June 30, 2011

You Can't Win 'Em All...

Well folks, if Tuesday's run was the BEST of my training runs so far for my upcoming half-marathon, this morning's run definitely wins the prize for the absolute WORST.  Seriously, this run sucked.  There is no other way to describe it. 
 I've had bad runs before, but I almost NEVER quit early.  Today I did.  I had 5 miles on the schedule, and even the 3 I hobbled through were a struggle.  I was tired, it was hot, there was no shade, and my legs were in pain pain pain.  I've been working on strengthening my legs with a physical therapist to help with my nagging IT band issues, and the result so far has been that muscles I didn't even know I HAD are killing me.  Yesterday and today it's the piriformis that's been killing me, aka the muscles deep in the hip and butt...TMI?  Sorry!  Hopefully this is just a temporary side effect of strengthening my legs and preventing future injury...

But, all of that aside, the real problem with today's 5-miles-that-wasn't was this: remember that mental game I talked about Tuesday?  The positive attitude and confidence that have been leading me to ROCK my runs lately?  Yeah it must have slept in today while I dragged my tired self out of bed and out onto the trail, because there wasn't much running through my head that was positive.  More than ever I believe that running is maybe 95% mental, and today my head just wasn't in the game.

I met a friend after the run to engage in intelligent conversation watch Secret Life of the American Teenager, and she commented that I look so in shape and fit and healthy lately.  It reminded me that this one negative run does NOT negate all of the fantastic runs I've had these past few weeks or mean that I am somehow going to lose the endurance I've been working to build up.  Because she's right--I'm probably in the best shape of my whole life right now, and today's run is just one run.  Tomorrow is another day. :)

What do you do or tell yourself when you have "one of those" running days?

Besides a lot of positive self-talk, on days like this I like to go back and read old posts of some of my favorite or best runs to remind myself that I have done this before and I can do it again. :)

June 29, 2011


I wrote this post last night about an amazing evening training run I’d just finished, but because I don’t have internet at my new apartment yet, it had to wait until today to be published. :) 

Tonight’s run was one of those runs where everything clicks.  One of those runs where you remember why you endure those hot, sweaty, miserable runs.  Where you remember why you suffer through boring miles on the dreadmill all winter long.  Where you remember why you didn’t give it up after injury one hundred and one.  Where you remember why you started running in the first place.  One of those runs where you feel…ALIVE.

From the first mile I knew that my head was in the game.  You know when you start a run and even if your body feels fine, you’re just not feeling mentally strong?  That was the opposite of tonight.  For no reason I was just ecstatic to be running.  Everything I saw just made me more and more happy.  Wildflowers, deer (!!!—super close, too!), other runners and cyclists, the sunset… I even embraced the hills on my route, thinking to myself, “Hills make me stronger,” at each one.  I had one goal for this run—negative splits.  I know I’m capable of running them—I usually keep a really steady pace and have energy at the end, but on my past few runs I’ve definitely been slowing down and losing energy at the end.   So when I started out at an 11:20 average pace, I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to speed up much at the end.  I kept telling myself to take it easy, but every time I looked at my garmin the average pace had gotten faster.  After I finished 2.5 miles and was still feeling amazing, I realized that I had this run. 
I tend to play it safe with running (and, to be completely honest, with life).  Oh I push myself, but because my goals have always been about distance instead of speed, I tend to start out super slow and not really kick it into high gear until the very end of my runs.  Today I realized that maybe I’ve been selling myself short.  I’ll always be slow, but maybe I have it in me to be faster than I’ve thought.   I finished my 5 miles in 54:19.25 with an average pace of 10:52/mi, a personal speed record for that distance.  But the best part is that I still felt fabulous at the end.  Fast runners, remember that my 5K PR involved an average pace of 10:12/mi, so 10:52/mi for 5 miles is a big deal for me even though I’m sure it sounds like I must have been CRAWLING to some of you.  :)

I have been feeling so confident lately about running and my upcoming half marathon.  The race is about 7 weeks away, and I’m feeling like I’m getting stronger every day.  My muscles are healing.  (Knock on wood…) My long runs are getting easier.  My short runs are getting faster.  I’m wondering how much of this improvement is actually because of this new confidence.   Running is a mental game, that’s for sure.  While my body physically still has some healing to do before 13.1 (IT bands, I’m talking about YOU!), my mind is READY.  Tonight, I mostly just took in the gorgeous scenery during the run, but an unexpected mantra came to mind as they often do for me…


This is it.  This is the moment.  This is the time.  NOW is when we are going to get stronger and faster.  Not tomorrow.  Not next week.  Not next training cycle for the next race.  Today is the day that I’m going to be the best I can be.  THIS moment.  THIS run.  THIS IS IT. 

What memorable “this is it” run or workout have you had lately?

June 28, 2011

I Believe in Picture Books

I have many MANY passions in teaching and in life, but one of the biggest of these is picture books.  I read them constantly to my class, browse them at the book store, and there have been several occassions when I have found myself wandering into the picture book section of the library and standing in the (low, child-sized) stacks reading Eve Bunting or Patricia Polacco (and, let's be honest, occasionally shedding a tear or two...).  I teach big kids, 5th graders to be exact, but I read picture books to my students anyways.  Here's why...

