Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Love letter your community: Golden birthday celebration

Since my golden birthday fell on a Wednesday (but mostly because I spent that day in Iowa at a standards-based grading conference...), I had some people over on Saturday to write love letters, and to celebrate the birthday.

This year Move Love Letters (@moreloveletters) teamed up with Kind (@KINDSnacks) to spread #kindwords during Love Letter Your Community week, April 22 - 28.  I pulled out all of the scrap paper I'd been saving at work; along with my markers, tape, and glue sticks; and we were set.

Love Letter Your Community

Everyone put their own spin on their letters.  Some had time to write multiple letters and make colorful envelopes for each one, while others put all of their time/energy into a single letter.

It was fun to scatter them about downtown Madison:

More Love Letters: Hidden in Madison

More Love Letters: Hidden in Madison

More Love Letters: Hidden in Madison

More Love Letters: Hidden in Madison

I've been checking the "Found Letters" section of the More Love Letters site religiously since Saturday, waiting to see if someone who found one of my letters writes in.  (You include "moreloveletters.com" on the letters you leave around, so that finders can post a picture / share a statement if they would like to.)

Want to spread smiles and good feeling?  Write a love letter today, and leave it where someone else will find it: a bus seat, a stranger's pocket, a city bench, etc.

Thanks to all the friends that wrote letters with me!
• • •

Monday, April 29, 2013

Lundi links: 4/29/13

How was everyone's weekend?  I hosted a love letter writing party on Saturday in combination with my birthday celebration.  It coincided with LLYC (Love Letter Your Community), so the timing was perfect.  A post with pictures will be up in the next day or two.  In the meantime, here are a few links to browse this Monday:


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I think most social media users have experienced or already recognized that this happens, but Instagram's envy effect articulates the problem with the alternate reality that is social media.

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Jeff writes about his Three reasons to travel while you're young, which was a great reminder for me of why it's worth it to travel.

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I think Kirke's post about getting Back to work in Detroit is inspiring.  You can make a difference in your neighborhood - all it takes is one, and the number will grow.

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I missed Earth Day on the blog, but Missris shares five simple ways we can help the environment in her post Going green for earth day.

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I almost did a separate post about this last one, and maybe I still will, but the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum must relocate - and they need our help!  Located in Two Rivers, WI; this museum is in the process of moving to their new home!!  But they need financial help to cover the cost.  Neenah Paper is matching every gift (up to $15,000) -- so every little bit helps.  They'll mail you prints when you donate as well; I'm excited for those to arrive in the mail.  I hope I will have time to visit this museum once it's reopened in the summer (hey sister... want to road trip?)
• • •

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Golden birthday: Iowa standards-based grading conference

For years I have been following some blogs of teachers/administrators whose classes/district use Standards-Based Grading (SBG).  If you know what SBG is, you can skip down to my conference summary.  If not, continue reading.

When I went to school (and probably you, too), grades were determined by points.  Homework is worth points, tests are worth points, correct answers are worth points, and sometimes participation is worth points.  You gain as many points as you can.  If you do poorly on an exam, you move on to the new unit and study harder for the next exam.  If you get an 86% on an exam, what do you know?  What don't you know?  The scores aren't indicative of knowledge.  Students are raised to focus on grades and parents always ask about grades. Numbers. Points.

In an SBG classroom, there are standards you must master in order to pass the course.  In a math class, for example, "Adding fractions without a common denominator" could be a standard.  Many SBG schools use a 1- 4 scale to show mastery of a standard (these numbers cannot be "translated" into As, Bs, Cs, etc. -- they do not represent the same thing).  Say it takes me longer to understand math concepts, and I get a 1 after my first assessment for this fractions standard.  I can do extra practice and must have finished my homework (which isn't worth "points" towards a grade) in order to qualify for reassessment.  I study and practice until I finally understand how to add fractions without a common denominator.  I reassess, and this time have a 4.  The 4 replaces the 1 I previously had for this standard.

In the old system, if I had done poorly on an exam about adding fractions without a common denominator, I would have a low test score on exam #1, and would try to score higher on the next one.  And I might never learn how to add fractions without a common denominator.  In SBG, I can practice and reassess when I'm ready.  If I haven't mastered the information by the test day, it's not too late.  In a way you can learn at your own pace (though you should try to keep up with the class), but the focus is on learning the standards.

Some SBG classes continually reassess all standards, and the most recent score is the one that stays.  For example, in a chemistry course, the third week of school I might take an assessment for standard R.  In three weeks, I take an assessment for standard S and R.  When we're assessed for the third standard, T, I also must reassess R and S.  The most recent scores are what's counted, so it's in the student's benefit to learn the standard well from the beginning, and not to cram before an exam.  Students in this system are focused on the standards.  The knowledge.  Learning.

