Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*Well, we're about a month or two later than everyone else, but spring has finally come to Logan, Utah! Luckily for me, my allergies this season haven't been too horrendous (although I've had a wicked sore throat all week---can allergies cause that?)

*Matt and I took these pictures in front of the Logan Temple on Saturday when we attempted to go do some temple work. Unfortunately for me, about ten minutes in I got lightheaded and nauseated, and we had to call it quits. That's the first time that's ever happened, and I hope it's the last.

*NO, I am not pregnant. (Does this happen to anyone else? If I'm at all sick to my stomach, people automatically assume I'm pregnant. No, No, and NO.)

*Remember how I mentioned almost three months ago how I was badly in need of a haircut? Well, the split ends must be trying to enter a fried-hair contest because they've gotten BAD. Looks like I'll be forced into getting a haircut sometime this week. Sigh. I hate spending money on  haircuts (esp. since it's rare for me to like a haircut until about two weeks after). I think I'm going to try something different with my hair this time that I've never done before---nothing TOO extreme, but hopefully it will provide a welcome change. I just pray I can find a good hairstylist here in Logan since my go-to stylist moved and then, on top of that, broke her arm. Anyone know of any reliable salons in Logan?

*We finished up end-of-level testing on Friday. Whew! Such a relief to have that big elephant out of the room.

*When I asked all of my students how it went, all of them in unison rang out, "EASY!"

*(I guess that's a good sign that they all probably did okay on it. Or that they're just overconfident and/or don't care. One of the two.)

 *The last day of school is officially a month from today. I'm a little spazzy about it, actually---mostly just because I'm really, really looking forward to getting a paycheck every month in the summar even though I'm not really working. Ha ha.
*Just kidding. That's not the only reason.
*I find it funny (but not really) that every time I set a firm resolve to finally get back into a regular exercise habit, I get sick. Really, body? Really?!
*Yesterday, I was relating to Matt the story of a certain student who had been getting on my nerves a bit as of late. After finishing my gripe, Matt started saying, "When I hear about kids like that...," and then I jumped in with, "You feel bad for them? I know. I need to be more patient and loving because those are probably the kids that need it the most." Matt just started laughing and said, "No, I was about to say that when I hear about kids like that, I think that it's too bad you can't use a dose of good old-fashioned punishment on them, like a good smack across the wrist or something."
*We've been married almost two years, but it looks like we still need to work on the whole finishing-each-other's-sentences business.
*Speaking of being married almost two years, our anniversary is a week from today. Everyone else keeps saying that they can't believe it's already been two years and everything, but I say that it feels like we've been married forever.
*(Note: That's not a bad thing.)

*I'm on hall duty this week again, and this week, I get the prestigious privilege of getting the most difficult route: the entire outdoor playing field (where they can actually go now during lunch since it's warmed up and all). I have firmly decided that kids make much more stupid decisions outside than inside---maybe it's because there's less supervision, maybe it's just the wide expanse of open air, but I had students yesterday getting in trouble (by me) for doing everything from wielding large branches as weapons to trying to lasso fellow students with a rope to chasing each other at breakneck speeds around tight corners.

*It's going to be a long, looooooooong week.

*The seeds that we planted in our garden have started exploding all over the place--a week or so ago, you could see maybe four or five early sprouters coming up. Now there are hundreds of little green shoots coming up all over the place, and I can practically taste the radishes and snap peas in my mouth already. Growing our own food = Awesome.

*We're taking a field trip to Bridgerland (the trade school in Logan) tomorrow. A part of me thinks, "Why am I seriously going to drive all the way out to Tremonton, only to be returned within the hour to Logan?" It kind of makes me want to conveniently forget to come in and just meet up with everyone at the trade school.

*Don't worry, I won't actually do it---those kids have got to have some semblance of a supervising adult on board with them, right?

*Matt finishes with all his finals for the semester on Thursday. While I'm ecstatic for him, I believe there aren't many things worse than having your spouse start summer vacation almost a month before you do.

*Know what I mean?

*Anyway, have a happy Tuesday, you wonderful person, you!

Monday, April 29, 2013

A Different Spin on the Date Night In

For any of you who are married or who have been in a serious relationship for a long time, you probably understand the appeal of the date night in, while at the same time recognizing that it can quickly become code for "you hop on the computer while I watch t.v.," which can become stale faster than you can say "Pass the remote."

Sound familiar?

Well, my hubby never ceases to surprise me. Just when I think I've got him 99% figured out, he does something spontaneous that makes me fall in love with him all over again.

This time, it happened while we were walking through the aisles at Smith's Marketplace last Friday night. We had just planned to stop by the store to pick up some ice cream, but then Matt hits me with this awesome idea:

"All right, what about this for a date night in? We each get to spend $5 on whatever we want, we each choose our own half gallon of ice cream, and we splurge for a movie under $10. How about it?"

Brilliant, is what I'd call it.

Honestly, it turned out to be one of the best date nights in we've had in a long, long time.

Just thought I'd pass the idea along, especially since it ended up costing about as much as a dinner out would have (and ended up being a whole lot more cozy!).

What are your great date night ideas to keep things from getting stale?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

50 Weeks to Organized: Week 17

I start this post with two warnings: one, you will see that it is self-evident from the pictures below that my hubby and I have a teensy little problem when it comes to buying movies, and two, there are no "before" pictures (mostly just because to the regular eye, you probably wouldn't see much difference).

But, of course, that's where your eye would be wrong.

You see, before, our movies were thrown every which way into a haphazard array of genres, leading actors, purposes, etc.

But no more, friends.

We now have specialized sections dedicated to:
*our t.v. series (yes, we DO in fact own all the seasons of Big Bang Theory and Psych)
*our movies for different purposes (church movies, exercise tapes, language-learning DVDs, etc.)
*one (whole!) shelf dedicated to Matt's "man" movies, which includes such titles as The Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Lord of the Rings, etc., AND
*four (whole!) shelves dedicated to my chick flicks (or rom com, if you prefer the new-fangled way of putting things), including entire sections devoted to leading actresses (Sandra Bullock has an entire half-shelf!)

Yeah, we definitely have an issue. (And it's NOT just the fact that I basically nonverbally refuse to watch any of Matt's "man" movies.)

Quick Stats for the Week:
# of Items Tossed/Donated: 2
Description of Items Tossed: one movie that proved too crude for our taste, and one duplicate
# of Items Left to Toss/Donate Before Dec. 31st: 257
Amount of Money Spent this Week on Organizing: $0 (although we did spend $7.99 on a new movie...whoops!)

For next week's project, I'm once again falling prey to the organizational task at hand that seems to be screaming at me with the loudest voice:

My Workspace (a.k.a. The Teacher Desk)

It has literally gotten to the point where my desk could justifiably be considered a fire hazard, not to mention an assignment-eating monster that has only half-digested the last month's worth of homework assignments.

This could get ugly, folks.

