Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teaching

I have three more Saturdays to go with my teaching/test prep job.

I am so over it. Have been for at least a month.

When it's time to prepare the vocab quizzes (which everyone fails anyway), I HATE it. I hate it. I don't want to do it and I'm irritated and a little angry that I have to. I don't know why.

Maybe I'm just out of the habit of teaching preparation? Maybe I just hate it because I'm at home and I feel like I shouldn't have to lesson plan at home. I know that sounds wrong, but remember that I would spend many hours at school doing prep so that for the two hours I was at home before bed, I wouldn't do more schoolwork.

Maybe it's just because it feels pointless. Perhaps because it's a short term thing and I don't feel super invested.

Don't get me wrong--I don't hate the kids or the actual teaching that takes place on Saturdays. The first group I have, the older and smaller group, is lovely and I would teach them all day long. The second group, which is larger, younger, and much more rambunctious, is trying but nowhere near the discipline problems I've faced in the past six years of regular classroom teaching. There are between two and four boys who do not stop moving or talking or writing inappropriate things (but relatively tame inappropriate--normal little boy inappropriate goofy stuff), and at least one boy who does absolutely NOTHING, and one to two girls who just write random answers in their work.

Overall, it's tiring in a way, but I don't leave defeated. Quite the opposite; I often feel energized, strangely. Like when I used to have those days where I taught six periods in a row. I got in the groove and all hyped up on adrenaline.

(By the by, I think there's a key difference between teaching six periods and being done before 3pm, and being in a classroom for seven straight hours and then still there for another three or four. That's the difference between a)middle school and elementary school and b)public school and charter schools. God. I'm tired just thinking about it all.)

Anyway, I have to go make up these pointless vocab quizzes now. Which the students will all fail. This school gives teachers the words they want tested, which usually are weird, irrelevant (notable examples include an eradicated disease and a not-famous European city), or too advanced. I am cranky because these kids don't need to pretend to know these words; they need high-frequency words at their level, like adjectives and verbs that take their vocabulary past "pretty" and "courageous." Have I said yet that this is pointless for all parties involved?

Gah. Now I've gotten myself all irritated again AND I still have to go do the things. Dammit.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Calendar for Sale!

I put together a New York City calendar. It features some of my favorite shots in and around the city. It's a great gift for young and old!


Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Life List


At the end of AmeriCorps, the big push was to think about "Life After NCCC." We were encouraged to think about what kind of life we wanted, what kind of jobs we were interested in, what paths we might take. I learned about the book The Back Door Guide to Short-Term Adventures, which unfortunately I never used (maybe someday I will). It felt like anything was possible, which was exciting as well as unnerving and scary. I was inspired to make a list--a life list, a list of things to do, to accomplish, to work towards, to wish for.

Here is the list all typed out and the 'verdict' on what I've done in the past eight years.

1. TRAVEL (in progress, but satisfactory so far!)

2. Mentor

3. Be an actor

4. Burn CDs

5. Get a master’s degree

6. Pay off my car

7. Dance! (I just saw Burlesque; it made me want to take dance classes. Too bad they're expensive.)

8. Collect maps

9. Write songs

10. Learn/study photography

11. Learn Latin (hahaha)

12. Design clothes

13. Work in film

14. Write a stage production (Oh! I totally did this for my students last year! Does that count?)

15. Buy a print/scan/copy/fax flatbed unit (I bought a scanner after AmeriCorps and a printer when I moved to NYC, but I've never had the thrill of an all-in-one unit.)

16. Learn Italian

17. Buy a new car

18. Own a zoom APS camera (Dated list :D)

19. Volunteer more

20. Find a job I love that lets me live well and travel (Teaching actually worked for the last two parts)

21. Work at a camp

22. Always learn new skills

23. Join a choir

24. Be an NCCC team leader in CA or MD (I applied but never heard back. It was the same time I applied to NYCTF, and after I'd applied to both I felt over NYC and was really excited about TL. Oh well.)

25. Always vote (I've always voted in the presidential elections, but this was my first midterm voting)

26. Donate blood (Total fail. Occasionally there's a trailer on a busy road near me, but I always see it when I'm either on my way somewhere or have time but haven't eaten anything. I always vow to come back and actually do it. But in the eight years since making this I have never donated. I will someday, though!)

