Friday, May 22, 2015

Last Day of School.

 photo Blog_1016.jpg
It's that time of the year again. Teachers are packing up their rooms and getting ready for a well deserved summer break. On Wednesday afternoon, we had a spread of all the orange treats and foods our principal could find at the store. "Orange you glad it's almost summer?" We've had so much sugar in the last month at school that I'm also ready for the summer junk food detox.

It's a little different time of the year from my perspective as I will still get up and go to work for the next three weeks. This is okay with me as it's mostly work that I love, and I'll be learning some new things to help me in the coming year too.

It's also different because I'm packing up to move to a new school. In my position as teacher leader, I technically work for the district and not my principal. A couple of weeks ago, my boss at the district level came to my office for a short "check-in," and she gave me my placement update for next year. I had no idea it was coming until I received her email setting up the meeting, and I've felt all the feelings since then as I process the change.
 photo Blog_1015.jpg
Telling my staff was terrible. I told a couple people before the announcement, and when I announced at staff development, there were a couple of dramatic gasps. It's been an awesome four years here, and we all definitely felt like we were in the middle of big projects with literacy for our students.

Since then though, I've been working hard to transition some of the projects to others in the building. My friend Amy (above) is the one I'm always referencing when I talk about young adult book recommendations, and she will do an awesome job carrying the torch for books in our building. She'll lead the Reading PLC and continue to build reading culture with some projects we've cooked up in the past couple weeks. There will be a new teacher leader, and hopefully soon I'll be able to tell her or him about the things I've been coordinating and coaching. I have a pretty big document with all of the projects, details and related tasks!
 photo Blog_1017.jpg
There are great teachers at my school, and I will miss working with them and their students. Emile' (above) teaches lifeskills and working with her students off and on over the past three years has been one of the highlights of my job. I will miss facilitating professional learning in the library and sitting around the table with the best building literacy team in the district. These adults have partnered with me on so many crazy projects in and out of the classroom We've made big gains with instructional planning, done reading rallies and gone on some great field trips together. My principal probably deserves her own post as she has mentored me not only at my job but also in life.

This is also the school where I figured out the role of teacher leader and tried to find my own style as an instructional coach. For the first couple of years, whenever someone asked about my job, I would say, "Well, adults aren't as much fun as kids." And then in the middle of the 2013-2014 school year, my answer to the question changed. I was so much more positive about the work I got to to do with teachers and students and willing to have more of the tough conversations necessary. I found my grove in literacy and coaching social studies teachers.

So because I love my job and because I think the work is really important, I'm slowly getting excited about going to a new school. It's in a very different part of the district and in a neighborhood that I adore. I already know about a half dozen teachers there, and I get along great with one of the assistant principals. She's a K-Stater that was at my old school for my first three years.

I like a challenge and new adventures, so a new job is next on the list. I will move all my books into a new office and start the school year on July 20th at a new building. I've been picking the brains of other teacher leaders who have been moved a few times to try to learn some helpful hints for building relationships and transitioning.

This is the end of my tenth year working in middle schools, and I've been fortunate enough to work in three unique buildings with three dedicated staffs. I said goodbye once before in KCK and at a school in Virginia where I taught with so many awesome people including my best friend. So here we go again!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Friday Night in Denton, Texas.

 photo Blog_1010.jpg
The hotel for Lindsay and John's wedding was in Denton, north of Dallas. We knew that we wanted to make the most of our time and weekend away, and we got a good start for Texas on Friday morning. We would need to make the seven hour drive again on Sunday morning to pick up our dog from the kennel, so we had basically Friday night, all day Saturday, and Sunday breakfast to explore and relax. The drive ended up taking us eight hours on Friday to get to Denton thanks to some awesome I-35 traffic that almost pushed Kip over the edge.

