30 December 2010

End of Year 2010: Books

My book list this year is a bit disappointing for me.  It is quite a bit shorter than last year and it is lacking in quality also.  There were some great ones in there, just not as many of them.  Next year I think I'll try and write a few sentences of my thoughts when I finish each book.  Then I'll be able to share them all at the end of the year.  For this year at least, I'll have to be content with breaking them into three categories...

EXCEEDS: 
Tattoos on the Heart by Greg Boyle
The Power of Boundless Compassion
The Power of Half by Kevin & Hannah Salwen
One Family's Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Healing the World:  The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer
Three Weeks With My Brother by Nicholas Sparks
How Starbucks Saved My Life by Micheal Gates Gill
A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else
Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield
Life and Loss, One Song at a Time 
How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišic 
Brilliant Orange by David Winner
The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
The End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs  (I'm only 1/3 done but I'm loving it.)
Economic Possibilities for Our Time

ACHIEVES:
Moon River and Me by Andy Williams
A Memoir
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
My Losing Season by Pat Conroy
A Memoir
The Christmas Tree by Julie Salamon 
29 Gifts by Cami Walker
How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life
The Balkan Express by Slavenka Drakulić
Fragments From the Other Side of the War 
Rough Guide: Costa Rica
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
Turning Oppression Into Opportunity For Women Worldwide

DOES NOT MEET: 
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
Choosing Civility by P.M. Forni
The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct

Past Lists:  2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

Year-End Listmania

If you need any help in compiling your 'best of' lists, here are a few lists that I checked out the past few weeks...

Paste Magazine: 50 Best Albums
Pitchfork: 100 Best Tracks
You Ain't No Picasso: Top 50 Songs and Top Songs
Pretty Much Amazing: Top 40 Albums and Songs
Stereogum: Top 50 Albums
Grammy Nominees
All Things Go: Top Albums 
Rob Sheffield: Albums Songs (I love the way this guy writes)


and a little non-music fun...
TIME's Top 10 of everything lists
"Quotes", "Underreported Stories",  "Nonfiction Books" are all good, but you've got to watch some of the clips on the "Political Gaffes" list for some good laughs.

29 December 2010

Reading Aloud at Christmas









Hawks Win

Just a quick note of celebration.  Even though I fell asleep sometime around the start of the 4th quarter, the Hawkeyes earned a great upset win last night.  In a game where both defenses were highly touted, Iowa ran over Missouri and Missouri passed at will all over Iowa.  I'm thrilled they came in and played solid and got a win.  Hopefully that will erase some of the frustration of those end of the season 4th quarter losses.  And the off-field distractions. 
Sidenote:  After eleven bowl games here are current standings in the bowl challenge:
middleson - 8, em - 7, kt/stoppable/NTW - 6, the brig/caboose/homebase - 4

Military Spending

I've always smiled when I've seen this bumper sticker.  While less witty, this Nicholas Kristof article is a more well-written, insightful and guiding persuasive commentary along the same lines. 

Christmas

Just a quick recap on the wonderful time spent back home for Christmas.  The forecasted snow never appeared so there would be no cancelled mass or snowed-in situations like last year.  Which is OK by me.  homebase and I hit up Whole Foods on the 23rd, and I think we went a little overboard on the cheeses this year but they were fantastic...such great stuff at that store.  I've been put in charge of coming up with some sort of cheese diary, so we can know next year which to get and which to avoid, so we'll see what I come up with for that.  But the Christmas buffet was super delic and the rating of cheeses added some extra fun.  And a new addition to the Christmas fun, we read "The Christmas Tree" aloud, passing the book around so everyone got a chance to read.  It took about and hour and a half and I think that everyone really enjoyed it.  It was very nice to hear each person's style and voice, especially the kids.  There was lots of game playing, ping-pong matches, and always a little something cooking.  We all closed out the day by watching "It's a Wonderful Life" and I think only three of us made it through without falling asleep.  There was just lots of good together time and it was great.
Day after, homebase and I left the house ~3 in search of "King's Speech" and on our third attempt at the second theater, got our tickets, and really enjoyed it.  Fantastic movie.  And we were able to zip into the Barnes and Nobles next door in the last 15 minutes before it closed and grab a couple hot drinks for the drive home. 
I know this post is a little scattered, but there were just a lot of fun, relaxing experiences...like a fantastic 5 mile run on Christmas Eve morning.  There was just about an inch of snow, just enough to see my tracks.  I went out by our old house, saw lots of nature, and had an excellent run.  And I was able to stop in and see a good friend from high school and spend some time catching up and having some good laughs.
It was a wonderful, warm, relaxing holiday.  I am so lucky to have a fantastic family.  And I shouldn't have eaten so many sweets. 

