Monday, May 31, 2010

No Kissing in Kindergarten

Am I the only one who finds it strange that I have to issue this directive? It seems to be common sense: No Kissing in Kindergarten. Little kids shouldn't be worrying about who kissed who or who has a boyfriend. A boyfriend? Really?

This is right up there with the "Keep your hands where I can see them" rule. A little too much nose picking has spiraled around the third grade like a nasty flu bug. There are only so many times you can sanitize a table in a day. Five is my limit.

At least life with children is never dull!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Just a Day in the Life...

My little ADHD kindergartener is now on meds, so the number of scissors fights per week has steadily decreased. He's a smart little guy---I taught him the sh blend, and he turned around, quick as lightning, and spelled "shut up." I'm so proud.

Time to go convince some first graders that we do not burp in class or pick our noses (and if I have some time, the ch blend). Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Laundry Thief

My landlady's granddaughter had surgery yesterday, so we got to take care of her parent's dog while they were in the city with her. Turns out the puppy is a rampant laundry thief. One minute I'm petting him, the next he's blazing through the house with a pair of my freshly washed (and still drying) underwear in his grinning teeth. Try explaining that to your landlady. I could only laugh as she casually handed the clothes back to me. Talk about a Marley and Me moment.

On a completely unrelated note, I am now sporting two lovely papercuts on my index fingers from folding countless leveled readers for my first graders. Were three copies of "Maddy Loves to March" worth it? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It Was a Three-eyed, One-Nosed, Green People Licker...

"My perfect dog would have three eyes." Um, okay. "They would spin in all different directions." Not too weird, right? "He would be green!" Okay, now I'm a little worried.

Such is a conversation with a second grader. You have to love kids!

Right now I am battling a very stubborn car. It's check engine light keeps coming on, and then going off a few days later. Once it comes on again, I'm going to head down to Auto Zone to get the trouble code checked. They will do this for free, and then I can check online to see what the potential problem is before committing to having it fixed. Since I've had some trouble with overcharging mechanics in the past, this is a vital step.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Today I Donated Blood

Donating blood can be fast and efficient. By giving just under two hours of your time, you can save three lives.

I love the Red Cross' Top Ten Reasons to Donate Blood:

10) You will get free juice and cookies.
This is quite the enticement for college students everywhere. Who can turn down cookies?
9) You will weigh less — one pint less when you leave than when you came in.
In our weight-obsessed culture, this is probably a powerful draw.
8) It's easy and convenient — it only takes about an hour and you can make the donation at a donor center, or at one of the many Red Cross mobile blood drives.
From start to finish, I find it takes closer to two hours. Only half of that time is really spent giving blood and enjoying the nice cookies and juice afterwards; the rest is spent waiting, filling out paperwork, or getting your iron levels and blood pressure tested.
7) It's something you can spare — most people have blood to spare... yet, there is still not enough to go around.
Very true! The body can replenish it's blood supply remarkably fast---in fact, within 24 hours.
6) Nobody can ask you to do any heavy lifting as long as you have the bandage on. You can wear it for as long as you like. It's your badge of honor.
A definite draw for teenagers whose parents would love for them to mow the lawn or clean the garage.
5) You will walk a little taller afterwards — you will feel good about yourself.
Knowing that you made a difference in a person's life is very uplifting.
4) You will be helping to ensure that blood is there when you or someone close to you may need it. Most people don't think they'll ever need blood, but many do.
In fact, 38,000 donations are needed daily.
3) It's something you can do on equal footing with the rich and famous — blood is something money can't buy. Only something one person can give to another.
There is no way to create blood in a lab---only people can give blood.
2) You will be someone's hero — you may give a newborn, a child, a mother or a father, a brother, or a sister another chance at life. In fact, you may help save up to three lives with just one donation.
How can you argue with that?
1) It's the right thing to do.

