Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's Time to Blitz

Pop!  I both hear and feel the sound.  I am sitting at my desk at work and I look down to see that the button on my jeans just popped off and rolled onto the floor.

Now, I could bore you with excuses--they are old jeans, worn out.  Button was probably loose.  Ironically, though, as I look at the button resting on the tile, I am holding a handful of Peanut M & Ms. 

People warned me.  "When you go back to work full time, you just have to let some things go."  Oh, I've let things go all right.  Like a regular exercise routine.  And healthy eating habits.  I thought that if I was too busy to cook maybe I'd lose weight but that is not the case.  Instead I grab fast, convenient choices.  I'm embarrassed to say how many times this week alone I resorted to eating a school lunch from the red styrofoam tray.  Then, instead of exercise, I rely on my favorite easy stress relievers--candy and wine.

So I've gained 6 pounds since school started.  Now, I don't like telling people that because then they say, "Oh, you are not fat!  You look fine.  I can't even tell."  But here's the thing:  I can tell.  And it's not about the weight.  It's about the way I feel.  My clothes are tight.  I feel lethargic.  I just feel gross. 

Luckily, November is just around the corner.  It's time for the November Fitness Blitz!  I invented the Blitz after Jack was born and I've been doing it every year since.  In past years I've invited friends and family to join the fun.  Here's how it works:

Start date: November 1.  Yes, that's right.  It's the day after Halloween.  There's leftover candy everywhere.  Could there be a better day to start a fitness program? 

End date: November 21.  Twenty one days later...just in time to start the holiday season off right.  Originally I picked this date because research showed that it takes 21 days to form a new habit.  Unfortunately, more current research now suggests that it may take longer.  But, whatever.  21 days is a start, right? 

During the 21 days, you get one point for every day that you exercise and one point for every day that you eat healthy.  What constitutes exercise and healthy eating differs from person to person.  One year I gave up dessert.  Another year I made sure I ate 5 servings of vegetables daily.  It's up to you.

I collect $5 from everyone and divide the participants into 4 teams.  Each team has a charity.  Everyone keeps track of their own points (honor system) and the weekend after Thanksgiving we have a big party.  There are fun prizes for top scores, gag gifts for low scores and all the money collected goes to the charity of the team with the most points.  Along the way, I send out weekly emails with bonus point opportunities.

The Blitz has taken different forms over the years.  This year I'm not organizing the big social event and I even considered not doing the Blitz myself.  How will I have time to fit exercise into by already too busy day?  How will I stay motivated to come home and prepare a healthy dinner when I'm so tired? And that's exactly why I need the Blitz. 

I've got a clear mason jar this year and I'll put a dollar in it for every point I earn.  Every day I feel too tired to exercise or tempted to eat some guilty pleasure, I'll ask myself, "Is this cookie worth the dollar that won't go in the jar?"  On November 21st I'll donate the contents of the jar to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.  

If your health is in need of a jump start before the holiday season, I invite you to join me--on your own with a jar, or together with friends and family.  November 1 is Thursday.  It's time to Blitz.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Don't Let My Principal Read This!

Earlier this month Paul planned a presentation for a conference.  He needed a Powerpoint, handouts, an activity and a speech.  Over the course of a few weeks, he spent several hours making sure everything was perfect for that hour-long event.

A few weeks.  What luxury!  Speaking for my fellow teachers, we're giving hour long presentations all day long.  We need lesson plans, materials, background knowledge and back-up plans...every hour of every day. We are expected to be at our peak in our carefully-orchestrated cooperative-learning bliss. 

Except the days when we're not.  Like Monday for example.  When I scheduled a parent-teacher conference first thing.  (Mental note: no parent-teacher conferences on Mondays.  When will I learn?)

Did I mention it was Monday?  Now, I was productive last weekend.  I registered all my kids for their online math text book.  I graded a stack of papers bigger than the stack of pancakes I ate Saturday morning.  In addition I (blah, blah, blah...insert a lot more important stuff related to school here.)  So, as you can see, I was not slacking off or doing anything crazy like, oh, enjoying my weekend. 

