Thursday, July 29, 2010


I love a good sale. For me the story of the find and the bargain is all the fun of shopping. This is a great season for sales as stores are clearing out summer merchandise but it is still blooming hot outside. Here are some of my recent finds.

From Ann Taylor Loft: Maxi Dress was originally $128 and I got it for $29.99 (the steal of the century), metallic brocade skirt was $9.88 on final sale, coral top (perfect for school) was $14.99, and purple dress was $59.99 (not quite a steal but super cute)

I also got this darling top at Ann Taylor Loft for $24. Did I mention how much I love Ann Taylor Loft? It's an addiction.

From J. Crew: These darling ballet flats were originally $128 marked down to $49.99 with at additional 30% off. So I paid $35--another steal and perfect for school. The rest I found at the J. Crew in Omaha, NE, which is the best kept secret in the Midwest. Since most residents of Nebraska are generally not the most fashion-forward (my mom and sisters excluded, of course), the J. Crew in Omaha is a veritable treasure trove of great deals. All the good stuff actually gets marked down and in normal sizes--it's amazing. I got the grey top for for $20, the pink and purple top for $8, and the coral linen skirt (which is my new summer staple) for $16.

The next bargain I want to snatch up is this darling upholstered headboard from Sears, of all places. I love the tufted back and the wing-back style. At $500, this is a great deal but over my normal $25 budget for great deals. . . sigh. I will have to see what I can do.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

black turtles

I once had a student that would randomly put his head inside his shirt. I have no idea why he would do this or what triggered this strange behavior but it was oddly hilarious that is for sure. (I guess it is not too dissimilar from students hiding in their desks which is much more common, but this was definitely more eccentric behavior.) Eventually I started telling him to stop acting like a turtle. After telling this student to take his head out of his shirt and "Stop acting like a turtle and join us, please!" One of his classmates responded, "Mrs. Freeman, haven't you ever heard of the Black Turtles? They are much more peaceful than the Black Panthers." I had no idea that he was making a civil rights statement. You can't make this stuff up.

The Black Turtle did not like being photographed in his natural habitat.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"a lot" is a lot of words

As I am beginning to wrap my mind around going back to school and all that getting back in the classroom entails, I have to admit that I am not jumping for joy. I am working really hard on focusing on what I am looking forward to: seeing my precious students, all the funny interactions that I know are coming, and throwing myself back into American history and literature. I am trying not to think about the getting up early, the grading, and the perpetual correction I know I will have to do. Today as I thought about the coming year, I smiled as I remembered some of simple errors that I have corrected thousands of times on kids' papers especially misspelling "a lot" as "alot". For example, I ate alot of ice cream. This is a very common error and one that drives me CRAZY. I hate when "a lot" is misspelled A LOT. Anyway, when I was a kid someone gave me a little saying to remember the spelling: a lot is a lot of words. So I have this little ditty written on the board at the front of my classroom. While the kids still misspell it, this year I actually had a parent tell me that she saw it on my board and now remembered it whenever she spelled a lot. Maybe her kids will pick it up from her, because they were still misspelling it when they left my class. Oh well. I guess I am looking forward to reentering the educational environment and especially all the relationships with kids and parents that I know will develop over the course of the year.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

sweet land

Ok, this summer Barrett and I have watched A LOT of movies, and I have not done a very good job of keeping up with my recommendations. But here is an attempt to get back on track. Last night we rented the movie Sweet Land, and as the title implies, it was very sweet.

The movie is about a Norwegian farmer in Minnesota and his German mail-order bride. Inge, the bride, does not have the right paperwork so the couple cannot be married right away. Olaf, the would-be-husband, is a very quiet man, but he tries to help Inge integrate into this small Lutheran community as best as he can. While Olaf is very upright, the couple faces persecution for cohabiting even though Olaf sleeps in the barn and for Inge's German heritage. After dealing with a difficult harvest and the town's scrutiny, Olaf and Inge grow an intense bond, and eventually the town comes around them, gets Inge the paperwork, and they are married.

