26 December 2010

End-of-the-year thoughts

We've had a wonderful Christmas--time off with the family, not stressing over the job. There are too many "bests" to list this year, but the best thing for our family has been my leaving academia. We are off on a grand new adventure and so far things are looking very bright. We have made so many new friends and really feel like we're a part of Homestead instead of just living in it. The kids are thriving, and Colby and I are very involved in our new church, Speedway Community.

All the grandparents are coming in for the New Year (and a second family Christmas). Our thoughts are with Colby's nephew Drake, a two-time cancer survivor, and Colby's grandfather, who been in the hospital three times since Thanksgiving.

Life takes strange turns and twists, and sometimes it's just best to take advantage of the new opportunities rather than shying away from them. This year has literally turned on its head for us, for me, but it's been a fantastic family experience. And I am especially grateful for the four other families who have become forever linked in the Atala experience: the Howarths, the Morgans, the Scheffs, and the Valles. We are also so very thankful to the other families and friends who joined us on this "fantastic voyage" from its inception.

Happy New Year and don't forget to Spread Your Wings!

17 December 2010

I love my life

Can't really say more than that. I'll post an update about the last two crazy weeks in another day or so. But right now I'm listening to Livya sing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer while she's in the shower. Too cute! Another moment I would have missed if I'd been commuting 2 hours a day.

Have an awesome Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you may be celebrating this time of year. We are in major planning for the 7th annual Burns-Leider Pig (and Turkey) Roast on January 1st. Hope you all can make it. We had 117 folks last year, and I'd like to break 200 this year!

Spread your wings!

03 December 2010


I can't believe how time flies. We made it back from an awesome Thanksgiving in Texas with all of Colby's family. Now Christmas is only three weeks away! School is buzzing with Hanukkah decorations and food, Christmas preparations, giant snowflakes to fill and hang, and so much more. The kids are singing at Losner Park next Friday, our Atala Winter Production is the Thursday after that, and then the last day of school is Friday, December 17.

So different than years' past when I had to work through our holiday break, Spring break, and all summer. 2011 is going to be fantastic! My family is setting up the tree this weekend and decorating everything like crazy. Can't wait to get started on the 7th Annual Burns-Leider Pig Roast! More on that later.

Spread your wings!

23 November 2010


Earlier this week Cheryl Morgan and I took nine 3rd and 4th graders to visit the Homestead Soup Kitchen. The President of that organization, Mrs. Juanita Smith, is one of the most important figures in recent Homestead history. Our students were able to meet her for a second time (she visited Atala last week) and actually see how the whole operation works. Liam, who has loved to cook with me since he was in preschool, is now interested in cooking in a facility like for a job down the road. I love his attitude--he just wants to help people. Being around the kitchen and cooking/baking/eating means a lot to him and now he wants to share it with others.

The last two days I have had the great pleasure of making butter with every single child at Atala Montessori School. Livya was so excited this morning (about the butter and our trip) that she could barely contain herself and kept jumping in with all the answers to my questions. We had a blast--jumped around, talked about fat globules, and generally caused a lot of noise for a great cause. Every student successfully made butter in partnership with at least two other students. Awesome!

Today we left school at 1 pm to drive 20 hours to get to Texas for Thanksgiving. We made it I-90, around the bend of Lake City, and will drive the rest of the trip tomorrow. It's an especially important Thanksgiving in that my nephew, Drake, is battling cancer for the second in his short 14-year-old life. He's had a tough road, but has an amazing ability to see the good in nearly everything. Our kids are very excited to see their cousins (all of them!), even if it is for only about 8 hours.

Despite all the chaos the last few weeks, I feel very blessed in so very many ways. A very Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Count your blessings and take nothing for granted. Life can change on a dime.

Spread your wings!

09 November 2010

A New Era

I have finally moved on...FIU cut off my email account. Ah well, I'll survive on Gmail (personal contact) and Squirrelmail (Atala contact). 

And by the way, my next book is going to be a collaborative effort with the students at Atala--Jokes for Kids (need a better name, but I bet Sonya can help with that...). That will be an awesome Summer project!

Spread your wings!

06 November 2010

My Crazy Awesome Life

My posts are getting further and further apart. It's been up and down the last three weeks. We're on a roll now. So much has happened with Atala. Kids are loving it, parents are loving it, staff is loving it. We had our first big fundraiser on October 29. In 2.5 hours we made over $1600! All of this money will go to scholarships and playground equipment. Couldn't have done it without help from everyone at Atala. I think that's why we're all having so much fun and are seeing such quick success. There's no one person "in charge." We all work together, listen to one another, and pull for a common goal--the children.

So much is so very, very positive. We had a rainy, but fun picture day this past week. Colby says the is good luck--we had rain at our Grand Opening, rain at the Chili Cook-Off, and now rain on Picture Day. Oh well...at least the grass will stay greener a bit longer. This month we'll have Thanksgiving celebrations and then we're practically at the end of the year!

On a strange and weird note, we have had a number of "visitors" to come see us. Apparently there are people out there who are questioning our existence and calling everyone and anyone in authority who might listen. It's turning out to be the Boy (or Girl) Who Cried Wolf as everyone of these "visitors" leaves our campus with great praise and a handshake. There may always be someone/something trying to keep you down. But if you're doing what's right, you'll eventually win. Keep moving forward with conviction and ignore the negative energy. It's not worth a second thought.

Going on six months away from FIU. At this point I rarely think about academic life until one of my friends sends me something so outrageous I can't resist actually reading the story or looking at the picture and laughing. It's amazing to me how silly academics can be. Do you realize in the past weeks I read a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education (the journal that all serious academic administrators read religiously every week) on how 2 Ivy League Colleges "outed" undergraduate seniors who refused to donate money to their senior fund? The colleges (supposedly the cream of the crop) actually tried to shame these students into giving money to the college by publishing their name and stating that they wouldn't give!

Looking forward to a great trip to Texas for Thanksgiving! We'll drive right after school is out and hit Texas the day before turkey day. Then we'll drive home on Saturday straight through as far as we can go. Whirlwind at best, but it will be nice to spend more time with Colby's family. Hope you all are planning an awesome Thanksgiving, too!

Spread your wings!

14 October 2010

Worth repeating

So it's kind of a cop-out to repost something I wrote on Facebook on my blog, but this one is really funny and points out how awesome it is that I can around to laugh and joke with my kids a lot more this year than I have the last four years:

Livya: We should get a little pig.
Me: With all the animals we have, why do we need a pig?
Livya: Because pigs make bacon!
Liam and me: (total silence followed by hysterical laughter)
Me: Livya, pigs don't *make* bacon, they *are* bacon!
Livya: (realizing what I just said) No! That's so sad and gross!

Spread your wings!

09 October 2010

Been so long

It's been almost three weeks since I have written. I can't believe how fast times flies when you're having fun and working hard. The kids are all loving school and their teachers, and everyone seems to be very happy.

Nearly all of the teachers, administrators, and assistants attended a Montessori workshop at Alexander Montessori last weekend. It was a lot of fun for me both as a parent and now a new administrator at Atala. The owners attended a meeting of all the owners of Montessori Schools in South Florida (east and west coasts). This group will now start to hold quarterly meetings so we can all get together and talk about various issues. As a parent I got a better picture of some of the things involved at the upper elementary and middle school levels. Since I've had two go through preschool I feel like I at least have a overview of what goes on in those rooms, but I was pretty clueless about the older kids. If you think it's awesome when your preschooler comes home and talk about Christopher Columbus, just wait and see what they say about science later on! Very cool!

New things on the horizon--PE will now include martial arts and we're starting a martial arts afterschool program, too. We are also starting to think about our Winter Production which will take place in December. We have launched a lot of fundraising projects in the last month--Box Tops (thank you Jannah), Capri Sun pouches collection (thank you Mrs. Foster and the parents for saving all of these), and we are preparing for the First Annual Atala Chili Cook-Off! So far we have 8 entries, but I have about a dozen more people who are up for the challenge. I have scored some very cool prizes for the winners, so I hope everyone comes out to eat some good food and hang out with friends! I'm really trying to include not only out current parents and friends, but also families, friends, and neighbors who may not be as familiar with Atala. We hope to have a great party and earn some money to support our scholarship resources and playground fund.

Not much else new. Life is good. There are a lot of long hours this first year, and I think we're all exhausted, but I know that as we continue to grow and mature as an organization, we will be able to relax a bit...and then there's always Thanksgiving break!