27. Play ultimate a lot

28. Visit Alaska

29. Take a bike road trip

30. Get a tattoo (eeesh)

31. Make a movie (Does a stopmotion count?)

32. Visit Africa

33. Own TiVo

34. Be a writer

35. Learn auto maintenance

36. Live in Greece

37. Buy a diamond ring (Note "buy" not "get from a man"; I wanted to get one for myself just because.)

38. Start my own charity

39. Take a cross-country road trip

40. Learn calculus (hahaha)

41. Hike around Europe

42. Live simply

43. Grow roses and herbs

44. Never be complacent

45. Work for a non-profit (Teaching should really count for this...)

46. Lead a Girl Scout troop

47. Support causes I believe in

48. Take voice lessons

49. Buy a new computer

50. Write my life story

51. Buy books!

52. Open my own business

53. Learn HTML

54. Relearn piano

55. Sing on a published CD

56. Tour nation as a speaker

57. Publish a book

58. Live in Los Angeles (Good lord why?)

59. Live in New York City

60. Buy a big new stereo

61. Be a comedian

62. Find a place of my own

63. Study math, music, drama, art history, accounting, writing, poetry, language, drawing

64. Make new friends and visit old ones

65. Be strong

66. Join a softball league

67. Read 50+ books a year

68. Make a scrapbook with homemade paper

69. Hike at least a third of the Appalachian Trail (My knees wince at the mere thought.)

70. Go bungee-jumping (I've been ziplining twice! Much more compatible with my discomfort at freefalling.)

71. Work abroad

72. See one Broadway show a year

73. Write to my congresspeople

74. Work at a national park/reserve

75. Expand personal library of books, CDs, DVDs, videos

76. Find independence!

77. Own DVD/VHS combo

78. Work in community health/public health

79. Endorse a charity—libraries, environment

80. Live in Paris

81. Play the cello again

82. Teach (Wow.)

83. Buy a digital camera (Remember that in 2002, almost no one had digital cameras and they were super expensive.) (Done one, two, three, four, FIVE times. Holy cow.)



Friday, November 26, 2010

bricklayers

Continuing Round 4, the other project we did in Wallingford was building a labyrinth in one of the parks. I loved this project--it went so fast and it's permanent--still there for the entire community to enjoy!

First we learned about labyrinths and what they mean, and we learned how to draw a simple one. We went to the site and drew out a huge one in the sandpit--maybe twenty feet in diameter. Then we set out the pathways with bricks, carefully measuring to keep the paths a constant width.

The completed bricks:
We filled in the paths with a fine gravel.
The gravel had to be tamped down with a special machine to really pack it and make it secure.

Two days later, we opened it to the public!

After I moved to New York, it became a sort of tradition to take a mini road trip (it's about a two-hour drive) to visit the labyrinth over Thanksgiving weekend.

It's been nice to see change and additions over time; they've added a brick pathway and a plaque honoring our team and the sponsors. Plants fill the space around the edges.


But mostly it's a time to contemplate life, my wonderful experience in AmeriCorps, and enjoy recollecting the years since. It's been a crazy eight years, and I'm sure the next eight have even more adventure in store.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

happy thanksgiving

I hope everyone is having a restful and fun day so far, and will be with family and/or friends to celebrate.

I have much to be thankful for this year.

First, I am so thankful for my husband, who became my husband this year. He proposed, and put up with, and finally helped with all the wedding hullaballoo. He's been extremely supportive this fall while I've been unemployed or underemployed, and encouraging me to go for things I'm interested in.

My family was also really supportive and wonderful with all the wedding stuff. They were so excited for us and supportive, and I felt so blessed to have them all come to New York to celebrate with us. I got my third ever photo of my mom and dad and me together in one place.

And how could I forget the friends and cousins that flew across the country for our wedding? It meant so much to have you there! The whole wedding was a great experience--the outpouring of love and support, plus cake!

I've made more friends this year, which is something I always want. I have to give a thanks to my friend who invited me to be part of a book club, which has been such a joy--meeting with women my age for a few hours a month, eating, talking, laughing, and hello, books! This year I've been a lot more social, hanging out with friends at home or at a cafe or park or something. I hope that this lasts and I continue expanding my friend circle.

I'm grateful that I had an amazing summer. I didn't work or worry about work, I had time to relax, have fun but also get things done (since nothing gets done during the school year). We got to travel and have adventures in other states. We got married, of course! I really tried to focus on what was happening, instead of being anxious about the fall.

I'm even thankful for some unemployment. Though it got boring at times, I was glad to have some downtime. I felt rested, and I could do things during the day and on weeknights. I got in a better habit of working out, since I wasn't exhausted from eleven hours at school.