This Week's To-Do List:
*Throw out all pens, highlighters, and markers that no longer work or that bleed, and sharpen all pencils.
*Gather all small desk items (post-it notes, paper clips, thumbtacks, etc.) and store them in a drawer organizer.
*Remove all personal items such as pictures from the desktop and hang them on a wall or bulletin board to free up valuable desk space.
*Clear off everything else that is left on the desk and give it a good scrubbing.
*Place the electronics that are the most used (printer, fax, etc.) within easy reach of desk chair
*Set up an organizational system for such things as Incoming Assignments/Mail, Outgoing (Graded) Assignments, To Do, To File, etc.
*Sort up all papers that were on your desk previously into one of those sections, and recycle all papers that are no longer needed
*Go through To Do pile and deal with it all NOW. If it's something that's been perpetually put off for "later," reconsider the project.
*Toss all odds and ends in your desk drawers that are not useful or that you no longer need
*Empty recycle bin

*All to-do lists and cleaning suggestions are taken from and/or inspired by Jennifer Ford Berry's book Get Organized. (This is NOT a sponsored project--I just adore the book! I highly recommend buying a copy for yourself. It literally is what inspired this whole project and is worth the money. Check it out here.)
And, just for your info, I think I'll permanently be moving my organizational posts to the weekends (at least for now) to free up my week for, well, work.

So, for this next week, let's see that we get our workspaces in order, shall we? Who's with me?!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Youth Cookoff

There's no denying it--being the president of the young women's organization definitely keeps me on my toes. Sometimes I feel like I'm making a mistake or forgetting something about every other week. But then, on nights like tonight, I know that I have the best calling there is.

For a few months now, we've been heading up a cookoff between the young women and young men. (Note to future self: this is a brilliant, brilliant idea!)

On the menu?

Manicotti (us) Vs. Chicken Cordon-Blue (young men),

Cheese-Filled Rolls (us) Vs. Bacon-Stuffed Peppers (young men), and

Strawberry Gelato (us) Vs. Fudgy Brownies (young men).

It was a close call, with scrumptiousness abundant on both sides.

In the end, we all won really, considering that we all got a free meal out of it.

Yes, that would in fact be my 26-year-old husband with his mouth open, full of food. We're classy people, folks.

But if you want to know the real results of the cookoff...it was pretty much a tie.

We won on the entree, the young men won on the side dish, and we were technically tied on the dessert since our 3rd judge left before then.

Too bad for him!

At the end of the evening, one thing was for certain: happiness is strawberry gelato and good people, friends---you can tell everybody that I've officially figured out the secret to eternal bliss.

So now that this is over, do you have any good ideas for our next activity?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

50 Weeks to Organized: Extension

Well, I knew it would happen eventually---a week when I would need an extension on the organization project. This week, between starting end-of-level testing with my students and heading up a major activity for the youth in my ward tomorrow, I have not had time to think about washing my hair, much less organizing my home.

So, be expecting my organization post somewhere around Friday-Saturday.

In the meantime, here's a slightly funny story that happened in creative writing class yesterday:

I was teaching the kids the importance of using a solid image when they're writing poems, and I was showing them how to approach rewriting a line so that it's attached to an image. The original line was, "Mom doesn't like me talking to Toby" (don't judge--I purposely started bad so I could impress them later on after about eight revisions with my mad poetry skills).

I was mostly finished changing the line to, "Toby stabs through me with his piercing blue eyes" (also terrible, I know--I've gotta leave myself room for about 6 more revisions), when a boy in the back yells out:

"Whoa! Getting a little physical, are we?!"

I couldn't help it--I bust up laughing. Clearly this kid had a totally different idea of "getting a little physical" than I did.

Luckily we could all laugh it off before anyone started asking any awkward questions.

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*It's a sign you've been blogging too long when you all of a sudden you develop this weird obsession with cool red barns by your house *just because you think they would be the perfect backdrop for a picture on a Sunday stroll.*

*(blogger nerd alert!)

*P.S. Do you like Matt's outfit? He only changes out of his white shirt on Sundays--the pants for some reason get to stay. So weird.

*Scariest thing to happen to me #413: last Saturday, Matt hears a horrified scream coming from upstairs, where I had just turned on my hairdryer to blow dry my just-washed mane. The scream was elicited by a certain fireworks-show-worthy stream of sparks that started shooting out of the end of my blowdryer. Seriously, blowdryer company? Whatcha trying to do to me?

*So now I'm (obviously) in the market for a blowdryer. Anyone have a particular brand or kind they recommend?

*My students start end-of-level testing tomorrow. I don't know who is freaking out more--me or them.

*Probably me. I don't think most of them care one way or another.

*We checked out how our garden was doing over the weekend, and it looks like we've got ourselves some seedlings! I was a little worried because of all the below-freezing temps we've had over the past two weeks, but we've got ourselves at least three radish plants and one pea plant. It's not much yet, but considering we planted a couple hundred seeds...we should get lucky a few more times :)

*Matt and I are now official members of the Disney club, and we were WAY too excited to get our first six movies yesterday. Seriously, we have a movie problem. And a book problem. And an avocado-and-cheese problem.

*There are worse addictions though, right?

*Remember how I went to that family history fair over the weekend? Yeah, I felt like I was pretty much the youngest person there.

*Weirdly, I kinda liked that.

*I've convinced my social dance kids to do a performance for the school at the end of the year. I'm going to --hold your breath-- attempt to actually teach them a lift.

*I'd better not get sued for this.

*Anyway, I've got an avocado-cheese-hot-sauce tortilla waiting for me before I head out to go visiting teaching, so I'm out---

*What's been up in your world? Any other crazy blowdryer stories?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Parents and Pasta

Yesterday I had to speak in church, so my mom and stepdad drove up from Bountiful to come support me (or maybe throw tomatoes). I ended up not writing my talk until about 45 minutes before I gave it because I was down in Bountiful on Friday and Saturday for the UGA Family History Fair that was going on down there. Don't worry though--my counselors ended up taking most of the time, so it all ended well enough :)

(Side note: seriously, family history fairs are my new favorite thing---hundreds of people who are as obsessed as I am with genealogy and whose eyes don't glaze over every time you mention your latest ancestral find? Sign me up for next year!)

When we got back from our church meetings on Sunday, my mom and I busied ourselves in the kitchen making this delicious pasta dish I'd made before while Matt and my stepdad Scott were guffawing it up over old Westerns like "My Name is Trinity." (Seriously, even after giving some Westerns a semi-decent shot, I still don't get the obsession.)

(Check out the pasta recipe below--I promise it's way more scrumptious than it might look here!)

Even though my weekend felt like a lot of running around and taking notes and preparing and cleaning and cooking, it was still awesome to be able to spend it with family and participate in the fair. Seriously, I'm so juiced about being able to do family history work pretty much full-time this summer.

I have found my new calling in life.

Have you ever tried doing family history?

Pronto Penne Pasta (recipe found in Taste of Home's Prize-Winning Recipes 2011)

2-1/4 cups uncooked whole wheat penne pasta
1 pound Italian turkey sausage links, casings removed
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (14.5 ounces) chicken broth
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons dried tarragon
2 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fat-free milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, crumble sausage into a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray. Add onion and green pepper; cook and stir over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Drain. Stir in the tomatoes, broth, garlic, tarragon, basil, and cayenne.