Spread your wings!

26 September 2010

To everything there is a season

This was a topsy-turvey day. Started out with church, which was fabulous. The quickly moved on to the Soroptimist Club Fashion Show (thank you, Adrienne!). What a great event--women from all over getting together to raise scholarship money. The event was huge--at least 20 tables of 10 people filled the Signature Gardens. Good food and a silent auction. Saw tons of friends, made a lot of new acquaintances, and received at least 1-2 invitations to speak to various groups about Atala. Went with Erin and Yvonne, who are the two biggest social butterflies I know. Between the two of them, I think they knew everyone in the room!

Unfortunately that part of the afternoon had to be cut short so we could attend the funeral services of I. Stanley Levine. For those of you who don't know who this is, Stanley is the man behind many, many art projects in Miami (http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/09/23/1837863/man-of-the-arts-changed-south.html), including ArtSouth, where Atala is located. You might think a funeral would be sad time for everyone, the ceremony was uplifting, filled with humorous anecdotes, and really inspired everyone who attended. Beatriz joined us for the service, so it was very nice to have the group of us representing Atala. We saw many of our ArtSouth friends, as well as a number of people from the community. We are planning something very special to honor Stanley's memory with our children at Atala. Stay tuned for updates very soon.

Now I'm home and watching "Percy Jackson and the Lighting Thief" for the second time in as many days. Then it's off to bed for the season premiere of "The Simpsons." :)

Spread your wings!

24 September 2010

So long...

It's been 10 days since I last posted. I can't believe it. It's been a whirlwind, and everything is awesome. The kids are loving school. The parents are fabulous. And the people with whom I work are amazing. Let's see where to begin...

Let's start at the end of my 10-day hiatus. Today was the first day of the first bake sale for the Upper Elementary kids (grades 3 and 4). Moms and dads from all over the school baked things to be sold in order for the students to earn money to take a big field trip to SeaCamp http://www.seacamp.org/. That in and of itself was super cool. The kids and Mrs. Morgan stood out by the playground for about 45 minutes selling the goods. In the end the kids raised $52.75! The cost per child is around $400, so this is a nice start to helping defray the costs of the trip. To top it off one of the parents who shall remain nameless but who happens to be Gio's dad bought a whole tray of brownies and then proceeded to have Gio pass them out to all the kids on the playground! How awesome is that?! That's the kind of Jimmy Stewart, small town, big family moment that just sticks with you forever.

On a personal note, Liam is having an awesome time playing his new electric guitar he got last weekend for his 9th birthday, and Livya is heaven over her new violin from the Greater Miami Youth Symphony. My kids are happy, I'm happy, and now I just need to get Colby and Livya finally over these nasty colds. We'll have a peaceful Saturday, decorate for Halloween, hit the P.A.T.C.H.E.S. Spaghetti Dinner (http://www.patchesppec.org/) and the relax and watch a movie. Sunday will be a bit hectic for me, but hopefully Colby and the kids can rest and hang out. I'll post more on Sunday after the fact.

Have a beautiful weekend and...

Spread your wings!

14 September 2010

So Happy

I'm so very, very happy that I am no longer bothered with all the red tape, egos, and insecurity that somehow shrouds so many people in academia. For some reason, some of my former colleagues feel the need to show everyone how important they are, how much they know, and how much power the wield. The things I've heard this week would make anyone simply laugh at how insignificant FIU, administration, and academic life can be. Keep it in perspective, folks.

Those who are at the heart of that  academic insecurity don't realize how insignificant life is without a purpose. Money is not a purpose. Power and fame are not purposes. My family, my kids, and my chosen family at Atala are my purpose. I know now that many of my former colleagues really didn't believe me when I said money doesn't mean anything to me. Sure, it's nice to have money, but unfortunately everyone I know who has a lot of money is a complete mess or completely self centered.

Atala has come so far in such a short time. All of that success stems from how strong we are as a group. One person can't do it alone. I know it sounds super cheezy (and Colby will cringe when he reads this), but it does take a village. Atala is strong because of the five women who have broken ground and moved it forward. It's even stronger because of the numerous parents, grandparents, partners, spouses, and children who believed in us enough to take that leap, too. We will be forever intwined, and that's an awesome thing to know. Tomorrow we will all receive our very first paychecks! They may not be a lot, but we made it. And we will continue to flourish. Let's celebrate our many collective achievements and offer a toast to everyone who made Atala a reality.

Spread your wings!

13 September 2010

Pay Day!

Had a fabulous day today. Accomplished so much in organizing and cleaning (you don't know how hard that last item is for me...). The biggest news is that I worked on our payroll today, and the good news is that we are all going to get paid. Three months ago, we didn't think it would happen for sure, but all is well. Wednesday we strike gold and will all go out to celebrate!

Spread your wings!

07 September 2010

Week 1

All that work this summer, and we finally opened. I have been joking for the last month that I couldn't wait until school opens so we can all relax. That actually held true this week. The anticipation was crazy, and finally this past week we all started to settle into our daily tasks.

I feel like Vin Diesel: days are flying fast and furiously!

The Preview: The Grand Opening was awesome! We had over 250 people show to help celebrate the school's opening. Mayor Bateman, Councilman Maldonado, Yvonne Knowles, Robert Barnes, Stanley Levine, and any number of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, Montessori directors, friends, family, and neighbors showed up in support. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of tears (the good kind). Even the artist Romero Britto sent a congratulatory note and donated three of his new children's books! I've invited him down to campus in the spring--it would be wonderful for him to meet our children.

Day 1: the rain clouds opened and it poured 10 minutes before the children and parents were supposed to arrive. And then as if by some divine intervention, the clouds broke, the rain ceased, and we started school with only a handful of soggy feet.

The children are so happy they are chanting "Atala" and waking up early to get to school. Seriously, I know this sounds absurd, but I have had several parents tell me that their kids love school. Even my daughter Livya (age 4) is making up songs with lyrics like "Atala is a rock and roll school, it's so cool." Can't beat that!

We also have been recognized in the Miami Herald. The mention may be small, but we are very happy to have been one of two schools that represented Homestead: New school year means several new schools in Miami-Dade.

Week 2 is abuzz with fixing little things we didn't have time to do before we opened: hooking up the computer lab, downloading software, organizing pizza Fridays, and beginning the day-to-day activities in the classroom. The Labor Day three-day weekend was certainly a huge help. We all needed a little rest after working out tails off this summer!

Final note, I promise. In the last three weeks I have heard from any number of former students, colleagues, and friends all congratulating me on the new gig. I am speechless that there is so much support for leaving academia, jumping off, and taking a stand. I am so very, very happy to have made that decision and have had the love and support of Colby through it all. I'm sure it sounds cheezy, but it's true.

Spread your wings!

28 August 2010

Today is the day

Spread your wings!

I'll post pictures and comments about the Grand Opening tomorrow--


26 August 2010

Count down

So much to do, so few days to finish. We're all in overdrive mode at this point. Everything is as done as we can get it. Grand Opening will be spectacular! Fabulous food, great friends, and beautiful children!

Oh...and in the midst of the chaos, cleaning, and we were all certified by the American Heart Association for CPR today. Thank you so much Patty and Amaury!

Can't wait for school to start. We are going to have an awesome cool year.

Spread your wings!

24 August 2010


Health Dept...check
City of Homestead...check

Awesome day, but totally exhausted...check

One more quick note: one of our contractors--Another Wire Guy (aka Mark Harris)--has been completely fabulous. Not only is he helping us finish off the big jobs on a low budget, but he has taken a liking to us so much that he is now volunteering his time. If you have a job that needs getting done (stucco, plaster, tile, painting, etc.), Mark is the dude. We highly recommend him!

Spread your wings!

23 August 2010

Teacher Work Week, Day 1


Too much work to do and not enough time. I need Hermione's time turner to add another month before we start. It's all getting done, but there's no time to think. Just need to keep moving forward.

Tomorrow, we conquer the Health Department. I'll keep you posted on how that goes. Should be fine.

Spread your wings!

22 August 2010

The 100-mile drive

So we had our big inspections this week--lots of smaller ones, but the biggest was the Miami-Dade County Fire Dept. With the small exception of a new strobe that needs to be permitted and inspected, we passed everything. We officially have our Temporary Certificate of Occupancy. This was huge. I seriously thought I was going to throw up when the inspector came to visit. But he was totally nice and very positive. Only trouble was he gave us the wrong instructions on getting the TCO completed. So Yvonne (our expeditor) and I drove from Homestead to Doral twice before things were settled (thus the title of today's entry, the 100-mile drive). So we have 60 days to get everything finalized and then we have the final CO. 60 days is total overkill; we'll need a like 2 weeks to finalize everything. 

