Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Sackett Family Vacation

Hey! Now it’s June 24 (No, seriously. Why don’t you believe me?)

This week was interesting. Work was terrible, but family came to cheer me up. (Lynn, how did you manage to hide from all my pictures?)

Why was work crazy? One of my students was in a class with a substitute and she started fighting with a classmate. The sub, afraid for the girl being attacked, tried to break it up just as the attacker lunged with a pen in her hand. As a result, he was accidentally stabbed in the face. Yes, my boss felt I couldn’t control that class well enough. She claimed I was the only one who had trouble with them. Well, when she went in to break it up, some kids who weren’t even in the fight cursed her out. Hmm…just me, huh? Interesting.

What’s more, this was the week when the eight graders found out whether they were going to graduate. Then it was up to the teachers to deal with the fall out. They then put all the non-passing boys in one room and the non-passing girls in another while the lucky teachers helped with rehearsal. I was one of the lucky ones. I was with the kids, watching the kids sing and dance. I also proudly watched Jason, one of my homeroom kids from last year, practice his valedictorian speech. I even got a little misty. Meanwhile in the not-graduating room, someone punched out a window. Another window was punched out down the hall. Oops.

I also found out I was being given a U rating for the year. I had to go to the union office in the Bronx to grieve the rating. They made me feel much better about the whole situation, because I gave them my rating sheet and discussed the reasons I was given. They assured me it would most likely be overturned. The only problem is, they might not get to my case before I move.

It was nice, then, to have a visit from family members to cheer me up. My cousins, Karen, Lynn, Connor and Hannah Sackett, drove to New York. They arrived on Tuesday and called me that evening. I stopped packing and walked over to their hotel just a dozen or so miles away. Marrakesh Hotel was a Moroccan-themed converted hostel. It was very cool. After hugs, we walked over to Mill Korean for Bulgogi and Bimbimbab cooked in hot stone pots. Hannah, who is usually more comfortable with chicken fingers, found some suit and sour pork that she enjoyed. It was a fun meal. On the way back, we walked by the cathedral of St. John the Devine and the crazy Peace Fountain (the one with St. Michael and the giraffes an the devil and the giant crab).

The next day, they went to various tourist sites, including Hannah’s beloved American Girl Place. Then they went to see Mary Poppins on Broadway. I was so happy they did, because a trip to New York is not complete without going to a Broadway show.

Then next day I called in sick to work so I could spend the day with them. I’ve never played hooky before, and I informed my cousins that they aren’t allowed to play hooky until they turn 27. Hannah’s request for the day was to see the Alice in Wonderland sculpture, which I had mentioned to her a year before. (“Be careful what you say to her,” Karen warned, “Apparently she remembers everything you say.”) Connor wanted to go to the top of the Empire State Building.

I started us out in Central Park at Strawberry Fields (see photo above). An artist was arranging flowers on the memorial, as John Lennon’s fans often do. Then we explored down to the Bethesda Fountain.

We walked all the way across the park, stopping at the Hans Christian Anderson sculpture (See the two photos-one before Connor bonked his head on Hans' nose, and one after) before heading over to see Alice.

Children love the sculpture (well, adults do, too, but it's designed for kids). It’s built with hidden steps to help children climb. I was tempted to do so, as well. Connnor and Hannah clamber over it for a while and their parents and I snapped some photos.

As we left the park, we found ourselves near the Metropolitan Museum of Art. We made our way inside, where we looked at the Egyptian exhibit, the new Greek and Roman hall and then sought out Hannah’s favorite, Degas’ Ballerinas. Then it was lunch time. I took them over to Blockhead’s Burritos. It is a Mexican restaurant with a SOCK MONKEY THEME. It was close, reasonably priced, the menu had something for everyone and I thought they would get a kick out of the d├ęcor.

We all went to our various homes for a quick rest. Then we went down to the Empire State Building. Hannah was afraid of heights, but she informed me, “New York is the place for trying new things.” I was impressed by her adventurousness. Karen killed me, though, as we stood in like. She started telling stories of times in the past when heights scared Hannah. “Don’t bring it up now!” I exclaimed.

Finally we made it through the line an up the first elevator. Then we found ourselves in this dumpy room. “This isn’t it, right?” we asked each other. But then we realized there was a second elevator we were in line for. Then someone announce we could skip the line if we wanted to take the stairs the last eight flights or so. We decided we were game, though soon found ourselves huffing and puffing a bit. When we stepped out onto the observation deck, I realized I had made the mistake of wearing a flippy skirt! I’d been holding hands with Hannah, and she helped me gather the folds of my skirt and hold on to it to keep my modesty covered. Meanwhile, Connor and Lynn went all the way to the top and got the best view the city has to offer. Hannah found she was not at all afraid as she looked out over the city.

