Sunday, September 26, 2010

better now

I was in a funk the rest of the night, and had a headache to boot. So I told myself that it would be a good idea to get outside in the morning. A bike ride would be just the thing to get me out of my head for a bit.

While I didn't wake up early like I "planned", and I didn't head out right away as "planned", I did bike a nice loop of lower Manhattan, as well as two bridges, for a total of 13 miles. Whew!

In the afternoon we walked around a street fair, and I gobbled up a funnel cake. Because gosh darn it, I'm worth it. :) Also, because Husband bought it for me. :)

All this activity leaves me worn out and tired, and Carmen Crankypants is gone. :)

Here are a couple photos from the afternoon:

Saturday, September 25, 2010

toss those cookies

I'm feeling down this evening.

It started with being responsible and saying no to a fun day with friends that would also cost $40. I like friends and fun, and as a matter of fact, this year has had so much more of both. [This thrills me but also makes me wonder if it's just pity (oh right, her....well, i guess we can invite her this time...), and of course I always expect that they will realize any day now what a loser I am and have nothing more to do with me.] I originally said yes but am backing out now the night before, and that makes me feel guilty and icky and dumb and poor and stupid.

In general it made me frustrated all over again about the fine line of money and other people. I hate thinking about money. I want to hang out with people and have fun, not think about how much I have and trying to calculate the smallest amount I could possibly spend while still participating in the activity (ie, having my cake but not having to pay for it). This is tedious and spiritually exhausting.

But this is going to be my life for the foreseeable future, and I have to suck it up and deal with it. Which I kind of hate.

It's all just depressing.
Then came the cookies.

No, this is not about vomit, it's about actual cookies that literally need to be tossed because they're kind of gross. Last night I mixed up my first batch of cookie dough and I was so excited.

I read that NY Times article this summer about The World's Best Cookie For Food Snobs And Kitchen Know-It-Alls. It said that all the good chefs chill their dough and there was an experiment comparing non-chilled and varied-time-chilled doughs and the longer-chilled dough resulted in the tastiest cookies.

So, since I'm all 'woo hoo check me out in my cooking or baking or whatever phase!', I chilled my cookie dough for a full twenty-four hours.

And the cookies suck.

Which, because I am twelve, means I suck too.

It's too bad that feeling sorry for yourself isn't a job, because I'm great at it and then I would be totally rich.

Friday, September 24, 2010

c(R)ash diet

I have a surprise for you. Are you ready for this?

Here it is:
When you don't have a job, you don't have money!

You're shocked, right?!

I'm not, because I did this already, a year and a half ago. I'm so over being poor.

I'm also a little restless and bored.

So I took on a challenge. It's not a unique challenge, and it's not even a cool and hip young-person challenge. Oh, no.

This is a challenge from the Guru of Greenbacks herself, Suze Orman!

Last December, she declared that to get back at rising credit card interest rates and fees, people shouldn't buy on credit anymore and just do cash: a Back to Cash Movement!

This summer she had a guest on the show who took the challenge and tried to only use cash for a month and felt successful in managing her spending. I found this intriguing, and so, knowing that I have a very limited amount of money to spend period, I would give it a try. Especially because the last of the wedding bills came through this month (on credit cards).

[I'm actually very responsible with credit cards. I almost always pay the complete amount. If that's not at all possible, I pay as much as I can (a big chunk, way way more than the minimum). My first year of teaching (classroom supplies, school clothes, rent, books for grad school) required so much money that I was in debt the whole time--somehow I had to keep charging as much as I paid each month off the balance. So it took a little more than a year to finally get rid of that. Early last year I had a huge car repair right after I got fired, and without a real job, it took three or four months to pay it off.]

But I've been really good about not putting things on credit cards (other than wedding stuff), and it's easy to keep those pretty clear. So my motivation with this challenge wasn't fighting debt out of desperation. It wasn't about drowning in credit card interest. (Thank god.) It was more about freaking out that I still have regular bills to pay (cell phone, car insurance, other things), in addition to things like FOOD, and only what was left in my bank account. If nothing goes into it, how long will that last? How smart am I being with what little I have?

I do get reckless when I have a job. I'm not talking dropping hundreds of dollars on useless toys, trinkets, toys. But I won't say no to a reasonable urge: I'll buy a book or two here. I'll buy a few clothes there. I'll have a few drinks out with friends. I'll buy a plane ticket! (For a vacation, not just any old time, obviously! :D) I spend money because I have money. (I also save it, of course. But naturally, saving is the first thing to go when I don't have an income. I can't spare anything for later if there's not much coming in now!)

