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Archive for February, 2011

My favorite ipad case, it's really thick.

Since the beginning of February, we’ve had at least 6 snow days, maybe more.

I’ve lost count.  These unplanned days off throw me for a loop.  I don’t know what to do with myself.  I either fritter the day away on the computer, or pretend to clean the house.

For better or worse, we are getting ipads for all of our students next year.  The teachers got their ipads to try out a few weeks ago.  After handing them out, they told us that we needed to buy a cover for them, and that they weren’t too expensive, like $50.  I didn’t have $50 in the budget to buy a cover for something that wasn’t really mine anyway, so I improvised.

For sale at my etsy site etsy.com/shop/blewe

I made a cover from a felted wool sweater and I loved it.  Then I decided to make one for my friend that also didn’t have a cover yet.  I thought it turned out pretty cute.

Then I became obsessed.

Instead of frittering my snow days away on the computer, I spent my days frittering away making cozies for my computer!

I then decided that this would be a good thing to list on my etsy store, because they were cute, useful, and easy to make.

for sale on etsy

If you’d like to make your own, here’s how I did it.

1. Go to thrift stores or your closet to find cheap wool sweaters.  It works best if the sweaters are 100% wool.  Look for tags that say hand wash or dry clean only.  You can also use wool coats, blankets, and suits (although suitcoats usually have lots of tucks).

2. Wash them on the heavy cycle on hot.  It’s the combination of hot water, detergent and agitation that felts the wool fibers together.  Agitation is key.

3. Dry them in the dryer on high.

4. Cut out two pieces that are about the same width as your device.  You want them to fit snuggly and the wool will stretch a bit.  Cut one about four or five inches longer than the device for the flap.

5.  Blanket stitch the edges together with yarn.  I found a how to online.

for sale on etsy

6.  Add a button and a hole.  The wool will hold together without stitching around the buttonhole, but I usually stitch around it anyway.

7. Repeat to make gifts for friends.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of making one yourself, I have some ipad sleeves at my etsy store, Blewe, or I can custom make one for your ipad, laptop, or kindle.

Made from a wool coat. For sale on etsy

My other favorite. It's just so stripey!

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photo from pack 101 flickr

Tonight I’m writing this post while I’m watching my daughter tear up the track at a pinewood derby race. She and her dad made a rockin’ pink car. So far, she’s won the first two rounds by several car lengths.

Last year, she was crushed when her matchbox car didn’t win. She and her dad tested dozens of cars to find the fastest one.  After all that testing, I’m sure there was no doubt in her mind that she would win.

There have been times in my life, that I knew I couldn’t lose,

like the time my friends and I traveled from Michigan State and spent the night in a University of Michigan quad. It was the Michigan State versus Michigan football game. I was sure that we would win. After all, we won the year before. I was cocky and did a whole lot of trash talking to my Wolverine friends. I left the stadium with my tail between my legs after eating a slice of humble pie.

There are things in my life that I feel like I could never lose, like my: family, career, middle class lifestyle, freedoms, and my rights as an American, a human, and a woman.

I need to stop taking what I have for granted.

My first marriage was difficult, but I took for granted getting to see my daughter everyday. Now that she splits time between two homes, I cherish my time with her all the more.

I am sure that were it not for my difficult first marriage, I wouldn’t appreciate the way my hubby and I communicate, and the way he shows he loves me. I don’t advocate for divorce, but I will use it as an opportunity of gratitude.

I used to complain about the difficulties of mainstreaming all children into the classroom, and now that the education of those students is threatened, I’m fighting for their right to be there.

I’ve struggled with working with at risk kids and how to best serve them, but now I worry that my high school kiddos (and their little sibs, and their own children) won’t have the educational opportunities that they need for their lives, not for the college prep mold we are trying to force all kids into.

I used to think that women in America had equal rights as men.   Now I’m not so sure.  In the news I hear of unions of predominantly women professionals being broken apart, laws that make women “prove” a miscarriage, and defunding of basic reproductive medical care for women (not the abortions, but basic care).  For goodness sake, we send money to third world nations to help them with their reproductive health.  What about American women?

I always thought that I would be able to grow my own food and buy directly from the farmer.