2. In a small bowl, combine flour and milk until smooth; stir into sausage mixture. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.

3. Remove from heat. Stir in cheddar cheese until melted. Drain pasta; toss with sausage mixture. Sprinkle each serving with 2 teaspoons Parmesan cheese.

Yield: 6 servings

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's Been Almost a Year...

Almost a year ago to the day, I ran my first (and maybe last) marathon, which had been on my life's bucket list forever. Honestly, even though it was something I had wanted to do for as long as I could remember, I never thought I would buckle down and actually do it. Running had never been my thing, and the thought of running 26.2 miles (and all the training I would have to do to actually be able to successfully do that) just didn't sound like all that much fun.

And in a lot of ways, it wasn't.

But of course, the most worthwhile things in life are rarely the ones that are the most fun, the most entertaining, or the most easy.

And with the Salt Lake Marathon coming up again tomorrow and the recent tragedy in Boston fresh on my mind, I have found myself in a reflective mood more often than not.

I think of all the people along the race route last year who set up their own personal "aid" stations (not sponsored or paid for by the race management) to help us runners through some especially difficult portions (there was a small homeside stand where someone was giving out cut-up oranges, and I'm pretty sure I would have passed out--literally--if it hadn't have been for them). To all the kindhearted people giving out popsicles, water shots, and orange slices last year, I give you a virtual hug. We need more people like you in the world.

I think of the spectators who came along to cheer ALL the runners on (not just the ones they came to particularly see), and how much an encouraging word or cheer really meant during that physically exhausting 4.5 hours. I would venture to say that the spectators at a race play just as important of a role as the runners do--they push you to keep on going, to continue doing your best, and to persevere until the end. I said many prayers of thanks a  year ago for all the people who stood on the sidelines.

I think of how grateful I am that I have all of my limbs, and that I was capable of running 26.2 miles without stopping. I think of those people who lost limbs in the bombing this week, and my heart hurts for them. It makes me want to get out and run enough for all of us, in a pledge of love and support.

I think of my marathon medal hanging on my bedside lamp, put there as a constant reminder that I am capable of doing things I always thought might be too hard for me. That's important to remember on days like today, when I've had several particularly distressing behavior patterns brought to my attention at the school.

I once read an article of all the ways that running is like teaching, but I think that in many ways, running a long race is a metaphor for life in general. There are times when you feel strong and unstoppable---moments when you're enjoying your journey and all that it entails. There are other moments when you're a little uncomfortable, a little unsure, or maybe just feeling a little off, but you still feel confident in yourself and in the promises and success that you are sure await you. And then there are times when you literally feel like you can't go ahead for one more second, but then magically the kindness of a stranger or a friend or a dear family member gives you the exact courage you need to keep on going.

It's on weeks like this one--where I've shed many tears over the Boston Marathon bombings and where I've struggled with learning some issues closer to home, like students who are involved in ugly affairs and addictions that rob them of their innocence--that I most need to remind myself of the ebb and flow of the race of life. It's during weeks like this that I make myself remember what it felt like to keep on pushing through that mental and physical wall of miles 21-25 and to know that, at the end, I'd finally made it.

Whatever you're asked to deal with today might not be fun or entertaining or easy, but in the end, a glorious finish awaits you. As one particular quote that I particularly loved put it:
I can't tell you how much confidence it gives me during low moments to have the knowledge that I've dealt with hard things before (like training and running for a marathon). That knowledge propels me forward and gives me the strength to go on, because it reminds me of the strength I've already demonstrated to myself that I have.

What things give you confidence in hard times?

For further reading, check out:
*My blog post on the marathon here
*My weekly series on all of the training that went into it here 
*My Tuesday Tell-All, Post-Marathon edition here

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I Read Real Books

My students seem to be slightly obsessed with all the e-reader options available today--they've asked permission to bring everything from Kindles to Nooks to iPhones to read in class, and they've repeatedly asked me for months to tell them yet again how to cite page numbers off of an e-book.

While I can see the convenience of carrying a digital book over a print one, I think I can safely say that I will always be a paper-and-glue kind of girl.

Why I like paper books:
*they smell like fresh pages and a heaven of possibilities
*they make me look all studious and serious and smart-like
*I can write my deep and brilliant thoughts right in the margins and highlight the parts I particularly like
*They're kind of necessary to build up the home library I've envisioned having for years

So, to feed my bookish addiction, Matt and I made our annual visit to the Scholastic Warehouse Book Sale at USU, where almost everything is 50% off its cover price (and I get an extra discount for being an educator).

Case in point?

We got all the books above for just over $90.

Where do you stand on the real books vs. digial books issue?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

50 Weeks to Organized: Week 16

In last week's organizational post, I moaned about how I would probably regret choosing to tackle the filing cabinet this week (especially since we're hitting midterms and parent-teacher conferences this week at the school).

Surprisingly, I actually ended up getting most of it done over the weekend instead of procrastinating it all until the last possible minute.

Sometimes I surprise myself.

Since it has been years since I looked at most of the items in my filing cabinet, it actually provided me with a semi-fun, nostalgic afternoon of coming across things I'd totally forgotten about, like a letter I wrote to myself (and another letter I'd written to my future child) all the way back as a senior in high school (almost 8 years ago). I was surprised too by the sheer amount of STUFF I had managed to stuff into one small filing cabinet--seriously, it was getting really hard to even open and close the drawers because they were so heavy and full.

When it got right down to it, it generally wasn't too difficult to decide what to toss and what to keep: almost all of my personal writing I kept. Almost all of my educational materials (including lesson plans, literature and poetry pieces, and stuff for my educator portfolio) also stayed. Things I easily tossed or shredded: credit and bank statements from almost 10 years ago, whole folders of information about things I no longer needed (such as scholarships or study abroad info), and outdated contact information.

All in all, I ended up recycling and shredding hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of paper.

I'm not sure if you can really tell the difference in the photos, but I know that with my updated folder tabs and with fewer papers floating around, I now actually have a chance of finding the important stuff I need in a pinch:

Quick Stats for the Week:
# of Items Tossed/Donated: 3 (I counted all those papers as just one thing)
# of Items Left to Toss/Donate Before Dec. 31st: 259
Amount of Money Spent This Week on Organizing: $0

Since we're going out of town again this weekend (and this week and next are jam-packed), I tried to pick something that will (hopefully) be a little more on the light side:

DVDs and CDs

Now, considering that we probably have almost 200 DVDs and at least that many CDs, it might not seem like such an easy task. Fortunately, we kind of already half went through both of those in the weeks that we spent organizing the car and the living room. So all that's left really is to just go through and toss anything extra (since everything in both of those categories now has a home).

This Week's To-Do List:

*Go through all CD and DVD cases and make sure the right movie/c.d. is in the right case
*Sort through all the media and divide into four piles: Donate, Toss, Return (if borrowed), and Keep
(Note: If the DVD or CD is scratched beyond repair, get rid of it. If it's a movie or c.d. you no longer enjoy but that's still in good condition, donate or sell it.)
*Deal with each individual pile (get rid of the Toss pile, give away all media in the Donate pile, etc.)
*Decide on a system of organization for all media left in the Keep category. Some possible ideas include organizing by artist, organizing alphabetically, or organizing by genre.