So, back to the plan. First I reviewed my spending on and then set up a very spartan monthly budget plan. I decided I would only use cash for everything possible--groceries ($80 regular plus $100 for Costco), restaurants ($30), transportation ($20), and miscellaneous/shopping ($50). So that's a grand total of $260 to last me an entire month.

I have one week left and less than twenty dollars to get me there. There's no way I'm going to make it.

I'll provide a full report once the month is over!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

what i've been up to, domestic version

I've actually been up to a lot outside of the work/not-work world! Pretty much 50s housewife stuff, which is a fun role to try on. :) (Fun because it's a choice not a mandate! Yay freedom and equality and stuff. :D)

With all of our new gadgets, I've been excited to try out some new things in the kitchen. I finally stocked up on basic ingredients like flour, baking powder, unsweetened cocoa, etc, and have been trying out a few recipes.

We got an electric hand-mixer and I love it! It makes mixing things so much fun and way easier too. :)

I made Belgian waffles!

I made cupcakes and frosting from scratch!

We got this sweet blender-slash-food-processor and I love that too! I used it to chop onions and garlic. I've made some smoothies and recently we're working on making a good fresh salsa (we've tried twice but something's off with our proportions, and/or we need more/different spices):

Awhile back I bought a slicer thingy, and last week I finally broke it out to make some fried potatoes!

I am going to try some chocolate-chip cookies next. Very excited to try those out! :)

I've also gotten the crocheting bug again in a major way.

I completed my first blanket (the world's easiest baby-sized blanket with giant yarn, but hey, it still counts!):
I also made my first pair of fingerless mitts, or wristers as this pattern dubbed them:

This is all just in the last couple weeks! I'm halfway through another project right now, and now I'm starting to think ahead to the holidays, for simple and useful things I could give family.

We got all of our wedding photo stuff, and I'm excited to look through them again and order some prints and things!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

what i've been up to, professional version

Hi there! Yes, I'm here, but just haven't felt like blogging, though I'm sure there is plenty of material to write about.

It's mid-September somehow, and that means we've been married for six weeks. :)

Also, school started. The weird one-day school week was the same as my very first year teaching, which makes sense, because that was seven years ago now. :) I didn't have a permanent job yet, so I was in the ATR and for that first "week" I helped out in a kindergarten class. For the second week I subbed in a Spanish class in a middle school. And I actually tried to teach them Spanish. Which is funny because a) I don't really speak Spanish and b) hello, eighth graders could give a shit about a substitute, especially in the first couple weeks of the year! (I was placed in First Middle School the third week of school, September 27. My principal there told me a few times how lucky I was not to be at that other school. It was a mess; there were four principals that year!)

Anyway, so I had my first day of school not being a teacher.

I did keep busy that day though; I temped downtown. I've been getting a few assignments here and there in offices and school offices in the last week or two. I'm hoping things keep going, because money is finally coming *in* to my bank account instead of leaking out, out, out. It's really stressful not having a regular, dependable paycheck.

I am really enjoying working in new places and doing my best to help get work done. I like feeling useful, and I like mindlessness of filing and things--it is such a difference from being ON every second of the day so that the small people in the room stay under some modicum of control. :) I don't think I'll love it forever; I'm a reasonably smart person and I do want to do a bigger and better job than just a temp for a day or two. But I understand that will take awhile. It's difficult to stay positive and motivated. I know that there's a lot I am capable of doing, but I also know that I'm not very qualified compared to other people my age who have been in 'regular' nonteaching jobs, or at least that it might be tough for an employer to look past so much teaching and/or understand that I can do a lot besides teaching and because of teaching.

There was a bit of time in late August/early September when I was really trolling job boards and sending out resumes. That trickled to a stop once I started getting a few temp calls. Right now, it's such a relief to have something to do (and I love that it's not every day!) and even more, the money. The novelty will wear off soon as I look into the uncertain future without a reliable income for months. Ag.

Oh! I got a steady part-time job on Saturdays--teaching!

It's kind of a strange thing--I was worried about quitting teaching cold turkey and not being around any kids anymore (I miss my kids from last year!). So now I'm still a teacher, but only for one day a week. Much less stressful than five. :) However, it's definitely more stressful than zero! I was really worried about pacing the time (I'm teaching three sections) and what they were expecting of me and the students. But now we've had two sessions and I'm back in the groove a bit. It still takes a bit of time at home to plan and gather materials, and I need to do a little more from now on probably. There are assistants who grade but they might want an answer key, so I need to go all the way through the work myself to prepare that. Not gonna lie, that part I do not like.