I get to school on Monday and I know that in math we're reviewing for a test, only I haven't quite thought through HOW we're doing that.  That's why the cooperative review activity is so appealing.  It's straight from the book and it's already done.  The answers are already there. I don't even have to read it before I quickly run off copies. (If this was a Halloween horror movie, there would be some scary foreboding music right here so the audience would know trouble is coming.)

Math begins and the activity starts off just fine.  Until Cody says, "I think number 3 is wrong."  I take a look.  Hmmm. Number 3 is wrong.  Another student isn't far behind.  "Number 16 doesn't make sense to us," he says.  Number 16 is wrong too!  And so is number 12!!

What a train wreck.  I'm flustered.  Maybe I copied the stuff wrong.  Maybe I should have read the directions more closely (OK, I didn't read them at all.) 

"STOP!" I call to the class.  "I'm sorry," I tell them.  "This isn't going the way I planned."  They are good kids.  They laugh.  Then we talk about it. 

"I'm so proud of you."  I tell them.  "Lots of kids would look on the back for the right answer and not realize there is a mistake there.  You are confident enough in your math ability to realize when an answer doesn't make sense.  That's really what math is all about.  You are using your heads to think about whether or not an answer is reasonable."

I don't know why that book had 3 errors in this particular exercise.  I know I learned my lesson to proofread very carefully if I ever use any of those activities again.  After reflecting though, I realize the day wasn't quite the train wreck I thought it was.  My students were on task.  They were solving problems.  Even those I didn't initially realize existed. 

Disclaimer:  Sometimes my principal actually reads my blog.  I think she'll click right on it when she sees the title of this one.  So when we meet for my evaluation cycle I want you to know, Kelly, that this is off the record :).

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Making Plans-Check.

Have you ever asked someone for their opinion and then realized you didn't actually want it?

I do this to Paul sometimes when we're making plans.

me: "Where should we go out to eat tonight?"
paul: "Wherever you want, hon."
me: "I don't care.  You decide."
paul: "OK, how 'bout Chinese?"
me: "hmmm, we had Chinese the last time.  Maybe we should try something different?"
paul: "We could go get some seafood on Maine Avenue."
me: "I don't know, with traffic at this time of night, it will take us forever to get there.  How 'bout that little Indian place around the corner?"
paul:  "OK, Indian it is."

I'm good at making plans.  Schedules, goals, charts, checklists:  these are the fibers of my being.  Those who know me well know my motto, "I can be spontaneous with 24 hours notice."  Sometimes, though, I want to give other people in my family an opportunity to make plans.  Occasionally I want a break from being the master scheduler.  I also want to make sure everyone has a chance to share ideas for our outings.  With one teenager and one teenager-in-training in the house, family outings don't hold the appeal they once did.  I figure if I let them choose where we should go, they might not complain (as much) about spending the day with their (ugh) parents.

So I broach the subject at the dinner table where they are trapped into being my captive audience.  "I'd like each of you to think of one activity that we can do together this month," I tell them.  I already have a list of potential suggestions in mind (bike rides, family tennis, a movie, apple picking...) but I wait for my family members to brainstorm these ideas without my help.

"I want to dance to a polka band," Paul says.
"I want to go to a baseball playoff game," Jack says.
"I want to see Zoe," Katherine says.

OK, clearly they need my help.  A polka band?  Did I not mention the teenagers in the house?  Can you think of anything more embarrassing for a teenage boy than going polka dancing with his father?  A playoff game?  Do you have any idea how expensive those tickets will be?  Plus, the game is on a school night.  And Zoe lives two hours away.  Coordinating a visit with her means coordinating the weekend schedules of nine people in two different families trying to find an activity-free window of availability.

But, I asked.  If I shoot down all their ideas and convince them to go on a family bike ride, what's the point of asking? 