My world is being turned upside down as of late, and I don’t like it one bit.  But I have realized that I have gotten awfully comfy in my life.

This post is not meant to depress anyone.  Rather, I want to stop being cocky, and start being grateful for what we have, or there may be a slice of humble pie with our names on it.

And my daughter that went into her race a bit more humble this year, came away with the champion trophy for her derby car, “The Phoenix”.

Ellie and her champion car The Phoenix

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Below are two links to videos about teaching that you must see.  They are from my dear friend and teaching mentor, Chris Broni.  Chris teaches fifth grade, but taught as a science specialist for several years, until the state took money away from her district and ended the successful program.  I was a part-time science specialist that traveled between schools, of which one was Chris’s.  She helped me develop lesson plans and labs, gave me all of her units to use as a starting point, and opened up her supply cabinet to me (even though I’m messy and disorganized.)  Without Chris, I would have failed.  The other traveling science teacher hired at the same time as me only lasted a couple of months before quitting.  She didn’t have Chris as a mentor.

I taught elementary for four years.  My first year as a first grade teacher was in a high needs school in Nashville, Tennessee.  We were a Title One school, and the kids were very needy emotionally and needy for the basics of life.  It was a stressful job.  One student had undiagnosed autism, another was repeating first grade and refused to talk, one was a cleptomaniac, and another student threw desks when he was angry.  Jo Littlejohn, a Reading Recovery teacher, saved my rear that year.  Jo had twenty plus years as an elementary teacher.  She knew how to discipline, teach reading, and how to encourage children and other teachers.  Jo lifted me up that year and without her help, I would have failed.

This is my third year as a high school teacher, and the first that I feel like I am an effective teacher.  The first couple of years for every teacher is filled with late nights creating lessons, learning new material, creating and grading assessments, and worrying about students.  This is the first year that I feel as though I can anticipate areas of difficulty for my students.  I’m learning how to reach all students, develop relationships, and establish trust with all students.  I teach a lot of at risk students, and for some it’s taken a couple of years for them to be able to make themselves vulnerable enough to try.

Veteran teachers help keep the new generation of teachers afloat with their knowledge.

Chris speaks to the importance of all of the teachers working together, and not in competition with one another.  With the new system, we are setting up a system of closed classroom doors, leaving young teachers on their own.  We should instead be building one another up with encouragement.  I love Chris’s statements because she is staying positive, and truly has the interest of her students at heart.  She is one person of thousands that has dedicated her life to making our future citizens productive!

Watch these videos please, and pass them on to all the teachers, those that love teachers, and those that need to hear about teaching in your lives.

I am a Teacher

The Culture of Public Education

What if those of us who teach, or love teachers, or care about students, each made a positive statement on YouTube, or another venue, about the importance of preserving what is right about our educational system?

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Please take a few moments and read the following blog post.  This is one of the most poignant things that I have read about reform in the public education system.

Why Teacher Bashing is Dangerous by Stan Karp or you can listen to it here

I am a teacher.

I am a mother.

I care what happens to our nation’s children.

Indiana is passing laws that will change the shape of our educational system.

I weep as a teacher, as a mother, and as a member of the community.

Our educational system has it’s flaws, but overall, it’s been a pretty good system.  We provide a free and appropriate education for ALL learners, from the most advanced children to children with limited mobility and severe disabilities.  Public education seeks to educate all children regardless of their color, race, religion, or ability to pay.

Can we make improvements?  Certainly.  Can you improve the way you do your job?  Yep.

I will tell you this.  I know very few lazy teachers that don’t give a hoot about students.  In the seven buildings I’ve worked in during my teaching career, I can think of only one teacher that had given up on his students.  EVERY one of the teachers in my current building care an awful lot about our students.  We are giving our all everyday.  We didn’t go into teaching for the money.  We went into teaching to make a difference.

Merit pay will not change the way I teach students.  It won’t change the way my colleagues teach students.  We are already doing our best, and continually improving.

The teachers I know collaborate and worry about students.  They compare notes to find out what’s working and what’s not.  We share materials and give new teachers a helping hand to pull them up into the ranks of good teaching practices.

I weep about the upcoming changes as a teacher and concerned citizen.