Just as we were heading to the subway, it began to rain. We went to Zoma, the Ethiopian restaurant a block from my apartment. Tom joined us. Tom, Lynn and Connor bonded a bit over baseball and Tae Kwon Do. We ordered a few mixed platters. A variety of small mounds of lamb and chicken in different sauces were arranged on a plate of spongy bread. Then each person was given some more spongy bread, which they ripped up and used as a scoop or a pincher to grab the food they wanted to try. This meal was not as much to Hannah’s liking as the Korean food, but she tried it and was a great sport. I just wanted my family to get an interest new dining experience. I was thrilled at how eager they were to try new things, and I think Karen, Lynn and Connor really liked it.

Then we said goodbye in the rain as they headed back to their hotel. They were off to Niagra Falls before driving back to Iowa. It was so nice to see Karen, who has been like a big sister to me since I was little; Lynn, who’s been an amazing brother-in-law; and Connor and Hannah, the best little siblings a girl could pick.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dead Men Dreaming

Well, now it is totally June 17, and I am completely not backdating this entry, either. It was a busy week at work, which included turning in grades. Friday I went out with my girls as usual. Saturday was another Bocce match. Rolling Thunder was triumphant once again. Then Tom and I had to go get ready for his brothers’ concert.

Tom’s brothers, Rich and Paul, are in a metal band called Dead Men Dreaming. They’re pretty popular and managed to land a concert at the Blender Theater. While walking to the theater, we saw the fanciest Home Depot ever, so I had to get a picture. Tom and I got to the Blender Theater early, snapped a photo of the Marquis, then went next door for pizza.

Rich found us there. He was trying to play it cool, but he was obviously psyched for their dressing room, nice bathroom, photo shoot and free supply of Guiness. Paulie caught up with us, and was quite amped, as well.

While they were setting up, Tom and I went for a walk to Madison Square Park, where we saw these amazing life-sized metal sculptures of trees, so I had some more photography fun.

Next was the concert, where I made a slight mistake. Earlier in the day I took a Benadryl for sinus pain…which I forgot when Tom asked me, “Do you want a drink?” I had some ridiculous girly drink, which the bartender mixed a bit strong…and which should not have been combined with antihistamines. Seriously. I was asleep on my feet…at a heavy metal concert!

Tom’s brothers were pretty good, and hopefully people thought my head was nodding in time to the music, as opposed to me nodding off. I was only caught twice, once by a concerned woman who probably thought I was passing out or overdosing from heavy drug use and once after the concert by Tom’s family, who were amused. I had to go home early. Just a reminder, folks: read the warning labels on medications and act accordingly.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rolling Thunder, continued.

After the match, we went to Dom and Tori’s house to hang out for a while. Somehow the guys ended up dancing, and somehow (beer?) Dom ended up dropping trou.

Soon we girls piled into a car to drive to a party. The guys walked. I have no idea whose party it was, but they had an amazing apartment. Their air conditioner, however, was no match for the number of guests it was trying to cool. We went back and forth from the apartment to the front stoop to cool off.

At one point, the girls and I were sitting on the floor, chatting. Then Tom walked up behind me. On a whim, I grabbed his leg and said, “Check it out: Black Snake Moan.” Or any of those movie posters where the girl grabs the guy’s leg for that matter. Britt thought it was so funny she snapped a picture, which Tom has subsequently made his Facebook picture. Sigh.

The evening ended with people doing silly dances. I did the Roger Rabbit for the crowd and Becker did the Worm. Heee. Then we all went home for some much needed rest.

Operation Rolling Thunder

Of course it is still June. It is Sunday, June 10 and I am updating my blog on cue. I am not at all writing this at a later date and pretending it is timely.

Right after writing my last entry, I had to meet up with Tom to get my cell phone charger (I left it at his place). He was downtown running his high school’s prom, and looked quite cute in his tux. Then I went up to the Bronx. I needed to spend the night at the apartment of a coworker, Rebecca. You see, Thursday (June 7) was a clerical day, and my employers (in their infinite wisdom) decided to hold it at a hotel in Long Island, which is very far away. Rebecca offered me a ride.