23 December 2010

ESPN: Roll Tide

Man, ESPN is blowin' up 'Bama this season.  They started the season off with that great behind the scenes look at two-a-days and now this great commercial.  The great part is only a few parts of it are probably exaggerations.

22 December 2010

Santa in Iowa

I am not a fan of the Des Moines Register website, but there is one column that I always try to make a point of reading.  Rekha Basu.   Her son was a senior when I was doing my first year of teaching and that is when I first started reading her column.  She spoke at graduation that year.  I don't always like or agree with her views (although I usually do), but I think it is quality writing with solid thought and feeling behind it.
In the spirit of the season, take a few moments out of your hurried day to read "Yes, Virginia, There's a Santa Right Here in Iowa."
Merry Christmas.

No Diving for Messi

In the face of the ridiculous and disgusting diving that takes place sometimes in soccer, this video warms the heart.  Messi, the best player on the planet, stays on his feet, despite there being plenty of contact, fighting to get free and get by the defender instead of taking the easy way out and flopping.  Enjoy.
[from Soccerblog.com]

21 December 2010

Web Roundup

A run-down of a few interesting things that have caught my eye while sailing on the web...
  • "Sarah Palin is Wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion, and politics" from the Washington Post.  Written by JFK's niece, I thought it was a good piece about the role of faith in politics.
  • "Why Attackers Can't Take Down Amazon."  I thought this gave a brief, comprehendable insight into how Amazon has set up its business & its web platform.  And I like seeing those loser 'Anonymous' hacks run into a challenge too big for them.
  • "The Gifts of Hope." Nicholas Kristof on the NY Times.  I've been searching the web for exactly the types of things he highlights in his article.  Great stuff.  I didn't get my ideas put into practice this year, but people can look forward to some very different Christmas gifts from me next year!
  • And lastly, a website that is in the same vein as Texts From Last Night and FML.  TotalFratMove.  I have no love for Greeks and this is a sometimes humorous look at some reasons why not.  Definitely focusing on the old money, Southern, right-wing blue-blood stereotypes, the comments are hit and miss but the names of the people submitting them are pretty witty. 

19 December 2010

DADT Repeal Passes

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight gives an inside look at how, why and from where the bill to repeal picked up the bipartisan support needed to pass and head to the White House.

Bowl Season

Yesterday kicked off the college football bowl season and with it, the annual family bowl challenge.  Here's a few insights after compiling all our picks:
  • There was only one game that all eight of us were in agreement on.  Miami of Ohio beating Middle Tennessee State.
  • There were a few "one man stands alone" picks. 
    • The brig was the only one to pick UTEP over BYU (sorry, brig!)
    • caboose is the only one to pick Northwestern over Texas Tech
    • I'm the only one picking Mississippi State over Michigan
    • The brig also picked Connecticut over Oklahoma
    • And only me picked Texas A&M over LSU
  •  Games of note:
    • stoppable and emily are the only two to pick all 3 service academies to win.
    • caboose and kt picked against Iowa.
    • caboose, NTW, emily & stoppable all picked against Nebraska.
    • NTW and kt picked against Notre Dame.
    • NTW and the brig were the only two to pick Oregon in the championship game.

16 December 2010

Bob Feller [1918-2010]

The NY Times writes about the legendary Iowa pitcher and the Des Moines Register has a page set up with lots of photos, interviews, and stories. Despite not being much a baseball fan or historian, it is impossible not to be impressed with what Bob Feller achieved.

Taken to the Cleaners?

$39 for 6 pairs of pants.  I didn't ask for dry cleaning so I'm assuming they were just laundered and pressed.  Is this a ridiculous price?  It seems like a lot to me.  I go to Beaver Cleaners (insert crude joke here).
Does anyone have a recommendation for a good, affordable cleaners in Des Moines? 