We’ve worked really hard in the last 60 years to provide a free and appropriate education for all.  We have integrated schools.  We have places in our public schools for children that 50 years ago would have been institutionalized.  Title I provided extra funds to provide special reading services like Reading Recovery which gives students the extra boost that they should have gotten at home.   We have vocational programs to get kids the skills they need for blue collar jobs when they graduate.  In the past, our educational system created well-rounded students.

This is an issue of social justice.  We must educate all students to create productive citizens.

We are about to lose all of the ground we have gained with new legislation.

The movement toward privatizing our school system will only widen the gap between the haves and have nots.

I weep about the upcoming changes as a parent.

I want my children to have exposure to the arts.  I want my children to be inspired by caring teachers.

Caring teachers are growing weery of the lack of respect from the media, from parents, and from the students.

Teachers are smart and caring people that do a job most others wouldn’t ever want to do.  They need our support and encouragement or we are going to lose the most valuable asset in our children’s lives.  These teachers are even more valuable in the lives of children that have no one at home to inspire them.

To quote Stan Karp:

What’s at stake is more basic: Whether the right to a free public education for all children will survive as a fundamental democratic promise in our society, and whether the schools and districts needed to provide it are going to survive as public institutions.

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Jeremy and I are trying to take a complex, hodge podge of personalities and turn it into a smooth running blended family.  This requires lots of talking and negotiation.

How the heck do we incorporate our six lives into one?

Our kids are on different custody schedules so consistency is almost impossible.

We differ in parenting styles. Jeremy is a free range parent.  I am structured.  But, we both want the kids to be functional adults when they fly the coop.

We understand that to raise self-sufficient adults, the kids need to contribute to the household with chores.  Chores bring a sense of pride to everyone.

The primary chore in our house is dishwashing. With six of us, we dirty up a lot of plates in a hurry. We expect the kids to do dishes after the dinner meal. When our dishwasher was working, that meant two to unload and two to load. Now that our dishwasher doesn’t work, it means all hands on deck.

The first lesson in the Tao of Dishwashing is:

Like it or not, you must surrender to the family unit, because everyone contributes.

When first starting our daily dishes routine there was an abundance of

“Not it!”

Without telling the kids, whoever said “Not it!”, we anointed the chosen one. It took the youngest child less than 24 hours to realize that she was always being chosen.  More importantly, she learned the reason why she was always chosen.

We no longer hear the words, “not it.”

Occasionally, we hear “Not fair! Why doesn’t so-and-so have to (fill-the-blank)”, after all, they are kids.  But it is getting rarer and rarer.

The second lesson in the Tao of Dishwashing is:

Chores don’t have to be a drag when there is spontaneous singing and laughter

The kids learned that singing and dancing while drying and putting away dishes could be a lot of fun. Our kids all have pretty nice voices, except when they are yelling out “The Wheels on the Bus”, but for the most part, we have ourselves a regular Von Trapp family.

The third lesson in the Tao of Dishwashing is:

Broken dishes contribute to the simplicity of our lives.

We have had a lot of casualities this week. For whatever reason, glasses keep breaking. Either the kids have contracted butter fingers, or the glasses have evolved and learned to jump to their death like lemmings.

The fewer possessions we own, the more space we have in our lives for what matters.

The fourth and final lesson in the Tao of Dishwashing is:

Routine, chores, and contribution to community can transform us.

On Saturday, the girls were having a sleepover. After dinner, we excused the girls to go do whatever it is nine and ten-year-olds do at sleepovers.  Jeremy and I did the dishes.

The youngest (remember, the “Not it!” girl) came up to Jeremy and I and said,

“Thanks for doing the dishes for us.”

Everyone at this place is keeping the house running on six cylinders.

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I won a book yesterday.

It’s called Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress: A Girl’s Guide to the D&D Game by Shelly Mazzanoble.  I don’t play D&D, or any other pen and paper role playing games, but my husband and some of the kids do.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad to be a nerd.  In fact, I am proud to be part of a Geek Family.  My daughter is blossoming and proud to be a geek as well, even choosing “geek” as one of her spelling words.

