Tuesday, April 7, 2015

It's so weird!

It appears the hard work and small fortune we've invested in getting our house ready to sell may be worth it after all.  Today we officially listed our house for sale, and ever since my phone has been buzzing with alerts.  We had three showings just for this evening, had to refuse one for tomorrow, and have another scheduled for Friday.

I'm hoping this means we've priced our house correctly, and another young family will see this as a great place to grow.

I'm hoping this means we'll be able to find a house that will fit our needs but is also in our price range (difficult in my town).

I'm hoping this means that I'll spend my summer painting and arranging furniture and making a new house into a home for my family.

Now that this is real, I'm beginning to feel weird about selling.  This is our first house, the place where our girls have grown up.  I know every nook and cranny of this little ranch house, except for the attic, which I refuse to enter.

I know where I like my Christmas tree.  I know the quirks of the oven and the dishwasher.

I also know I'm ready for a new-to-us home that is just a bit bigger so we're not on top of each other all of the time.

I'll keep you all posted on the progress.  Send me good vibes!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

31 Days! I Made It!

I've managed to write every day for the past month.  It wasn't always easy, and the words didn't always want to come, but I'm so glad I persevered.

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is truly a challenge to me.  I want to write, but I don't always make myself do it.  Having the challenge as a motivator helps.

The next step is to figure out how to keep my self motivated to write the eleven other months of the year.

Because I do want to write.  I have things to say.  I have things to share.

But that nasty censor in my head tells me that I don't have things to say that are worth sharing.

The hardest part of writing is turning that censor off.  The writing challenge helps with that, because it forces me to look at my world in a different way.  I am only looking for small things to write about.

The big question is... will I work up the courage to write about the big things?

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Walk in the (State) Park

Today dawned bright and sunny here in Baraboo, so we decided to go to Devil's Lake and walk around a bit.

Of course, by the time we got around to getting the kids all together and driving the 10 minutes to the park, the weather looked like this:

A photo posted by Mindi Wells Rench (@mindi_r) on

It wasn't as cold as that picture makes it look, but it was definitely crisp, and the wind could be strong at times, but even so, it was great to be outside and breathe fresh air.

Of course, it was also great to see the kids playing and enjoying each other's company:

A photo posted by Mindi Wells Rench (@mindi_r) on

A photo posted by Mindi Wells Rench (@mindi_r) on

A photo posted by Mindi Wells Rench (@mindi_r) on

These low-key trips to Baraboo are some of my favorite times of the year.  We hang out.  We go for walks.  In summer, we spend a lot of time on my brother's boat.  We don't have to worry about impressing anyone or being bored.

And we get to be together.  My kids get to know their cousins, and I get to connect with Kyle and Kristy, something I wish we could do more often.

So while the sky was gray, my mood certainly isn't.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Lazy Sunday

Today I got to be lazy in a way I never get to be if I am at home.  At home, I still have to do the grocery shopping, laundry, cook meals, and do the other little things that make my home run smoothly.  A lazy day is a day when I don't do anything extra.

When I'm away, though, all bets are off.  Today I slept, ate meals I didn't cook or clean up after (much), and spent most of the day reading.  The fact that the weather here in Baraboo was gray, cold, and rainy meant that it was the perfect day to lay in front of the fire and read.

I don't think I'd want a day like today all of the time.  I like being lazy sometimes, but I also like being busy, doing the little things that make my family feel cared for.

We'll see what we do tomorrow.  If the weather's nice, I wouldn't mind doing something outside.  It's been a long winter, and I'm ready for some fresh air!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fish Out of Water

Tonight, as we were leaving the restaurant where we ate dinner, my nephew asked if we could make a stop at the local gaming store.  Since we were in no hurry and had no where to be, we walked the block or so to The Labyrinth so the kids could have a look around.

This, my friends, is a foreign land with its own strange language to me.

One would think that I would have some basic knowledge of the world of games such as Dungeons and Dragons, given that my brother and his friends would spend hours at our house playing.  I might have tried at one point to learn, but it just wasn't my cup of tea.

Now my girls play D & D and  Magic: The Gathering when we come up to visit my brother.  Tonight I bought my nephew The Settlers of Cataan as a birthday gift.  The kids are in the other room as I write, figuring out how to play this new game.

Sometimes I wish I understood these games more than I do, so that when my brother is playing with the kids I could play, too.  There is much laughter and moaning and groaning as the campaigns move along.  They are definitely all having fun.