14 December 2010

Open Courseware

And to follow up those learning culture/well-being posts from last week...
It is great to remember that although the price of a degree continues to inflate, there is SO much higher education material available to anyone...for free!  There are thousands of courses from hundreds of institutions.  And I'm not talking about University of Phoenix or Vitterbo!!  How about MITYaleNotre DameJohns HopkinsUC Berkley?
Too confusing to go online and hunt around for all that?  Then just go to iTunes.  Apple has iTunes U set up so you can browse one site and find offerings from great schools like Stanford, Oxford, Duke and Cornell.
I'd hate to be a hypocrite so I am planning on trying out a course or two next year.
Here's a few titles that caught my eye already, let me know if anyone's interested.  We could have some study sessions!
Catholic Social Teaching (Notre Dame)
Intro to Catholic Moral Theology (Notre Dame)
Intro to Peace Studies (Notre Dame)
Economics of Education (MIT)
Foundations of Development Policy (MIT)
Listening to Music (Yale)
Digital Typography (MIT)
Spanish I (MIT)
Bestsellers: The Memoir (MIT)

13 December 2010

The New Big 10

The Big10 unveiled its new logo, along with the names for the two divisions of teams and some of the conference awards that will be given out.  Check out all the variations of the logos on the Big 10's website.  And they offer their full explanation here.  "Its contemporary collegiate lettering includes an embedded numeral "10" in the word "BIG," which allows fans to see "BIG" and "10" in a single word. Memorable and distinctive, the new logo evolved from the previous logo's use of negative space and is built on the conference's iconic name, without reference to the number of member institutions.  The new logo also provides the flexibility of multiple versions which can be used horizontally, vertically and within new media...We think the new logo is fun and has something for everyone."
Personally, I am lukewarm on it.  I think the font is good and I like that the number 10 was incorporated.  I'm not excited about the color.  It seems kinda of hospital-ish and sterile, but I suppose that is what they were going for so it didn't use any of the member teams colors.  And I don't think I like how the blue square around "ten" makes a thick line between the words, but the white text is open on the ends of the 'T' and 'N'.
Overall, not bad, but I don't think it is as classic & witty as the current logo.  I love that embedded "11"!

12 December 2010

Feeling Good

Here's a few things to get your insides warmed up...
  • Let's start with a little music.  I love the song "Feeling Good."  I was only familiar with the Nina Simone version until I got the Micheal Buble version from Nicole.  Great stuff.
  • Now that you've enjoyed that, how about a little story of strangers stepping forward to support a girl who had been told that who she was was not ok?  I saw the story on TWLOHA and then clicked through to read more on cnn and on the girl's mom's blog.  How great that her school is now having a "Proud to Be Me Day"!!!
  • Follow that with a story of a hard-luck homeless man doing the tough, but right thing when a large amount of money falls in his lap...and is rewarded for it.  I love the quote from one of his friends at the end of the story, "Thanks, man.  You made us all look good."
  • And we'll finish with a mantra you can take with you.  This motto was on a placard on FDR's Oval Office desk and I came across it today and wanted to share.  Read it, think about it and take it with you.  "Let Unconquerable Gladness Dwell."

It's Cold Outside

I think we topped out around twelve degrees today.  Pretty chilly, but we only got a couple inches of snow and the sun's out!  So, although it forced the postponement of our family winter game weekend, it could be worse. My family likes to go and isn't afraid to make a drive if there is fun to be had, but the roads were treacherous and the winds made it pretty awful last night (which is why they closed parts of I-29 and I-80).  So, even though it was a bummer, we made the right decision to call things off.
Since then, I've been trying to enjoy and use all the indoor time this weekend. 
  • Cooking / Eating  
    • Shepherd's Pie - May be the best winter storm food ever.  Leave your thoughts/suggestions in the comments.
    • French Dip sandwiches in the crockpot.  Made the apartment smell delicious.
    • Cranberry-walnut bread baking.  This hasn't happened yet but is planned for tonight.
    • Roasted red pepper & Italian sausage risotto.  Fun to make, tasty, but I thought it could benefit from another flavor.  Maybe some basil or more/stronger cheese.
  • TV Watching
    • "MacGruber".  This was a caboose Netflix selection...and it was the worst thing I've watched since..."Lovely Bones".
    • Got to watch some great Christmas movies..."Love Actually" and "The Holiday".  
    • Heisman trophy presentation.  No surprises there, Cam Newton was in a whole different category this season.  Then watched a '30 for 30' on SMU's problems with pay-to-play infractions in the 80's.  Did anyone else think it was odd scheduling to show that directly following the Heisman after all that's gone on with Cam this fall?
    • Playing a good amount of FIFA10 Soccer with caboose.  We've got Celtic FC flying pretty high this season.
  • Get out whenever possible
    • I did get to take the Jeep out to get its feet wet in the first snow & ice we've seen this year for a couple trips.  YMCA, Chinese food, some coffeeshop time, church, big gulp trips, etc.

