linear streets and back alleys that make Sorrento so characteristically fun. Finally we came to the overlook near the beach and descended the 3 long flights of stone stairways down to the sea. From this point we headed to our ship which would cross the sometimes rough waters to the Isle of Capri (pronounced KAH pri). My parents had done this journey a few years ago and had a rough 30 minute trip to the island. We had nothing of the kind. It was smooth sailing and gorgeous. And warm.

If you are wealthy and want to experience the high life in southern Italy, Capri is the place to go. It's 2 main towns are situated on the TOP of the island which is an oval shaped piece of land with 2 mini mountains at the heart of its center. Beaches and ports abound along the shoreline and winding, narrow roads lead the mile or so uphill to the towns of Capri and AnaCapri. People come to Sorrento to party and shop (if you stay on the main drag) and just be free. People come to Capri to BE SEEN shopping.

If you stay near the coast, which means laying in the sun for hours on end, you won't be disappointed. There are cute, independent shops and restaurants near all the beaches which are either public or private (you pay to be on that stretch of beach). There are 2 alternatives to living the life in Capri - the first is taking a boatride around the island and if you are lucky, swim in some of the grottos (grotti?), or caves, which glow different colors depending on the sunlight and type of rock that outline the floor of the grotto. The other is to climb the stairs to the top of one of the towns (25 min or so straight up climbing - all stairs!) unless you have cash in which case you hire a taxi and get a ride to the top.

Our day began with the island boat tour. Our closeknit group of 50 took 2 boats around the island. We sailed through rocks that formed arches over the turquoise blue waters. We swam in a few of the grottos (Not the famous blue grotto which you have to pay extra for and usually has an hour+ wait. It is the most brilliant of the grottos and will just be something I save for another visit, right?) We saw lighthouses perched perilously on rocks high above the water and strange statues shaped like people sunbathing on the rocks above.

[Above the arched rocks (left) and swimming in the green grotto (right). We swam from this point through the cave and out the other side.]

One note about the grotto swim. We had been warned there were jellyfish in the waters. Someone yelled they felt one and we all began swimming frantically for the other side of the grotto where the boat was picking us up. It was not funny at the tip and sort of rushed the experience (the water was cold) but it sure was neat to swim with a group in glowing green water!

During another brief stop on our boat tour around Capri we did some rock jumping. Nothing too crazy, the rocks were no
t high, but having a fear of falling (aka fear of heights) makes the challenge difficult. I really wanted to do it. When I saw Muriel was the first one to do it, I summoned my courage and treaded water in line to get up on the rocks. It took a few seconds but I mentally pushed myself off the edge and LEAP! into the water. I could do it again should I be given the opportunity!
[The rock we jumped off of is in the background on the left in this photo]

After rock jumping and the boat tour we had lunch at a lovely restaurant near the beach just below Capri. I had amazing spinach ravioli smothered in a tomato sauce. It was divine! Just the thing to prep me for a mile long stair climb up to Capri!

From lunch, our group split into several and so it was that 10 of us found our way to the stairs that led to the "mountaintop" town of Capri. We climbed for several minutes up a winding, stone stairway that could fit about 4 people across. The signs pointing the way to "Centro" were done in mosaic tiles which fit the atmosphere of the island perfectly. Artistic but natural. Every 7 minutes or so our stairway would open up to the road that wound its way up the island. Along the stairway were doorways and gates that led to homes of inhabitants of this spectacular place. I can't imagine living here or growing up here but it sure would be special, although much too isolated for my taste.

About 1/2 way up the hike, we saw a gentleman who was obviously taking a bre
ak or waiting for someone. He was the reddest man I have ever seen, probably in his 40's. His legs, arms, neck and face were all the color of a tomato. This guy was going to be in pain by tomorrow if he wasn't already. We had a good laugh and paused for the last of the line of our little group to catch up and get a glimpse. We asked a couple climbing back down how much further. They said 10-15 minutes more. What a workout!

Eventually we reached our destination and the top of Capri was worth it. The water below was the most amazing shade of blue. You could even see people swimming down be
low, the water so clear that you could see their legs underneath the surface. The town square that we "surfaced" at was bedecked in flowers of every shade. The buildings were all shades of peach and yellow and tan which only served to enhance the multitude of flowers. People were milling about everywhere and just to the right was the main road in Capri and the street lined with every high-end European brand you could think of. We window shopped. Some also bought postcards and gelatto or lemonade slushies.

