Saturday, December 31, 2011

A look back at 2011

As we are down to less than 24 hours left in 2011, I felt it was the right time to look back at what this year has brought.

The biggest life event that happened in 2011 is our starting our adoption process and getting to the point where we are really just waiting for the phone call. The multiple documents, homestudy, applications, etc. all were started just this year. In some ways it is crazy to think that we started all this just a year ago, yet in other ways it is crazy that we have been in the process for so long and yet are still probably another 9 months to a year getting a child home.

Another main thing of this year was our trip to Ireland. I flew to another country and walked around there by myself while Blake worked! Probably so small of an achievement for many others, but I generally don't like being alone, so it was huge for me, and continues to encourage me as I try other new things on my own. March was when I first heard about the possibility of this trip. April was full of changing plans as we expected to go, then it was postponed, and then we eventually went in May.

This June we painted our house a whole new color and we also celebrated 5 years of marriage together. On the point of marriage, 2011 was the first full year that we didn't try top get pregnant at all. We started trying in 2009, and still tried through half of 2010. But 2011 was completely adoption focused and it felt great! All that stress is gone, and I feel like Blake and I really connected over this year, and lately I have been enjoying the time with him so much that I am truly fine with the waiting for a phone call, knowing that I will miss this precious close time.

The next significant post of 2011 was that in September I started running, and I am really happy with how that is going. I feel better, I think I look better, and it was so fun a few days ago when I was able to keep up with Blake a lot more on the bike ride. I am proud that I have kept it up this long, and look forward to achieving my goals in this area.

The other significant thing that happened in 2011 but has been purposely withheld from my blog up till now is that my brother got married this year. In January, so it has actually been almost a year now. The main reason that I have kept it off the blog is that there are a lot of issues that have come with this marriage for my family. If you think of it, pray for harmony for my family. I didn't want the year to end without mentioning it once, because I want to look back on this blog someday and remember 2011, and my brother's marriage and the results of it was a big part of the year.

Another less than positive key portion of 2011 was that Blake had a number of health issues this year. Fortunately the majority of them are either gone or under control, but for a number of months, he was pretty miserable, and the doctor didn't know how to help. We even had a trip to the emergency room for him this year. Hopefully we remember to stay thankful that none of his issues turned out to be something chronic and unfixable.

Over the course of the year, I also read 63 books! Even some of those show where my interest was this year, as a large portion were on Ireland, Ghana or adoption.

I also wrote 59 (including this one) blog posts this year. I am especially excited with this number considering that I wasn't focused on my CSA box and stopped posting pictures of the boxes after we had been getting it for a year. I felt like these posts were fairly well spaced out too, so that I could look back today and get a good picture of the majority of the things happening this year.

Before I finished this post, I decided to look back at my 2010 post. Here is a few things of note:

- In February I had written-
"I didn't write anything this month... and honestly don't remember much of it either... lol guess that goes with my 2011 goal of being better at blogging/status updates online." and I know I did better at that. No month had no posts, and the least in a month was 2. My facebook year in status also shows I did well in this area:

- Vacations were another thing of note. This year, besides our trip to Ireland, we didn't have a vacation at all (and arguably Ireland was not a vacation since Blake had to work the whole time). In 2010 we had gone with Blake's family to Morro Bay and my family to Colorado. Also, I traveled to visit my friend in Oregon too. I think my brother's marriage was probably a big factor in this difference. But it's okay anyways since Blake needed to save his vacation time for our possible Ghana trip. The fact that it is now falling in 2012+ means that he has more paid days off for it... yay!

- Green eating really started for us in 2010 with both the CSA box and bison... two things that we are continuing with still today, to the point that they are just accepted as part of our choices of food.

My main thought as I look back is that 2011 was a good year, and it really passed quickly. I look forward to seeing what 2012 brings!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Scarves and other teacher gifts

I have acquired quite the scarf collection over the years, and I have to say that I am really happy about it. Starting whenever California realizes that it is fall, through when it starts to warm up again (I know, I non-Californians, I never experience any cold weather and it is always warm here... but there are degrees of our warmth as well, and when it is less warm than normal I will call it cold for the sake of comparison) I like to wear a scarf to keep me warm.

The other awesome thing about my scarf collection is that I think I only bought one or two at most. Receiving an additional three scarves this year as gifts, I felt like it was appropriate to write a blog dedicated mainly to my scarves and their stories.


