"I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself." -CS Lewis, The Great Divorce


Thing #65: Snow in the Weather Report

As established, I am (nor are many people) not a fan of gloomy weather. There are a few instances when gloomy weather is not so bad. One of those instances is when there is a light dusting of snow incorporated into the gloom. Generally, the white powder floating through the air makes up for the existing general grayness of the day.

Today, it is snowing (not much, but some) while I sit in my gloomy study block class and grade equally gloomy homework assignments. But, as I look on weather.com, it shows me this lovely graphic including those wonderful snowflakes. I have to say, they are simply prettier than their liquid counterparts, even on a weather forcast. So today, I am happy for the snow in the weather report (as well as living in Virginia Beach where it was 50+ degrees yesterday so this snow will not stick and cause an epic shutdown of life).


Thing #64: Being Appreciated

I love teaching, but it gets exhausting wondering if what I am doing has any impact. Often, I think that it doesn't, and all these kids go about their lives in the exact same way they might even if I never entered it. Today, though, I realized that there may be some kids out there who actually have been impacted by what I did/do.

The SCA had a project that involved passing out paper turkeys to study blocks and asking students to address them to teachers who made a difference. They collected them and gave them out to us today. It was touching to read the comments students made, ranging from "You're cool" to "You're a really great teacher and I love English because of your class freshman year." Of course, they all came from students who I taught/am teaching during their freshman year, so I think that makes a difference.

Any way I look at it, I made some kind of difference to some kids. It's good to feel appreciated and useful, especially in a career that frequently seems to be unrewarded and looked down upon by many.


Thing #63: Trader's Joe's Christmas Blend Coffee

I'll be honest. Trader Joe's could probably populate an entire year's worth of "things to be happy about" posts. However, I will not sit down to provide such unsolicited positive publicity (to my four blog readers). Now, if it were solicited and paid for, I may consider blogging about a Trader Joe's item every day for a year.

But, alas, finding an alternative income is NOT the purpose of this post. Instead, I would like to mention on specific incredible product available during this holiday season. On Monday, I was in desperate need of a new container of coffee. My wanderings brought me to Trader Joe's (the aforementioned home of all things amazing). I spent a quick 3 minutes scoping out the coffee selection. I thought of going with the super affordable Trader Joe's blend, but then the holiday blend caught my eye. I am a lover of all things Christmas themed, and the flavors of holiday spices are no exception. It said that blended with the coffee were several seasonal spices. I didn't even care to read (though I did attempt to smell through the vacuum seal) what these spices were. I was hooked. I purchased my $6.50 goodie (along with many, many others) and headed home without further thought of my coffee. Until the next morning. From my kitchen wafted delightful holiday smells along with delicious smell of percolating coffee. Could it be? Could this smell belong to something that tasted as wonderful? Yes! It could be!

Needless to say, I have sucked down three cups of this delightfulness in the past three days. Each cup leaves me yearning for more. It's the perfect combination of holiday treat and morning caffeination. It surely makes 7:25 with students infinitely more barable.

There you have it, Trader Joe's. Testimonial #1. I have more where that came from, but I'm awaiting compensation. Sincerely, Katie.


Thing #62: Wedding Pictures

I remember a few beautiful spring and fall days at William and Mary when I happened upon a bride and groom having their pictures taken after their ceremony at the Wren building. It always seemed like I was catching a glimpse of something special and momentous. I couldn't help but smile. I feel like that often when I see the tell-tale white dress. It's as if I'm lucky enough to be a spectator in a big moment in those peoples' lives.

I say all of this because today on my run, I saw two wedding photo sessions on the boardwalk. The brides I saw today looked REALLY young, but REALLY happy. It was a little chilly, so they also looked a little bit cold and ready to go inside. Still, it was kind of happy thing for me, as I begin to think more and more about this big day in my life.

There's just something magical about it all - kind of like seeing the castle at Magic Kingdom for the first time - it's a little bit fairy tale and a little bit real. Plus, it's all kinds of special.


Thing #61: Christmas Lights

This time change is killin' me, Smalls. I can't seem to manage much more that puttering after the 5:30 hour o' darkness. I have organized some wedding stuff and managed to watch a lot of Bravo. I have not, however, managed to run, eat well, or be in any way active after the hour o' darkness. It's going to have to change soon, I know. Until it does, however, I have something quite exciting to light up my life: Christmas lights.

Yes, I know that it is merely November 9, but waiting until today shows a great deal of restraint by my Christmas-light-loving self. First, as I mentioned, it's very dark very early, and there is still a month and TWELVE days until the shortest day of the year. Lights make things brighter and far more tolerable. Second, these Christmas decorations are costly, and it seems that the most cost-efficient use of them would necessitate that they be up early. Third, I love lights. And sparkle. And lights. There are few things in this world that I find as enjoyable as a well-decorated and (likely overly) lighted Christmas tree.

Now, to be fair, I only put up my Christmas trees as a home for my lights (see title of post), so I am not completely ridiculous. I will save Christmas decorating for the much later date of Saturday. Too bad I'm not kidding, because this is potentially the most ridiculous post I have given.