Surprisingly, so far I'm liking my older students more. There are only six though (eleven in the younger group), and they're mostly boys. They all seem pretty nice so far, easy-going and eager to learn and laugh a little. I like that. :) The younger ones are much more lively, though nearly all of them are eager to learn and definitely laugh.

This week we were talking about subject-verb agreement and I was reviewing that if there's an 's' on the subject, there's not usually one on the verb, and vice versa. One kid asked how come, or who made that rule. "The president?" she guessed. I smiled and said no, it's from way, way before presidents. I said I have no idea why that's the way it is and I'm not sure how you could go about finding out. "Google!" cried out three students at once.

These kids nowadays. :)


I have been doing other things around home, but I'm going to save that for another post or two! Because I do want to get back into the habit of blogging. I rarely have anything super exciting to write about, but I like working things out in words and having a record of life's little things. :)

So I'll see you again very soon!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

something old, something new

When I decided to take the elementary teaching job last summer, I was really nervous about going into a new school situation, after the horrors of my first charter school experience.
I wrote:

This wasn't an easy decision, and I know the year will be fraught with new challenges. I won't be going into the year as innocent and naive as last year, but I will be going into the year with goals (first--patience, second--a life outside of school, third--creativity) and realism.

Big caveat to the job: if I'm miserable, if I'm crying, if I'm losing sleep--I will leave. I've definitely learned that lesson the hard way this year and I don't want to or need to go through that again.

But I do want to do a good job in a new environment, and enjoy teaching all the subjects, and get to know and love the students.

In the interview, I told the principal about three things that I needed: professional development, colleagues/teammates to work with, and curricular materials. did it all pan out?

Well. The professional development was a bust. The summer parts especially. We listened to a bunch of speakers and experts...who had clearly never been in an urban classroom. We had to do an entire day of physical labor to help the school get ready.

Not like I could have used the time any better, because our materials took forever to arrive. I don't think we had any of it before the kids arrived, not even books for a classroom library. The math curriculum came first. We got a Lucy Calkins writing set later (HATED IT and so did the kids). Science must have come a bit after that, and eventually we got a very paltry package of library books (but I'd already brought in a lot of my own books). The reading curriculum was last to arrive--we got that in LATE NOVEMBER. No social studies curriculum at all.

The teachers at this school were amazing--fantastic people, and great educators. I loved being a part of their team. Of course, I barely saw them. Elementary teachers basically never get out of the classroom, and there was no teacher break room in which to rest and chat. After school I was always sequestered in my room alone for several hours. My grade colleague had been at the school for the last two years and was great at planning and teaching too--but she never had time to stay before or after school to meet and talk to me. I really, REALLY needed someone at the beginning of the year--I felt completely overwhelmed and in over my head. I needed someone to work together with, bounce ideas off of, and talk to. And she just couldn't be there for that. Midway through the year she ended up leaving and I had a good month of being the 'stable' member of the grade team. We ended up with a great sub taking over the rest of the year, but he needed a lot of help in getting settled and figuring out how things worked. We were able to plan a little bit together eventually, but it was difficult finding time to do so on a regular basis.

So...those three things that I needed in order to have a successful year? Were not there at all.

I'm kind of amazed that I did as well as I did, considering. I don't really consider it a 'successful' year, in terms of achievement and learning, but in terms of survival, well, I did that.

How about my personal goals?
Hoo, boy. I was super patient for about three weeks. I don't even know how I did that with the group I had. But then I found myself back to losing patience. Eight hours is a LONG day, y'all, with a bunch of rowdy, difficult boys who don't give a shit about learning or anyone else learning either. (That's basically who my class was all fall.) I tried so many things. I reached out to so many people. Some helped (some colleagues, some of the parents) and some did absolutely nothing (parents, some admin). I don't know how to be patient enough for these kids. I wasn't good enough to them, for them. All of my kids, even the rough ones, needed SO much from me, and I couldn't show enough patience, love and understanding to them, even though I felt it.

