Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lucky Number (Two Thousand) Thirteen

I swear it was just yesterday that I was writing the Top 12 Times of Twenty-Twelve. And yet here we are, on the cusp of another new year. I started writing this little blog in 2011, which happened to be an extraordinary year of my life. However, after re-reading last year's post, it's hard not to think of 2012 as being even better. But as I look back on the tremendous times that made up 2013, it's safe to say that this has in fact been the best year yet.

Honestly, I had a hard time limiting my list to 13 top moments-a good problem to have, I realize. I said at the end of last year's reflective post that 2013 was a gift, and a gift it has truly proven to be. From learning that my best friend would be my partner teacher, to buying my first new car, to celebrating mom being six years cancer-free, it really has been a year full of blessings. 

For some, the number thirteen is believed to be unlucky. But for yours truly, the 13th year of this millennium only brought about good fortune. In no particular order, I give you the thirteen top times of my '13:

1. McNugget's 1st birthday: July 22 marked one year since my favorite person came into this world (a day on which I was actually in Chicago to see Justin Timberlake, but more on that later). A few days later, we gathered to celebrate her first fabulous 365 days of life, with the theme "You are my Sunshine" ringing so true.

In a year full of firsts, none have meant as much as hearing that sweet girl say my name for the first time. We played a round of "Can you say...?" and she was on a roll so I said, "Can you say 'Jackie'?" to which she replied "Ja-KEY" and it was obviously the most adorable pronunciation of my name ever uttered. I cherish every moment I get to spend with her, and can't wait to see what 2014 holds for my precious niece.

2. Grandma's 84th birthday: From a 1st birthday, to an 84th birthday; I feel so fortunate I got to spend this one with my Grandma Phyllie. First, she traveled from Illinois to spend a week with our family in Louisville. I loved getting to take her to Waterfront Park to see the Lincoln statue.
Then, we visited my uncle's lake house in Indiana, where we celebrated her big 8-4. 
The older we both get, the more I realize how blessed I am to have her in my life. I hope that when I'm her age, I can be even half as spunky as she is. Here's to 84 more years! 

3. Brown County: After the fun we had on our trip to the Smoky Mountains last year, my team decided to take another trip together this past May. We headed north to Brown County, Indiana to celebrate another successful school year. Among the highlights, our cabin, appropriately named "The Heart of Nashville", truly was in the center of it all; so much so, that we had several "visitors" try to enter our cabin like it was the rental office, only to turn around running like they had seen a ghost upon realizing their mistake. Pure entertainment. 
We also had a good laugh when we awkwardly had to leave a restaurant that only served dinner buffets, as we were simply interested in a snack. In other words, we weren't about to pay $13 for a few biscuits.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I feel so blessed to work with a group of ladies that I can truly call my friends. As teachers we must collaborate with our colleagues on a daily basis, and I am so fortunate to be a part of such a successful and "dreamy" team.

4. Wedding Singers: I was so happy to be a part of Deanna & Chad's big day. I was even happier because it meant that Joey and I could sing together again. It had been four years (at Micah & Kate's nuptials in 2009) since we had last harmonized at a wedding. 
I'd have to say my favorite moment of the wedding was after the first song, when the bride turned around and gave us the thumbs up while mouthing, "That was so good". Love that girl (and her groom)!
I'd like to make singing a priority in 2014. Not necessarily just in weddings, but maybe like as a hobby (I'm looking at you, Joey & Jenny). Singing is good for this soul.

5. The Package: Alright, now get your minds out of the gutter. Wait, what? Your minds weren't in the gutter. Oh it's just me then? So sorry. At any rate, this was officially the year of concerts, and Jenny and I kicked it off with Boyz II Men, 98 Degrees, and New Kids on the Block, a.k.a., The Package Tour. Truthfully, I was most excited about seeing my "Motownphilly" boys. 
Obviously, they did not disappoint, and neither did Nick Lachey & Co. But I gotta say, I really have to give credit to NKOTB. 