Starting from the left:

This pink one was a gift from a student this year, and came with a matching set of gloves. I have already worn it several times because it is extremely warm and thick.

The next one also came from a student this year, and in some ways is more special than the first, because she actually made it for me. (Made in that she cut the fabric into the shape of the scarf). I love the pattern on this one, and I like how neutral the colors are, especially compared to many of my other scarves, so I can wear it at times I can't wear the others.

The beautiful blue and white scarf was knitted for me by a good friend from high school. I love the colors, and I love how it has a tendency to twist around a bit and show the pattern more.

The next four scarves were all crocheted for me by my mom. My favorite color-wise is the one with the brown, white and pink, though it is a tad bit long. I use the red one frequently as my "Christmas" scarf, since I honestly don't own a lot of red. The teal one is a beautiful color, and is an interesting design, since it actually has a hole purposely put into it to pull the other side through. This is a good scarf for short jackets where the other scarves might stick out of. The white one I would wear more frequently, except that it was one of (maybe the first) scarf that she made for me, and it is a bit short, especially the way that I like to wear all these scarves:

(super old picture... this was from our engagement photo shoot, and it was actually the photographer that taught me to wear my scarf this way, because it makes your neck look better than the only way I knew how to wear scarves before. Note how different Blake looks now!)

The next scarf is probably my most frequently worn (though it might be challenged by the pink one now) because it is wool, and the warmest of my scarves. This is the one that I pull out when it is less a fashion statement that will also keep my neck warm (though I use this one for that too) and more of a brrrr I want my neck to be warm time. This scarf is also special because it was bought for me by my mother in law in Ireland (and they know about cold weather, and how to make warm scarves).

The blue scarf is the same one that you see in the picture above, and to my memory was actually bought for that photo shoot because I wanted to match Blake's eyes and also because it was one of my wedding colors. It still comes out often because I love the bright blue, but I try to be conscious of what I wear with it... because it is a very bright color and the rest of the outfit needs to work with it.

The last two I have had for a very long time, and I am positive that my mother in law got me the lighter blue one... but I honestly don't remember the story of the last one. These are probably my least worn scarves. The far right one not only doesn't have a great story, it is a bit short and unflexible to do my normal style of wearing scarves, and so I don't grab it often. I think that the light blue one is beautiful and so I wear it on occasion for that reason, but it is very thin, and honestly can only be worn on days that I don't really need a scarf at all... and if it is warm enough for that, I wonder what people will think of me walking around in a scarf.

p.s. I know that both my mom and my mother in law read this blog, and I want to disclaim that I mean no offense by any statements made about my scarves. Please note that I do love all my scarves and they all have their place, and that is why I keep each and every one of them. Thank you for your contributions to my collection! :-D

In addition to this scarf tribute, I wanted to touch on a subject that I consider writing on every year, and yet never seem to do (I even checked back, because I feel like I have written on this before.. but it doesn't appear to be the case, and if I have, forgive me).

I was reading one of the blogs I follow today, who linked to another blog, where the person casually commented "you could do some of the same kinds of things you would do for teacher presents: some sort of candy, a cute mug, bath stuff, candles, cute little notebooks/notepads...". This list I do think is the common expectation of what teacher gifts should be... and looking over the list, I did get every single one of those things for Christmas this year. The problem is that I also got all those things for my birthday... and end of the year... and other Christmases. We will eat the candy, but even that tends to get stored, and we nibble away at it, and eventually have to toss it. I have drawers full of notepads and stationary that I never seem to make progress through. We have a section in our closet for the multitudes of bath stuff and lotions that I get (and if it isn't a body wash, they sometimes have to get re-gifted, since I generally don't take baths). I don't know who could possibly use all of the candles that I get, and they are spread out throughout the house as decorations, and some are put in various holiday boxes just so they have a time to come out without being out all of the time.

Mugs I have decided to embrace since I got so many (and still do), and I now unofficially collect mugs. Please don't take this to mean that I need any mugs as a gift to add to my collection, I get plenty as it is. My one contribution to my growing assortment of mugs is that now we buy a mug every trip we go on, so that it is more of a collection than just I have tons of mugs. And since many of them are Christmas gifts, I have 10 or so (and more every year) that I store with our Christmas decorations and swap out when I decorate the house, and then put them back in storage the rest of the year.

Adding to my list of frequent Christmas gifts is Christmas decorations. These are the least bothersome of my most often received teacher gifts, since they get stored every year, and I can usually find a spot for the ones I get, but it still isn't my favorite gift to receive.