In addition to Teacher Work Week, this week we head to DCF and the Health Department. The City should issue the operational license mid week this week. So it will be a busy week for sure!

Everything with Atala is fantastic! The rooms are being set up, the playground is moving (despite all the rain), the office is nearly, and all the grounds are being cleaned and prepped for our Grand Opening on Saturday. Can't wait.

[Sad news about ridiculous decisions from FIU. But that's all I'm going to say. Nothing can bring me down now.]

Spread your wings!

17 August 2010

First Grant!

Our first grant came through today! We now have seed money to celebrate Women's History Month by taking the whole school up to the Deering Estate in March to learn about the contributions of women musicians, artists, and environmentalists. So exciting!

Work continues at the school. We're all exhausted, but staying very positive. Had our first pre-Cub Scout meeting tonight. Yes, Atala Montessori will be home to Pack 24, and we are so happy to help them out.

Tomorrow all our doors and locks will be finished. We have AC in all the rooms now.

Sra Valle was the first to actually have her room in place, complete with even a few lessons on the newly installed shelves! I don't think she will win anything monetary, but at least she'll have the peace of mind to breathe a bit. I think the elementary teachers will be next. Can't wait for all the boxes to migrate from my office to their final destinations.

Spread your wings!

14 August 2010

Day 13

The whole church is headed to the school today. Speedway Community Church, where we've been attending the last six months or so, has very graciously volunteered to help us out today. I have a list of things to do--paint, fix, patch, lay sod, put legs on tables, etc. More of our wonderful parent volunteers have also contacted us saying that they'll be at school to help, too. Should be an awesome day!

Day 13: this is my 13th straight day of work. Ack. I'm ready to take tomorrow off. I'll also take Tuesday off because by the way I'm co-hosting the SEAMUS National Conference with Colby in January. So I have to get cracking finding hotel rooms for 200 people.

All is good.

Spread your wings!

11 August 2010

just keep swimming, just keep swimming

Swimming, swimming, swimming...

I love Nemo. I think we watched Nemo nearly everyday when Livya was three. She's starting to outgrow that movie, and has definitely been in a princess phase this last year. Enough of this, I know you're all reading to find out what's going on with the school. So here goes!

  • registered with the state as a private school
  • business license with the city 
  • business license with the county
  • finalizing a CRA Facade grant to help recover some of our construction costs
  • ADA ramp was poured on the third floor
  • bathroom walls are up in both bathroom areas on the third floor
  • new office furniture in the office
  • old office furniture will be up in the elementary room today
  • toddler room has been painted, got a new sink, and is having the baseboard finished today

We have a group of volunteers coming this Saturday to help with painting...if anyone would like to join us, head on over after 9 am.

Spread your wings!

09 August 2010

8 Days a Week

Beatles' Version:
Eight days a week
I love you.
Eight days a week
Is not enough to show I care.

Atala Version:
Eight days a week
I paint you.
Eight days a week
Is not enough to finish our work.

We've been there 8 straight days and are starting to go a little buggy at this point. However, things are moving along quickly. We have the third-floor ramp being poured tomorrow, the bathrooms are nearly done, the shelves are nearly done, and the office is a disaster because all the orders are arriving and there's no place to put them. It's all great news! 20 days until the opening. I'm working on a plan for the Grand Opening--been sending out the press release all over the county and working on a food list. I'm guessing we'll have over 200 people attend.

Spread your wings!

06 August 2010

Hitting the wall

The good news is that everything is going swimmingly well. The bad news is that I think we all hit the wall today. Not enough sleep, too much heat, and just an overwhelming amount of people tugging us all in every direction. Everyone is working seven days a week to complete everything. All the inspections have gone extremely well. And now we're just waiting for everything to wrap up.

A few updates:

  • Fence will be done on the playground tomorrow
  • Elementary room will be set tomorrow with the exception of the interior bathroom which will be completed next week
  • Toddler room will be set tomorrow with the exception of the sink and cabinetry
  • All the orders are coming in--my office is filled with boxes up to the ceiling

And in the midst of everything, we're still getting registrations! Life is great...exhausting...but great.

Spread your wings!

04 August 2010

Funny Story

This is a short one, I promise.

Two electricians walk into the office today to work on things. One looks over at me and asks if we are running a religious school. So I say 'no,' but that there are several in Homestead.

Then he questions me again--"Are you sure you aren't running a church school or something here?" I say no, that we're a Montessori school.

Finally in desperation he says, "Yeah, that's it. But doesn't monastery mean religious?" His buddy and I start cracking up and tell him that the spelling is quite different on our school, and that we are definitely not training little monks or nuns around here!

Spread your wings!

03 August 2010

A trip to Hialeah

Had a road trip with Patti, Cheryl, Elizabeth, and Beatriz. We hit pay dirt and bought all our storage cabinets (tall and short), a table for the upper elementary students, a found an awesome deal on paper. So for all your Montessori parents out there reading, we now have all the paper for all those cutting/cortar lessons for the whole year! So when your child comes home with those little bits of scraps in the envelopes, thank OfficeFurniture4Less.com. They had fabulous prices and will deliver clear to Homestead!

Then we found a woman who had intended to open a Montessori school nearly Miramar but is actually moving to Kileen, TX. So she sold us all of her Montessori materials. We came home with enough to nearly finish equipping the elementary room and the preschool rooms. Very cool!

Had to say good-bye to my Canadian sister, Cheryl. She was here for a visit and had to go back home to her hubby and daughter. I'm hoping she moves down here in December--she's an awesome seamstress and a black belt in karate to boot! I'm missing her already.

Now I'm exhausted physically and mentally and ready for a good night's sleep.

Spread your wings!

28 July 2010

Back in the Saddle

Just as I guessed, three days after we left on vacation, the construction started. I can't believe how fast things are going. The toddler room has a new door to the outside (Fire Department required they have two exits/entrances). The came in and cut through a window last week, and as of today the door was officially hung. The preschool bathroom is completely ripped apart to put in new kiddie-sized toilets. It's amazing how quickly they are working--the whole bathroom is supposed to be done by next week. Sinks are going in both preschool rooms (the holes have already been cut and the pipes are ready to go). The elementary bathrooms have been disassembled and are being reassembled hourly.

The playground has fill up to the edge of the concrete slab. So no one will be tempted to go flying off the side of the slab. Bids for the fence have been submitted, so that will likely go up next week. Equipment has been purchased, and all we have to do is get the soil and sod going, and we'll be in business. I'll post pictures on the school's website soon.

Parents are calling like crazy. While the teachers are busy creating their classrooms from scratch (shelves, furniture, lessons, etc.), I'm planning the Grand Opening celebration. I'm so excited that we have a very special guest coming for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Can't say who it is...

Other folks from the Homestead City Council and Homestead Main Street Committee are coming, too. Plus we'll have the Greater Miami Youth Symphony and the Boy Scouts there!

All in all a really crazy two-week period. We are in high gear at this point.

Spread your wings!

15 July 2010

On Vacation

So just as the construction is slated to start, and just as the fence line is going to go in, and just as the rooms are filling up, I am heading on vacation. Wasn't supposed to happen that way, but it just did. Needless to say, I will be on cell, email, and Facebook as much as possible, but I may not be able to post much. But I am so very excited to see Colby's family this week. It will nice to hang out and try to relax a bit.

Spread your wings!

14 July 2010

more updates

Everyday something new happens. We have had inspectors, parents, kids, fence-builders, playground designers, etc. out to the school this week. It's been a madhouse, but in a really, really good way.

The best news of the week was our "newborn" shower that took place on Saturday. We had over 40 people show up--parents, grandparents, kids, friends, and family. We celebrated the "birth" of the school, complete with a beautiful cake a la Elizabeth Valle. We had a great time and are all very grateful for all the wonderful, heartfelt gifts we received. The event certainly left its mark on everyone.

Now we're on to planning the Grand Opening! August 28, 2010 will be an awesome event--I've been inviting all the "dignitaries" and will send a Save the Date email post out to everyone to let you know about the details.