*All to-do lists and cleaning suggestions are taken from and/or inspired by Jennifer Ford Berry's book Get Organized. (This is NOT a sponsored project--I just adore the book! I highly recommend buying a copy for yourself. It literally is what inspired this whole project and is worth the money. Check it out here.)

I've been meaning for literally years to go through my stacks of movies and music and get rid of a bunch of it.

Guess that day has finally come.

Do you have an organizational system in place for your media? Any crazy alphabetizers out there?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*Every spring, I am made new by the extended hours of sunlight streaming through our windows until late into the evening--the delight of having daylight at 7:30 P.M still has not worn off yet, and I often find myself staring at the way the light reflects off the cilantro plant that I just potted, or the way that it creates happy shadows on the walls. Springtime is a delicious renewal of all the emotions and the senses.

*(I'm forcing myself to focus on things like the extended light instead of on the fact that it's snowing (yet again) today--it's a recent strategy I'm trying that I refer to as "required optimism." I've found that it's really been helping my attitude, especially since it seems like our world is getting crazier and crazier, what with the Bostom Marathon explosions yesterday and everything. I loved a quote I saw posted on Facebook yesterday by Mr. Rogers: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." I figure I might not be able to change everyone in the world, but I can change my own attitude towards it.)

*We were finally able to get some early vegetable seeds sown on Saturday. Even though we've just planted radishes and peas this early, I'm still little-kid excited about it--I keep having to force myself not to go over there every single day and check to see if they've started sprouting yet (they're not due to come up until at least Wednesday or Thursday). But don't worry--you'll definitely hear about it when they do.

*Random cool fact about radishes: they only take 28 days to be ready to harvest. Do you know how insane that is? That means we'll have our own fresh vegetables in less than a month, even though we just barely planted the seeds last weekend. That's crazy.

*Exciting news: I have a new baby nephew! My sister Sarah had her 5th child yesterday, and I sure am excited to meet the little guy. It's getting crazy how many babies there have been in mine and Matt's families over the past year or so (between the two families, there have been 6 babies born!).

*I'm speaking in church this Sunday, and my mom and stepdad are coming up to hear me. Other than the talks I gave that were associated with my mission, I'm not sure if my family members have ever really heard me give a full-length talk in church. (Hope it's worth the drive, Mom!)

*Yesterday, I was teasing the students for forgetting the charts they were supposed to bring to class and saying that they needed to bring me a Diet Dr. Pepper to make up for it. Well, one of the students actually brought me one today. It was basically awesome.

*I attempted to teach my social dance class how to do the East Coast swing today. Yeah, I don't think we're going to try that one again--they kept getting the steps mixed up with country swing (even though they're totally different), and pretty much we'd all just had it by the end.

*My students take their end-of-level tests next week. Eeek! We're so close to the end!! I'm still trying so hard to be mature about it and not count down the days, but sometimes that's all that keeps me going.

*My last round of parent-teacher conferences are tomorrow. I know I really need to stop dreading them (especially since the craziest parent I've yet encountered turned out to be one of my greatest supporters), but I can't help it. If you want to know what I'm talking about, check out what originally happened with the parent here, and then the follow-up here.

*This weekend, I'm attending my very first family history/genaeology conference, which I've been looking forward to for weeks. I never thought I'd be one of "those people" who are obsessed with that kind of thing, but I can't help myself---once I got into it, I was totally and completely hooked. Have you ever done family history?

*Last night I went to bed at 8:30. Somehow, I still woke up tired this morning. I think that the entirety of my first real week of summer will be spent sleeping.

*On Sunday, Matt and I sat down to work out his schedule for fall semester (since we had to log on at midnight that night to start registering him). Turns out that my man only has FOUR classes left until he graduates! I'm totally ecstatic about the whole thing (in case you couldn't tell). Unfortunately, he can't just take all of them right now in one go and get it over with (because one of the classes requires that he completes one of the other three first), but it's still a great feeling to see that the finish line for his bachelor's degree isn't far off at all. (Of course, this just means that we're spending our whole summer applying to grad schools and that we're still looking at three or four more years of school, but it's a start at least!)

*Another happy treasure to add to the list I wrote on my last post: yesterday, I had a student called out of creative writing to go to a counseling appointment. She didn't get back until after the final dismissal bell, and when I asked her if everything was okay, she replied that it was (while admitting some issues she's been having lately with depression), and that she was really sad they'd pulled her out of my class when she'd specifically requested that they not. "This class is my favorite," she said. "I look forward to it every day. I'm so sorry I had to miss it today because it's been really helping me to write about everything." Even though I was saddened to hear of her struggles, it made me happy that I'd been helping her with her current battle with depression, and I hadn't even known. It seems like ever since I wrote my post about not knowing if I was making a difference, I've been noticing much more the evidence that maybe I am.

*What little gems have been happening in your life lately?

Monday, April 15, 2013

Happy Hour

Last Friday, a student (we'll call him Barry) came into my 6th hour creative writing class, gave a big sigh [of relief], and said, "Mrs. Meidell, are we your happy hour?"

I laughed and replied back with, "Why? Is this YOUR happy hour?"

He thought for a second, then said, "Yeah. I'd say that it is."

"Well that makes me happy, Barry. Especially since you went on and on at the beginning of the tri how much you hated writing and how you're only in here cuz your mom made you take the class. And yes, you could say that this is my 'happy hour.'"

Then, as if to backtrack based on what I'd just said, he replied, "I mean, this class is better than any of the other ones I have to take, so...I guess it's okay."

This isn't the first time I've remarked on a student seeming to like something that went against an earlier judgment they'd made--it happened all over the place when I first introduced poetry to my kids. (In fact, when one boy who had been adamantly opposed to poetry was asked how he liked the poem I shared that day, he said, "It was actually pretty cool . . . [pause, backtracking] . . . well, for a poem anyway.")

I share this because these are the little moments that get me through my day--they are the little jewels of triumph I feel I can take into my heart to protect it against all the not-so-jewel-like things that go on as a teacher. Here are a couple more of the jewels that have happened lately (or that have been on my mind):

*My creative writing class this tri is perfection--almost every single student came into the class highly motivated to improve his/her writing, and they are producing stories like crazy. One little nugget for my heart was when one of my students excitedly told me that he had decided to turn his short story into a trilogy of short stories, which he had spent all weekend outlining (I don't assign homework for that class). And that same student got perfect 4's on his last writing assignment in his Language Arts class with me, and I'll never forget his fists going up in triumph and his wide smile as he pumped his arms in the air, incredulous that he'd finally pulled out a perfect score (a rare feat in my class).