That's an explanation of SBG in my own words.  Here's a quick video explaining (in a clearer way) what is standards-based grading.

I had great grades throughout high school.  I knew the system.  I knew how to get points.  I knew what I needed to know on test days, and always turned in my homework on time.  I'm the type of person who strives to get good grades.  What does this say about my knowledge?  Absolutely nothing.  Sure, I learned lots and studied, but I would have benefited and learned much more had I been in an SBG environment.  I'm sure it would have added a different type of stress to my schooling, but the knowledge gained would have been well worth the extra struggle.


SBG Conference in Cedar Rapids, IA (#SBGConf): April 24, 2013

In December, I read in one of these blogs that there would be a free SBG conference in Iowa on April 24, my golden birthday.  As soon as registration opened mid-January I signed up.  It wasn't until this Monday that I decided to "splurge" for my birthday and booked myself a hotel for Tuesday night.  I left work at noon on Tuesday, borrowed mother's car, and drove to Cedar Rapids.

I'm the type of person who enjoys spending time by their self, so it was a fun evening.  I ordered Chinese takeout (chicken curry and wonton soup) from a restaurant two blocks away.  There was so much food - it turned into four meals.


I took advantage of the tub and took a bath that evening, and I also wrote thank you cards to attendees of my family birthday celebration on Sunday while watching Craigslist Joe on my laptop.


The conference site was a two-minute drive from my hotel, which was very convenient (and I didn't have to wake up earlier than normal on Wednesday!).

I was pleased with the organization of the conference.  Check out these beautiful schedules posted outside each room:


Breakfast consisted of hearty bagels, donuts, and muffins.  I ate a donut before the keynote, and another donut afterwards (since there were so many left).  Yummy birthday breakfast.


For the keynote, they opened up the dividers so that four separate session rooms became one large room, with the presentation projected on four different screens.  Shawn Cornally (Blogger at Think, Thank, Thunk) gave the keynote presentation.  He was engaging, passionate, and made me laugh several times.  You can watch Shawn Cornally's keynote address "Standards Based Grading: A Gateway Drug to Awesome" here, and I recommend doing so.


The rest of the day consisted of four sessions, a panel, and lunch (not in that order).  I attended:
  • What does SBG look like in foreign language?
  • What does SBG look like in math?
  • Panel: High School Teacher Panel
  • High School specific issues with SBG (eligibility, class rank, etc.)
  • How can you use SBG to move beyond the bells and class periods to get learning?
I was surprised by the format of most sessions (that I attended, at least), which is my main criticism and suggestion for improvement.  Most of my sessions (three of the four) began with a 3-4 minute video, and then the rest of the time was Q&A with the audience.  This unfocused Q&A had us bouncing all around, and I feel a presentation focused on the session title of each presenter would have been more beneficial.  I do learn best when information is presented in an organized, visual way -- so that's another reason why I wasn't a huge fan of the Q&A formats.

But let me explain a bit more: So at the foreign language session, people asked, "How often do you reassess?",  "What grading scale do you use?",  "How many standards do you have in a semester?",  "Do you find your students are more motivated to learn/reassess on their own?",  etc.  In the math session, many of the same questions were asked.  Each session didn't feel focused on the content-specific parts of an SBG classroom; rather audience members were asking a wide-spectrum of questions to individual SBG teachers.  Same with the last session I attended, it was mainly audience members asking the presenter the same types of questions that spanned many topics within SBG.  

There were other sessions throughout the day focused on specific issues: reassessment, what it means to have mastered a standard (acceptable evidence of learning), how to convert standards to a letter grade, and homework.  So it didn't feel efficient to have each presenter (in 3 of the 4 sessions I attended) answer questions about all of the above topics, when the question-asker could have attended a whole session focused on that one issue instead.  I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself clearly, does this make sense?

To anyone who attended the conference, what did you think of the format of your breakout sessions?  Did you find the open Q&A helpful?  Unfocused?  Were you expecting presentations, like I was?

I met less people today than at the other conferences I've been to this year, that's for sure.  The main reason is that I'm not a current educator or administrator (or parent, etc.).  I'm just a strong supporter of SBG (read: avid blog reader), and plan to implement it in my future classroom.  You know, once I become teaching certified and have a classroom.  Which might happen after I (fingers crossed) live in South Korea for a year teaching English. And then maybe France. And after I do whatever other traveling I end up doing. And after I get a Master's. Etc. ... so in the future future.  Anyway, most attendees were talking about their own experiences with SBG in their classrooms, swapping advice, etc.  I loved listening to all of this, but I couldn't really contribute to the conversation.  