I've been racking my brains about what kind of cool office critter we can have. I am all for snakes and other reptiles, but that idea was quickly squashed by a couple of co-owners and parents who have a snake phobia. Then I was thinking about lizards, but was told they stink. Turtles are fine, but we have those at home. Hedgehogs would have been cool, but you need gloves to handle them (total bummer). So for the time being, I ordered a butterfly kit--I have a big net basket that comes with an order form for caterpillars. The caterpillars hang out for a few weeks in the net basket and then eventually emerge as Monarch butterflies! Should be cool for everyone watching the transformation. Then I can refill with new caterpillars and keep the little village going.

Spread your wings!

08 July 2010


We had a great donation that arrived from an angel--an upright piano. It's all set up in the entrance hallway, and kids were playing "It's a Small World" and other songs all day. How awesome to hear live music throughout the day!

The office is nearly all set. We will be receiving a second desk and miscellaneous file cabinets from another angel very soon. Then all that's left is to start hanging pictures and making it more personal.

Yet another angel is working on a mural for my door. Don't tell anyone--it's going to be unveiled on Saturday. And it will look awesome have had special properties that no other administrative door in the county has. Super, secret surprise coming your way! I'll take lots of pictures and post them.

Tomorrow I have a couple of companies coming to give us quotes for the final line of fence for the playground. Hopefully that will be put in next week and we can start working on that space.

Everything is looking pretty spiffy these days! The final angel of the day came and mowed the lawn, trimmed the sidewalk, picked up some awesome Mexican food for lunch, and poured me a glass of wine this evening...  :)

Spread your wings!

07 July 2010

With friends like these...

So this week I received an email from a former boss. Now that's not all that strange--I keep in contact with almost all of my former bosses. Can't say I have been in touch with the lady I worked for at the bakery when I was in high school or the manager at Big Lots, where I worked in college. But I do manage to keep in contact with all my former bosses from my academic posts over the years.

I've been in academia my entire professional career. And I do not believe that what I am about to reveal is unique to academic circles, but since I haven't held positions outside of that world, I cannot confirm. My email went something like this...just got back from my amazing concert tour, by the way what are you doing now that you quit your job at FIU, please buy my new recording, how are Colby and the kids, I'm working on a new commission and I need help figuring out what kind of computer monitor.

This same former boss was circling the waters for his protege when he thought I had taken a new job back last spring (before he actually knew I had moved on for sure). He was like a shark prying me for information and then following up with my then current-boss to let him know that the protege would make the perfect replacement for me...a big dumb shark with a neon sign saying "no sharks over here." He seemed to think that no one could really tell what he was up to. While he pretends to be a friend or an ally, he is really just watching for the appropriate time to strike. And unfortunately, there are people who buy into what he's selling without thinking things through. Not realizing he's a snake oil salesman and the stuff he's selling doesn't work.

Enough. Just had to get that off my chest. I'll update you on my awesome day today tomorrow, I promise!

Spread your wings!

04 July 2010

Fourth of July

I read the online version of the New York Times every morning as I'm enjoying my cafe con leche that has been fabulously made by my husband. This morning, there were two very interesting Op Ed pieces this morning that hit home in so many ways.

The first article was titled "America, Illustrated" and told about Norman Rockwell through the eyes of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg of all people. There is what sounds like a great exhibition opening up that Lucas and Spielberg moderated. They speak very highly of Rockwell, who is often the joke of more experimental artists, and explain how he told visual stories. They also spoke of the way he tapped into mainstream American, small town, main streets, and the like before all the political divide. It's a lot like what is starting to happen in Homestead with Atala. We have had many people just stop by and drop off donations. They don't want anything; they just want to help. This weekend we had one family donate wood floors in the preschool rooms--please read this again, I said "donate." Unbelievable. They are beautiful and so much appreciated. Much like Normal Rockwell's America, people have been pitching in where there is a need, and it doesn't matter who you are, what you believe, or where you come from.

In the second article, "School for Brides," featured another former university professor who has found a new life outside academia. In her case, the professor worked at the College of Santa Fe, which closed a couple of years ago. A friend of mine is actually mentioned in the article--not directly, but rather is referenced as one of the professors who found academic work in other places (Singapore in his case). But the focus of the article was the transformation of a costuming professor who had worked for decades only to be laid off as the college folded. Wanting to stay in Santa Fe, she later found work at a local David's Bridal shop as a seamstress. Sounds like a leap, but she landed on her feet and really likes the work. Read the article to see how she made the transformation. It's an interesting read for anyone looking for a job--sometimes there are seemingly strange connections that can be drawn when you're willing to take a risk.

Spread your wings!

01 July 2010


We passed DERM today! 'nuff said.

Spread your wings!

29 June 2010

School's Out for Summer

OK, I was running short on titles today. We've been working like crazy at Atala, and we're making great progress every day. However, as someone who has worked through every summer for the past three summers, I can tell you that the highlight of my summer so far is the weekly free movies at our local Flagship Cinemas. Every week for two hours, I get watch last year's movies with my kids, their friends, and about 200 other folks. I know, it sounds miserable to some people, but we have fun yelling at the screen (along with everyone else) and just being together. I haven't been able to spend much summer time with Colby and the kids at all the last few years. This summer has been awesome since I am not strapped to a desk pushing papers all day. I think it's taken the last month to decompress, but the transition has been pretty easy, especially when I think that FIU is beginning their 10 hour workday schedule. That's 10 hours of work Monday through Thursday with Fridays off for good behavior. It's a killer schedule for anyone. But if you are someone with children, you leave before they're awake and get home right as they are going to sleep. I don't wish that on anyone, and I am very grateful to not have that kind of schedule again this year.

More updates in the next few days--our paperwork is currently at DERM. Hopefully we'll be on to DCF and the Health Department by the end of the week. I am crossing my fingers that the construction can start as early as next week. Sitting back and waiting for people to respond is not really my strong suit.

Spread your wings!

24 June 2010

Everyday, something new

Tomorrow we will have internet and our security system. Woo hoo! Today was filled with parents stopping by, calling, and emailing. Nice to get to know people better this summer. We usually make the birthday circuit for the children in our kids' classes, but I haven't gotten to know many of the families from other classes and ages. So now I'm learning names, ages, siblings, etc. on a whole new group of children and having a ball.

Summer camp for Liam starts next week. We're sending him (and three friends) to the art camp at ArtSouth. Should be cool--I've been watching the kids out there for nearly two weeks now, and they look like they're having a ball. Can't wait to see what he brings home!

Spread your wings!

22 June 2010

Growing, growing

So much happens in one day it's crazy. Today we met with a friend of mine from the theatre department at FIU. He's awesome--totally creative and half crazy. But I adore him and wanted him to come down and brainstorm with us. So over a couple of iced teas, slices of pizza, and salads, we dreamed up ideas of how to incorporate drama into our curriculum for next year. Things like make-up classes (wouldn't it be cool for the students to learn about monster make-up at Halloween time?), costume design, accents, lighting design, and even script writing and improvisation will all make it into our classrooms next year. We're also planning field trip for the elementary students up to FIU to get a behind-the-scenes look at theatre and get to experience a dress rehearsal of FIU Theatre Department "Pride and Prejudice" production!

Then onto the Internet, our office tiling, donation collection, and best of all Atala Foundation, Incorporated. This is the non-profit arm of our school, which will allow us to apply for a number of grants and eventually lead to offering scholarships to our students, as well as renovating rooms, purchasing additional materials, lecture series to our families, etc. I'll post the website as soon as I have a minute to set one up as a companion to http://atalamontessori.org.

Not much else to tell. We're all exhausted, but it's a happy, contented, hard-working exhausted.

Spread your wings!

21 June 2010

Summer has Begun!

It's just Monday, but already a lot has happened. We have internet as of tomorrow! I can't tell you how crippling that has been for me. For the past 20 years I have been connected basically 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So to not have internet from 9 am to 6 pm every week day has about killed me. But fortunately, tomorrow, my troubles are all over. Thank you SkyeNet!

We have the last wall of the office plastered and will have the final tile flooring finished tomorrow morning. So we should be able to paint tomorrow or Wednesday for sure. Yeah! Now we can finally start to put together the office.

My throne: OK, I really don't have an ego. But when we were going through all the materials in our spaces (and we had floor to ceiling of "material") we had to make a lot of decisions of whether or not it was "art" or "junk." One of the many treasures we found was an old throne that had to have been put together for some theatrical production over the years and just tossed in a room for storage. Well I had to fight Cheryl Morgan for it ( ;) ), but I finally won and will have the throne as my desk chair in the office this week. Woo hoo!