Once we arrived, I was ready to explore Denton. I had planned ahead to make the most of our short time there. I did some yelp reading and checked the local tourism site, but our best recommendations came from one of my mom's sorority sisters who has lived in Denton a long time. Karen sent some notes about her favorite restaurants, where to get great beer, and Denton establishments for breakfast. For Friday night, we started at Rooster's Roadhouse.
 photo Blog_1011.jpg
It was full of locals and loaded with memorabilia covering the walls. We ate fried pickles, ridiculous bbq sandwiches and nachos with pulled pork on them. A very serious question we have been asking ourselves ever since is why there are not more restaurants in barbeque loving Kansas City that serve pulled pork nachos? Or if there are, why don't we know about them? Help us out, please.
 photo Blog_1012.jpg
Here's the sandwich I was telling you about with "rooster tails" on the side. They are one of their signature dishes with thick pieces of onion fried up for easy dipping - imagine half onion straws/half onion ring. Rooster's Roadhouse has been on Food Network - it's legitimately good local food.
 photo Blog_1009.jpg
Karen's next recommendation was perfect. We wandered towards Eastside and walked in to find  computer screens listing their selection with over 80 taps. Each beer description included the brewery's location, one of our favorite features as we like to try local beers. We each chose one and walked out to the backyard.
 photo Blog_1008.jpg
It was a perfect, comfortable 70 degree evening, and the long picnic benches were filled with all sorts of people enjoying the gorgeous weather. The patio was surrounded by tempting food trucks (WAFFLES), but we had stuffed ourselves silly at dinner. If I have one regret about our trip to Texas, it's that I didn't eat a waffle.
 photo Blog_1013.jpg
At this point I should tell you that Kip and I pretty much stopped talking to each other and spent a lot of time people watching. Little did we know, but we found ourselves in some sort of hipster mecca with all the ponytails and tattoos to be found in north Texas. After we finished our beer, Kip and I walked through the square with the courthouse in the middle. We were loving the weather and exploring on foot.
 photo Blog_1007.jpg
In the square there was a free Friday night film, so we stopped and watched the people gathered under the trees for a showing of Edward Scissorhands. There was even someone dressed like Johnny Depp's iconic character! The movie was sponsored by a local church and Eastside together - a fun combination.

We weren't ready to call it a night so we kept walking till we found Harvest House. My mom's friend Karen had recommended another place with fantastic beer list and a gorgeous beer garden! They were into pouring samples here, so we got to talk to the bartenders about we like, and yet in the end we both picked the same beer. I hate doing that - I like when we both try something unique! But they pegged us well so we sat outside, enjoying our date night and good beers together.
 photo Blog_1014.jpg
Maybe I was wishing that we had had the waffles, but I wanted to finish the night with something sweet. I almost never want ice cream at home while Kip eats it four or five times a week, but it regularly finds a way onto my vacation agenda. We waited in line at Beth Marie's while I contemplated the long list of flavors. I settled on s'mores and a scoop of the banana too, and Kip and I shared a small taste of both. We were happy that night - Denton far exceeded our expectations, and we were charmed by this north Texas town.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lindsay and John Got Married in a Grove.

 photo Blog_0997.jpg
Lindsay met John soon after I met Kip. I remember talking to her on the phone once early in their relationship and just feeling like, yep, this is IT. She's going to marry this fellow! Perhaps I could hear the way that she spoke about his patience, persistence, and willingness to go to KU basketball games in Texas. Or maybe I just could hear that she was so happy. So when they got engaged and sent save the date cards, I was ready to mark the calendar and make the trip to Texas for their wedding. They were married at The Grove in Aubrey, Texas, and they had the perfect weather for an outdoor wedding at dusk.
 photo Blog_0996.jpg
I have known Lindsay since I was a freshman in high school. She was a much cooler upper classman also enrolled in the Disciple Bible Study at the church where we grew up. I wonder what our dedicated teachers would think about how this friendship started! We truly became friends when I joined the summer staff at Village Church in 2003, and she was the much cooler senior youth intern. We worked together as volunteers and while she was on staff at Village before I moved to Virginia and she moved to Texas for grad school.