Now, of course, I'm glad to be working. Even though it's crazy as all get-out right now, and I'm kind of worried about next week and how I'll get everything done. I'm doing some interesting things, I'm gaining experiences, I'm getting some paychecks, I'm keeping busy but not shackled to a rigid schedule.

I couldn't do a thankful post and ignore this here blog--I am grateful for each of you that's ever stopped by and/or left a comment. I really appreciate this little community that we've built over the last few years and I'm still amazing anyone is still reading (especially with all the drivel non-content this month. yeesh.), and I'm glad you're here.

I hope you all are having a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you have a fantastic long weekend!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

River project

For the first two weeks of our fourth round, we worked in Wallingford, Connecticut, where we had two projects. First up was clearing logjams in the Quinnipiac River for a week. Each day we loaded into canoes, armed with loppers and saws, and paddled until we came upon a jam. We would 'park' the canoes, jump into the water, and do whatever we needed to move the blockages.

Of course I had my camera with me for this project, stashed in my handy cargo pockets. I kept it in the drybag when I wasn't using it, I think. I had the foresight to capture a few big sites that we cleared:

Canoeing downriver, we came upon at least three large fallen trees.


We sawed them up and moved them out.


Looking back at the cleared path:


The most impressive was a backup of debris, both natural and manmade, at a bend in the riverbed. This required the full team, doing different tasks.


Some people sawed up the big pieces of tree, while others gathered garbage in their canoes.

Finally, we cleared a path!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Ameri-versary!


Eight years ago this week, Class VIII of NCCC Northeast Region completed our term of service.

It was the hardest thing I had ever done (only eclipsed by teaching later), and remains probably the best, most amazing thing I've ever done (more so than any trips because this was so much longer--ten months). My life would be totally different if not for my experiences with Fire 4!

Apparently I haven't mentioned AmeriCorps at length for several years, so if you're new or you've forgotten, let me catch you up.

AmeriCorps is part of the Corporation for National & Community Service. There are hundreds of programs on state and local levels (working with Habitat for Humanity, or after-school programs, for example), as well as two national programs-VISTA and NCCC. Vista is a year of (often office/administrative) service working for a nonprofit fighting poverty.

NCCC, based on the CCC of the Depression is the Road Rules of AmeriCorps. You work in a team of 8-12 people, traveling in a government van to different short-term projects (called a spike, usually 4-8 weeks) around your region. NCCC teams work for nonprofits organizations in fields of education, public safety, unmet human needs, environmental needs, and homeland security. They also are a huge partner with Red Cross disaster relief, because NCCC members can be deployed at a moment's notice.

My team, Fire 4, based out of Perry Point, MD, did our first round in a Baltimore primary school (good lord, those kids would be in high school now!); second round at Trailblazers, a decentralized in the woods of NW New Jersey; third round at a Girl Scout camp in New Hampshire and then on Cape Cod; and fourth round in Connecticut, first in Wallingford, then in Bridgeport with Habitat.

When you live and work with the same people 24/7 for months, shit starts getting real pretty fast. We cycled through the stages of group dynamics (norming, storming, forming, performing) several times. The team quickly becomes like a family, so you laugh, quarrel, get annoyed and love those damn people no matter what. (We always loved to look at that top photo and shake our heads--that was the day we all met each other for the first time as a team. We had no idea of all the adventure awaiting us!) We had some really difficult times, but of course the fun and rewarding times are the ones that stick with me the most.

I could go on for pages and pages about my AmeriCorps experience. And I think that I'll do a little reminiscing other days this week with more stories and photos.

I'm still so grateful to have those people in my life, even if I haven't seen half of them in years. One of my teammates was at my wedding this summer! Another teammate got married this year too. A third had a baby this year. Yet another one got her college degree. A fifth has been starting his own nonprofit. The others have been equally and impressively busy.

But for now, here's a great overview through the lens of our awesome Ameri-pants. I posted this FIVE years ago, so a) the chances that you've seen it are slim to none, and b) if you've been reading for that long, you won't remember anyway.

--


These are trousers that have put in time and effort all around the country. They are genuine, government-issued khaki BDUs (battle dress uniform) in men's size medium. (What, you don't think the Army would actually make clothes to fit women, do you?)

These pants bear the scars of their own, nonviolent battles. The marks are not listed in chronological order.

1.
A spot of burgundy on each knee represents two full days spent crawling around on the ground, painting large, wooden wagon wheels. If you think it is easy to paint something round and full of crannies with a large, flat brush, well...you are mistaken. :) This was one of the projects at TrailBlazers in New Jersey.

