Friday, August 19, 2016

Back to School

Hello again!

It's that time... back to school time. So my already sporadic posts will become even more spread out.

We had inservice this past week, which is earlier than usual, because we're starting school much earlier than usual. Two full weeks before Labor Day. By the time that weekend hits, I'm going to be exhausted...

Anyway, I've been in for trainings and meetings and curriculum planning, but also setting up my room in the middle of all of those things. This year I purchased a set of posters from Lindsay's Kodaly Classroom on Teachers Pay Teachers... you can find them here if you're interested. I think they look great- I printed them out in color on cardstock and laminated them so I can use them for years to come! Since I have to decorate two classrooms, this was much more cost efficient than purchasing two separate sets of posters ready-made.

Here are some highlights from one of my classrooms... I share this one with the art teacher:
I'm going to try to use more specific vocabulary with my kids this year. We did a lot with instruments last year so they should be familiar with the families at this point!

Here's my rules! They were very similar to this last year, so I was excited that the posters in this set matched what my kids already know!

My rhythm wall, using Kodaly syllables. : )

We got all new books this year (YAY!!!!!!!) and there they are with my behavior chart and genre vocabulary. Last year I did Composer of the Month and picked a composer or songwriter who had a birthday in that month. We would listen to a clip from one of their songs each week and learn a fact about them each week. I got that idea from my student teaching co-op. This year, I am going to pick a Performer of the Month- a singer, band, or musician. For September we are going to learn about Bruce Springsteen!

Here's my other room... I don't have to share this one! I love this space. It's recently renovated and it's so nice to have my own room:

I love this bulletin board! I got some new borders and letters from Teacher Created Resources this year.

Here's one corner - you see lots of the watercolor-themed vocabulary, rhythm wall, and my Performer of the Month bulletin board. 

The other corner, with the rules, staff bulletin board and my instrument posters. 
I set my chairs up in a "U" shape to leave a nice big space in the room for movement. I got this idea when I was a long-term music sub - the teacher before me set up her class this way, and I liked how it still allowed for instrument set up and/or movement in a limited space.

I had so many records. So many. I didn't want to throw them away. And then I had this idea... what if I made them into Olympic medals? 
I am so proud of this display for the GIANT bulletin board in the hallway outside my room!
(On the other end, on the left side, are two smaller displays for band and orchestra. On the red/polka dot paper, I'm going to put up some music jokes to start the year for something fun. : )

This year I got a ton of chalkboard Duct tape at Target (it was buy one, get one free!) and I ordered chalk pens from Amazon. I'm using them to label anything that needs labeled- drawers, cupboards, bins, etc. It will tie everything together and they're fun to use! I can also use them to draw on the windows of my classroom doors.

Setting up this year was more fun since I had more time to think about it. It doesn't feel so "thrown together at the last minute" and I like feeling more organized to start the year off!

Good luck to all you teachers out there!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Planning a Disney Vacation

It is time.

Time to plan for next year's vacation!

I know, this summer is almost at its halfway point. Why rush it?

We went to the beach the week before July 4th and had a great time. Little Guy ended up loving it by the end of the week (though he wasn't so sure at the beginning). But next year A. and I are planning our last real "grown-ups only" vacation for a long time, because after this trip we want to start trying for another baby. And of course, we are planning to return to our favorite place, Disney World.

I do a lot of the planning on my own, but I will be very up front about the fact that we do book most of our arrangements through our wonderful AAA agent. She helped us plan our honeymoon and our trip last February.

Here is my general planning process:

1) Decide when to go. Duh, right? But it's not always cut-and-dry with a Disney vacation. Obviously we have to take our schedule into account, but we try to align it with Disney's crowd schedule. If you look up "Disney 2017" on Pinterest, you will find tons of crowd prediction calendars on the boards, mostly pinned from (which is a great website). Basically you know it's going to be really crowded in the summer and on holidays. As a teacher, my obvious vacation time is summer. The only "bummer" about that (because it's awesome not going to work every day in the summer, I won't deny it) is that it's also vacation time for a bajillion other teachers, students, and their families.

Last time we visited Disney, we went in February when the crowds were much smaller and I had more personal time accrued. Since my maternity leave, all of my personal time is pretty much gone, and I want to save what I have left for my next maternity leave. So for this trip we are planning for summer.

Also, I did go to Disney World last year when I was seven months pregnant. It is definitely doable, but I am looking forward to being able to ride whatever I want this time around... and not have my feet be the same size as my head! : )

2) Decide your budget. This might be flipped with #1 depending on your scenario, because Disney's crowd calendar kind of controls their "seasons" as far as pricing goes. If you can easily take off work any time of year, it's going to be cheaper for you to go during a value season *and* there won't be ginormous crowds. If you don't have much choice as to when you can go, that is going to control where you are staying, what kind of dining you are doing, and what kinds of tickets you will be getting. The two things we want on our trip are a dining plan and "park-hopper" tickets, where you can go from park to park on the same day. Things that are not as important to us are resort theming and waterparks, so we don't pick a certain resort based on its theme and we save money by not including the waterpark option on our tickets. That gives us more room for what kind of resort we want to stay in, which leads to number 3...

