Friday, December 13, 2013

How we spend our Time

I believe that you define who you are by how you choose to spend your Time. It's a simple formula to identify the priorities in your life. They are the ones that consume the most hours of your day. Those hours that you have complete freedom to dictate, beyond the hours you work, the hours you sleep.

A myriad of circumstances this week have called upon me to evaluate how I spend my Time, how I define my life.

Yesterday, Cameron read me a quick-write he wrote for a warm-up in health class about how he wants to be remembered. Here is an excerpt:
I want to be remembered for giving back to the community. I want to be remembered as the guy that was not worried about himself but cared more about those who needed help. I want to be that guy that everyone knew more about his impact on the world than his own life. I want to be remembered as the guy that gave back everything he could to the world. I would rather have people remember what I did than remember my name.

It was one of those fulfilling moments when I felt like, whether as Mom or as McHenry, his Key Club Adviser, I must be spending the Time to 'do something right' with him.

Then, last night as I was driving home from dinner with Jason, I told him that I wanted to take the Time over Christmas Break to see a lot of my former Key Clubbers while they were home from college. I have been so swept up in the busy-ness of life other chances they were home that I couldn't coordinate seeing them although they tried to make the Time for me.

Ironically, right in the middle of that conversation, I received a text from one of my "formers," Jordan, that I hadn't spoken to in a while. Here is an excerpt:
Thought of you a lot today for some reason. It starts with a kid with a green sticker on his notebook and it congratulated him on donating blood for the first time... I wrapped up my first semester at CNU yesterday, with many changes at this place in the last week... Thanks for allowing my heart of a servant to grow during high school, because it's getting the final coats of paint here.

It was one of those fulfilling moments when I felt the rewards for how I chose to spend my Time, not the proverbial pats on my back, but the realization that I had an influence on someone that is so giving of his Time. A college junior that when he's out past midnight, it's because he's delivering blankets to the inner city homeless sleeping in the street.

Then tonight.

Many of the kids embrace being a Key Clubber as how they spend their Time, how they define themselves, make it easy on me. They are eager, and hard workers, and give a public image that I am proud to stand behind. On days that teaching seems so stressful, they remind me of the great many rewards.

Sometimes though, it's not so easy. I try real hard to find a niche for every single one of my kids. Some are great leaders, motivating others to get involved and be active. Some's greatest strength is rolling up their sleeves and getting the hard work done. Some are the money makers, they are the first to sell tickets for any fundraiser or to fill their banks with change to donate.

Sometimes though, it's not that easy to figure out the niche. To figure out how one fits into the greater picture of what we collectively achieve. Sometimes it's hard to remember that Key Club might provide the happiest moments of their high school years. I might provide the only happy moments of their high school years. When they think back on their teens, I may be the first face they remember as someone who gave them my Time. I might be the only person.

Tonight, I was reminded of this.

At the school division's Christmas Party, each place setting included a small hand-written post card from random students in the county. All the ones that I saw were from elementary kids, they were vague but endearing. Brief notes of gratitudes and holiday wishes to "Staff" or "School Family," nothing too specific or personal. The one at my seat read: "Dear Staff, thank you for all you have done for us to make us so happy. We appreciate what you do for us and others. We wish you a vary, vary Merry Christmas."

I'm sure there were others but I didn't see them, any written by our high schoolers or any written to specific teachers, but when the evening was over, another teacher I knew brought me one of the post cards that had adorned her table:

The card was signed, I just though it best to obscure it for the sake of this public post.

It was a timely gift. For reasons that I just cannot go into on this forum, it was just the right message. At the right time. From the right person.

And, I cried. Oh, how I cried. Then... I cried some more.

There are many nights when I have to pause and question why I get involved with this or why I help with that. Am I doing it for the right reasons? Am I able to give what is really needed, or am I just the only person willing to do it? Is this really how I want to spend my Time?

Various events this week have really caused me to pause and reflect upon those decisions once again. I am definitely not someone who is quick to say that God was trying to 'give me a sign.' Just a few weeks ago I debated a class of idealistic sophomores on the belief that 'everything happens for a reason.' (I opposed that position.)

I have to admit, tonight though, it was just a small token. But it was enough to answer the questions I had been asking myself and to show me that this is how I want to spend my Time. This is how I want to define my life.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Story

My Story by Elizabeth Smart

Like most Americans I was both intrigued and mortified by the story of Elizabeth Smart's abduction. It wasn't the first story of child kidnapping, and unfortunately, could never be the last. However, the narrative of it was far more disturbing than most stories told. Blond hair, blue eyes, just 14 years old, she was the model of the "All American girl" pulled from the bed shared with her sleeping (so it was believed at the time) sister.