But it's also nice to watch my girls have this thing with their uncle and cousins. They all speak this language, and while I don't understand it, I don't feel left behind.

Sometimes being a fish out of water gives you the opportunity to see things in a new way.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Can't Hardly Wait

Tonight is the first night of my spring break.  I'm finally getting my Christmas present from my husband... an evening out for a nice dinner and then to see The Decemberists at the Chicago Theater.

I'm quite excited.

Dan has taken me to see The Decemberists before - twice in fact - but both of those times were in venues that were less than comfortable.  I'm not a fan of crowds, and the places where we tend to see music acts are places where if there are seats, they are few and far between and tend to fill up fast.  So we end up standing for the couple of hours that the band is playing.

This is not a problem for Dan.  But I am only 5'3", so I often can't see over the tall people standing in front of me.  I also do not like feeling squished between people.  Also, I don't always make proper shoe choices and then my back is hurting by the end.

So when I saw the venue THIS time was the Chicago Theatre, I was exited.  This is a REAL THEATER with GOOD SOUND and REAL SEATS.

There will be seated dancing.  And singing along, though probably not out loud.
We will stay out late!
We will have fun!

If you ask me, this is the perfect way to begin my spring break.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Learning Can Make Your Head Hurt

I am lucky to work in a school district that values job-embedded professional development.  This is evident in the fact that each of our four buildings has a literacy coach to think alongside teachers as they grow professionally.

I am one of those coaches.

Another way our district has provided job-embedded professional development is through a long-time relationship with Ellin Oliver Keene, author of several books about comprehension, including the classic Mosaic of Thought, which she co-wrote with Susan Zimmermann.

Over the past three years, Ellin's work in our district has focused on working with small groups of teachers in examining the gradual release of responsibility and student engagement as well as promoting literacy across the curriculum.  As the coach, my responsibility in this process is in organizing the days Ellin is in our building, facilitating those days, and then providing support to teachers in between Ellin's visits.

I'm lucky.  The teachers who work with Ellin are lucky.  Our kids are lucky.

But, golly... these days are tiring.  Ellin pushes my thinking; she helps me to see things in new ways.  She encourages us to discuss problems of practice and find solutions together.  I'm a better coach from having the opportunity to observe her coach our PD participants in their classrooms.

It makes me think about the students who are learning as well.  Are they going home tired from thinking hard about the subjects and concepts we are presenting?  Are they feeling challenged and validated?  Do they understand why they are being asked to do the tasks and assignments we give them?

If not, why?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Not in the Mood

I'm cranky.
And annoyed.
And tired.

And just not in the mood.

For anything,
But especially not for being introspective.
Or thoughtful.
Or creative.

I kind of feel like Alexander on his terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day.

But my day wasn't terrible or horrible or no good or very bad.

It's just me
and my mood.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Taco Tuesday!

I cook dinner for my family most evenings.  I enjoy (most of the time) the process of choosing a week's worth of recipes, doing the grocery shopping, and preparing meals.  We're fairly adventurous eaters, though each of us has our own food issues:  my husband hates white dairy products such as cream cheese and sour cream; I won't eat raw fish or super rare meats; Abby doesn't like spicy foods; Molly doesn't like beans or meatloaf.

Over the past couple of months, I have been limiting our meat consumption to 1-2 times per week.  I did this mostly because the cost of meat has gotten so high, but also because I know a more plant-forward diet is healthier for my family.

This has been a transition for sure.

I grew up in a very meat-and-potatoes family.  My mom did not cook much on weeknights after she got home from work, so we ate a lot of processed foods and fast food, not unusual for the 1980s.  I don't fault my mom; she was doing the best she could, and to her credit, she cooked great meals on the weekends.

I never ate beans.
Or lentils.
I never heard the word "tofu" until I was an adult.

So this new way of cooking and eating has required me to learn some new recipes.  I bought a few vegetarian cookbooks and scour Pinterest for recipes that will appeal to the various inhabitants of the Rench Ranch.

Tonight's was a winner, with everyone but Molly.

You can find this super easy, quite tasty recipe here.

I served them in hard shells (as pictured) with queso fresco, pickled onion, avocado, olives and cabbage.  I'm having the filling for lunch tomorrow with the leftover toppings.  I have a feeling the lentils will taste even better tomorrow after the spices have time to blend.

Give this one a try.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Little Attitude Goes a Long Way

Tonight was my fifth grader's band concert.  This is the first time this year I've heard her play, since she was sidelined with influenza A for the winter concert.