I'm so happy to be friends with her after all those years working together. Lindsay has the best listening heart of anyone I know. 

At the wedding there was a group of Village friends that joined in the celebration, including our old boss, Matt, who did the homily for the wedding. I might be a sucker for marriage homilies after getting married myself, but man, Matt did a phenomenal job.
 photo Blog_0999.jpg
And our friend Amy was there too! Amy and Lindsay were roommates for a while in the same apartment complex that Erica and I lived in. Amy lives far away in Washington, doesn't instagram or facebook (the wonders!), so when she walked into the wedding, I was thrilled. I don't think I've seen Amy except in passing since her wedding in 2009. Her wedding was one for the ages - a large group of us danced to "All the Single Ladies" before flash mobs were even a thing. I'm pretty proud to still know parts of that routine.

We picked up conversation like we had never been apart, and Kip hit it off with her husband Daniel too. We had so much fun hanging out that we also met them for brunch the next morning too. We talked about everything from what we like to buy at Costco to the politics of urban schools and how The Wire is perhaps the best show of all time.
 photo Blog_1000.jpg
I mentioned that the setting was gorgeous, and the light was so perfect for the ceremony. There's a reason that photographers call this time of day "the golden hour." Amy and I like to take dorky pictures and didn't plan our coordinated dresses. Tall friends for the win.
 photo Blog_0993.jpg
Somehow there are no photos of Lindsay's new husband John. I think I was just overwhelmed by the awesomeness of seeing old pals and celebrating. However, if you click here you can see a preview of her professional photos, and it's better than I would have captured anyway. AMAZING.
 photo Blog_0995.jpg
I'm also particularly fond of my wedding date, Kip. Cheers to Lindsay and John and being an excellent reason to make a trip to Texas - more photos and adventures from our weekend to come here on the blog!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Six Books of April.

 photo Blog_0992.jpg
We're looking at one more week with students, and the days are packed full of field trips, wrap-up meetings and planning ahead for the next school year. It's impossible to not look back at the year and plan forward, wanting to tweak and modify and dream bigger for the next year.

I read/listened to six books in April. Here we go:

The Crossover won the Newbury this year. Written in verse, it's PERFECT for middle school basketball loving boys. So long as they are willing to try a new genre. The format is a great blend of spoken word rhyme or free verse and more traditional narrative sections. The main character and his twin brother balance a love of basketball, family, and school. Kwame Alexander has a gift with words, and the cover art really helps.

Things I've Learned from Dying came from Kate's suggestion that we pick nonfiction for a no-host book club. It was on several "best of" lists for 2014, and it's a critical look at death row and the death penalty, especially in Texas. David Dow weaves his story about his work on death row along two other stories about death in his personal life. Discussion was lively. This TED Talk connects and is worth a listen if you think the book might interest you.

The Nightingale came highly recommended post spring break when a teacher down the hall couldn't put it down. When I sent the link to Kate, she said, I try to limit my WWII fiction each year. She was right. The Nightingale is very, very good, but the comparison to All the Light We Cannot See was too strong. I drug my feet while reading it a bit. I'd still recommend All the Light We Cannot See over The Nightingale, but they are both really good WWII stories. The newest Morning Edition book club choice is another WWII story, and I think I'll have to pass for now.
 photo Blog_0991.jpg
Ignore the picture above because actually Etiquette & Espionage comes first in The Finishing School series. Book two is Curtsies & Conspiracies. These brilliant books by Gail Carriger made my commute in April just fantastic. They are from the genre steampunk which is new to me this year. The genre takes a time period, often Victorian England and adds in things that don't belong. In this case it was mechanical maids, vampires and werewolves. And I LOVE IT.