But gosh, I do love those lights. I may go make some hot cider (also a thing I love neglected from my list) and stare at them. Oooh, lights. Sparkle.


Thing #60: Halloween Costumes

Let me begin this by saying that I am NOT a Halloween person. Perhaps in my childhood, I was more inclined to dress up, but I have rarely obsessed over the details of a costume after the 14-year-old trick-or-treating cut-off. I can think of maybe three costumes I've worn in these past 11 years - half of good and evil (I was evil), a rabbit, and a rainbow marshmallow from Lucky Charms.

Still, I think costumes are SO cool.

Yesterday, we all ran the Wicked 10K at the beach. It was hilarious. There are so many creative people out there, from the Adams Family to "Ghoul Runnings" to a centaur; the whole thing was just entertaining. I couldn't believe what some people were willing to run 6 miles in. It's nice to see a lighter side of people, too. It's difficult to be too serious when people all around you are dressed up like cartoon characters, cross dressers, and humorous renditions of serious things.

This year, we were the Lucky Charms, and it was amusing. It was pretty simple, but definitely worth it.
I mean, check us out. How could you not get a little chuckle from it? I am incredibly impressed, however, by the amount of time it must take to create more elaborate costumes, because these took many, many hours in their simplicity.

Moral of the story: I am amused and anxiously awaiting true inspiration for next year's Wicked 10K...


Thing #59: Uplifting Songs

As usual, I am exhausted. I wonder frequently how mothers of young children manage - especially teacher mothers who work - to grade papers, plan sweet lessons, and raise relatively well-adapted children. It is a mystery to me, but I suppose I will one day learn that the secret is merely severe sleep deprivation. And this of course, is all one major tangent to my real point for this entry. On my way home from my second church committee meeting this week, I realized that I needed some uplifting music. On my iPod, "Dream Big" was still pulled up from my previous night's drive home. This song served great uplifting work yesterday.

"When you see, see the beauty all around and in yourself
and it will help you feel okay.
And when you pray, pray for strength for when the troubles come your way.
And when you dream, dream big, as big as the ocean blue,
because when you dream, it might come true.
So when you dream, dream big."

I listened to this song again tonight, and it was still a lovely reminder that I need to smile and keep on moving. I mean, my life is easy compared with most, so who am I to complain? (Side Note: This song is also a ringtone on my phone, which has coincidentally been set as my morning alarm. This means I rarely actually listen to the words before shutting it off.)

Then, I needed more mmmph in a song, so I found my favorite song sung by Wynona Judd - "I Will Testify to Love." Now, this song is straight up inspirational.

"For as long as I will live, I will testify to love.
I'll be a witness in the darkness when words are not enough.
With every breath I take, I will give thanks to God above,
For as long as I shall live, I will testify to love."

This really made me think, "Am I actually testifying to love?" The answer is, "No." Still, I sang REALLY loudly and did a little praisin' in my car. I realized that I need to chill on out and not get so uptight. My goal is to testify to love, to be patient every day with my job and coworkers and students, to love the God in everyone.

Today, I'm not only "happy about" these songs, I'm grateful that they were on my iPod to give me some direction and clarity about my foul approach to stress. Really, it'll all get done. I have no earthly idea when, and some papers might be mysteriously "lost," but it WILL be okay as long as I smile, pray, dream big, and testify to love.

Thanks, music.


Thing #58: Pushing myself

I make a lot of compromises with myself. "If I eat well today, I can have those fries tomorrow." "If I run four more minutes, I can walk the next two." "If I grade three papers, I can check Facebook." These kind of "compromises" also tend to compromise whatever goal it is I am actually trying to accomplish. I often start with a more distant aim and fall short as a result on my internal negotiations.

Today, I didn't make the compromise. I ran hard (for me). I finished the 5K in 30 minutes (one mile I ran in 9:17 - say what?!?), which I haven't done in months. I even walked for a minute (to get water and ensure I didn't get a sloshy stomach after said water). Still, it feel fantastic to have made myself work hard and sweat. I know that my body can take a little pressure. I even ran more after the 5K, finishing my four miles in just over 40 minutes. This seems pretty pathetic when I write it out, but for me, it's proof that I can make myself distant goals and stick to them.

I feel great. Yay.


Thing #57: Boots

I love shoes. I have many, many pairs. Still, I love when I get new shoes that are both comfortable and stylish. I have recently acquired many pairs of new shoes, and I am looking forward to wearing them throughout fall and into winter. Outfit and shoe combinations swim in my mind; I am stimulated.

One of these pairs of new shoes is a delightful pair of suede of boots. Ah, these shoes are glorious. I wore them to school with a skirt and then over my jeans to the football game. They are soft, and they leave ample room for my legs to breathe. The best part, however, of any pair of boots is that they can be worn with socks. Socks keep perpetually cold feet like mine warm. It is a miracle of fashion that such flat, practical boots have been in style now for several winters running. I find myself wearing boots 3 to 4 days out of 7, and I feel comfortable. Most importantly, I am warmer than I would be in heels or flats that required pantyhose or - worst of all - bare feet. And, more importantly, they do not - nor will they ever - require that I have a pedicure (like my other favorite form of footwear - the flip flop). Ahhhhh...