2.
The pants are marked in many places with pale blue paint. The number marks the place where a poorly-aimed roller rolled right off the plank I was painting. Oops. The planks were some weird, very heavy material for house siding, which we painted for our sponsors, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Bridgeport (Connecticut).

3.
Spots of thick gray paint represent our short sojourn in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. For two weeks, we did almost nothing except paint. As a result, I dreamt of almost nothing but painting. It was so boring that I would not be able to stay asleep; I bored myself awake!
Anyway, the first thing we had to do was scrape off the old, gray, lead paint from the main lodge building. There had to be tarps (old bedsheets) underfoot at all times to catch the flaking chips. After the old stuff was off, we painted a layer of the thick, gray, oil-based paint. That shit does NOT come off easily. We all had to soak our hands in turpentine, and then scrub, to remove it. And even then there was a gray tinge left to the skin.

4.
These markers in two places represent a project with Seattle Works. One marker is at a spot of yellow, in a clear imprint of the end of a paint roller, the other is at a streak of bright green dripping down the leg. There's also a small bit of purple on the other leg that I didn't mark.
This project involved painting the computer lab of a nonprofit. We painted using those three colors they had chosen: a two-foot-wide purple strip running horizontally along two walls, with green below and yellow above. Another whole wall was green, and the last whole wall was yellow. It was an odd combination, but it worked alright.

--Some of the white paint at the bottom is from painting the computer lab at the primary school where we tutored kids in Baltimore.

--Other white paint is from cutting in ceilings while working in Bridgeport.

Now, lest you think that I only did four things while wearing these pants, and they were all painting, oh, just you wait! These pants also bear invisible witness to all kinds of other projects:


--They helped me build things and haul things in all projects.

--The tough material soaked up river water and mud from the Quinnipiac River in Connecticut.

--It absorbed sweat while we built a labyrinth out of gravel and brick.

--It bounced off chips of paint being scraped from a dock and a basement at TrailBlazers.

--The pants kept me warm in the freezing cold of Maryland, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut. Often I layered sweatpants or leggings underneath.

--In the same vein, these pants became pajamas in New Jersey when it was too cold to undress. We slept in our uniforms, then worked all day in them, then slept in them, then worked, etc.

--These pants got washed a maximum of once a week. They really became part of me!

--They have protected me from nettles, thorns, and poison ivy while hiking the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey, canoeing the river in Connecticut, and pulling weeds at Magnuson Park in Seattle.

--They protected me from dust and insulation debris while climbing around basements and attics while volunteering with the East King County chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

--They protected me from needles and other scary human debris while cleaning a bird park and several city blocks of Baltimore.

--They kept me sweaty while doing disaster work in humid-ass Texas.

--The huge cargo pockets provided space for wallet, book, walkman, snacks, and camera, while traveling by van or by plane. When working, they held water, snacks, gloves, and camera. I loved those damn pockets.


What about the warm, humid summer months, you ask? Well, during that time, the Traveling Pants were replaced by the Traveling Shorts.

These shorts were acquired secondhand, as my issued pair were heavy winter weight material, and huge enough to slide off even fully buttoned and buckled (see the little tab at the upper right corner? that's for cinching them tighter if needed. all the pants and shorts have them).
They came pretty dirty, but I did my part in contributing even more scars of battle.







5.
Our main jobs in New Hampshire and Cape Cod involving painting unit buildings around the camp. We always used the same dark brown paint. As you can see, I was quite often a messy painter; my shorts, shirt, and even bathing suit (what? it was really fucking hot in New Hampshire in July!) got a good coating of the ugly brown stuff.

6.
This gray paint is from the Cape Cod oil painting.

--These shorts also kept me cool while running around doing other projects in New Hampshire, like walking horses, carrying hay, and doing outdoor programs with campers.

--These shorts absorbed sweat and mud in Delaware, when we planted 700 trees in one day at a charter school.

--They helped me gauge my weight: when tight, I knew I had been eating too much lately. When I could tighten the cinches, I knew I was on the slender side.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I swear, it's fall today

I went out tonight without a coat! It's been snowing in Seattle! What kind of craziness is happening?!
Oh--I brought most of the brownies to my office today, and my colleagues gobbled them right up! Yay. :)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Happy Sunday

Friends, I had a lovely day today. Mostly because I finally had a chance to sleep in! Ahh, what a difference some good rest makes.

