Friday, August 30, 2013

Goodbye, Ms. Filippelli

"Good morning!  Did you find yourself in the right place?"
Blank stares.
"Third hour, Composition, really long Italian last name next to it on your schedule."
Couple of smirks.
"It's easier to pronounce than you think.  Hold out your hand like this."  I demonstrate with fingers pinched together raised in front of me.  
Eyebrows go up and I can see the "she's crazy" thoughts in their eyes.  
"Fil - a - pel - leee!" I say in my best Italian accent adding hand gestures at every syllable.
That gets the giggles going. And requests for repeats until the class starts echoing.  Before long, I've created a classroom full of Italians.  

For five years, this has been my speech on the first day of school, open house, student orientation.  It starts an instant connection with students.  They are already asking questions, and the ice is broken on that first day when half the class is still on summer vacation.

With a last name like "Filippelli," you get a true story.  It holds character, heritage, and a spelling test every time you say it.  As with my students, it sparks conversations with strangers.  I don't remember the last time I introduced myself as "Filippelli" and didn't immediately spell it after: "Filippelli, F as in Frank, I, L, I, P as in Paul...."

As a teacher, I never accepted "Ms. F."  If I can learn how to spell it before kindergarten, these teenagers can certainly learn how to say it.  And I definitely didn't accept the student who wanted to call me "Ms. P."

This year, the students and I say good-bye to Ms. Filippelli.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Work of a Thousand Scrubbing Bubbles

"Do we have to do this in the new house, too?" he asked as we fell into bed.  
"I'm afraid so," I admit.  
"I was afraid you were going to say that."

This weekend was spent cleaning the house.  Not the run a vacuum over the floors, wipe down the bathrooms, and pick up the clutter kind of cleaning.  The deep take a toothbrush to every surface of the kitchen, find holes that haven't been discovered, clog the vacuum with dust behind the washer and dryer because a bachelor has lived here for ten years kind of cleaning.  Then, when we thought we'd had enough, there were wedding plans needing attention.

Our saving graces: my parents.

Last week, my mom asked, "When are we cleaning?" I didn't even hesitate to pretend she was kidding.  I jumped at the chance to have her.  Between her and my grandma, they can complete every household chore before most people can even consider getting started.  The only rule is stay out of their way.  As a little girl, I remember watching them scour from room to room refusing to stop until the job is completed to perfection.  Now, it's passed on to another generation.

Mom and I tackled the kitchen.  I don't have quite the focus she does, so my cleaning was a little ADD-style.  I began cleaning three or four different spots, and, soon enough, here she was behind me to finish up.  It's a look to know which cleaning product to pass.  The toss and catch with the rag with no words to know it's time to rinse.  The dance from one side to another with a passing kiss on the cheek.  There is no wasted breath on the task at hand; we just do.   The talking is solely reserved for importing things: advice on buying/selling a new house, wedding plans, funny anecdotes and memories made.

My stepdad "volunteers" as handyman for the day.  Unlike my future husband, Doug can complete most household tasks; however, that doesn't mean he *wants* to (as he often clarifies).  He brought over all the tools necessary to be an electrician and a carpenter.  In a matter of minutes, he had a list for Home Depot to fix the kitchen light and put the quarter round down.  From then on, he's in his zone until you hear a "Hey, Nan...," to which my mom responds with tool in hand.

Then, there's Casey.  Watching this well-oiled machine work together as they have done for over twenty years.  I'm still not sure he knows what to think of us.  Not to worry, we've already made a nook in this machine where he fits perfectly.

Before we started, I begged Casey to hire this out.  For every household project from painting to electrical work to flooring, his answers is "there's a guy for that."  And he means it.  Most of them are in our wedding party.  However, when it came to this, he decided he wanted to take on the challenge.  Knowing what the place looked like when I moved in, I was more than skeptical.  (I'm pretty sure I'm just finally getting the bathtub clean seven months later.)  He's reassuring words were, "I can do the work of a thousand scrubbing bubbles."  I begrudgingly agreed, but not without the proper amounts of pouting faces and whining voices.  I dreaded the task lying ahead of us and was sure Casey had no idea what exactly we were taking on.