*A group of girls (most of whom have already taken my creative writing class or who are currently in it) have formed their own "Author's Club" and have asked me to be a mentor for them. I've already had several of them share their stories with me online, asking for feedback. I love their enthusiasm for something that I'm so passionate about, too. I love how they value my feedback enough that they'd ask for it. I love how they've expressed profuse gratitude that I would take some extra time out of my life to look over their stories (instead of just assuming it's part of my regular job).

*One of my students (who I didn't even think really liked me or my class) came up to me a couple weeks ago and said, "Here--these are for you. I meant to give these to you before Easter, but I forgot." Then she dropped two huge Cadbury caramel eggs into my palm. Seriously, my students spoil me--they're so sweet. I can't tell you how many times students have brought me little treats or pictures or books or things they think I'll like to share with me.

*The past week or so, all three of the Language Arts teachers in the 7th grade (including me) have split our classes into thirds, and then sent one-third of our kids to go to one of the other teachers for end-of-level test prep. I have to smile inside when my kids get so excited when it's their turn to stay with me (and I secretly smile when they say how relieved they are to be back in my class after being with the other teachers). Maybe it's just because they're most comfortable with me, but it still feels nice that not every single student is cheering because they get a different teacher for a few days.

*I've had many students say to me over the last several weeks that they're glad I'm not as "scary" or "mean" as some of their teachers. One new girl (who I simply adore) even told me that I'm the nicest teacher she's ever known. Melts my heart.

*Right by my desk, I have hung up a picture a student drew me of two eyes brightly looking out at the world. She gave it to me right when the term was about to end (and subsequently, one of the classes she had with me), and she wrote across the top, "Mrs. Meidell, you taught me how to be creative with words. I thank you so much. I wish this term would never end." Seriously, I almost tear up every time I read it.

*I recently acquired a new transfer student who comes with a long record of behavior problems. She's got a pretty tough exterior and gives off a vibe that she kind of hates school and teachers in general, but the other day, while passing my class with a new friend she'd made, she said, "Look! There's my favorite teacher!" Even though she probably wouldn't say that if she had me for Language Arts instead of Creative Writing, it still made my day.

*Every Monday, I have a student in my 2nd hour who excitedly comes into class to tell me all about his weekend and to ask how mine went. Even though it's such a small thing, I really do enjoy how much he enjoys telling me about what's been going on in his life (and that he actually cares enough to ask what's going on in mine).

*I've had this girl all year long in my LA class that used to sluff school almost every single day (by the middle of first trimester, she'd already missed like 32 days). After getting into trouble for it, she was forced to start coming to school every day, but she made it clear by her attitude much of the time that she hated school, that she wanted nothing to do with you, and that her aura was saying "stay away from me." Well, I had her last trimester in a very small class where I was able to really help her individually a lot of the time and really start to get to know her, and it's been so fun to watch her walls come down. Today, she's like a different girl for me--she comes early to class, she says hi to me, she tells me about the books she's reading...it's amazing. I consider her my own little miracle.

Looks like after all that reflecting, I'm finally ready to take on another week of teaching.

Bring it on.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dreaming Big

Some days, when I have to remind myself that I actually voluntarily put myself into the job that I'm in, I let my mind wander to a place of dreams--dreams where I'm not having to constantly monitor and babysit what 150 teenagers are doing every second and where my job isn't notoriously known for being underpaid and underappreciated.

It's on days like this when I remind myself that I still have dreams---big dreams.

And even though there's a possibility that I might not be able to accomplish all (or even any) of these dreams because many would require me being selfish and sacrificing greater blessings (such as having a family), a girl's still gotta dream that maybe someday, some of this will become possible.

Here are a few of my dreams:

1. I want to become a yoga instructor. Ever since I really let myself try out yoga a couple years ago, I've been hooked. Even though I'm not nearly as flexible (yet!) as I would need to be as an instructor, I still would love to get certified. Unfortunately, the amount of money that would take is not in the cards right now. (P.S. The picture above was taken a few years ago, when I took my first yoga class.)

2. I've always had the dream of being a freelance writer for a national magazine, like Oprah or Country Living. Since I've always been obsessed with magazines, I guess it only makes sense that I've always wanted to work at one.

3. You know what would be a dream job for me? If people paid me to do their family history and genaeology for them. Since I've recently become obsessed with looking for my ancestors (and helping other people look for theirs), I would love to turn it into a paying thing.

4. Although most days I don't mind teaching 12- and 13-year-olds, one of my dreams has always been to go back to school, get my master's and PhD, and then teach a college creative writing course. I've dreamed about it for years. (I mean, just imagine--I wouldn't have to deal with crazy parents, get fingers pointed at me when students don't turn in their homework, or have to deal with people judging me based on my class's standardized test scores. Amazing!)

5. Going along with #4 (kinda), I've always wanted to be a writer. Of course, for this to happen, I've first got to learn to get over my procrastination habit, which is something I've been putting off for years. (Get it?)

6. Even though actually doing this might kill my dream for it, I've always thought it would be awesome to renovate an old cottage--inside, exterior, garden, everything. In all reality, I'm not sure if I personally want to actually DO all the work to renovate it (except the garden)--I mostly just want a say in how it all comes out. And then sell it for a lot of money. Or use it as a summer house. I'm flexible like that.

7. Even though my age is quickly pushing this dream farther and farther away into the realm of "yeah right," I've always wanted to really learn how to dance well. Being a part-time dance instructor at my school is fun and all (and partly fulfills this dream), but I feel sometimes like it's the blind leading the blind. I would love to be good enough at dancing to be a part of a team or enter competitions or something. I always felt that dancing was one of those things that I gave up on way too young.

8. Since receiving my own violin when I was 12, I've had the dream of playing in an orchestra someday. Of course, this would require that I actually start taking lessons again and practicing, which I always seem to be too busy or too poor to do.

9. On my life's bucket list, I've written down the goal to visit every country in the world. Granted, this is a really hefty goal that would require tons of money, but I definitely want to try to get as far on this goal as I possibly can since I'm obsessed with traveling.

10. In recent years, I've developed a hankering to take some fancy-pants cooking classes. I think a secret part of me was supposed to be a gourmet dessert chef or something.

11. Someday, I'd like to have a completely clutter-free, spotless house. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

What are some of your dreams?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thoughts on Making a Difference

Today has definitely been one of those days: the kind of day when I ask myself, over and over again, "Am I making any kind of difference in my students' lives? Or am I just here to make sure they stay busy and don't hurt each other?"

I often wonder if other teachers think of this question as often as I do. Part of the reason I think this so often, I believe, is because I've quickly realized that most students are NOT like me (or not like I was as a student)--many of them do not really care about doing their best on things or turning all their work in on time or understanding a concept as perfectly as they can. And sometimes, in my head, all of that somehow gets translated to, "I'm not getting through to them; they don't get why this is important, so I am failing as a teacher."

Maybe the reason many of them don't seem to care is because maybe they don't hear their mother's voices in their heads like I do, telling them "Be proud of the work you do! Even if it's just wiping the kitchen table, you should take pride in the work you've done." Maybe they've never pushed thmselves to their true best, so they haven't experienced the euphoria and the absolute peace that comes from having truly put forth all your effort. Whatever it may be, it seems that one thing is clear: often the things I desire most for them to learn are the very things they resist learning the most because they are the hardest and require the most work.