What I loved about the movie: First, the actors playing Olaf and Inge are tremendous. They truly carried the film, and they had fabulous chemistry. I also loved that the movie was very clean (rated PG for goodness sake). Even though Olaf and Inge develop some serious sexual tension, the most we ever see on screen is holding hands. I love when movie makers can deliver all the intensity without the skin. And, of course, I loved the setting. The Midwest is a wonderful place.

What didn't work for me: The movie opens with some scenes from the present and more recent past that include Olaf and Inge's grandchildren. While this is a good idea in theory, it was very confusing, disjointed, and felt forced. I was also not a big fan of the casting choice of Alan Cumming as Olaf's friend. I do not believe him as a Minnesotan farmer for one second. Lastly, I really did not like the portrayal of the Lutheran minister. While he had some good lines, he was the most closed-minded and least loving person in the film. I am so sick of movies portraying Christians as the bad guys and the church as the problem with society. I would love to introduce the writer/director to the Lutheran minister at my mom's church in Oakland, Pastor Mark, because then they could have seen how wonderful and kindhearted real Lutheran ministers are.

Overall, Sweet Land is a sweet romance with a few problems. I give it a 6.5 out of 10.

Friday, July 23, 2010

a room with a view

I just finished reading A Room with a View. While most of the book was just alright, the ending (last 50-75 pages) was fabulous! Lucy Honeychurch, the main character who officially has the sweetest name in all of English literature, struggles with growing up and deciding where she should follow convention and where she should take a few risks. Without giving too much away, I loved seeing Lucy finally live a little at the end, defy convention, and take a risk or two.

Like Lucy, I recently returned from a wonderful trip where I also had a room with a view, but mine was in Wisconsin and not Florence, Italy. But for those of you who were wondering, Lake Geneva is absolutely breathtaking, that is for sure. I just love the Midwest in the summer.

Our view of the Lake and the amazing home we stayed in

And like Lucy, on my trip I was reminded of the fun it can be to reawaken one's sense of adventure. On her trip, Lucy had trouble getting her head out of her guidebook and actually exploring the real Italy. Thanks to my really fun family, I was not allowed to make Lucy's mistake. I had the pleasure of being with all of my sisters and step-sisters and my sweet little niece Bella along with my mom, step-dad, and our wonderful host, Tia Nancy. (It was a house-ful.) We spent our days in Lake Geneva enjoying all kinds of fun on the water. And whenever I started to slip into cautious teacher mode, my sisters were quick to shake me out of it. They would start calling me Ann Taylor (which I refuse to see as an insult) and take me on a crazy jet ski ride or try to throw me off tubing. But I also realized that it is most fun to let loose around people that you love and are totally comfortable with. Because what else are you going to do when you pants fall off when you are thrown off the tube? It is truly rejuvenating to be with family when you can let go of all inhibitions. I am so thankful for such fun sisters who are willing to do anything and take me along for the ride. Thanks for the reminder that a life lived in fear is a life half lived!
Me, Hannah, and Kiley--love you, ladies!
Tubing with Abby
Hannah getting ready to scare the pants off of me on the jet ski

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

angry eyes

I had a really funny exchange with my precious former students on facebook today in which they were all commenting on/mocking a rather funny group picture in which everyone is either looking angry, blinking, or not looking at all. Here is the irony: When we took the picture at Mount Vernon, they all complained about it, and many of them refused to cooperate and decided to take the picture wearing their angry eyes. (Excuse the Mr. Potato Head reference; I just saw Toy Story 3--loved it!) Just a few short months after the trip, they mock their stupid faces, and many wonder why all the pictures of them are bad. The answer: because of a bad attitude and unwillingness to comply. Every year I make a little photobook for the kids, and it is hilarious that the ones that made the biggest stink about pictures are the ones that regret their angry eyes the most. But, I warn them every year. "You will not look cute in this picture, and it won't be my fault." Or "One day you will wish you actually looked normal when you look back at these pictures."

Here are some classic angry eye pics (you may need to enlarge these to get the full force of the facial expressions because they are priceless):

But look at how cute they can look! This is one of my favorite pictures of all time.
The trick is to not let them bring their angry eyes because they really are precious.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


No matter how unproductive and blob-like I have been throughout the day, I always feel productive when I cook. In fact, cooking and baking are some of the things that never make me feel guilty or like I have wasted time. As far as I am concerned, time in the kitchen is almost always time well spent.