Instead, we got five uninterrupted hours with my parents.  We made things glisten.  We conversed about the nonsensical.  We removed layers of grime.  We wore ourselves out.  We've earned it.

In the end, we transformed the town home into something shiny and new, surprising even our realtor.  I only wish we had before and after pictures.

Friday, May 17, 2013

This Summer I Will.... (2013)

Each summer has its own tone.  A season unlike any other, it stands out.  No matter how the rest of the year is going, summer is different.  It's distinct in how it presents itself, in how it begs you to partake, in how it demands your attention.  There is no saying "no" when summer arrives.

This Summer I Will...
*continue to blog
*publish something professional or personal (or both!)
*read on the porch, by the pool, on a plane, in Jamaica
*sunbathe too much
*picnic at the Jasper Winery Summer Concert Series
*buy a new house *hopefully*
*decorate the living room
*create the perfect writing space in the office
*organize our files *eek*
*take a summer class (3 weeks before the wedding)
*discover the best running routes in the suburbs
*write thank-you notes to our favorite people
*have friends over to the new house for summer meals
*design flip-flops for the girls to wear at the reception
*memorize more Jimmy Buffett songs as my fiance dances to it while he grills
*pick fresh foods from the Downtown Farmers' Market
*concoct new meals in a brand new kitchen with fancy kitchen tools
*celebrate my favorite friends' weddings
*eat Orange Leaf more than I should
*think about innovative ways to teach and assess writing
*spend an afternoon patio jumping in Downtown Des Moines
*dance in the living room with the windows open
*try to paint a beach picture with my favorite girls
*honeymoon in Jamaica without a care in the world
*most importantly, marry the man of my dreams

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Summer Reading List: 2013 Edition

One thing I look forward to the most every summer is reading.  Don't get me wrong.  During the school year, I read plenty: student papers, re-read texts for class, professional literature.  I miss the choice reading I so often encourage in my students and rarely find - or make - time for.  During the week of Spring Break, I flew through three great books as we relaxed in South Carolina.  It was heaven.  Somehow, between selling and buying a new house, moving (hopefully), getting married, bridal showers, bachelorette parties, and taking a class, I will find time to enjoy some thought-provoking words and some mindless fluff.  That's what the honeymoon is for.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I started this book probably back in January.  I have about a hundred pages left and am more or less refusing to finish it.  It's that good.  I want to hold on to the experience for as long as I can.  I know the ending is going to make me bawl.  The delay also comes with a personal connection.  The plot involves a terminally ill teenager suffering with cancer, too similar to the situation with my future father-in-law who I adore so much.  It helps me to understand what he is going through but also scares me.  I will find as much courage as the main character in the book and my future father-in-law have, and I will finish it.  Plus, John Green is one of my favorite young adult authors.
Divergent by Veronica Roth 

My students are FLYING through this book.  They tell me it's the new Hunger Games series:  Hunger Games meets The Giver.  Whenever they are excited about a book, I get excited and desperate to experience it with them.    I love to see a book slowly catch fire with a group of kids.  This is the first in the series and, from discussion and synopsis, holds true to the dystopia world.  Of course, the copyrights have already been sold, and the movie is in production.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Anyone who knows my reading taste will be surprised by this choice.  Let's blame this one on the fiance.  He made me watch the movie.  While I don't agree with Peter Jackson's ability to take a three hundred page book and turn it into a movie franchise making billions, I started to appreciate the storyline.  In addition, I teach a Myths and Legends course, which has widened my reading interests in general and taught me to value literature I would normally have ignored.  I'm excited to see how I can bring this into the classroom.  I'm thinking literature circles with The Iliad and Hunger Games.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Another hot book in 2012 that appear on critics best of lists.  Looks like a good mystery from a fairly new author.  I received this from my sister at Christmas and it's waiting on a shelf - well, now in a box - calling my name.  The summary says it's about a wife who goes missing after their fifth wedding anniversary.  Could give me some interesting views on marriage.

Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie

Alexie is by far in my top five favorite authors.  I have a sacred signed copy of this book sitting in a box begging to be displayed.  That moment I met him in November of last year was better than meeting any movie star or singer you could come up with.  (Yes, I'm a geek.)  I can't wait to delve into it.    His sarcastic tone, his unabashed ability to take on any topic, his blatant commentary on society are some of the reason I have hungered for his books, short stories, poems, and even tweets for more than a decade.  This collection of stories allows me to revisit old ones and explore new ones.  

