Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Naughties

Confession: I read the Fifty Shades trilogy.

Bigger Confession: I liked it.

I actually read these at the end of last school year, beginning of summer. I was probably just finishing or had just finished them when I resurrected this blog. For the sake of decorum though, considering any of my kids or parents may look at this blog, I decided to overlook them in my reading log. Here's the thing though... Everybody has (or is) reading them! That is what surprises me most about the 50 Shades Phenomenon. Once upon a time, not very long ago, you would have to venture into seedy book stores- or verify your age with a credit card online- to read anything more risque that Harlequin romances. (This is assumptive of course, there is no "Even Bigger" confession that I have done either.)

I had seen several ladies talking about Shades of Grey on Facebook- posts such as "Church Service was good today, trying to finish reading book 2 of Fifty Shades before I give Susie a bath." (Names of the innocent changed there.) So when I went to Barnes & Noble (more commonly known as Nirvana in my world), I decided to check them out. They weren't hard to find; they were #1, 2, and 3 best-sellers. So, as soon as I flipped one over to read the jacket and saw that it was defined as "D/s erotic fiction," I was floored!

Again, I do not think I am a prude. There are times in my life when perhaps I should have been a bit more prudish in what I chose to talk about and who I chose to tell it to (Have we discussed finding out I was pregnant 2 weeks after Jason had a vasectomy yet?). I am floored by just how commonplace it has become. How did reading such literature so very quickly go from something hidden to front-shelf top-seller? The trilogy was the #1, 2, 3 downloads on Kindle this summer for 30+ women. I was among those numbers. I didn't want anyone to know I was reading it! Yet, I had a parent pull out her well-worn copy to show me and joke about people helping her gather pages when the blew all over the beach. I had a co-worker sit down her teacher bag to go to the bathroom last week and there was book 2 sitting right at top. You brought that to SCHOOL? All summer long the racks were empty at Target; even The Wal-Mart had to cash in on the dirty money (although shrink-wrapped on the shelves to maintain some semblance of Christian modesty).

All that having been said, I did enjoy the reads. The first book was my favorite. I liked that it did not have a happy ending. I do not color my world with black Crayolas but it was a realistic ending. I do not like that E.L. James made Christian Grey a psychological mess with Mommy issues. Why couldn't he just be into an alternative way of life? I think she caved to societal pressure. Typical woman trying to "fix" a messed up guy. I would not be so bold as to call it "good literature" but the character development of the novels were good. There was more to the psychological power exchange between Christian and Ana than cuffs and blindfolds. That made for an interesting read... with or without the "bonuses." I wasn't so much a fan of the third book. I wanted to see how the trilogy ended, so read I it, but it was all a bit too fairy tale and trite plot developments for me. It lacked the development the other two did and was more choppy in introducing, then pretty quickly resolving, various complications.

Post-Christian Grey, I did read two of the "If you liked 50 Shades, then try this" genre. The first was Switch by Megan Hart. If you truly liked the psychological push & pull of the dominant & submissive relationship in E. L. James trilogy, you probably will like this one. There is very little physical contact between the the two parties. It is a "catfish" story of the old-fashion type, involving leaving mysterious letters in mailboxes to influence and direct the activities of the another. It is definitely not a PG family read. The main character does have some heated trysts with her ex, but the relationship on which the novel is focused does remain on the psychological, not gratuitously physical, level. "Switch" refers to roles in a relationship- whether being dominant or submissive- and sometimes being mistaken about which one is true to your nature.

The other book, apparently also part of a trilogy is Sylvia Day's Bared to You. I don't feel moved toward reading either of the other books that follow this one, even when the author ended the first with a very trite cliff-hanger meant to hold in you suspense until you could get your hands on the next one. I am really curious about the time relationship between the release of these books and the 50 Shades trilogy. There is a great deal in common between them- far too much to be coincidence- so much as that I'm surprised not to have heard about a potential lawsuit for intellectual theft. Again we have characters that I feel are far too young and wealthy to carry the plot. It worked for Christian Grey. It does not work for Gideon Cross, nor for the heroine of the book, who is so insignificant that I can't even remember her name. It is believable to say that you liked 50 Shades beyond the heated scenes. To say that about Day's book would be likened to saying you read Playboy for the articles. There is not much of anything beyond the heated scenes. There is little interaction between the main characters at all beyond their detailed trysts. To compare this trilogy to E. L. James is to insult both the writer and the readers of 50 Shades.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Community Cookie Exchange 2012

One of the many careers, jobs, careers I had before going into teaching was working as a Unit Coordinator on the post-surgical floor of a hospital. The holiday schedule for employees was coupled in a way that you either worked Christmas Eve and New Year's Day or Christmas Day and New Year's Eve. Often, those of us with little ones at home could find some younger co-workers who had big plans on New Year's Eve and wanted the following day to recover, thus being willing to trade whichever Christmas day they we beleaguered with for an extended window of party time on New Year's. One holiday season though, this trade did not happen and I found myself at work on Christmas Day.

This was over 17 years ago (oy!), so the details are a bit fuzzy, but there was a father that brought his son and daughter around to the nurses' stations with a big stocking of candy and had the kids, adorned in Santa's caps, pass the candy out to those of us working and wish us a Merry Christmas.

It was a true Random Act of Kindness because I do not know who that family was or the impetus that drove them to such kindness. I do know it is a testament to the theory of Paying it Forward, because nearly two decades later (double oy!), it is still a memory that I find touching... and it was the inspiration for the Community Cookie Exchange.