We did not have much time to spend up top because we had a deadline to get back down to the port for our boat back to Sorrento. All in all, we spent probably 30 minutes up in Capri. Little did we know our adventure was to continue! Instead of taking the same stairs down we had used to get up to Capri, someone said there was a shorter way down if we just walked down the road a bit. So we did, only to find that there were no stairs. Thus it was that our band o
f 10 walked the narrow 2-way road which barely fit more than 1 car at a time let alone 2 cars and a line of walkers hoping in vain to see stairs that would take us down the mountain. The road wound ever further from the port which had been just below the town square and some of us were not only worried about being hit by a car but missing the boat because we were getting off course. One of the calmer, logical souls amongst our crew decided that all roads lead to the port and eventually we'd get there no matter how meandering the road was. I decided to just enjoy the view and the challenge of walking down a steep road in flip flops with cars whizzing by.

We eventually passed a set of stairs about 1/2 way down but weren't sure where they led to and decided to stay on the road which had curved back towards the port. The way down took longer than the hike up but with laughter we made it with time to spare. At the port we were greeted by an old Italian guy in bright orange who seemed to be both a mime and amazingly strong. He mimed a few things and then did about 25
pushups! After putting on a show for all of us waiting for the boat, he bowed and then let his tour group away from port towards the beach. We couldn't believe this guy wasn't just a fisherman having fun but actually a guide!

Our visit to Capri had been relaxing and a great workout at the same time. Every place in Italy has a unique quality to them and are worth several days' visit. I will definitely head back to Capri some day, even though my heart tends to call me towards Florence (the subject of my next Italy blog and stop on our tour), Rome and Modena. I want to climb the stairs again, perhaps do more than window shop and even take the tram up AnaCapri which is said to have a view that is even more spectacular than the one from Capri. Nothing will match the laughter and personalities of the group I was with on this visit. That's what makes vacation so much fun. Every trip is a special moment captured for all time with a special group of people or individual.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Resolution Revelations & Other Ramblings

Yep, I am still on the Resolution topic.

It's been a strange mix of things today. Had a great morning teaching. Things seem to be going really well. I have so many ideas of videos to show my students I got a bit wrapped up in searching online for the best one. Currently, I'm searching for a good boardroom scene to show from the Apprentice for Coop1. We're going through firing and I figured that would be a good fit. It may also lead into my Coop2 class as we begin discussion on leadership. I may show an entire ep for that class. It's 5 students and tough to drag out. They don't talk much and most of the time I have just 2 of the 5 kids. Frustrating, to say the least. So, that's a work in progress.

After lunch, as I switched between a powerpoint and searching for Apprentice videos, a teacher stopped in our office. Every so often we get a teacher who says they didn't know the room where our office is located existed. Just before break was the last time it had happened. It is so funny! Perhaps because I was new last year and tried hard to figure out where everyone's offices are and what happens where in the building, I am rarely surprised. So when teachers who have been at the school a lot longer than I have been say they didn't know where our office is...well, seems strange, no? One of the principle rules of marketing is to know your product inside/out. I was told once that a wise marketer not only knows their product but also, in the case of concert promotion, know all you can about the city in which your product is being sold. I hold that same philosophy at school. If I want to do the best for my students, I need to know the building and the best places to direct them should they need it.

This leads to my next strange event of the day. A student whose 2nd language is English came to see my department chair today. He was preoccupied with a phone call. She said, in an Asian-influenced accent, that she needed help with homework. Then she clarified that it was history homework. McAndrew and I exchanged looks and I offered to help the student. It is strange that she came to a business teacher for history help. Perhaps she didn't realize we don't all know everything. That's a myth I would hate to break to her!! It was nice to help her though. Roosevelt and the New Deal. One of my favorite eras of history although one I obviously need to brush up on!

I sat in the waiting room after school at the allergy doctor's, waiting my 30 minute "not ill" approval to leave. A mom came in with her 2 elementary age sons. She worked on homework with them (I played solitaire on my phone...I won 1 of 7 games). She did such a great job and I kept smiling. The older son, probably 4th grade, had his math done but she told him he needed to explain how he did the problems so that she knew he could do it. So after a moment where you could tell he was thinking "why, mom?" the boy began to explain his math problems. He then whipped through science and was about to work on something else as I was getting ready to leave. It made me realize I really am glad I am teaching. Maybe this summer I'll work with younger kids somehow. Time shall tell.

