Summer Bucket List: Revisited, Deux

So, I wrote a post about my Summer Bucket List on June 3, checked in on my progress in this post, and now I’m checking in again. I feel like maybe I need a sponsor for my summer “to-do” list. I’ve at least earned my 30 day chip!

  • read Nurture Shock (assigned reading for school) I’ve read the whole book and have written 8 blog posts. Need to do 3 more in the next week or so!
  • read two more of Donald Miller’s books I read Blue Like Jazz at Lost Pines last weekend. It’s the book he was making a movie of when he wrote about story in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. This is going to count for my “second book” for work. Yesssss – killin’ two birds with one stone!
  • read some fiction I’ve let pile up, including (maybe) the Twilight series Read the whole Steig Larsson series.
  • eat at some of the new-ish restaurants in H-town that I’ve never been to (The Glass Wall, Reef, T’afia, Little Big’s) Ate at Block 7 on Shepherd just off Washington. Drank delicious sangria.
  • redecorate my mantle Done!
  • purchase new throw pillows for my couch (I am in love with this one from Trina Turk, but I don’t know if I can live with the price!) Done! Ordered two more pillows and a throw half off from One Kings Lane. All pillows and throws purchased for less than the cost of one Trina Turk pillow. Although I still love it!
  • completely redo (w/ exception of the pull-out sofa and the existing paint, light fixture, and window treatments) my office/guest room Still in progress. I got a new desk top – it has a little dent in the middle. Trying to live with it. Will begin hanging organization components and art this weekend.
  • label every last box/bin in my garage Fun project for this weekend!  (Air quotes around the word fun.)
  • get rid of some furniture (tables, chairs, computer cart) – ebay? Craig’s List? garage sale? Done! Will have some lamps and accessories to sell after I finish the office.
  • slipcover the oversized chair that currently takes up one corner of my bedroom  Received swatches from Called upholsterer. Slipcovering is freaking expensive. Reconsidering this.
  • start tutoring business I’ve tutored some, not nearly as much as I would have liked.
  • find “best” time to exercise – early in the morning or after sunset I admit it: I’m a treadmill kind of girl. I like walking inside in the air conditioning and watching TV while I walk. I’ve started training again, too.
  • have Coco over and take her to the dog park Coco’s coming for a sleepover this weekend, so maybe we’ll do it tomorrow or Sunday.
  • go to Discovery Green – I can’t believe I haven’t been there once since it opened!
  • go antiquing on Westheimer
  • hang out in the most NYC/Chicago/San Fransisco-like section of Houston – a little block of West Gray just west of downtown
  • see some summer movies – the best air-conditioned escape from Houston’s heat! Saw The Girl Who Played with Fire, would love to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Kids Are All Right, and Inception. And Toy Story.
  • spend lots and lots of time playing with my darling niece! Yes! I think she likes me now!

I also enjoyed a weekend at Lost Pines, started collecting milk glass, and ran out of gas.

That last one wasn’t really on my list, but I’m giving myself credit for doing it anyway.