People are constantly reminding me that if I can reach even ONE student, I will have succeeded. Some days, I really really wish I could buy into that philosophy completely. Don't get me wrong--I'm not trying to imply that there isn't great truth in that statement. The fact is, I am happy that I seem to have made a difference in at least one student's life (at least some of the time).

I guess my problem is that I want to make an impact on EVERY student's life--I want to especially reach out to those students who aren't like me and who don't care and help them to open their eyes and start taking pride in what they do. I don't want to just be satisfied that I've already made a difference in some of the students' lives (who already liked my subject anyway) and call it good--I want to change the world by changing the minds of the students who DON'T like my subject. Is that really too much to ask?

Problem is, that's the hardest population to change. It also seems to be that the majority of my students fit into that difficult category.

I feel sometimes like I've tried it all: getting to know my students as people, making the lessons engaging yet challenging, letting them make some of their own choices...and I often still feel like I'm failing.

Oh, I'm sure that some of them have learned a little bit, in spite of themselves. But is it bad that I want all of them to learn it ALL?

Then there's the ever-present problem of comparison; I don't know if many people know this, but educators (especially first-year teachers like me) have to go through an extensive evaluation process that often requires us being compared to the teachers around us (or especially, my results to their results). I remember after one such evaluation, one observer remarked to me, "I think you're too serious a lot of the time--try lightening up more in your lessons, and you'll probably reach more students that way. That's how I am, and my students seem to respond better to it."

This isn't the first time I've gotten a comment like that, and I'm sure it won't be the last. I got it all the time as a missionary, and I get it now as a teacher. The fact is, when I'm dealing with something I want the students to take seriously, I'm going to act serious. As a missionary, I beat myself up over it--I felt like people expected me to entertain them when I came over with jokes and funny small talk, when in reality I just wanted to share the most important truth in the world with them.

Then, as I was seriously contemplating trying to change who I was and how I related to people, I remember coming across this quote about halfway through my mission: "After the first performance of Messiah, Handel, responding to a compliment, said, “My lord, I should be sorry if I only
entertained them—I wish to make them better.”

BAM--that hit my heart like a Mac truck. But honestly, that's exactly how I feel sometimes: I feel like everyone expects me to "entertain" these students to some degree. On the one hand, YES, I do think I should make my lessons as engaging as possible. But in the end, if it comes down to really teaching them something important that requires a lot of work and that's not going to be so "fun" and just entertaining them with endless activities, I will always choose the former.

Perhaps that's why I feel like I'm failing a lot of the time--because, no matter how much you wish them to, 12- and 13-year-olds are often unable to grasp the lasting importance of what you are trying to teach them and to really care about how not learning it well will affect them down the road. Which is why, so often, I have the most students saying that they like me or that my class is their favorite after I've just done something more "fun" and less "work."

That drives me crazy.

Maybe I'm not making sense. Or maybe I'm just too much of a perfectionist. One thing is for sure, though: I truly care about making a difference in my students' lives. And if someone doesn't agree with how I go about trying to do that, I guess I'll just have to move past that.

One thought that is particularly helping me get over these self-defeating patterns of thinking is this part of President Uchtdorf's talk that he gave last week in General Conference (a worldwide broadcast the LDS church holds twice a year):

"[W]hile the Atonement is meant to help us all become more like Christ, it is not meant to make us all the same. Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.
The [world] thrives when we take advantage of this diversity and encourage each other to develop and use our talents to lift and strengthen our fellow[men]."
Deep down, I know I am making a difference just by being myself and doing the very best I can. Or at least I hope I am.
But sometimes that's hard to remember when students ask me for the millionth time what I mean by "objective" and when they continue to make the same citation mistakes over and over and over again, even though I keep making them redo it, and when they all stare at me blankly when I ask them to identify the noun in the sentence. 
But I guess in the end, we're all like that--making the same mistakes over and over again. I just hope that eventually, my hope and faith in their abilities will help them to fan the flame that's already burning within themselves, and they will be able to fulfill their own destinies and finally come into their own in this crazy world of ours.
Then maybe, just maybe--I will have actually made that difference I so wish to make. Even if it's so small, I'll never hear about it.
Am I the only one that often feels this way?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

50 Weeks to Organized: Week 15

Okay, let's be real for a moment:
I'm having a really hard time keeping up with this whole "50 Weeks to Organized" project. No, this is not an "I'm going to give up" post--this is an "I'm finding this whole process a lot harder than I thought it would be and a lot of the time, I wonder if it's really 'working' yet" kind of post.
I've mentioned so many times before on the blog that I have SUCH a hard time with keeping a tidy apartment. I guess by itself that might not be such a big problem, but the truth also is that I have this obsessive desire for things to be organized all the time.
Sound contradictory?
I know. I've been trying to figure it out for years.
Truth is, what seems to happen is that the area that I'm focusing on for the week stays as organized as the "after" picture for about a week after (maybe two, if I'm feeling particularly diligent). Then, before I really realize what exactly is going on, most of the areas are somehow messy again, even if I've made sure that "everything has its place."
What gives?
I guess what I'm trying to say is that I just wanted to be real for a moment here, just in case you were thinking that my little organization journey was picture-perfect all the time. The truth is, it's not. It's HARD. And I've REALLY got to work on maintaining the changes that I've already made thus far this year.
So, in case you were wondering if I was a real live human being, there's your answer.
Since I'm being all honest with you here, I'll let you in on a secret: I did last week's organizational project today, about 15 minutes ago (it is currently 7:27 P.M). Obviously I still have to work on my procrastination habit, but I think I'll save that for another year.
Anyway, my makeup bag has been desperately in need of a clean for, well, about the entire time I've had it. As I started going through it, I found makeup items I'd bought over five YEARS ago. Heck, there were some things in there I think I bought during my first year of college, all the way back in 2005.
Most of that stuff was pretty easy to toss (especially since the really old things were coated in a layer of grime and eyeshadow powder), but some of the items were surpisingly difficult, even though I rarely (if ever) use them.
I made the following notes to self as I was going through my makeup:
*Even though I always want to "try out" different eyeliner colors, I always go back to black, and the other colors just end up sitting there, collecting grime. I either need to really change my makeup look or just never buy any liner but black.
*A few months ago, I bought an "airbrush" powder that I hated, which resulted in me going powder-less most days. And you know what? I think I like it better that way, especially since I started using Mary Kay's matte foundation, which has a finish like a powder anyway.
*Even though I know I should have tossed my waterproof mascara (because it's about a year old), I couldn't bring myself to do it on account of the 3-4 times a year that I go swimming and actually want to wear makeup for whatever reason. Guess I'll have to make a goal to get over my vanity another week.
*Is it possible to have a makeup bag that doesn't get completely gross on the inside after a few months? I think not. Unless I gave in and bought myself a Caboodle from the 90's. (Remember those? I totally used to have one. Too bad I gave it away years ago, eh?)
*Even though I am in desperate need of a makeover (makeup, hair, the works), I am putting all improvements on my outward appearance on hold until this first year of teaching is over. I just can't handle a new routine at 5:30 in the morning--pretty much I'm stuck with doing what I've always done since I'm on autopilot at that unreasonable hour.