Ah, fall. Thank you for allowing me to wear such loveliness on my feet. I see scarves on the horizon as well...oh glorious, glorious cooler weather.


Thing #56: Slow Mornings

Usually, I wake up between 5:15 and 5:30, get in the shower, get out, get dressed, put on some makeup, grab a bagel and my coffee, and head out the door no later than 6:15. In a half-waking state, it's easy for this routine to get a little slowed down. I feel rushed; I never see the paper; I drink my coffee from a to-go mug.

Today, I have a meeting that begins at 8, which means I can leave here at 7:15. This is glorious. I woke up a little after 6, puttered around on the computer, showered, got dressed, and still had time to make coffee and eat a bowl of cereal with the morning news. And I'm drinking my coffee from a real mug. It's always best this way. I like feeling like I've had time to wake up before I head to a day of work. It's refreshing.

If only...


Thing #55: When students believe you

Today, I stayed after with some delinquent students who had missed two or more homework assignments. As part of their detention time, I went around and asked each student what had caused the breakdown in the homework completion. Most said that they didn't do much homework in middle school, and they hadn't developed a system for getting it done. I asked one kid, "What can I do for you to help you be successful?" His response was, "Could you sign my planner so when my mom checks it, she knows I wrote it down the right way?" Well, yes, I can. That was easy enough. Our conversation continued, however.

As we talked more, I assured him that teachers at Ocean Lakes wanted him to be successful, so they want to help. He shared with me that his middle school teachers didn't really answer questions, often saying, "figure it out." He said that he had learned not to ask questions. He had found that wasn't the case in high school, and he knew that I wasn't selling a bunch of bull (well, not in those words, exactly). What really got me was the way he looked at me like he believed I wanted to help him. He even shared that in math especially the teacher actually smiles - SMILES - when you ask a question, instead of shooting you down.

This comes from the same kid who said, "You explain things really well" last class. The smile on his face when I helped him to understand the story (and I didn't tell him anything, I just asked the questions so he could figure it out) made me realize how great my profession truly is. Even if it is just some days that I remember it.

It warms my heart to think that one kid - just this one - may actually believe that I have his success in mind when planning my day. I feel like I have succeeded in some small way if just he believes I (we) do my (our) job(s) to help the students.


Thing #54: Faithful Study

I am the queen of knowing what is good for me and not doing it. This goes for eating well, running, and working hard for all of my contract hours so I don't have to bring work home. Unfortunately, it also applies to my pursuits of knowledge of God and my faith. In college, I was surrounded by people who were far more diligent in their Christian studies than I ever dreamed of being; their presence led me to try harder to be faithful. Out in the "real" world, my attempted diligence amounted to nothing. I went to church, and when I moved back to VB, I found that the church young adult group was a delightful place to talk about God. I felt content.

But a lot of talk isn't always much action. I know I need more. I need to read, to study, to examine, to learn about God's message and will for my life. It needs to be intentional and deliberate and regularly done.

I have recently signed up for a class devoted to the study of Biblical principles for handling money. It's exciting to be reading, questioning, and examining God's will for our lives. It's also practical; I can take this study into my daily life to become a more faithful disciple. And my brain feels like it's moving again. Learning is contagious; it spreads from thought to action to speech to belief.

I started this Sunday with a little faithful reading, and I think my day is off to a good start. I feel awake and ready to learn. Lovely!


Thing #53: Students...reading

Each year I've taught at Ocean Lakes, I have assigned an independent novel project during the first quarter. It fits in well with our unit on short stories, and I hope that picking out their own books encourages kids to read. I'm not always sure that this is the case, but alas, I hope and pray.

Today was the library-book-check-out day. All three honors 9 classes took a brief sojourn down to the library (ooh ahh) to find a good book to enjoy. This includes the typical gossiping in between shelves and at tables after books have been selected. A fair amount of conversation revolves around the books, but often, the conversations fall to more pressing matters like boys and sports and did-you-hear chatter.

But today, I got the shock of my young teaching career. My third block, mostly pretty chatty and eager to learn girls with a few fairly motivated and insightful young men, went to the library. After a brief orientation, they selected books of interest. One by one, they chose books and sat down to flip through their finds. Suddenly, I realized it had become eerily quiet as the librarian and I conversed. I looked to my right, and there, sitting in careful spacing, were about seven of my students, heads bowed over newly selected books...reading. To the left, around tables I saw the same carefully bent heads over pages of literature.

My heart is still smiling at this amazing sight. How wonderful that these young students have found books that interest them and have heeded my instructions to begin reading immediately. I simply hope that some of them find joy in their selections.

Ok, even better about this - and I can't resist sharing - is what many of them did upon returning to the classroom. Before leaving, I told them to take the total number of pages and divide by 21 to figure out how many pages they should read a night. This would give them enough time to read and have a week left to work on the project itself. When we walked in, out came the calculators and the planners. They listened! They did what I recommended without reminder! They wrote in their planners! Oh joy! Oh happy day!