And in other news…

  • Mom went to her doctor on Tuesday for a follow-up to last week’s visit. The sponsor of her study drug declined to “unblind” her information, which means we can’t find out if she’s been taking the drug (XL 184) or a placebo. We are pretty well convinced she’s on the drug since she has symptoms that just can’t be explained by placebo effects. So the good news remains: the tumors have not increased in size in six weeks, which is a big HOORAY! The bad news is that she has to continue taking whatever she’s been taking, and (if she is on the study drug) her doctor can’t lower the dosage to relieve some of Mom’s worst symptoms. Bummer.
  • Mom has been feeling pretty well, all things considered. She said she woke up hungry again today and ate two pieces of French toast. Yesterday, she ate two pieces of French toast and two pieces of bacon. Which is, apparently, the same thing Anna Jane ate for breakfast (minus the bacon). That baby can eat!
  • Also, Mom had a procedure to drain the fluid from her abdomen on Thursday (called paracentesis). The doctor took 1.6 liters, which sounds like a lot but is actually less than half of what they got the first time she had the procedure done in April. When she had it done in April, the fluid (cancer produces it’s own blood supply, but the vessels are leaky, so the fluid – ascites – can build up, causing discomfort) had been building up in her belly for who knows how many months. She was really uncomfortable and had a hard time eating because she would get full so fast. In April, she had only been on the study drug for 3 weeks, so the drug probably hadn’t had much of an effect yet. After the first procedure and about 15 more weeks of treatment, the fluid wasn’t as bad and there wasn’t as much of it, so I take that as a sign that the drug is hindering the cancer’s ability to create its own blood supply. Which means the cancer can’t “feed” itself. Which means the cancer won’t grow at an alarming rate (I hope!)
  • With barely a week left of summer vacay, I’m finally getting some of my summer projects done today! Exchanged the top of my new desk at Pottery Barn. It was damaged on the front left corner. The new desk has a small dent in the middle. Trying really hard to let go of my perfectionism. Filling in and painting some gashes/holes in the walls. (Maybe) hanging up the components of my PB organizing system and this great mirror I got from One King’s Lane:
  • I still need to find a desk chair, recover/slipcover the ottoman, and get new pillows for the office. And a new bookshelf, an end table, some new lamps, and maybe a new ceiling fan. And some artwork. Do I have to go back to school?
  • Art ideas from etsy:



  • The other day, I went to HomeGoods and was in the store for all of ten minutes (didn’t find a thing I liked) and when came out and tried to start my car, it wouldn’t. So I called trusty Triple A, and they came within 15 minutes! I barely had time to read about Brad and Angelina’s solid relationship and Mel’s meltdown in last week’s People before my rescuer, Richard, appeared, with a new battery and a cold bottle of water. He analyzed my battery (dead) and proceeded to install the new one. As I was signing the paperwork, he pointed to my left ring finger and said,

             “You’re not married?”


             “Ohhhh. Single woman! Now you can go out and get wild.”

             Huh??? You mean in my 8 year old, (slightly) beaten up, silver Saturn sedan?

             After I’ve been sweating in the in the parking lot of HomeGoods for an hour?



Really Random Thoughts

Some things I’ve read/seen/heard/done this week:

  1. I saw an ad on Design Sponge for a new (to me) online boutique called Cerulean. I really like this necklace. It speaks to me. It’s saying, “Buy me, buy me!”
  2. I didn’t buy the necklace, but I did buy this decorative coral. I bought one on sale at Pottery Barn earlier in the summer, but when it arrived, it was bigger than a basketball, so I took it back. This one is 6″ tall (the one on the right.)
  3. By the way, Design Sponge is a really cool site. A Brooklyn-based writer started it in August 2004. It features store and product reviews, city, product and gift guides, diy projects, before and after furniture and home makeovers, home tours, recipes, videos, podcasts, and trend forecasting. Whew! A little something for everyone. There are many contributing writers, and there are usually 6-10 new posts daily. Check it out!
  4. Speaking of something for everyone, The Daily Brainstorm is a hub for over 40 different blogs, like Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.
  5. There were two articles in The New York Times that caught my attention: Equity of Test Is Debated as Children Compete for Gifted Kindergarten and The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers. My response to the first article: the research (reported in Nurture Shock) clearly shows that tests for giftedness have no predictive validity in kindergarten. And to the second article: right on!
  6. I must be living under a rock, because I had no idea about this site. CSN Stores offers online shopping for everything from headboards to headbands, all in the same place! It’s like going to the mall, only you never have to leave your couch. Free shipping! Free returns! Free window shopping! Oh, wait. That was already free.
  7. I find as I travel across the internet, I tend to lose track of blogs I like, design inspirations, my mind. So I created a tumblr account so I can have a place to put things I want to remember. 40/30 Files. Fortysomething=Forgetsomething. I hope I remember my password.
  8. I have a moral dilemma: Target’s CEO gave $150,000 to an anti-gay, anti-choice candidate for governor in Minnesota. He also gave money to Michele Bachmann. He’ll probably give money to Tea Party candidate for Senator Harry Reid’s seat, Sharron Angle, soon. I have no problem not shopping at WalMart. I do not like WalMart. But not shopping at Target (to support the boycott)? During back-to-school month? With no sales tax on school-related items? ARGH!!!
  9. I bit my lower lip four times today. Once while eating a sandwich, three times while eating delicious Star Pizza.
  10. Anna Jane is really working hard! She is almost walking – took two steps yesterday – and she can say “ice” and “hi”.