I wasn't a big New Kids fan growing up, so I wasn't as hyped about them-that is until I saw them perform. Good. Stuff. Or should I say, "The Right Stuff"?
It probably had something to do with the fact that Jordan kept throwing up his L all night (Go Cards!). Also, it didn't hurt that we were three rows from the floor, especially since this happened:
I'm just sayin' if this were the 80s, I would have left that show with a giant "I heart Joey" button on my jean jacket. But seriously, that show was a blast-and it was only the appetizer of the four-course meal of concerts this year held in store.

6. Chicago = JT + Jay Z: When Jenny and I learned that these two legends were going on tour together this summer, we didn't hesitate to get tickets. I was literally shaking as I logged onto Ticketmaster the day they went on sale, so nervous we wouldn't get seats. Thankfully we did, so we packed our bags, with our homemade "I heart JT" t-shirts of course, and hit the road in July for Chi-town. 

As we danced near our seats in Soldier Field, the hits just kept coming: Holy Grail, My Love, Big Pimpin', Suit and Tie, Tom Ford, SexyBack...Let's just say that the Legends Tour lived up to its name. For example, the encore, ladies and gentlemen:
The Windy City did not disappoint either. We managed to squeeze in a White Sox/Tigers game, and visit Navy Pier. I can't wait to get back to Chicago one day soon!

7. JT visits the Ville: As if the year wasn't already exciting enough with a trip to Chicago to see JT with Jay Z, we then learned that our beloved Mr. Timberlake would be going on tour by himself, and that for the first time on his own, he would be visiting our beloved city of Louisville. Duh, we had to get tickets. This might be hard to believe, but I have to say that I enjoyed the 20/20 Experience even more than the Legends Tour. Maybe it's because it was three glorious hours of Justin, or maybe it's because it was in our home town. 
Whatever the reason, y'all, this was the BEST show I've ever seen. He was AMAZING. 
In a year when Justin released two CDs, and reunited with *NSYNC at the MTV Music Awards, seeing him perform at the KFC Yum! Center was the cherry on top of an already super sweet sundae. I hope he graces our fine city with his presence again, sooner rather than later.

8. BU Class of 2003 Reunion: It only seems appropriate that in the year that *NSYNC reunited, that I would also have my ten-year college reunion. Now I could have easily dwelled upon the sad fact that ten whole years have already passed since I was a college student. But instead, I choose to focus on the positive, which is that I am still in touch with many of the fine people that I met at Bellarmine. I loved my time as an undergrad, and I was more than happy to be back on campus to catch up with my fellow classmates a decade later. 

The evening was especially a reminder of how blessed I am to be able to call Erin, Jenny, and Heather my friends, then and now.

9. Straight No Chaser: In addition to Boyz II Men, 98 Degrees, NKOTB, Jay Z, and JT, I was lucky enough to see the a cappella studs of Straight No Chaser in concert this year. For the second time, these fine gentlemen made a visit to the Kentucky Center for the Arts, and Jenny and I were three rows from the stage. 

Hailing from Indiana University, they're certainly easy on the eyes (especially Mike), hilarious, and super talented. If you ever get the chance to see them, take it. 

10. Gatlinburg: It only took 32 years, but our family finally went on a real vacation together. Mind you, we spent the past three decades traveling plenty, to see our out-of-town family members, or to follow my brother's baseball team. But considering my brother, sister, and I are all out of college and out of the house, it was high time for a real family getaway. The destitnation: Gatlinburg, TN. 
Between our beautiful view from the cabin, the hike to Laurel Falls, the trip to the Apple Barn, watching the Cards defeat Duke and then the Women's team defeat Baylor, not to mention the pure cuteness of my niece, it was well worth the wait.

11. Jandy's Engagement: I had told Kate that I had a feeling Andy was going to propose to Jill on their trip to Destin. So it shouldn't have come as a surprise when my phone rang that Sunday at midnight with my sister's name on the caller ID. But surprised I was, and happy of course, to get the good news. Andy had learned to play "Marry Me" by Train on the guitar, got down on one knee and SANG to my sister on the beach. It just doesn't get more precious. 
I was honored when she asked me to be her maid of honor, although she has already told me I'm not allowed to cry during my toast at the reception. So wish me luck on that, y'all.
The wedding plans are well underway, but the best is yet to come: helping her find her dress. 