Top 5 Reasons I Believe in the Power of Picture Books

~Picture books  teach important lessons and help my kids think BEYOND the obvious.
I love sharing a book with the kids that they have read before in an earlier grade and asking them to look at the story with a new perspective.  They may remember hearing the story as a first or second grader, but it is amazing to see the wheels turn in their heads as they think about complex topics like tone, theme, and character motives.  Also, while it's my job to teach kids to read and write and add and multiply, it's also part of my job to prepare my students for LIFE.  That definitely goes beyond the core curriculum.  When we need to tackle an important issue like gossip or bullying or caring for the Earth, a picture book goes a long way to start the discussion and to get their wheels turning.  Some of our most powerful conversations were after reading texts like The Giving Tree and The Lorax.

~Picture books help my kids LOVE READING.
Picture books can be just plain fun.  Silly, sweet, or serious, picture books might be the hook you need to grab kids who might otherwise not be reading.  Of course they are not the ONLY hook out there, but visiting favorite picture books can be a safe way to get kids STARTED on their reading journey.  Also, by sharing picture books with ALL of my students, it helps reluctant and emergent readers feel comfortable reading them when they might otherwise have been embarrassed to be seen with a picture book.  Reading picture books to the class sends the message that they are NOT babyish; they are for EVERYBODY to enjoy.

~Picture books make big, complex ideas like history and world issues accessible to kids.
I am constantly in search of picture books that pair with science and social studies units to intersperse with our text book reading.  They do a great job of helping kids understand the content at their level, especially if the characters in the book are also children.  I also find that the kids tend to more easily remember the content they learned in the picture book than the text book, and use that story to make connections to the topic of study.  Plus, they're a nice change of pace!

~Picture books help students grow as writers.
I love using picture books as mentor texts during my writing workshop.  Sharing part of a picture book gives students a quick example of "good writing" that can spark their own creative writing processes.  While chapter books can of course make great mentor texts, I find that the picture book is less intimidating.  They are short and accessible, but still model the writing techniques we work on with our students like description, dialogue, onomatopoeia, point of view, and many other things.  I have found so much success in using picture books in writing workshop, and our picture book mini-lessons have been some of the students' favorites.

~Picture books keep my kids KIDS.
My students all act like they are 10 going on 18, which is probably NOT the best thing for kids.  During the school day, I look for little ways I can keep them from growing up too fast--ways I can keep them KIDS.  Gathering on the carpet and listening to a picture book is one of my favorite ways.  For those 10-15 minutes, they are not thinking about MTV or Jersey Shore or Grand Theft Auto or whatever other inappropriate media they spend time with outside of school.  They are just kids, taking in, processing, and (most importantly) enjoying a story.

This is the first in a series of posts I am working on about using picture books in the intermediate classroom.  I would love to hear suggestions of favorite picture books that you use in your classrooms.  Thanks!

June 27, 2011


When I got home from my Atlanta-Florida trip a few weeks ago, I lamented the lack of frozen yogurt shops in Illinois.  How was it that we were missing out on this delightful treat?!?  Not a week later did my friend inform me that a fro yo chain was popping up all over the suburbs, including one  less than 10 minutes from my apartment!!! WHAT?!?!?  Talk about serendipity.  Sunday Miss R and I ventured to Red Mango, and it did not disappoint:
Words cannot describe :)

June 25, 2011

Race Recap: Trailblazer "Nutty" 15K

Last weekend my wonderful Girls on the Run co-coach Lauren and I did our long run together and had a great time!  I had 7 miles on the schedule, and running with Lauren made them pass by SO quickly.  After about 5 miles I remember thinking, Wow!  I can't remember the last time miles have ticked by like this!!  Isn't that just the best feeling?  I love running alone, but having a buddy for that long run really spiced up my routine and gave me an energy boost.  When the run was over, we immediately decided that we would do the following weekend's long run together.

So, when Lauren texted me Thursday asking for my thoughts on running a 15K race Saturday for the long run, I had mixed feelings...because I am a PLANNER like whoa, I'm not the MOST flexible person in the world, so I was hesitant to commit to 9.3 miles when I only had 8 on my training schedule.  On the other hand, how could I pass up another fabulous running date not to mention an automatic PR because I've never raced a 15K?  Plus, who doesn't love a RACE?  I know I do. :)  I told Lauren YES as long as we could treat the race like a training run NOT a race.  DEAL!

In true Girls on the Run form, Lauren and I decided sparkly tiaras were necessary...

So were inspirational messages on the back of our shirts ala Operation Beautiful...

We decided to make our "training run race" the most fun experience it could possibly be by cheering ridiculously for every runner who passed us in the opposite direction (it was an out and back course).  We talked, laughed, and generally had a great time.  We didn't worry about how slow we were going or the fact that we finished next to last in the 15K (the trouble with a 5K-10K-15K course--most of the other slow runners run one of the shorter distances!).  We thanked every volunteer and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery on the trail.  But MOST importantly, we grinned and screamed "THANK YOU!" to every runner and volunteer who said, "Way to go Princesses!" or "I love your crowns!!"  Best. Ever.  (Just realized we never took a picture wearing our crowns!  Sad day.)
This race, for some unknown reason, had a squirrel theme.  HUH?  It was hilarious though.  Check out the amazing squirrel tshirt we got...
You know you are jealous and wish you had a squirrel tshirt of your very own...I LOVE SMALL TOWN RACES...After the race, Lauren and I dragged our tired, sweaty, and HUNGRY selves back into the car and grabbed a delicious lunch at Great Harvest Bread.  YUM!!!  This sandwich tasted like pure heaven.
We also stopped and visited Mrs. Mentor Teacher who was working at the running store.  Since I am incapable of leaving a running store without buying something, I snagged this awesome grid foam roller that I've had my eye on for awhile now...
This baby is intense, but I love it already.  I have been foam rolling with a vengence lately, and consequently my legs are smattered with little bruises.  And one gigantic bruise...
I don't know if foam rolling caused this bruise in the first place, but it certainly helped it grow to this ridiculous size!  OUCH!  Anyways, I'm looking forward to a relaxing rest of the weekend with a quiet night tonight and seeing Bad Teacher tomorrow.  Teachers: has anyone seen it yet?  I'm going with some teacher friends and can't wait. :)  