Like I said. Really random thoughts.

Worth Mentioning: My Happy Blogs


{MadeByGirl’s Etsy Shop}

This little poster sums it up quite nicely. I really enjoy reading blogs, and if I can do my blog-reading with a Grande, Two Sweet ‘n Low Latte from Starbucks, even better!

Although I have a few friends in real life who blog, most of the blogs I read are written by complete strangers. I like getting a glimpse into the lives of people I never would have “met” if not for this newfound obsession. I have many of my favorite design/lifestyle bloggers in my blogroll, but there are a few blogs I’ve come across lately that I want to highlight. Some are in the house/design category, some in the humor category, and some are just unique expressions of people’s creativity. People are just so clever, and I’m amazed by the many ways in which these writers channel their passions and their gifts into something that makes me smile each day.

This new mom imagines what her daughter is dreaming about during naptime and creates photoshoots that capture whimsical little moments:

{Mila’s Daydreams}

Neil really turned lemons into lemonade with this blog about appreciating the awesome (thanks, Sarah P. H., for pointing me in the direction of this one):

{1000 Awesome Things}

Then there’s the perennially funny Cake Wrecks. Jen and her husband John not only track down the best wrecks in the business but also add snort-worthy captions to boot:

{Cake Wrecks}

I wish I were as clever as Molly, who writes this newish blog about the exciting lives of the people who live in our catalogs:

{Catalog Living}

Julia has a wonderful website dedicated to all manner of houses, but my favorite category on her blog is the one about bad MLS photos:

{Hooked on Houses} 

Do you have any sure-fire pick-me-up blogs?

Happy reading! 

{Linking to Melissa’s Inspired By party}

Good News!

I went with my mom to a doctor’s appointment today. Mom had a CT scan on Monday – part of the protocol for the study drug – and the appointment was to find out the results of the scan. Since Mom has not been feeling well lately, I was worried that the cancer had spread and was causing her symptoms instead of the study drug.

We had to wait while they measured the size of the lesions (why didn’t they do that  before her scheduled appointment???) but when Dr. W came the room, she smiled and said that the lesions hadn’t changed in size in the last six weeks! Mom’s labs were good; all the elements (calcium, creatanine, potassium, etc.) we were concerned about in the spring were fine and within normal range. Her tumor markers were elevated, which is a concern, although if the cancer hasn’t progressed, I’m not sure why the cancer markers are higher.

Dr. W said the elevated cancer markers should be enough data to get the study drug sponsor to “unblind” Mom’s information so she can determine whether Mom has been taking the study drug (XL 184) or the placebo for the last month and a half. If Mom has been taking the placebo (which we doubt because of the symptoms she’s been experiencing), then Dr. W will put her back on XL 184 at the dosage she was taking at the end of the initial 12 week treatment period (60 mg). If Mom was taking the study drug, Dr. W will prescribe a lower dose – 40 mg – with the hope that Mom will experience a decrease in symptoms. Dr. W said the drug isn’t necessarily less effective at a lower dosage.

I asked the doctor about a surgical option. When we first went to MD Anderson, the doctor we saw was a gynecological oncology surgeon, and we discussed the possibility of doing a surgical “debulking” (where they go in and try to take out as many of the tumors as they can) followed by some sort of drug therapy. The doctors decided that surgery was not the best option because they didn’t know how Mom would respond to the follow-up treatment. What if Mom had surgery and then the drug regimen didn’t work? She basically would have had surgery for nothing.

{I just wanted them to go in and TAKE THE MONSTERS OUT! But, lacking a medical degree, I didn’t get a say.}

I was hoping that since the drug is obviously working, maybe they would do the debulking now. Dr. W said surgery still wasn’t an option because of how diffuse the cancer is in Mom’s abdomen. The goal is to keep the cancer from growing and for Mom to maintain a high quality of life for as long as possible. 