My girl is a percussionist.  She loves being able to play all of the different percussion instruments in the band.  For tonight's concert, she played snare, bass drum, and tambourine.  It was fun to see her in her element, being the backbone of the band.

I can't believe this girl is going to be in middle school in the fall.  Just like with her big sister, it seems that I blink and she's aged a year and a half.  They're growing up so fast, and while I'm happy to see them grow into kind, compassionate, and strong humans, I do miss the babies they used to be.

Now... if you've ever been in the marching band you know the drumline has a certain..... attitude.

What do you think?  Does she have it?

A photo posted by Mindi Wells Rench (@mindi_r) on

Sunday, March 22, 2015


So this is the current weather notice for Cook Country from the National Weather Service:

I know it is not uncommon for the Chicago area to get snow well into March or even April.  But truly, I am OVER IT.

I enjoy living in a part of the country that has all four seasons.  While my favorites are spring and fall, I do appreciate the blazing hot days of August (for a bit) and the cold of December and January (within reason).

45° below zero windchills?  Ugh.  No, please.
2 feet of snow in one day?  Keep it, Mother Nature.

I also know that other parts of the country (I'm talking about you, Boston) had a much harder winter, and my heart goes out to those who were stuck in snow deep enough to bury their cars.  Weather suffering is relative.  Some people love the kinds of weather I detest.

There is ONE good thing about spring snow in the Midwest, though.

It doesn't last long.  On Wednesday, the high is expected to be in the upper 50s!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Hard Work

I have spent roughly the last 9 hours working in my basement.  Dan and I had to get the mess of a space organized and cleaned up so our Realtor can begin showing our house.  Over the past several months, the basement had become a dumping ground as we moved things from place to place to get it out of the way while we painted. The laundry area and the storage under the basement steps had not been emptied, cleaned, and organized in I don't know how long.

It looks so nice right now.  And we have to keep it looking nice, which with the four of us is easier said than done.

There is a chance that we'll have a showing tomorrow, and if that happens, I still have about an hour's worth of cleaning to do in the UPSTAIRS part of our house.

Wish me luck.  I might not be able to move off of this couch when I go to walk into bed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Not Lovin' It

After hearing so many rave reviews about All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I decided that this was a book I needed to read.  It had almost everything I love in a book:  historical setting, interesting characters, Decent heft.  Since I'm trying my best to NOT buy books right now, I requested it from my library, and when it came in, I immediately began reading it.

That was about a week ago.

And I'm only about 175 pages in.  This, my friends, is not normal reading behavior for me.  Normally, I can crank out a 500 page book in a couple of days.

But not this one.  For some reason, it's just not capturing me the way I had expected.  I've thought about it, and I've even talked to others who have read the book, but I can't put my finger on my disconnect from this book.

And that gets me thinking about abandoning books.  This is not something I typically do, though I am more likely to do it now, after serving on a book award committee and having to make decisions about how to best utilize my reading time.  I don't like to abandon books, but I also don't like to feel like I'm wasting my time.

I know me. I'll probably end up finishing this book, and I might even end up finally connecting with the characters and loving it.

We'll see.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wanted: One Desk Fairy

Yesterday, I wrote about my current problems maintaining my attention for any amount of time.  Today, as I was working at my desk, I looked around and realized that part of the reason I might be having trouble being productive is my work environment.

A photo posted by Mindi Wells Rench (@mindi_r) on

I know that my veneer of organization begins to seriously deteriorate in the weeks leading up to spring break.  My schedule is super busy, not only with coaching meetings, but also with data review meetings and other meetings to coordinate intervention groups.  I am also facilitating PD workshops almost every Wednesday afternoon.

At the beginning of the school year, I am very good about cleaning my desk off before I leave school every day.  Then it becomes every other day.  Then weekly.  Then.....


I really don't like my desk to be like this, but realistically I'm not going to have time to clean it off tomorrow either.  Maybe Monday.  I hope.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Short Attention Span

It's that time of year when I find myself unable to pay attention to just about anything.  This has become painfully obvious as I've been trying to get caught up with reading my professional journals.  I subscribe to English Journal, Voices From the Middle, Reading Teacher, The ALAN Review, and The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy.  In addition to those, I also get the journal from the Illinois Reading Council.

As a literacy coach, keeping up with research and new ideas in the teaching of literacy is a major part of my job.  I can't be an effective coach if I'm not continuously learning and sharpening my saw.  I'm usually pretty good about reading my journals as soon as they arrive and marking articles I want to share or go back to.