3) Where do you want to stay? Disney has three levels of resorts: value, moderate, and deluxe. They also have deluxe villas, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) shares, and a campground, which won't be discussed here. For most of my Disney visits, we've stayed at moderate resorts: either the Caribbean Beach Resort (CBR) with my family, or the Port Orleans: French Quarter resort (with my husband). For this upcoming trip, we are very excited about staying *at least* one night in a deluxe resort. The nice thing about staying on property at Disney is the transportation- there are buses (or monorails, or sometimes even boats) that can take you from your resort to a park or another resort. Or, you get a free parking pass if you have driven a car. Also, you are immersed in the Disney experience. I stayed off-property once with my family, which was fine for us because it was a short, two-day trip and we were not park-hopping, but I don't have much experience with planning an off-property stay.

4) What are you eating? Part 1 This might seem like a silly thing to think about, but food is going to be a big part of your budget, whether you are on a dining plan or not. A. and I have gotten the dining plan for both of our trips because it is what made sense for us. When I was growing up, we never had a dining plan or made dining reservations on our Disney trips. Consequently, we brought most of our own snacks into the park and ate mainly counter-service (fast-food type) meals. On our honeymoon, A. and I reserved a few "signature dining" meals that would have been very expensive on their own, so we got what was then called the Deluxe dining plan*** - three meals and two snack credits a day. That was a LOT. We had several credits left over at the end of the week despite exhaustive planning... it was really a lot of food. For our trip last year, we used the regular meal plan and only had to pay out of pocket for a few drinks and snacks. We are going to do that again next year.

Sometimes Disney offers free dining plans, but we haven't been able to snag one of those yet!

***Please note that on my DDP post from 2013, you still used your room key card for meals. Now EVERYTHING is through the Magic Band, which is super cool!

5) How are you getting there? Figure out your airline and airport (if you are flying). Decide whether you want a non-stop flight or if you can handle little layovers. What time of day you want to leave/arrive? Are you going to a park the same day you arrive or spending down time in your resort/hotel first? If you are flying into MCO, will you take the Magical Express (so easy, highly recommend) or rent a car? This is where we use my AAA agent the most - she takes care of most of these arrangements to help us get great deals and make it easier to get from point A to point B!

Those are the big questions to figure out from the start.

6) What are you eating? Part 2 Whether or not you are getting a dining plan, if you want to eat any sit-down meals, particularly in the more acclaimed restaurants (Cinderella's Royal Table, Be Our Guest, most restaurants in EPCOT), be sure to make your reservation 180 days out. I'm not getting. Get on the phone or the computer and make the reservation. The people on the reservation hotline are super friendly and helpful, from my experience, and it's not overly complicated to make a computer reservation. But make a plan of places you want to eat, and make your reservations. You can also make reservations for dinner-show packages, which is very helpful when you are looking for reserved seating at a show like Fantasmic.

I wouldn't recommend more than one meal reservation in a day, though. Your trip will start to get a little *too* planned, and you want to leave room for some spontaneous, magical moments!

Other links to my previous dining posts:
Table Service - 2013 (please note that Fulton's is no longer around... so sad)
Snacks and Quick-Service - 2015
Table Service - 2015

7) Which parks are you going on which days? When you get closer to your trip, sites like WDW Prep School are helpful because they can help you determine which days are the best on your trip to visit certain parks. Your dining reservations and park tickets are going to determine a lot of that, too. For example, if you have park hopper tickets, you can easily start your day at the Magic Kingdom and then go to EPCOT for dinner. However, if you have single-day tickets for a park, and you've made reservations for a dinner-Fantasmic package at Hollywood Studios, you will have to be at Hollywood Studios all day. You can't book a dinner in a park without a ticket for that park. That might sound like a "duh" thing, but it's really important when you're planning your trip.

8) What Fast Passes do you want? Once you've figured out which parks you're hitting on which days, you can reserve your fast passes, which are linked right to your Magic Band so that you can essentially skip the normal line on your favorite rides. You pick the rides and times (up to 3 a day) and when the time comes, you report to the Fast Pass time for that ride, scan your Magic Band, and have a much shorter wait before you are having fun on the ride! It's good stuff, so make sure you take advantage of it. You can also make Fast Pass reservations for character greetings, which is helpful when you have a little one who has to meet Anna and Elsa, or Mickey and Minnie, etc.

Once those big ticket items are taken care of, a lot of your trip can be planned closer to time... what to pack, designing your Magic Band, etc. etc. It seems like a lot of planning, but in my opinion it's fun planning, and totally worth it to make the trip smoother and so much more enjoyable!