Mom and I celebrated by driving straight to Moeller’s for some delectable baked goods – a chocolate raspberry roll cake (it tastes sort of like a petit four with a little raspberry filling), some giant daisy sugar cookies, and some fruit danishes. We had a nice lunch at the French House. Mom wanted gazpacho, which is weird because it has so many ingredients she can’t tolerate, but, that was what sounded good, and we shared a chicken salad sandwich on French bread. Then we went home and took a little rest.

I feel good about the report, especially since Mom has been in the blind study for the past six weeks. It is still hard to comprehend that we’re not talking about a cure, just keeping things from getting worse. I can’t imagine what it is like to have something in your body that is making you sick that you cannot get rid of no matter how hard you try. I imagine most people go into battle with cancer hoping to win, meaning the cancer will go away and not come back. Our “win” is that the cancer will just hang out for a while and not do too much damage.

So I guess we can put another tally in the “win” column for Mom and XL 184. Which is definitely good news!

Nurture Shock: Chapter 8

{This post is the eighth in a series. Click here to read more.}

Can Self-Control Be Taught?

Finally, some good news!

In this chapter, Bronson and Merryman introduce the reader to a program that actually works! It’s called Tools of the Mind, and it has been proven successful by real-live researchers! It’s not just an idea that looks good on paper or seems like it will be effective – there is data that shows children in the program do significantly better than children who are not in the program. So why haven’t I heard of this program until now?

The premise behind the curriculum is not new: children learn best through play. Good Early Childhood teachers have been teaching this way for years. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that two professors at Metropolitan State College of Denver, Drs. Elena Bodova and Deborah Leong, used play in conjunction with instruction in self-regulation that educators took note.

Children in Tools of the Mind pre-K and kindergarten classes do many of the same things that children in regular classes do: they learn about math during calendar time, develop proficiency in reading and writing, eat snacks, play at recess, and go to special classes like art and music. However, during a typical free play or center time in a regular classroom, the children might rotate through several centers, including taking a turn with the teacher for small group instruction.  The centers might include Computer, Listening, Art, Writing, and Science. The teacher may assign each child to a center or let the children choose where they want to go. If there is a second teacher or a teacher’s assistant, that person might help facilitate learning or deal with discipline problems while the other teacher instructs a group of children working on the same academic level in reading, writing, or math.

In a Tools classroom, the teacher sets up several stations that relate to something the children have studied, and the students spend an hour engaged in imaginative play related to the topic. In the book, Bronson and Merryman illustrate this with a familiar scenario: playing fire station.  Having learned about firefighting the previous week, the children have the opportunity to pretend to be firefighters, 911 operators, pump drivers, and the people being saved. The classroom is decorated accordingly, with role-playing activities going on in each corner. While most Early Childhood classrooms include some form of pretend play in the curriculum, the Tools classroom is unique in two ways: before role-playing, the children draw/write their play plans, and the students engage in their chosen activities for 45 minutes.

In many Early Childhood classrooms, children move from center to center, changing activities every 15 to 20 minutes. In a Tools classroom, if the children become distracted or start to fuss, the teacher asks, “Is that in your play plan?” and redirects them back to the activity. This method inspires complex play scenarios in which children must use their imaginations to continue the action. It also helps children develop self-regulation techniques that are essential to academic success. During the play hour, the teacher does not do any direct teaching; she facilitates the development of executive function in her students.

Executive function – planning, predicting, controlling impulses, persisting through difficulty, and directing thoughts to fulfill a goal – is a crucial part of children’s cognitive development. In fact, researchers have found that a high level of executive function is more strongly correlated with giftedness and academic success than is a high IQ. This makes sense to me. If a highly intelligent child cannot regulate his thoughts or behaviors, he might have difficulty channeling his natural intelligence into positive results.

Tools kids learn self-regulation through other activities: Simon Says, Buddy Reading, and what I call Buddy Checking. They even develop executive function during clean-up time! In Simon Says, the children have to observe the leader and copy his/her movements. They also have to control the impulse to copy the movements when Simon doesn’t say to do them. In Buddy Reading, one child holds a piece of paper with an ear, the other a piece of paper with lips. The child with the lips gets to read out loud to the child with the ear, and the child with the ear has to wait for her turn patiently. The listener asks questions about the story, and then she switches roles with the reader.