This is how most of my introductions went:
Rebe: Hi, I'm Rebecca.  Where/what do you teach?
Attendee: Oh I teach middle school math in X district [over half the time people wouldn't tell me their names after I introduced myself!]  Where do you teach?
Rebe: Oh, I don't.  I'm from Madison, WI.  Hopefully a future educator...
Attendee: Oh okay, so are you in school right now?
Rebe: No, I graduated in 2011.
Attendee:  Ok.  *Turns and talks to someone else* or *pulls out smart phone*

And I get it, I mean -- if I were an SBG teacher I would want to use this time to network and get ideas from other educators or administrators.  Also, sometimes (read: often) I'm socially awkward and can easily let conversations die.  Hopefully I can attend another SBG conference in 5 years and feel like  I can offer some experience to other attendees.

I did feel way more excited at this conference than at my past two office professional conferences.  This is because I'm passionate about SBG/quality education, whereas my office job is temporary.  Getting into the education/teaching field is my goal, excelling in the office professional field is not.

I'm very glad I attended the Iowa SBG conference today, and I would like to thank everyone who played a part in its success.  To have the virtual experience of having attended the conference, visit this shared Evernote document about the Iowa SBG conference.  All of the videos played at the beginning of each session can be found at sbgvideo.org.  I think it's excellent how quickly all of these materials/resources were shared online.

Although I was back home by 7pm, I was exhausted.  My plan was to shower around 9 and then go to bed, but my roommates forced invited me out for a birthday beer.  I'm glad they did, as one of my roommates ran into a friend of hers, so she joined us for a beer.  It was double bubble night (2 for 1), so having an even number made it easy.  It was also karaoke night, which was entertaining to watch.

Birthday drink with the two roomies
• • •

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Contest answer: Easter egg hunt

Many of you have been patiently waiting for my announcement of the Easter egg hunt contest winner.  Well, wait no longer. (Actually, well, you'll see in a second...)

A few weeks ago I asked how many plastic easter eggs were hidden around my grandma's property on Easter.  Here are the entries I received:

Brent - 30
Max - 52
Anonymous - 99
Hermann - 70
Caroline - 72

Ok folks, there were actually 174 eggs hidden!  I know, I was shocked too when my aunt told us the number, as sister and I only had five eggs each in our bags and we'd been walking for a while.  We were letting the young cousin collect them all.


But when we found out the total number was so high, the sister and I both began gathering up whatever we saw.

So, according to my rules Anonymous wins with a guess of 99.  If he or she does not identify him/herself by Monday, April 29, Caroline will be declared winner.
• • •

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Golden birthday family(friends) celebration

My golden birthday is this Wednesday, the 24th, so family and some family friends came over to my parents' house today for a birthday lunch.

While waiting for everyone to arrive, we somehow got on the topic of wedding dresses -- and then the sister and I decided to pull out my mother's wedding dress from storage under the stairs and try it on.


Oh yeah, and then papa and I did some Russian wedding dancing, as seen in Fiddler on the Roof the night before:



Lunch was actually an afternoon brunch, with cinnamon rolls, three types of quiche, fruit, and toast.


Dessert consisted of my mother's famous crazy cake (no eggs); it's my favorite:


We went downstairs to open some presents.  I was overwhelmed with the mini-stack of presents and cards waiting for me; it felt like two birthdays and Christmas combined!  Mother said it's because I wasn't here for my birthday last year...

Here's one of my new toys:


Thanks to all who were there to celebrate with me.
• • •

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Dinner and a show: Fiddler on the Roof

My friend performed in a church production of Fiddler on the Roof on Saturday night.  I went with my grandma, sister, papa, and friends of my grandma.



It was dinner and a show; dinner was served at 18:00 and the show began at 19:00.  Here's what we ate:


Although I have seen and know many musicals, I had never seen Fiddler on the Roof (though I had sang Matchmaker in middle school choir, so I knew all of the lyrics to that one).

The church that put on this production is a Catholic church, and I felt lots of irony in the room throughout the performance.  In the musical, the village doesn't want to break their Jewish traditions even though many of the traditions seem nonsensical to the younger children (for example letting the matchmaker pick who you will marry).  There was no reason apart from tradition to keep deciding marriages this way, yet the audience (and characters in the musical) could see it was foolish; love is a better indication.  Many Catholic traditions are held on to dearly simply because they're traditions, even if they're not the most logical.  I wonder if anyone else in the audience thought about their own traditions after they could so easily laugh at the Jewish traditions featured in the musical.

