Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Laundry Is My Workout

By now you know my love of all things yoga, but there are times when I just can't (or don't have the time to) settle down with my mat in our living room. There are other times when I feel I have done enough physical exertion during the day to qualify as "exercise." One such day is laundry day. You see, we don't have a laundry facility in our unit, nor do we have one in the building itself. So I have to cart our 2-3 bags of laundry down the stairs of our fourth-floor walk-up to the car, from the car to the laundromat, and then back up the stairs after I finish.

We used to go to the Washing Well on Clark, but after a bad Saturday when there were lines for the dryers and six of the dryers were broken, I decided to go somewhere else. I found a place not too far from us (still have to drive; not going to walk all the clothes home) where the 18 lb. washers are only a dollar instead of the $1.50 at the Washing Well. That was the first incentive. The workers at the old place weren't very nice and, as I say, didn't fix any of the broken machines. When I walked into the new place, the man working there greeted me, brought me a laundry cart, and went back to FIXING ONE OF THE MACHINES!!! I knew I had made the right choice. They had TVs around the laundromat (soap operas and Barney, but I wasn't picky) and generally very nice people working there. As I was folding, two employees asked me which of these two colors should they repaint the laundromat. They were sweet and kind and helpful. They even let me take the laundry cart outside to load up my car after I finished folding. Unfortunately, this didn't work so well, as the parking lot is full of cracks, holes, and uneven pavement, so I ended up with one enormous bruise on my shin and another on my knee. But still. They were so nice.

I went in again last Monday. A different employee greeted me, brought me a cart, opened the door for me, and showed me to some washers. She had brought her guitar and was singing to the little kids there with their parents, which I thought was cute. As I folded my clothes, she and I chatted. She told me about how she had moved from Mexico several years ago and had become a citizen of the USA about a year ago. She also told me about her divorce and that I should never drink or smoke because my body is like a holy place and I shouldn't take anything bad into my body. She asked if my husband drank, and I told her no. She said that was good because men get mean when they drink, and that was why she divorced her husband. I met a couple of other people too, another woman from Mexico and some hippie white guy. The strangest part of all of this happened when I was almost done folding the laundry. The first woman (the employee) got out her guitar again and started singing to me. She didn't know very many songs, and even the songs she knew, she didn't know most of the words to them. Then she wanted me to join in, which I did, but that doesn't change the fact that I still don't know all the words to "Yellow Submarine" by the Beatles or "It's Now or Never" by Elvis. I tried to tell her I didn't know the words, but she just wanted me to sing along, so I hurried through my last load and got out of there when I could. On a brighter note, she helped me throw my folded clothes into the car. Maybe I just won't go on a Monday again to avoid the public singing of songs I don't know. If anything exciting happens tomorrow when I go again, I'll let you know.

Then comes the fun part. Jake is very helpful hauling the bags down the stairs to the car, but he's usually at school when I get finished and come home. So I get to lug the bags up the stairs. Because I've consolidated, I usually only have two bags, but because they're so heavy, I end up making a trip for each bag. By the time I huff and puff up the stairs the second time around, I feel pretty good about not bothering to exercise for the rest of the day.

And now for something completely different: I am subbing today (hurray for money!). While I generally like what I do, I struggle with being woken up by a phone before 7 am. For some reason, I jump about a mile when my phone rings and I'm still in bed. What this means is that I should just start getting up before 6:30 (when the sub coordinator calls) so I don't have massive amounts of adrenaline pumping through my system first thing in the morning. Not pleasant. I wouldn't do well in combat. But of course I won't get up any earlier, especially not on a Wednesday morning when Jake doesn't have classes. Sleep is good. I just wish she'd call at night instead of in the early morning. The crazy thing was that I woke up briefly about 20 minutes before she called, thinking that if she hadn't called by that time, she wouldn't be calling at all, so I settled back in to the covers to sleep for another hour. No dice. I guess I'll have to wait for next Wednesday to sleep in.