This year we hosted the Third Annual Community Cookie Exchange. Near forty people, mostly Key Clubbers of course, came over to donate and trade cookies. Donated cookies are delivered to police stations, fire departments, nursing homes, and of course, the hospital, to those who are working or volunteering on Christmas Day. For some of our participants, it is their favorite Key Club event and/or, something they really look forward to during the holiday season. This year I had three of my former Key Clubbers drop by and participate. It hints to the legacy this event is building and the potential it has to be the genesis of a Pay it Forward movement beyond our community.

(You can read Amanda's- Key Clubber alumni- blog about the cookie exchange... HERE!)

For the Exchange this year, I made 4 kinds of cookies- tripled the Santa Whiskers and double batches of the others.

Santa Whiskers have been my traditional cookies for years. The recipe I use comes straight from the good old Red & White, Better Homes & Gardens cookbook.
Andes Mint Cookies are a new tradition. I tried 2 cake batter cookies last year. The others were nothing special but these are quite possible my absolute favorite cookie ever. 4 ingredients- quick, easy & chocolatey-minty goodness (The melted Andes will harden to a candy topping.)
I wanted an oatmeal cookie but with a twist, so I found these Cranberry Orange Oatmeal Cookies. The recipe lacks great detail but the cookies came out great. These were Jason's favorite this year. It does not provide a recipe for the drizzle, so I used a classic powdered sugar and milk/vanilla icing.
My new cookies this year were Salted Caramel-Pretzel Thumbprints. I found these little slabs of salty sweet goodness in Food Network's magazine. The only caramel sauce I could find at the store was sundae topping; after leaving them out a few minutes to set, it worked just fine- just be conservative. The grocery store also did not have "flaky sea salt," so I just used some of our table salt, which is grounded sea salt. It worked perfectly fine. As a matter of fact, I was too conservative with the salt and it provided a good "kick" for the sweet caramel topping.
I picked up some very large tins from The Wal-Mart last year on clearanced-clearance when just about all the other Christmas supplies had been deleted. This year, we filled up 10 of the big tubs to send out on Christmas Day. I feel pretty sure it was the largest volume and variety of cookies delivered thus far in this growing tradition.
The participants, as always, had a great time too. The Neverending Coffee & Hot Chocolate Bar was still a hit despite the much more temperate weather.
And the festivities ran over as the kids finished playing games of Spoons on the dining room floor (since every other surface of the downstairs was covered with food for noshing, trading, or donating).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wait, I can explain!

That's not the beginning to my "Dear Santa" letter; it's more like the beginning to my weak explanation for why my on-line ramblings have been scarce lately.

Benjamin was diagnosed with pneumonia last week. Monday night/ Tuesday morning, around 1:30 a.m., he woke me up crying. I stayed up with him until he fell asleep around 4. He didn't seem particularly sick- just not particularly wanting to sleep either. The next morning, I was the human-form of The Walking Dead, so I called out sick and with questionable judgment sent Benjamin to pre-school because he seemed fine. About 11:30 a.m., the school called because he had a fever. So, we picked him up and Jason stayed home with him Wednesday. Driving home from work Wednesday afternoon, Jason was concerned that he seemed rather lethargic, so I called the pediatrician, who wanted us to bring him in immediately. We were sent to the hospital for stat x-rays and blood work. Benjamin was not at all happy about the viciously viscous shot he was given in the doc's office, but he was a real champ at the hospital. I don't know what I was thinking. I guess that I wasn't thinking at all, but I was rather shocked when they took his blood like they would do for a grown-up- a big one! I was even more shocked when Benjamin did not cry, or even flinch, as he watched the blood fill the vials. The pediatrician stayed at the office for us to come back for the x-ray results. He said it was pretty severe pneumonia in both lungs. Thankfully, the meds he had before going to the hospital had already broke the fever and had returned some of his energy, or else the doc was going to admit him. Instead we did a lot of cuddling... and a lot of meds at home... and after a couple of days, he was back to his inquisitive and rambunctious self.

Missing two school days during a very busy week for Key Club and curriculum were not quite as easy and pain-free for me though- especially since the following week was the 1.5 day pre-holiday break week. So, poor Juliet, Romeo, Brutus and Cassius all had to die at a bit more of an accelerated pace. And the Key Clubbers had one Manic Monday, indeed. The morning began with a 6:30 am run to Wal-Mart for sodas and paper supplies (leading to a pledge to boycott Wal-Mart in 2013, which I will go into on another day). Then, we had two morning activities going on simultaneously. In my room, Kristen was leading Christmas Caroling practice to prepare for the day's field trip. In the library, Savannah and other volunteers were accepting and cataloging donations for the Holiday Teacher Luncheon. During second block planning, I squeezed in a field trip to the local nursing home with about 15 Key Clubbers to sign carols & visit. Then, during 3rd block, the Key Clubbers hosted a luncheon for teachers & staff, which meant setting up before 3rd block, restocking between lunch shifts, and cleaning up everything after last lunch. During the very same 3rd lunch, Key Clubbers were taking "Pictures with Santa" as a Relay fundraiser. AND, all members had to check in at Santa's station to sign-out their Breakfast & Chili fundraiser tickets. Fourth block, in addition to cleaning up from the luncheon, Candy-grams were delivered to classes- ONE of last week's fundraisers. Then, did I collapse in my chair under a wave of exhaustion at 3:15? No! I raced to the store for last minute Christmas gifts for Cameron's teachers the next day and then raced home to get ready for the Key Club Holiday party. After hours of pizza-making, dance partying, and pictionary drawing, the night finally ended around 1:00 a.m.-ish, after the kitchen was pretty-much cleaned up and I went on-line to order the pics from Santa so they could be picked up by Jason in the morning and delivered to kids the next day.