Happy planning!

Monday, June 6, 2016

She said / He said

One of my Facebook friends posted this last night, and it did give us a good conversation and some good laughs : )

WITHOUT any prompting, ask your husband/boyfriend/ girlfriend/wife these questions and write down EXACTLY what they say. It's great and funny.

What is something I always say? 
You always make a face at me when I make a joke.

What makes me happy?
Little snoot face [our son lol]

What makes me sad?
Can we skip this question?

What was I like as a child?
We were just talking about this. You were a little prissy.

How old am I?

How tall am I? 
5'10"? [off by a little, I'm 5'8"]

What's my favorite thing to do? 
You do like to read.

If I become famous, what will it be for?
I could see you becoming famous for writing something. Or something musical.

What am I good at? 
What aren't you good at? [good answer honey!]

What am I not good at? 
Anything athletic.

What makes you proud of me?
How good you are at everything. [awwwwwwww]

What is my favorite food? 

What do we do together? 
That's a weird question. We do a lot of stuff together.

How are you and I the same? 
We both love our little boy. 

That's kind of obvious, right?

Where is my favorite place to eat? 
You don't really have one place. You mix it up a lot.

How old was I when I met you? 
22 [after doing some mental math]

When is our anniversary? 
Seriously? You are being serious? Fine. July 13.

If I could go anywhere, where would it be? 
Disney World. Duh.

Do you think you could live with me forever? 
Well, [gesturing at ring on finger] I think I promised to do that.

How do I annoy you? 
Is this a trick question? I guess sometimes I get annoyed when you get snappy with me.

What is your favorite thing about me?
Your personality.

He did a pretty good job : ) And it was fun to talk through these instead of looking at our phones after little guy went to bed last night.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Ups and Downs

Well, hey. It's been a while.

2016 has had kind of a roller coaster start for me.

I spent the first three months of the year helping the high school students prepare for the spring musical in March. When it finally rolled around, it went phenomenally well. The head director, Luke, and I knew that we had really molded something special, and the community agreed. We entered in a competition against other high school theatre productions, like the Tonys, and we were confident we'd snag some nominations. The whole experience is something I will never forget as long as I live. I also had three chorus concerts in March. It was busy.

The weekend following the show, I threw a bridal shower and bachelorette party for my best friend. Immediately following that I got a massive cold and laryngitis, losing my voice for the third time this year, and that lasted for about a month, until mid-April when my son turned one. We had two birthday parties for him, one here and one at my parents'. It was fun but busy. The day after his second party my mom and MIL made me go to the doctor and I found out that I actually had a sinus infection. Finally got medicine and got better.

The next week, Luke and I got back together with our musical kids to have a party after school. April 22. The nominations for the theatre awards were being released every 5 minutes on facebook starting at 4:00, so we gathered in the auditorium, projected a recording of our show on the big screen, and ate a bunch of snacks. I picked up my son from day care and we went to join the party. Every time nominations were posted, we paused the recording and one of the students read them from the stage as Luke recorded the kids' reactions. It was amazing. We did so much better than we'd dreamed. Us, a tiny country school... we got nominated in 13 out of the 15 categories! I had to take my son and leave early, though, because I'd forgotten the diaper bag at home and had, as I called it, a "ticking time bomb" on my hands. Something had gone wrong on the technical end of the awards announcements and there wound up being a half an hour before the last ones were announced, so I didn't find out about the final nominations until after I'd gotten home.

I had just sent a list of the nominations to the principal to post online, and was bursting with pride, when he called to see if I was still at the high school. I said no, I'd left early with my son. He said he was heading there because there had been a bad accident at the entrance of the school, involving one of our students. My mood took a 180 degree spin, from giddy excitement to frantic worry. I tried calling and texting Luke but got no response. Later I found out his phone had died after he recorded all those videos during the party.

Our school has a long drive to get to the road, and a bit of a blind spot on a busy road. There's obviously a stop sign at the end of the drive, but anyone who wants to turn out of the drive has to pull past the stop sign to check the blind spot on the left. A line of cars full of my kids had been waiting to pull out after the party, when the girl in the car at the head of the line, V, evidently forgot to double check the left after waiting for a car on the right, and pulled out in front of an SUV. Luke and the rest of the kids had to watch as V was pried out of her smashed car with the Jaws of Life, and life-flighted away in a helicopter that landed in the football practice field in front of the school.

I still don't know how Luke held it all together as long as he did and was as strong for everyone else as he was. And I still wonder, what if I hadn't forgotten the diaper bag, and I'd stayed the whole time?