Quick Stats for the Week:
# of Items Tossed/Donated: 20
# of Items Left to Toss/Donate Before Dec. 31st: 262
Amount of Money Spent this Week on Organizing: $0 (although I probably should seriously consider getting a new makeup bag since this one is gross-ola)

Even though I'll probably be kicking myself next week for choosing to do this project next, I've chosen to now focus on:

My Files

The story of my filing cabinet is that I got it over ten years ago, filed everything away I could think of (cuz I was so excited and all), and then in the years since then, I've just randomly started shoving things into unmarked folders wherever they would fit. In addition, I haven't gone through the whole cabinet in years and years.

So this should be interesting.

To-Do List:
*Go through my current filing system and toss everything that's unnecessary or outdated. Shred all personal documents that no longer need to be saved.
*Gather up any loose papers lying around the house (make sure to check EVERY room!), and start sorting them into piles based on similar content.
*Assess my current filing system: what tabs are missing? What tabs can be updated or changed? Make a list of all file topics, and avoid creating any folder titled "miscellaneous." Create new folders or tabs with the new titles.
*File all papers in their appropriate categories.
*Consider making a master list of the more important file categories, along with a list of their contents. This will make it much easier to find important documents in a hurry.
*Set up a "to-file" bin, and file away all the papers in it at least once a month.

Do you have a filing cabinet? If not, do you have a different way of organizing your papers? I'm definitely open to suggestions, so fire away!

*All to-do lists and cleaning suggestions are taken from and/or inspired by Jennifer Ford Berry's book Get Organized. (This is NOT a sponsored project--I just adore the book! I highly recommend buying a copy for yourself. It literally is what inspired this whole project and is worth the money. Check it out here.)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Tuesday Tell-All

*I was just mentioning to my mother-in-law the other day how we'd better take some new family pictures soon because everyone's little family (except ours) has changed since we last took some two years ago (every single one of my sisters-in-law has had a baby in the past year--crazy sauce!), and this is what happens:

*We finally got our own Internet again. Hurrah! No more having to go to extreme lengths to get my blogging done :)

*(Even if it does mean that I now have an extra bill of $35/month. Boo.)

*So there's this machine in the copy room at work, and it's pretty much the coolest thing ever--it looks like an oversized magazine rack, and you put in your copies after they come out of the copy machine. After pushing "on," the rack starts vibrating like crazy, and all your papers magically get moved into the neatest little stack you ever did see. It's pretty much my favorite contraption ever.

*We had some new neighbors move in a few weeks ago, and their two kids just came by asking if we want to buy some homemade cookies. Um, yes. We'll take about two billion, please.

*In case you were wondering how my spring break went, I'll tell you this: it was good. Not quite as mind-blowing as the "faux spring break" I took with Matt where we went to Bryce, but good enough. I really hardly did anything too noteworthy, but that's kind of how I like life a lot of the time.

*One thing I am bummed I didn't do though was get my early vegetables into the ground. I had been fully planning on it, but I ran into two problems: one, I majorly tweaked my back when I went running on my first day of break, and two, it was raining pretty much the entire weekend. So it looks like my little vegetable garden is just going to have to wait until we finally get some dry weather again.

*Beyond the garden though, I really haven't minded the rain. I've quite liked the smell of spring it brings to all corners of my apartment.

*Now that my students and I are all back from the break, we have a LONG haul until the end of the school year--we don't have another break until the very last week of school (Memorial Day). So pretty much I just have a month of test-prep and end-of-levels ahead of me, and then the last little stretch before summer. I'm trying really, really hard to be mature about the whole thing and not count down, but I sort of can't help myself.

*I finished another book this week: President Thomas S. Monson's biography. Amazing.

*(P.S. I really appreciate everyone's suggestions on my "March Reading" book post. I'm eagerly looking into all of your recommendations.)

*The big Scholastic Warehouse Book Sale that we look forward to every year is in two weeks. We've already had a talk about how much we're going to allow ourselves to spend. We seriously have a book problem.

*(Just wait until my organization project that has to do with books--you'll see. We're crazies.)

*My sister Sarah is due to have her baby any day now. Woo hoo! BABIES!

*And, in response to a question I got from a friend in El Salvador referring to the picture on yesterday's post of me and all my cousins, NO, I am not pregnant. That picture apparently just didn't catch me at a flattering angle, lol.

*Seriously, though, let me be straight with you--it sometimes feels like everybody and their puppy is getting pregnant and/or having babies these days. Good thing I'm not the type to feel too left out on stuff like that (whereas on books that everyone's talking about--that's a different story). And the whole concept of being baby hungry? Still foreign to me. Guess I just need to grow up a little more. Are you baby hungry? If so, when did it first hit you?

*Anywho, congrats to all you prego people and all you just-delivered people. Just throwin' that out there!

*And happy Tuesday to everyone else :)

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Family-Filled Weekend

When I was a teenager, I felt like I hardly ever spent weekends with my family--my independent teenage self craved time with my close girl friends, in which we'd plot ways to sneakily happen to "bump into" our latest crushes. Since getting married though, it seems like my bond with my family has multipled a hundredfold, and more often than not my weekends back in my hometown are filled with family celebrations and down time spent at our childhood homes.

This last weekend was no different--on Friday, I drove with my mom and two of my three sisters down to Lindon, where we had way too much fun catching up with my extended family members at my cousin Mandy's baby shower. There's just nothing quite as fun as seeing the people I grew up with become wives, mothers, leaders, teachers--

It does my heart proud.

Our weekend was also spent feasting on the spiritual wisdom of our church leaders during General Conference, which the LDS church holds twice a year so that we can hear timely messages tailored to guide us during these turbulent times.

How thankful I am for my family and for my faith!

Is your bond with your family stronger than it used to be?

Friday, April 5, 2013

March Reading

 Remember how two years ago, I set a goal to read 50 books in a year and only got to 19? Or last year, when I wanted to read double of what I did the year before (which meant 38 books), and I only read 23? Well color me ridiculous because this year I only set a goal to read two chapters of a book on MOST days, and I've already 11 books this year. That translates to almost 4 a month so far!

Guess I was just focusing on the wrong thing all along.

As always, I'd love to hear your suggestions on what I should read next, or what you thought of these four books that I read this month (if you've had a chance to pick any of them up). Let's talk about books!

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

This book should come with a warning: Do NOT read this unless you want your life to be changed.

It really should, because this book has seriously changed my life forever. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is not only written by one of my favorite authors of our day (which means that the prose is incredible), but it is a true account of how she and her family decided to completely live off the land for one full year and only eat what they themselves had grown or raised or that someone they personally knew had grown or raised. This book presents a compelling argument for growing your own food when possible and for buying locally as much as you can.