In March, though, I'm lucky to get through one or maybe two articles before my mind wanders off into thoughts of summer and the warm weather that is right around the corner.  Heck.... I even start thinking about PD and coaching plans for the fall.  Almost anything except for what I should be doing.

This has been a pattern for me for most of my teaching career.  While I can't explain WHY my brain works this way, I can take action and make plans for ways to force myself to complete necessary tasks.  Most of the time it works.

But sometimes......

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Who Do You Think You Are

I am strangely fascinated by the TLC show Who Do You Think You Are, and to a lesser degree (because I never remembered to set a series recording) the PBS show Geneaology Roadshow.  I love watching people uncover their family roots.  With WDYTYA, it is celebrities who go around the world and meet up with genealogists and archivists who help them trace their family trees WAY back.

I'm not a celebrity, and I don't have unlimited resources to travel to Europe or hire people to find the stories of my ancestors.  I did subscribe to ancestry.com for a while, and I managed to trace my mother's family back several generations, finding that the actual documents that told her family's story matched the family folklore.

I had a much harder time following the trail of documents for my dad's side of the family.  My grandmother always told me that her family was Native American, but I've not been able to find any evidence to support this.  Perhaps I'm not seeing the clues; perhaps I've barked up the wrong family tree (pun intended).  My desire to find the answers to my ancestry is driven purely by curiosity and love of story.  Sometimes I think I might find the story I'm destined to write in this history.  Who knows?

So I'll keep looking and searching and asking questions.

Someday I'll have my answers, and my girls will have a fuller picture of their family tree.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Million Different Directions

Today has been one of those days where I'm pulled in a million different directions.  I'm so focused on getting things done around the house that I completely forgot to take Molly to her ortho appointment.

This is not good, people.

The appointment, I can reschedule, but the thinking about so many things that I'm beginning to forget them is not good.

I need some down time.

Spring break cannot come soon enough!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mommy's (not so) Little Helpers

Now that my girls are 10 and 13, they are taking on more responsibilities around the house.  One of their chores is to do the dishes every night.  I figure this is fair, since I'm the one doing the majority of the cooking.  Doing the dishes includes clearing and wiping the table, putting away leftovers, hand washing any dishes that don't fit in the dishwasher, and wiping counters and stove.

M & A working in the kitchen.  Kirbee is helping by keeping the floor clean of food crumbs.

When I do this, I can usually get it finished in 20-30 minutes, tops.

When they do it?  At least an hour.

These girls.... these girls are SO distractible, and they mostly distract each other.  Tonight, Molly is playing music from her phone, so every time the song changes, she has to adjust the volume or tell me a story about the songs.  Abby, as you can see, is listening to her own music and occasionally stops to do a little dance.

My favorite nights are the nights they decide to sing camp songs while they do dishes.  I get a glimpse into their lives at camp, where one of the jobs is in fact kitchen crew, cleaning up after dinner.  While they sing the songs, they also share their memories of their camp friends and all of the fun they have at Camp Woodbrooke.  When they return home from camp, they are full of stories, eager to tell us about everything the did at camp, however it is over these winter months when they get into the details and the stories are told not in a rush, but with a feeling of nostalgia and a desire to return again the next summer.

So even though it can take my girls two to three times longer to clean the kitchen than if I did it myself, I don't mind.  I'll continue to eavesdrop and enjoy the stories and jokes they tell each other.

I wonder if they realize that while they are sharing memories they are also creating them.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Under the Wire

This week, we told our real estate agent that she could start showing the house on Wednesday.  Dan and I are very much alike in the fact that we are horrible procrastinators.  We knew that if we did not give ourselves a deadline, we'd never get everything finished.

So last night, I made a HUGE list of everything we need to get accomplished this weekend.  We worked all day on various projects:  the window treatments in the living room are hung, the master bath is FINISHED, Dan replaced the hood over the stove, and I worked steadily in the basement.

We're SOCLOSE to being ready.  My goal is to start the school week with all of the major work completed, so that we can get in the habit of leaving the house tidy and neat each day, just in case.

We've been wanting to do this for so long, that it doesn't seem real that it's really going to happen!

Wish us luck.

We'll need it.

Friday, March 13, 2015

I Have an Office Supply Problem

Hello.... my name is Mindi, and I have an office supply problem.

To be more precise, I have a pen problem.