This afternoon I made up my mind to sign up for a Park District class. I've been flirting with several options. I am dedicated to my 2 mile walks every day (1 of 3 so far, so batting average is pretty poor!) and I really need a good solid workout as many times a week as I can. While the 30 Day Shred videos are fantastic, they aren't going to make me do it every day. So I signed up for Cardio Kickboxing. I've never really done kickboxing but I definitely need to get my butt off the couch this year and if I pay for a class there is no way I'm missing it. (Keep me accountable!)

So it is that I continue to dive further into my push to resolutely hold to my goal of getting back in shape. The surgery was just the first step of many. I'm not going to beat myself up for eating too many cookies (I'm not making any more in January!!!) or for missing a walk. Instead, I am going to focus on what I am doing right. I have to keep looking forward and seeing the promise that every new days means an opportunity to live it right.

Wish me luck. I could be very sore in a few hours! I welcome the muscle pain.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Fresh Take on Resolutions

This is it. It's January 5th and right now thousands of people are feeling good about the 4-5 times they've been to the gym (minus new year's day when they are recovering from, well, 2010). But by next week thousands of those thousands will teeter off their healthy weight regimen and slowly revert back towards their old life. It's the number one resolution every year and also the number one resolution gone unfulfilled.

Now, I am also one of those healthy weight resolution folks. The difference is I tend to start on the resolution sometime in October so that by the time the calender flips I am already in the habit. Plus it takes me a while to train for the Shamrock Shuffle 8k in April so I try and get my cardio ready for the real training.

This year however, October came and went and I wasn't running. In fact, I ended 2010 with more hours on the couch than ever before. It was a rough year for allergies and my sinuses which are such a pain had pulled me out of even the slightest motivation to workout. Even Jillian Michael's couldn't convince me to keep pushing during 30 Day Shred which is only 30 minutes long!

So it was that I made the decision in November to have sinus surgery. I had had one in 2003 and for a few years felt pretty good. But I've spent the last 4 years debating the surgery repeat idea and after trying a myriad of different solutions to the problem (including a drug that is given to patients after bone marrow transplants!). Really, I've been on waaaay too many prescriptions that could damage my organs in the long run and felt this was the best choice.

So I went in last Thursday, the day before New Year's Eve, and took the plunge. I felt going into this that my doctor wasn't really sure this was the solution but was doing the surgery just because I wanted it. He felt sort of aloof and didn't really say anything to me the day we made the decision, just had me set up the surgery appointment. The operation took just over an hour and my Mom came to nurse me back to health.

Neither of us stayed up past 10pm on New Years Eve, both tired from the stress and anticipation of the day before. There was a little pain right after I got out of the surgery. My ears popped like fireworks for several hours straight, finally relieved of their burden of pressure which had been off for months. You can't imagine the relief I had with that alone!

I went in for my checkup yesterday feeling like I was doing pretty good. I didn't think there was any packing (gauze) up my nose this time around because I couldn't feel it. I should have known that it is a must-have step in the process to promote healing! What I learned at my post-operation appointment yesterday was that my Doc really did think this was a good decision. He was displeased with the way my 1st surgery was done and tried to, essentially, correct what had been done wrong. He did a little "house cleaning" while I was under and for the next several weeks we'll be keeping an eye on how it heals. Apparently, the scarring/poor healing from the last surgery was pretty bad and didn't help improve the situation.

I'm extremely pleased. It is probably the 2nd best decision I made in 2010 (The first being my trip to Italy and the 3rd being the decision to take the English Teacher exam). I have no doubts I'll be healthier this year. I'm already feeling amazing. Where I am today, just one week since surgery is about where I was after 2 months last time. It took me 6 months to feel normal last time. This one probably just about a month. I am so thankful.

So I'll be adding how my health improves to the blog this year, in addition to teaching and other random things. With hard work, dedication and healing I'll be eating better, working out more and just feeling good much, much more in 2011.

Here's to a HEALTHY 2011 for all of you. Let's keep each other accountable.