I also got some major progress on my to-do list. (The 'notes' feature on the iphone is one of my favorite features! I'm a little bit of a list-lover.) However, deleting tasks means that I don't have a record of what I accomplished. Hmm. But one of my projects was my passport--I'm updating my name. So I set up my tripod, flash and umbrella to take my own passport photo. I can't wait to gather stamps in my new passport! I hope we can add one every year.

I also tried one of the new brownie recipes that Nancy shared, partly because who doesn't want brownies, and also to test it out. We're bringing a dessert to Thanksgiving this year and I want to make sure I make something tasty! These are definitely tastier than the previous one, though since I used a square pan, they don't look fudgy and thick like the picture. Not convinced that they're great (due to user error) yet, so I'll probably test out the other one later this week.

Tomorrow I finally have a dentist appointment! It won't be pretty, but I'm glad that I'm finally getting it done. Wish me luck and lots of novicaine. :)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

happy...holidays?

Wow, Christmas is out in full force. In other exciting news, I'm pretty exhausted after a long busy week. Goodnight.

Friday, November 19, 2010

autumn

It's another busy day. For all you teachers, only a few days until a super long weekend!
Happy Friday, everyone! PS: Have you tried the Instagram photo app yet? Do it!! I'm also playing with Hipstamatic, where you can change lenses and films to use for different looks as you take photos. I like that with Instagram you can try different filters on photos already taken.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

currenty

Watch out now--I'm going to take a break from blathering about my humdrum life and be in the now!

How wonderful that Prince William and Kate got engaged! I think it's so sweet and happy. I'm also glad that the media, in general, seem to be happy and nice about it, instead of snarky and trollish like it can be. (Though of course when gothamist posted about it, the legendary commenters immediately starting hating. What about NYC being the best, again?) Anyway, good on them, and congratulations! We can all use happy news like that once in a while.

Not quite congratulatory, but I suppose any former teacher blogger shouldn't ignore this passing of chancellor-baton that's just starting. I only taught under Klein, so thankfully I don't know what it's like to have a new chancellor every couple years. When I began teaching, I accepted the party line of disliking everything he tried to do. As time went on, and I was forced to think about it and understand that he was a person working hard for the system, I no longer hated him. Some of the decisions I found odd or ridiculous, but it's not hard to see that at least it's better than nothing.

And seriously, no matter what, the New York City school system has pretty much been fucked for a long time. It's completely broken and I don't ever see a way out of it altogether, because the system is just too big--too many buildings to maintain and build, too many kids to cram into those crumbling buildings, too many principals doing really great or really stupid things, too many kids who don't do much at all but still pass, too many angry parents who don't want their kids to take responsibility for their actions, too many parents who don't give a shit or who are too busy to care, too many teachers who work their butts off for not enough pay or acclaim, too many teachers who don't do a damn thing all day and still get paid, too much focus on fucking bulletin boards instead of real live learning, too many sensationalistic news reporters eager to break a new scandal about all the things wrong with the schools/the teachers/the chancellor/the union/the city/the world.

Was Joel Klein a hero for the schools? Eh, probably not. Did he and the mayor work hard to try and effect change? Yeah, I think we can all agree on that, even if we don't agree on the results. Can anyone be a hero for the schools? I doubt it--see above.

The pick for new chancellor, Cathie Black, does seem completely out of the blue. Along with pretty much everyone else, my initial reaction was wtf? A publishing exec? Huh? What does that have to do with schools?

However, in reading a little bit and thinking on it, I suppose that a schools leader on that level doesn't necessarily *need* school experience, because it is a high level managerial position. However, I do think that experience in schools, especially in inner-city public schools, would develop some humility and a dose of reality to those on the top. It makes sense that the person in charge of public schools knows what it's like to be in one, as a student and/or teacher. Which is why there's apparently the law that superintendents have to have at least three years' teaching experience. Good job, New York State!

On the other hand, I can see the benefit of bringing in someone fresh, who's not already bogged down in edspeak and teaching jargon, dismayed at the state of education. I don't think publishing prepares you to be a chancellor, but perhaps being a leader in one field might translate to being a leader in another one. Certainly good leaders all share similar traits, across disciplines.

One thing is certain--actually two. One, I would not want to be chancellor, because there's no way to win. You'll never be the good guy because there will always be groups clamoring to bring you down and argue against every single thing you do (whether it's deserved or not). Two, Cathie Black has her work cut out for her! She's jumping into an awfully big ocean on a fairly flimsy canoe.