09 December 2010

DJK

I don't want to waste a lot of time on this, but it is pretty huge news for Iowa fans. 
It's just a disappointment that an individual who has come up such a tough road to succeed in such a huge way (only player to lead the team in catches for four consecutive years, all-time leader in catches and receiving yards) can make decisions that will negatively impact his future when he's so close to making it.  He's definite been a bit of a question mark or an enigma and it will be interesting to hear how it all pans out for him.  He was a lock to be drafted next spring and now??? 
[And in reading on him I saw that he went to Cardinal Mooney HS in Ohio.  It was mentioned on GameDay a couple weeks ago.  It's the alma mater of the Pelini brothers, the Stoops brothers, and the DeBartelo's that own the 49ers.]

07 December 2010

Promote a Learning Culture

"10+ Ways to Promote a Learning Culture in Your School"

Encouraging and developing a learning culture is critical so when that small spark ignites in a student, it is caught in welcoming tinder and can grow into a flame that will stick around.  Students are very observant and aware of the attitudes and actions of the staff.  If they see and hear that their teachers are still learning, trying new thing, exploring, interested & excited to add to their skill sets, then they will be more apt to do the same.  This is even more needed in those students that may not be seeing that type of activity and attitude in the other adults in their lives. 
Even though I linked the story above, I'm pasting a very abbreviated version of the bulletpoints along with a few of my own comments.  And I don't think this applies only to schools!  
  1. Fill your school(s) with learners.While interviewing prospective employees, ask them to  “Tell me about something that you have learned lately.” “What are you seeking to learn more about right now?”  Also ask how they learned it. To what degree and with what proficiency are they utilizing networks. 
  2. Open your faculty meetings with something that you’ve just learned – and how you learned it.  It does not have to be about school, instruction, education managements, or the latest theories of learning.    Our tech director would do this at tech meetings, it took 5-10 minutes and I loved it.  A great opener. 
  3. Make frequent mention of your Twitter stream, RSS reader, specific blogs you read.  Again, this should not be limited to job specific topics.  I feel that this is huge.  I made a point of sharing mine at the last PD session I gave.  There is SO much great information out there, we need to be tapping into it.
  4. Share links to specific TED talks or other mini-lectures by interesting and smart people.  Then share and ask for reactions during faculty meetings, in the halls, or during casual conversations with employees and parents.  The follow-up is a key part on this.  If you are going to send out a talk or video, ask me about it later.  It will make for much better conversation than 'how's the weather/basketball team/ready for break?' the next time we cross paths.
  5. Include in the daily announcements, something new and interesting (Did you know that a California power utility has just gotten permission to sell electricity from outer space?)
  6. Ask students in the halls what they’ve just learned and how they learned it, and if they would mind writing something up about it for the school web site.  I love any chance to start a conversation with a student, unrelated to the current subject but focused on learning, self-improvement, etc.  I always try to comment on what they're reading if they have a book sitting out in view, or bring up an school paper article they wrote or were quoted in, etc. 
  7. Plant around the school and especially in the library curious questions that might spark a desire in learners. We have a captive audience so we should use all the available wall space we can.  
  8. Ask teachers and other staff to write reports on their latest vacation, sharing what they learned – and publish them on the school web site.  I don't know about the school website, but we should be sharing life experiences whenever it would be interesting/relevant.  And we definitely should be doing a better job of highlighting individuals that are doing cool, good things.
  9. Ask teachers to devote one of their classroom bulletin boards to what they are learning, related or unrelated to the classroom.  Love it
  10. Talk about the role of research in learning and encourage learners and teachers to engage in independent research on topics of personal interest.  Persuade some to submit, for the school web site, multimedia reports about what they’ve learned and how they learned it..
  11. Learn what the parents of your students are passionately learning about, and ask them to report (text, video, Skype conversation, or in person to be recorded).  This would be good to hear more about what is being talked about at home.  Not certain how best to open up these lines of communication.
  12. Plant a mystery in your school with hidden clues that require further research on the part of learners.  I read another blog that talked about putting up QR codes in hallways just to see if students would scan them or ask what they are.
  13. Find ways to be playful at your school — and perhaps feel less grown-up.  Yes please.  Make it a more enjoyable place, not crazy, not inappropriate, but yes, more fun.  Let kids know you enjoy your job.