What have you been up to this weekend?  Any races or long runs?

June 23, 2011

Repeat after me: "You weights ain't got NOTHIN on me!"

You guys know how I feel about lifting weights...
But after PT told me that I needed to add in some strength training if I ever wanted to run injury free, I decided to bite the bullet.  Yesterday, High School Friend and I braved the weight training section of the gym, which up until then had been unchartered territory for me...This is pretty much what we looked like:
Okay...maybe not QUITE like that...more like we wandered around for awhile, found a few leg machines that vaguely resemble the machines the physical therapist showed me how to use, puzzled over the instruction pictures, set them to the lowest possible weights, and did some pathetic sets.  BUT we only looked like crazy fools to the extent that a weight lifting gentlemen (who clearly was wondering HOW we managed to wander into this area) had to assist us ONE time.  Which I consider to be a success.  And no one took it upon themselves to escort us back to the cardio floor, where we clearly belonged. :)  

After a bit of lifting targeting my quads and hammys, my verdict?  I still hate lifting weights.  It's boring.  And it kinda hurts.  And not the hurt I love about a hard run.  More like a, "and why the HELL am I doing this again???" variety.  But I KNOW and UNDERSTAND the value of strength training for running, so I will stick to the PT's orders of nightly strengthening exercises and weight training 2-3 times/week.  (This doesn't mean I have to like it, though!!)

And you guys were right, it wasn't as embarrassing or as intimidating as I'd convinced myself.  Just like I could care less when people are walking or running REALLY slowly on a treadmill near me, I doubt anyone cared that I was lifting ridiculously small amounts of weights.  And no one pointed and laughed, which is always a win. :)

What fears have you conquered lately?

June 21, 2011

Note to Self: Don't run in tornadoes...

After months of dealing with a jacked up IT band, I finally was able to see a physical therapist today after jumping through all of my insurance's crazy hoops.  Yay!  Unfortunately, physical therapy is NOT a magic wand that fixes any injury immediately.  Darn!  Wouldn't that be nice?  In my case, it's mostly going to be about learning some good stretches and strengthening exercises...and actually DOING THEM!  I'll go back to see the PT a few more times, but the work is going to be up to me.  I'm a good stretcher, but hate hate hate strength training... The PT wants me to hit the leg machines at the gym 2-3 times a week, and do strengthening exercises on my own at home every day.  Annnd...I am COMMITTING TO FOLLOWING THROUGH!  Every week I "plan" to do strength training...and every week I skip it.  As the PT said, I'm putting my legs through a beating, and I need to make sure they're strong enough to take it!

Confession: I am incredibly intimidated by the weight machine section of the gym.  Even walking through it to get to the yoga studio intimidates me...guess I will have to put my big girl pants on and suck it up!

After leaving PT, I noticed that a pretty nasty storm was brewing, but faced with the option between a rainy run and a treadmill run, I decided to gamble on the rain.  I had 4.5 miles on the schedule, but after 2.5 a campus security officer from the community college I was running near informed me over their loudspeaker that we were in a tornado warning!  Yikes!!!  I hadn't planned on a speedy run, but I booked it home after that!!  Just in time too--the sirens started the second I reached my front lawn!  Luckily everything seems to have blown over.  Phew!  Thank goodness I wasn't further away!

Note to self: check weather forecast BEFORE starting out on a run...

Do you like strength training?  Are you ever intimidated at the gym?

*giveaway alert!*

Jill at Run for the Hills is giving away a spi belt!  I love this little guy--it's perfect for holding phone, keys, ID, WHATEVER during a run or a race.  (And NO it is NOT a fanny pack ;)  I bought a plain one for myself awhile back, but really hope to win so I can get a waterproof one with loops for gel!  Make sure you check out Jill's fabulous blog and enter her giveaway!

June 19, 2011

My Dad

My dad is a super hero.  No, seriously--he can do anything.  Over the years, he has "rescued" my brothers and I from whatever "monster" was threatening us, never once laughing at how trivial or silly that monster really was.  For example, hen I dropped one of my favorite earrings down the drain, of course I could count on Dad to take the pipes apart and find it for me.  Not only that, but he did all this without ONCE complaining about my carelessness.  