I'm not sure it's anyone's place to question the placement. If the waiver is granted, then it's done and there's nothing we can do. Fighting and arguing and signing petitions isn't going to do much. Clearly, Bloomberg has his reasons, whatever they are, and his history shows that if he gets an idea, he will not give it up.

Furthermore, all that fighting does exactly the opposite of what needs to happen--focus on the kids. Okay, we have a new chancellor. Whatever. What are we going to do about this crazy broken system? How about we be realistic--there's no money to put into the schools, and not enough kids are learning what they should--what can we do to move forward?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In lieu of meaningless blather

I shall post a picture. You're welcome!


One of my long-terms tasks is to clear crappy old photos and transfer everything to my shiny new external hard drive with lots of space. Here's one I lovedlovedloved from October 2007.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

argh

Why is NaNaNoNoBloPooey always in November, which is always the busiest month? Gah, I can't keep my head on straight. At least the month is already (already?!) officially half over and Thanksgiving is next week! How time flies.

I've had a crazy week so far with work. In the consulting job, I've got some client meetings out around the city this week. So I'm commuting around with a laptop and being a Very Important Business Lady Who Doesn't Wear High Heels, which is a fun role to play here and there. Until my shoulder starts to ache from carrying a heavy computer bag around, at least.

But then I come home and still have over an hour of stuff to do for the paperwork job every night. Which is what I need to be doing right now, actually. Today was a very long day and I am pretty tired. At least the rest of the week will be a little quieter.

It's wonderful that even though there's lots to do, I'm not locked into certain hours and being certain places. So tomorrow morning I have time to sleep past dark, call the dentist and run to the bank, before going to a meeting. I love that. And not just the flexibility, but it gives me some variety. I've woken up early for a few days, but tomorrow I don't have to. Today I worked eight hours, but tomorrow it will probably be four or five. How awesome is that?

Also, it is FANTASTIC to have the iPhone. I could not do this job without having internet on me--checking email, looking at maps, finding the nearest Starbucks for their free wifi.

You know what else is fantastic? Having this great husband to support me, give me a hug and a shoulder massage if I need one. :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Here, Have a Cookie

You probably need one. I know I do.


Dude, what happened to my weekend? Whew. I have been steadily doing stuff all day, working through a giant to-do list, getting all frizzled and frazzled with something calling my attention everywhere I looked. I did get through a lot--some work stuff; an errand for a friend (which I biked to, so I could check off 'work out' too); photographing things to put up on craigslist; some exciting research for our spring honeymoon!; and I joined a model/photographer website, which prompted several hours of fun, editing older photos. In the evening I finally noticed that I'd made a huge mess all over the apartment, so I put on some music and got to tidying. As much as I hate cleaning, I do like looking around at a neat apartment.

One task for the day was making cookies. I had decided on sugar cookies so I could use my rolling pin and cookie cutters. I used another recipe from Slow Like Honey. And thankfully, they turned out great! They taste just like Christmas cookies you leave out for Santa. Hurray!

After Mister Beana's comment about baking powder, I carefully leveled the measuring spoon. And there is no baking powder in this recipe, and it doesn't have the funny taste. My next step in the Mystery of the Weird Cookie Taste is to try another recipe, using new baking soda and very carefully level the spoon.

Now I should probably eat some dinner. And then try to relax a bit. But gah, still so many things to work on...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

2010 Goals Update

1. Go to the dentist twice.
I forgot to sign up in time for dental last year, so I didn't have insurance til September (and Husband added me to his insurance). The other day I finally printed a list of dentists in our neighborhood, so I'm sure I'll get in at least one visit this year, which is a step in the right direction...

2. Buy at least one new lens.
Done! Got the 85mm f/1.8 (used). I also want to get my Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 fixed. I really do need another, wider lens--the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 would be a great one. Next year, I hope.

3. Save up for a D300.
Done! I made my goal in the summer and bought the camera and a lens in early August. I love it.

4. Travel to a new country.
Done! We went to Costa Rica in the spring and had a great time. Oh, and we got engaged. :) We are now making plans for another big trip next spring too!

5. Do a paid photo shoot.
Done! I shot a portrait session in August.

6. Write on blog at least once a week.
Total fail. But this project is an attempt to get over that failure and get back into the habit.

7. Update photo blog at least once a month.
Done so far! I will actually share the link here soon.

8. Exercise at least once a week, at home or at the gym.
Well, I went weeks at a time without working out during the school year. I'm lazy and also I was pretty exhausted.