12. Year of the Cardinal: As a lifelong Louisville Cardinals fan, I'd say that any one of the school's accomplishments this past year would deserve a spot on this list. But the fact that the Cards hit the Superfecta of Sports is the main reason that this year has been so special. 

Let's reminisce, shall we? Eight, that's right, EIGHT Louisville teams earned Big East Conference Championships this year. The Men's Baseball Team was the regular season Big East Conference Champ, and then went on to defeat rival Vanderbilt to earn a coveted spot in Omaha for the College World Series.

The Women's Basketball Team, despite losing 4 starters to injury this season, defeated Brittney Griner and the Baylor Bears, as well as Tennessee and Cal, to make it to the National Championship game against UConn (one day we will defeat you, Huskies). 

The Football Team, despite the broken wrist and sprained ankle of Teddy Bridgewater, defeated Rutgers to earn a share of the regular season Big East Conference Championship. They started the year with a phenomenal defeat of the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl, and ended the year with a dominant victory of future ACC foe, Miami University in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

And oh yeah, we ACCepted an invitation to join the ACC next year. Really glad Ruthie and I got season football tickets this year for the first time, so that we can be sure to have a spot for next year when teams like Florida State and Miami come to town.
Last but certainly not least, the Men's Basketball team earned the regular season and the post season Big East Championship titles, on the way to making their second consecutive Final Four. Sophomore Kevin Ware became the country's college sports hero this year after overcoming a horrific leg break during the Elite Eight game against Duke. As his bone protruded from his leg, laying on the court, he told the team that he would be fine, and that they just needed to win the game. And win they did. For the first time since 1986, the University of Louisville went on to win the National Championship. 

My words hardly do justice in describing the gloriousness that has been the past year for University of Louisville athletics. Furthermore, my other beloved Cardinals, of St. Louis, were the National League Champions and earned a trip to the World Series. It's hard to believe there could be another year in Cardinal sports that will ever match the success and excitement we fans experienced in 2013. But it sure is fun to think about...

13. A Nationally Published Author: I'd have to say that getting my article published in Educational Horizons Magazine is my biggest personal accomplishment since earning my National Board Certification in 2010. I blogged in October about how this dream, along with being asked to host my first national webinar, became a reality
I'd love it if one day I could make a living as a full-time writer, whether it be articles, memoirs, or children's books. Here's hoping that 2014 brings with it some additional writing opportunities. 

Dear Reader, if you made it through all thirteen times, I thank you. Needless to say, 2013 was a pretty phenomenal year. So many more than 13 blessings to count: I took some fabulous trips, reached a few personal milestones, and watched my McNugget grow cuter and cuter. I'm so grateful for the time spent with my wonderful family and friends. Not only did my Cards win two bowl games and the National Championship, I got to see JT in concert twice. So good luck trying to top that, 2014. I sincerely hope you do. 

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Elf on the Shelf?

Well it's December, otherwise known as the month that my Newsfeed is chock full of pictures of little elf dolls swimming in pools of marshmallows and making snow angels in flour. Oh, joy.

This morning my students came back from Thanksgiving break all abuzz about their elves. One asked me if we were going to have an elf in our classroom; I looked at her like she had 3 heads.

Elf on the Shelf? I just don't get it, you guys.

I know that many of you are thinking, "Just wait until you have kids of your own." Well, I hate to break it to you, but at this rate, we might be waiting forever. Furthermore, I'm not convinced that having a child of my own would help this situation.

First of all, the elf creeps me out. There, I said it. Also, the thing that really gets me is that this disturbing dude is supposed to be "watching" (yikes) the children to make sure they behave, but meanwhile he's wreaking havoc all over the house. Huh?

Thank goodness there was no elf on any shelf at our house when my siblings and I were little. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have slept a wink that month for fear that the elf would come in my room and murder me. My brother would have made it his mission to knock the elf down from whatever shelf on which he may have been perched. My sister would have constantly questioned the rest of us as to where the elf really came from and just how it got into our house. Sounds magical, doesn't it?