The other day I had the pleasure of making chocolate chip cookies. It is unusual for me to go more than a week or two without baking cooking because Barrett loves them. My recipe for chocolate chip cookies is a very special one because it comes from my mom. She would whip these cookies up on command whenever we had friends over as kids. She can mix the dough in 6 minutes flat--pretty impressive. When I made these cookies in college, my roommates would mock their gooey-ness for being undercooked, but years later, they all want to come over for warm cookies and ice cream. I also have made these cookies for my kids for our monthly book club treats, and they quickly became BIG fans (as pictured above). On several occasions, they even offered me money and/or other bribes for some cookies. And now I will share the recipe with all of you:

2 sticks of butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
2 1/4 cup flour
about 1 cup chocolate chips.

Cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Sift in dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips. Now here is the secret: Bake at 385 for exactly 6 minutes and no longer. They will not look done and you will want to give them another minute, but do not succumb to this temptation. Take the cookies out, and let them cool on the cookie sheet for about 10 minutes. Then take them off, and I always like to set them on brown paper bags to cool a little more.

A note about chocolate chips: There is a long standing debate in my family between whether to use semi-sweet or milk chocolate in our cookies. My mom and sisters will fight to the death for milk chocolate, but my husband will stand by semi-sweet til the end. So frankly, I am very divided on the subject and would tell you to go with you gut on that point.

For Serving: These cookies are to-die-for served right out of the oven over vanilla ice cream. It is classic and the best! This is Barrett's favorite desert. I always freeze the cookies we don't eat right away. They are excellent frozen--a wonder chewy, little, sweet snack. I know it sounds strange, but trust me and try it. (I used to eat frozen cookies after waking up from a nap on Sunday afternoons when I was little.) But we also like to reheat the cookies for a few minutes in the oven for that gooey ice cream concoction we love so much.

Enjoy some well-spent time in the kitchen and the very productive feeling afterward!

Thursday, July 8, 2010


One week ago tomorrow, my dear grandpa Jerry passed away. His health had been on the decline for the past three years so we are so thankful for the time we had with him. Barrett and I traveled to Nebraska last Wednesday and were able to see Grampy and say good-bye while he was still very alert and conscious. The family spent two more grueling days with him in the hospital before ushering him into his eternal home.

The weekend of his death offered a very unique opportunity to remember what a wonderfully funny man my grandpa was and to share with family and close friends in the real stuff of life. Overall, it was a beautiful time.

Needless to say, I have been thinking a lot about Grampy Jerry and all the wonderful memories I have of him. Here are just a few that have been ruminating in my brain that I will continue to cherish.

- His sense of humor: I was often surprised by the hilarious things that would come out of my grandpa's mouth--most of which were very inappropriate. He was infamous for answering the phone "Jack's Mule Barn, this is Kelly. Jack ain't here." When I was little, I remember being very puzzled by this greeting as we were not at a mule barn and his name was not Kelly, but as I got older, this cracked me up.

- Jerryisms: Grampy had more funny sayings for stuff than anyone I have ever met. As a father of all girls, his word for sanitary protection was "man-hole-covers." He also had countless euphemisms for farting. One time after a particularly noisy one he said, "Well, at least we know that still works." Priceless.

- Grampy's favorite places: No matter what time I saw Grampa Jerry, there was a 99% chance that he was in one of two places: (1) hunched over the kitchen counter watching tv with a cigarette and cup of coffee or (2) sitting in his lazy-boy (with Lady or Scamper, the dogs) in his lap either reading or watching tv with a cigarette. In both cases, he would also be wearing a snore strip. I will never look at that lazy-boy, kitchen counter, or breath-rite strips without seeing him.