Other things--Cheryl took care of the window treatments in our bathroom (the pretty white curtains she got work a lot better than the newspaper we were using!). I've also got curtains going up in the office. We should have that whole space ready to go this week.

We'll move forward quickly on the playground and the rooms in the next week to two weeks. And we have parents dropping by almost daily, which is awesome!

Spread your wings!

17 June 2010


Things are rockin' and rollin' here--registrations are coming in daily, parent meetings are taking place daily, the phone is ringing off the hook, rooms are primed and painted, playground is cleared, and no one is getting any rest these days. All is great!

Spread your wings!

16 June 2010

Main Street Party

The Homestead Main Street Committee invited us to join, and I attended the first meeting this evening. They are a fantastically cool committee firmly committed to preserving the historical downtown Main Street. They are basically adopting us and want to throw us a Welcome to Main Street party this summer. All the local business owners will be invited to a wine and cheese celebration of Atala opening on Main Street. Yeah!

Spread your wings!

Just meant to be

So much is going on with Atala on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. Yesterday we were given the word that the city is giving us permission to put the school in. Sounds trivial, I know. But at noon yesterday I received a call that we'd have to have a special zoning meeting with a committee that only meets once a month. Then it would have to go through three other committees before they would award us permission. That could tie us up for 6-8 weeks in meetings. Uh...that's not going to work. With lots of sleuthing, we were able to prove to the city that the spaces are already zoned educational (which a quick search in MiamiDade.gov would show you) and were part of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Surely if the public school system had a school space there, then we could, too, right? Right! So by 4pm, all was well and we are now moving ahead to the Fire Department. We've already had an unofficial walk through, so we know what we need to do and will be able to fix things up before the real inspection. So again, we're moving ahead at an incredibly fast pace.

We've had 30 high school students with us every day this week. They come from Christ Fellowship Church and are all attending a Mission Camp. They come from as far away as West Palm Beach clear down to Homestead. They are awesome kids, and we are incredibly grateful for all they have done.

Two of our husbands pulled out the entire bouganvilla hedge (for lack of a better word) yesterday. Both are cut up like crazy, but it's gone. Can't have thorny bushes on a playground...Now through the help of an awesome parent, we'll start to plan how to set up the space. We have offers of free fill, free planting material, free plants, and free labor from various friends and family. Can't beat that!

The IT guys arrive today! Woo hoo! It's been tough on me not having Internet at work.

We're also getting a number of inquiries from all over. Parents are stopping by and making appointments on a daily basis. So enrollment is definitely picking up.

Do I miss FIU? Not really. I do, however, miss a handful of people who are very hard workers and extremely supportive of each other. I receive cheers mostly over Facebook and can't wait to actually drive up with some ice coffee when they start their 10-hour work days next week. Yes, I said 10-hour work days. FIU has a policy to save money in the summer by requiring people to work 10-hour days four days a week, and then lowering the thermostats Friday through Sunday. It's awful, but no one stands up and says so. The administrators don't care because they are earning six-figure incomes anyway, they are workaholics, and they either don't have kids or they are all grown. For a family with young children, it's an awful schedule. You leave in the morning before the kids are awake and get home just in time to put them to bed. Sure, you have three days off on the weekends, but you're so tired you can't enjoy the family.

Not that men can't be the primary caretaker (Colby certainly was the last three years), but it's just one more way in which FIU keeps women from really moving up that ladder. Although there are certainly a notable exception here and there, it's very much a men's network, run by men who have no concept of what it means to really raise to a family.

In my new position with Atala, my kids are with me every day, all day. If you bring your kids to FIU, you get "the look" of righteous indignation and the behind-the-door conversations about why are they here. My kids and husband are now working side by side with me, sometimes painting, sometimes working on homework, and sometimes playing hide and seek in the classrooms. I couldn't ask for a better summer! They are building the school as much as everyone. When they invite kids over to play, chances are, they mean at the school. It's become a second home to all of us, and we love it that way.

This is getting too long. I'll save the updates and additional thoughts for another post tomorrow...

Spread your wings!

12 June 2010

Party in Homestead

It's been four days without a post. A lot of work during the day, and I've been too exhausted at night to write anything. We had a fantastic week! To start it off, we had meetings with the insurance company, the security company, the contractor, the architect, the fire department, DCF, a courier named "Lefty," and the expediter. All in all, it was extremely productive, but exhausting.

The office is now primed and painted! All the classrooms except the toddler room are clean, prepped, and primed. We are now in a holding pattern until the contractor gets in and starts the work.

The nicest things happened this week: we had 35 high school students come all the way from West Palm Beach to help us out. They cleaned, primed, painted, hauled trash, etc. There is another group from the same church coming back on Monday and Tuesday this coming week. It was amazing how quickly all the sanding and patching took place. Their only payment was brownies and cupcakes!  :)

Then we started to have donations come in from parents--boxes of books, office supplies, etc. Parents are dropping by just to say hi and see how they can help. It's awesome!

Finally, we our big Parent Informational Party today. We had over 70 people show up! Registrations started pouring in (we have already received a registration for August 2011!), we had parent sign-up sheets for volunteering, and overall just a fabulous time hanging out and chatting about next year. And now I'm exhausted (and hungry!) again. All this exhaustion is just great. I feel like I've contributed more to Homestead and to my family in the last two weeks than I have in the last 13 years. Feels great!

On the other hand, FIU just couldn't stay away! Had my first call from a frustrated department chair (won't say which one). Nice that the person called and great to catch up, but also a reminder of why I left in the first place. Also had a call from a former colleague in the School of Music, and unfortunately things there have gotten strange. I've also gotten a slew of emails from outside folks wondering what has happened. All I can say is that things move very slowly in academia, and all too many folks are only concerned with themselves. They don't think about the greater good of the community, and in many cases, they don't really concern themselves with educating their own students. All they care about is the next performance, conference, or off-campus lunch. It's sad when people loose sight of what's important in life.

Enough talk about that. We all had a great time, and we're very, very excited about the future! Time is just flying by. I've never felt so energized (even though I just got through telling you how exhausted I've been all week).

Spread your wings!

08 June 2010

Lots of updates

Lots going on this week, and it is only Tuesday. Architect and contractor visited us today. We're making plans for how to renovate everything from patching the walls to putting in new toilets and water fountains to replacing the doors. Tomorrow we have a visit from the alarm folks, and then sometime soon we'll have the networking people out. It's all very exciting!

The academic calendar has been drafted and will be posted shortly. Been working on all the promotional materials--t-shirts, professional cards, signage, magnets, and other related items. We're trying to have everything pulled together in time for our big party this coming Saturday. We're right around 45 people who have RSVPd, so I'm guessing as more people respond, we'll be up over 100 by the time the weekend rolls around. Should be a lot of crazy fun! Too tired to think about much else at this point, but all is good.

Spread your wings!

05 June 2010

It's a Wonderful Life

I have so much to say about this week, and just haven't had the time to say it. First and foremost, I feel like I'm having a Jimmy Stewart moment from It's a Wonderful Life. After working out butts off the last few months to finalize the lease, get the corporation set, figure out the financials (which of course we're still figuring out!), we finally got the keys to the kingdom and got in all but one of our spaces this week. This was a blessing and curse. Two of the spaces were clay studios--kilns, bags of stuff to make and color clay, molds--the whole nine yards. These two rooms looked like something out of the show Hoarders. They were seriously nasty looking.

After two days of having the most amazing volunteers, all our rooms were emptied, swept, and in one case prepped by pulling all the nails and already patched! It's like the whole town pitched in to make this happen. It's felt like at the end of It's a Wonderful Life when the whole town shows up at Jimmy Stewart's house to help him out with the bank loan. People just show up and start helping. I still am not sure how it all happened, but I am so grateful that it did.

So on to another Jimmy Stewart moment. I had been told by the Homestead Main Street Committee that there was going to be a movie night outside in the downtown area (and for those of you who don't know Homestead, it's a lot like I imagine Bedford Falls would have been, so "downtown" is all relative). I figured it would be a good thing to go to support everyone, plus we could see Night at the Museum 2, which we've seen a million times because we own it. But it's an awesome movie, and this would be an opportunity to see who really comes out to these events. I invited everyone from Atala via an email and Facebook, but didn't really know who would show or not. Even with all the jobs, vacations, and weekend getaways, we had nearly 30 people--kids ranging in age from just a couple of months old all the way to friends in their 50s. It was fabulous! We all sat in the same area, all the kids ran around, played tag, did cartwheels, danced to the music, had dinner, etc. What a great way to celebrate your town and kick off the beginning of summer!