Thing #52: A deep breath

I get worked up easily. Actually, that's probably an understatement, but I don't know how to adequately word my propensity for quick flare-ups of extreme stress. Regardless of how I describe it, it occurs. I have learned many lessons throughout the years about this stress. One lesson: if you're going to stress about it, DO something about it. Otherwise, lay off the stress. This lesson was brought to you by Multivariable Calculus and a big fat D+ on my record. Another lesson: it's not that bad. This lesson was brought to you by...well, every daggone "I told you it wasn't that bad" moment of my life.

Today's re-learned lesson: Take a deep breath; it's not impossible. And it's not. I have a pretty blessed, obstacle-free life, but I work hard at it. I'm also my harshest critic, which makes success nearly impossible some days. (The "I finished 10 things on my to-do list, but there are still 15 things to do - I fail" days - really? That should be enough for a sane person.) So, today, I took a big ole deep breath and dove in to the stuff that was stressing me out (and called mom for a dose of "it'll be ok" reassurance). I (mostly) worked out a lesson for tomorrow, graded some essays, read up on potential new studies for small group, and created a few charts to round it out. You know what? I feel fine, and I didn't lose my cool. That deep breath kept me from teetering off the edge of productivity into pity-party paradise. Success!

This is probably proof that I am actually growing up. Finally. Now, if I remember to breathe deeply tomorrow rather than flip out, it will be proof that I am maturing. Scary. Very scary.

(and side note: I wish blogs had footnotes. I think that would cure my insatiable appetite for parenthetical comments or at least leave them for the end when you don't have to put up with my inner monologue.)


Thing #51: Dashboard Drum Kits

So, I'm tired. I'm running through the list of incomplete items (numerous) on my (extremely long) to-do list. I'm sitting at the light humming to the music, contemplating what groceries to pick up before my brief drop and run at home. I turn to my left. There is a rather wrinkly older gentleman. And he is crushing the drum solo of a rockin' song. We're talking snare, high hat, cymbal, and, no doubt, base drum, too. He was all over that car, making it bop along with his intense and (I'm guessing) practiced solo.

Which made me think, "What the heck is so important in my life that I can't rock a good dashboard drum kit solo now and then?" I promptly calmed down and smiled. A lot. And then I giggled for good measure.

That, if anything, is a good enough reason to be happy.


Thing #50: The Smell of Rain

I left my windows open a little last night. It was just too cool outside to justify shutting them and shutting out that beautiful beginning-of-fall smell. This morning, the rain is falling, which means throughout my apartment there is the smell of rain. It has a crisp, cool feel that we have long been missing. Summer rains smell lovely, but they are soon followed by suffocating humidity. No thank you. This smell, the one I'm talking about, comes only in the spring and fall when you feel like putting on your sweatpants and comfiest hooded sweatshirt.

What delightfulness. If it is going to rain and insist on being cloudy, it is a blessing that it is at least this delicious smelling kind of ickiness. I can handle that.


Thing #49: Friday Night Football

I am not a sports "fan" so to speak. I really could care less what is happening in a professional football team's season. However, I am drawn to high school and college football. There's a certain desperation in some games - the "notice me, I am great!" push of stars as they strive to find a slot in the next level of competition. There are also the mix-ups and fumbles and head-shakers, and that makes it more human, perhaps.

I also love a good Friday night game. Even in high school, I attended most of the home games (except in awful weather). It began when I was in band and was required to go, but it continued well into my junior and senior years. Now, I rarely miss an Ocean Lakes home game. It's as much social as it is football. I rely on the more knowledgeable people around me to shout out what's going on down on the field, but I do pay attention some.

There's just something special about a Friday night high school game, and I can't describe it in words. It's a feeling and an energy that seems unique to that event. And when the air is crisp and the sky is clear, there's no where else to be. No where.


Thing #48: The First Day of School Outfit

The first day always gives me a jittery feeling. When I go to bed, I have to be ready with all my stuff in a bag and the clothes laid out of the bed. The lunch waits in the refrigerator and the coffee maker has the delay start ready to go. The outfit is yet another way to feel prepared for whatever might come my way on that first day. I can remember almost all of my first-day-of-school outfits. In first grade, it included a lovely skirt made by grandma. On the first day of high school, I had Airwalk kicks with a reflective band. My first day of teaching, I wore a lovely teal printed Banana Republic dress. The first day is often momentous, and for many years, those first day pictures were mailed somewhere as evidence of our successful return to school. Unfortunately, some of these pictures (especially the high school ones) are out there...looming.

I used to spend hours trying on clothes just to find the perfect combination of new school clothes for the first day. Generally, I'd find my new favorite pair of jeans, a cute (loosely defined) top, and the new shoes for the year. I cringe a little to think about what I wore in high school, but I felt good, and that's what I remember most. I knew that I was my best in that outfit, and I could take on the world...or the day.

I have become more adept at selecting an outfit for the first day. I have also become increasingly confident with myself and what image I want to present, so that helps a lot. At 25, you'd hope that I'd have some of that under control. Of course, being the teacher instead of the student presents new challenges - like wearing heals for the whole school day. Still, I have found that feeling good in your outfit really is key to having a confident start to the year. It's probably just a mind trick, but to be fair, I love a good outfit.