Bless those of you dedicated parents out there who have committed to the Elf on the Shelf tradition. I know your children love it, and that's why you do it.

But I also know that I'm going to rest easier this holiday season with shelves that are elf-free.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

It's the Most Movie Time of the Year

Raise your hand if you think Christmas movies are the best kind of movies. 
You can all put your hands down now.

Once my tree is up, it's officially time to let the film fun begin. I'd seriously be content curled up on my couch, for the next 25 days, watching the following Christmas movies:

The Holiday: This is on my TV as I type, and let me just say, it probably won't be the last time that it's on my TV in the coming weeks. I absolutely love it. Jude Law's character is precious, but each time I watch it, I can't help hoping I'll meet someone like Jack Black's character one day. The scene in the video store does it to me every time. Hilarious & sweet.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: It's really all about the music in this one, people. A favorite as long as I've been able to remember having favorites.

Love Actually: I love how all of the characters' story lines intertwine. It makes me want to move to London. Hugh Grant's dance break is my fave. Also, how precious is the stepfather/stepson relationship? 

Elf: "Did you hear that?" "Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color?" "You look very purply today." "Smiling's my favorite." "Santa! I know him!" I could go on all day. Love. Love. Love.

Home Alone: "Keep the change, ya filthy animal."

Mickey's Christmas Carol: As far as I'm concerned, this is the best version of A Christmas Carol that exists. Probably because it's the first version I saw, but still, it's a classic. Tiny Tim (looking like Mickey's mini me, mind you) and his little crutch really stuck with me.

Christmas Vacation: Oh, Clark, and his crazy family. It just doesn't get better than the squirrel scene.

Jingle All The Way: This was pretty much on repeat in our house when I was growing up. My little sister loved it. And my brother and I grew to love quoting it. Our favorite: Arnold saying "I'm gonna wrap some chains around you". Don't ask me why. It just made us crack up-and still does to this day. Also, Sinbad, you guys. Sinbad.

Miracle on 34th Street: As far as the classics go, I'd take this movie any day over White Christmas or It's a Wonderful Life. No offense to the others, I just like this one best. I think the characters were way ahead of their time, what with the successful single mother and all.

Claymation Christmas: Two words: California Raisins. A special shout out to my friend Deanna for bringing this tradition back to my life. 

Just Friends: "I swear! By the moon, and the stars in the sky..." I could watch this movie any time of the year (and I do), and laugh out loud as much as I did the first time I saw it. "I'm busy!"

So, who's ready to call in sick tomorrow and have a movie marathon? 

But seriously, here's to the official start of the holiday season, and the films that get us in the spirit! What are your must-see Christmas movies?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A Thankful List

Are you familiar with HuffPost Good News? As it says on their Facebook page, HuffPost is "a section from the editors of The Huffington Post that [shines] a much-needed spotlight on what's inspiring, what's positive, what's working." I recommend you check it out; it's certainly way more uplifting than the 5:00 News.

At any rate, I read an article on HuffPost the other day about how to start your day off on a positive note. As opposed to hitting the snooze button 7 times or worrying about what awaits you at the office, it suggested that you begin your day by thinking about what you are thankful for.

I liked the idea. Simple, but I could see how it could quickly have a profound positive impact on one's outlook. So on Tuesday morning, when Justin Timberlake's "Suit and Tie" stirred me from my slumber (Is there a better way to start the day?), I rubbed my eyes, grabbed my phone, fired up the Notes app, and just started listing all the things I am thankful for. Here is what came to mind:

my warm bed
my condo
my iPhone
my team
my sense of humor
my independence
my car

I could have gone on, but it was time to get ready for work, and besides, I felt like I'd hit the highlights. I listed them in no particular order, though I find it hilarious (and par for the course) that "cheeseburgers" came to my mind before "health". Also, I'd like to note that I have a love/hate relationship with Coke, in that I hate that I love it so much. 