I have many busy days. My brand of crazy is far more insane than most folks brand of crazy. But even for me- that was a busy & crazy day! I told Jason I wasn't sure if I felt like Santa with a workshop full of elves, or Donald Trump with a tower full of Apprentices- but it is a powerful feeling of achievement to know that I work with a group of students that have grown into the type of leaders that can make all that magic happen without direct supervision or instruction from me.

Ah yes, but let's footnote the end of that night with one not-so-smart misachievement of my own. Justin had a blue flash drive laying around, showing up here & there all the time, so I popped it in my laptop to see what was on it. A virus. Of course, a virus. So, after the holidays my sick baby of the digital type will be visiting the doc of the technical type.

So, the explanation? Life's been rather busy.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Special" Day

I have tried to make it a goal to be more selfish with my time. I know, that sounds horrid, but basically I'm one of those women that magazine articles are written about, the kind that can't say... NO. I like to be active in my community, I like to find events for my Key Clubbers to stay active in our school and community. This, in years past, has often left ma at a place in life where I had more commitments than I had hours in a day to fulfill them. So, I have slowly evaluated what is important to me, what is important to the "greater good," and I have pulled away from committees and social groups that didn't rank high enough of my personal scale for judging those two criteria. That's not to say I didn't have to make some hard decisions and those same roles I stepped away from could be important in someone else's life, but for me, I have the unique venue of 100 kids looking to me to create the paths for them to do these same things... and, over time, I have come to accept that is, enough.

I have also come to define my greatest goal in my role as "Key Club Guru" to be to expose these small-town high school kids to as many ways possible to make contributions to society. Whether it's "saving babies and curing cancer" to playing Bingo at the Nursing Home to creating sales displays at a Habitat Re-Store to just showing up to support someone else's cause- in body or in money. I want them to have all these experiences (far too many to list), so when they leave the halls of my second home they have found their "niche" to change the world... like Mattie who postponed medical school to move to an orphanage in the Philippines, or Leannah who is traveling the coast fundraising & educating people about Alzheimer's, or those who have joined- and even even started Relay teams at their colleges.

Surprising to myself, is that I have finally found my "niche." What I look forward to more than anything else are the volunteer opportunities I find to work with the mentally-challenged. This past weekend was my absolute favorite Key Club event of the entire year. I jam-packed a school bus with 53 Key Clubbers and we drove over an hour to Virginia Beach to cheer on Special Olympics soccer for the whole day.

When I try to think of a way to describe the effect that Special Olympics has on me, I can hear whispers of Marley's "Every Little Thing is going to be all right" in the recesses of my mind... because it is. Life is so complicated. There is always so much to think about... to stress about. But for these folks, life is lived in that very moment. Emotions are raw, untainted, whether for the better or the worse, and in direct response to the given moment. Then? You move on. Everyone is your friend. Life is just good. I am not trying to exalt a trite "Ignorance is bliss" theme to life. It's just one small joy of working with these athletes that rises and covers all else like a thin mist. Just stop. Cheer. Enjoy where you are and what you're doing. The rest of life is waiting for you when you get there.

It's also a true testament to sportsmanship. Special Olympic athletes enjoy the sport, they enjoy being with their teams, and they enjoy the feeling of accomplishment. And although they are so glad you are there to cheer them on... they would play just as hard and have just as much fun if you weren't.

My Key Clubbers are an incredible bunch of kids. Most, I believe would never ridicule someone less intellectually developed than them. But what happens during Special Olympics is this flow of a general attitude from "Awww, she's so cute" to "Wow! She's awesome." The experience humanizes someone they see so different from themselves and cheering on someone who is so quick and open to wanting to be your friend makes the effect of the gift of your time and  attention tangible.

I really need to find more opportunities to work with this population, for myself and for my Key Clubbers.

Following a long, cold, and windy day cheering from the soccer sidelines, we stopped at Cici's Pizza before heading home. My bill was $385, which I just find humorous. I like to say, "Michelle Duggar's got nothing on me."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Smell My Feet!

Because Happy Halloween or Trick-or-Treat would be too expected.

Halloween 2012 has come and gone though. We did not wait overnight in the patch for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, but we did partake in some spooktacular festivities.

Over the weekend, Benjamin and I made Ghost cookies. We snacked on them while watching "The Great Pumpkin."

Eight minutes was a long time to wait.
Earlier in the week, the boys and I carved pumpkins. Cameron, sycophant that he is, made an owl silhouette in his. Justin attempted to make Darth Vader (from a stencil on-line that he used my iPhone to model). I would have to say it failed as a Dark Lord, but it did have a definite Chewbaca image about it. I went for a classic Jack with evil eyes and a mouth full of fangs. Pretty ticked at myself that I didn't take pics of the creations. Especially mine because it was pretty awesome.

Couldn't trust the babe with carving knives just yet.
And, of course there was Trick-or-Treating. Our downtown businesses sponsor a trick-or-treating, which is nice because it's a condensed and safe area... but it was long lines from door to door and big, rather rude, crowds. So, I think we may try another venue next year. Afterwards we went to a neighboring small town for the Halloween Party at the firehouse in Sedley. The Key Clubbers have worked the event for many years now and there is always a good turn-out.  There are inexpensive games and kids win candy and small toys.

My Cheap Mom confessional is that I refuse to spend "good money" on Halloween costumes. I am apt to waste money on a number of frivolous things, but costumes has just never been one of those things. The older boys have been recycling a Tarzan cheetah skin and Ben Franklin (or Captain Crunch) blue coat for years. I almost broke "the rule" and ordered a Curious George from Amazon because I wanted Benjamin to have a costume that he knew and loved, but then I found the monkey suit at a consignment shop and, of course, got a much better deal (although it was a bit small). I know some moms who go to great efforts hand-crafting creative costumes each year. That will never be me- it's just not worth the couple hours use.