After finishing this, I have been counting down the weeks until the local farmers' market opens so that I can be a part of the local food movement that I greatly wish to support. It's also largely due to this book that I was motivated enough to take on such a hefty garden plot this year for growing vegetables and that I've started buying organic whenever I can afford it. My life hasn't been changed this much since reading Fast Food Nation back in 2008 (which made me not touch fast food for almost 3 years).

Seriously, if the topic of food interests you at all, you've got to check this out.

My Rating: 5 stars

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

For years, I have been slowly chipping away at this list of classics (I intend to read all of them in my lifetime), which is largely the reason I picked up this book in the first place.

The Color Purple is not for the fainthearted--it tells the story of Celie, a girl who was raped by her stepfather and fathered two children by him and then basically parceled off as a child bride to take care of her new husband's children from a previous marriage. The novel is written as a series of letters that Celie writes, first addressed to God and then to her sister Nettie, who is serving as a missionary in Africa and who Celie longs to see again in her lifetime.

Although the language and adult themes were at times hard for me to get through, I'll admit to tearing up at the end of this book. Even though this novel is not for everyone, I loved seeing Celie grow in her feelings of love and self-worth, and I was touched by the surprisingly heartwarming ending.

My Rating: 3.5 stars

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

I have been munching through Mere Christianity for a couple years now, and I will say this: this isn't a book that you're meant to go through at a sprint. Lewis's ideas are thought-provoking and inspiring, and I often found myself pausing for long periods of time to meditate after reading just a paragraph or two.

Mere Christianity is Lewis's logical argument for Christianity as a religion and as a daily practice--he not only deftly explains hefty principles that often trip up nonbelievers, but he also presents a manifesto of sorts for why traditional Christian values are the only things that can save society.

Seriously, this book is mind-blowing. Christian or not, everyone needs to read it.

My Rating: 5 stars

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

I read this book by accident. By that, I mean that I had had no plans of ever reading this book--in fact, I hadn't even heard of it until about two weeks ago, when I was given a stack of about a dozen copies of it and told to assign some of my students to read it. Since I hate to recommend something to my students that I haven't yet read myself, I started using my prep time to start working my way through it.

I finished it in 2 (school) days.

Pictures of Hollis Woods is the story of a young teenager who has spent much of her life in the foster system. She is known for running away without warning when she's been in one place too long, and she feels like she'll never fit in anywhere. Until, one day, she finds a family that actually wants to adopt her---and then screws it all up. This young adult novel is a story about finding your place in the world, and about how we should never let our past mistakes define our present selves.

Now I can comfortably say that I highly recommend it to my students.

My Rating: 4.5 stars

What have you been reading lately?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

50 Weeks to Organized: Week 14

Sorry I'm posting this a day late--like I mentioned Tuesday, we currently don't have the Internet at our apartment, and since I'm on spring break and all, I'm having to get creative with where I do my blogging.

Seeing as how I actually wanted a bit of time to relax on my spring break, I'm so glad I picked something easy to do last week. However, as I cleaned up our little "mail station," I was reminded once again that even little changes can make a huge impact on how I feel in my home. Before, the corner of the kitchen that had been dubbed as the "collector of all things mail and paper" had been an eyesore I generally avoided looking at.

Now, every time I see it, I smile.

Funny how much this getting-organized business can affect my mood.

My problem before with the mail is that I just didn't have a habit in place where I handled it as soon I got it (or a habit where I'd at least go through it all once every week). Therefore, what ended up happening was what you see above.

You see, this is what I've decided: for me, it's not necessarily the initial organization that's difficult--it's the maintenance of it all. Happily, I've done a decently good job at many of the spaces I've organized already this year (like the kitchen drawers, the living room in general, and the pantry). Other areas that require more maintenance, like the kitchen counters, I'm definitely still working on.

One thing's for sure, though--the fact that I have way less stuff now than I used to definitely helps, which is why I'm motivated enough to keep pressing on in this goal of mine to clean up my life.

In organizing the mail, I've decided a few things:

One, I liked the idea (from Jennifer Ford Berry's book Organize Now that inspired this whole project) to designate a spot by the mail for postage stamps, return labels, and envelopes. It's such a little thing, but before this week, I was keeping all that upstairs in the office, and it was so annoying to have to run back and forth all the time. Now, all the stuff I need to mail something off quick is right in one spot by the mail itself.

Two, I like the idea of having one small-ish tray to hold all the mail. Ideally, I'll try to clean it out every week, but the small size at least necessitates me cleaning it out once every few weeks or so because it fills up so fast.

This Week's Quick Stats:
# of Items Tossed/Donated: 0 (technically, I tossed lots of papers and junk mail, but I'm not counting things I would have tossed anyway in my count for the year)
# of Items Left to Toss/Donate Before Dec. 31st: 282
Amount of Money Spent this Week on Organizing: $0 (although I did spend $2 for the mail tray, but I counted that several weeks back when I first bought it)

Next week's organization task has been spurred on perhaps more by necessity than by anything else. I have noticed over the past several months that my makeup bag has gotten, well, gross, and I noticed too that I was constantly wasting time every morning digging through it to try and find what I needed. So my next challenge is going to be:

My Makeup

Unfortunately, there isn't a specific section in Organize Now devoted just to makeup, so I'm going to have to come up with my own lists this week. Just so you know, I've taken my stats on the shelf life of makeup from About.com.

This Week's To-Do List:
*Think of all the different makeup looks that I actually do in the course of a year, especially my usual daily makeup routines and my special occasion looks. Separate out any makeup that doesn't get used regularly (like a red lipstick that is only used for special occasions), and keep that in a separate place from the makeup I use regularly.
*Go through all the makeup you currently own, and throw anything out that you never use, that is out of style, or that is down to the last dregs.
*With the makeup that's left, check to see if the products should still be used based on the following shelf-life guidelines:
Mascara = 4 months
Concealer = 12 months
Powder = 2 years
Cream & Gel Cleansers = 1 year
Pencil Eyeliner = 3 years
Eyeshadow = 3 years
Brushes = wash every 2-3 months in a mild detergent
Sponges = wash weekly and discard monthly
Foundation = 12-18 months, depending on formula
Lip liner = 3 years
Lipstick = 2-4 years
*Now that you've pared down your makeup bag, make sure to clean out your makeup organizer as well as any brushes or sponges you use. If needs be, wipe down the outside of all your makeup products to rid them of any loose powder or dirt.
*Note any makeup you might be low on, and start watching for sales.
*Keep any makeup replacements in a designated place, so you'll know to check there before buying any more.

Once a Month
*Go through your makeup case and throw out anything that's used up
*Toss any makeup sponges that you've been using for a month or more
Once Every 2-3 Months
*Wash makeup brushes with mild detergent
*Make a list of makeup items you're low on, and buy replacements
Once Every 6-12 Months
*Consider switching makeup looks, either based on the season or because you'd like to try something new. If you've been doing the same look for the past 10 years, it's probably time for something different.

That last item on the maintenance list? Yeah, I'm guilty of that--I don't think I've changed my daily makeup routine hardly at all for about 5 years (except for me occasionally wearing bold lipstick).

I definitely need a change.

How long have you been doing your makeup look for? And where can I go to find good tutorials on new looks?
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