Did anyone else have similar thoughts after seeing this musical for the first time?
• • •

Madison Farmer's Market: It's back!

The Madison Farmer's Market came out of hibernation today, so I scoped out the stands with my roommate after a morning run.  A few photos:

Madison farmer's market

This bee man below was my favorite.  He grabbed that jar of honey that his right hand is on and posed just seconds after I actually took the picture, but I like the photo I caught:

Bee man at Madison farmer's market


A lively band near the top of State Street:

Band at Madison farmer's market


One of the honey stands had a honeybee joke of the day:


I'll have to check that stand every week just for the jokes!
• • •

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 4/18/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]



In my write-up about the last breakout session at yesterday's conference, I mentioned that I have difficulty accepting the premise on which the book What color is your parachute? For retirement is based: What will you do when you don't have to work anymore and can do anything you want?  My reasoning is that I think people should find a way to do what they want now.  Don't wait until retirement!  

I'm thankful for having this viewpoint, because I know it isn't necessarily mainstream (yet).  I know that my upbringing, exposure to different cultures, and the current state of the world are all contributing factors to my current beliefs about work.  I've seen people turn their passion into a way to support themselves (the internet is to thank for most of the visibility).  I know it's possible if you make the effort and believe in yourself, but I know this isn't what we were necessarily taught as children (and especially not what our parents / grandparents were taught).  So today I'm thankful for all of the influences that have molded my thoughts about jobs/work.
• • •

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

23rd annual conference for the office professional

Back in February I applied for a scholarship to cover the registration ($100) of an office professional conference being put on at the  University in which I work.  In March I got an email notifying me that I was one of eight recipients of the registration scholarship (woo hoo), so today I attended that conference.  Here's a summary of the notes I jotted down throughout the day:

Keynote: Communicating with Clarity

Lori Gibson

Maybe I'll just reproduce most of my outline I wrote during the talk, without adding clarifying sentences.  Hah, so much for communicating with clarity.  I think you'll be able to connect the dots:
  • Reflection/journal: How do you hope to be when you are being your best self? 
  • Good relationship/trust helps to have the more difficult conversations
    • Earns the right to have a positive influence
  • Create a personal mission statement
    • Lori's is: to create positive energy
  • Belief/impact cycle
    Belief Cycle
    Source: artists-edge.com
    • What are the results you're currently getting?
    • We only have control over ourselves
    • Behavior change is difficult because of the rest of the cycle
    • Reframing our thoughts: What do we choose to focus on?
    • It starts with me: intentionally changing your outlook
  • The path to action
    • See + Hear -->  Tell a story -->  Feel --> Act
    • The path (above) is from the book: Crucial conversations
      • Lori recommends reading this book
  • Procrastination on your end does not create urgency on mine
  • Master my stories
    • Eg: Your boss give you a 90 minute task (must be done in 90 minutes for a meeting), your boss checks in 3 times during those 90 minutes.  Stories you may tell yourself:
      • Your boss doesn't trust you, that's why he/she called so many times
      • Your boss is out to ruin your day; you're a victim
      • Your boss feels bad that he or she put you on a time crunch, so he/she is checking in to be helpful
    • We tell ourselves stories, so we must learn to master them and tell ourselves good, positive, realistic stories
  • Reminders
    • Re-frame
    • Choose your attitude
    • Focus on facts
    • Fill your glass
    • People will remember how you made them feel
So, it wasn't a new lesson for me, but nice to be reminded.  To summarize, you have control over your thoughts.  Many people lose sight of the facts and create stories with their minds, stories about others that aren't necessarily true.  Chances are that others don't do things to intentionally bother you / make you suffer -- people don't think as much about you as you do.
Keeping that in mind, you can't change other people, only yourself.  So change your thoughts, master your stories, and that will change your actions and make it easier to get along with others.

1. Mindfulness-based stress reduction

Carmen Alonso

I think this was my favorite session of all -- I don't meditate or take time to be mindful (do I see a new resolution for May?), so having over an hour to do so in the middle of the week was great.  Carmen's voice was perfect for the "explorations" she led as we closed our eyes and relaxed.  She teaches a 6 or an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course at one of the local hospitals, and I would sign up for the next session if it fit in my schedule, despite the cost.  My scribbles:
  • Mindfulness involves three parts: awareness, present moment, and being non-judgmental
  • Find the breath
  • Be aware of your feet
  • Five minutes a day (of mindfulness-based stress reduction/meditation) is much more beneficial than an hour once a week.  If you can't do five minutes, do just two minutes a day -- every day.