I love to find the just right pen for whatever it is I'm doing.  When I'm taking notes at a conference, I love Flair pens.  These were also my favorite pens for grading papers.  They just feel good in my hands, and I enjoy using the different colors to take my notes.

Kind of like this:

I've tried other kinds of colored pens, but none are as good as my good ol' Flair pens.

Of course, making charts requires a different kind of writing tool.  For that, there's only one choice:
Mr. Sketch markers are in fact those smelly markers you may remember from childhood.  But here's the thing.... that chiseled tip makes making charts super easy.  The colors are bright and bold and usually don't bleed through the chart paper.

I'm stingy with my markers, though.  I don't like the tips to get mushy, so I don't let anyone else use my "good" ones.  I have a separate box that I loan out if someone asks.  Is that wrong?  I kind of think it is, but I doubt I'll change.

Also... I currently have at least 5 boxes of these in my storage cabinet at school.

Yes.  I am a marker hoarder.

But really, I doubt I am alone in my obsession with quality office supplies.  I know plenty of teachers who refuse to buy off-brand sticky notes or generic glue sticks.  I know plenty of other pen hoarders, too.

Maybe that's one of the reasons we're teachers.  We love pens and markers and colored pencils and cute paper and new notebooks.

So what's your favorite pen?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Choose Kind

The internet is a wondrous thing.  I don't know how I did homework in high school or college without Google and EasyBib.

Where did I get questionable craft ideas or learn about new books?

How could I shop for ANYTHING AT ALL without leaving my couch?

But the internet is also ugly.  The anonymity and lack of face-to-face contact makes it very easy for people to be extremely nasty to others, resorting even to people making threats of raping or killing those who disagree with them.  When did this become ok?

This happens on Twitter, my social network of choice for professional conversation, with alarming regularity, though usually not among the people I follow.  Recently, a female game developer received death and rape threats; baseball player Curt Schilling posted a proud dad tweet to his teenage daughter who was then deluged with hateful tweets, including rape threats; Robin Williams's daughter Zoe was harassed with messages telling her her father's suicide was her fault.

This is not, however, limited to Twitter.

This meanness is everywhere people are allowed to hide beyond a shield of anonymity.  I know how to avoid some of it; I don't read comments on HuffPost articles or other online newspapers, for example, but sometimes it pops up where I least expect it.

Like in my Twitter feed, around an author I've met personally and whose work I enjoy and respect.

I'm not saying people should not be able to express their opinions.  Certainly, reviewers can - and should - raise questions about the work they are reviewing.  But a line gets crossed when the review of a movie or a play or a concert or a book or an art installation becomes mean-spirited criticism of the person who created the art OR of the reviewer.

While this post had a very specific trigger, it is something I've been thinking about for a long time, especially since my older daughter created a WattPad account and began posting her own fiction writing online.  We talked about how she might handle mean-spirited comments about her writing.  Luckily, this hasn't happened and I hope it won't.

In the end, I can only control ONE thing, and that is how I behave in online environments. Whenever I have a choice (and that is most of the time) I choose KIND (with thanks to R.J. Palacio).

Image from http://www.wildrumpusblog.com/2013/09/choose-kind.html

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

This Guy

This is my little brother with my mom and me... probably around 1974 or so.

He's two years younger than me, and as a bona-fide younger brother was the bane of my existence from the time I was about 8 until I left for college.

For the longest time, I thought there was nothing he enjoyed more than making me cry.  He would take the heads off of my Barbie dolls.  He would make fun of me. He would pull my hair.  He would sit in my general vicinity.  He existed.

As we moved into our teen years, we had an uneasy coexistence.  From my older sister perspective, it seemed he got away with everything.  It seemed like he was Mom's favorite because they liked the same music and just generally seemed to get along.  It seemed like he could get good grades without even trying.  It seemed like he could have fun and do whatever he wanted while I was the responsible one.

As I got older, though, I began to realize that perhaps I was being too harsh.  What I didn't know until later was that after I left for school, he went through some pretty hard times with our mom.  I think there's probably a lot about his final years of high school and early college years that I still don't know.

But my.... how times have changed.

Now we're both in our forties and parents ourselves.  Our relationship has grown and changed and now I can't imagine my life without him.  He and his family live about three hours away from us, and we don't get to see them nearly often enough.

I no longer see him as a spoiled brat.  I see an amazing dad who loves to have fun with his boys and who dotes on my girls.

I no longer see an irresponsible boy.  I see a person who loves his career, who cares for his land, who would do anything for his family, not just his wife and his boys, but also for me, for Dan, or for our girls.