So, first, the polka band.  Yesterday we found an Oktoberfest Fall Festival-- a beer garden for the adults, brats and funnel cakes for the kids.  And, a live German band playing, you guessed it, the polka.  Jack was so distracted by the grown men wandering around in lederhosen, he didn't even notice his dad tapping his foot and swaying, yes, even dancing, to the music. 

Polka band, check.

Next up, tickets to this week's Nationals game.  I got some!  Tickets for the first home game of the playoff series are out of the question unless I win the lottery by Wednesday.  But if --BIG IF--they need to play the fourth game, I have secured tickets.  Yes, I can think all the reasons why we shouldn't go--I spent more on four tickets than I did on a week's worth of groceries; we'll be out late on a school night; we can't even make plans because the game might not happen. Instead I'm thinking of all the reasons we should go--The Nationals haven't been in the playoffs since 1981 when they were the Montreal Expos.  More important, going to the game is important to Jack.  After all, I asked him what he wanted to do.  I didn't give him any parameters about making an affordable, easy, predictable choice.  So, in his honor, I'm being spontaneous, slightly irresponsible and taking a risk--it's so unlike me.  Now I'm crossing my fingers that on Thursday night I can say,

Nationals tickets, check.

Katherine's request was the most difficult.  As expected, trying to coordinate the busy weekend schedules of everyone proved very tricky indeed.  The good news: we've got a visit on the calendar.  The bad news: we couldn't squeeze it into October's schedule.  Katherine will get her visit with Zoe, but in the meantime she chose a different idea. We are looking forward to visiting our favorite pumpkin patch soon.

Visiting Zoe: rain-check.
Pumpkin Patch: soon-to-be-check.

As for me, I don't know if we'll squeeze in a family bike ride, a tennis match or a movie this month.  That's OK.  I can still look at my list of things to do and say:

Make my family happy: check.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Barf and Poop and Other Cool Stuff

"So you actually have owl poop?" Katie asks.

"Owl pellets," Anne corrects.  "It comes out of the owl's mouth.  Kinda like a cat's hairball."

"Well, how often do the owls have these pellets?" Donna wants to know.

We want to know more about owl pellets.  Like, do they have their morning coffee and then--bam--owl pellet?  It is Friday afternoon and we are planning some science lessons with Anne.  Anne is the amazingly wonderful, incredibly talented, knowledgeable science specialist at our school.  Her job is to help the classroom teachers with their science curriculum.  Next month we'll be studying food chains, animal adaptations and predator-prey relationships.  That's where the owl pellet comes in.  Owl=predator.  Pellet=prey.

You see, an owl swallows its prey--most often a rodent--whole.  Then some cool chemistry science stuff happens in the owl's stomach and all the useful parts of the owl's meal are taken away leaving only the bones and hair of the rodent.  So the owl ejects the unwanted parts back out of its mouth. 

Anne lays an owl pellet on the table.  It's about the size of an egg.  She shows us how to carefully pull it apart with tweezers and separate out the skeleton of the rodent.  There's the skull!  There's the thigh bone! Here are some rodent ribs!  They look like tiny fish bones.  She has a template of a rodent skeleton so when we find a bone we can match it up and add it to the picture.  Remember the old game Operation where you had to get all the bones out of the picture?  This is the reverse.  We have to find all the bones and put them back.

We are intrigued.  We want to know more! How often does this happen?  (Several times a day, Anne says.)  Do owls also go to the bathroom? (Yes.)  Have you ever seen an owl eject a pellet? (No.)

"I bet we can find it on YouTube," Jenn says.  And so, a moment later, we are gathered around her laptop watching a baby owl.  Even though we are expecting it, we still all scream when the pellet is ejected--so loud, in fact, that some other teachers rush into the room to see what is happening.  They find us doubled over in tears with laughter. 

Anne has a way of getting teachers excited about science.  Anne loves science.  We love Anne.  Now we love science too.  And owl pellets.  Check it out for yourself: Baby Owl Ejects Pellet