Buddy Checking helps children to monitor how they are doing on specific assignments. If the children are working on handwriting, they might write the letter “D” several times on a piece of paper, switch papers with a buddy, and then circle which “D” is the best on their buddy’s paper. I’ve used this technique for peer editing stories, with good results.

One of my favorite examples, the clean-up song, is something I’ve tried in my classroom with minimal success. The idea is to play a certain song every time the children clean up from an activity (say, the aforementioned play hour), with the goal of having the room cleaned by the time the song is over. The children have to know where they are in the song and how much time they have left for cleaning, so they adjust their pace and behavior accordingly. I think my lack of success is because I spend too little time developing the necessary skills.

One of the challenges for me in teaching a class of highly intelligent and capable children is that parents and administrators expect an accelerated curriculum, so I feel pressured to teach knowledge and skills at the beginning of school instead of balancing academic learning with developing executive function. Every year I promise myself that I will stick to my plan to use the first six weeks of school to create the collaborative classroom culture that will sustain my classroom during the year, and every year I fail to do so!

The beauty of Nurture Shock is that I now have a wealth of research to back up many of the methods I use with my students and encourage my parents to implement at home (like making sure their children get a full night’s sleep!) I am hopeful that my fellow faculty members are reading and soaking up the information in this book and that they are as inspired by this book as I am. I am definitely looking forward to our discussions about the book, and I promise to keep my mouth shut and my ears open (which is not one of my better habits!)

Out of all the chapters in Nurture Shock, I urge you to read chapter eight if you have young children and/or teach young children. Click on the Tools website and find out about this incredibly successful curriculum. This chapter (and the first chapter about why we should praise children for working hard instead of being smart) will rock your world and change the way you parent or teach! I promise!

Worth Mentioning: A Popular Principal, Wounded by Government’s Good Intentions

This article breaks my heart and makes my blood boil – is it possible for those things to happen simultaneously?

Joyce Irvine worked her tail off to develop a positive, stimulating, creative environment in which students – many of whom were refugees – flourished. But because of low test scores and the district’s desire to apply for 3 million dollars in federal assistance, Ms. Irvine was removed from her principalship.

This article is an apt, if unfortunate, follow-up to last week’s Worth Mentioning post. Here is an example of an educator who worked tirelessly to advance her students’ skills and creativity but, caught up in the accountability game, couldn’t continue her quest for excellence in her field. No doubt, the school’s budding arts program – violin lessons and playwriting – will be replaced by kill and drill to increase test scores. Kill creativity, drill testing procedures. Kill a love of learning, drill  facts and figures.

It is impossible to net good test scores when the students who are taking the tests arrived at your school yesterday from another country. Impossible. If the students are young enough upon entrance and remain at the school for several years, you might, over time, gross acceptable test scores. But we are impatient in education – we want results now.

Children are not sieves through which we can pour knowledge, expecting gold nuggets to appear magically. It takes time, perseverance, and imagination to extract the best from our students, time Ms. Irvine apparently did not have.

If she had taken a more “traditional” approach and focused on “basic skills”, hammering phonics, fact memorization, and test-taking tricks, eliminating art, music, and recess, as so many schools have done, the children might have spent more time on task and achieved higher test scores.  But at what price?

I am not arguing against accountability in our school systems. I am arguing against a one size fits all approach. Children who have had the foundation for learning right from the start should demonstrate a greater level of skill than children who have not had such an advantage. And children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds should have the opportunity – and the tools – to catch up to their peers. The problem is that children with advantages have so many; even simple experiences, like going to the zoo or playing in the park, having books in the home, and engaging in conversations with adults help children develop a strong vocabulary, which leads to increased reading, writing, and thinking skills.

Imagine the difference in experience between a child who recently emigrated from a war-torn country in Africa and a child who takes horseback riding lessons, goes to summer camp, and spends vacations with her family in Mexico. Now throw both of those children into a standardized testing situation – which one do you think will be more successful? I know this sounds crazy, but I wish we had separate but equal accountability systems, a process by which all schools could be fairly evaluated, according to the needs of the students they serve.

