Saturday, January 29, 2011

This Week.

Finals happened this week.  I learned that I will always be giving my finals 1 week before the rest of the finals.  End of discussion.

My students are... animated... to say the least.  They are dramatic to the extreme.  But most of them never cross the line.  They might swear at each other, but if I hear them, they apologize to me  (which is funny - they yell f-you to someone else, but apologize to me).  They might roll their eyes when I ask them to put their phone away in school AGAIN, complain when I give them work to do on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or any day, or yell "I'm not late" when I ask them to sign the tardy sheet... but that's about as rude as it gets.  Until this week.  I took a student's iPod after repeatedly asking him to put it away and repeatedly he took it back out again.  The school's policy is that a parent has to pick up the electronic device on Friday between 3 and 5.  The policy sucks but it is what it is.  It's meant to motivate students to not use them in class - they do what they want anyway.  So, I took this kids iPod.  When he asked for it after class, I said his parents could pick it up Friday.  He started talking about how ridiculous that was.  I calmly stated "that's the policy. it's not up for discussion."  he then proceeded to storm out.  (There were other students in the room...) Not just storm out, but push every desk over on his way out while screaming profanity that I refuse to repeat or write down.  Let's just say - think of every cuss word you've ever heard and combine them in one sentence.  Yep, that was me.  I said (again, calmly), okay I'll go ahead and add that to the write up.  His response: "yeah, you do that B***"

He came back 2 hours later to apologize.  "Uh, Ms. Cook, I'm really sorry about earlier.  I'm not usually that disrespectful.  My friend was shot this morning and I was pissed and taking out my anger on you.  I'm sorry."

The situation was confirmed when I ran into my assistant principal who asked if Brian apologized to me yet.  I said, "yes how'd you know."  "Oh, he's my little project.  I love that kid and he has a lot to deal with.  He's got some tough stuff and is working on managing anger in a healthy way - which is not what he's learned in life so far.  He has a lot of potential.  He came to me frantically explaining he had exploded on his music teacher and felt terrible and didn't know what to do. I told him 'boy, you gonna march back down there and apologize to that lady.'"    And that was the end of that.  He still picked up his iPod friday.

Not 5 minutes after Brian stormed out screaming profanity, I met Jamequa (*name changed*).  A student that I have a good relationship with brought her to me.  The student that is in my class explained her friend had a problem and that she trusted me and Jamequa needed help.  I then learned that Jamequa's uncle had been raping her since she was 7.  Yeah, that's how I felt too - shocked.  Tears started streaming down my face.  I wasn't qualified to handle this.  I called DCFS for the first time as a teacher.  Hopefully, this will not be a common occasion.  Long story short, Jamequa told the DCFS investigator she made up the whole thing.  I still don't know if it's true.  The story changes a lot.  Either way - true or not- this precious 16 year old girl needs a lot of help.  Bottom line - she needs the saving grace and hope found only in Jesus Christ.

My 1st period seniors did so terribly on their final (which I graded towards the end of the week) I started crying.  Probably the tears were a result of the entire week.  But, I was so disappointed.  They didn't even try - most of them didn't do the review guides.  Most of them skipped the essay.  Just skipped it.  I'm realizing the low academic standard that most of these students have been held to throughout their education and they have created terrible habits.  I could go on and on about this, but mostly, I am just relying on the Lord for wisdom - how do I continue to hold high expectations and teach them in a way that helps them see they can reach them.

After a ridiculous week, Friday was the BEST!  The students had off - professional development day.  So, I went to Kelly HS, where I student taught, and watched their advanced choir rehearse.  Their top choir has rehearsals on every professional development day - the students come in from 8-12.  Amazing.  The guy I worked with there has built the best neighborhood high school choir program in CPS, no doubt about it.  His group performs the quality of literature that most of the suburban schools attempt (where all the students take private lessons) and competes with the best of the best fine arts schools in the city.  Yesterday, they sang in Russian, French, German, Slovak, English, Spanish, and Chinese.  Wow.  I was so encouraged.  (And it only took him 4-5 years!)  His students have become sweet, hard working.  They care for each other, they practice their parts, they help each other out...   He spent the afternoon giving me advice and answering my questions.  How do I get the beginners to sing more?  How do I cultivate appreciation for choral music?  How do I .... How do I .... How do I...