Today's outfit felt particularly excellent - a black pencil skirt and a white button down with fabulous heals (that hurt...ouch). I felt powerful, and that was JUST the attitude I needed to take on my two classes of seniors and study block. Sometimes, clothes do make the (wo)man.


Thing #47: Finishing the Race

August 2008, I stepped out of the door and ran one mile and walked another. That was all I could do. By Labor Day weekend of that year, I had finished my first 3 mile run. In October, I ran my first real 5K, in November, my first 10K, and March of 2009 was my first half marathon. I am now entering into my third year of running. Shocking. 13.1 miles is a long way for non-runners likes me, but I have now completed it 4 times. This astounds me. I think it also means I cannot completely consider myself a "non-runner" any longer.

While most races come with a sense of accomplishment, the half marathon seems like a big one, especially since I have never run the race distance prior to the race. It's a kind of a question mark - "will I be able to complete all 13.1 miles?" And then, I cross the finish line (in awful shape, might I add), and I have answered that question. Yes. I am able.


Thing #46: Clean apartments

Ah. That is the contentment of someone with a clean apartment. I have scrubbed the bathroom, Cloroxed (nice verb, right?) the kitchen counters and stove top, vacuumed the two rugs, washed the covers of the couch pillows, and lit a very nicely scented candle to make sure it all smells nice, too. This makes me happy. I (as previously mentioned) like order, and my clean AND orderly home make me even happier. It is rare that everything is so neat and clean; therefore, it receives special recognition here.

Ah. Really really content right now (not to mention that the weather is great and I just consumed my first pumpkin spice latte of the season. Mmmm.)


Thing #45: Organization

I am not obsessive, compulsive, or otherwise mentally unstable. However, I am a bit...over-zealous in my organizational pursuits. I have to say, I am not always so stellar at keeping the organization up, but I am great at getting it started. There are currently two things that are keeping me afloat on organization good vibes: 1) my new office shelves complete with baskets and 2) my gradebooks for the upcoming year.

Let's start with the office. Before assembling and organizing my new shelves, I had piles. Piles are no one's friend. They can be seen by all, and they quickly dissolve into greater chaos. After all, what lies at the bottom of a pile is anyone's guess. The piles were haphazard and mostly just annoying and unsightly. Flash forward to the new shelves. They are neatly filled with the books formerly piled next to my other (full) bookshelf as well as delightful baskets. In these baskets, I am able to tuck away the unsightly messes that were my craft and wedding piles. I also have a new basket for the stationary and one for my paint. How perfect! Furthermore, this new organizational tool gave me an opportunity to de-clutter my desk and display more photos. Win.

The gradebooks are another beast all together. Office supply love is nothing new, so it comes as no shock that I adore the neat edges of a fresh binder filled with clean page protectors and new dividers. This year's binders are even fabulously color coordinated. A bright pink binder houses A-Day materials, and within its covers are delicious sections identified with pink paper. A purple binder contains all pertinent B-Day materials with likewise fantastic purple inserts. It is good to know the bones of classroom organization are in place; without a well-organized gradebook, sh** falls apart, if you know what I mean.

I breathe calmly with all of this happily organized junk. I will maintain this delusion of organization...and not open the desk drawer.


Thing #44: Early Bed Times

I am admittedly a night person. I would much rather stay up late, watch trashy TV, catch the news, and continue to stay awake through more terrible TV or a good book. I like stars and fireworks and late night strolls. I also love to sleep in, generally far past the wake-up hour for real life.

Unfortunately, the real world does not afford me an opportunity to indulge in waking up late every morning (5:30AM, anyone?), so I must readjust my schedule. Often, I putter around until it's late enough that there is no hope for a good night's rest. However, after those rare nights when I manage to climb into bed early and fall into a deep sleep, I wake up refreshed.

So, while an early bed time may not always be desirable, in a world that requires 5:30 alarms, it is certainly something to be happy to enjoy. And tonight, I am off to a sound - and early - slumber.


Thing #43: School Supplies

I find myself in a beginning-of-the-year funk, unlike any I have ever experienced. I simply lack the momentum to begin enthusiastically planning the minutia of school life, from calendars to lessons to bulletin boards. However, I am finding myself excited about one crucial element that gives me hope that the rest will follow. This element? School supplies.

I have mentioned my deep love for school supplies and order in previous entries (let's take a moment to recall the entry devoted to mechanical pencils and the inaugural post about PowerPoint 2007). Still, I have not fully divulged the deeply troubling depths of my interest in school supplies. Let me tell a story.

In 1995, my family moved from rural Nebraska to metropolitan Virginia (ok, not quite accurate on either adjective, but let's continue). When we arrived in Virginia, I had the great privilege of having room for and having been deemed old enough for my OWN desk. Said desk was purchased from Wal-Mart, assembled, and delightfully organized by yours truly. I loved that thing, and I poured over Office Max catalogs, contemplating my next office supply purchase. My brother and I, in fact, begged to visit Office Max so frequently, we were informed it could only be referred to as "OM," and NOT.TO.ASK.ANY.MORE. We still asked. And I still love school supplies as much today as I did then. (Cough. nerd. cough.) Alas, I have my ruler from first grade sitting beside me now, a testament to my obsessive hoarding of all things that belong in a desk.