Rebecca is an awesome girl. We have so much in common (especially a love of musical theater and old-fashioned hat—of which she has a collection I covet), and I wish we’d hung out more. It was mostly a matter of timing and geography. Our lunches and preps were different periods. Her room was at one end of the building and mine was at the other. She lives way up in the Bronx and hangs out on City Island on the weekend. I live in Harlem and hang out in Manhattan (especially the Village). So not so much with the hanging out. Anyway, we chatted and had a glass of wine and watched How to Marry a Millionaire before we turned in.

The next day we zoomed off to a long day of curriculum mapping. That’s when you schedule all the major stuff you’ll teach in a year. I found it incredibly frustrating, because they made us spend a ton of time on mapping last year and then didn’t let us follow the maps. So I grinned and bore it. After work I went to Tom’s and we went our for Mexican food at a rooftop restaurant. It was delicious and rooftoppy.

Friday I…did stuff? I went to work and then met up with my friends at Valhalla. I showed my camera off to Laura, Madrid, Jenny and Irene. Then I met up with Tom. Saturday was the first Bocce game for Tom and his friends. They’ve joined a league. Their team name is Rolling Thunder, and they’re pretty good.

Oh, first I should explain Bocce. It is a bowling-ish game traditionally played outdoors by old Italian men. In this case it is played in a bar (Union Hall) by twenty- and thirty- somethings on indoor lanes (made of clay, I think?). The game requires one small white ball; and eight larger, heavier balls (four of one color, four of another). Someone rolls the white ball, the paulino. Then the two teams take turns trying to roll their colored balls as close to the paulino as possible. The team that has the closest ball counts how many balls they have closer than the other team’s balls. As many rounds as necessary are played until one team gets seven total points. The team that gets seven wins the game, and there are three games in a match. Ta-da! I hope that’s not too confusing.

Here’s a roll-call of the members of team Rolling Thunder (I’ve mentioned a lot of these people before, but I don’t think I’ve ever broken it down like this):

Dom went to high school with Tom and is currently in law school at NYU. He is a fierce competitor at darts, bocce, Trivial Pursuit…everything really. He is a stickler for the rules. See the photo at left where he is measuring to see which team's ball is closer. Why no, I did not PhotoShop in extra hair at his request. Why do you ask? Dom is married to Tori.

Tori does something having to do with advertising for MTV. She got in to the group because she used to be roomies with Tom’s BFF, Debra, who also went to Stuyvesant High School with Dom and Tom. She is an awesome singer and is so cool that I’ve decided she is having my babies.

Becker (technically Adam, but he swears even his mother calls him Becker) has a financial-type job at Wachovia. Becker is a truly hilarious young man. He owns a cat name Uncle Walter, and a family crest tattooed on his thigh. Becker went to high school with Mike.

Mike does something…e-mailish? for the New York Times. He is married to Britt. He got in the group because he and Dom were roomies.

Britt is originally from Iowa, and although she does not mind her home state, she does not have the same level of affection for the place that I do. She met Mike when they were in college at Penn State.

Afton, Britt’s sister, doesn’t seem to love Iowa as much as I do, either. She does something…education-y with children. Yeah, I think I should ask her about that next time I see her. Afton and Britt have such and awesome sisterly relationship that I once amused them by involuntarily exclaiming, “No fair. I want a sister!” (No offense, honorary sisters.)

Chris also does…something at the Times. That’s how he met Mike and joined the group. He has an incredibly full and lustrous beard. I first met him at a Halloween party where he was doing a really convincing (though very tall) impersonation of a lawn gnome.

Chris was roomies with Danno. Danno used to be a bartender, but his friends helped him get a job with the Times and he seems so much happier.

Okay, I think that’s everyone. There are so many team members so the team can keep going even if someone has Saturday plans. They won their first match, and I had fun cheering them on.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Friday I posted after settling up my credit card bill. For once, I stayed in on a Friday night, tidying up my room, doing my dishes, taking a bath and all that excitement.

The next day I got together with Tom. We ran to Best Buy where he purchased some video cassettes (to tape a lesson to complete his certification) and I bought a new digital camera!

My old one was getting crankier and crankier, and the resolution was such that with any digital adjustments, the pictures looked great on the computer but the prints came out all pixelated. To my non-computery readers, let me explain: old camera = bad photo prints. Also, its disk was having errors, and I couldn't find a replacement.

So Best Buy had a nice little digital camera on sale, so I snapped it up. The software is driving me nuts, but I LOVE MY CAMERA! Then we went to a famous Brooklyn spot, L & B Spumoni Gardens. I got crema, he got pistachio, and it turns out pistachio is DELICIOUS. Green nuts are yummy. Who knew?