- Not knowing a stranger: People have said this about my grandpa for years. When I was little, this translated into him starting conversations with anyone and everyone we encountered (I particularly remember this with waitresses). He spent hours a day driving around town in his blue pickup truck and talking with absolutely everyone he came in contact with. As I grew older, I realized that no matter where Grampy went he made a friend; he was never haughty or intimidated. I so admire his humility and friendliness and hope that I can be more like that one day. I don't think I truly appreciated this trait until it was insulted. The wedding party and family were getting lined up in the church the day I got married, and of course, my Grampa Jerry was chatting (and probably flirting with bridesmaids) when the wedding nazi (the lady from the church with a horrible temper) told him to "Shut up!" I have never been more insulted in all my life. No one tells Grampy to shut up.

- Big guns: When I was little, Grampy Jerry was the strongest man I knew. His arm muscles fascinated me as he had some serious guns. I still don't know how he was so ripped into his sixties.

- Generosity/Stewardship: no matter what I ever needed, Grampa Jerry had something that would do the trick and he was always so excited to give it away. He did this for everyone in town. But the really impressive thing was that in spite of the piles and piles of what looked like junk in the infamous basement, he could locate the item in question without any struggle or rummaging. He and my granny also re-use absolutely everything from margarine containers to pill bottles.

- Booker: In preparation for Barrett's first trip to Nebraska when we were dating, Grampa told everyone in town that my boyfriend Booker was coming. The entire weekend, people were coming up to him saying, "Oh, you must be Booker!" We called him Booker all last week just for old times' sake.

- The Turn Around: Whenever we said good-bye, Grampa would say, "God Bless, good luck, see you on the turn around!" To this day, I don't know what the "turn around" is, but it is comforting to know that we will see him again on the eternal "turn around."

- Luke 2: Every Christmas, Grampa Jerry would recite the Christmas story from Luke 2 at the table. His cadence was so unique. It will be impossible to replicate.

- Salt and Pepper: We shared many meals together as a family, and Grampy was always the last to finish. The family joke was that by the time Grampa was finished putting salt and pepper on his food, most of us were finished eating.

- Open arms: I cannot say that I appreciated or even knew how welcoming and compassionate my Grampy was until I was older. I knew that my grandparents were awesome, but I didn't realize how awesome until I was an adult. When my mom remarried, my grandparents welcomed all seven (yes, 7!) of my step siblings into their family, no questions asked. They were just as much their grandparents as they were mine. I will never forget how wonderful it was to see them welcome so many people into their family.

My Grampa Jerry was truly a unique man. He was friendly, loving, hilarious, and sometimes a little rough around the edges. If you want to get a little taste of what he was like, watch the this video. He will be dearly missed.

Friday, July 2, 2010

happy real independence day!

Even though I'm a little late, I want to take a moment to wish everyone a happy real Independence Day! July 2, 1776, was actually the day that the Declaration of Independence was voted on and ratified. John Adams wrote in his diary that July 2nd would be celebrated by Americans for decades to come, but he was two days off because it took a couple of days for Thomas Jefferson to make the necessary changes to the official document. Everyone actually signed the Declaration on the 4th, and if you ever get a chance to see the actual document at the National Archives in DC, you will see the real copy has the traditional July 4th date. But in the spirit of fun facts and in the spirit of good old fashioned rebellion, I want to wish everyone a Happy July 2nd!
If I may make a suggestion for patriotic reading and movie watching for this wonderful holiday weekend, here they are.
Read 1776 by David McCullough. Even if you are not a history buff, you will probably become one after you read this book. McCullough is an amazing writer, and the story of the American Revolution is absolutely spellbinding. I could not put this book down last summer. As a history teacher, I knew how this story was going to end (happily), but there were times when I was sure that the Americans were not going to be able to pull themselves out of some very sticky situations. This is a great, fun read. In fact, even some of my students read it and liked it, and they are very tough book critics.
Watch the John Adams series done by HBO. This series was released on DVD a couple of years ago and tells the story of John Adams' role in the birth and formation of our country. The acting is impeccable, the writing is excellent, and the production quality is top-notch. A lot of the filming is done on-site in Williamsburg, Boston, and Philadelphia. The scenes about the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence are some of my favorite in the whole series as they beautifully depict the weight of the words of that magnificent document and gravity of those moments in the history of America and the world.
Enjoy and Happy Independence Day!