I'm sure there will be many more Jimmy Stewart moments, but I thought I'd share these because they've been so poignant.

Spread your wings!

03 June 2010

What a difference a day makes

Day 2 of renovation. We had some phenomenal help from Homestead Transfer and Storage, and many parents, children, and friends to help clean things out today. We made tremendous progress, having cleared nearly all of both preschool rooms and the elementary rooms. We also received donations of desks, cabinets, and audio equipment from the University of Miami Music Engineering program and all our elementary chairs from ArtSouth! And most significantly, we had our first official registration today from the Leiferman family! Thank you so very much for believing in us! Check out the pictures from today: http://photos.atalamontessori.org/renovation. It's amazing what a difference a day makes!

Information party next Saturday--I sent an email last night. So if you didn't receive it, please let me know, and I'll send you the flyer.

Spread your wings!

01 June 2010

Keys to Success!

Day 1: Got the keys to our spaces, spent the day assessing everything and planning the next week. Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what we're working on the next two weeks.


Spread your wings!

28 May 2010

Away we go!

Attend Liam's final show of the year on Wednesday, check
Take my leave from FIU, check
Attend Livya's final show of the year today, check
Signed the lease for Atala, check
Put down our deposit for Atala, check
Paid the architect for Atala, check

To do list:
Send out registration forms tonight!

I feel like I just won the lottery. So we're going to Disney this weekend to hang out with all the Star Wars geeks at Disney Studios and the Princesses at the Magic Kingdom!

Spread your wings!

26 May 2010

Enough about you, now let's talk about me

So those of you who know me know I'm just being funny with the title of today's entry. But since today is my last full day of work at FIU, I thought I'd take this minute to write a little bit about where I'm coming from in my decision to leave the well-protected nest of academia and take the long leap off the cliff into the vast unknown.

Over the next few days there will be a lot of closure in my life. Skip ahead if you get bored--I won't be offended (nor will I even know  :)  ).

I was born in Kentucky, raised in Indiana, and lived in Illinois...oh wait, that was Lincoln, not me... Seriously, I was born in NJ, but lived in Southwestern Ohio (West Chester specifically) my whole childhood. I started on piano in second grade, and was a band geek (flute) by 5th grade. All things musical were of interest--marching band, the pit orchestra of the spring musical, band, choir (although I'm a terrible singer), etc. Graduated from high school and went to Miami University (that's not the U for those of you in South Florida), which was only an hour away from my parents' house. 

At that point in time I really wanted to be a high school marching band director, but the trouble was, there weren't any female marching band directors in the area at that time. So I figured I'd go to graduate school to make myself my marketable. I was offered a full ride to the University of Denver to study music theory (my favorite subject as an undergrad) and composition (which was frankly a little scary for me at that time). One day into graduate school and I decided to never look back. It was awesome--I experimenting with creating music, getting to teach undergrad students, and having a ball. After the master's degree, I headed to FSU for one year. It was a diseaster--I couldn't stand the city. I looked for a school where I could learn about computers and music, still a relatively unknown course of study in 1990. I wound up on full scholarship at Ball State University (IN). Had a great time there, learned a lot, and graduated in 1994.

Before graduating, I was hired at my first full-time professor gig at the Oberlin Conservatory (OH). Stayed there three years before I left to go teach at Dartmouth College (NH) for a one-year visiting line. That's where I met Colby, who was a graduate student in the computer music program at the time. No, he wasn't a student! That's always the first question everyone asks. Rather, he was a graduate student who had forgotten to eat for three days (and yes, I also cannot believe that anyone in their right mind could actually forget to eat for three days, but that's his story...). He was one of three pathetic graduate students who didn't really know how to cook. So every Sunday night I would send them a grocery list, they would buy everything, bring it to my house, I'd cook for them, and we'd all watch X-Files and the Simpsons. It was a great time! And over the course of a few months we all got to be very good friends. 

I was then offered a visiting position at FIU to teach computer music and composition. 

My son Liam was born in 2001, and we were extremely fortunate that the University of Miami happened to have a position open in Music Engineering that spring. my husband applied, happened to land an interview, and was then offered the job. It's seriously crazy to think that we were able to both have full-time professorships in the same city. Many of our friends in similar areas either work in different states, 1 works while the spouse doesn't, 1 works while the spouse has a part-time gig, etc. So we know how incredibly blessed we are to have both found positions within a short commute.

In 2002 we moved to Homestead. As you can probably guess, I have moved around a lot--8 moves in 13 years. So now that we've been in Homestead for the past 8 years, we have really put down roots. Our daughter Livya was born in 2005. Our current house is the only one she's known, and I hope it's the only one she ever knows for a very long time. Liam also was so young, that this is really the only home he remembers. 

There are obviously a lot of details I've left out, and sometime over a glass of wine, I'll be happy to tell you about things like why we own so many crazy animals, my bio dad, my parents and brother, my wicked cool MG that Colby promises me I can drive to work everyday in my new job, etc. But for now, I'll leave my story at this.

My family, friends, home, and community mean everything to me. So when I started to see the strife and stress going on in our lives, I felt I need to do something to help. I tried running to a new position at some other college in some other state. But the more Colby and I tried to convince ourselves that a move like that would be positive, the more we realized that we really do love our lives. So why not stay and make things better? It doesn't take any thought to run to another place, but I believe strongly in taking a stand and fixing what is perceived as being broken. And that's what I am doing.

This is not the end, but rather a beautiful beginning to what I hope is a very long story.

Spread your wings!

24 May 2010

Moving Day!

I moved out all my boxes at FIU. We've got them temporarily stored in the garage until I figure out what's staying in my home office, what's moving to Atala, and what's possibly going to UM. Everything fit nice and neatly into our awesomely-wicked-cool minivan, and I use those terms in gest--as you get to know me, you'll find out how much I hate that vehicle. So my office is looking pretty antiseptic these days. Just the things that belong to FIU remain. I'm sure those will be divided up among the survivors after I leave.  :)

Tomorrow we sign the lease and write the check for the down payment! It's a lot of money between the space and the architect who has to renovate it. I think I'm going to need a tall glass of Mad Housewife wine tomorrow night!

Great things coming on the horizon, so stay tuned. And all you lurkers out there should stop snooping in on me and sign up as followers.

Spread your wings!

22 May 2010

Lights, camera, action!

We're shooting a couple of quick, homemade movies tomorrow in an attempt to win $175 that we can apply to our library purchases. As soon as they're done, I'll post them on Vimeo or Youtube so you can all see them. 

Also working on a proposal for $2500 for a "green" project for Atala. Once that's submitted, I'll post here and on Facebook. This one involves the "audience" choosing the winner. So we'll need everyone we know to go vote for our proposal. It's due June 7. I'll keep you all posted!

Had a great day yesterday at the first of two going away parties. This one was with all my friends. The next one is general and open to the whole college. We had about 10 people gather at Bahama Breeze for drinks and food. It was awesome! There are some really special people with whom I'm going to have to make sure I stay in contact. There's a certain amount of emotion surrounding leaving FIU. But I guess I've been thinking about it for long enough that I'm super excited to move forward. Fortunately I've got a fabulous future planned in Homestead with a great group of women all working for a single purpose: to make a difference in the lives of children in our community.

Spread your wings! 

20 May 2010

Hold your breath!

Signing the lease today! Need to order t-shirts, professional cards, registration forms, flyers, in addition to getting the spaces as quickly as possible. 

We just had all our desks and a group of drawer systems that can be used to store lessons for the elementary classrooms donated by the University of Miami Music Engineering. We have another donation coming next week--office furniture, book cases, storage units, etc.--from Homestead Transfer and Storage in Homestead (plus they're storing our stuff for free!). Once we hit the flooring and landscaping, we have offers to help with the labor and installation, as well as donations of coontie plants! 

We are so very grateful to everyone associated with Atala Montessori for their help and *trust* these past few months. 

Spread your wings!

19 May 2010

Atala in Action

Keep your eyes pealed for news about "Atala in Action." You'll love, guaranteed. Coming June 1st on a website near you.

Spread your wings!

18 May 2010

Lots of ideas

Finalized the lease requests and the lawyer will submit them tomorrow. Yeah! Big relief.