We went back to his place to pick up tickets to a modern dance recital his students were putting on at John Dewey High in Coney Island, Brooklyn. I pestered him, trying out my camera. He tried not to look annoyed. Then we hopped in the car, drove to Sahara's for some Mediterranean food (Tom drank some crazy coffee that left a giant lump in his cup -- see photo) and then we went to Dewey. I stood around awkwardly while he chatted with his coworkers. About 15 minutes later, he stuttered, "Oh, I'm really rude!" and finally introduced me. They were a funny bunch of people, teasing and laughing.

The show itself was amazing (Note: the picture at left is not from the show. It was the best modern dance picture I could quickly find online that wasn't full of...well, white people.). I liked the costumes and the choreography (although once in a while the choreographer went for "Ooh, this is challenging" over "This hits the right emotional cord"). However, the second dancer was so moving she made me cry. I think I managed to swipe away all the tears without getting caught. Some acts had so much energy, it was hard to stay in your seat. "I told you," Tom said, "I wouldn't have had you come if it wasn't good."

Sunday was about groceries and such, and during the work week I learned that my test scores weren't enough to appease my boss after all. Now I may have to go through the drama of filing grievances with the union. IT'S ALL SO EXHAUSTING!

Friday, June 01, 2007

Who rules? ME!

Why am I so triumphant? I am now, officially, out of credit card debt! Oh, I still have a touch of parental debt and a load of student loan debt, but credit card debt? No, sir!

You see, as a teacher you get paid more with a master's degree. A long while back I applied for the salary differential, and this paycheck the retroactive pay came in. Hooray! Together with my regular pay and the money already in my checking, I had enough to pay off my credit card, pay my rent and have enough left to make it to my next paycheck...with which I will only have to pay for my cell phone and my student loan.

I know I need to set aside enough money for 1-renting a car to take my stuff to Virginia, 2- a hotel room when we get there (Mom volunteered to help), 3- the storage facility for my stuff, 4- first month's rent, last month's rent and deposit on a new apartment, 5-plane tickets to Iowa, and perhaps 6- plane tickets to scout out Virginia sometime this month (in which case that's technically #1 and the other purchases move one number higher). Six is iffy because I could take a shuttle bus to Virginia ($60 round trip), but this is kind of a stressfull time, so I'd have to weigh the money savings of the bus vs. the saved time and hassle reduction of a plane.

Wait, what was my point? Oh, yeah. I have to watch my pennies or I'll quickly have credit card debt again. (Ah, but it would be new, exciting credit card debt!) I want to pay my parents back, but I feel like if I do that now, I'll just end up having to take another loan. Grad school won't be cheap, and I haven't figured out the college loan situation yet. My education for the next three years will basically be free if ODU follows through on its promises, but that still leaves things like food, rent, and transportation. I want to get a part-time job, too, but how much will that offset the cost of living? On the other hand, why should my parents suffer just because I've made an expensive life choice?

Why should I, at 27, depend on them financially? My parents don't begrudge me the money. They're even helping me get a car (possibly at auction) because they're pretty much required in Virginia. But on the other hand, Dad needs a hearing aid from his years of driving noisy tractors, and they can't afford it because the aids cost $1,500 (his insurance doesn't think his hearing is bad enough yet for him to get the hearing aid...or they wanted to get him a conspicuous, ugly one? I don't remember which). If I paid them back, they could get the hearing aid. Well, I'm going to keep trying.

This makes it so tempting to stay teaching. I'm paying down my debts. Next year, after my first day of teaching I'd have tenure. (Tricky, huh? You get it after the first day of your fourth year.) I could pay back my parents, pay off my student loans, have a few month's pay in my savings account, just in case, they way they say you're supposed to. I could in stocks or something? I could continue to put money into my retirement account. In short, I could be a financially responsible grown-up. I might even have enough left over for travel, or cute clothes!

Too bad my current teaching job is sucking out my soul and making me dislike myself. It's possible at another middle or high school I'd feel differently, but maybe not. Besides, all my friends are struggling to find jobs elsewhere, and for one reason or another it hasn't been working out. They're so depressed about it. I don't blame them. I just couldn't be trapped at that school for one more year.

Oh, whoops. I lost my triumphant train of thought. I called one of my credit card companies and asked them to reduce my APR. They did, by one percent. I'd been hoping for more, but that's a start. I'm waiting to hear back from my other credit card company. Hooray! Suze Orman would be so proud! Here's hoping I can continue to live life to the fullest while still living within my means.