A group of kids and parents drove to the hospital to visit V that night, as the doctors worked frantically to save her. We knew the prognosis was not good. Those of us who could, met at the high school again the following morning. We just wanted to be together. We met at the high school again on Sunday with a larger group of people. Everyone returned to school on Monday feeling helpless and anxious and sad. Waiting for news. I was at the doctor's office after school with my son for his one-year checkup when Luke called to tell me that V had died.

V was a super special kid, one of those students that always wanted to help and make your day better. I have learned so much more about V since she left us, because teachers don't always get the whole story on their students. I knew she was a great kid, but I had no idea how great. She was supposed to graduate #2 in the class, a member of NHS and Tri-M, a wonderful musician and athlete, a very spiritual person who cared a lot about kids and wanted to be a pediatrician. To say that week was difficult is a gross understatement.

Fast forward a few weeks and through a band concert. We slowly start recovering from V's passing. In the meantime, my grandfather gets very weak and misses dialysis for the first time in almost two years. His health rapidly declined. I went home for Mother's Day weekend and visited my grandparents. I was dumbfounded at how weak he'd become. When I left, I reminded him I'd be home the next weekend for my best friend's wedding. He said, "I don't know if I'll be here."

When I got home there were two dozen roses from my musical kids waiting for me, wishing me a happy Mother's Day. : )

I got a 24-hour stomach flu that knocked me off my feet on a Wednesday. Thursday night I packed to go home. Packed for a wedding and possibly a funeral. Weirdest thing I've ever done.

On Friday I rushed to pick up my son after school so we could drive 1.5 hours home for my best friend's rehearsal dinner. Saturday morning before I go to my hair appointment for the wedding, I visited my grandfather. He had no idea I was there as I held his hand and cried. Then put my brave face back on and went to the wedding. Sang with my brother. Walked back down the aisle afterwards. My husband and brother found me and told me that my grandfather had passed away. Put my game face back on and did pictures and reception, then went home and fell apart.

The awards for the show were supposed to take place that Sunday, but I knew there was no way I was going to make it. I felt disappointed but knew it just wasn't going to happen. I sent my regrets to Luke and my kids and gave my ticket away to a former student. I watched the live stream of the awards ceremony from my parents' house and cried as my kids won award after award, and gave phenomenal performances, and the awards dedicated a special performance for V. They wound up winning 9 awards and setting a record. I was so proud of them, and sad I wasn't there.

Tuesday were my grandfather's viewings. Over 300 people came, including my friend C and her mom who drove almost 4 hours to be there for us.

Wednesday was the funeral. I gave a eulogy. I would have to say that so far in my life, that was one of the most difficult things I have ever done.

I have kind of floated through the last couple weeks of school. My kids were great. I went to graduation on Wednesday this week. There were lots of special tributes to V. I am so proud of all of my seniors who graduated.

I'm really glad it's summer but I am afraid that now that I will have the chance to breathe, that all of my emotions from the last month will catch up with me.

My grandfather was my hero.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Where did 2015 go?

Here's the answer: it went super fast!

To recap this past year, I went into my facebook archives and copied these questions from a Note I did in 2009. (Remember Notes? on Facebook? How times have changed...)

Where did you bring in 2015?: Sleeping at home... I was pregnant and so tired always.

What was your status on Valentine's Day?: Married. haha

Were you in school (anytime this year)?: I was teaching in school for much of the year, but less than in previous years, thanks to Little Man's arrival in April. 

How did you earn your keep?: For the first half of the year I taught high school band and orchestra and elementary orchestra. Then I had a career change in August and taught elementary music and band for the remainder of the year. 

Did you have to go to the hospital?: I did! I was there several times. Thankfully, for nothing too crazy.

Have you encountered the police this year?: Only my cousin's husband. 

Where did you go on Vacation?: We went to Florida in February!

What did you purchase that was over $500? Lots of boring grown up things.

Did you know anybody who got married?: My friend J from high school got married this year. This year was pretty light on weddings, actually.

Do you know anybody who passed away?: Yes, including a former student, which was heartbreaking.

Have you ran into anybody you graduated high school with? My ten-year reunion was this year. So, yes.

Did you move anywhere?: No, thank goodness. I'm good with not moving again for a while.

What sporting event did you go to?: I went to one football game. Hooray!

What concerts did you go to?: Band concerts, orchestra concerts, chorus concerts...

Where do you live now?: in Pennsylvania

Describe your birthday: It was a pretty quiet day at home, and I had a surprise visit from BFF S. The next day I had a mani-pedi : )

What is one thing you thought you would never do but did in 2015?: Made a career change.

What is one thing you regretted this year?: Being so closed off from my friends, but I guess that happens when you have a baby.

What's something you learned about yourself?: I learned a lot about my capacity for pain and patience.

Any new additions to your family? You bet!

What was your best month?: April

How would you rate this year on a scale of 1 to 10?: 10

What is your New Years Resolution?: Keep in touch with friends, be more "present" and less on my phone.

Happy New Year, all!