Bottom line - teach to the best.  Move forward with the best kids and many more, who see their success, will pick it up.  There will be some in every class who don't care and don't want to and never will.  And you can't bring the entire class down with them.  You have to move forward.  That is my goal for 2nd semester.

When I explained I don't really have a budget - we have no money in our music department - he said, "Make a list of what you want and we'll buy it for you.  We have the money."  I could have cried (which, as we've established, isn't saying much this week since it was an emotional roller coaster).  The best part was connecting with another music teacher (2 actually) in another school where the choir program is working.  I often feel isolated at work.  The Lord brought this along and I am so thankful to him.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Heavenly Father, who is unchanging."  (James 1:17)

Thankful for the end of this week and for a fresh start,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Charles Payne

Ben and I heard Charles Payne speak this week.  He is currently a professor at the University of Chicago and has been studying education reform for many years.  I'm currently reading one of his books, So Much Reform, So Little Change.

He some interesting points to make about the current discourse on public school reforms.  (I'll just give you what he said and try to leave out my opinions.) 

  • He didn't spend much time talking about teacher's unions.  (Thank goodness!)  He pointed out that teachers unions take up too much time in these sorts of discussions.  His bottom line: they're not going away, unions are necessary in some way, and the fact that they have too much power is not the MAIN reason our schools are failing minority students. 
  • Reformers tend to come up with great ideas based on removing one component (principal, curriculum, program, etc...) and replacing it with something better.  The problem with this is that it does not consider the social and political entity into which the reform is being placed.  Failing urban schools often have a demoralized culture - one defined by mistrust and failure.
  • Even if we can get good teachers in an urban school, the lack of support and resources make it nearly impossible to keep them there.  For example, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has a 50% teacher turnover rate every 4 years.  Reformers should place more energy into figuring out ways to develop and support teachers.
  • In New York, the mayor literally took human and financial resources from wealthy schools and put them in poor schools.  Payne did not think this was humanly or politically possible until Bloomberg successfully reallocated these resources in New York.  (And guess what?  The wealthy schools didn't suffer at all.)
  • He said Waiting for Superman has one of the worsts lines in the history of American film regarding the idea that giving money and resources to poor schools doesn't work, therefore charter schools are the only solution.  He said something along the lines of "you can't tell me resources don't work when Evanston spends 22,000 per year per child and Chicago spends 6,000-8,000.  There is a difference."  
  • He pointed out that some charter schools do amazing wonders for children, but the majority aren't doing anything radical.  
  • The best alternative we've seen for public schools, especially for black male children, are Catholic schools... they do the fundamentals well.
  • He discussed the different Chicago mayoral candidates' goals for CPS.  One comment he made was about Rahm Emmanuel's idea of engaging parents by "calling on all parents to commit to help their child succeed by entering into a signed agreement with the teacher that outlines clear expectations for how they will help their child outside of the classroom." He said asking parents to enter into a signed agreement seems superior and demeaning.  He said he'd like to ask Rahm, what would make you personally disconnect from your child's education?  If Rahm were able to honestly answer that question, he might have a better idea of what CPS needs to do to reach parents of minority children in poor, failing schools.  This was just one of his comments about he mayoral candidates.
  • He said teacher training programs should have students spending more time in the classroom, beginning with their first education class and that they should stay in contact with their graduates, supporting them for several years into their teaching career.
 Those are just a few of the points he made.  Perhaps, more to come after I finish his book.

Monday, January 17, 2011

B Rob Visits

Ben's long time friend, Brian Robinson (aka: B.Rob) came to visit this weekend.  We ate at Portillo's late Saturday night, a must have for visiters in our opinion.  Sunday - church at Moody, bears game with home made chili, R & R with old school nintendo and wii.  Monday - sleep in, see the downtown sites, signature lounge (living the high life... hehehe), Harold's Chicken Shack (famous south side fried chicken dive).  I wasn't the best at taking pictures all weekend, but here's a few...

outside the federal prison downtown

immature? yep...

