October 31, 2009

Success for DonorsChoose!

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 6:47 pm by Lauren

The DonorsChoose giving challenge has reached its goal of $100,000 in teacher-inspired donations in October! Donations right now total $101,334 from 2,316 donors. Amazing! You can see the results by clicking on this sentence!

Thank you again for your support of this great organization! I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the teacher proposals that will be funded now that the generous donations of inspired donors have earned DonorsChoose another $100,000 in funding!

Here are two that were funded with help from my awesome friends:

35 high school students in Missouri now have an LCD projector for their classroom from the proposal Projecting our Bright Futures to the World.

150 7th and 8th graders in southern California now have materials for science fair projects from the proposal Science Fair Project 2009.

Here are two more that received partial funding with the help of my friends and family:

ELL Students Love to Read Too is a proposal for bilingual and Spanish-language books and for WhisperPhones for English language learners in Chicago. This proposal needs $232 more to be fully funded.

From the Printing Press will provide cutting supplies and linoleum for an 8th grade art class. Another $206 will bring these enriching materials to students in a high-poverty, Washington, DC school.


Less than $1500 to go for DonorsChoose!

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 5:17 pm by Lauren

It is the LAST DAY of the Giving Challenge for DonorsChoose, and we (you, me, all the other donors, and all the teachers and students) are so close to meeting the goal of $100,000. When we meet it, corporate donors will provide an additional $100,000 to fund DonorsChoose proposals and help public school children.

DonorsChoose needs just $1,390 more. Teachers have donated and inspired other donors to reach $98,610 so far. As for that remaining $1,390? That’s 1,390 people donating $1 each, 278 people giving $5, 140 people donating $10, or just 56 people giving $25. Could you be one of those generous people?

In addition, thank you to all of the people that I know of who have supported this campaign so far: my brother Alan, my dad, my grandma, Julie, Cate, Sarah, Jill, Sara, Ryan, and Allen. I know there are others out there that I don’t know of – thank you too.

How can you help? Click on this link to make a donation of as little as $1. You can then search for any type of proposal you’re interested in funding. If you want some recommendations, click on this link to see the Chez Schmanz Giving Page with some proposals that my friends and I are interested in. Feel free to suggest other proposals for me to add to the Giving Page. And thank you for giving!

I’ll update the page when DonorsChoose meets the challenge!

October 26, 2009

Renovation station

Posted in Home Improvement tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:16 pm by Lauren

With all this pimping of DonorsChoose, it’s only fair that I give you a personal post to read as well. Fortunately there’s plenty going on (if only I could spin it into interesting stories for the blog)!

We’ve really gotten serious with the renovation work at the house in the past month. It started with the HVAC system, which “cooled” the house to a chilly 79 degrees all summer (no lower). Being 20 years old or so, it was looking for retirement, and we put it out to pasture a few weeks ago. We got a great deal on a new system from Service Doctors, and we’d highly recommend them. Their technicians also noticed a leak when they were here, which started round two…

The leak turned out to be coming from the half bath downstairs, so one of my student’s fathers came out to have a look. (To clarify, he was my student last year, but is not now.) It was minor, but it took him and Allen several hours to fix. (Allen enjoyed this mini-internship and patched the drywall himself afterwards.) While he was here, he also put in a flexible pipe under the kitchen sink to connect to…

…the new dishwasher! After hand-washing dishes for over a year (the horror!) because our panel-front dishwasher left a layer of silt over everything, we upgraded to a new Kitchenaid dishwasher. I actually don’t mind washing dishes (as long as I can do it on my own time), but I won’t be getting my hands pruny anymore with this new machine. You have to come all the way into the kitchen to hear that it is running. I bow to the new dishwasher.


Let’s not forget the ongoing renovation of the guest room. Allen and I have spent many, many weekend hours working in there. After painting and finishing the wainscotting (that could NOT have just been last weekend…upon further reflection I see that’s because it was TWO weeks ago), we still had to paint the trim a semi-gloss white, paint the ceiling, install a new ceiling fan, and update the electrical outlets. Then we got the call that our king bed (that we bought in September) was finally arriving on Tuesday. That lit a fire under us. On Saturday of this last weekend, we bought sheets for our king-sized bed and the guest room queen bed (which we were too ashamed to pass our sheets on to, though the bed is moving from our room to there). We then painted the trim on the wall that the bed would sit against and moved the bed into the room. (This allowed us to have a guest stay over on Saturday night too – hi, Rebecca!) Allen updated all the electrical, and I painted about half of the ceiling on Sunday. Still to go: the rest of the trim, the rest of the ceiling, moving a dresser from our room to the guest room, and the ceiling fan. Our room is ready to accommodate our new bed tomorrow though!