9. Get a new job. (Not teaching.)
Done! At least temporarily and part-time. Which counts because, as I mentioned the other day, I'm over the hurdle of finding that first job out of teaching. Things are starting to pick up in my main job, which is exciting! I hope I do well.

10. Attend 3 Meetups (for any group).
Not done at all. I signed up for several but either couldn't go, couldn't afford it, or just wasn't interested. But the point was to be more social and meet new people, which I'm partly doing successfully.

11. Shoot a wedding (as first or second shooter).
Done! Second shot a wedding in July! Really want to do lots more!

12. Take a class (photography, Spanish, etc).
Done! I took a street photography class and then a portrait photography class through the Education Alliance.

13. Visit my Grandma.
Done! We visited her and some other family in the Chicago area, after the wedding.

14. Attend graduations.
Done! I had a great time that weekend, celebrating with my younger siblings and catching up with family.

15. Write a real letter at least once a month.
Total fail. I think I wrote one letter to my Grandma in February.

16. Decorate bedroom.
Done! We got a new mattress and bed frame, and I finally got my lovely van Gogh poster (that sat in its holder for three years) in a (cheapy Ikea) frame. We also got all new bedding. We still want to paint.

17. Donate clothes/books once per season.
Semi-successful. Donated in January and this past weekend. I had a big bag of clothes that were too big or that I wasn't wearing, a bag of shoes, plus our two old computers and my old printer!

18. Buy a new computer.
Done! Except even better, a friend gave me an extra one for free. This computer pretty much changed my life! It is SO fast. My old one was over four years old and didn't have much memory. Now I can have internet, itunes, lightroom, photoshop, whatever else all open at the same time and everything still works normally!

19. Knit or crochet a garment.
Hmm. I made a cowl, as well as several scarves, hats, dishcloths. Those don't really count as 'garments' though. I still want to make a vest or skirt, so this is a no. However, I'll give myself a 'pass' if I get through my holiday craft list. Then next year I'll work on a real garment.

20. Some kind of financial goal.
Yeah, no way. I contributed to my Roth IRA every month while I was working, but obviously since the summer I've been trying not to spend or put away money.

21. More freelance photography.
Done! I've done three full portrait sessions! I really want to do more. If you live in the NYC area, I'd love to shoot you (with my camera!)!

22. Do not leave any dishes out or in the sink; wash everything before going to bed.
I have definitely missed stretches out of laziness. :) But I try to be good!

23. See friends once a month.
I added this one later because as noted above, I wanted to be more social. This has been indeed successful! Starting in late spring I met a couple new friends through a couple other friends and I see them sometimes once a week. It's a lot of fun to have people to hang out with. :) We're looking forward to the Thanksgiving gathering this year! And though Ms. M won't be with us in person this time, we plan to see her online. :)

So overall, wow, it's been a successful year! I am happy that so many things have gone well, even through a tough teaching year and crazy transition out of teaching. Not to mention getting engaged and married! I have a lot to celebrate about the past eleven months. This is hard to remember sometimes, with the teaching craziness and then unemployment stress.

There are a number of goals that I will extend or re-do for next year. I'm also working on a "life list," which is another post I'm planning for the month. But I do like having a sort of guide for the things I want to work on--I definitely feel more inspired to work toward them.

Friday, November 12, 2010

...i got nothing

It's Friday.

The weather is lovely this week and weekend!

Here's a funny article.

I took a walk yesterday and passed this inviting courtyard:


I think I'm losing count of the copouts. This has to be at least #5. On the 12th.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

crafty






I made some birthday gifts for a family member. First, a hat:
Then, a snuggly waffle weave scarf:




Still loving the waffle weave, I whipped up two colorful dishcloths.


Here's a scarf for another family member:

I have several more hats and scarves planned! But...I probably won't post photos just in case.

Has anyone else started holiday crafting?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

craft time: engage

This week I realized, holy crap, it's November! I made a list last month of gifts to make for the holidays. And...now the holidays edge ever closer. (I've seen Christmas things in stores for at least two weeks now.)

Tonight I finished the first piece! It's a scarf and it turned out nicely. Pictures tomorrow!

I wonder if I can actually complete the ten projects I listed. This first one gives me hope!

I have a few crochet projects from last month too; I'll put all that up tomorrow. Perhaps also with a status update on piece #2!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Fall Sunshine



This afternoon I went on a walk in the late sunshine to find some fall photos. It was beautiful and not that chilly. I love that golden light! Yes, I am sad that golden hour is now 4.30pm. Moving to the dark part of the year is disappointing. At least I am lucky enough to not wake up and go to work in the dark, too! (Have I mentioned lately all the perks of not teaching? :D)




My hair catches fire from the sun!