I am frustrated. I am frustrated because our education system seems to care more about test scores than about children. I am frustrated because due to No Child Left Behind, creativity often takes a back seat to productivity. I am frustrated because an educator who was passionate about children, innovative in her approach, and willing to work harder than expected is going to start the 2010-2011 school year behind a desk in a central admin building instead of in the hallways of an elementary school.

I hope the new principal of this elementary school will be as passionate, innovative, and hardworking as Ms. Irvine was. I hope the students reap benefits from a change in leadership – and the $3 million that comes with it. I also hope the children don’t lose opportunities to develop their own passion and creativity in the rat race to churn out higher test scores.


One Short Day in the Emerald City

Mom and I are visiting my sister and her family in Seattle. Pete, Susan, and Anna Jane live in one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods, Queen Anne. They live at the top of the hill, with the Puget Sound and Elliott Bay to the southwest and Lake Union to the east. Mom and I are staying at the Marriott Residence Inn, right on Lake Union. This is the view from our balcony:

{Lake Union is where Sam and Jonah lived in Sleepless in Seattle.}

I love this colorful sailboat:

{You can’t build houseboats anymore. If you want to live in one, you have to buy one that’s already on the water.}

Tonight, we went to Pike Place Market and ate dinner at Matt’s in the Market. It is in this old building across the street from Pike Place Fish, which is located underneath the Public Market sign in the heart of the market.

{We sat by the window second from right in the picture. I could see the Public Market sign and Elliott Bay from my chair.}

Pete’s friend from high school, Dan, owns the restaurant. Pete said that Dan worked for Pike Place Fish for ten years, selling fish to local restauranteurs, and then he partnered with the owner of Matt’s, eventually taking over the restaurant. They buy all of their produce, meat, and fish from the market stalls downstairs and create seasonal menus based on what’s available. This is Seattle dining at its finest!

The produce and flowers are so beautifully displayed. We bought some nectarines, and I took this photo of some sweat peas:

{Since it was almost closing time, some merchants were selling bunches of sweat peas for $3.00 each!}

{Adorable niece, sweet sister, amazing mom}

There are two really good restaurants to the left in this picture: The Athenian and Lowell’s. Both overlook the sound, and you can eat thick, creamy clam chowder in a bread bowl while watching the ferries cross the bay. The Athenian is where Rob Reiner and Tom Hanks ate lunch in Sleepless in Seattle. They’re talking about dating, and Hanks’ Sam says he doesn’t know what tiramisu is and he’s afraid some woman is going to want him to do it.

{Check out those shoes!!!}

For dinner, we shared the Blue Prawn and Scallop Ceviche. I had seafood stew – lots of clams and mussels, some scallops and halibut, and one prawn in an absinthe broth – and then we shared Peach Bourbon Bread Pudding with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream for dessert. {I love it when bread pudding doesn’t have raisins in it!}

If you go to Seattle, Pike Place Market is a must-see. And I highly recommend Matt’s in the Market for a unique dining experience!

{Scroll back up and click on the link to Matt’s for some stunning pictures of the restaurant, market, and surrounding area. Go on – click! You’ll be glad you did!}

All images mine.

{Linking to Melissa’s Inspired By party.}

Never Too Late: Entertaining

Hi. My name is Kelly, and I am a reluctant entertainer.

When I moved into my first apartment as a post-graduate 14 years ago, I had a lot of girlfriends who were single or young-married with or without kids. I would have them over occasionally, and it wasn’t a big deal that my apartment was on the small side. As I got older, I busied myself with my job as a teacher, and I spent a lot of time volunteering at church. I still had the same group of friends, but most of them bought houses and had a couple of kids. Some of them moved away for seminary, new jobs, or a fresh start in a new place. I stayed in my apartment, grading papers, and fretting about church stuff. Gradually, I stopped having friends over because I was embarrassed that I was still single, still living in a one-bedroom apartment, still had post-graduate furniture.