Our resident zombie may not be of the same opinion though.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Happy Fall Y'all

We are headed into the ninth week of school. Midterm exams are Thursday & Friday and then the new quarter starts next week. As always, time is flying by and I am grasping to hold onto some of the memories.

The fall season feels like it begins with the Franklin Fall Festival. The Key Clubbers paint faces and play games to raise funds for Children's Miracle Network. For the first time this year, there were many other face painters- several for free. So, we are going to have to create some new fundraising ideas for the venue next year.

Benjamin visited the Fall Festival for a while. He redefined the game of corn hole (played as a bean bag toss) by taking the bags out after they had been thrown in; as if by looking through the hole he had discovered these bags that no one could see otherwise.

We also visited the Boykins Pumpkinfest this year, where the Key Clubbers ran the Kid's Corral of games & activities. It was definitely more kid-friendly than the Franklin event, but overall, I'm rather disappointed by the image of "fall festivals" around here. It serves as a venue for at-home businesses more than anything else. At least Boykins had hay rides and a few goats in a pen called a Petting Zoo. I guess I just want the brass band playing in the park while everyone eats apple pie kind of event that movies are made of.

Homecoming was early this year. The theme was "Inspired." For "Throwback Tuesday" I wore the purple poodle skirt from last year's Relay. For "Celebrity" Day I went as... (wait for it)... Van Gogh. Yeah, the kids didn't get it either. I covered a black apron with paint splatters and wore a bandage over one ear and paint brushes stuck in my pony tail. Even co-teachers asked what happened to my ear. The kids, even after I explained to them who I was, still didn't get it. I just should have resurrected Cruella D'Ville, as planned, but I couldn't find any white hair paint in the stores.

Cameron went to Homecoming with his friend, Elizabeth. It was a very different Homecoming experience than my many years with Justin (and not just because it lacked girlfriend drama). He went with a group of friends. So, I left him at the park after pictures and they shuttled him from dinner to the dance. Also, I could not volunteer to chaperon the dance this year because being amidst college football season, I was home with Benjamin. I still think he managed to have a good time without me ;)

Most different around the McHenry household though is the advent of fall decorations around the house. Once upon a time I used to get really involved in all the holidays, but kids grow up, life gets busy, and at some point my festooning fell back to be only the Christmas schwag I begrudgingly put out late into the season. I want to embrace the holidays more. All of them- even Groundhog's Day. Last year, I promoted the idea of "Cancer Takes No Holiday" for a Relay theme, thinking it would encourage me to be more holiday-oriented. It didn't. So, I don't know what spurned me to break out the holiday color-coordinated tubs of decor this year- maybe knowing I could post pictures of them to my blog? Ha!

Oddly, we don't have many surfaces around the house, so most of the pumpkin & scarecrow tchotchkes landed on the mantle and the key table. There are are surprises nestled here & there. Like the two scarecrows in the foyer's window that Benjamin says are "holding hands" or the skulls on the living room table that he chases us around the house with as he "ooOooOOohhhhs" with them. (Yeah, that whole scare the toddler game we tried backfired. "Scary" is his favorite word right now rather than a plea for help.)
It used to be that I would have a distinct memory of when and where I bought each holiday item. That is no longer the case. Perhaps it's because of age, ha, or perhaps it's from years of buying the stuff for "next season" and it took MANY "next seasons" to finally get to the season to set it out. Maybe too it's having a youngun around again... and it makes you kind of a jerk if you don't celebrate all the pre-school construction-paper-homaged holidays. Or it makes you a Jehovah Witness, and well, my Saturdays are already too busy for that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Power of Negativity

I have a couple of different blog entries that have been rattling around in my brain for a while. Since the other involves copious amounts of pictures, I will ponder on this one for a while...

The sun's bright rays shine upon the heads of some people wherever they may step. Some people are so filled with positivity that rainbows spurt from their nose when they sneeze. I am not one of those people.

I am prone to negativity. Prone much in the way that a divining stick can't help but shake in the hand of its owner spastically until it reaches the water it seeks. Plainly put... I'm a bitch.

Or I can be. I've been working on it.

If I wanted to get all psycho-analytical about it, I guess I could blame it a childhood that rivals the plots of a Lifetime movie marathon on family dysfunction. I could blame it on those formative teen years when I took the "smart" classes, where I had no friends... or those same years when those same "friends" so openly talked about me behind my back... and I pretended not to care... well, because friends are so important during those formative teen years. I could make a whole list of things to blame it on, but I won't. Because it doesn't really matter.

I've gone through most of life having "one good friend" and then a circle of acquaintances. The "good friend" has fluctuated over the years, usually determined by which college I was attending or which job I was working at the time. The one constant though was the bonding factor that was our negativity and bitchiness.

I allowed myself to be absorbed into these toxic relationships for years. Friendships are mostly formed over common interests. Ours would be a general disdain for everything and everyone... and that's probably being kind.

In retrospect, I guess that I can look back now and see that it was the outward reflection of how unhappy I was with life. With myself. But that is me getting needlessly analytical again.

What is more important is that the time came in life, maybe about 5 years ago, when I became acutely aware of this trait. I would make effort to disengage myself from any conversations I saw leading to this path again. This meant rejecting some potential friendships and allowing myself not to "fake" others. In much the same way a recovering alcoholic is not going to hit the bars with his buddies, I was not going to engage in general bitchiness. This, of course, was a constant battle. I failed constantly. Not to make light of the alcoholic metaphor, I even found "sponsors"- generally upbeat people (those of rainbow snot) to absorb the good vibes from.