Click here to find the blood drive nearest you.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Six Alternatives to the Kindle

I'm an avid reader, and travel abroad regularly. During my time in Guatemala, one of the things I missed the most was my public library. Each week, I checked out an average of fourteen books. Not all of these were read in their entirety, but I loved having the option of doing so.

In Guatemala, there was a used bookstore, but books were costly (around $4 for a book I'd read within a day or two). This may not seem like a lot, but I was only earning $2.75 an hour. I did frequent book exchanges, which are often found in youth hostels and language schools. I spread the word that I was looking for English books, and sometimes had used copies passed on to me after their recipient had finished. I traded books with other foreigners, but it still was not enough.

Which is why I am seriously looking into ebook readers, such as the Amazon Kindle and the Sony PRS 505. I am also considering investing in a mini laptop to convert into an ebook reader (amid other things---a webcam optimized phone call server and a web surfer). This article teaches you how to convert a cheap Acer Aspire One.

The only downside of a converted laptop is eye strain and a low battery life. This might be ameliorated by purchasing a nine cell battery (to replace a six cell), which would increase the battery life greatly. The eye strain? I guess it would just be something I would have to put up with.

There are other options, if you have an iPhone or an iPod touch. An article at PC Magazine will tell you how to use these devices as free eReaders. Since I lack either device, I'm out of luck on this front. Besides, the print would have to be tiny (or involve a lot of page downs)!

I'm going to shop around. Maybe I can find a good deal on an eReader!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

43 Things

I love 43 Things. This website allows you to enter your life goals, and view how they stack up against other people's.

My current life goals are quite the grab bag. Some are very popular (141 people want to live in Barcelona), and others are a little more esoteric (only one person wants to travel to Palestine). Some other goals I have are:
  1. Get my truck driver's license
  2. Teach English in China (54 people want to do this)
  3. Get my Master's degree in Elementary Education
  4. Travel to Israel and the Palestinian Territories (1 person!)
  5. Nanny in Washington, D.C.

These definitely aren't your run of the mill goals, but I love doing new things. Can you tell I'm a little ADD?

What are your goals?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Getting Rid of My Books

Since life with AmeriCorps means only an eleven month position, I am coming up on my next cross country move. As an avid reader, I have accumulated well over a hundred books, only about a quarter of which merit moving. This means I need to downscale my collection, and fast.

I recently stumbled across Bookscouter, a collection of 31 vendors who will view your collection and then offer a price for each book. This isn't a huge moneymaker, but considering that most of my collection came from the library's used book sale, for 50 cents or a dollar a pop, the prices are fair. I am also going to offer a 2 for 1 deal on Paperback Swap to rid myself of some of my piles of books. A few of the more child oriented titles (such as all of the Shel Silverstein poetry books) will be given to the reading room at school.

The remainder of the books that don't sell and aren't take back will be redonated to the Friends of the Library Used Book Store. This bookstore not only recycles old books, but also donates all of their profits to the library, to buy new books.

Any other ideas?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Favorite Meals

Admittedly, I enjoy some strange food combinations. But who doesn't like the salty goodness of Teriyaki Garbanzo Beans, even when it is mixed with Garlic Mashed Potatoes? Who doesn't occasionally crave Italian "Sausage" as a lovely complement to Guiltless Gourmet Spicy Black Bean Chips with Guacamole and Follow Your Heart Cheddar Cheese? And can I help it if a Tofu Guacamole Sandwich floats my boat?

I dare say that no one (meat eater or not) can resist my Spaghetti with Green Pepper, Green Olive, Garlic, Onion, and Soy Crumble Sauce. Trust me, it is much more appetizing than it sounds.

My more traditional combinations are also heavenly. Take the Follow Your Heart Cheddar Cheese Quesadillas with Southwestern Style Salsa: simply scrumptious! A good side of Teriyaki Tofu makes this a meal to devour.

If that doesn't suit your appetite, how about a Tofu Stirfry, with plenty of green chile and green peppers? Or a little Curried Tempeh on a Whole Wheat Bun?