Two years ago, the summer I turned 39, I bought a two-bedroom condo not far from my old apartment. I had watched enough HGTV to know exactly what I wanted in my new home: wide-planked, hand-scraped hardwood floors, crown moulding, neutral paint, and a new sink and granite countertops in the kitchen (I did go with an undermount, white, porcelain sink instead of a stainless steel or farm sink – I’m such a rebel!)

I needed furniture for my new living and dining rooms, and I was so fortunate to move in July in Houston when all the furniture places were having buy one, get one free and save more than 60% sales. Some nice, really high-quality furniture stores. {Wait, did I just say “fortunate to move in July in Houston”???} I bought many fabulous pieces I wouldn’t have bought otherwise, and I just love them.

I had a few people over at first. My realtor/friend, Cathy, and her family. My mom, aunt, and uncle. Our pastor and his wife. Some other friends from church. But entertaining happened infrequently and didn’t really feel a part of my everyday lifestyle. I showed off all the things I had done to the space, waved off the second bedroom “it will be an office someday”, and dreamed of putting up curtains in my master bedroom to complete the look.

Then last summer, my mom and I went to Seattle for 5 weeks while we waited for my sister to deliver her baby (11 days past her due date!), school started, I went to Paris for a week in October, and then we found out Mom was sick at Thanksgiving. Just as I had  begun to put some finishing touches on my home in preparation to do more entertaining in 2010, we found out how very sick Mom was, and I essentially moved in with her at her townhouse (which is not far from my condo.)

In May, I vacated my mom’s guest bedroom and now I am dedicating myself to “finishing” the condo. And I don’t mean “finishing” as in “Martha Stewart’s head would start spinning” finishing, but pulling things a little more together so that I can invite friends into a welcoming, calm, relaxing home – just like the ones to which I have been invited over the years.

The menu will be simple – I’ll pick up some chicken kabobs and Greek salad from Zoe’s or we’ll order  a pizza. Blackberry/peach cobbler from Tres Market for dessert (with Bluebell Homemade Vanilla, natch). I have come to grips with the fact that I don’t relish cooking, and it doesn’t make sense for me to make myself crazy trying to pull together a meal or appetizers from scratch. It works much better for me to buy something good at one of the many great restaurants and foodie places (like Central Market and Rice Epicurean) nearby and just get on with it.

One of the blogs I read regularly is Reluctant Entertainer. Sandy emphasizes connection over perfection when entertaining, something I forgot along the way. I wanted to be proud of my home when people came over, and when I didn’t feel good about it, I just stopped entertaining, missing countless opportunities to forge important connections with the people I love. Sandy has written a book, and it’s available for pre-order. I can’t wait to get it – it’s the perfect resource for someone like me who wants to fill her home with laughter and great conversations with wonderful friends but is intimidated by putting it all together.



{Just had a flash of insight: I remember my parents having dinner parties when I was a child. It was such a production: whom to invite, what to serve, how to arrange the flowers. My mom kept a log (knowing Mom, I’m pretty sure she still has it!) of each event so she would be sure to vary the guest list and the menu. Cleaning the house and making sure it was “guest-worthy” was of utmost importance. They had lovely dinners with fantastic friends, and I have good memories of sitting around the table in the formal dining room and talking way past my bedtime and then trying to stay up to watch Johnny Carson or Saturday Night Live while the grown-ups drank coffee and probably smoked cigarettes. My mom made sure everything was perfect, but I think it took a lot out of her in the process.}

Sandy is giving away five copies of her new book over at Nester’s place. To enter, all you have to do is leave a comment about what dish you are “known for.” I wrote about sausage dip:

Judy’s Easy New Year’s Eve Sausage Dip

1 roll of Jimmy Dean sausage (regular – I think it’s a pound, but I’m not sure)
1 brick of cream cheese (the real stuff, not light or low-fat)
1 can Rotel (diced tomatoes, medium spice – OMG, did you know you could get this on Amazon???)

1. brown and drain meat (break it up like hamburger meat)
2. put cream cheese and Rotel in crock pot
3. add browned meat
4. heat on low

Serve with King size or Scoop style Fritos.

This recipe is easy to double or even triple for large crowds. It is simple, and everyone LOVES it. It is also great for breakfast the next day. Seriously.