Then, I fell off the wagon completely. I fell hard and fast... for a new friend. I know that sounds... odd, but in reflecting on how quickly we fell into a friendship and then how harshly and abruptly it ended, it becomes very lucid how related the threads of all relationships are- friendship or otherwise. We skipped right over the acquaintance stage and fell into serious friendship quickly- the kind of friendship where on a day that you only e-mail about a dozen times and text about 30 messages, it feels like you hadn't talked at all that day. Then, the time came that I had to make some decisions for "me." And, just as abruptly as the hours long text marathons began, they ended. "Ended" is not an effective verb to truly express the abrupt halt to all forms of communication. The Break Up. In greater retrospect now, I can see how the negativity I had tried to pull away from had surfaced again, as a central point of that friendship. So much of our friendship was based on the common bond of disdain. Few conversations could evolve without general bitchiness pervading it. The faults of everyone else were just so evident to us... Then, I made decisions to remove myself from some of those situations- which was really best for all involved- and without that common basis about which to kvetch, the friendship ceased to exist. (And yes, I am being kind in that assessment. At peace.)

Now, I am back to trying to steel myself against the negativity that nips at me from every direction.

Jason once said about the military that "The only constant thing is change." The same can certainly be said about education. This year that can be said very loudly and very clearly. There a lot of changes going on... and I embrace every last one of them. It's draining to get on Facebook anymore and see the stream of complaints about school and work. In the face of so much stress and negativity, I have tried to be enthusiastically positive. I refuse to take part in the negative banter for the sake of being social. I am just not going to let myself get absorbed into it again. This can make for some lonely times.

Tonight I was faced with someone trying very hard to manipulate me into engaging in name-bashing someone who I work closely with and admire. I refused to give into it. As a matter of fact, I came to that person's defense when I could have just said nothing, and that felt pretty darn good.

So anyway, this is just what has been on my mind lately, being in an environment where it takes a conscientious effort to remain positive right now- and knowing how easily I can succumb to "The Negative." It's something I want to stay conscious of. To continue to strive toward.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Writing My Name in the Dust

Remember this summer when I posted every day?

Remember when I did the weekly re-caps of my fave reality shows?

Remember when I pledged to still post at least one craft tutorial and one new recipe each week, a goal to encourage me to still be crafting and cooking during the school year?

Pardon me a few moments, my tear-filled eruptions of boisterous laughter over that last one is make it a bit difficult to type.

The school year has started.
Key Club is in full swing.
Relay season has begun.
Needless to say, life is busy. BUSY.

I am too busy at the end of the night to even expend the mental energy on trying to find "balance"- that elusive goal of working moms that want to cling on to some sense of self beyond all the roles and titles thrust onto them by society.

I have not had time to read blogs, let less write one lately.
In the car is my school bag, with a set of essays I am half through grading, and three sets of quizzes that I haven't yet started to grade... and if I think about it a moment longer, I am going to get too distracted to peice together my thoughts here.

Saturday was the first day of Autumn. But the weather certanly didn't wait for the red X's on the calendar to reach the 22nd. The weather turned crisp overnight and the likelihood on fitting in one more trip to the water park or the beach is a fleeting thought.

Friday night I came home and watched the shows that I had stored up on the DVD from last week. Not only have I not had the luxury time to write about television, I haven't even had the time to watch it most nights. Saturday I had Event Chair training in Virginia Beach for Relay. Some good tidbits of information came from the morning spent with staff and other local Event Chairs. Then, I ran a bunch of errands while I was on that side of civilization.

Sunday was Jason's birthday, the time of year that comes when I'm no longer shacking up with a younger man ;) because we become the same age for the next 7 1/2 months. Sunday morning was also the first big Key Club fundraiser, a breakfast at Fred's for which we invited the families of all the newly inducted members and the club officers waited tables for tips.

The kiddos took on their waiting duties well, even delivering Jason a birthday cake with a humbly mumbled rendition of "Happy Birthday." Then, Jason hibernated into the upstairs cave to wrestle with a pile of school work while I took Justin the Chesapeake to celebrate his belated birthday. We had lunch at Red Robin and went to see some sadly predicatble horror movie (aren't they all, anymore?)
Then Monday comes... and we do it all over again. Such is life in this crazy world.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dreaded Back to School Task

I was so, so... SO... foolish to think I could continue to tick "To Do's" off my Summer Bucket List after the Teacher Work Days had started for this upcoming school year. Well, the kids don't report for another 2 weeks I kidded myself. Well, summer isn't officially over until September 22nd I bargained with myself.

The last two weeks, the last week specifically, has been busy-  very busy. The work days have been long and the nights spent working on school stuff have been late- very late. I am ready though! At some point along the way, maybe this year, maybe even starting in years past, I have accepted the calm resolve that the First Day will not come to a crashing halt if every poster in my room is not hung, or if every worksheet is not typed and copied.

As serene as that knowledge may be... every poster is hung, and every worksheet is typed and copied (for the first day at least). And, let's called them "scaffolded activity forms" and not worksheets ;)

So, with the classroom all ready for the first day- cosmetically and instructionally- I had run out of reasons not to turn to... The Dreaded Task.

The Dreaded Task was not lesson plans for me... because they were already turned in... early!

The Dreaded Task was not even the Introduction Essay the kids will have to write in their classes come Tuesday (not my class)... For the record, I don't know any teacher that assigns a "What I did this Summer" essay as Hollywood stereo-types, but that is probably greatly due to the fact that at the high school, level we realize that we just may not want to know what the kiddos did over the summer.

Anyone that doubts how forthcoming a high schooler will be in their writing, ask a teacher that used to assign Free Writing journals. They will share anything... never again, never again.