Eventually the story faded from the news and our minds...

Until nine months later when she is discovered by the police "hiding in plain sight" as the story was often subtitled, coupled with images of veils and ramshackle tents in the woods, stories of being the destined young wife of a homeless prophet.

But, she didn't want to talk. And her family respected that wish, or perhaps behind scenes, strongly encouraged it in an effort to as quickly as possible bury the story from news headlines and their lives. No interviews, no book deals,  no "real" details except those pulled from the trial many years later and crafted into a producer's movie image of the experience.

Until now, over ten years later when she has released the memoir of that experience. I question why now, and after reading the book, still don't have that answer. I can't help but think it's the easy answer, the money. I was rather disappointed when I saw that she was the Key Note speaker at Key Club International Convention this summer... and I couldn't go. Cameron said that while her story was amazing enough in itself, that she wasn't a very good speaker... and I would have to say his standards are pretty low.

After reading her memoir,  I would have to say that she's not a very good writer either. The effect of the writing style is that it comes across as from the perspective of  a fourteen year old having just experienced this ordeal, which thankfully works with the narrative. However, it doesn't show the reflection and perspective that would expected ten years later. I am curious as to what the person who co-wrote actually got paid to do.

Overshadowing the lack of writing style, perhaps directly influencing it, is the total emotional detachment. The story is written as if it happened to someone else, not the person writing about it. It is framed almost like a diary, chronicling  the daily living style and overall event line of the experience. Peppered amongst it are several self-defending claims against the notion that she suffered Stockholm Syndrome, which would signify an emotional attachment to her abductors, and several statements of defense that it was in fear of her family's safety that she remained quiet when help was so often, so close. This is quite apparently an issue for her. However, considering the lack of therapy following the ordeal, she probably has yet to discover all the issues that are longstanding from the daily rapes and harsh living conditions of those nine months of her young teen years.

I freely admit that my greatest point of reference of Mormonism is from the memoirs of women who escaped the fundamentalist cults loosely tied to the religion. However, one theme I see connecting many of their stories is the idea of teaching the young girls to "Stay Sweet." That is a phrase common in all there stories, the one that was used an ever-present reminder to edit their behaviors to the expected norm. When Elizabeth writes about the conversation with her mother the morning following her return home, and from her talking about that same conversation in the televised interview I watched after reading the book, I could not help but be reminded of that phrase, that mentality. Her therapy was riding horses and playing the harp. While I am sure those brought her peace and comfort, I am also sure they mainly brought her distraction.

While I am no great proponent of the field of psychology, despite it being my minor, I think a few... quite a few... therapy sessions should have ended this chapter in her life. I appreciate the mother's point of view in that they were not going to allow the man who robbed her of nine months of her life control her thoughts and emotions for one single more day. I also like Elizabeth's perspective that out of all the months lived in her life, this experience only filled nine of them, few in comparison, so those nine shouldn't taint all the others. However, I think I think the emotional detachment she shows now is  the product of that approach, not necessarily the success of it. For how many other situations in her life is this going to be the default coping mechanism? Will that be a good thing? I don't know...

It is an interesting read. While it is disturbing to imagine such things can happen, such things exist, the very traits that prevent it from being literarily acclaimed do make it a more palatable read. Elizabeth does gloss over all sexual details, to the point that it makes you feel a bit perverse to wonder to what she was referring by various vague statements. The story in itself is disturbing. It doesn't rely on gratuitous graphic scenes design to hold the reader's attention. Overall though, the story of Elizabeth Smart's abduction, her time in captivity, and her ultimate discovery and return home is so far removed from the expectations of what we expect in life that it hard to remember the book is not fiction, or not just the plot of a Lifetime movie.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thanksgiving Traditions?

Justin came home for Thanksgiving Week. It's comforting how quickly family life can fall into routine again. Our home had adjusted to one less son, and then when he returned home, he just melted into that Justin-sized hole left in his absence. We didn't feel that void, life gets busy, life goes on, but when he returns everything just fits together as if he never left. In many ways the same son that I knew a year ago, in many ways also showing a sense of maturity and reality-adjustment that only perspective and reflection can give... not too much maturity though.