This is just a starting point.  My favorite English teacher and great friend is hosting a bridal shower for me at the beginning of June.   (We actually toyed with the idea of having a wine and book bridal shower, to which my fiance asked "What's in it for me?")  She asked if she could get me books for the shower.  Was that a real question?  I only required each book be reviewed her first.  She is, after all, the one who turned me on to Sherman Alexie.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Midnight Margaritas

"You put the lime in the coconut and drink it all up." 

A couple months ago, I asked my mom and sister for a girls' weekend.  Just the three of us.   I know after I'm married, it will be different.  Trying to arrange our busy schedules will be harder.  Before too many other factors influenced our lives, I wanted to spend time with the two most important women in my life.  A midnight Margarita night, inspired by one of our favorite movies, Practical Magic, was on the calendar.  We wanted to dance in the kitchen like Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Dianne Wiest, and Stockard Channing.  And sing our hearts out.  A movie that celebrates women and the powerful intuitive connection instilled in them is truly symbolic of the relationship I have with my mother and sister.  Other women are envious and men are baffled by this bond and secret language we use to communicate.

Our connection is more unique than any other mother/daughter/sister relationship.  For a while, we were all we had.  As a single mom, she made sure her girls always felt loved and protected.  We had next to nothing, but we never wanted for anything.  Most people would find it odd to find so much peace when facing the hardships accompanied with single parenting.  Mom still refers to it as the best of times, just her and her girls.

We used to have these moments all the time.  Our stepdad worked weekend nights growing up, so for just a few times a month, we would have Mom all to ourselves.  And she spoiled us rotten.  We'd lay in the living room watching movies with mounds of pillows and blankets until we could barely hold our eyes open.  Then, if she was up for a few elbows and knees in her back, we'd crawl into bed with Mom.

This weekend, we did our best to recreate the memories of our past.  I'd say we were more than successful.

After shopping and being spoiled with new Coach purses, after assembling wedding invitations, after making a dent in the guacamole and watching the first movie, Peace, Love, and Misunderstandings, I laid my head down on a pillow and cuddled up to my mom just as I did twenty years ago.  Minutes later, my sister followed my lead.  I looked at my mom worried about her comfort.  I didn't need to ask as her smile stretched ear to ear, beaming at her girls.

Living room picnic with margaritas  guacamole, and a little chocolate is the perfect recipe to a successful girls' weekend (especially fitting on Cinco de Mayo!)

With my wedding fast approaching and a new chapter in my life beginning, I know moments like this are fleeting.  It won't stop us from trying.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Double Check the Calendar

Sunday night, I went for a run at 7pm just as dusk was approaching.  I meandered the streets of Urbandale, getting lost in my mind and on my route.  Pushing my body like it hadn't done in awhile.  Making it realize what it could do again.  The 75 degree light wind set the perfect scene for what I had been missing.  My energy renewed.

This morning, I woke up to this.

Schools are closed and delayed.  Winter Weather Advisories are in effect.  Forecast predicts 3 to 5 inches of snow.  Road conditions are deteriorating.  It's May 2nd.

At this rate, it's going to snow on my wedding day in the middle of July.  As a friend said, what a story that would be!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Pinterest Chef

The biggest surprise since Casey and I started living together has been in my ability -- and enjoyment -- in cooking.  I owe it all to Pinterest.

Before we met, I had my staples: pasta, tacos, and mac & cheese.  The traditional single girl diet sprinkled with a few nights of dining out and heavy dashes of leftovers.  I had no desire, let alone a need, to make and plan meals.  

Now, it's fun.  The planning.  The experimenting.  The sharing.  It's one thing we have always enjoyed as a couple: the dining experience.

Pinterest gives me cooking confidence.  
My map to a tantalizing tastes
A catalyst to wonderful conversation 
Good-bye Betty Crocker, 
this is my recipe book.

This week, we have revisited a few first time favorites from Pinterest and started to make them our own.  