No, the Dreaded Task was shopping.

I hate shopping. I hate shopping in all its incarnations- gift-shopping, holiday shopping, clothes shopping, shoe shopping, car shopping, even grocery shopping. Alas the kid needed a backpack and shoes, and Mama needed some new pants, so shopping we must go.

On Friday, Cameron and I dropped Benjamin at Pre-School and headed to Chesapeake for some marathon back-to-schooling. A marathon that had to end by 3:30 to get back to pre-school for pick-up.

The day began with a hair-cut... cutting as much of the self-induced bad summer dye job as we could and maintain some semblance of style. Then we hit the IHOP for an early lunch.

Backpack was a quick grab since he already had a general idea of what he wanted and where he wanted it from. Clothes shopping was easy. We wrapped it up with just one stop at Aeropostale. I was really rejoicing in the benefits of being Mom-of-Boys. We were making good time and this had the promise of not being a stressful shopping trip... until the shoes.

Ohhh, the shoes. Three hours of a five-hour shopping trip spent on The Shoes. Running shoes for cross country? $100 shoes for $30? Yes, Thank you. No problem. Every day school shoes? Three hours...

Neon green and orange are probably not going to be the easiest colors to blend with your wardrobe... When you weight less than 90 pounds, bulky high tops are going to kinda look like construction boots on your skinny calves... Do you have a secret night-life as a street-corner rapper that I don't know about?

I survived. (He survived. The shoes survived.)

But the next day I had to go BACK to shop for myself. Buying clothes for myself = The Most Dreaded of all the Dreaded Tasks. It is possible that I spent three hours in one store. It is possible I tried on 40-60 tops. It is a definite that I bought 2. Of course, I couldn't even accomplish the important task of the day, which was to buy pants. Apparently, at 5'6, I must have the legs of a Munchkin since I need Petite pants.

I was able to order them online in the store and get free shipping to the house though... and I was still able to take advantage of the BOGO store sale, so all was well until I had to explain to the clerk that if your register won't let you mark an item free, and you are going to show a 50% discount instead, then you have to take the discount from BOTH items to get the same deal. Oy! When this English teacher is giving you Math lessons, all is not right in the world.

I did try to hit one more store and look at clothes and shoes, but that experience was even more tragic, so I gave up and drove back home.

I do have to admit, there are two kinds of shopping I like- book shopping and office supply shopping.

I gutted out the school supplies shelves in the closet to inventory before going shopping. This pic really doesn't do it justice. There is more stacked beneath the table and on the chairs around the room. I could easily be addicted to school supplies and I have been very reserved not to to stock up even more with all the crazy-good prices during Back to School season. It also helps living over an hour from office supply stores (and book stores), which is probably a good thing considering my weaknesses. (And the fact there is always a Michael's near them...  and if I were being really honest here, I would have to include craft supply shopping on that list.)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Project Runway 10- Episode 5 (Women at Work Challenge)

Just a quick nod to Episode 5 and the deja-vu of Raul departing before I move on to this week's episode.

Team Challenge. Those dreaded words to a group of designers who think their skill is too superior to descend to the evil of cooperation. Surprisingly, there wasn't much drama involved with the forced companionship this week.

It was quite interesting to watch the very different psychology of the two teams and the results of two very different styles of designing and manufacturing.

"Team 5" consists of Nathan, Vin (who comments "good choice" when picked), Christopher, who then picks Fabio (although it breaks Raul's heart but Christopher doesn't think the source of his budding showmance could work on a team with Christopher), and Gunnar.

"Team 6" then would be Sonjia, Elena (OMG-WHY?), Melissa, Alicia, and this week's fat kid on the gym bleachers- Raul.

The challenge? To create a "Marie Claire at work- fashion capsule collection." The cohesive line must look editorial but also could work in the real world. Each team would also direct their own fashion shoot and the winning shot would appear in the magazine. (I wonder what effect the magazine's involvement with Project Runway has had on their sales.)

Nathan's team declared that they would use a COLOR scheme. With COLOR. As did the other team. Unfortunately, one team chose purple, the other blue (chosen by Sonijia to match her hair?), and not much more than the standards black and white beyond that. But, it's a start!

Sonjia's decision to have each team member complete two of the same pieces and then planning to match them all together on the Runway just seemed wrong to me. There's no ownership of an actual "look" but rather just the production of an item of clothing. I guess it speaks of teamwork, but this logical approach to assembly-line fashion had Smurfette racing all over Mood (forgetting a shopping bag of supplies), and had their team stressed and frantic in the workroom. Of course, the competing team's zen approach to individual workmanship did not create an enlightened product line either.

So, here's my overshadowing question for the week...

You know how the designers will often say "who" they are designing for, or the judges will ask, "Who is this girl?" Well, my question this week is, "Where does she work?" The most stand-out piece of this collection is the off-shoulder top on the second look, but unless you are a travel agent maybe, are you going to wear it to work? Or perhaps you are employed as a medium and will fashion the turban in the 4th look.  Also, that side seem in the second look? It looks like she went to the loo and pulled up her pants sideways.

The winning look this week, created by Melissa, was also my favorite piece. Her work overall intrigues me. I love this dramatic neck and was surprised by the zipper detail. I would totally love to have a dress with this neck... but with sleeves... that I would never wear to work.
I also like the small panel openings in the back of Dmitry's dress. Again, I question what the appropriate workplace for this outfit would be. But overall, Dmitry quietly and greacefully creates some well-tailored and reserved, yet creative, pieces.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Season 10 runway without a pair of "Elena's shoulders." In future seasons, Kors and Heid are going to refer to outfits on the Runway having "Elena shoulders." The gem of Madame Psychotic this season has to be this week when Elena did not like the was a team mate had posed one of their shoots and she screams out, "It looks like the model is taking a.." Well, you get the point. She's not exactly the model of grace and decorum.