To be clear, I don't expect any gifts, and I fully acknowledge the generosity and sweetness of every parent that decides to give their child's teacher a present. I just felt that if someone is out there perpetuating the stereotypical great teacher gifts that someone should also be out there representing the teachers (myself and those who I work with) and let others know what we would appreciate most. I figure that if a parent is generous enough to want to give a gift, they might want to know what we really want.

The best website that I have found explaining our side is

If you don't feel inclined to read it, let me paraphrase: The typical "teacher gifts" are all ones that we all receive often, and while we appreciate the gesture, we frequently can't use or don't need more of these items.

In another spot of the website the author lists what gifts are preferred

Confirming that it isn't just me, she did the research and polled many teachers as to their preferred gifts. Number 1 choice for both me and most teachers is gift cards. I love the way that she put it so much I am actually going to quote her directly:
I know they get a bad rap, but this was the #1 requested item from all of the teachers we spoke with. A Gift Card is never unwelcome, doesn’t take up any space, and can be used to get something the teacher actually needs. If you prefer to make it more personal, my suggestion would be to make a handmade thank you card with your child. Include a sincere note of appreciation and a pouch where you can slip in the gift card. Believe me, this gift will be a hit!

As sad as it is... when I unwrap yet another candle, there is a part of me that thinks about how I would probably be happier with them spending half of the money they spent on that candle on a starbucks card. Honestly, I go to starbucks once a week, and if I don't have a gift card, I will spend my money on my weekly treat, but I NEVER buy candles. If all of the money already spent on that well meaning gift was spent on gift cards, I would benefit so much more. Also, her point about the note of appreciation is spot on. I save cards with personal notes of appreciation, and I treasure them, and I even pull them out and read them on a bad day. Much more appreciated than yet another lotion.

Her next suggestion is not one that I would normally say, but is probably true- school supplies. My school actually supplies most of the things I need, so this isn't a big concern for me in general. However, my mom can attest that at times I have asked her for glue sticks and scissors, and at the moment I am considering buying sets of number 2 pencils in different colors to keep the class teams accountable for their pencils. So yes, if you ask first, these would probably be appreciated as well.

I wholeheartedly agree with her suggestion of consumable items. I occasionally get coffee as a gift and I love it! The best thing with items that I can eat, especially those I can store and eat over time (like those make your own cookie, soup etc. jars) is that it doesn't matter how many I get, I can go through them eventually. She lists a few suggestions that include spa/lotion sets... but my problem (and many other teachers problem) is that I get so many every year, and go through them so slowly, that even though it is technically a consumable... I can never get through all that I have. (not to mention that personally, we receive this stuff from Blake's work too... so we REALLY never need it).

She did list personalized items too... but at least for me, it needs to be a practical personalized item. One of my favorite gifts of all time is a teacher bag that says Miss Lisa on the side. I got it my first year teaching, and I still use it every year, every day to keep my teaching stuff organized.

Her last category was inspirational teacher books and movies, and reading through her list, I probably would appreciate these as long as I didn't already have them.

Thinking back over the years, I have to say that my favorite gifts are those that really show that they thought about me, as a person, not as a teacher. Isn't that what we should all strive for in our gifts to others?

A few years back, I had a parent give me a healthy cookbook, not as a hint, but because she had heard from her son how much I liked cooking and how I strove to keep the classroom as healthy as I could. I loved it! So thoughtful!

Last year, I had a child write me a card that said that since she knew I liked reading she wanted me to pick out a book I wanted. It came with a Barnes and Noble gift card and a bookmark that I regularly use with the books I read. It may have been a gift card, but it was a gift card that really showed that the student thought about what I would want.

Not recommended for everyone, but I really appreciated a mom two years ago that worked for a clothing company and gave me shirts for both Christmas and the end of the year that really suited my style and fit me well. Talking with another teacher about this, we decided that this is a risky gift... make sure that you know the size and also the teacher's particular style, but if you get something good, it will be appreciated!

I could continue, but the point of this part of my post is that our main request as teachers is that you consider us as individuals when deciding to buy for us, and think about what gifts we frequently get before you purchase us something that we may already have one... or ten... of already.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Next? and Christmas fun

So, as periodically happens, we got an update from our adoption agency giving a few updates on the current status of the program, how many families are where in the process etc.