I know that it sounds really weird, but if you are like the millions of humans who love the magical world of Harry Potter, it's not that much of a stretch. A whole world created with fantastic characters and strong female SPIES. And it's narrated by a wonderful woman who does the voices of all these characters perfectly! It's like a movie happening in my car, and I've made a special request for the third audiobook to come to my library from Illinois or somewhere else far far away because I loved the audio version so much.

Remember when I convinced all of my friends to read the summer series starting with It's Not Summer Without You? The author has a new book, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, which is the start of another series. My friend Ginny already read and reviewed it, and I'm ready for book two to come out as well. It's a good book for 14-year-old girls and people who have had a first crush, so basically, everyone.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Morning Routines.

 photo Blog_0945.jpg
We've been married for five months now, and I think if you asked me about marriage in the first couple months I only had one major complaint: the early mornings. Kip is in the shop ready to work by 6:30 every day, and I really should walk out the door by 6:55 to beat the students to school. The alarms (yes, plural) started going off about 5:10, and the shock was brutal. Especially because I went from NEVER snoozing to sharing a home with someone who likes the snooze button almost as much as he likes coffee. Research is on my side, however. Kip would argue that I'm in the minority in my snooze dislike.

So gradually I've shifted to getting up earlier and having more time at home before I go to work. It means I get to start drinking coffee earlier. I'm still late at least one day a week because I always think I can get more done in the morning than I really can. Mornings are better now, and I like starting the day with Kip. Ask me again in the summer when he has to get up that early and I don't. I'll either learn to sleep through it, kill his alarm clock or walk the dog. 

Being married to a morning person has some perks. Kip grinds the beans and makes the coffee, so I had to purchase that cute card at Paper Source and post it inside the coffee cabinet for him to see in the morning. He often helps with dishes if we both got too tired the night before. We've made getting breakfasts ready for him a team effort, and our freezer is always full of breakfast sandwiches and breakfast bowls. Kip used to stop at QuikTrip for breakfast nearly every day, but we can make similar items at home pretty easily. He just pulls one out the night before to let it defrost a bit in the fridge overnight. I still have a smoothie almost every morning thanks to the wonders of the Vitamix. And of course coffee. I can't even remember the days when I didn't start with coffee.
 photo Blog_0951.jpg
And in case you are interested in our make-ahead breakfasts, here's what we like and how we have modified to make them work for us.

Freezer Breakfast Sandwiches
We like that they are super easy to make in advance. The eggs magically pop out of the ramekin at the perfect size for the English muffins. The ham is yummy, though Kip has also made them a couple times using one pound of breakfast sausage made into six equal size patties and cooked before freezing.
We don't like that the eggs can sometimes make the ramekins tricky to clean. The egg/cheese/meat mixture warms up at different times, so Kip often microwaves just the egg first before the ham or sausage and cheese. And he throws the English muffin in the toaster so it doesn't get soggy. Total time here is still less than five minutes, I just want you to know the truth. People seem to exaggerate the wonders of heating breakfast in the microwave which is why I've stayed away from breakfast burritos. I have a tough time believing the eggs would get warm without totally making the tortilla a soggy mess. Let me know if you have a trick I'm missing. 

Country Breakfast Bowls
Kip likes that they are filling and warm. Our modifications include adding a pound of crumbled breakfast sausage and a little more cheese. I usually saute some onions and peppers (one of each) to add to the bowls too. I like the potatoes when they come out of the oven roasted and delicious, and there are always a few missing by the time they get into the bowls.
I don't like that they are kind a lot of work. Thankfully this recipe with the added meat, veggies and cheese makes 8 Ziploc containers, about 3 cups each.

Overnight Steel Cut Oatmeal
Rarely in our rotation, but we've made enough times to appreciate these jars of oatmeal. Particularly good if I'm working out in the morning because I can take it and zap it at school. Kip likes that with 1.5 servings he can get pretty full. I like it with whatever fruit we have on hand. And we both like them with brown sugar. An excellent use of our mason jar surplus.