For those in a rush, there's always the classic "Hamburger" Hotdish, or a nice Black Bean Burger.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


How does a dyslexic child learn?

Thew ord sare notsp aced cor rec tly.
We spell wrds xatle az tha snd to us.

This is the stymying question for March. One quarter of the children I see struggle with letter reversals, transposed words, and sequencing issues. They struggle to get through a sentence; a paragraph is a herculean task. How can I help them?

January was spent on tracking worksheets. Luckily, these all seem like a game to my third grader. Circle all the capital letters in ABC order. Circle the numbers from 1-100 in order from left to right. Connect all of the people facing right. They seemed to help; they certainly did no harm. The student raced through them.

I spent February securing an MP3 player and wrestling uncooperative audiobooks onto it. I had to borrow audiobooks on CDs from the library, rip the music to Windows Media Player, and then synchronize it to the MP3 player. Of course, there are restrictions on the student computers, so I had to enter all of the album information by hand, and painstakingly rename all of the tracks. This was easily an hour per book.

It was all worth it in the end as my third grader returned the player, beaming up at me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Am I the only one who hates the educationalese learning plans sport? Why write "Transposes letters and numbers," rather than, "Test this child for dyslexia, NOW!" After all, who is motivated to dig to the bottom of: "Struggles with age appropriate behavior choices." I think a simple: "This kid loves a good scissors fight and won't stop biting the other students," will get a much more appropriate reaction from the parents.

It's a lot of sidestepping and polite language in the schools. All I can say is that it is not helping our students or our children one bit.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Trials and Travails with Volunteers

"Oh, dear. How do you get rid of a volunteer?"

This is not the refrain that you want to hear as an AmeriCorps member. However, I recently had the tremendous luck of being assigned a volunteer (by my supervisor, no less) that left her last volunteer position rather inelegantly (i.e. she chewed an elementary school child out, and then left).

Now she is working with one of my impressionable, sensitive second graders. I can't help but dread every session, wondering if I'll need to leap over to the next cubicle to break up a verbal beating. My Wednesday afternoons are tense affairs.

I'm all for second chances. I just wish that they could occur with a little older child, who isn't quite so impressionable. Think of an eight year old. Ponder just how vulnerable they are to rejection and harsh words. Words can really stick with you, especially when they're delivered by someone older, who acts as a teacher or a tutor. One misstep, one crucial miscommunication or mean-spirited word can really injure a child.

Am I mean for not wanting to chance this volunteer?

Friday, May 7, 2010

"I Have to Let My Gartner Snakes Go!"

These are words you definitely do not want to hear out of your kindergarten student's mouth. Um, where exactly are these gartner snakes? How many of them did you say there are? And you put them where!?!

At least life with AmeriCorps is never dull. When we're not instructing budding herpetologists in the proper care and upkeep of snakes, we're teaching little third graders how to politely excuse themselves to do their noisier bodily functions (tip: Yelling "I have to fart!" is not appropriate.")

I cannot think of more rewarding work.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I found this tip on Trent Hamm's The Simple Dollar, where he was reviewing The Reader’s Digest Penny Pincher’s Almanac. I have yet to try this bit of advice, but if it works, think of how much time it will save! Not only that, but it requires one less gizmo to have lying around the house, waiting for a pilling sweater. Note: do not try this with cashmere, unless you have money to burn.

Use sandpaper to keep sweaters and sweatshirts pill-free. (p. 61) Trent says, "I had a bunch of old sweaters and sweatshirts that looked very nasty from the number of little balls of lint that had appeared all over them. A bit of rubbing with some medium-grain sandpaper and those pills came right off, making the clothes look like new."

Personally, I have never tried this, but I really wish I'd known about this trick before my parents had my two sisters and me pick thousands of tiny pink lint balls off of a fuzzy bathrobe. It would have saved so much time.