2. The UW-Madison budget

Tim Norris

Since I work closely with my department's budget - a small piece of the puzzle, I was interested to hear about the entire University's budget - the big picture.  I'm certain the speaker was extremely knowledgeable, but the tiny font (and large amount of text) on the powerpoint slides really took from the presentation.  I thought it could have used more organization as well (i.e. during this session I'm going to tell you about a, b, and c.  Let's start with a... etc)  I learned a bit about block grants, but again I think I would have learned more had the information been presented in a more organized fashion.  My session was a very small group, but unfortunately we were a quiet, small group, so we didn't take full advantage of Tim's time and knowledge.

If you want to learn about the budget, and see some of the charts/graphs that were probably on the presentation I saw, check out this site.

3. Non-boarding or onboarding: What are you doing for new employees?

Christine Ray

My department (and College, for that matter) doesn't have a standard onboarding process for new employees.  Since we just hired a new faculty member, and plan to hire a few more (and some staff to replace myself and Izzy) in the coming months, we should really develop an onboarding program asap.  Onboarding should begin as early as after the interviews, and it is not synonymous with orientation.  I found this session very useful, and it motivated me to volunteer to create an onboarding process for my department at work.  Ooo, new work project!

4. Personality traits that drive success (and failure)

John Nelson

John co-authored the book What Color is your Parachute? for Retirement with Richard N. Bolles.  That book tackles the question of what will you do when you don't have to work anymore and can do anything you want.  I was a bit turned off right away, since the question he researches and writes about isn't an appropriate question (from my point of view).  My life philosophy is that you should do what you want now.  Life is too short to spend forty years working at a job you don't love, counting down the days towards retirement.  But anyway, leaving that fact aside, I liked what John had to say about personality types and traits.

There are many models in existence that like to push humans into a box based on their personalities (eg. Type A/B, Introvert/Extrovert, Left-brained/right-brained, DICS, Myers-Briggs, etc.).  Newsflash: People don't fit into boxes!  Personalities are complex and situational.

John has created a new way to describe peoples' personalities, based on the concept of normal distribution (bell curve).
Bell Curve
Source
He uses the fact that most people fall in the middle/average of distributions, and applies that to personalities.  Hence, most people's personality traits are situational, and each person has one or two traits where situation doesn't matter.  It's these traits, where we fall on one of the "extremes" (not in the middle), that make us unique.  John's personality chart has five traits: Openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.  (Note: Height is a trait, tall/short are expressions of the trait).  He has adjectives that describe expressions of the trait on both ends.  For example for openness:

[Practical]     Always  |    Usually   |    Situational   |   Usually   |   Always    [Original]

The default is in the middle, situational.  Only some people will fall on one of the "usually"s, and even fewer on an "always".  Email John for a copy of his personality traits chart.
• • •

Sunday, April 14, 2013

10 reasons why I enjoyed my seasonal job

Tonight I worked my last shift at the seasonal weekend job I started in January.  It feels like the end of an era; it was a bit sad to leave last night.  Looking back, I'm so glad I took the job; I was originally very hesitant to accept the offer.

10 Reasons why I liked my job:

1. Getting to know all of my coworkers

Each of the tax professionals have their own area of expertise.  One woman works at the University, so many of her clients are graduate students on fellowships.  Another tax pro is from an Eastern European country, so many of her clients are non-natives as well.  Each tax pro had a different personality and rhythm, so I liked being able to meet and get to know a variety of people throughout these past few months.

When I left tonight, the two tax pros I'm closest with each gave me a hug when I said goodbye.  I will admit that I've felt a bit friendless lately, since I've done close to 0 social things in the past three months.  However, the hugs from these two ladies made me realize I'd made friends at work.

2. Using Spanish at work

Part of my job was to translate appointments with Spanish-speaking clients.  I liked being able to use my Spanish in a professional setting, outside of my weekly mesa de conversación gatherings.  I got to hear a variety of Spanish accents, speaking with Mexicans, Costa Ricans, Colombians, Argentinians, and yes - even a Spaniard!

3. Interacting with all of the clients

At my weekday job, I see the same kinds of people day after day: staff, faculty, or students.  At this weekend job, there were different clients every single day.  Some people were charming, others obnoxious.  Some were patient, others rude.  I have some great character ideas now, and I loved being exposed to dialogue I wouldn't normally have heard (and interact with people I wouldn't normally have seen).