Dad has driven us all over the country on family vacations, and has never once complained when we needed to stop at ANOTHER rest stop to use the bathroom.  He never missed a band concert, a ballet recital, or an open house at school.  When I registered for the Disney Princess Half-Marathon, I knew without even asking that my dad would come to Florida and get up before dawn to accompany me to the starting line and cheer for me in the crowds.  My dad is a meat eater for sure, but when I moved back in with my parents after college, he learned how to make tofu, quinoa, and protein-rich veggie soups.  We have "vegetarian friendly" stuffing at Thanksgiving now, and black bean burgers are ALWAYS in the freezer.  He even tweaked and re-tweaked a recipe for French Onion Soup until it was both vegetarian AND delicious--no easy feat!
My dad is always the FIRST person my brothers and I call when something goes wrong.  Older Brother immediately called Dad when he broke his arm a few years ago playing softball, even though he lives in Florida and Dad was hundreds of miles away.  You can bet, though, that Dad was on his way to Florida almost immediately to help take care of Older Brother when it turned out that the arm needed surgery.  Oldest Brother has been married and living on his own for years, but Dad is still always the first person he calls when he needs help with something around his house.  I am calling Dad constantly, whether he can realistically help or not.  When my computer crashed (and crashed again...) in college, I called Dad.  When College Roomie and I encountered a snake in the house in Atlanta last week, of course I called Dad.  I think that the three of us just always believe he will be able to solve the problem--even if he can't, there's just something about hearing his voice that helps us calm down and see things more clearly.  Maybe that's because my dad ALWAYS stays calm and thinks rationally.

When any of us needs anything, we never have to ask more than once.  Most of the time, Dad is already thinking ahead of us, doing things for us without us even having to ask.  For example, I got the keys to my apartment Wednesday, and by Thursday morning Dad was already there steam cleaning the carpets and putting a fresh coat of paint on the walls.  Please don't think I'm spoiled or lazy--I didn't ask Dad to do those things.   But that's the kind of person he is, always thinking about his family and taking care of us without us even having to ask.
My dad has taught me so many things.  For one, he showed me the importance and pure joy of reading. Nearly every night of my childhood, Dad would lay at the foot of my bed and read aloud to me--American Girls, Little House on the Prairie, Sweet Valley Kids, Baby Sitter's Club, you name it.  And he never complained once or suggested a less-girly book. :)  Not only that, but Dad has always set an example for me as a reader.  He can often be found on the couch or on the porch reading book after book, just for the love of it.
But most importantly, Dad has taught me what it means to be a truly selfless person, and what it means to be there for your family.  Dad (and Mom!) have also given me the gift of having an example of a truly loving marriage present throughout my entire life.  I'm realizing more than ever how rare that is, and what a gift it has been my entire life.  I have been so blessed to have two wonderful, caring, supportive parents (who continue to love me even though I've been freeloading off of them for the past two post-college years!!).  I hope that someday I can be as good of a parent and person as my Dad has always been.

This postcard from today's Postsecrets says it all--

June 18, 2011

End of the School Year, Moving Madness, and "oh my gosh where is my summer going?!?"

Ummm how is it already June 18th?!?  Is it just me, or is anyone else having anxiety about summer passing by too quickly???  I feel like just yesterday I was packing up my classroom, shoving things into boxes and cabinetes, and covering my book shelves with butcher paper...
God, the room looks depressing like this...

I realize this is irrational and silly, but I feel like summer is going to be over before I even have a chance to relax!  Since I got home from my wonderful Florida-Atlanta-Mud-fest-Snake-Terror-Beach vacation Wednesday, I have been going going going NONSTOP!  With what, you ask?  Well (drum roll.)...I am in the process of moving!  After I graduated from college in 2009 with a teaching job near my hometown, I decided to make the smart girl decision and move back in with mom and dad.  I've lived with my parents for the past two years, taking advantage of the lack of rent and living expenses to pay off my student loans, make a dent in my car payments, and save some money too.  I have liked living at home (especially since my dad started experimenting with vegetarian cooking in the past year and a half!  score!), but decided that this summer I needed to put my big girl pants on and start learning to take care of myself!

To make a long story short, I looked at a total of TWO apartments in the area and loved one so much I immediately filled out an application.  The catch was that the apartment was available IMMEDIATELY, so if I wanted it, I had to start a lease NOW.  HUH?  I wasn't planning on moving out until July or August, if not September!  I had next to NOTHING to fill an apartment with, aside from my chipped college dishes, my coffee maker, and an ABUNDANCE of martini glasses...sooo the past 3 1/2 days have basically been a frenzy of shopping (and spending buckets of money...), packing, and schleping heaps of my stuff to the apartment...it is coming together, but there is still a LOT I have to pack here at mom & dad's...and a lot of random junk I have to toss!  I'm excited though, and can't wait to show you pictures once I have all of my furniture and things are in order!!

ANYWAYS, the summer is just flying by and I haven't even blogged about the end of the school year!  OOPS!  On the second to last day of school, I started our morning with a long, quiet writing session, during which I had the students write letters to me answering a series of questions about the year.  Some of these asked about their proudest moment, their favorite activity, and the best book they read...as is ALWAYS the case when I read journals, some of their responses are too fantastic not to share...

 This year has been the best.  I wish that I could stay in 5th grade, but I have adventures to seek when I go to every other grade.

One of my favorite things about working closely with kids is the special, unique kind of relationship you form. To me, I know I'm doing my job in building relationships when kids *need* to tell me random things.  This is a perfect example... :)

HAH!  So much honesty :)

A couple that were IMPOSSIBLE to decipher from the photos I took...