B. Rob's first cup of dunkin... they don't have it in Nebraska.  1 point for Chicago ;)

our view from the signature room lounge.

Thanks for visiting, B. Rob! 

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If you want a different outcome... things differently.

I recently read that on a blog about test prep.  The author (who is a teacher) says she often reminds her students that if they want different results on tests (i.e. final exams), they need to do things differently.  Simple, but brilliant.  I am going to start reminding my students of this.  I'm not a big lecturer in the classroom.  In fact, I don't think I've lectured my students on anything longer than 30 seconds so far.  (I guess, I figure that no teenager was ever radically transformed in their thinking through hearing someone lecture at them.)  However, "if you want a different grade, do things differently" doesn't count as a lecture, right?  The kids who want to know more will ask.

The pastor at the church I grew up in defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Here's to a year of not practicing insanity,

Busy busy busy.

A friend and I are currently reading the book Falling in Love with Jesus (by Dee Brestin and Kathy Troccoli).  In one chapter, the authors look at Mary of Bethany's love for Jesus.  They also contrast Mary's communion with Jesus against Martha's actions for Jesus.  Here's an excerpt:

"Usually artists depict this scene with all of the disciples in the room along with Mary, seated around Jesus,a and poor Martha alone at the door of the kitchen... Fixing lunch for 13 men is not a one-woman job.  But notice the pronouns in Luke 10:38 carefully: 'As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.'  Is it possible that Jesus was alone?... Charles Swindoll puts it like this: 'Martha, Martha - chips and dip would be fine!'  In The Sacred Romance, the authors claim that too often, 'communion with God is replaced by activity for God.'  That is exactly what we see with Martha."

How often have I replaced communion with God with activity for God.  Is activity for God bad?  Nope!  Definitely not.  These authors go on to write that "It isn't that Jesus doesn't value good deed.s  He knows that good deeds will naturally flow out of communion with Him."  (After all, in James 2:20, we read that "faith without works is dead.) However, "communion will not necessarily flow out of good deeds.  There are a host of Christians who are busy with church activity, or just plain busy.  They claim to love Jesus, but their time with Him, their aloneness with Him... has all but disappeared."  (Brestin)

This convicting passage left me asking myself, has my aloneness with him disappeared?  I have CERTAINLY been guilty of this.  In fact, at one point, my busyness in college (largely due to over involvement in a campus ministry) was so stressful, I got shingles.  Shingles!  As the doctor put it, only old people and stressed out people get shingles.  At that point, I was probably sleeping 4-5 hours a night and drinking 4-5 cups of coffee minimum per day.  Let's just say, I had to eliminate some activity.  That was the beginning of a long lesson on busyness.  Too busy.  I was too busy.  I used to think I had some sort of obligation to fulfill to all these people and activities and ministries and... the list could go on.  The truth is, busyness helped me feel important.  Think about it.  Have you been there, or am I alone in this one?  Why do people seem to always complain about their busyness?  Why is it such a big deal that everyone is so busy?  If I'm busy with stuff, I must be important.  God taught me to slow down and find my worth in Him.  He taught me how to watch for opportunities to serve him that HE brought about.  He taught me how to reach out to people, yet preserve time to be alone.  A huge part of this was simply not being on the phone in every moment of time in between activities, classes, meals, etc...   

Fast forward.  God recently led my husband and I to a new church.  In the transition, I have not yet begun serving in a ministry.  God calls us to serve and be connected in fellowship with other believers.  I am eager to develop relationships with other believers at our new church.  However, God has brought this issue to my attention again - almost as a warning.  Renee, serve me.  But do not replace our time together with busyness over at that church.  It'll be easy to be involved in everything over there.  Don't do it.  I'll open the right doors.  I want time with you still.  Our time together is precious.

Has the Lord ever spoken to you about this?   Most importantly, how do you respond to his command.  He told Martha, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed."

Brestin and Troccoli end their chapter with this:

"Communing with the Lord needs to be as necessary and consistent as breathing.  We must practice His presence in everything.  What do you put in your heart?  What do you think about?  What music?  What books?  What about your friends?  Have you sought out people who will really sharpen you?  What you allow to seep deep into your soul will affect your love relationship with Jesus..."