4. Clean, simple, break from my other job

This job wasn't as involved as my other job.  Some of the things I do at my weekday job I'm able to do because of the years of departmental knowledge I've gained over time.  Tasks are hard to pass off; it's faster to do it yourself than to try explaining to someone else what to do and how to do it.  But at my weekend job, I bet I could teach someone how to do a majority of the tasks in an hour.  It was nice that I did the same, simple things every shift - just with different clients.  It was almost relaxing, in a way -- a break from my weekday job.  The office is very clean and neat.  There aren't piles and stacks in an inbox, nor an endless to-do list like at my other job.

The fact that it was only three days a week also made it pleasant.  I think that was the perfect amount of time.  Fridays were harmless - I would get back into the groove of weekend job.  Saturdays were usually busiest and went by quickly.  Then if I was getting sick of it or didn't want to deal with any certain unresolved issues, all I had left was Sunday and then all responsibility ended until the next Friday.

5. Gave me something to do during the weekends, was up early

Although it meant I had to go to bed early the night before, I did like waking up early on the weekends.  Makes you feel more accomplished.  When I wrote about my reverse culture shock last fall, I touched a bit on the topic of not knowing how to spend my weekends.  Although this didn't solve the problem directly, it helped me circumvent it by having something to occupy my time and thoughts.

6. Made extra money, finished paying off two whole loans

The bit of extra money each month was also a plus.  I finished paying off two of my student loans in full!

7. Memories of grandpa

My grandpa had actually worked at this company for many, many years.  He passed away when I was a sophomore in high school, and at this point in my life most memories from my early high school years are unfortunately already faint.  Working where he had worked made me think of him nearly every weekend I was there.  At the beginning of this job, I dreamt about him a couple of times.  So it was nice that the job brought back good memories of my grandpa.

8. Didn't miss any nice weather (mostly)

As everyone currently living in Madison knows, this winter was a long one.  We might get more snow yet later this week.  So most weekends were cold, snowy, or rainy.  I only remember one really sunny day where I wished I were outside.  It's a lot easier to be inside working when the weather is terrible, so this is a unique situation where I'm actually grateful the weather was so bad.

9. Experience working for a private company

I've worked for the State (at the University), and I've worked at and volunteered for non-profits, but I don't have much experience in the private sector.  This exposed me to a different work mentality.

10. Gaining what I could from my time working

While translating appointments, I learned a thing or two about taxes.  Being able to read cnn during slow afternoons kept me more aware of what was going on in the world.  Developing the habit of stretching when no one was in the waiting area increased my stretching 100%.  And last, but not least -- I now know how to make coffee!  (In industrial coffee machines)
• • •

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thankful Thursday: 4/11/13

[Thankful Thursday is a weekly segment that began 1/10/13 - read why here.  I invite you to join me in practicing gratitude!]



I'm really thankful for the time period in which I was born.  There have been exciting, revolutionary times in the past -- throughout all of history -- but I feel as though the current technology boom is unlike anything that's happened before.  Being able to instantly communicate with people all over the globe, to share your thoughts/photos/resources/products with the world from a computer, it's all incredible.  And it all has lots of potential for change: good change.  The concepts behind twitter, youtube, and just the internet in general are really changing the way that many countries and cultures do most everything.  Yes that's vague, but the internet's effects are widespread.  It's thrilling, and I'm grateful to be a part of this point in human history.
• • •

Letter Writers Association: The classiest customer service

Last week I received my Letter Writers Association (LWA) welcome pack and stationery, but I thought I was missing a postcard.  As I've already updated on the original post, I tweeted at LWA to ask about the postcard.  They replied right away, asking me to email my mailing address to them.

And look what was waiting in the mail box for me when I got home from work today:



I love all of the stamps they used on the front of the envelope:



Here's what the back looked like:


I appreciated those stamps, as well:


It got me thinking about what I could stamp on all of my outgoing mail, apart from (or in addition to) my "R" stamp I got in Cologne, Germany this past summer.  Any suggestions are welcome in the comments.

When I got done oo-ing and ah-ing over the envelope, I finally opened it.

Letter Writers Association postcard
Letter Writers Association
You have to send a letter to get a letter postcard

What a cute postcard!

It wasn't until I pulled it all the way out of the envelope that I gasped and said "Oh my gosh" out loud.  There were two postcards inside!  What a great surprise and kind gesture.  Add the brief handwritten note on a mini post-it and you've got one classy response.



Want to receive one of these postcards in the mail?  Enter my Easter egg contest for a chance to win -- there are only a few days left!  Comment on the post by April 15, 2013 to enter.
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Second $0 account balance in two months

I graduated from college in May of 2011, and my student loan grace period ended six months later.  I've been making monthly payments on all of my loans since then -- even during the year I was living in Madrid.  I'm so glad I didn't defer them that year, as other auxiliares de conversación in Spain did.  On February 13, 2013 I paid off my first student loan (much thanks to my seasonal weekend job I began in January and my federal tax refund)!