I read that there were 9 families in our stage, and thought about where we might be in that "line" ... and kept reading. Further in the e-mail our coordinator said "our longest waiting family has been waiting since late May 2011" and I stopped, and read it again. I thought to myself... hrm... isn't that when we started waiting? Then I checked this blog... that top little part that I kept updating back when anything interesting was happening, and confirmed that yes... we started waiting late May 2011. So, while there is a possibility that another family started waiting for the call at the same time as us, there is also a very distinct possibility that our turn for the call could be coming very soon.

I know they aren't common anymore... but you know those take a number things? You don't really have any idea how long the wait will be, but you have a number, and you can see the number on the wall getting closer to your number? The last few updates were my knowing my number was approaching. Now, I feel like we are number 57 and I see them with number 56. Who knows how long person 56 will take with their question or package... but I know that however long it takes... we're next. Of course, I could still have to wait through some more people who are open to older children or more special needs getting children first, but I don't think (as long as it isn't the two families waiting for the same thing situation) I will see anyone accept a referral for our age child until we get a call. Wow. Crazy. On the other hand... I think I rested easier knowing that there were people ahead of us... now it is getting scary close. Now I will be even more conscious of my phone messages than normal.

This wasn't my intended blog topic. I really wanted to talk about Christmas activities, but that was before I got that very interesting update e-mail.

December 3rd I had my good friend Erin and her kids over and we made gingerbread houses from scratch. Well... houses was the plan anyways. :-D Blake and I had made just sheets of gingerbread before they arrived, and my thought was that we would work in teams with the little ones to make different houses and the kids could decorate them. Her husband opted not to come, so Blake worked with Erin's 4 year old girl, and Erin worked with her 2 year old son, and I got to work on my own house.

After Erin heard my (admittedly ambitious) plan, she decided to go with a 2D train for Jeremiah. She really did great, but I didn't remember to take a picture of it, so unless she puts it on facebook at some point, I don't have documentation of the awesome train.

Blake and I were still gung ho for 3D, and Blake received a special challenge from his teammate... she wanted a princess castle. Not one to back down from a challenge, especially in the building area, he successfully created a castle for her, and they decorated it together.
(The red thing from the tower was at one point a bow)

I had a mental image of making a farm, complete with lots of animals, a fence, etc. but after getting the house itself built and the fence built, the kids had already expended their short attention span, and I would have been the only one still working on my masterpiece. Even after they left, I only had the basic house and the fence, but before going to bed for the day I decided that my farm needed at least one animal, and a little aesthetic appeal. That is when I added my pig, and the trees and the food trough for the pig.

All in all, that was a fun day, though I think the gingerbread from scratch building would/will work better with older kids with longer attention spans.

Then, more recently, I had a great weekend up in Big Bear with my in-laws. Lori had a great plan to have us bake a whole bunch of cookies and decorate them, and then package them up as gifts for people. We did attempt some fortune cookies, but something between the altitude and the recipe we were unable to find the right consistency that they were soft enough to mold when they came out of the oven, but hard enough to solidify after the molding together.

Besides the failed fortune cookies, and the sugar cookies we made three other batches of cookies

The sugar cookies were lots of fun, and really unlocked our creative sides. My father and brother in law were the least productive:
Graeme's cookies

Kris' cookies - design inspired by Nightmare before Christmas, and the amazing black color created by Blake and his determination to make a great black from just the primary colors for his dad. Also shown in this picture are the fortune cookies that we made... and obviously not looking like much.

Blake's cookies- Complete with a Mario star, a snowman after a dog passes by, a beautiful angel, and a couple of zombies (commissioned by his dad). Truthfully though, Blake found the most enjoyment out of custom making the colors for use in his designs.

Jami's cookies- I loved her use of pink, and her subtle use of the green highlights on the Christmas tree in the lower center. Also note her Carl's jr. star.

I was the most prolific decorator, having lots of fun doing this even as more and more people finished what they wanted to decorate. I think my two favorites were Roxie in the bottom right, and my boat at the bottom center. My star towards the top with the white frosting on the brown I think looks cool, and I also like my girl in the top left. Honestly though... eventually even I stopped trying and just finished frosting the rest of the cookies simply with my only remaining intent being to have frosting on them for eating purposes.

I had so much fun with the variety of baking different types of cookies, that I decided that I want to spend some of my free time next week while I am off baking some more cookies for other people that didn't get to benefit from our weekend fun.