Slowing down,

p.s. this reminds me - a book on my list this year is Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World.  If this topic speaks to you, check it out!  I've heard great things :)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Elementary Teaching Resource

I stumbled across this website when looking for teaching resources a while ago.  It's for primary grade classroom teachers, so it's not very helpful for me.  But, for any elementary teachers out there... it's fabulous.  I'd be lying if I said I didn't look through a lot of it and live vicariously through this lady's creativity in teaching the littles!  (I love my teens but sometimes I miss those little ones.)

Click here, teachers, and enjoy!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Why does it take a tragedy...?

These questions were posed on another blog in which the author reflects on the 1-year anniversary of Haiti. 

"Why do I need a tragedy to open my eyes to the pain and suffering that surrounds me? Why am I so prone to forget the urgency of the call as soon as my emotions subside?"

You can read the full post here.


It is well

Here are the lyrics to one of the best hymns of all time.  My favorite verses are the first and last, but even the ones no one ever sings in church ring with great truth.   

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, 
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, 
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Refrain: It is well with my soul, 
            it is well, it is well with my soul. 

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
lest this blest assurance control, 
that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
and hath shed his own blood for my soul. 

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
the trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
even so, it is well with my soul.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ms. Cook, you not crazy

The other day, a couple kids were doing make up work in my room during their lunch period.  I overheard one student explaining that a teacher told him she was going to call his dad and then his dad would "come up here and teach you a lesson and put a book through your head" or something along those lines.  Here's how the conversation went:

me: wait, a teacher said that to you?
guy student: yea. man, she crazy.
me: well, some students think i'm crazy too
girl student: ms cook, you not crazy.  man, all these people be yellin at us and you just sit there an wait for people to shut up. i aint never heard you yell at nobody.  and they stop because they wanna hear what you have to say... ya know, this class aint so bad. i love comin up in here. i get so excited before 4th period but ooo i be sleepy after because i gotta go to algebra.
guy student: you don't never yell atcho classes?
girl student: no, she don't never yell. she just be sitting there waiting with no looks on her faces.  and them kids wanna learn it so they shut up eventually.
me: yep.

it was refreshing to hear that a girl loves coming to my class (i love freshmen!), refreshing to be reminded that teachers don't have to yell and scream to be heard.  in fact, i would argue that it's actually counterproductive.  if you don't want the students to yell or scream in response to irritating things, why would you model that?  it was refreshing to hear students laughing and conversing instead of insulting each other and sighing of boredom.

riding the roller coaster of teaching,

Amazing Grace

The most important decision you every make is whether or not you choose Jesus.  The Bible says...

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God... the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ." (Romans 6:23, 3:23)

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." (Acts 16:31)

"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."  (Romans 10:9)

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life."  (John 3:16)

My dear friend and former roommate gave her life recently to Jesus Christ. I asked her several questions in hopes that we could piece together her story of faith and post it on this blog... here's her response in its entirety:

I think my story begins like one of your favorite songs Renee, "Amazing Grace," where I would say "I once was lost, but now am found" because that is how I feel now after having this life changing experience and what I feel is joy!

I have felt like there was an emptiness inside of me for a long time that I tried to fill with other things, but I have gradually realized that none of those other "fillers" really worked. I found myself searching for different solutions, and exploring other faith based communities, but it was not until I went to this one nondenominational church in Indianapolis in October that I really felt at home, and allowed myself to completely accept Christ into my heart. I have gone through some life challenges already, from dealing with my parent's divorce to transferring schools, to getting into a pretty serious car accident, and any challenge, in life is even harder I feel to go through without turning to God.

I feel like I find new passages from the Bible every day that really speak to me, but I really like where it says in Lamentations "Because of the Lord's great love we are consumed. For his compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, the Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for him," and whenever I feel like I am lacking in wisdom on what to do or choices to make I turn to James 1:5-7.