We went to the library yesterday for an introduction to Dungeons and Dragons.  Partially to try to win tickets to GenCon-loved it last year- and partially to see if there were some other kids to help my stepson or my daughter to get a gaming group together.

Someone had sent a nasty letter to the editor, regarding residual misconceptions from the ’80s.  D&D doesn’t promote Satanism, anymore than playing Mario Brothers will make you think that you can float around in bubbles, or drive funny little cars.

The best part of D&D is the face-to-face socialization of friends in the same tribe.

Everyone is looking for ways to connect with one another.  Women make up excuses to get together under the guise of selling plastic ware, kitchen gadgets, or makeup.  Men schedule tee times and poker nights.  Do women really want to buy a bunch of junk and do men really want to chase a ball around a field and sand traps?

Nah, it’s not about that.

It’s about building community.

That’s what gaming does for my husband and his friends.

It used to be, that people would get together to share in the labor of harvest, building, preserving, etc.  During that time, folks would build community, learn to trust one another, and create close friendships.

Now that most of those activities have been streamlined or hired out, games give us an excuse to come together, solve problems, and bond.

I don’t play role playing games, mostly because they continue from week-to-week, and take a good chunk of time in one sitting-time I never feel like I have (I have issues with time passage-but that’s another post).

I do, however, love board and card games.

Jeremy is poking the eye of the Beholder at GenCon 2010.

My husband loves them too.  He has been playing all kinds of games for years and years, and I am but a novice.  I got really frustrated at the beginning of our relationship because he beat me at every game we played.  I never had a chance against his skill.  I wanted to play, but I got frustrated.  He is not one to throw a game just to make you feel better.  In fact, he smirks when he is winning and I want to wipe that smirk right off his face.

Then we started playing backgammon before bed.  It was a game that he was just learning.  At first, he won more games than me, but now we are evenly matched.  I win about the same amount as he does.

Game playing feels intimate.  Playing games together helps to fill up my love tank, and relax from my stressful day at school.  That’s because it’s time spent together, laughing, talking, and “grrr”ing when he sends my backgammon guy to the bar…again.

Since Christmas we’ve been playing a card game called, Dominion.  I didn’t want anything to do with it because it looked confusing, and hard.  You have to build decks of cards that will get you the victory points for the win.  I played my first round at GenCon, thought it was kind of fun.  At Christmas we cracked it out, got all of the expansions, and have since been playing 1-3 games a night after the kids go to bed.  It’s a great way to relax, spend time together, solve problems, and bond.

Last night we tried a new game, Race for the Galaxy.  I liked the game, lost all of the four games we played, and then I ranted on and on for about an hour about how I hated the icons and trying to keep them straight while I played.  Jeremy listened patiently while I ranted.  I listened, without patience while he explained the virtues of the game.

Our addiction to games has done one positive thing for us.  We very seldom spend our evenings anymore, looking up the latest LOLcats and clicking on Reddit.  We’re spending time together filling up one another’s love tanks with time well spent.

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Snowpocalypse 2011

I have to admit, I was really excited for this blizzard.  Usually I dread snow days because the school system I work for is different than my daughter’s so when I’m off, she’s at school.  I also have to make up these days in the summer…when it’s nice, and I can play outside.

I did what everyone else was doing to prepare, I got some milk, filled up the car with gas, and made sure we had candles, and knew how to start to stove should the power go out.  I hunkered down the chickens that knew the weather was changing and they scolded me for it.

I stopped by the library to stock up on videos and books for my daughter, and prepared a list of fun things for me to do.  I hardly ever take time to fun things, but this time was different.  I played games with my daughter and husband, helped my daughter start her own blog, played with my camera taking photos for my husband’s new blog, and even cooked a little bit.  I got some laundry done too, but let’s not count that.

Tilly the dog rolling around in the snow. Jenny Frech 2011

We didn’t get nearly the snow that we thought we’d get in Northern Indiana, but enough for at least three days off of school.  Today I kidnapped my daughter from school, and took her out for lunch, which was fun.  Tomorrow I’m almost positive that I will be back to the old grind.  Please think of me at the end of June, when we are still plugging away at school 🙂

The chickens hunkered down in their house after the storm blew over. They even layed a couple of eggs after the storm. Good girls! Jenny Frech 2011

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