Raul deserved to go home. He had in his mind the garment he wanted to make before the challenge was even announced and refused to alter it when his team mates and Tim told him it didn't belong in the workplace. Also glad to see him go home because I just hate it when any reality show brings back an evicted player.

Big Brother 14- Eviction #6 (Boogie) (and Ashley)

BEST WEEK of Big Brother this season!

Bye Bye Boogie, Bye Bye. I cannot say that it was sad to see you go. One might say that his greed to go for the 10k instead of immunity or HoH in the slip & slide challenge led to his demise. However, he knew the others were game players and he wouldn't have much competition. Not to say he didn't get blindsided by the eviction. Or even more blindsided by Ian's taped admission of orchestrating his departure.
Welcome to the game Ian! The Quack Pack kept referring to him as their "Mole." He was more like the Godfather of the Big Brother house this past week though- everyone was out to protect him. Dan and Britney refused to reveal his name as their source and Boogie is still trying to give him game advice as he is walking out of the house... until Ian tells his Yoda, Get to Stepping, referring to Boogie's departing words on an earlier season, and Chilltown knows he's been had.

Now, in reality, Ian does not possess much power in this game. His "manipulation" to get Boogie out of the house was simply revealing the details of his private conversation to his alliance. Although it made him look even more like a prepubescent teen, Britney's manscaping of the lovable geek obviously gave a lil' boost to his testosterone. And in true bildungsroman fashion, the young lad comes of age, wins his first competition and HoH (abbeviated though the reign will be).

He even brings an end to the fairy tale showmance that was shredded to pieces the week before on the HoH suite couch. Despite his aggressive grooming habits, Ashley said her date with Ian was "bubble gum" while her time with Frank was "risque." Even admitting the influences of CBS producers, I do have to admit their second date was rather lame. So lame, that it smoothed her path out the door... That is after losing the Veto competition when she unknowingly forfeited the competition to Frank. It seems that in a normal competition, Julie Chen would have pointed out that with only two players left, forfeiting your turn would mean you lose. However, I think even the producers at this point were like- Just get her out!
By the way, Ashley, who has a degree in elementary education,  apparently thought she would sound less dumb to say that she is a Mobile Spray Tanner than an aspiring model. AND, on her audition interview tape, she said that she wanted to start the "Snow White" alliance and the players would follow her around like the seven dwarfs. That didn't work so well, did it, precious?
Also precious? Shane. Who misses his doggie that he sleeps with every night. So, when a poochie pic is added to his HoH suite, he promises to sleep with it at his bed side every night. Can we just share a collection "Awww"- GAG.
Hmmm... what about this picture looks awkward to you? And although Shane was a bad puppet (!) for throwing Britney "under the bus" to Frank and the old man, he did at least protect Ian and credit JOE with telling him that the two were trying to backdoor him last week. You know that's going to earn some brownie points with me. This week's adds to Joe's ever-lengthening list of annoying traits? The "stories" from being the person to name "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" to his family selling the land the White House was built on for a mule and a fifth of whiskey. I missed that lesson in my history book, but perhaps his family could use some lessons on bartering.
What else does Shane do? Nominate Rocker Chick!
When she went to Shane in an effort to keep herself from nominated, I reeaally wish Shane would have said something like, "Who are you again?" She said Dan had to go up if she "had any chance of wining this game." Delusional much? She is WALLPAPER! You can go an entire episode, never see her, and not even realize it. She is being referred to as the "ultimate floater." That is giving her far too much credit. Floating can be a strategy. She is nonessential. She is not even a BLIP in the Big Brother season. It was hard to even find a picture of her to post (although props for the matching leopard ball cap and arm sleeve- ugh.) The only thing better than her trying to be all tough and threatening to Shane, was when she is put on the block and Ian says, "Good Luck Man."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Early Mornings & Late Nights

(Disclaimer: I'm cheating. I am actually writing this blog post on Thursday, but since it starts yesterday and ends today, I'm calling it legit. Also, I want a break between this "Real Life" post and The TeeVee ramblings I'm going to catch up on tonight, and that won't happen with this blog format. So, welcome to my yesterday... and today. Stick around a while, I might confuse you more ;)

I woke up before the alarm this morning. That is I woke up shortly before it was going to blaringly jar me from sleep, not as in the multiple times I wake up through the night ticked off... because I am waking multiple times through the night. (We will also overlook the fact that I had forgot I set the alarm fifteen minutes later the morning before... because that extra five minutes over the frugal ten minutes of the snooze button was so worth the extra effort. That's not even sarcasm.)

So, waking up moments before the alarm sounds is a good way to start the day. (It's also supposed to mean your body is getting the amount of need it naturally needs, but I doubt that is true in my case. More like my bladder has had all the time in bed it can handle.)

My second thought of the day (third if you count the bladder's input) was, "What's on The TeeVee tonight?" This ticked pissed me off for two reasons.

Number One.
I hated that I was letting The TeeVee have such an influence on my life. Seriously? I thought about it before the kids, breakfast, maybe even the bladder. Right now, one season of shows is wrapping up while another season is starting, so my schedule is pretty thick.