I would not say I necessarily had negative experiences with religion or Christianity, but I never really thought it did anything for me. I grew up going to church every Sunday, but I didn't really have any good reason for why I went except that that was what I thought you were supposed to do on Sunday. So, I would sit there and not really listen to the sermon, but instead wait for the hour and a half to pass. I now get excited to go to church on Sundays and go to my bible study group every Thursday, as just another way to worship with a group of people.

As I mentioned before, I explored many other religious faiths, and one that I was drawn to for several years was the Quaker religion. I liked and still like many aspects of this religion because there is a heavy focus on social justice and pacifism. These two aspects can be found in the teachings of Jesus so I greatly admire this aspect of the religion, which is why I think I was so initially drawn to it; however, I felt like there was too much of an attitude that maybe this is right or this could be right without ever coming to any conclusions. I think at some point there needs to be a choice made, and I've decided to accept Jesus.

Many people might be afraid that they could experience ridicule from other nonbelievers, but I would say I have not experienced ridicule but many questions. My family is very supportive, but I think they are still trying to "figure out" this change within me. I welcome the questions and the discussions, and it has been eye opening for me to be on this side and answer the skeptical questions that I would have asked myself only months ago. This goes along with my day to day life experience that I have as well. Being a Christian is a choice, but one that is lived out day-to-day. Beliefs on marriage, relationships, friendships, certain morals have drastically changed for me, and I am better I think because of it. Knowing that God has a purpose for me and my life is amazing, and allows me to see my earthly life differently.

Renee, you have really been an influential person in my life who has helped point me to Jesus, and I'm definitely not just saying that because you asked me these questions. I think I began to realize the emptiness I felt more after getting to know you better, and I am glad to finally discover that accepting Jesus fills that emptiness. Also, the members of my house church have really helped me continue to grow as a Christian and kept me accountable with my relationship with Jesus.

In this coming year, I expect to continue to grow as a Christian, and put my trust in God whenever I feel lost.

I don't usually quote oprah...

...but when asked about her choice to open her Leadership Academy in South Africa instead of the United States (particularly Chicago), she replied:

"Say what you will about the American educational system — it does work. ... If you are a child in the United States, you can get an education. ... I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn't there. ... If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod, sneakers, or some money. In South Africa, they don't ask for money or toys. They ask for uniforms so they can go to school."

Did she make too broad a generalization?  Of course.  However, point taken.

I love my students.  There is something severely wrong with the culture when at least 5 kids in different classes ask for a "free day" every day. (um, what the heck is a free day anyway?  yes, i'm the teacher who makes them answer analytical questions about movies.)  I change activities about every 10 minutes... every day of every week.  Many students still complain.

On the other hand, I have students that, while they seem to feel apathetic towards school itself, genuinely enjoy learning.  They ask lots of questions, correct their mistakes even if the extra credit put them over 100%.  They like to learn, but get tired of all the time-wasting from those who don't enjoy learning.  I wonder what it would be like if school was optional?  Not that we should make society that way.  But, what if it was.  People, by nature, seem to naturally want what they don't have.  (Jesus told us to be content... probably because we need to work on this, not because we naturally are content.)  If school was optional, would people be more or less educated?  Would the teenagers get tired of sitting at home all day and realizing they can't get jobs?  Maybe not... just a random thought.  My mind is a little random today.

Praying for students to want to learn,
Ren :) 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day like today...

"What is wrong with the schools in urban America?  Why do their problems appear so intractable?  How is it that, after years of effort and expenditures of billions of dollars, we have so little to show for our efforts?" - Paul Hill

On a day like today, when I cannot articulately verbalize my feelings about teaching - particularly in an urban school - when all I want to do is collapse on the couch, and start over tomorrow, I am glad I stumbled across that quote.

Then, the Holy Spirit speaks this simple verse into my heart:  "In this world, you will have troubles.  But take heart, I have overcome the world."  Jesus (John 16:33)

Resting in that promise,
- Ren

Reading Lists

Ben and I have made our 2011 reading lists.