I no longer see a pest.  I see my brother, this link to our mom who died too young.

I'm proud to have a brother like him.

Even if he still knows how to push my buttons.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Since earlier this fall, Dan and I have been getting our house ready to sell.  When we bought this house in the summer of 1999, we were relative newlyweds and had no children.  The location was great... less than 5 minutes to my school and walking distance to the Metra station for Dan.  With three bedrooms, two full baths and a decent kitchen, it had everything we wanted.

Now with a teenager, an almost teenager and WAY MORE STUFF, we're on top of each other in our little ranch.  I'm yearning for a slightly larger home... not too much larger, because more space is an invitation for us to have MORE STUFF.  I want bedrooms on the second floor, away from the main living area.  I want a neighborhood where people interact and talk to each other. But I don't want to move my girls away from their schools.

To get our house ready, we needed to redo the drywall in the basement and paint it, carpet the basement, update the two bathrooms, paint the upstairs, and replace the kitchen appliances.  We've been working on this since right after Halloween.

With just a few minor things to do like hanging temporary window treatments, painting the trim in the master bath, and organizing the remaining items in the basement, we're finally READY to get this place listed, and hopefully sold.

It's scary to think about selling our home and buying a new one.  This was our first house; so much of the purchase process seemed to happen by happy accident.  Sometimes I still think the last owners are going to come knocking on the door and say, "Get out of our house!"

But I'm ready. It's time.  This house is ready for a new family, and we're ready for a new home.

Monday, March 9, 2015


It has been two months since I've had one of these:

About a week before Christmas, I was standing in front of the Coke display at my local Jewel-Osco with my hands perched above the twelve packs, ready to replenish my stock.

But then I reconsidered.  I had tried to go off of Diet Coke before, with little success.  Its siren song always drew me back, usually at a restaurant where my other options were sugared sodas, gross mass-produced lemonade, or iced tea (blech).  For a very long time, I kept my Diet Coke consumption down to one a day, but between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the daily amount kept climbing.

People who are Diet Coke drinkers know how hard this is.  It isn't just the caffiene - that I can get in a variety of places.  It's also the taste, which some people think is disgusting but DC addicts think is divine.  Truly, I believed there was not much better than a bubbly ICE COLD Diet Coke from a can or bottle.  I was less enamored of the formulation of the fountain kind.

Since that fateful day in the grocery store, I have not had a single drink of Diet Coke.  I've been tempted, sure, but I have water or Sprite (can't give up soda 100% yet), but I don't have anything with aspartame in it.

I feel better!  I really do!

But today, this first weekday after "springing forward" was really, really long.  I came thisclose to going down to the vending machine in the teachers' lounge, putting my $0.75 in the slot and popping open one of these beauties.

But I didn't.

And I'm better off for it.

Now... where are those thin mints?

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Sunday Evening Blues

Tonight is the first Sunday night without Downton Abbey in two months.  For the eight Sunday nights that Downton was on, I had something to look forward to.  I loved snuggling in on my couch, ready to be immersed in the admittedly soapy dramas taking place both above and below stairs.

If someone was to ask me why I love Downton Abbey so much, I'd be hard pressed to explain exactly why, except for that ever since I first watched the miniseries of The Thorn Birds when it originally aired way back in 1983 when I was in eighth grade, I have been drawn to sweeping family sagas set in a particular historical setting.  Back then, I was drawn to the forbidden romance between Meggie and Father Ralph.  Now, with Downton, I am intrigued by the  relationships among the various characters:  Why does Mary seem to dislike Edith so very much?  When will Thomas stop being so scheming?  Can he?  When in the world will Anna and Mr. Bates EVER be happy?

Though PBS and Masterpiece will soon bring me a new season of Mr. Selfridge and Call the Midwife and a whole new program with Wolf Hall, none of these can fill my Sunday evenings or my imagination the way Downton does.

How will I make it to January, 2016?!?!?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

My favorite breakfast

Danny and I started dating in college.  The first time I went home with him for the weekend, his mom made crepes for breakfast.  This was probably the fanciest breakfast I had ever had, and it was the first time I had ever had crepes.  Where I came from, breakfast was eggs and bacon or cereal, or maybe on a special occasion biscuits and gravy.

Crepes were something you had to go to St. Louis to get at The Magic Pan.

Fast forward many years.  Danny started making me crepes himself.  We would fill them with jams and jellies and fruits and peanut butter and bananas.  My favorite crepe filling, though, is nutella.