It looks something like this...
Sunday- Big Brother, Army Wives
Monday- The Real Housewives of New York City, Gallery Girls
Tuesday- Craft Wars, Dance Moms, The Week the Women Left
Wednesday- Big Brother, Toddlers and Tiaras, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo (hanging head in shame)
Thursday- Big Brother, Project Runway

Ten Shows- one three times a week. That's pretty bad for me, typically I only tune in to about three shows. Oh well, the school year started is probably going to bring home too much work to keep stuffing myself with so much Brain Candy.
The Second Reason this ticks me off...
Is because I am blowing the whole day off. I am disregarding any high points, important decisions, cherished moments, just life in general... by waking up thinking about how I am going to end the day. THAT really ticks me off.
I saw this posted on someone's FaceBook status the Sunday night before school started. (I promise that although I did it 2 nights in a row, I am not going to make using FaceBook posts a normal standard for blog fodder.)

The person that posted it wasn't a teacher, it wasn't even someone I really "know." However, the sentiment immediately made me reflect on the school year. The entire concept of school is built on a count down. 180 days. With our 2-semester system, it's a countdown of 90 days dangling over the head of each student. Teachers pass me in the hallway asking, "Is it Friday yet?" or  "How long until break?" I myself, although in pure jest, will always end day one beaming, "Only 179 to go!" Well, I don't like looking at my job this way. I don't like living life this way. I'm not going to all YOLO up in here but I want to shift my internal focus from that countdown mentality- till the end of the day, the weekend, the next break- and focus instead of being fully engaged in the life that is happening right then, right there. Intentional living. I know this is a Utopian ideal, but it's a good goal to work towards.

Segueway to tonight... (No boys & girls at home, do not use this as a transition in your writing!)

Tonight was a real stressor- a stressful, stressing, stressor- on the lunacy of our schedule that lies ahead. After the runing around to pick up Benjamin from day care, get Cameron from Cross County practice, take home our car-pooler, get gas, run to grocery store to get corn (and Starbucks), it had me staring dinner at 7:00 p.m.- STARTING dinner. I almost threw the entire plan out the window, but forced myself to de-stress and follow through. I get "Bad Mom" points tonight for feeding the babe cereal and banana for dinner because it was already so late. BUT, I'm giving myslf some "Good Wife" points for serving the hubs a hot, home-cooked meal as he walked through the door at 8:30 p.m. That's one small benefit of our crazy schedules right now- Jason & Justin getting home late enough that I can pull together an otherwise dysfunctional dinner plan.

What was for dinner?
Meatloaf, mashed taters, corn & biscuts

You better redneckonize!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Gotta Go Back, Back, Back to School Again!

Whoooaaa... I gotta go, back to school... AGAIN!

Every school break is the same. Whether it is one week at Spring, two weeks at Christmas, the whole summer, or just a four-day weekend. It begins with plans and goals, to work and to relax. The days drift by... and some things get done. Other things don't get done, but that's okay. Time leisurely passes. Then the final days tumble unto one another and you are left with the mental static of could-haves and should-haves.

Yesterday was the first day of my 9th year of teaching (Does that make me a freshman or a third time repeater of high school?) Yesterday was the "Convocation," a formal and fancy word for all the teachers in the county getting dressed fancy and come together for a formal assembly to kick off the new school year. Except, things weren't so formal this year...

There were... BUBBLES! I am ashamed to admit that I can't remember the metaphor upon which the bubbles were based. I know it had something to do with there being many different kinds of bubbles (soap, beverage, waterfall) but they were all basically pockets of air surrounded by a thin liquid layer. Beyond that I was lost because there were... BUBBLES! Seriously, it was shameful. I was like the fish on Finding Nemo who was always thrown completely off track by the... BUBBLES!

I am a total cheeseball about the beginning of the school year. I absorb the messages on having a positive attitude and making "Magic" happen in the classroom and I get excited about the year ahead.

A friend had the following Words of Wisdom posted on her FaceBook the night before the school year started. Her caption was "Think I might keep this on my desk this year!"

I could really connect with this sentiment. There were times last year when I allowed myself to get too wrapped up in the "drama" of the workplace. They were only moments, but even so, I really want to avoid those moments this year. I want to stay wrapped up instead in what's going on inside my classroom.

There's going to be a lot of attention this year on my classroom... and all the classrooms, from kindergarten through Seniors. The state of Virginia has mandated a new Teacher Evaluation Performance assessment that is really going to shake up the foundations of how things have been done. It's as if the state gurus of education have said, "We have spent years telling you WHAT to teach, now we are telling you HOW to teach."

And... I love it!

It's the kind of teaching and  learning that I love to see in my classroom and this feels like an encouragement to see it MORE. It's cooperative learning- peers sharing- and authentic assessments- projects over old fashion tests. There are comfort zones that need to expand, such as worry about students being off-task when working on groups. There are habits that need to be broken, such as relying on worksheets for grades.

A lot of the anxiety right now centers on the fact that 40% of a teacher's assessment will be based on student performance. But this just seems... right... to me. Everything about this system of teaching and evaluation seems right to me. I know it's ideal. Utopian. It will not be easy. Change rarely is. But I have a really positive feeling about this. I feel like things I have always believed are being validated and brought into practice and encouraged. And that feels magical.

I love this time of the year when the floors are freshly waxed and the halls are uncrowded. It's a time full of promise. Perhaps the only good thing about bus duty is getting too work early when the sun is beaming through the doors at the end of the hall and it looks like this, even far into the school year.

So, yeah...
The school year has started... and that's kind of evident around here. The camera's flash card is filled with pics from the park and beach during the final days of "freedom." The Post-Its on my lap-top are filled with notes from last week's episodes of Big Brother and Project Runway. There hasn't been a whole lot of cooking or crafting either. Hopefully, I will back-post the time-dated things. I will figure it out. Find balance between the need-to's (schoolwork) and the want-to's (blogging and crafting). I don't know which of those two categories cooking falls under, Ha!