Inspired by our friend, Luke, Ben has decided to read a book a week in 2011.  Here's 10 random ones from Ben's 2011 list:

- Freakonomics, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
- The Doctrines that Divide, Erwin Lutzer
- Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I Packer
- Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
- The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis
- The Chronicles of Narnia Series, C.S. Lewis
- The Lord of the Rings Series, J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Purpose of Man, A.W. Tozer
- When Work Disappears, William Julius Wilson
- Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk

I don't think I have a number goal... Well, I started with the goal of 2 per month.  Then, I got to more than 24.  So, we'll see.  That's the minimum. :)  Here's a few off my list, in no particular order:

- Forgotten God, Francis Chan
- Choosing to See, Mary Beth Chapman
- The Fruitful Life: the Overflow of God's Love Through You, Jerry Bridge
- Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman who Bound Them Together, Ron Hall
- Teaching to Change Lives, Dr. Howard Hendricks (an annual re-read) 

- So Much Reform, So Little Change: The Persistence of Failing in Urban Schools, Charles M. Payne
- Teen 2.0, Robert Epstein
- Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students, Kathleen Cushman
- Motivating Students Who Don't Care, Allen Mendler

What are you reading?  Any suggestions for us?

Cozy with my husband on the couch... about to pick up a book,

Recap 2010

Some blog posts are written for the readers and some for the writers.  This one is for me... sorry.  If you care to recap our year with me, feel free.  However, it might bore you :)  I am enjoying looking back and seeing the wonderful ways God blessed us during 2010.

Some of my all time favorite high school girls.  A mere acquaintance became a dear friend when God allowed us to lead these girls together.  Watching high school students grow in love for the Lord is an amazing thing!
Rachel, a former roommate, great friend, (and recently new sister in Christ!!) came to visit- we love to go to the Art Institute together.

I worked at Clinton Elementary School, substituting for a K-4 music teacher who was on maternity leave.  These 2nd graders are playing a song where all the kids get turns playing various instruments while singing a spooky halloween sound.  (I miss the excitement for learning music that little ones have!)

I went from Clinton (neighborhood elementary school in Chicago, serving primarily low-income families) to Franklin Fine Arts Center.. again, maternity sub.  I student taught here so it was fun to be back for the end of the school year.  One of the best elementary schools in Illinois, amazing art projects (skyline above), love for learning, and kindergarteners putting on memorized productions are the norm here :)
Ben studied in Costa Rica for a semester (his last semester at school, also the 6 months we were engaged and wedding planning... yikes!) and because of my subbing situation, I got to visit him twice.  Costa Rica is beautiful.  Though I'm thankful for Skype, spending time in person was WAY better. 

I graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University with a degree in Music Education - graduated in December of 2009 but walked in May of 2010.
For anyone who knows us, you know our engagement story isn't traditional.  Summary - met in september 2009, discussed marriage october 2009, definitely getting married as of december 2009 (original plans were January 1, 2010... ha), ben asked my dad early january and from then on it was official.  I received this beautiful ring as soon as he was back in the states from Costa Rica ;) Though we had discussed it, he managed to surprise me.

Ben graduated too! As a present, his parents bought him a few nice suits.  This is post-suit-shopping coming out of Jos. A Banks. 

Ben got back from Costa Rica about a month before our wedding... so we had 2 showers, a bachelorette and bachelor party, engagement pictures, etc... amongst planning the final details. 
July 3, 2010
Honeymoon destination: Riviera Maya, Mexico
After living in Omaha for the summer post-wedding, we packed up Ben's room and got ready to move to Chicago. 

A brilliant idea from a mattress salesman: "don't buy a new mattress in Chicago, just saran wrap the one you have to the top of the car.  You might need some duct tape."

We added more and more duct tape as the journey continued. 
Family reunion with my mom's family.
Ben's brothers came to visit - this pic was taken post- Sox game.  It was a weekend of junk food, caffeine, Wii and late nights. :)

Elsie and Alex came to visit- we took them to one of our favorite Chicago eats... Portillos!

My first Husker Game.

We celebrated our first thanksgiving as a married couple with my family.  (Last thanksgiving was the first time I met most of Ben's family.. we were dating.  It was when I was truly 110% sure this was the man to marry.)

1st little Christmas Tree in our 1st apartment

A year of 1sts... and it continues into 2011.  Cheers to ringing in a new year!