My proudest moment was when we were doing family living.  It was my proudest moment because I got to find out how most of the body parts work.  Also because all of the 5th grade boys were acting mature.  That was a proud moment because we weren't acting like children.
^What can I even say... :-D

My favorite thing we did in fifth grade was writer's workshop because we got to use computers and because it was our change to become a better writer.  Writing was my favorite because when every one wanted to conference with you you tried your best to get to everyone you could.  Writing was also my favorite because you tried your best to let everyone share their creative writing.  All I want to say is that everyone writing is great.

^This one is probably my favorite.  It really captures the essence of writing workshop--everyone writing, sharing writing, and celebrating writing, as well as growing together as a COMMUNITY of writers.  This student GOT IT!  I teach for moments like this :)

I have to say, while I LOVE LOVE LOVE summer and do NOT want it to be over, I really loved. this. year.  So many negative things have been going on in my building and school wasn't so much a happy place the last few months of the year (I'll explain more later this summer...), but I loved my class.  This was the class I needed this year--after my rough 1st year, this class helped me fall in love with teaching again.  Let's hope I get lucky again next year!!! :)

Book Review: Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys

School is out, but the learning never stops for teachers!  I have several professional development books on my radar for summer, but was excited to have the opportunity to read and review this excellent new book by Pam Allyn:

I am ALWAYS looking for ways to grow in my literacy instruction, and Pam Allyn's Best Books for Boys: How to Engage Boys in Reading in Ways That Will Change Their Lives did not disappoint.  Allyn begins the book by drawing attention to a glaring problem in our nation; this being that, more than ever, boys are both dropping out of school and ending up in prison at significantly higher rates than girls.  Could these problems be traced back to reading and literacy?  It certainly seems like it.  Allyn shares statistics about how girls tend to outperform boys on standardized testing, and boys overall report a more negative attitude towards reading and writing than girls.  For example, Allyn cites Scholastic’s 2010 Kids and Family Reading Report that “only 39 percent of boys say reading books for fun is extremely or very important versys 62 percent of girls” (page 7).  I don’t know about you, but I’d say that there is definitely a problem here, and it’s one that educators have the power to help solve at least in part.

Allyn outlines her ideas for fostering a love of literacy in male students using the acronym READ: Ritual, Environment, Access, Dialogue.  This model echoes some of my favorite literacy “role models” like Regie Routman and the “Sisters,” while at the same time sparking new ideas for how to make boys specifically fall in love with reading.  Allyn urges educators to create daily reading rituals, while encouraging boys (and girls!) to read in environments that are comfortable for them.  For example, if Bobby needs to stand up and rock side to side when he reads because sitting still just doesn’t work for him, let him!  Reading is reading!  Allyn encourages teachers to incorporate choice into reading as much as possible.  She takes choice to a new level, though, encouraging teachers to help students see that newspapers, instruction manuals, sports stats, and web pages are all text that we can offer as options to our students.  In the past, I’ve tried to steer my students (usually boys) AWAY from comics and graphic novels during the literacy block, but Allyn has definitely influenced my views.  It is counterproductive (and just ridiculous) for me to STOP a child who is happily reading!  What was I thinking before?! 

Moreover, Allyn reminds teachers that boys may not be as interested in reading solitarily as they might be in discussing a book with their peers.  This was definitely an “aha!” moment for me.  Earlier this week when I was at the beach with my head buried in a good book, I kept stopping my reading to share interesting fact or another from the book with those accompanying me.  I couldn't help myself; so many things in my book were too fascinating NOT to share with someone!  If this type of behavior is our natural instinct as readers, why then do we insist that our students not dialogue with peers while reading?  While there are times during the literacy block that should be kept as silent as possible, why not incorporate book buddy journals or pen pals to allow students to share their thoughts on the books they’re reading?  What a great way to celebrate reading and encourage our students to react to text in AUTHENTIC ways.

Perhaps my biggest "aha!" moment occurred after I read Allyn's description of a memorable encounter she observed in another teacher’s classroom (pg. 9).  Allyn tells about a young boy who loved a particular series of books, having read it in its entirety.  One day, this boy excitedly approached his teacher to show her that he’d discovered a complete anthology of the beloved series.  Instead of sharing in the boy's excitement, Allyn recounts that his teacher responded by saying, "Sammy, you've already read these books!  Choose something else."  Oh my goodness.  How often this past year did I tell kids, "NO, you can't read Diary of a Wimpy Kid again!  Choose something new!!!"  Allyn is completely right that fostering a love of literacy and confidence in reading should be our primary goal as educators.  And what better way to do this than by allowing students to reread their favorite books, not only building comprehension and fluency, but building that oh so important passion for reading?  Haven't I read Harry Potter and The Hunger Games (and, okay, Twilight...) more times than I care to admit?  Does that make me a bad reader?  This is a mistake I definitely won’t make again with ANY of my students, not just my boys!

Allyn challenged me to rethink some of my ideas about teaching literacy, especially to boys.  The philosophy in the first parts of the book will be something I read again to refresh my memory as the school year starts, but just as valuable is the second big chunk of the book: a detailed annotated bibliography of book suggestions for boys, some of which include helpful “Talk About It” questions.  Gold mine!  If you are a teacher or parent, definitely add Best Books for Boys to your summer reading list!