This year is no different. I have new Sharpies (their own entry, right there), new pens, new paper, new binders, and delightfully organized grade notebooks. Let's not forget the new planner that has been filled in and the lovely little notebooks that my mom gave me yesterday. Ah, colored pens and binders and coordinating colors of handouts...

Yes, this year will improve. If only because I can use school supplies well.


Thing #42: Sushi

Until about 2 months ago, I was an avowed sushi hater. All I could think was, "Raw fish and seaweed? Double ick." I decided to give it another go at dinner with friends, and shock of all shocks, I like it. I even like the sushi with shrimp, white fish, AND salmon. That's right folks, BIG steps here. We're talking moon leaps for seafood, sushi hating Katie. But under those slimy pieces of fish wrapped in seaweed and ride, it's just delightful, really. So many flavors are there in one bite, and it's acceptable to stuff your face with all of them at once. Not to mention the silent joy I get out of being able to FINALLY use my chopsticks with something akin to skill and, dare I say it, grace. I have to say I'm shocked that this has entered my "things to be happy about" countdown, but because it's a bit out there, I decided to include it.

Especially since my belly is full of California roll and a delightful concoction called the "honey honey roll." Mmmm.


Thing #41: Coffee

I have NO idea how I managed to have a list with things to be happy about and NOT list coffee. This is sad, and it must be remedied (as must my month+ long absence. Tsk tsk, Katie).

So here's the deal: it's summer (wow! big, earth-shattering news right there), and I've become world-class lazy. I wake up somewhere from 9:30 to 10:30, proceed to find some food and sit around some more. In this laziness, I have failed to make my requisite morning cup of joe. Instead, I languish in a state of near confusion until a headache or exhaustion forces me to caffeinate myself. Yesterday, I did this at 3 PM with a cup of Starbucks coffee from my coffee maker. And I realized, I need to do this more often and earlier in the day, because I. Love. Coffee.

From the smell of the grounds to the noise of the percolating deliciousness to the warm comfort as it slides down my throat, I love it all. The best part of waking up, you know, is coffee after all. Shame on me for forgetting early childhood indoctrination. Shame.


Thing #40: Wedding Dresses

No, I don't have "the" dress picked out. However, I did have a fabulous time trying 6 or 7 of them on this Saturday. There were several that were definitely out - one was just too low (yikes!) and the other weighed about 10 pounds. There was one contender... but I'll leave that out of the blog for privacy's sake.

But here's what's really fun - wedding dresses are awesome to look at, to feel, and to put on. It's okay to be that little girl inside that loves to dress up. There are the sparkles, the flowers, the lace, and the taffeta are all pretty fabulous.

Even better? I get to wear one :-)


Thing #39: Mechanical Pencils

I LOVE office supplies. I am a fan of pens, pencils, and all organizational tools, especially if they come in some array of bright colors.

Today, I have been using an old school pencil that requires a pencil sharpener, and I now realize that I am spoiled by mechanical pencils. The point on this pencil simply becomes dull too quickly. With a mechanical pencil, I am able to write continuously with the mere click of the erasered end. The writing remains uniformly narrow and is legible even after 30 minutes of pencil use. I could never understand why they were not allowed in parts of elementary school and middle school. The no-sharpener-required pencil should be the glimmer of hope in any younger-grade teacher's life (and I have heard this is true from one, not so stingy, 4th grade teacher).

So. There you have it. Mechanical pencils are where it's at, and while old school pencils that require a sharpener may have a certain charm, they are nowhere near the caliber of writing utensil that one finds in the Bic 7mm pencil.

Also, Drew, I will try to write less about the beach and the sun. I think it's the Vitamin D that makes me so "happy" about them...


Thing #38: Sun tan lines

At my last check-up, my doctor said, "Oh no. We don't like to see tan lines. That means you haven't been wearing enough sunscreen." Yeah yeah. I get it. I'll be wrinkly and spotted when I'm older. It's bad for my skin. Tan is technically damage. Yeah.

But I love the sun. And I love that my skin is brown and smells of sunscreen for days at a time (because I DO wear it...just a low SPF). I love that I can wade into the water, come out, and let the sun dry the droplets seemingly instantaneously. The lines mean that I can wear my swimsuit. They mean that my summer dresses no longer need sweaters. They mean that winter woes are a memory.

They mean summer is almost here. Beach days (my happy days) aren't far away.



Thing #37: Three Day Weekends

Without explanation or apology, I am back. (thanks for the inspiration, Drew)

There is something sweet about waking up on Sunday and thinking, "What do I need to get done today before going back to the grind?" and realizing that you have two days rather than one to finish things. This three day weekend came at a particularly wonderful time, following a student calling me "unprofessional" and lying to me at the end of 3rd block on Friday. It's good to get away from those kinds of situations for a longer-than-normal amount of time.

It's also nice to think that I can go to church today, enjoy lunch with the fam as usual, hit the beach, and still hang out late and get papers graded or even grab a drink with a willing friend. I like the possibilities today affords as a result of tomorrow's freedom from the grind.

Also surprising is the weather - once calling for thunderstorms, it appears calm and sunny outside. What a fabulous way to continue the three day hiatus from reality.