And finally, Jake and I have decided on Halloween costumes. We weren't going to dress up at all, but some friends from our ward invited us to their home for a party on Friday. The tricky part is finding a costume that didn't require spending much money. Jake had to wear a suit for a competition earlier this week, and he looked so great that I thought I could wear one of my old formals and we could go as prom king and queen. I could wear my tiara from our wedding, and Jake could snag a Burger King crown. Perfect. As we were eating dinner the other night, I was wearing my glasses and Jake said, "I've got it! I know what you can be for Halloween: Beauty Pageant Sarah Palin!" I had thought about being her awhile ago. I have the general facial features and the glasses, just not the bangs. This new will work out perfectly. I don't have to buy bangs or cut my hair. I can still wear the glasses, tiara, and dress. All I had to buy was a yard or two of white ribbon to write "Miss Wasilla" on it. Jake's costume has no real political connotations. He has a Nascar hat and decided to go as a redneck or something. We'll take pictures Friday and post them when we can. Thanks for putting up with my long blog, and Happy Halloween if we don't write before then!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Two more to go...

I wanted to share this. It's nice to know Greg Mankiw has a great sense of humor.

Finally, Some Wind in the Windy City

A couple months ago, I was going to blog about how the wind in Chicago was nothing special. There were some nice breezes from the lake, but rarely did we get anything one might call "wind." Over the last few days, the wind has picked up. From how everyone spoke about it, I was anticipating gusts to knock me down or something dramatic. But it's not really any worse than Cedar City. I'm hoping the same logic applies when it comes to the much-talked-about Chicago winters. We've asked a few people at church, and most said winter here isn't much more severe than a Rocky Mountain winter. That's good news for Jake's hands and feet, which turn white and icy in the winters. That's also good news for MY feet and legs, upon which Jake likes to thrust his chilly appendages. Our apartment is also surprisingly warm. The radiators are doing such a good job that we have to cover them with blankets to sleep at night. I haven't even bothered putting an extra blanket on the bed. In getting with the spirit of autumn, I have made a pumpkin roll. I did not take a picture of my own, as it did not turn out looking as nice as all of my previous rolls, but here's the recipe. Just kidding. I can't find the right one online and I didn't bring the recipe with me. But here's a picture of someone else's professional-looking pumpkin roll. I'll get the recipe up here soon. All the ones I see have 3/4 c. pumpkin, and mine only has 2/3 c. Aha! There it is! This one has more spices than the others. It's better. Don't feel obligated to add the nuts. I sure don't.

Pumpkin Cake Roll
3 eggs
1 c. granulated sugar
2/3 c. pumpkin
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
1 c. finely chopped walnuts

Beat eggs on high speed with mixer for 5 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar. Stir in pumpkin and lemon juice. Stir together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Fold into pumpkin. Spread in greased and floured 15 x 10 x 1 inch pan. Top with walnuts.
Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn out on towel. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Start at narrow end, roll towel and cake together. Cool. Unroll.

FILLING FOR PUMPKIN CAKE ROLL:
1 c. powdered sugar
2 (3 oz.) pkgs. cream cheese
4 tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla
For filling: Combine above ingredients and beat until smooth. Spread over cake. Roll. Chill. Makes 8 servings.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Coming up for air

I'm currently in the middle of mid-terms and a few business competitions, so I haven't had much time to write. (Ashley, I promise I'll be home later this week.) But, I thought I would come up for air to... make a joke. ... :)

All I have to say is that it's a sad day when the Onion becomes the number one forecaster of our future.

Example:

Fake News vs. Real News

Can you spot the fake?

HT: wsj/opinion

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

To Tide You Over Until One of Us Has Something Real to Write

A variation on the peach cobbler:
1 can cherry pie filling
1 chocolate cake mix
1 stick butter

Dump out pie filling in 9"x13" pan. Cover with cake mix. Slice 1 stick of butter over the top. Bake at 350 for 30-45 min.

Jake liked this one a lot too. Cheap and delicious, although not terribly good for you either. Oh well. It's dessert, people! It's not supposed to be good for you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tagged by Rachey

I've never done anything like this before in public (only email), but it HAS to be better than that monster I wrote last week. I think I'll leave the politicking to Jake from now on. Mostly.