A life outside of school:
Didn't happen at all the first part of the year. Once again the 11/12 hour days kicked my ass during the week and then the weekend was about recovery. I was better about relaxing and trying to do fun things on the weekend, though. At Christmas, my mom came to visit and we went to visit the boy's parents in his hometown.
In January I started a photography class, specifically to give me something other than school to do during the week. I really enjoyed it. I started a second one in April.
I guess we didn't do anything for February break, but I did a weekend to DC with friends in March, and of course we did travel for Spring break, to Costa Rica! Had a fantastic time getting engaged, exploring and having adventures.
Once daylight savings hit and it was light after 5pm again, I was over school. No more being stuck inside in the dark for so many hours. I left by 5.3o or 6 for most of the rest of the school year. Still didn't have much time or energy to do fun things during the week, but continued to try for things on weekends.

The weekends were my absolute favorite them. I loved them. I LOVED any time not spent teaching. It didn't take long for me to notice that and think about the meaning and ramifications of that.

So-so. I definitely had some high points with lessons I created. Not sure if I remember any of them. (I wish I'd had more energy to record things on this here blog!) We all loved doing grammar with School House Rock and erasable sentence strips. I coordinated a bunch of field trips for my class and the other class in our grade, which was my favorite part of the year. Oh, and teaching my class the states and capitals and different language greetings--I was proud of that. Overall I could have done a lot better. I had the kids do some cool projects that combined science, social studies, art and reading. I created a couple sweet powerpoints for one of our ancient culture units. I tried to do a biography/research project, which kind of failed and fizzled. The problems were twofold--a lot of kids didn't do the research as assigned over February break, and then after some great in-class practice (taking notes, and then using those notes to create paragraphs. I was actually really happy with these lessons.), the final drafts were still very much not in their own words. I HATE that and was so frustrated with the way that many of them seemed to be done or heavily guided by parents.

At the New Year, I made a goal to do more small group work. (My admin had been wanting me to, and I agreed it's helpful. It's just more work and you can't do a lot of new material that way, and in so many subjects we were pressed for time!) It took me awhile to get around to it. Reading groups, when I did them, went swimmingly--I did two different types. Sometimes I had them rotate in groups doing different activities and skills (like vocabulary, reading comprehension, etc), and sometimes I just had the groups stay in one place and read their small group book together and answer questions.
Math groups I didn't do as often. I definitely could have done better with that. Although maybe not, because in January we plotted out the next few months to cover all the curricular points we needed before the test in May. So we kind of had to book it along. I think I did a couple though, like with coordinate graphs where they had to make shapes and 'test' each other on the points. They seemed to enjoy that.
Lots of fun group activities in science kits! The best unit was on nutrition--we had AMAZING discussions and the kids were really into the experiments.

Remember, another one of my New Year goals was to find a new job. In January I was despondent, because I was sure the year would never end, or at least that my sanity wouldn't last. And there were some seriously trying times. (I would articulate some but my brain has long since forgotten it.) The biggest bully was removed from the class, which would have been a relief if not for the eight bajillion other problems still facing me. There was a lot of drama with my worst kid, and then three--no, four--other kids developed a shitload of drama, and the worst one got more worst, and ugh. I was like, oh my god, I can't wait to get this year over and done with! But wait, what am I going to do? Should I stay and ignore the insanity? Is it better to be broke and happy, or employed and crazy?

But in June when I found out that the school wasn't offering me a contract, it was still a shock. I had to remind myself that I'd already made the decision not to return.

In past years, I've usually needed some kind of processing time, or grieving time when a year (or teaching job) is over. In my favorite year, I think I cried even. I've always been happy to finish a year (god, I bet I was over the fucking moon at the end of my first year! what a nightmare year that was!), but I was also sad about leaving the kids and nervous about new ones.

But this year, I didn't give the end a second thought afterwards. I woke up on that Tuesday so happy, relieved, weightless. SO unburdened and carefree. It was wonderful.

As August crept on, I started seeing ads for back to school sales. Blog posts about schoolmares. Teachers writing about their plans. Pictures of classroom set-up. It's been very strange to not be a part of all that. The planning, the anticipating, the brand new planbook, the gathering of supplies, the copying of handouts, the writing of classroom rules, the wondering about the kind of kids you're getting, the stressing out about the first's all so familiar and so stressful, and while I'm glad to not have all that stress, I feel a little lost without it. Like, who am I without "teacher"?

That still remains to be seen. I'm doing my best to look forward, not backward, and go bravely into this unknown.

It's September! How did that happen?

This has been a fantastic summer--busy, but not chaotic, and fun. We've traveled to Seattle and Chicago, and I went upstate for a couple days too. There were wedding activities. I hung out with friends. I took pictures. I got to stay up late and sleep in. I had time to relax, but not so much that I got bored. It was perfect.

And now it has come to an end. :(