05 December 2010

Irish are National Champions

I just happened to see that NCAA Women's Soccer final was on this morning and it paired Notre Dame (ranked #7) with Stanford (#1).  It was a good match to watch (not always the case for women's soccer) with both teams going off the woodwork in the first half and the Irish getting the lone goal in the second half.  They have a stellar group of freshmen on the Irish team from Texas that have been playing club soccer together since 6th grade.  ND beat four teams ranked higher than them en route to the title, but the coach stated after the game, "I don't want people to think this was an upset today.  I think throughout the tournament we were the best team in the country, and I hope we get credit for that."  It is the third national championship ('04, '95) for the Irish, who've been to the final four the last five years straight.

TED Talk: Nic Marks

"The Happy Planet Index."  caboose, homebase and I watched this presentation together while we were home for Thanksgiving.  He is a statstician and presents on a topic he has worked on extensively at the New Economics Foundation (whose motto is "Economics as if people and the planet mattered).  The proper way to measure and compare economies, countries and eras in history are always a topic of discussion in economics.  GDP and GDP per capita are the most commonly sited metrics, but there are lots of article out there about devising a "Happiness Quotient", that try and measure the overall happiness of a population instead of just how much measurable goods and services they can produce.  Mr. Marks includes also data on effecient use of the planet's resources. 
He boils things down to his "Five Ways to Well-Being" and I really liked these.  Nothing really revolutionary, but I completely agree with each of them.  And I'm going to try and improve a little in each of the areas:
  • CONNECT - "With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day."
  • BE ACTIVE - "Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness."
  • TAKE NOTICE - "Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you."
  • KEEP LEARNING - "Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favourite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun."
  • GIVE- "Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you."

No Room At the Inn

Saturday started off cold and windy, with windchills in the single digits.  Perfect weather for a 4 mile trail run, I guess!  The route was very run, along the river and weaving through the woods.  I've decided that I really like trail runs and will be looking for more of them to do next year.  Nic and I did this one in 33 minutes and change, not really pushing the pace, just enjoying ourselves and the last mile or so we followed a dad and his 9 year old daughter.  She was a beast and he did a great job of encouraging & supporting without pushing.  
Afterwards, we went downtown and checked out the "No Room at the Inn" exhibit at the Diocese of Des Moines.  They had a display of 300+ nativity sets that I thought would be cool to see.  And it was; it had a huge variety.  From big to very small, African, Asian, South American, and from pretty much every material you could think of and a few you wouldn't expect (rolled newspaper, butter carving by the Iowa State Fair lady, etc).  Check out some pictures on my flickr.  The most creepy/hilarious award goes to this nativity scene depicted with cats.  Not sure how that one got the OK to be included.  Two or three families donated probably 90% of them and as we were checking them out, a guy who turned out to be one of the donors sidles up beside me and leans in and says, "The guy in the crib is Jesus."  To which I just bust out laughing, I love that dry humor.