For one Valentine's Day early in our marriage, I got him an electric crepe maker.  It's a handy tool that looks like this:
It makes crepes super easy.  He mixes up the very simple batter, then dips the non-stick surface into the batter. Voila!  Crepes!

Today we had celebratory crepes for breakfast.  We had Molly's outstanding turn as the Genie and my sister Lindsey's visit to celebrate.  Danny outdid himself, as usual.

Here was our awesome spread:

A photo posted by Mindi Wells Rench (@mindi_r) on
 My girls love when their dad makes crepes for breakfast,  and I do, too, but for me I always go back to that first breakfast at what would eventually be my inlaws' house.  I love that we're passing this special breakfast on to our girls.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Weekend Plans

This weekend looks to be a busy one, full of family and friends and fun.

Tonight was Molly's final performance as Genie in Aladdin, Jr.  I didn't think it was possible for her to be better than she was Wednesday night, but she WAS!  So animated.  So energized.  This proud mama thinks her girl stole the show.

Genie giving some advice to Aladdin

The best part of the night was that Molly had a fan section in the audience.  Dan's parents, Molly's friends, and, as a special surprise, my little sister and her boyfriend made the trek up from Belleville to see Molly perform.  We're very excited that Lindsey and Thomas are staying for the weekend.

Molly and her Aunt Lindsey

Our plans:

  • crepes for breakfast 
  • a trip to Crate & Barrel for "Olivia Pope Wineglasses"
  • a taco feast complete with guacamole and home made salsa
  • a night of games
  • lots of laughter
I love weekends like this, even though they mean I won't get my regular weekend chores done.  I love having a house full of people.  The buzz of conversation and the burst of laughter form the soundtrack of my weekend.

I can't think of a better way to spend it.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


March 5 is too early in the Slice of Life March Challenge to have writer's block.  I really have nothing that is standing out in my mind that I really want to write about.  I've started and then deleted several bad attempts at today's post, but I know that eventually I'll have to hit that bright orange publish button in the top right of my browser window.

So I grabbed my phone and looked for inspiration in my "Current Faves" playlist.  This is what it sounds like.... a playlist composed of the music I currently like.  It's a fairly fluid playlist.  I take things off and add new music every couple of weeks.  The past few days, I've been thinking that I need some new songs to sing along with as I do housework or drive long distances.

I have 10 and 13 year old daughters. Like their dad and me, they have eclectic musical tastes, but I still get a generous dose of pop music in the car or seeping out from under their bedroom doors.  In the car lately I've been hearing the song "Geronimo" quite a bit.  It's a catchy tune.  It's easy to sing along to.  With a click, I've purchased and added it to my playlist.  The other song I bought today was "Thinking Out Loud" by Ed Sheeran.  Another song that is singable.

These songs join my eclectic list.  How eclectic?  I'll share with you some randomly selected songs:

  • "Don't Dream It's Over" performed by Sixpence None the Richer
  • "Haven't Met You Yet" by Michael Bublé
  • "Heads Carolina, Tails California" by Jo Dee Messina
  • "Heavy Metal Drummer" by Wilco
  • "I Will" performed by Alison Krauss & Tony Furtado
  • "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac
  • "Night Changes" by One Direction

So, yeah.... I'll listen to just about anything.

And I still need some new music.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Opening Night

Tonight was the opening night for my school's performance of Aladdin, Jr.  I love seeing the students take a risk and perform for a live audience, but tonight was extra special.  Here's why:

This is my girl.  She played Genie in tonight's performance, and she was AMAZING!  I know... I'm a biased mama, but truly, she knocked my socks off.

You see... she did not give any inkling about how she was playing this role.  I didn't hear her sing her songs or practice her lines, other than just running lines with her as she memorized.  I had no idea what kind of personality she would bring to this character.  Even though I see her in the hallways of the school and I've seen her perform in the orchestra and choir, this is the first time I've seen her in a role like this one.

It was like meeting my kid for the first time.

This is an important reminder to me, both as a parent and as a teacher.  Unless we take the time to really pay attention and look closely, we might miss the many gifts that our students keep to themselves, for whatever reason.  If we don't know there's some comedic talent behind that long hair, we might hear the laughter of a classmate but miss the great joke.  If we don't know there's a talent for creative writing, we might see a well-written essay but miss the mind-blowing fan fiction that's shared only on Wattpad and not in class.