Okay, here are the rules for this tag:1: Each player starts with 8 random habits/facts about themselves.2: People who are tagged need to write a post on their blog about their eight things and post these rules.3: At the end of the post you need to choose 8 people to get tagged and list their names

1. I have watched Singin' in the Rain probably over 100 times. No joke. When I die, I want to dance with Gene Kelly in a purple dress like Debbie Reynolds where's she's standing on the ladder and he's singing "You Were Meant For Me" in the empty movie set. Brilliant. Also, "Moses Supposes" and "Make 'Em Laugh" are two of the best choreographed dance numbers in history. For a wonderful adaptation of Gene Kelly's famous scene dancing in the rain, check this out. Finally, the 12 minute "Broadway Ballet" is Cyd Charisse at her best. When I die, I also want to do the scene where Cyd Charisse is in white with bare feet and the trailing fabric that wraps them up and Gene Kelly is in black and...it's awsome. Maybe I'll watch it again while I'm ironing tonight.

2. I love food. I love smelling it, eating it, and cooking it. Every time I watch Ratatouille, I am inspired to go whip something up. I especially like making desserts. Here's one I made last week:
Pour 1 large can (don't drain it) of peaches in light syrup into 9"x13" baking dish. Pour 1 yellow cake mix over the top of peaches. Do not mix! Cut up one cube of butter and place on top of cake mix. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes. Delish.

3. I'm at the public library almost every day. We don't have the Internet at our house, so I'm here for several hours at a time, usually writing a blog, checking email or Facebook, or doing family history.

4. I have trouble being in large crowds. I'm very good at maneuvering through them; however, I don't like staying in the middle of them. Jake and I went to the Angels & Airwaves concert in Salt Lake in March, and we stood in the huge crowd to watch one of the opening bands. I think because I couldn't see anything (they were all taller than me), I started to get panicky and feeling like I was going to fall (odd sensation, I know) and we ended up standing somewhere else for the rest of the show. A&A were awesome! What a great first concert! And Jake was really nice for moving to a less fun place. Maybe I'll try again when Mute Math or someone cool comes to town. This also translated into getting panicky in a waterslide once. It was completely enclosed and pitch black. By the time I actually saw light, it had already dropped me straight down the slide.

5. I cross-stitch. I recently finished a huge one for my mom. It looked pretty good.

6. I feel triumphant when I get a good parking space, especially on our street. After 5 pm, we usually have to drive around to find anything within a block. After 9 pm, you can forget it. You might as well drive around all night. You'll get home about the same time.

7. I feel at ease when my house is clean. Moving the piles of paper and sweeping up dust and hair and crumbs is somehow therapeutic. My stress level goes way down. At the moment, my house is mostly clean because we had friends over on Monday night. I still need to clean the bathroom and make the bed. But I'm doing pretty well with everything else. I'm even keeping up on dishes. How I miss our old dishwasher!

8. I'm always reading something. I just finished Dracula by Bram Stoker. I'd never read it before, and it was pretty good. It's written in letters and journal entries, so the format is a little different from most modern novels. Before that, I read The Things They Carried and Breaking Dawn. I'm checking out Orson Scott Card's latest collection of short stories, Keeper of Dreams, as soon as it arrives at the library. Until then, I don't know what to read. Any suggestions?

Ok, I choose Melinda, Sam, Elise, and anyone else who wants to. Everyone I was going to choose has already been tagged by Rachey. Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Friday, October 10, 2008

Beware the Abbreviations

Jake is right. Political season is upon us, and I'm going to delve into the region a little, even though I have tried to leave it to Jake to discuss on this blog. Thomas Sowell just came out with a series of columns on Barack Obama. While all of them are interesting, I was most intrigued by this one, mostly because I'm in the profession of education (yes, substitute teaching counts...I think). My purpose is not to deal with Obama at all. He's most likely going to win, and I'm not real happy about that, but I also don't love John McCain. Romney 2012! But the article succinctly deals with education in the Chicago area. I just signed up last week to teach in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and I'm not terribly excited about it. Chicago has an incredibly powerful teachers union. Chicago also spends over $10,000 per student per year. However, most schools are not making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) under No Child Left Behind (NCLB). See this really big document and please correct me if I'm interpreting the data incorrectly. Evanston Township High School (ETHS), the high school in the town where Jake attends Kellogg, spends over $17,000 per student per year and still fails to make certain aspects of their AYP. Utah, on the other hand, spends between $6000 and $7500 (depending on the year and which report you read) and has consistently ranked dead last in national spending per pupil. But are most Utah schools making AYP? A Salt Lake Tribune story said that 80% of Utah public schools made AYP for the 2007-2008 school year. Clearly money isn't everything.