And less than two months later, I now have a new photo to share:

I've paid my second student loan in full!  (The stafford loan up top was rolled into my consolidation loans, so that first one doesn't count).  The speed at which I'm paying these is thanks to my seasonal weekend job and my state tax refund.  Also my regular job.  And also to the fact that I don't spend much of what I make!  (well, I spend it on loans - basically).  I have automatic payments each month, which are more than the minimum payment.  Then whatever extra money I have in my bank account at the end of each month goes towards the loan with the highest interest rate.

The other reason I've paid off my second loan so quickly is that once you pay off one loan, it's a sort of snowball effect from there.  As soon as I paid off the first one, I bumped up my monthly payment of the second loan by the amount I had been paying each month for the first loan.  And now that this second one's paid off, I can add the amount of that monthly payment to my ECSI monthly payment.  ... are you seeing the snowball?

So now I've got two loans remaining: ECSI (not pictured above because it's located on a different, really stupid website that looks like it's from the early 2000s), and my last stafford loan.  I am in good shape, and will definitely make my goal of paying these off by 2015!

[Have you entered my Easter egg contest yet?  Last day to enter is Monday, April 15!]
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Friday, April 5, 2013

Trader Joe's British Style Crumpets

At my most recent trip to Trader Joe's last night (with the sister, in fact), I bought some cinnamon British Style Crumpets (In honor of you, Herm.  And soon you, Hannah!).

Trader Joe's British Style Crumpets - Cinnamon
Photo Source

It's an item I've never purchased before, but it caught my eye in the bread section when I was explaining to the sister that the only two kinds of cinnamon bread at Trader Joe's both have raisins!  This is a no-no, so I decided to try the crumpets.  I had my first one this morning and I'm in love.

I popped it in the toaster.  Spread on some of my Earth Balance Buttery Spread, then it's time to eat up!  Was comparable to a cinnamon-y pancake.

Have you ever eaten or made crumpets?  Where?
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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Resolutions checkpoint 2013: March

We are now just over three months through 2013, so it's time again to check in and see how I'm doing on all of my new year's resolutions.

I read a Marc and Angel article last month about starting the year you want anytime.  I recommend taking a look.

--March Focus--

At the beginning of March I picked out five items and turned them into attainable goals for the month.  Here are those items with my progress in italics:
  1. (+/-) Read Hermanos monigotes II (by Antonio Robles) in Spanish (it's a junior edition, Biblioteca de bolsillo junior) -- I'm over halfway done, but still haven't finished the book.  I will surely finish it in April.
  2. (+/-) Learn four new guitar chords this month, one per week. -- In the second half of the month I finally started picking up my guitar.  Decided to go through a book I bought, learning individual note names rather than new chords.
  3. (+) Stretch once a week for ten minutes. -- At the weekend job I've fostered the habit of stretching when there's no one out in the waiting room.  Arms/shoulders/neck and legs.
  4. (+) Write four posts for Oh No She Madridn't - Done! The fact that I could write about Las Fallas this month really helped.
  5. (-) Schedule two evenings on the calendar this month to scrapbook. - Fail! 

--Overall Progress--

Some of this will be repetitive now, but here's my current progress on all resolutions:

Books
  • (+) I've read 9 books of 32, which means I'm 2% ahead of schedule (according to Goodreads). 
  • (-) I have read 0.6 / 5 books in Spanish. hehe
  • (+) I have read 3 / 5 books that I own in my apartment.  (Gone Girl, The Handmaid's Tale, and Paris to the Moon)
  • (-) Have not sought out any French book yet. 
Health
  • (-) Have not bought vitamin B and D yet (though now the sun's showing its face a little more, and I'm not sure if I'll buy it anymore)
  • (+) I'm taking probiotics most days, and tracking it on Chains when I remember to do so! 
  • (-) Still waiting to get JJ's info from the health center... he picked it up from his parents' house over Easter, so at least it's in Madison now
  • (-) I still eat chocolate at work.  Le sigh.

Personal 
  • (+) I wrote in my journal 9 / 31 days this month, so I'll be really pleased with myself in the future when I try to figure out what I was thinking during that time.  I'll shoot for more in April.
  • (-/+) The weekend job still keeps my facebook log ins much lower those days. Though it's still more than once a day some days. 
  • (-) I couldn't tell you if I was more mindful in March, which probably means I wasn't.
  • (+) I try to apply gratitude to as many daily situations as I can.
  • (+) No fear, no fear.