Thing #36: Reading until I sleep

I have become unfortunately fond of watching TV until I fall asleep. I vowed not to move my TV into my bedroom, yet I did during the unfortunate moments of early fall without proper heat. And there the TV has stayed throughout the winter and well into the spring. However, I have vowed to actually read for my own personal growth this break, and I have finished the book I began over winter break (Beautiful Boy -a heartbreaking work about a family's struggle with an addicted son). I finished the book last night. I stayed up through tired and into exhausted. I read until 1 AM and every last word was devoured.

That is the way to fall asleep. It's like leaving the day with a bigger brain, more to think about, and the satisfaction of having completed something worthwhile instead of frivolous.

And off I am to read the second book (The Help, read for a book group at OLHS). I'm excited to be back to reading. I feel more like myself. Why do I go so long without putting down the remote and picking up a book?


Thing #35: Homemade Pesto

Ok, so clearly I failed at my Lenten discipline. I've been a bit stressed out and overwhelmed, so the blog just didn't happen. Regardless, there are always things to be happy about that go without writing/saying - just know that there have been many good things in my life. I've decided to pick up where I left off, however, and get back on this "happiness" train!

On Sunday, I saw a show where the man made his own homemade pesto, and it looked really easy - just a little garlic, some basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, a little blend in the blender, and voila - pesto. Now, I need to preface this by saying I'm not inherently capable in the kitchen. I am slowly learning, but sometimes, I'm a little obtuse. First, I discovered that basil is NOT in season. Second, I learned that it's not easy to make pesto in a blender designed for making smoothies. I know now that I need a food processor. However, with those obstacles facing me, I perservered and now have the first batch of homemade pesto.

The basil was frozen in little cubes (genius move on someone's part) and the blender issue means that there are still some chunks of pine nuts in the pesto and that I made a HUGE mess that may have ended up on the ceiling of the kitchen. It was an expensive experiment (none of the ingredients are super cheap), but, with a little mayo, some italian bread, some home-marinated tomatoes (another "thing to be happy about" entry, right there), a little turkey, some swiss cheese, and a good toast on the oven, I realized that the experiment was totally worth it.



Thing #34: "She's In Love With the Boy"

Today was one of the first beautiful days of 2010, allowing me to glimpse into the hope that spring will soon sweep back into our lives, rendering winter a cold - yet relatively benign - memory. Anyway, on these first warm-ish days, I am tempted to do the environmentally un-friendly thing: turn up the heat and roll down the windows. Today, I did such a thing. Then, as the windows are down, I ultimately realize that I must have the PERFECT song on the radio. I searched all 12 pre-set stations in my car at least three times, and nothing on any of the stations struck me as perfect. Out came the iPod and the "All Time Favorites" playlist. Number one on that playlist is my favorite song of all time - Trisha Yearwood's "She's in love with the Boy." So I rocked it, hard, to one of my most genuinely country songs. It was a good moment in a day on which I have struggled with my inner demons of negativity and self-doubt. And whenever I hear it - through a phone call from mom, on the radio, when shuffle selects it, or like today, when I purposefully select it - I'm happier.

"What's meant to be will always find a way"

I know that's not the lasting message of a love song about two teenagers, but it seems to be the thought that leaves me with a warm feeling of hope in my chest. What's meant to be WILL always find a way... and I will take Trisha along with me each step of that journey.


Thing #33: Lessons that have gone well

Part of my lenten goals (especially after yesterday's reminder that our lenten sacrifice should be something that stands in our way of God) is an effort to come up with at least one "thing to be happy about" a day. I hope this goes well.

So, here goes my first attempt at positivity (despite my lingering hunger and exhaustion):

Today's lesson went really well. I refused to give answers for most of the lesson. Instead, I allowed my students to create their own working knowledge of personal narratives. What they came up with was better than any PowerPoint slide I could have created. Now, they not only know what good writing should have, they also know what it looks like (and what it doesn't). I feel like a good teacher, and I'm not worn out from talking all block and re-explaining the ideas. They did the work. It was fabulous.


Thing #32: The light at the end of the tunnel

As we trudge on through the middle of February (the worst month after January), I find myself in my typical late-winter, pre-spring melancholy. I feel sad for no reason; the ambitious schedule seems impossible; I want to simultaneously drink wine (which I dislike in a way reserved for spicy foods and rainy runs), cry, and watch terribly sappy romantic movies. I hate February.

Yet (and yet), I find myself looking forward to the first 60 degree day with an almost reckless hope. I can smell the sweet scent of the air from open windows. My feet feel the freedom of comfy Rainbow flip-flops. I taste the first sweet bites of watermelon. Every inch of my body aches for the springtime sensations.

So, even though it seems impossibly far away after this abysmal winter (and let's not lie - it's been icky), I have hope for sunshine soon and the brief (even if proves imaginary) break in the hectic schedule. I cling to the coming spring as if it were my only life line. It is the light to which I walk - thankfully it is the light of life.