It's scary to me that I'm volunteering to work in a school system with such abysmal scores and standards. Much of the problem isn't the amount of money they throw at schools, but the setup of the school system itself. Sowell notes that schools in CPS have some of the shortest school days. Most elementary school days are only five and a half hours. Another writer notes that the poorest performing areas have the shortest school days. That don't make no sinse (thank you, Coen brothers). If you're bad at something, you need to practice less? Who does CPS think it's kidding? I've also read that students are not in class the standard 180 days per year, although I can't seem to find it at the moment.

I recognize that there are weaknesses in NCLB. Part of the problem is that it hasn't had time to work all the way up the school system yet. My mom's friend teaches elementary school in Cedar City, Utah. Several years ago, most of the kids starting fourth grade couldn't read. Now most of her students beginning fourth grade are at or above grade level. Eight years from now, as those kids graduate, we can reasonably hope that the trend has continued and that standards are being met. Other weaknesses are English Language Learners (ELL--used to be ESL), who cannot read or understand the teacher, let alone the testing materials, and students on Individual Education Plans (IEPs), meaning that they have learning or mental disabilities. All these students must be included and held to the same standards when considering whether a school has met AYP. Some problems were eased when NCLB went through a revamping a couple years ago, but there are still major issues to be dealt with.

Teacher unions are also part of the problem. The unions often make it very difficult for anyone to get into the teaching profession in a specific area, creating a (sometimes) false teacher shortage. I know this was the case for me this year. Most states' educator licenses transfer very easily to other states. Illinois' system is definitely not easy. Because of the time it took to get my license, many schools at the job fair I attended in August didn't even look at me. By creating barriers to entry (e.g. all substitutes for CPS must have at least a Bachelor's degree with some emphasis in education), it's easy to create a shortage by saying that there aren't enough "qualified" teachers. Another aspect of this part of the problem is how difficult it is to get a teacher fired. After your first two or three years, you get rid of your provisional license, which pretty much means you have tenure. Unions are mostly against merit pay, so crappy teachers stay in the system for way too long (did someone say Cedar High School?). You have to REALLY screw up to get fired in education in any state. Do you realize how much teachers make here in Chicago? About $42,000 to start. And you can get up to $100,000 a year over the course of your career. It's a great gig if you can get it. I'm not opposed to someone making money; don't get me wrong. However, I find it somewhat unethical to pay teachers lots of money for doing a bad job.

All of this is pretty random, and I'm sorry I can't be as articulate and concise as Thomas Sowell. Education is important. Jake and I have often remarked to each other how grateful we are for parents who assisted, encouraged, and supplemented our education. We hope to do the same for our kids when the time comes. We've even talked about creating a school of our own, either charter or private, that emphasizes academics and application. I've watched students attempt simple story problems in math where they can't figure out which function (+ - x /) to use so solve the problem. It's terrifying. Life is a story problem. If we don't teach our kids how to THINK, we're going to have a whole lot of idiots leading the world in just a few years. That sounds pretty dismal, but it's possible to fix. If a teacher creates an incentive for succeeding as well as a consequence for failing, students get the picture real quick. I often think back on the past year of teaching and how my students are doing, especially my seniors. I remember on the last day of school I divided up one class into two teams. We played Pictionary and Taboo. One of the teams beat the other, and I handed out candy to the winning team. Members of the other teams said, "Now we get candy too, right?"

"No," I said.

"Why not?"

"You lost. Winners get candy. Losers don't."

"But that's not fair!"

"It's absolutely fair. If you win the next round, I promise you will get candy."

Groans.