On one of his first nights back home, Benjamin asked Justin, "Why do you have Cameron's face?" That's an astoundingly perceptive question for his 3-year old little brain. I have occasionally noticed a shared trait between the two but I have never thought they looked alike, despite the comments of many others. I guess since Cameron has just sprouted up and changed so much physically lately, I can see it a lot more.

My sophomores read the short story "Everyday Use," by Alice Walker. The pre-writing activity is writing about a family tradition. The students often struggle over this and say that they don't have any family traditions. So, I tell them to just think about something they always do for the holidays. This, of course, causes me to stress and worry if our small little family has any traditions and would my boys be ones to struggle over responding to this prompt. I imagine they would.

Our Thanksgiving morning traditionally begins with the boys running the Turkey Trot 5K with the YMCA. This year, they actually walked down there themselves, food donations in tote, and ran. So, I can't really say that's much of a "family" tradition. Second to that, I would say we traditionally watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Except this year, I gave myself permission to admit that I just find the whole thing irritating. Is it a parade or is it a collection of musical melodies? And do we really need commentators identifying the overly-inflated socially iconic balloons harnessed down and drug along "Fifty Shades" style? No, this year I didn't need that, and just skipped the whole thing.

Does Black Friday shopping count as a family tradition? It probably shouldn't since it is the epitome of why I dread the "holiday season." If it could though, we could check that one on the Thanksgiving traditions list. We didn't get crazy about it, didn't head out until after 10 in the morning. Of course with the (much debated) beginning of "Black Friday" specials on Thanksgiving Day, it doesn't seem there were the normal early morning hour crowds and craziness.

We did a little bit of this...
And a whole lot of this...
Getting the boys new phones was first on the agenda of the day. However, it became the greater part of the entire day. After spending nearly two hours waiting in the Verizon store, we were (thankfully) told by our Associate that the phones we were looking at were $200 cheaper at Best Buy that day. The really sad part of the whole "adventure" was the phones we were getting were the most decent of the nondata-required models, and thus not at all the ones anyone else wanted, but yet the ones that consumed our day in wait. Case in point, when we arrived to Best Buy, there were only two models in stock. Over two hours later when we made it to the front of the line (which was not that long and should not have taken two hours), there were still two models in-stock. Of course with both boys having phones requiring duct tape to hold them together, speaker phones to call anyone, and advanced cryptology skills to decipher the texts, I was approaching the modern-aged definition of neglect, and they needed to be allowed to just die... the phones, not the boys.

After a bit of shopping, post phone-buying-marathon, we did go see "Catching Fire." Come to think of it, the last time we did Black Friday shopping, it was to stand in line over 3 hours to buy I-pod Touches after going to see the late showing of one of the "Twilight" movies.

So, I guess the best summary of our Thanksgiving traditions is prolonged shopping to buy mildly outdated technology coupled with Hollywood's raping of young adult literature?

Thursday, November 28, 2013


I'd like to think I am a grateful person.

I have saved every note or card given to me by a student (even the one by a German exchange student that said after taking my journalism class, she knew she didn't want to be a newspaper reporter anymore).

The greatest moment of kindness in my life was eleven years ago. I was at CNU, about an hour from home, and as I was walking to the car at the end of the day, I was struck with such a wave of sickness that I had to lay down and rest before I could even begin to drive home. Then, I had to take several more rests from driving to nap before I could make it home. I went to the doctor the next day and he said I had the flu and pneumonia. I had/have never been so sick in my life. I had to drive myself to the hospital for a chest x-ray. I remember sitting in the car in the parking lot, just about to get out of the car, and I sneezed. It made my head swim with such dizziness that it took several minutes to recover. Eventually I made it through the bureaucratic process of hospital administrations and onto the x-ray table. The tech that was taking the pictures brought a cold washcloth and laid it across my forehead. Have you seen one of those movie moments when angels descend to earth, all aglow, and lay their hands on a mortal. Yeah, it was like that- an ethereal experience. It is bringing tears to my eyes right now to write about it... and making me realize just a little how sad it may be that one act of kindness eleven years ago meant so much.

I believe in Random Acts of Kindness. On the day last week that I received flowers for Teacher of the Month (yay me! I really avoiding giving myself the kudos on that, as pointed out by a reader... so kudos to me!), I also left a Seed of Happiness  in a co-worker's mailbox.

Check out the website if you want to more about them; it's a great story. Basically, it's a random token gift to bring a smile to someone's face. I saw a display of them last year and bought a bunch at Hallmark. I received far greater satisfaction from the co-worker's anonymously thankful comment on Facebook than the flowers sitting in my room for a week. Though it was nice to get flowers...