Cool news of the day: I attended Boldly Go! at the Arsht Center in downtown Miami today. It was a workshop on fundraising in the arts. So many great ideas! I'm going to put them to use immediately. First project will be a very special contest over the summer for all students (and their parents) enrolling in Atala. I'll post the rules on the Atala website as soon as we have signed the lease agreement. Trust me, you're going to love this one! More soon, I promise.

Spread your wings!

17 May 2010

Final lease, finally

The final lease draft came. It's a bit more than we had hoped, but I think we can swing it. We'll meet tomorrow to finalize the signing and negotiations.

Spoke or emailed three more families with a total of four more kids. So we're definitely on our way.

Not much new to say. We need wrap this up and start to work. There's a lot to do before mid-August.

Spread your wings!

16 May 2010

Shout out to Jannah!

OK, so I have a lot of "lurkers" that I didn't know about. One is my friend Jannah, who will be parent at Atala. According to her Facebook post, she was just dying to hear what happened today, so I thought I'd send you all a note updating you all simultaneously.

Had a great parent-kid meeting today. We had three families and a total of three little girls all five and under. Needless to say it was lively, princess-filled, and very high pitched. :)  We had a great time with all kinds of fabulous food that was prepared with loving hands.

So we're up to about 25 families with roughly 40 kids who are ready to register with us. I've got a whole other group of maybes, and then a group I haven't made contact with, but I'm guessing they'll be interested. We're already at our original guesstimate of enrollment, and headed on our way to next year's goal. We'll have 1 preschool, 2 toddler, and it looks like separate lower and upper elementary classes. Next year we can expand to 2 preschools, 3 toddlers, and hopefully 7th grade in addition to upper elementary.

I'm working on establishing the Homestead Children's Choir and the Homestead Family Theater as part of the Atala Foundation. Got some great ideas and great people with whom to collaborate.

Did I tell you I complete our first grant as Atala? It's called Music and Montessori: A Women's History Month Celebration. It partners us with the Deering Estate Chamber Players. Could be a really cool March 2011.

Spread your wings!

15 May 2010


All is well! I can breathe a big sigh of relief today. We had a meeting with the owner of the building we're trying to rent from, as well as the president of their board of directors. Everything went extremely well, and we will receive a final copy of the lease on Monday.

The architect can get back to work on the codes and designs. And we can finally start advertising the school and receiving registrations.

Big, big, big group of parents heading to my house tomorrow to learn more about the school. Everything is moving along as it should.

9 more days of FIU, but there are two parties, a root canal follow up, and a workshop for fundraisers at the Arsht Center. So it winds up being more like 4-5 more days. Woo hoo! I know I'll have a bit of a transition. I'm not used to sitting still for longer than the Thursday night NBC line up. But it will be fabulous to get back to composing again this summer! I'm going to start working on a new piece for pianist and Disklavier.

Spread your wings!

14 May 2010

Grant time!

Spent the day filling out grants for Atala. I'm working on a partnership with the Deering Estate Chamber Ensemble and FIU to take our preschool and elementary kids to learn about women composers next March for Women's History Month. The idea is that the students would get to learn about historical women composers and then actually meet a few in person. Then they would get to hear a free concert of music presented at FIU. After that, they'd go back to the classes and write, draw, compose, sing, whatever their impressions were of the visits. We'd put this together in a presentation for the parents and open it up to Homestead as an exhibition/concert with help from our friends at FIU. Let's hope we get a bit of seed money to start this. There are a lot of other larger grants that could tie into this later on.

Now I need to get back to writing. Keep your fingers crossed about tomorrow' meeting...and remember to Spread your wings!

13 May 2010


Have a meeting scheduled for Saturday noon to finalize all the lease agreements. Hopefully we'll be able to move forward ASAP next week. It's been frustrating.

Big news is that I think I scored us a free piano. Saw an ad on Craigslist that someone wanted to donate an upright piano to a non-profit. So I'm working on getting it for Atala. That would be very cool and very useful down the road.

Spoke to the rep from Smart Tuition. Looks like we can offer a variety of payment plans, which should make everyone happy. It's a very flexible set up, and we can create a unique plan for every family that enrolls. Yeah.

Things at FIU are rapidly winding down. I'm no longer on the "inside track" as far as any decision about anything. Fine by me, really. At this point I'm wrapping up the 7 websites I maintain and trying to get them to a level where no one will have to touch them until August. My office is filled with boxes, and I still need about 3 more to finish everything off. Colby will come by next week and pick everything up to take home. Woo hoo!

Spread your wings!

12 May 2010


Sorry I didn't post for a couple of days. A root canal kind of has me in a tizzy.

Just finalized the draft of our very first advertisement. We'll be featured in an ad with South Florida Parenting Magazine in the June issue! We have 1/3 of a page, and the ad includes both the visual images and a large text box side by side. We're also being featured on their website starting in June.

Hits are up on the http://atalamontessori.org website...strange, because I haven't really told anyone about it except you followers on my Diary.  ;)

And somehow I've also got 27 people who have pre-joined my soon-to-be-released Facebook page. Life is great!

Spread your wings!

10 May 2010

Trying times

OK so today was possibly a minor set back, but we're moving forward. Everything is on such a positive upswing right now I'm not letting little things upset me. We're running into snaffoos regarding the lease, but I think we'll have everything ironed out in the next 24 hours.

Had inquiries about 5 kids today. I'm seriously getting parents from all over the Homestead area call or email me to find out about Atala. That is absolutely amazing! We have a hard deadline of Friday to sign the lease, or we're finding a different space. We have a second space already lined up, and that ultimately may be the way to go. I know you're all out there lurking, so I'll keep you posted. I promise!

On another note, Jessica one of my FIU chicks who is being terminated. Geez, I sound like I'm in Logan's Run, and if you're too young or too cool to know about Logan's Run, then you need to check it out: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074812/. It's nerdy-cool sci-fi. But I digress... Jessica got word that she's got two interviews this week. So I'm able to watch my staff move on into other jobs, as my academic career moves into the private sector. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that one of these gigs will work out for her.

This one's for Jessica: Spread your wings!

07 May 2010

A Break

Sorry to take a break, but we took the family to Disney's Animal Kingdom today, and I didn't check email until 8:29 pm! First time that's happened in probably four years. And it feels great! We're headed to Epcot tomorrow, so quite likely there won't be a post tomorrow until very, very late.

Had 3 fabulous phone calls about 5 different children for Atala next year. The phone calls and emails have been ramping up over the last few weeks.

I'm so happy I'm up to 10 followers, and I know I have a lot more lurkers out there, too!  :)

Facebook page will be unveiled very soon...

Spread your wings!

05 May 2010

There's always tomorrow...

OK, so now I'm quoting from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. But honestly compared to yesterday, today feels like Christmas!

We received the nicest email from an interested parent! She works for FPL and has a daughter going into kindergarten for next year. She's very excited about coming to Atala.

Worked on the website a bit more today, and finalized the draft for the registration materials. The other owners are giving it the once over, and hopefully I'll be able to pass it along to the lawyer for the final pass. Then I can post it on the website and start distributing to parents who have requested information.

Plus, I got a call from my super awesome friend in Canada! Hopefully she's moving down here in December. I'm keeping my fingers crossed!

Spread your wings!

04 May 2010

Spin, Spin, Spin

Spread your wings!

03 May 2010

Big, big, big news!

Here's my fantastic laundry list of what happened today:

1. We've got our EIN (which means we can now employ people, including the five owners).
2. The Articles of Incorporation are complete. 
3. I'll meet with the bank tomorrow morning to finalize the bank account information and order checks.
4. I have the paperwork for us to become a member of the Homestead Main Street Committee. 5. Robert Barnes, our architect, is likely going to be the new President of the Main Street Committee. And he wants us all involved in a big way. He asked me what my vision was for the committee, and I said it was a symbiotic relationship. We know we are going to bring families to the downtown who can afford to spend money at bookstores, shops, etc. That's how we help Main Street. But at the same time, we are yet not tapped into the local businesses who can help us out by supporting our events and needs.
6. I told Robert and Yvonne about the Charles Dickens play (which I don't think I've mentioned here yet, but will soon), and she wants to incorporate that production into the lighting of the Christmas tree in downtown Homestead. People would go there first and then process down to the school for the play. So that will bring another couple hundred people who wouldn't think about going, just because it's tied to the lighting. Cool, huh?

And now for the really big, big, big news! I was able to get Paradise Way (the pedestrian walkway to the north of the school) to be renamed "Atala Interactive Children's Garden." 

Spread your wings!