Somewhere in the middle of all this, we also found time to put a first coat of brown paint throughout the upstairs hallway. (Because we were bored?) Yes, we did originally paint the hallway yellow. And yes, I have hated it ever since. (I quite like it in the sunroom though.) So back to my soothing, wonderful brown. It’s a shade lighter than what we painted the dining room.

When all those things are done, that’s IT. We’re not doing anything else for a long, long time. Except maybe entertaining guests!

UPDATE: Here’s a picture of the guest room bed and the one wall that we finished painting the trim on.


Here’s the king bed in our bedroom.


Now you’ve seen them…but we still welcome guests to show off the updates in person!

DonorsChoose bests $75,000 in the giving challenge!

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 7:23 pm by Lauren

As of 7 pm on Monday, October 26, DonorsChoose supporters have inspired $76,195 in donations from 1,957 donors! That’s great news!

The goal of the October 2009 giving challenge is to raise $100,000 or inspire 5,000 donors. Wouldn’t it be amazing to do both? If you can give support to this cause – with a donation of as little as $1 – click here to find a proposal that you’d like to provide some funding for.

The proposal I chose to provide some funding for (must practice what I preach) is “ELL Students Love to Read Too.” You can also find it on my Giving Page. This proposal asks for bilingual and Spanish-language books, as well as WhisperPhones for a classroom in Chicago. These are materials that generous donors have provided to my classroom in the past. WhisperPhones are plastic headsets that a student can whisper into and hear an amplification of the words. I love WhisperPhones for younger students, who have little sense of the volume of their voices when reading aloud (and who can create quite a cacophony during independent reading), but they’re also great for older students who are just learning to read. In DC, I had a middle school student who was reading on a 2nd grade level. He was very embarrassed to read out loud, but it was essential that he do so – at least to himself – so that he could hear his own reading and understand what it was that he read. Having the WhisperPhones in our classroom saved him the embarrassment; he could hear himself, but the rest of the group couldn’t hear him. What a wonderful tool.

If you don’t want to just be inspired, but want to go on and inspire others, you can create a Giving Page too. When I created my Giving Page, I looked for projects that were of personal or academic interest to me. In addition to the project I described above, ELL Students Love to Read Too, I have a couple of projects on my Giving Page that were posted by teachers who work at my former schools. (I won’t name them here for confidentiality purposes; you can see pictures of students there on proposals.) I worked with one of those teachers, Mrs. H of “Help Us Give Our Classroom Library a Little Class.” She is an inspiring educator, so I’m glad to add her proposal to my Giving Page. Some of the other projects on there just sounded inspiring to me. I have gotten pretty involved in running, and I’m coaching Girls on the Run at my school, so I added a project from another Girls on the Run coach who is looking for MP3 players for her students. Along the same lines, a teacher in Oregon is training with her high school students for a marathon and requested 16 iPod shuffles to help them keep up the intensity while running long distances. I can get behind that!

I hope you’ll consider the impact a small donation can have: Be one of the 5,000 donors or help DonorsChoose reach $100,000 in October, and another $100,000 in matching funds will become available to fund teacher proposals. With leverage like that, it’s a great time for giving.

October 23, 2009

Two more ways to give to DonorsChoose – and both free!

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:13 am by Lauren

Want to donate, but you really can’t spare the money right now? I’ve got two ways that you can donate without spending a dime!

First, if you’re feeling bold, you can get also a $10 DonorsChoose Giving Card from Yahoo for recording a video of the Yahoo Yodel here: http://yodelstudio.yahoo.com/us/. Then you use your Giving Card to support DonorsChoose projects! Yahoo will be doing this project until October 31, so get yodelling!

Secondly, find those old unused gift cards that you’ll never get around to spending! You can go to Plastic Jungle, type in the gift card number and amount of the gift card, mail the gift card to Plastic Jungle (with their prepaid postage label), and receive a Giving Card to DonorsChoose electronically for the amount of your gift card. What a great way to turn unused gift cards into a positive contribution to education! Get started converting your gift card to good works here!

You can also make a donation directly to DonorsChoose here!

Keep up the good work!

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , at 11:07 am by Lauren

I wanted to post a quick update on the DonorsChoose challenge!

