Great Gifts Under $30!

I really think I could get used to working remotely from Hawai’i. I just need to get wi-fi outside on the lana’i for an even better setup! This is truly the life!

I thought I’d do a series of Great Gifts posts (just like in Oprah!) featuring my new favorite product, Stella & Dot jewelry. I’ll do gifts for under $30, $40, and $50 and then splurges. There are so many options with S & D – there is truly something for everyone!

So, first up: gifts for under $30. These would be great for a co-worker or cousin if you do a name draw at work or with your family. They would also work for your brother’s girlfriend. You know the one – you try to get her to stand at the end in the family Christmas photo just in case she doesn’t make it past New Year’s.

 {This silk wrap can be worn as a necklace or a bracelet. Each one is $14 and comes with a small charm. Pair with one of the birthstone charms below  for a unique,  affordable gift for just about anyone on your list.}

{One of these looks great on a delicate gold or silver chain or on a charm bracelet, but the silk wrap is the most affordable option. You can also dangle a birthstone from a leather necklace. $19 each.}

{At $24, this is a nice alternative to the birthstone charm. Wear with silk wrap, leather necklace, or delicate chain. Leather necklace is $14.}

{Although slightly above the $30 price point at $34, this sweet little necklace is perfect for all ages.}

{Matching earrings $29. The earrings also come in gold.}

{I love this bracelet! For $29, I really love it!}

{Adorable, especially as a stocking stuffer. A steal at @24.} 

{Delicate and sparkly, these are great “go-to” earrings for the holidays. $22.}

{These are incredibly light-weight and look good with short or long hair. $24.}

Shop all these and more at my Stella & Dot website!


  • Mom got good news at the doctor – the cancer is stable, which means the study drug is doing what we hoped it would do. Apparently, her data has been published in an actual study – she has the report. A little light reading for the holidays!
  • My Stella & Dot business is going well so far! I’ve closed three trunk shows (one of which was my launch party) and am in the middle of one now. I came up with “Baubles for Books” as a fundraiser for Presbyterian School libraries. My goal is to donate $1000 from my commissions!
  • Just sponsored my first blog, jillgg’s good life for less. Check it out! Jill is a young mom of two adorable kids. She lives in Michigan and blogs mainly about fashion. She’s going to feature some Stella & Dot on her blog in the coming weeks!
  • We leave for Seattle tomorrow. We will spend the night there, and then Pete, Susan, Mom, Anna Jane, and I will hop a plane to Hawaii!!!! Pete and Susan have a friend who is getting married on Maui two days after Thanksgiving, and they needed babysitters. So they persuaded us to go. Mom has never been to Hawaii! This is my first real vacation since we went to Paris last October. I can’t wait!
  • I have 12 days off – we are returning to Houston on November 30, and I’ll go back to school on December 1. I can’t believe I’ll be gone that long. I’m going to miss my doggie!

Aloha and happy Thanksgiving!

There’s a reason I’m no longer a public school teacher…

…and this is it.

{Diane Ravitch, author of  The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (Basic Books, 2010), argues that our national conversation about schools and education needs to shift away from trashing teachers because of poor test scores and toward real reforms engineered by educators  not politicians or business people. She is one of the many critics of Waiting for Superman, which I have not yet seen. The premise of this documentary is that it’s craaaazzzy what parents will do to get their children into NYC’s better schools and that all children deserve to have a good education. I agree with the mandate that we must teach all our children to the best of our abilities and also acknowledge that there are teachers in our school systems who do not meet the standards of good teaching, but I chafe at the idea, propagated in the movie, that teachers and unions are to blame for all that is wrong with education. Diane points out some of the myth-debunking that critics of the movie have done regarding proposed solutions to our country’s “educational crisis.”}

My response:

The last few years I taught in HISD, the district touted merit pay as the greatest thing since sliced bread. The first year merit pay was instituted, I got the “bonus” – the only teacher on my grade level who received it. I can’t remember why I got it.

The second year, I opted out of the bonus in protest. My mother thought I was crazy. I probably was, but I stood on principle, and I don’t regret it.

That year, my colleague, Marie, was HISD Elementary School Teacher of the Year. Teacher of the Year. For all of HISD. She was honored at a banquet I was fortunate enough to attend. It was one of the highlights of my time at Briargrove. Marie is a talented, hardworking, dedicated teacher of English as a Second Language students, and no one deserved that honor more than she. I was thrilled for her, as was our whole team.

Marie did not earn the bonus that year. Although she won $5,000 from the organization that sponsors the TOY award, she did not receive a bonus from her own employer for raising student test scores and being a fabulous teacher because her children had not performed well enough for her to get the bonus.

I was glad I declined the extra money. The following year, even though I had already started teaching at Presbyterian School, I was eligible to receive the bonus. I had to “opt in” though, and I chose not to do so.

For two years, I chose not to receive a bonus I had actually earned. The reason is this: not all teachers were eligible for the same bonus amount. Teachers in TAKS grade levels (3rd and up) were eligible for more. The more TAKS tests they taught, I mean were responsible for, the more money they could earn. So a fifth grade teacher who teaches all subjects can earn a shitload of extra money (for raising test scores on the Reading, Math, and Science tests.) On the face of it, that seems fair, right? More test prep, better scores, more money.

BUT. Fine arts, physical education, special education, Title 1 teachers, technology teachers, etc. are not eligible for bonuses beyond those that the entire school is eligible to receive. They work just as hard in their area of expertise as the 3rd grade math teacher or the 4th grade writing teacher. Pre-K through second grade teachers are also only eligible for school-wide bonuses since they do not teach a TAKS grade.

What that means is that if the school does well on TAKS, if the children improve their scores from year to year (and in HISD, the Stanford 10 scores also factor into the merit pay system), teachers of non-TAKS subjects and grades can earn a fixed bonus amount (when I left HISD it was around $1500). But a teacher in a TAKS grade can earn thousands more. To me, this sends the message that test scores are what’s important in education, and I didn’t want any part of that.

Another example: my friend, Robin (who still teaches in HISD), told me that she doesn’t qualify for the “collaborating teacher” category in HISD’s ASPIRE (merit pay) program despite these facts: she’s the lead science teacher for the school, she teaches a science ancillary class in all grade levels, she’s the vertical science team leader, she coordinates science day for the school, and she coordinates the school’s recycling program. But she can’t earn a bonus for her collaboration.


And that’s why I’m no longer a public school teacher. I’m 99% certain I’ll never teach in a public school again, at least in Texas. (The writer of this piece cites GWB’s No Child Left Behind Act for the current testing mania. It started when W was governor of Texas, all this TAKS bullshit.) I cannot imagine what my experience would have been like if, when I was in school, we had the intense focus on testing that is pervasive in schools today. While I support accountability and excellence in education, I do not believe (and research backs me up) that dangling a green carrot in front of teachers is the way to achieve the desired results.