 Penne with Roasted Asparagus and Balsamic Butter
This recipe made me feel fancy when I first created it.  As an Italian, I knew how to cook pasta in utero.  However, pasta has a very clear definition in an Italian household.  Seeing pasta as anything else is inconceivable.  The simplicity of this dish attracted me to it.  It's the perfect base to start.  This week, we added some shrimp protein.  

The first time we created this one, it was a mess.  The chicken breasts we had were too thick.  We didn't have a meat mallet which requires some creativity with household tools.  (Casey may not be able to do much with a hammer, but he can definitely thin out some meat!)  I made too much of the stuffing and tried to cram it all in.  We faked breadcrumbs by crunching up croutons.  Overall, it was a disastrous kitchen experience - the best kind.  It worked.  

At least the second go around was picture worthy!  A little bit more of spice and some extra Habanero  Pepper Salt from Allspice made this mouthwatering meal.  

I've become quite the good little housewife.  Something I never would have thought I'd say.  My vision of me as a wife did not include standing in a kitchen and slaving away over a hot stove to make dinner. However, that's not what cooking is.  It's Casey and me, conversing, sharing, and engaging. It's so much more than just the food we put on the table.

There is only one rule: No cook Thursdays.

Friday, April 19, 2013

6 Things You Should Know About Planning a Wedding

I'm a countdown girl.  Have been ever since I could count.  In March, I knew how many days it was until my December birthday.  Honestly, it's something I've never really grown out of either.  Right now, I'm in the middle of one of the biggest countdowns ever: to my wedding.  Exactly three months from today, I will be Mrs. Nikki Smith.  I can't even wrap my head around what that means.

The planning stages have had the expected ups and downs.  Thankfully, my organization and planning skills shine through at times like these.  The more there is to juggle, the more I can take on.  In a recent writing activity with my students, I took a moment to reflect on the last four or so months I've been engaged.  So far, this is what I have learned:

6 Things You Should Know About Planning a Wedding

1.    Everything costs at least $1,000.
From flowers to dresses to cakes, you are going to spend $1,000 on each element of the wedding.  Normally, a cake for a party would cost less than $100, but anytime you throw the word “wedding” in front of something, multiply the price by ten.
2.    Everything takes an hour.
There are many planning meetings with different vendors: caterers, photographers, church.  Each meeting will require planning, preparation, and fortuitous notes before you even get there.  It will spur questions you never considered (No, I didn’t think about where my broken family would sit at the church.  They’re adults.  I thought they could figure it out).  You’ll walk out with a yet another list of to-dos.  And there is always a follow up meeting. 
3.    The wedding is not really for you. 
Yes, you are the one getting married to live happily ever after.  That will happen.  However, from the time you get engaged until the day of the wedding, it’s a constant balancing act of trying to meld everyone else’s vision of your day to how you truly see it.
4.    The details will get you.
They told me once the big stuff was booked, it would all fall into place.  They lied.  The smaller details are the more tedious ones.  How do I address the invitations so not to offend anyone?  What color nail polish will the bridal party wear?  Who gets what flowers and where do they go?  Don’t get too obsessed.  These aren’t what your guests came to your wedding to see.
5.    It will come together in the end.
      If, at the end of the day, you’re married to the man you love, it was worth it.  It will be here, and over, before you know it.
6.    You should elope.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Motto

The prevailing excuse for not starting a blog hinged on the title.  How do I start a blog without the perfect title?  It will be my everything.  Set the tone.  Encompass all that I might write.  Be the url for the website. Capture every part of who I am and who I want to be.  Allow for photographs and creativity to shine through with my words.  A lot of pressure on just a few measly little words.  Hence the avoidance.

Last week, it hit me.  The thing I say after I tell or hear a story I can't wait to share it with someone else.  A story that will help define and shape who we will be.

"Well, it makes for good stories."  It is my hashtag.

Sometimes, it's encouragement.  Sometimes, reassurance or a lesson learned.  To me, it's a motto.  Do things in life that make for good stories.

In just a single day, moments for great stories are all around us.  Some may represent the worst part of ourselves.  Others are moments to celebrate.  All offer something real and human for the world.

Perhaps a *working goal* for this blog is to take this idea that everything in life makes for good stories and use it as fuel for writing, sharing, and experiencing with each other.