As of 10:54 am on Friday, October 23, DonorsChoose has raised $69,709 from 1,736 donors! Since my last post, that’s $7,605 raised from 226 new donors. If 226 donors can do all that, can you give $1 or $5 to the challenge?

You can still search for projects to donate to, or I’ve set up a Giving Page with some proposals that piqued my interests. Click on either of those links to find a way to help get essential and enrichment resources to high poverty schools!

A big thanks to those of you that I know donated – Dad, Grandma, Jill, Julie, Sarah, Alan – and to those that donated that I don’t know about, as well as to Grandma and Alan for spreading the word to help out even more!

October 21, 2009

$1 can make a huge difference!

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 10:52 pm by Lauren

DonorsChoose will get $100,000 more in funding from corporate donors if they can get 5,000 individuals to donate OR if they can get $100,000 in donations in October. As of today, they had $62,104 donated by 1,526 donors. Can you give $1? Click here to go to the DonorsChoose site and support a teacher proposal you believe in.

This is a cause dear to my heart after teaching in a DC charter school with few resources (no school library) and neither the school, nor the kids’ families, nor me to provide all the things we needed to learn. Donors provided us with $1000s worth in books for a classroom library representative of my students’ interests and cultures, classroom sets of Whisperphones to aid reading instruction, and multiple opportunities for field trips.  Now that I’m teaching in northern Virginia, my school’s need is not as high, so I don’t have any proposals posted, but I really appreciate DonorsChoose’s goal of connecting individual and corporate donors with needy classrooms. It’s an amazing idea, and they’re doing a great job of it!

It’s only fair that I should provide a donation to DonorsChoose too, if I’m asking you all to, so I provided some funding to a project called “ELL Students Love to Read Too.” The teacher is looking for bilingual and Spanish language books for her students, as well as Whisperphones, and since my classroom has received both of these from donors in the past, I felt it was appropriate that I give back in kind!

You can find teacher proposals on DonorsChoose for just about anything you’re interested in, from jumping rope to ESOL to poetry to using iPods as a learning tool. You can also search for projects to fund in your state or town or even at your local school. (DonorsChoose has expanded over the years to serve all 50 states.) With a minimum donation of just $1 counting towards DonorsChoose’s goal of inspiring 5,000 donors, there’s no excuse not to help public school students across the US receive that extra $100,000 in funding. Have a look around the site; I know you’ll find something worth $1 to you.

October 14, 2009

Brandi Carlile: Different venue, same great sound

Posted in Daily life tagged , , , , , , at 7:52 pm by Lauren

Today my students asked for music as they worked, and I put in the new Brandi Carlile CD. Not halfway through the first song, one of them pleaded, “Turn it off!” I was a little disappointed that they didn’t like it, but then he said, very sincerely, “It’s so sad. It’s going to make me cry.”

I appreciate the sentiment, but with the heart-breaking quality of some of Brandi Carlile’s songs, there is also a haunting beauty, and her new album has been on repeat in my car, my house, and my head since we went to see her in concert last week.

We were a little hesitant to see her at the 930 Club after her intimate acoustic show at the Birchmere in March. But the price was right (just $27 each), and she played an early show, so we let go of our reluctance surrounding the venue.

We arrived at the perfect time – moments before Brandi and the band came out to sing an acoustic version of Oh Dear. If we had been secretly afraid that the show would be too like the performance at the Birchmere (afraid of a repeat of an amazing show?), those fears were quickly assuaged. Brandi’s banter with the crowd is just effortless (and it’s easy to pretend it’s not rehearsed, though you know that any artist must repeat the same jokes night after night), and two of the only songs that seemed like repetition were a Turpentine sing-along and the unplugged version of Dying Day (which I could listen to endlessly all the same).

Brandi regaled us with stories. My favorite was the opportunity she had to record Caroline on her new album with Elton John. She said to the crowd, “When you meet your hero, you think you’re going to be awesome, but you’re not.” The whole way to meet him, she was wondering what he would be wearing, and he did not disappoint, showing up in hot pink sunglasses. And then – how to tell it as well as she did? – when it was time to start recording the song, he took out a case, and she froze, thinking, “This is the stuff that no one sees! He’s going to put on the glasses he needs to SEE!” And Elton John opens that case and takes out a pair of prescription hot-pink glasses.