02 December 2010

High School Logos

Last weekend, the NY Times ran an article titled "Colleges Tell High Schools Logos Are Off-limits".  I've always loved learning and comparing all the different logos and mascots of high schools.  (See this post).  I have never been a fan of high schools using a college's logo mainly just because of the lack of individuality.  I like a unique identity that is developed and spread and recognizable as that school, not possibly mistaken for some university of the other side of the country.  Also, if colleges start to try and squash this problem I'm not sure how you determine where to stop because the problem is widespread.  Do only the popular high schools with successful teams or strong web-presences get punished?  Some people argue that a huge D-I university shouldn't worry about a tiny Class A school in rural Iowa using their logos, but if they allow it, they are opening the flood-gates for anyone to come along and use it.  They've spent huge sums to create, market and protect their image, and regardless of the size of the infringement, they have to be strict with it.  In most of the stories I've seen the college is flexible in the phasing out of the old logo.  Sidenote:  how fun would that be to design the logo and come up with the merchandising and marketing plan for a school!?!
This isn't an exhaustive list but after I came across this website of Iowa high school helmets and I couldn't stop and had to add a few more:
Waukee - used the Wisconsin style "W" (until Wisconsin made them alter it in '06)
Urbandale - uses the Miami style "U"
Dowling Catholic - uses the Notre Dame Fighting Irish leprechaun
Hoover - uses the style and font of the Nebraska "Huskers" for their "Huskies"
Carlisle, Humboldt, and CR Kennedy - use the Kansas State Wildcat logo
West Bend Mallard - uses the Michigan Wolverine helmet design
Graettinger/Terril - uses the Georgia Tech logo 
Newton - uses the Arizona Cardinals logo
Muscantine and Waukon - use the Florida State logo
Decorah/North Winnishiek - use the Minnesota Vikings logo
Gilbert - uses the Georgia logo
Aplington-Parkersburg - uses the Atlanta Falcons logo
Northeast Goose Lake - uses the Nortwestern logo
Iowa City, City High - uses the Iowa tiger hawk logo
(This article shares that Iowa sends roughly a dozen letters a year to schools regarding logo infringement.)

World Cup Announcement

FIFA announced this morning which countries were the winners in the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup championships.
RUSSIA AND QATAR.  
Now, I'm all for developing the global game and spreading the wealth around.  Look how well things went in South Africa!  But, seriously...Qatar!  Their national team is ranked 114th in the world.  The bidding process (like pretty much everything FIFA does) was scrutinized after allegations of kickbacks and bribing of voters came out. 
The USA misses out with their bid in for the 2022 event.  This will be the first time the World Cup has been held in Eastern Europe as well as the Middle East.  And it means at least 20 years will pass between Western European hosted Cups.
You can watch the full final presentation for Russia and Qatar and make your own mind up.  They are a half-hour long each so I'll have to wait until I get home to see if they make me feel any better.
[found this column by Nate Silver about the announcement.  Good analysis.]

01 December 2010

Turkey-Induced Slowdown?

Whew, it has been a while!!  Here's what's been up...
  • Black Friday.  A great day as always.  I'm not overly materialistic but I do like shopping and this is honestly one of my favorite days of the year.  Getting up super early.  Driving to Omaha listening to Christmas music for the first time.  Target, seeing what everyone else is putting in their carts.  The Mall, checking out all the fun deals and markdowns (50% everything in the store at GAP this year!).  Starbucks breaks.  A fun lunch get together with the stoppable and family.  Afternoon relaxing at the bookstore.  Bringing all the packages in at night and recapping what all we got.  Putting up the tree and decorations.  This year was great and caboose came along too for a fun change.  
  • Driving back to DSM while listening to the Iowa game.  I love having a game on during that 2 hour drive.  Unfortunately the Hawkeyes continue their new trend of total letdowns in the 4th quarter.  BUT Notre Dame continued its recent trend of surprising people by beating USC for the first time in 9 years.  Go Irish!!!  If you didn't see the highlights, the ending was pretty heart-stopping.  I loved these two quotes after the game, "'We had the luck of the Irish and God on our side on that one.'' WR Michael Floyd.  And from the DB who slipped on that key play, "I'm glad I said my prayers."
  • Monday, caboose's bday!!  Woo hoo!  For the pizza party, I made a fruit pizza and when I called homebase, she had just came across this recipe and it turned out great.  I was super happy with it.  Pictures in flickr. There was a Thai peanut chicken pizza, a bleu buffalo chicken pizza and a pepperoni mozzarella pizza.  Well done everyone, those were some tasty pies!
  • Tuesday was my last day in the classroom.  I definitely was not a fan of how the whole situation was handled and it is never easy teaching someone else's classes, but I undoubtedly enjoyed being back at the school I taught in my first year.  It was fun to be back working with students and in that high school environment.  So it was a little happy but also a little sad when the teacher returned and has now taken over her classes.  It was a good two-month reminder that I enjoy being in the classroom.
  • The last couple episodes of GLEE seem to have reminded me of the first season and are more of what I liked about the show.  Good stuff lately.  The full album #4 came out yesterday and I can't wait to start listening to it!  I've given the Christmas album a few listens and "We Need a Little Christmas" is a lot of fun and Rachel singing "O Holy Night" is pretty fantastic.  
  • The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show!  Yes, the angels are incredible but also it is such a fun production, I look forward to it every year.  It looks like such a fun party!  I want to go!