Anyways, I think this is a practice I'd like to keep up. Reflecting about what I'm thankful for everyday, not just on Thanksgiving, seems like the best way to start, and for that matter, end my day. 

I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving and I want you to know how thankful I am to you for reading my little blog! In fact, I'll be sure to add that to my next list.

Monday, November 18, 2013

8 Random Things

So have you all seen the "[Insert number here] Things About Me" on Facebook? I had seen several of my friends post lists like these over the past week, but didn't know what it was all about. Then I saw that my friend Jenny had posted one, and after it made me laugh out loud, I "liked" it. A few minutes later, she told me I had the number 8. 
Ah, now I see how this works.

Well, I'm certainly not one to pass up a writing opportunity. Here's what I came up with:

1. I love solitude, but hate to go places by myself.
2. I find out what is going on in the world from Twitter & Late Night with Jimmy Fallon because I think the real news is too depressing.
3. I have never eaten a salad. In fact, anyone who says they like lettuce is questionable to me.
4. I despise when people try to tell me what to do.
5. I'm pretty sure my computer and phone both hate me for the amount of music & photos I have on them. 
6. I am an extrovert, but I turn into the queen of awkwardness around any guy I deem cute.
7. I tend to think of funny things whenever it's silent and I'm not supposed to laugh, causing my shoulders to shake uncontrollably, which inevitably makes me laugh even more.
8. I am happiest when my immediate family is all together.

A random list, a fun exercise. Go ahead and give it a shot. You have my permission to write as many things as you want.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Teaching Is...

Today I came across a blogpost called "The Hardest Job Everyone Thinks They Can Do" by Dennis Hong. Before I even read it, I knew it was about teaching. After I read it, I thought, this guy gets it. 
Considering I've spent this entire rainy Sunday in my sweatpants, still recovering from 2 weeks of conferences and report cards, I needed to read this today.
Teacher or not, I suggest you read the entire piece. These are the lines that really resonated with me:
"Teaching is understanding how the human brain processes information and preparing lessons with this understanding in mind.
Teaching is simultaneously instilling in a child the belief that she can accomplish anything she wants while admonishing her for producing shoddy work.
Teaching is offering a sympathetic ear while maintaining a stern voice.
Teaching is being both a role model and a mentor to someone who may have neither at home, and may not be looking for either.
You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s test scores. You can’t measure inspiration by a child’s grades. You measure inspiration 25 years later when that hot-shot doctor, or lawyer, or entrepreneur thanks her fourth-grade teacher for having faith in her and encouraging her to pursue her dreams."
And don't even get me started on test scores. 
It's late, and I need to get to bed so that I can get up at 5:45 and get ready to inspire my students.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Photos 32: Falling for Fall Break

After a brief hiatus, Friday Photos are back, just in time to celebrate my love for everything Fall Break. Beginning last Friday, this Fall Break has been a relaxing reminder of the sweet freedom of Summer. I managed to use my freedom wisely, by cleaning out three bags of clothes & shoes to donate, clearing off months of mail to reveal the top of my dining room table, and transferring 15 years of CDs from their cases to one tidy binder.
In addition to vacuuming my floors for the first time in an I'm-too-embarrassed-to-actually-admit-it amount of time, I also managed to squeeze in a lil' bit of fun this week. I give you exhibits A-H:

Cheers to Fall Break, Courtney's birthday, taquitos, and low tolerance levels at Mussel & Burger Bar!

I actually got to do brunch & lunch (like other working adults), including this trip to Wild Eggs with my precious niece.

Courtney and I went for a stroll at the Anchorage Loop, which turned out to be a deer-watching walk. Shh! Bambi's trying to eat.

I met the fam over at little sis' new house to help hang blinds, and by "hang blinds" I mean "take pictures of my adorable McNugget".

I'm still not completely over the loss that the Cards suffered to UCF, but Ruthie and I had fun anyway. And boy did I own that Snuggie.

Clearly, the goal was to soak up as much McNugget time as possible. Mission accomplished. 
She's getting so big! Climbing up stairs & going down the slides like a boss.