How much did I miss over the years because I was so caught up in covering curriculum?  It was when I decided to teach STUDENTS instead of writing and reading that I began to see what I had been missing.

I get the chance to see my girl perform again Friday night.  It will be her final performance at an NBJH musical, since she is an 8th grader.  I will have my eyes wide open to see the subtleties in her performance that I missed tonight.  Ill be listening to the nuances in her inflection to catch the snarkiness she brings to Genie.

I'll try not to miss a single thing.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

A Snowy March 3

Today is Tuesday, March 3.  MARCH 3, not FEBRUARY 3.

And this is my weather this morning:

Courtesy of Weather.com

I am OVER winter.  January was cold.  We missed two days of school for the cold weather.

February was cold and snowy.  And cold and snowy.  Chicago's snowiest and coldest February on record.

I know.... Boston had it worse.  I know... I could move to a warmer locale.

Most of the time, the cold and snow don't bother me all that much.  But last winter and this winter have been SO cold and snowy that eventually I feel as if spring will never come again.

Maybe Elsa is real.

And if she is, I should probably take her advice and "Let It Go."

Because spring will get here, eventually, and the world around me will warm and turn green.  And springtime in northern Illinois can indeed be glorious.  Blue skies, gentle winds, flowers blooming everywhere.  I'll quickly forget the deep down cold I felt in my bones for two full months.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Something Else

Today is the 10th anniversary of the death of my grandmother.  I wrote about her loss in this post from last year.

I've been thinking quite a bit about what to write today.  Even though this is such a monumental anniversary in my life, my day was ordinary.

I cleaned my kitchen.
I went to Bed Bath & Beyond to buy cheap-but-okay-looking curtains that I can live with until our house sells.
I took my girls to the dentist.
I paid bills.
I will drive Abby to and from dance.
I will cook dinner.
I will read.

So, yeah.... a day just like any other day with this layer of SOMETHING ELSE underneath it.  I know this day will always be a hard one.  I lost my mom when I was 21.... I've now been without her longer than I had her, and the anniversary of her death still catches me off guard every summer.
My mom and her mom laughing at something in the mid- to late- seventies.

But I would not be who I am - as a mother or as a person - without these two women.  I learned how to be a parent, and sometimes how NOT to parent, through the examples they lived.  I can see the physical traits I've inherited:  my hands and eyes from my mom and the silvery gray hair that is starting to show through my dark brown from Gram.  But I also have elements of their personalities as well.

And my girls?  Though they never knew my mom and will not remember Gram, they are learning our family traditions and the stories that are passed along through me.  And these will in turn get passed along to their children.

And most of all I've learned that no one is guaranteed another day, so live well.  Never fail to hug those you love when you can.

And call your mother.

And your grandmother.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

This Cake is Made of Memories

Yesterday, my in-laws came over to help Danny do some work in the bathroom (Marty) and to help me hang valences in the bedroom and then just hang out (Nancy).  Danny and I are so grateful his parents are willing and able to come help us with various projects as we get ready to sell the house.

A photo posted by Mindi Wells Rench (@mindi_r) on
Because they are just as busy as we are, we don't get to spend as much time with them as I would like, so when we do, I try to stretch the time as long as possible by making a dinner that includes dessert.  Last night, dessert was a cake in honor of Marty's birthday last week.

This cake, to be precise:

A photo posted by Mindi Wells Rench (@mindi_r) on

This cake.
This cake reminds me of my Gram,  one of the most important women in my life.  My elementary school years were turbulent, but Gram was there whenever Kyle or I needed her.  She was a lifeline throughout high school and college.  She helped me to plan my wedding and swooned over my babies.  I can't believe that she was taken from me ten years ago tomorrow.

She made cakes just like this one.  Now, mine are made from scratch where hers weren't, but we both bake these pound cakes in bundt pans.  They're best when slightly underbaked in the middle (I think), and the outside is crusty and crunchy - think the opposite of a Sara Lee pound cake.

Whenever I see pound cakes like this I am instantly transported to my Gram's kitchen; I hear her laugh and see her wide, bright smile.  She would make this cake for my grandpa, even though he shouldn't have had cake at all.  She would make this cake for desserts when the family would come over for barbeque in the summers, even though the oven would heat up her kitchen something fierce.

I don't remember her eating the cake.

As I get older, I find I'm getting more sentimental about things like this.... finding memories in little things like pound cakes or Wishbone Italian dressing (a story for another day).  It is in these memories I realize that though she may not be a physical part of my life, she is always with me.

My gram and my girls, June 2004