Here's a bonus photo I took on Sunday, with Husband's help!

Monday, November 08, 2010

What I've Made Lately (Edible Version)

Wow, I haven't updated my kitchen adventuring since September. That's an easy blog post. :)

First, I made more cookies. The second try at chocolate chip (from my Betty Crocker book) were also bad. The third (a recommended recipe from smitten kitchen) was much better, but still not quite good enough.


Next, I took advantage of the bad bananas in our kitchen to finally try banana bread! I am happy and relieved to say that it turned out really tasty. Especially with my flash of genius to sprinkle chocolate chips on the top. :) I used Martha Stewart's recipe as written on Slow Like Honey, except I didn't use nuts. (I don't like nuts in baked goods.)


With all that buttermilk left in the fridge (from the banana bread), I needed to find another recipe to use more. Duh--buttermilk biscuits! I found a few recipes and went with this Southern recipe from food.com that got lots of positive reviews. I made them for Husband, because he's nice, and so I decided to make them heart-shaped. I had started cutting a very rough shape with a knife when I remembered that I do own a heart-shaped cookie cutter! It's the only one I have, and it was a wedding favor from at least ten years ago (shit!). I always kept it in my implement drawer just in case and finally got to use it! Hurrah!

The biscuits came out very tasty and adorable too.


Since the cookie cutter is so small, we ended up with a lot of biscuits. So I brought a bunch in to the office, my first week or so, to much excitement. :)

A week later, I finally got around to using two things I'd been looking forward to: a cookbook from Peanut Butter & Co, and a jar of their Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter. I was going to do regular peanut butter cookies, but the facing page was for Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies...and that sounded good! So I made these, chocolate peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and they were pretty delicious!


The last few weeks have been pretty busy and I haven't baked anything. This past week I was getting anxious to make something, so on Friday I made more biscuits. That afternoon I had gone to Target and picked up some more cookie cutters too, so I was excited to make some new shapes. :)

As they were in the oven, I decided to try for another goodie that I hadn't made before. I was flipping through the Betty Crocker cookbook for a cookie inspiration, when brownies caught my eye. Mmm, I do love a good brownie.


Unfortunately, these are not very good brownies. (They aren't quite sweet enough, and that damn funny taste that cursed my chocolate chip cookies showed up again.) Now, has that stopped me from eating bites here and there for the last two days? Including first thing this morning? No, it has not. :) Because, hello, chocolate, sitting right there on the counter--how can one resist?! This one cannot. And that's okay.
Nancy suggested two good recipes and I look forward to making more brownies that actually taste good.

Yesterday we also made some more banana bread. I am relieved that it is quite yummy. (I was worried that the earlier experience might have been a fluke.)

I bought some new baking soda in hopes of making a new, good batch of chocolate chip cookies. At Costco yesterday, I bought four pounds of butter (in bulk it's almost half the price! baked goods require a lot of butter!), though I resisted the four pound bag of chocolate chips for five dollars (which was probably dumb to pass up). I'll make sure to let you know how it goes!

If you have any dessert suggestions for me to try (I like trying new things so I can take pictures), I would love to hear them!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Cashola

So how about that budget project? I continued the cash-only goal for October (with a few exceptions) and kept track of my spending.

Groceries: This month I only spent $87, down from $100. I think I bought fewer ingredients. However, this also includes some food bought for a potluck-type get-together. So this means I used my money better, ate more of what was already in the cupboards, and/or ate less. Most likely a combination of all three.

Restaurants: $25, which is roughly the same as last month, except it was spread out over more smaller pieces. The biggest one was a dinner out with some flickr friends.

Shopping: $65 for household goods, plus another $46 for some clothes at Target [an entire outfit--a pencil skirt, a thin sweater, and earrings/necklace. One of our outings last month was a talk by Clinton Kelly, so I was definitely inspired to get some clothes that are polished and mature, and also have color, texture, pattern, or shine (hence the coordinating jewelry--a nice purple to contrast the jewel-toned dark green). I haven't worn the outfit yet but look forward to breaking it out and feeling very put-together.]. Total of $111, which sounds like a frightening number.

Transportation: increased to $60 in October, because I have been commuting to an office four or five days a week.

Total spent for the month: $305, down from $353 in September. Not too shabby, especially considering that my credit cards have been nice and low, which means that I can spend more of what little money I have on regular things.