I considered going to St. Louis to catch game 3 of the World Series, but after peeping the price tag for tickets on Stub Hub, I decided cheering the Cardinals on from the comfort of my couch would do just fine. Beat Boston!

After years of eyeing a mirrored nightstand at Pottery Barn, I thanked my lucky stars above that I waited so long to buy it when Mom and I came upon this beauty at Home Goods. Not only is it a more modern take on the piece I originally wanted, it was also $250 cheaper. Score.

Dear Fall Break,
Thank you for saving my sanity. I love you. Come back soon.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Write Stuff

Though I've always felt called to be a teacher, it's no secret that I'd also love to be a writer. Recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to bring the two vocations together.

Back in May, I saw an advertisement via the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Facebook page for an opportunity to submit an article to Educational Horizons Magazine. They were looking for topics that pertain to new teachers for their "Teacher's Toolkit" spread. 

So, just for the fun of it (nerd alert), I wrote an article focused on ways to connect with students' families--a topic I wish I would have had more information on when I was a new teacher. My friends Ruthie and Joey (who are both great teachers & writers themselves) graciously proofread my little article, and with their votes of confidence, I sent it off, and headed to the lake to officially kick off summer break.

Fast forward to July when I got word from the editor of Educational Horizons that they wanted to publish my article in their October/November issue! Confetti! 

But the celebrating didn't end there. A few weeks later, their editor contacted me with a (paid) opportunity to host a webinar related to the topic of my article, sponsored by the magazine. So, I thought about it for a fraction of a second, and then said YES.

Now, I'm not gonna lie, after the initial excitement died down, I did freak out a little bit. The thought of teachers from all across the country listening to me speak was a tad intimidating to say the least. But my friends and coworkers hyped me up with their encouraging words, and on September 25th, I lead my very first webinar. Despite my nerves, I think it went well. 

You can find a recording of my webinar, "Connecting With Families" under Past Webinars here: http://pilambda.org/benefits/webinars/

This weekend I was delighted to open my mailbox and find the October/November issue of Educational Horizons with my article published inside!

You can read my article online for free until the end of October here: http://pilambda.org/horizons/connecting-with-families/

I'm so grateful to Educational Horizons for giving me my first chance to have my writing printed in a national publication, and to lead my very first webinar. I'm also so appreciative of the support from my family and friends along the way. 

Here's hoping this is the first of many writing opportunities to come.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Um, Where Did August Go?

Seriously, y'all. Where did it go?

The answer is, I'm a teacher.

We started school August 13th. And then I blinked. Now it's September 14th. I think that pretty much sums it up.

Which would also explain why I haven't blogged since August 9th. Sad times.

I'm happy to report that this is the first weekend that I didn't bring any school work home with me. Notice I didn't say, "that I didn't need to bring any school work home with me," but that I just didn't. This teacher is exhausted to say the least, but can't blame it all on work.

Let me give you the run-down:
-A new school year began
-I took one last swim in the pool
-I celebrated with my friend, Erin for her daughter's first birthday
-We discovered that my niece is obsessed with eating corn on the cob
-Jenny and I celebrated/freaked out because *NSYNC reunited for the first time in 11 years at the VMAs 
-I helped Ruthie & Richard move into their new, gorgeous home
-I celebrated my 32nd birthday, receiving a drink from a secret admirer in the restaurant (who still remains unknown)
-I celebrated my birthday again, and then another time, and then again after that (and maybe some other times too)
-I babysat/chased my niece all over the house because she's now walking everywhere
-I realized my life-long dream of being a Louisville Football season ticket holder and have spent the past two weekends cheering on the Cards (wearing the most precious Cardinal hairpins you've ever seen)
-I sold my car
-And then I bought a new car (the first new car I've ever owned, mind you)
-I celebrated my sister's engagement & new home purchase while cheering on the Cards against the Cats (the Cards won by the way)
-I finally sat down for the first time in a month and wrote this post

And if you need some visuals...

Here's hoping I can savor what's left of September, and also actually have some time to devote to my precious little blog before I blink again and it's Halloween.