Perhaps though, I don't recognize the every day, every moment reasons to be grateful.

I dread November on Facebook. Worse than all the Pinkness of October... and cryptic messages about where we hang our purse... to promote Breast Cancer Awareness, are those dreadful "Thankful" lists that emerge in November. Every day for the month of November people post about what they are thankful for, from loved ones to coffee & chocolate, soft beds & warm blankets, to the simple act of waking up to live a new day. Well, I find the whole practice to be irritating and self-serving. If you lived a life of gratitude, do you need to proclaim it on Facebook for all to see what a loving and appreciative person you are? Does that give you the ticket to not feel thankful for those same things the other eleven months of the year? Do the very people that receive your accolades of gratitude on a social forum of an anonymous million, feel that from you every day?

I have always thought it would be much easier to make a month-long list of things that irked me for 30 days. I think it would be much more entertaining to read too. That would not be very holiday-oriented of me though, would it? Heh...

So, I decided at some point earlier this month, that I would challenge myself on Thanksgiving Day in this much smaller forum in a more condensed fashion to determine the 30 things in my life that I am most thankful for.

1. I am thankful for Second Chances, that we live in a society that allowed me to pick up and move into a new life- new husband, new home, new town, new career. The "me" I am today is a very different person than the "me" I was in my 20s.

2. I am thankful for Military Insurance. There are many benefits to Jason's military career but with his health issues over the past several months, I have felt the tangible benefit of health insurance- free and for a lifetime.

3. I am thankful for my Resolve, that I didn't live to repeat the cycle of dysfunction and abuse that defined my childhood; that even though it took too long into my adult years, I gave myself permission to divorce my family roots.

4. I am thankful for a Husband who likes to cook and lets others know how proud he is to have me for a wife. I wasted too many years of my life with someone embarrassed by me and not realizing I was too worthwhile to endure that. As far as cooking, I don't know how it evolved to this point- but the more I hated cooking, the more he enjoyed it, and the balance is working out well for our family right now.

5. I am thankful for my life as a Teacher. It was my dream deferred, one that I never thought the chances in life were going to line up and support, but eventually they did. And it was the right time for it, after over 35 jobs during my 20s, it is near impossible to believe I am in my 10th year of teaching... in the same school even.

6. I am thankful for my School Administration. I have certainly had my stressful years and my low years when I was unsure of what the next one would hold for me, by my choice or not. However, I have grown to a place with those people I work for that makes me feel like a valued and integral part of the school system. I feel a tangible support in everything that I do, every day.

7. I am thankful for Co-Workers who feel teaching is their privilege and not burden. Namely, I am thankful for Angela, our new English teacher, who I would like to call my first Mentee, but who has taught me just as much as I could ever teach her. It has been a long time since I have worked closely with who someone shared my student-centered views on  teaching. She enriches our Department and improves the entire school. I am thankful for the other teachers too that take engaging approaches to teaching, that have stories about their students to tell me because they simply love their job... or just don't ask me "How long until Friday?" every. time. I. pass. them. in. the. hall.

8. I am thankful for my Students. I truly believe that every single one of students has something to teach me. In some cases, their lesson may be more important than what they learn from the 90 days of mine. Unfortunately though too, I know many of those chances to learn from my students are lost to class sizes and curriculums. I am extremely thankful for the students that I am able to teach for two years and really see their growth in writing skills and just how they view the world. It validates my efforts. Those are the very same students that often influence how I see the world too.

9. I am thankful for the Key Club. There is a line in a praise song, "This is the air I breathe." When I think of my Key Clubbers, that is how I feel. Few people in this life are given the chance to learn their purpose, to see their legacy. I am one of the lucky ones. Most days I think I will retire from teaching high school. Some days I think I will move back to publishing or forward to teaching at the college level. Whichever path my life winds through, I am certain that I will forever seek opportunities to work with youth in volunteer service.

10. I am thankful for Former Students. Honestly, #9 can be broken down to a list of 30+ gratitudes all on its own. For now, I will only break away this one. I am thankful for Amanda, Leannah, Jordan, Jessica, Grace, Ashley, Christian, Kristen, and several others who let me know how important Key Club was to them, who let me think I had just a little influence on the amazing young men and women they have become, who remind me that it is worth the time, the frustrations, the effort.

11. I am thankful for books. A good book is one that you are as equally anxious to see as it ends as you are regretful that the end has come. I am thankful for those.