Disclaimer: I was not compensated for this review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.  :)

June 15, 2011

Goodbye, Sunshine State :(

After a fabulous 3 days in Atlanta and a wonderful 3 days in Florida, I sadly had to say goodbye to the South, College Roomie, Brother and Sis-in-law, and even Nephew Dog today.  L  As sad as I am that Older Brother lives so far away (Florida), it sure is nice to be able to have such a great place to visit!  This was College Roomie’s first trip to Florida—hopefully it won’t be her last!  We arrived in Florida on Sunday after a THRILLING 8 hour car ride…to get to Older Brother’s house more quickly, we tried to keep stops to a minimum, but couldn’t resist stopping at the Florida Welcome Center to take this classic picture…
Older Brother and Sis-in-Law are fabulous hosts!  When we got to their house, we went out for yummy sushi and a walk around the little downtown/village area in their town.  
Older Brother works at the Space Center (umm, I know, COOL, right?!?   He is like legit a rocket scientist!), so we of course had to check out the view of the NASA building from across the river on our drive back home.  Did you know that the main room in the main building at Kennedy Space Center is over 500 feet tall?  And it’s NOT divided into separate floors.  Imagine walking into a building and being able to look straight up 500 feet!  Older Brother told us that clouds can form at the top, and it can even rain inside!  CRAZY!
Monday Older Brother and Sis-in-Law joined us for a BEACH DAY!  Is there anything better?  My current hypochondriac tendency is SKIN CANCER PARANOIA, so you better believe I reapplied sunscreen like 8 times while we were there…Seriously, though, there are few things I love more than spending time by the ocean.
Of course, what vacation would be complete without a shopping day?  Roomie and I trekked to a gigantic outlet mall in central Florida yesterday, where of course I spent too much money at the Nike and Addidas outlets…but come on, how cute are those tempo shorts?
Buying new clothes meant that my already too full suitcase was even MORE full…if I wanted any hope of carrying on my suitcase and saving myself that 25 buck bag check fee, there was no way my bike helmet was going to fit.  Yes, you read that right.  I had to squeeze a BIKE HELMET into my carry on suitcase on the way down for the Muddy Buddy race.  It was a tight squeeze!  Thankfully, Mom and Dad are driving down to Florida in a few weeks to visit Older Brother, so I left the helmet for them to bring back for me.  Overpacking wins again! J

Last but not least, Roomie and I had a wonderful time playing with Nephew Dog (aka Older Brother’s dog), Mario.  How cute is he?
It is totally worth the allergy-induced sneezing to have a cuddle with this cutie!  I'm not a huge dog person, but I love Mario.  He is a bundle of LOVE!!  Mario even joined us for a run while we were there!  (BTW, running in Florida in summer is ROUGH!  That’s all I can even say about that…)  Yesterday we helped give Mario a bath--aka held onto him to keep him from running away while scrubbing him with puppy shampoo…ADORABLE. 
Well, another wonderful vacation is drawing to a close…as I type this I am sitting at the airport at 4:56am waiting to board my flight home and back to reality…BUT there are some exciting things going on at home too—I will keep you in suspense for now, but will post some news later!

June 14, 2011


The Muddy Buddy race series will always hold a special place in my heart.  In 2008, the Muddy Buddy Chicago was my FIRST EVER RACE!  I was so nervous beforehand, but after crawling through the mud pit and crossing the finish line with my friend M, I experienced my first post-race high.  Amazing.  

This year, I wasn't exactly nervous before the Muddy Buddy...I was TIRED.  See, the night before College Roomie and I were up until about midnight getting ready for the race (preparations obv included making a fabulous race morning playlist for the drive to the site...).  I was crashing on an air mattress on Roomie's floor.  It was comfy cozy at first and I passed out the SECOND I closed my eyes, but unfortunately that didn't last long!  I woke up at 2am with the air matress almost completely DEFLATED around me...NOT COMFY.  I tossed and turned the rest of the night...never falling asleep again.  Needless to say, I wasn't exactly well rested and energized as we lined up in our color-coded waves...2 hours of sleep isn't part of my pre-race ritual!  Oh well. :)  That's life, right?  Pre-race pics...(note how un-muddy we are!)

You KNOW you are jealous of my butterfly temporary tattoo...
College Roomie and I were together in our group until we were ready to start.  Then, Roomie went up to the front with the other bikers.  If you aren't familiar with the Muddy Buddy race series, here's how it works: 1 member from each pair starts on the bike and the other starts running; you are not racing with your buddy until the very end.  The race is a little over 5 miles long, divided into 5 legs.  At the end of each leg, there is an obstacle that needs to be completed before moving on.  Then, you change sports as you start on the next leg.  So, Roomie biked the first leg.  When she got to the first obstacle, she dropped off the bike in the transition area, did the obstacle, then started running.  When I got there later after running the first leg and completing the obstacle, I found our bike, hopped on, and rode leg 2.  You switch off like that until the end of leg 5 when you find your buddy, complete the last obstacle, and crawl through the mud pit to the finish.  Amazing, right?  Obstacles this year were things like a climbing wall, a giant inflatable slide, and a little maze you had to crawl through.  

My thoughts on the course:  Muddy Buddy Atlanta was a million times harder than Muddy Buddy Chicago!    Obviously Illinois is a super flat state, so I expected this race would be tougher, and I was right!  There were a bunch of hills, some of which were really rocky.  Roomie and I are inexperienced at trail running and mountain biking, so it was definitely a challenge.  We even had to go through a couple tiny streams!  I definitely got off my bike and walked both up AND down the crazier hills--my entire goal for the biking legs was "Don't FALL/DIE!"!!  It was so. much. fun. though.  