The Reader’s Digest Penny Pincher’s Almanac also recommends that you Look into medical school clinics for inexpensive but quality health care. (p. 310) Trent adds that "here in Iowa, we’re lucky – the University of Iowa Medical School runs a stellar clinic with reasonable prices, and it’s often considered the place for medical treatment in the state. If you need a medical checkup, see if there’s a clinic offered by a medical school near you." Personally, this is one tip that I'm definitely going to try, now that I no longer live out in the boondocks.

I've found that the same principle holds true for haircuts. Beautician training schools have many students that need to complete a certain number of supervised haircuts before they can be certified. Visit a beautician training school for low cost haircuts---this is perfect for children's haircuts, which occur so frequently that poor results are short lived.

Monday, May 3, 2010

On Lunch and Plumber's Cracks

I have been eating way too many Pepperjack "cheese" and tomato sandwiches recently. Put them in the toaster oven with a few diced green olives....Mmmm.

In other news, I'm currently working with my second graders on not interrupting. We've tried the talking shell ("You can only talk if you have the shell"), incentive charts, time outs... just about everything. I've tried to figure out the root of the problem---do they not feel heard? Do they have some unmet need? I've also tried stiff consequences---one warning, then a time-out in the room, then a time-out in the hall and missing out on the game that day. Things work for awhile, then worsen. I think this is going to be a constant struggle this year. Hopefully it's just their age.

On a lighter note, when I asked my first grade group "What kind of workers can you think of?" one of my first graders proudly told me that her uncle has a plumber's crack! You have to love kids!

Angry Alligators: A First Grader's Take

You've got to love little kids. Everything that comes out of their mouths is completely unplanned, unexpected, and occasionally...uncensored.

Take, for instance, the reply to my innocent question: "Why would the alligator in the story be angry?" The expected answer, as we learned in an earlier book, was that he had a bad back. Not so expected was this first grader's response: "Well, sometimes alligators poop eggs." Yes, I suppose that this would make the alligator a little angry.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Vegan's Grocery Budget

While there are many challenges associated with being a vegan (just what can you get at McDonald's besides an iceberg lettuce salad?), budget grocery shopping is not one of them. Sure, tofu can add up, and if you insist on buying dozens of Boca Burgers each week, your budget may suffer. Yet compared to the cost of eating meat and buying cheese, vegan shopping is cheap.

I distinctly remember a $15 a week grocery budget in college. If I had to buy even a pound of meat with that, it wouldn't have gone very far. Yet I was able to buy several pounds of tofu from the local Oriental food store (at a dollar a pound), a 5-pound bag of whole wheat flour ($2.79), a couple of pounds of fruits and vegetables (anything that was under a dollar a pound), and plenty of noodles, spaghetti sauce, TVP, dried beans, split peas, and lentils. It definitely wasn't very fancy, but it was healthy and inexpensive.

Boca Burgers and vegan cheeses were splurges; while they were definitely less time-consuming to prepare, I had a lot of time and not much money. A couple of times a year a relative would take pity on my poor grocery budget and give me $20 to spend on vegan chocolate and Follow Your Heart vegan cheese. Needless to say, after several months of TVP and nutritional yeast based "cheeses," I was very thankful.

I spend a little more each week now for food; I now eat a lot more fresh fruits and vegetables, and fewer canned ones. I have access to a discount grocery store, which is heavenly! I can get my splurge foods for just a fraction of the cost. This would have made a huge difference when I was in college, but I definitely got by all right on what I had.

Vegan grocery shopping, when done right, is probably one of the cheapest ways to shop. If you view prepared, packaged foods (such as Morningstar or Boca Burgers) as a splurge rather than an everyday food, you will spend just a fraction of the cost of what you would on meat and cheese. However, it really comes down to making the bulk of what you eat at home, from the raw ingredients. Vegan packaged food is expensive! Eating well on a vegan diet is not.