01 May 2010


We have a lot of Montessori and non-Montessori materials. Today we made our big list of what we've got and started a list of what we need. Looks like we'll be opening with 1 toddler class, 2 preschool classes, and an upper and lower elementary class.

Had a super meeting with 7 more families interested in the school. Everyone is super supportive and ready to move forward quickly. I'm working on a Parent Handbook, registration materials, and finalizing the website before we officially launch next week. Yeah!

Spread your wings!

29 April 2010

Burning the Candle

at both ends...

Worked all day today, went to a meeting with another landmark Montessori school owner, fed the kids, and tried to get the website to a place where I was satisfied with it.

Tomorrow I start a series of short essays on why I'm leaving academia. Besides the fact that FIU has a policy to work from 8am to 6:30pm four days a week for six weeks over the summer (which is really crazy for anyone who actually wants to spend time with their family and/or loved ones)...there are many other reasons that come to mind.

Spread your wings!

28 April 2010

Website unveiled!

Yes! We have a web presence. It still needs work and a lot of pictures, but I've got the guts up and running. Can't wait to post it to the world. Since you have been kind enough to follow me early on, I will show you first!


Spread your wings!

27 April 2010


Headed to commencement now, so I figured I better post something for today. Incorporation went through just fine. Bank account will be ready tomorrow. Working on our third parent meeting for Saturday. Emails flying back and forth. All is good.

Spread your wings!

26 April 2010

Monday night

Met with the bank today to get our accounts established. Things are moving ahead great guns. My official title for next year will be co-founder (along with the four other fantastic women who are establishing this Montessori school), and Director of Advancement and External Relations. Basically that means I'm in charge of raising money and building community partners. We have another teacher on board, and are up to 29 kids for sure, with another 16 maybes, and a handful of possibles. The parents I've met with the last two weekends have all done a fabulous job identifying new sets of parents to meet in the upcoming weeks.

Head's up that we'll have a big open house around mid-June just to kick off the PTA and get everyone working to get the school open and everything in place by the end of August.

The job at FIU is winding down quickly. Totally forgot my power cord today and had to write everything by hand. Working on a borrowed PC is horrible, so I'll not do that again. Tomorrow is the last graduation in which I'll participate at FIU. I'll be in the platform party for the College of Architecture + The Arts at commencement tomorrow night at 7:30 pm. It will definitely be bittersweet. I'll be happy to see all my former freshman that I recruited, who are now senior music tech majors graduate.

Spread your wings!

25 April 2010

parent meeting, part 2

We hosted our second parent meeting this afternoon. It was awesome--about 8 sets of parents with their kids came by. There were some great ideas launched--t-shirts, marketing, etc. Lots of questions to answer. We had a fantastic meeting for nearly 3 hours. Next week, we'll have our third meeting for yet another group of parents. So far, so good!

Spread your wings!


24 April 2010

Saturday morning?!

So I missed my posted yesterday because I was watching the first half of Avatar. I hope you all forgive me.  :)

This morning (Saturday) we had a strategic planning meeting for the College of Architecture + The Arts at FIU. This will be the last Saturday I spend time away from my family to instead wind up spending the time with FIU. I understand the need to assess what's going on in the college with faculty, budget, marketing, etc., but really...a Saturday morning for 3 hours?! I think time would have been better spent requiring faculty to actually read the materials we've already developed for these purposes.

Planning the second big parent meeting for tomorrow afternoon. We have about a dozen families who will be coming over to learn more about the new school. I'm sure we'll hit our target enrollment in no time.

Tonight--I'll be relaxing with the second half of Avatar!

22 April 2010


Recruiting is tough when you don't yet have a bank account. Hopefully that will all be fixed on Monday afternoon when we meet with the nice folks at Community Bank in Homestead. Then we'll be able to start taking registrations.

In the meantime, I had a great group of six families over to our house last Sunday, and I've got about a dozen more coming this Sunday. I'm already taking reservations for next week! The word about the new school is spreading like wildfire. If you know anyone who is looking for an awesome Montessori arts school with fabulous teachers, send them my way!

The day job is winding down. I told my boss that he needed to wean people off of me and start relying on those who will be there after I'm gone. Tomorrow is the first test...we'll see how that goes.

Spread your wings!

21 April 2010

Atala Foundation, here we come!

So the foundation is official: Atala Foundation! This is going to be the non-profit side of the business so we can apply for government grants, foundations, and secure other types of donations to get things rolling. Eventually this money will be used to set up new rooms as the school expands. And we also hope to be able to offer scholarships down the road to help out those who may not be able to afford the tuition. The school incorporation will be done tomorrow, and that's separate from the foundation. We'll accept tuition and pay bills through the school, and all donations will be run by the foundation to give everyone a tax break if they donate.

On another note, how does one believe, "Maybe we're actually doing her a favor..." by terminating someone? So if we release them from their position they're somehow going to grow stronger by the experience and branch out on their own? That's exactly what I heard yesterday. What?! Anyway, onward and upward.

Spread your wings!

20 April 2010

Two Friends!

I am so very excited that I've got two followers now. I'm practically Svengali! Now go spread the word, you minions, and get me some more followers!  :)

Had a great meeting with Yvonne Knowles, who is going to expedite the whole process with the city. We've got a lot of people rooting for us, and we cannot fail. We will not fail.

Bought a whole bunch of Montessori lessons--trinomial cube, binomial cube, abacuses (abaci?--sorry, I'll have to look up the plural of abacus some other time...), tables, eggs, etc. It's awesome. What a great start to furnishing Atala Montessori!

Spread your wings!

19 April 2010

A Day of Transitions

Good day and bad day. On the downside, my FIU boss has reorganized the world since the event manager left 3 weeks ago, and I've announced my departure on May 27. He's trying to get 4 jobs pared down to 2. Just doesn't make sense to me, but I don't have a choice in the matter any more.

On the upside--I've got my first official follower! Yee haw! And we had a fantastic meeting with our accountant. He was fabulous and lots of great advice. I'll call the attorney tomorrow, and she'll prepare the documents for incorporation. After that, we head to the bank on Thursday or Friday and set up the accounts. By next week, we'll launch the website and start taking registrations!

Spread your wings!

18 April 2010

First parents' meeting

Today we hosted five sets of parents and their children to tell them about the plans for Atala Montessori School for Creative Expression. The meeting was fantastic! Everyone is so supportive. We are moving forward quickly, and I'm hoping in the next week or so to have the website up and running and the bank account set up to receive registrations fees. Tomorrow we meet with the accountant, and Tuesday we meet with Yvonne Knowles, who knows everyone in downtown Homestead.

Spread your wings!

17 April 2010

Eight Days a Week

Spent today with the other owners of the new school and our lawyer (who's awesome, by the way). We are making great strides on setting up the business portion of the new school. We will be advertising by next week. Tomorrow I host the first of a series of home meetings for parents who might be interested in learning more about the school. We're all very, very excited, but we're also working seven days a week. I'm not sure, but I think we're going to sleep well tonight! We had an 8-hour day on a Saturday. Ack!

Day 4, and I finally had my first official comment. Woo hoo! I'm so excited. At least one person has actually read what I'm writing. Bless you, Tallulah!  :)

Tonight, we drink champagne!

16 April 2010

Day 29

Finally, a weekend! I'm working on a lot of documents related to the new school. Hopefully we'll start registrations in about a week. Yeah!

15 April 2010

Day 30

 I can't believe my blog has been up for three days now, and I don't have one single follower. How depressing! Well, not really, but I needed the drama.

The new school is well underway. We're meeting with our lawyer on Saturday morning, and then accountant on Monday afternoon. Parents are coming to us in droves to get their kids registered. All we need to do is finalize the incorporations, open a bank account, and we're good to go! I'm so proud of all of us.

Life is good.

14 April 2010

Let the Countdown Begin!

31 work days left. My computer crashed, and Apple wants $1295 to fix it. Will FIU buy me a new one so I can work the next few weeks, or will I sit in my office quietly biding my time until May 27?  :)

13 April 2010

Diary of a Recovering Academic, Countdown

After 17 years as a college professor, the last 13 of which have been in South Florida with 4 years as Associate Dean, I have officially have resigned from the Office of the Dean as of May 27, 2010.

This blog documents life after academia...what it's like on the outside...having the freedom to make decisions on my own without the red tape of the administration deciding where, when, and how the budget cuts, faculty loads, research and creative activities fall.

I look forward to the next phase of my life!