After playing The Story, Brandi Carlile and the twins and Josh and their new drummer all came back out to play an encore – and never stopped! Okay, I exaggerate, but their encore was at least five, if not six songs. Brandi played Folsom Prison Blues for us again, but led into it with Jackson, which I already couldn’t get out of my head before the show! (Brandi Carlile, you’re in my head!) And we had a real treat when Katie Herzig and her band came out to play Wish You Well with Brandi Carlile’s crew. She finished with That Year, saying it would likely be her next single. Of the new album, I have several new favorites: notably, Before It Breaks, I Will, and If There Was No You. It’s just too bad I can’t play it for my fifth graders anymore (without tears, that is).

I look forward to the day when I can go to work in a pair of boots and a Boy Scout shirt, but until then, I’m going to take every chance I get to watch Brandi Carlile doing it.

October 13, 2009

Texas sheet cake

Posted in Daily life, Food tagged , , , , , , , at 8:30 pm by Lauren

The story is that my parents had this Texas sheet cake at a restaurant in Tampa (back when I was a wee babe) and begged for the recipe.

This may have been the first thing I learned to bake. It certainly was the prize of my college years. The most memorable baking was when we were watching Ishtar for the first time, and Devon stuck her finger in the hot icing and burned her fingerprint off (for months), and while we were tending to her finger, the icing burned and Peter and I ended up scraping it into a gutter in the alley.

Why did I ever stop making it? Maybe it was because I learned to cook and bake other things, and I got distracted. Maybe it was because I had to start watching my weight so cooking with shortening became impractical. Maybe it was just because keeping buttermilk on hand was too much of a deterrent to impromptu baking.

Whatever the reason, I made Texas sheet cake tonight, and since it now qualifies as a family recipe, handed down, I thought I’d post the recipe here.

Texas Sheet Cake

1 cup water

1/2 cup butter

1/4 cup shortening

1/4 cup cocoa

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

In saucepan, combine water, butter, shortening and cocoa; cook and stir until boiling occurs.  Remove from heat.  In a bowl mix together flour, sugar, soda, cinnamon and salt.  Add hot cocoa mixture to flour mixture and mix until smooth.  Add buttermilk, eggs and vanilla and beat well.  Pour into greased 15 ½ x 10 ½ x 1 inch pan.  Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.


½ c. butter

6 tbsp. buttermilk

¼ c. cocoa

1 1b. powdered sugar, sifted

1 tsp. vanilla 

In saucepan, combine butter, buttermilk and cocoa.  Cook on med. heat and stir until mixture boils.  Remove from heat.  Gradually blend in powdered sugar and vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Immediately pour frosting over warm cake.  Cool.

Pour yourself a tall glass of milk. Eat. Enjoy.

October 12, 2009

Evolution of a guest room

Posted in Home Improvement, Moving on up tagged , , , , , , , , at 11:00 pm by Lauren

When we moved in to our house about a year ago, we had trouble envisioning exactly how our guest room was going to look like somewhere guests might want to stay. Let me paint a picture: teal panelling with chair rail separating it from the teal walls and wall-to-wall carpet – teal, of course. And then there was the teal-painted wall of ceiling tiles, meant to serve as a cork board. Oh, forget painting a picture. These will be so much more effective:


And somehow, against all odds, we now have some sort of before and after:



Note the painted ceiling tiles in the “before” picture there. Allen peeled – and chipped and beat – those tiles off, revealing a mess of black crusted Liquid Nails.


We pulled up the carpet. Fortunately, the hardwood is in decent condition, despite all attempts to crush its spirit with carpet tack and staples.


Then the painted panelling had to go. The demo was very dusty work, as the pictures attest. (I hope my camera survives it!) There was a surprise underneath some of the panelling. Liberty! Independence!


John came over to help put the room back together, and he and Allen put up drywall over the Liquid Nails disaster.


Next to go up was the new beadboard. No more painted wood panelling – we’d have proper wainscotting for this room! (The bonus is that by putting new beadboard up, we’d cover up the old mess without having to toil at fixing the walls.)


Ta da!


Allen spent a few days putting up the baseboard and the beadboard. I primed the drywall and the patched areas on the wall.


Today we spent most of the day in the guest room, with Allen putting up more beadboard and me painting. John asked me what color of blue-gray-green we’d be painting this room, and I was pleased to be able to say, “Red!”


Now the beadboard is all up, and the painting is finished. For now. Allen will put on the chair rail next, and then it all needs to be caulked, and then we can paint all the trim a semi-gloss white.


I already can’t believe how different it looks. I looked at that blue room, teal all over, and even with our talk about white beadboard and red walls, I couldn’t see the room in my mind’s eye. It’s not done yet, but it’s starting to be easier to see.

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