These are seniors in high school on the LAST DAY!!! If they haven't learned that they don't get rewarded for losing a game or doing a crappy job, I don't know what I could have taught them that would be any use.

There's so much that kids don't know that they should. That's one of the reasons why I went into education in the first place. I only hope we can elect leaders, especially at the local levels, who will truly help our kids. I also hope that parents who have not already done so will get their butts in gear and help their kids learn how to be adults.

Go read Sowell; his article is a lot more coherent than this drivel. Also, I made banana bread. It was delicious.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Chicago stomping ground

With political season here, Chicago becomes an interesting place. It has the most... unique local politics that I've ever heard of.

1) The local paper questions the behavior of a limo driver that called the police when he noticed that the high school students going to prom in his limo were drinking. The paper stated, "If you report the incident to the police, then it is more likely that teenagers will engage in private binge drinking." In other words, when you increase the cost of an activity, people will consume more of it. I would love to see any evidence of that... anywhere, in any market for any good. It's one of the many statements where someone looks for an exception to the rule, and then pronounces the exception as the rule.

2) Property taxes went through the roof here in Chicago in the last week. This shocked home owners because their homes had fallen in value. The reason? "The city of Chicago believes that your home is actually worth much more than you can sell it for in the market at this point in time." Genius, absolute genius.

3) Senator debate in Chicago. So comical. The debate was on health-care. You already know what I think. Senator Durbin stated:

"If you don’t have the benefit of pooling people who are well and people who are sick then you are going to be vulnerable. That is the same deregulatory free market approach that has ruined our financial systems in America that Dr. Sauerberg wants to bring to health care."

If Senator Durbin ever offers to balance your checkbook, just say "No." He actually has it backwards: pooling, creating a security (SIV), and reselling the security was the problem, and not the solution. Lenders did not know their borrowers. Confusing the solution with the problem is a tragic mistake.

Using the reasoning from all three points above: If we all binge drink in public, then the percentage of people with cirrhosis of the liver will fall considerably. Ignore dieticians, doctors, and actuarial tables. That's the market. What could the market possibly know?

Monday, October 6, 2008

PBJ

Now that we're (or at least Jake is, so that makes me one too) poor starving students again, we eat a lot of peanut butter. A LOT of peanut butter. Not only is it convenient and delicious, but it's also inexpensive. We go for the off-brand PB and strawberry jam. We're not fancy. At one lunchtime in high school--I don't remember who exactly was there--several of my friends and I went to Suzanne's house and made sandwiches. I also remember being teased for the way I made my sandwich. I spread peanut butter on both slices of bread and jam on both sides as well. "That's not a PBJ," said one of my friends, "That's a PBJJPB!" Apparently you're not supposed to put peanut butter on both sides. Hmm. That's the way my mom always made it (or at least, that's my recollection of how my mom made sandwiches). Well, as I was making Jake's sandwich this morning, I realized that putting peanut butter on one side and jam on the other would be disastrous for those who pack lunches. The jelly would soak into the bread and look gross. It would also taste much drier than it should. By spreading peanut butter on both slices, there is a nice non-absorbent barrier between the bread and the jelly. If you leave the sandwich in your backpack long enough, yes, your PB will soak into the bread, but that's a LONG time. If you have to wait that long from making your sandwich to eating it, you need to rethink your situation. And, while I have toned down the jam by only spreading it on one slice for convenience's sake, I have realized it is imperitive that PB be on both slices. I have also thought about several ways to vary our lunches including grilled PBJ, but Jake thankfully convinced me that would just be a mess. As evidenced by this post, I clearly have too much time on my hands.

Oh, and here's an awesome music video about PBJ. Enjoy your sandwiches!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hayek who?

I have discovered a new blog that I enjoy very much. It is called Cafe Hayek. It's latest entries are all about the bail out and are definitely very strongly in the "NO" camp. It is very entertaining and enlightening. However, the best entry I have found so far is one of the best succinct descriptions of New Deal policies. I always struggle explaining that concept to people because most history books are nauseatingly biased in describing New Deal policies and its consequences. Perhaps someday economic historians will write the economics portion of history text books.