Mile/Leg Recaps:
Leg 1--Run: This was one of the longer legs (they're not all exactly a mile), and it took me awhile to find my groove after my lethargic start...I think I kept a steady pace, but without my watch or garmin, it was tough to tell!  Once I found my groove, this leg went great, minus getting used to keeping an eye on the ground for any rocks/roots/holes!  I decided to just run the miles instead of doing my usual 3/1 run/walk intervals, and it went pretty well!

Leg 2--Bike: This was THE hardest leg.  The course map labeled it as the most "technical" part of the race, and it definitely was.  Thank goodness we rented that mountain bike, because Roomie's hybrid would NOT have been up to the challenge!  I pretty much feared for my life the entire leg...

Leg 3--Run: BEST leg.  I was totally into it by this point and just LOVING running through the beautiful forests.  Although I seriously had to pee...again, I totally failed at pre-race preparation and forgot to go right before lining up!  Oops!  

Leg 4--Bike: This leg definitely wasn't as scary as Leg 2, but there were still plenty of bumps and hills!  I remember at one point biking down a hill and gripping the handlebars so tightly that my arms were hurting!

Leg 5--Run: Last leg!  I was happy to be running again, but by the end was TIRED!  My legs are just not used to hills!  A little bit of walking definitely happened this leg!  There wasThere was no stopping, though, because I knew Roomie had already made it to the finish on her bike!

That brings us to…THE MUD PIT CRAWL!!!

Picture a gigantic stretch of soupy mud with ropes running across it, forcing you to crawl under them…Roomie and I plunged in, the cool mud a welcome relief from the hot sun!  We booked it to the finish line, and crossed holding hands.  The aftermath...

You better believe I threw these shoes away...
Obligatory post-race beer...and chex mix??
This race was so much fun, and the perfect race to do with a great friend.  College Roomie and I had a BLAST!  The race was was well-organized overall, and for such a cool event, I feel like the price was pretty darn reasonable.  Plus, check out this sweet mud splat shaped medal we got!
Definitely consider doing the Muddy Buddy sometime if there is a race in your state!

Have you ever done an obstacle/adventure/mud race?

*Giveaway Alert!*

Julia from Pain, Pride, Perseverance is hosting a GREAT giveaway!  She is giving away a $50 gift card for Active Bands headbands!  If you are a lover of headbands like me, this is definitely a giveaway you want to enter!  Also, be sure to browse the active bands site to check out all of their ADORABLE prints!

June 13, 2011

Muddy Buddy

We Came, We Ran, We Biked, We Climbed, We Crawled, We Got MUDDY!
Left: College Roomie, Right: Me :)

I'll post a full race recap in the next couple days.  :)  College Roomie and I drove down to Florida after the race to stay with Older Brother and Sis-in-Law for a couple days and are just enjoying some relaxing time...

Bliss.  :)

June 10, 2011

Snake Terror 2011

(This is a long one, but I promise it is worth reading!)
I've written many times about how I'm a vegetarian and obviously care about animals.  But I have to confess something.  Last night, I may or may not have been responsible for the injury and/or death of a snake.  I am not proud of this.  Let's start at the beginning...

College Roomie and I love the outdoors and aren't afraid of animals for the most part...that is, when they are OUTDOORS.  So when I turned a corner at her house last night and came face to face with a slithery little creature, I was not pleased (to say the least).  More like I screamed and almost peed in my pants, actually.  During the ordeal, I wished at least 17 times that someone was filming us because it was one of those moments when you look at your life and just aren't sure what the hell happened.  Roomie and I have decided to co-author this post in order to recreate the experience for you.

Act 1: The Discovery
Setting: Hallway 
Miss Teacher walks from kitchen into front foyer.  Notices small black squiggle on floor.  Puts two and two together and realizes "that's a *$&%ing snake." 

College Roomie: What?  No way.  Are you serious?
MT: (Frantically pointing) SNAKE IN THE HOUSE!  SNAKE!
College Roomie does NOT come to the rescue.  In fact, she delays encountering the snake as long as possible, due to a combination of fear and disbelief.
CR:  How big?? (Peering around corner) OH MY GOD there's a &$@%ing snake in the house.
MT: That's what I've been saying.  OH MY GOD.  What the hell do we do?  We need to call someone.  I am not touching the snake.  OH MY GOD how did a snake get in the house???
MT: (Calls Older Brother who lives 8 hours away thinking maybe he can somehow solve this problem.) On phone: Older Brother!  We have a SNAKE in the house!  What do we do?!?!?!?!
Older brother makes unhelpful suggestions and laughs.  Meanwhile, College Roomie frantically gchats anyone online to beg for help while googling "How to get a snake out of the house."  Neither attempt produces any helpful result.
CR: Okay, this website says to grab the snake by the tail and use a stick to hold the head so it doesn't bite you.
MT: (on the verge of tears) WHAT IF IT BITES US?? DO YOU THINK IT'S POISONOUS?!?!?!?!?!  I am NOT touching it.

