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.