Maybe I’ll win a book! Just in case, I’m pre-ordering it from Amazon. Book or no book, I’m continuing my quest for guests. I’m going for one event per month for the rest of the year.

I’m hoping for a perfect 100% success rate!

{Linking to Melissa’s Inspired By party this week.}

Worth Mentioning: The Creativity Crisis

Have you seen this article by the authors of Nurture Shock? It’s in the most recent edition of Newsweek.

I was surprised to read this:

Like intelligence tests, Torrance’s test—a 90-minute series of discrete tasks, administered by a psychologist—has been taken by millions worldwide in 50 languages. Yet there is one crucial difference between IQ and CQ scores. With intelligence, there is a phenomenon called the Flynn effect—each generation, scores go up about 10 points. Enriched environments are making kids smarter. With creativity, a reverse trend has just been identified and is being reported for the first time here: American creativity scores are falling.

And this:

In China there has been widespread education reform to extinguish the drill-and-kill teaching style. Instead, Chinese schools are also adopting a problem-based learning approach.

This article confirms what I’ve suspected for a long time: the standards-and-accountability (i. e. high-stakes testing) environment in America is actually hampering educational progress. Some of this is because teachers feel pressured to ensure their kids do well on standardized tests and simply can’t extricate themselves from “teaching to the test”. I have never taught upper grades in elementary school because of this, and I don’t really blame teachers for feeling that their hands are tied.

We have also pushed down the curriculum, because (ironically) enriched environments are making kids smarter, so they are able to handle more difficult curricula at an earlier age. The standard these days is for kids to learn how to read in kindergarten; obviously, to varying degrees of success, but it’s still the standard. At my school, we are moving toward expecting kids to know their addition and subtraction facts by the end of first grade and their multiplication facts by the end of second (national standards place these benchmarks in higher grades.) Yes, it’s true that most of the kids I teach are highly capable learners and should meet this expectation, but I wonder if we are not emphasizing mastery of basic facts over acquisition of skills in creativity, flexiblity, and real-life problem-solving (not word problems or textbook-generated problems.)

I especially liked when the authors talked about creativity not just being in art class. While I appreciate the arts (visual, dramatic, and musical) and want my students to develop their artistic skills, the classroom is my canvas, my stage. I am creative in my teaching, and I function best when I can collaborate with others to plan lessons that will stimulate my students’ creativity and thinking.

When we were studying geometry this year, I got out the geometric solids (wooden cubes, pyramids, cylinders, spheres, cones, rectangular prisms, etc.) for the first time and let my students play with them before I taught them the terminology of faces, vertices, and edges. One group turned the blocks into a bowling alley, using a ramp made out of a dry erase board to explore whether or not each block rolled, stacked, or slid. Boy, did they have fun, and it was loud! I debated in my head whether or not to let it continue – should I tell them “that’s not how I want you to use the blocks” and direct them to a more quiet, focused activity?

I decided to let them continue bowling (and turned off my hearing aids so I wouldn’t hear the laughing and screaming!) Of course, other groups caught on, and soon most of the kids were bowling with the blocks. I chose to let their creativity be their guide and see what happened when we sat down as a group to discuss what they had learned about the blocks. I figured if they didn’t learn what they were supposed to know, I could redo the activity with more guidance.

To my delight, when we sat down to talk about the features of each three-dimensional shape, they rattled them off – which ones could stack and slide but not roll, why some rolled in a straight line and some “spun around” when they rolled, how many faces, vertices, and edges each one had, and I think all of the kids raised their hands to contribute to the discussion instead of just the ones who usually “get it” before everyone else does.

I asked them where they had learned the information, and they said, “You taught us.” I then asked, “Did I really?” I  pointed out that they had turned our classroom into a bowling alley (surely not what I had planned for the math lesson!) but that I had chosen to let their creativity flourish instead of imposing my vision for their exploration. I told them I had experimented to see what would happen if I let them “go” and how pleased I was that they had learned exactly what the Teacher’s Guide wanted them to learn. 

I truly believe that when they revisit geometry in third grade, my students will remember bowling with the blocks and will be able to recall the mathematics because they were allowed to be creative with the materials.  We’ll see if my theory holds up!