Act 2: Futile Attempts at Reptile Removal
Miss Teacher and College Roomie decide to take Older Brother's one worthwhile suggestion to try to coerce Snake into dustpan and run for the door. Meanwhile, snake remains motionless.  Miss Teacher continues to stare it down while College Roomie gathers supplies, including running shoes, cardboard, and dustpan.
MT: Okay, let's go over the plan.  (Puts on running shoes) I'll bring the dustpan close to the snake.  You approach slowly from the other side with the cardboard.
CR: I'll brush the snake into the dustpan with the cardboard.  Should I do it gingerly or just shove it in?
MT: I don't know.  WHY IS THERE A SNAKE IN THE HOUSE?  What if they're everywhere?!?!?  Okay.  We have to just do this.
CR and MT get into Snake Capture Position. 
CR: Should I open the door so we can make a quick exit?
CR: Good point.  Okay, ready?
MT and CR attempt to brush Snake into the dustpan.  Snake immediately freaks out, uncoils, and flings self from dustpan.  Miss Teacher and College Roomie scream and flee the scene.  College Roomie hides in other room.
CR: Are you watching the snake???  Is it moving???  GO WATCH IT!!
MT: (returns to Snake's vicinity)  Okay, I'm watching it.  It's uncoiled now, but motionless.  We are staring each other down.  OMG.  What the hell do we do now. (Phone vibrates in pocket, causing Miss Teacher to FREAK THE HELL OUT.  Older Brother and Sister in Law are calling back, both on speaker phone.)
MT (on phone):   THE DUSTPAN IDEA DID NOT WORK.  The snake freaked out and JUMPED out of the dustpan!
Older Brother and Sister in Law continue to make unhelpful suggestions.  MT continues to stare at snake.  CR is nowhere to be found.  She is frantically gathering supplies for Snake Capture Attempt 2.
CR: Okay, what if we put something over it and drag it to the door?  And then fling it?  (Roomie produces a plastic tupperware)
MT and CR stand for about 5 minutes visualizing and discussing methods of snake capture.  It is decided that the only other option besides allowing the snake to live in the house is the Cover and Drag method.  Phone rings again.  It is Dad, whom Older Brother has already spoken with and filled in on the situation.  Dad suggests calling animal control.
MT: Dad says to call animal control.  I guess we could do that...
CR:  They would seriously laugh at us.
MT:  You're right.  We can't call animal control for this miniature snake.  But I'm still not touching it.  Is there ANYONE ELSE we can call????
CR:  We're on our own.  Okay, here's the plan.  I'm going to put the container over the snake and we're going to drag it to the door.  Wait, do you think this is big enough?  I don't want to crush it's tail.
MT:  We need it to coil back up!!!  OMG did it just MOVE???
Stand around and discuss for 5 more minutes.  By this point, emotions have reached hysteria.  Dinner has officially gotten cold.

Act 3: Our Hero, Next Door Neighbor 
College Roomie continues to stand motionless, monitoring Snake's actions.  May or may not have seen it hiss and stick out tongue.  Miss Teacher walks to Next Door Neighbor's house, whom neither have ever met.
Miss Teacher: (Knocks on door.  Says frantically,) Um hi, my name is Miss Teacher and my friend is housesitting next door.  We just found a snake in the house and we need help!  Is there anyone here who can help us???  PLEASE, we don't know what to do!  PLEASE!
Next Door Neighbor: One minute, I'll see what I can do.  (Disappears)
NDN reappears with 2 fireplace tools.  
NDN: How big is the snake?
MT: Well, it's super tiny...but we're just really really nervous.  THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU
MT and NDN enter house and NDN sees Snake for the first time.
CR: I knooow...it's tiny...WE DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO!
NDN attempts to wrangle Snake.  Snake flees and takes shelter in nearby closet.  CR scurries to kitchen for shelter. NDN is not deterred.  Opens closet door, removes items on floor, and proceeds to grab snake between fireplace shovel and miscellaneous other fireplace iron.  Miss Teacher observes, vacillating between joy that the snake is on its way out and fear that we are killing the snake.  
NDN picks up Snake, sandwiched between two tools and flailing about.  Walks briskly toward door, and releases Injured Snake into the wild.  CR and MT thank NDN profusely.

Act 4: The Aftermath
Miss Teacher and College Roomie: OH MY GOD.  What just happened.  How is this real.  THERE WAS A SNAKE IN THE HOUSE.
Miss Teacher and College Roomie continue to see snakes everywhere in the house for the remainder of the evening.  Both also feel somewhat guilty for possibly causing the death of a most likely completely harmless Snake.  Wine is immediately opened and consumed in copious amounts.
Dustpan was no help in Snake Removal


Have you ever had a SNAKE or other creepy creature in the house?!?!?

Would you rather have to deal with a tiny snake or a mouse in your house?  College Roomie and I both vote mouse...we are permanently scarred.

Ready to get Muddy!

After an incredibly lazy morning watching Travel Channel, Roomie and I finally peeled ourselves off of the couch to start our list of race preparation activities.  This included packet pickup, after which we were thrilled to see that our bibs match our homemade shirts EXACTLY!
I mean, this has to be a good sign.  College Roomie and I also stopped by this local bike rental place to rent a mountain bike.  We had been planning on using her bike, but when we took a closer look at the course map and saw that it included some tough hills and things, we figured her hybrid bike may not be up to the challenge...
This bike totally rocks.  Of course, it needed a little decoration...
Mostly so that we recognize it in the crazy transitions!  Next, we decided to continue rocking the blue theme with some awesome blue nails...
 Finally, shoes and helmets are laid out and ready!  Yay!
We are pretty darn pumped.  Although I haven't ridden a bike in over a month probably (I wouldn't recommend my training plan...), I think this race is going to pretty much rock.
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