Fitness 
  • (+) Stretched
  • (+) I'm counting 12 / 31 days that I recorded in Chains that I did push ups or my shoulder complex.
  • (+) I went for two runs in March (near the end of the month), and signed up for an 8K run in April.
Guitar 
  • (+) Played more in March than in February
  • (-) Have not been learning a chord per week.  Am amending this resolution to simply practicing, whether it be learning notes or chords.
Languages 
  • (+) Went to the French conversation table every Monday in March except for one! 
  • (n/a) Removed the resolution to sign up for a continuing studies French class since it interferes with ultimate.  Next month you won't see it on the checklist! 
  • (-/+) I've spent some time on Duolingo 13 / 31 days in March, which is not more than in February.
  • (-) Have not touched my French grammar book in March.
Travel 
  • (+) I will be traveling to Canada to visit Hannah in July!  Will buy the plane ticket in April.
  • (+) Applied and interviewed to teach English in South Korea this fall (on April 1).  Moved on to step two of the application.
  • (+) Am putting France on hold for a(nother) year, so this resolution will also not appear next month.
Blogs 
  • (+) Posted four times in March on Oh No She Madridn't
  • (+) I have blogged at least twice a week on Rebe with a Clause. 
  • (+) There is a contest going on right now!  But this technically will count towards April...   Regardless, you should enter!
  • (+) Commented on at least two blogs a week, thanks to Chains.
  • (-) Have not yet read an SEO book
MOOCs 
  • (-) Have not had time to look at the Statistics class 
  • (-) Willingly decided not to keep up with personal finance class.  Maybe I'll try a different class once the seasonal weekend job ends (mid-April).
Craft 
  • (-) Did not scrapbook in March
  • (-) Have not begun the inspiration binder. 

--April Focus--

I'm going to try something completely different for April.  After reading Marc and Angel's post that I mentioned at the beginning, I'm going to try their suggestion #2: Theme your months.

April's theme/focus will be... fitness!

How is everyone else doing on their new year's resolutions?
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Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Contest: Easter egg hunt

This past Sunday I spent Easter at my grandma's house with family.  As we do every year, there was an Easter egg hunt throughout the woods and path around my grandma's house.  So the question is: How many eggs were hidden this year?


Facts to keep in mind:
Comment on this post with your guess (a number) by the end of the day on Monday, April 15 to be considered.  Contest winner will receive a letter on either my new Letter Writers Alliance stationery or one of the cards I acquired from my grandma on Sunday.  Family that were present at grandma's on Easter Sunday are not eligible for this contest.

BRIEF CONTEST INFO

Contest #3: Easter egg hunt
Deadline: Monday, April 15, 2013
Rules: Guess the number of plastic eggs that were hidden in my family's Easter egg hunt this year.  Winner will be closest to the correct number without going over.

UPDATE 4/8/13: Since I'm not moderating comments, and all of the entries are public,winner will be the closest to the correct number [punto!].
• • •

Monday, April 1, 2013

Easter 2013: Outdoor egg hunt

The Easter tradition in my family is to go to my grandma's house, eat lunch with the aunts/uncles/cousins, then go on the Easter egg hunt.  My grandma lives on about 7 acres of land near a creek, and the Easter bunny normally hides plastic eggs around outside - filled with some sort of treat.

All of the cousins are ages 16+ now, but one of my cousins has a young son -- so the Easter egg hunt continues!

My younger brother was not on spring break last week (he had it the week before), so he wasn't able to be at grandma's on Easter.  Hence, here are some pictures so he (and you) can have a mini-hunt yourself:

Outdoor easter egg hunt
Easter egg hunt at grandma's
The metallic eggs were harder to spot... do you see it?

Outdoor Easter egg hunt
Easter egg hunt at grandma's

Outdoor Easter egg hunt
Easter egg hunt at grandma's
Three eggs in this photo!

The Easter bunny left no tracks in the snow, so when we were in the woods you had to look closely in all directions, and all around the tree trunks:

Outdoor Easter egg hunt
Easter egg hunt at grandma's

Outdoor Easter egg hunt
Easter egg hunt at grandma's

And here we are gathering eggs in our baskets:



Sister finds egg at the perfect height

Rebe struggles to reach this egg



And then it was back to the house to open and count the eggs.  This is the type of treat that we normally find inside the eggs:


In previous years there have been eggs with a dime or quarter inside, as well.


Strangest thing found in an egg this year:


Can you tell what it is?
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