Thing #31: Successful Art Projects

Deep down, past the obsessive-compulsive neatness tendencies, beyond the procrastination bone, far removed from the frequent-nap-taking gene is creative ability. Often, it seems incredibly distant. In fact, often, it seems as though it and I have little in common. However, on occasion, it really steps it up a notch and shines through the aforementioned personality ticks.

Yesterday, it produced an awesome art project. And there it is, lovely picture posted. The theme was "I believe that happiness is something we create," (thanks, Sugarland), and I used transparencies to overlay extra happiness onto already beautiful places. So now, Geneva has my own personal sailboat, Connecticut has my picnic table ready, and the oceanfront has a chair and peaceful umbrella waiting for me.

I guess the coolest part is not the actual artwork, but the fact that it worked according to plan, as many of my recent endeavors have. While making it, I realized that I love taking pictures, and I should get a nice camera and really learn how to do it.

It's nice to know that under the OCD, procrastination, and laziness waits this creative center that is ready to take control of an otherwise uneventful snow day (don't even get me started on VBCPS and possible make-up days).

So, whose wedding shall I be ready to photograph? I'm seriously learning to photograph. I need an alternate career path should teaching fail.


Thing #30: As Seen on TV

I am willing to bet that 75-80% of items sold on television do NOT work as promised. However, it's that promise of some fabulous feat of awesomeness that draws me in. Yesterday, I bought the mold for the jumbo cupcake. Why anyone needs such an item is unknown; still, I'm incredibly excited to try it out for tonight's dinner. I have no idea if I'll even be marginally successful, or if the product itself will work. The hope that the giant cupcake will be awesome excites me, regardless.


Thing #29: Daddy.

No matter what, there are few things I enjoy like a good conversation with my dad. I remember many conversations (topic completely irrelevant) with dad that lasted for hours. As much as I am like my mom in temperament and perspective, there are things that dad and I see eye-to-eye on like no one else. Like stupidity, books, education, and great ringtones.

I keep rewriting this, knowing that dad will read it. It's silly...I can never quite put into words how comforted I am by knowing that somehow, I'm still daddy's little girl. I respect him immensely, and when I spend time with him, I feel like he respects me the same way. I feel loved and safe and special, like I did when I was younger and dad treated me like a little adult, amused at my opinions, but honestly respectful that I had my own perspective. And when I get a hug from dad, I feel that he loves me. I just feel it.

It's silly how much of a little girl I am deep down. Maybe it's not, though. I love my dad, and I'm so grateful to be able to spend time with him, just the two of us. Dad, thank you for making sure that I feel loved and safe and special.

That still feels insufficient, but it will have to suffice.

How lucky am I that both of my parents are "things to be happy about"? How blessed am I?


Thing #28: Observations being over

As a teacher without tenure, I am observed by my administrator several times a year. Last Thursday, I received an email that said, "I will be doing my first evaluations of the year next week." Immediately, my brain goes to panic mode. "Do I have all of my attendance records straight? Oh no! I must now write lesson plans for the first time all year. Yikes! What will I do that will be both interesting and engaging, not to mention appeal to multiple learning styles and present my skills as a teacher? When is there TIME?" Eventually, the brain settles down, and I get it together. I worry less and less about a horse and pony show and more and more about ensuring that the essentials are there (questioning the students, guiding them to the answer, a little literature, a little grammar, a little vocabulary, a little writing). I get the lesson plans together and the binders organized.

Then, the week of the observation arrives. During most classes I look at the door, thinking, "Will it be this class? This half of the block? Do I have all my binders together?" Regardless of my preparation, my observer always walks in when I'm not expecting it. One observation, he walked in during a rousing round of "happy birthday" I was attempting to get out of the way before the observation may (or may not) occur. At least he was entertained.

So today, my observer walked in to a rowdy class, "studying" for their vocabulary quiz. I am sure that this isn't good teaching technique (the studying for the quiz before the quiz bit), but it's great for a little bit of good-faith report with my students. Whatever. I'll apologize later. Unfortunately, the rambunctiousness only led to 15 minutes of silent quiz taking. Ugh. But, it did get better. We analyzed "Mother to Son" for elements of extended metaphor, and it was lovely. Lovely. They "got it," and they were well on their merry journeys to writing metaphor poems for themselves when he finally left.

And why am I happy, really? That it's over and it's only Tuesday. I can breathe for the rest of the week, knowing that my main objective, really, is to actually teach these lovely students and attempt to grade the ever growing mounds of papers. I will do things at my own slow little pace, knowing that my efforts are simply good enough.

Deep, cleansing breath of freedom from prying eyes (well, until Drew comes to "observe" me on Thursday. But that's an observation without any pressure, except that I be witty and delightful, when I am not always so at 7:25 in the morning with likewise tired seniors).


Thing #27: Coming Home

Trips are delightful. It's fun to see new and old places, to get away from email and most communication, and to spend time with people you love. But eventually, home just seems like a good place to be.

The feeling you get when you drive up to your driveway or parking spot is delightful. It's nice to plop down your bags, check the mail, put on some comfy clothes and just sit and be calm in a place where you are the only one (mostly) to answer to. The grind is obnoxious at times, but the comforting rhythms of day-to-day life are what keep me centered, and I appreciate the rhythms I'm creating more and more.

Ah, home.