12. I am thankful to be a Home Owner. Childhood nights spent in the spare rooms of relatives and friends. Early adult years spent in a homeless shelter, a motel, an attic of a church member, in a roach-infested duplex. I am thankful not just to be in "a home." I have been in "a home" most nights of my life, but that this being the first home that had my name on the deed is big and beautiful and newly refurbished... and unique and quirky.

13. I am thankful for my car. (I know this is starting to sound superficial.) Most cars in my life were chosen for me. I had to find a dealership that would work with me and then pick among the ones I could afford on their lot. When it came time to buy my most recent car, which was actually nine years ago, I knew the specific car I wanted and went shopping for it. Now it has over 120,000 miles on it and has not cost me any money in unplanned maintenance. It did not even need new brakes until this year. The current plan is to give it to Cameron for college and I will buy a new one, but the truth is I'm a little hesitant to let it go.

14. I am thankful for life's unexpected surprise that is Benjamin. I always thought I wanted a third child, but Jason did not. I thought we needed "our" own child to truly define a marriage. Then there was this very distinct moment probably about five years into our marriage when I passed my reflection in the mirror one day and told it that we were done with babies. Life was entering a new phase when the boys were old enough to be home alone for an undetermined amount of time and it was a pretty great phase to be in... now, like when unexpected things often happen, I cannot imagine a life any different than the one that delivered me a newborn at 39.

15. I am thankful for my Health. There is no one that is going to look at me and think "healthy." Obviously I have issues to address. However, in the grand scheme of living life, mine has been pretty healthy. My only surgery has been a cyst drainage. I have never broke anything, had any major or long-term disease. My biggest battle is eye allergies. I have encountered so many people, so recently in life- those younger, those healthier- dealing with so. much. more.

16. I am thankful for Technology. Being part of the 80s generation saddled between staying up for all night talks stretched to the couch with the long winded cord from the wall phone to brief text conversations with a phone shoved in my pocket, I have first-hand experienced the shifts in society from ovens to microwaves, from TV Guides to DVRs. I know the benefits and conveniences of technology, and I am thankful.

17. I am thankful Justin asked to come for Thanksgiving. No, he doesn't have to "ask" to come home but I am glad that he sought out the opportunity to come home for a week. I won't use the trite phrase "Tough Love," but when unexpected turns took his life off-course, he fell into a holding phase that he had to just be kicked out of. And, he's still figuring it out, but things are looking much better.

18. I am thankful for Cameron's sense of inclusiveness. I would worry at times that Cameron didn't have friends. He could be an awkward child. I learned my lesson with Justin and just stayed out of his social life and let him make his own decisions, his own mistakes. Now that he is in high school I see that it is not friends he is lacking, but a clique... and that is not a bad thing. He considers everyone a friend, and treats everyone as a friend... even when that can be a very irritating thing.

19. I am thankful for Night Skies and Roaring Oceans and other majesties of nature that remind me how insignificant we are and how temporal life is. I could never live too far from the ocean, even though I rarely visit it, I just need to know that I can. And some of my favorite memories with the boys are laying outside during the early morning hours to watch meteor showers.

20. I am thankful for Dishwashers, Washers and Dryers. This is our first home with a dishwasher. Oy vey! Welcome to the 20th century! I spent childhood hanging out laundry to dry (into stiff sheets of fabric during cold weather) and had far too many visits to the Laundromat in my early adult years.

21. I am thankful for uncontrollable outbursts of Laughter. Let's face it, I'm a bit of a cynic. So when something takes me by surprise that I can't help but laugh about, it's a good thing.

22. I am thankful for Relay for Life. Cancer is a beast. Its scars are visible on its victims and the families of those victims. No one is outside of its grasp. It paints a scary world to live in, but through Relay I am able to help empower hundreds of people in our community, many within our own school, to thinking they can do something. From scooping spaghetti, to washing cars, to doing the Wobble on a Relay field at midnight, they can raise the money to provide the services and research to conquer this beast. It is all we can do... but it is a lot.

23. I am thankful for my freedom. I know that sounds trite, but I mean it with sincerity. I spent half of Jason's military career with him. Our family knows first-hand the costs of freedom paid by our military men and women, and their families. I am thankful for every single one of them. There is no single more tangible feeling of freedom than a military Homecoming following deployment. I am thankful for every one I was able to experience and only wish we could have did it together for the full twenty years.

24. I am thankful for People who are Good at their Jobs. Sofrina, my favorite barista at Starbucks. Amy, our favorite waitress at Applebee's. Tommy, who manages our car repair shop. Jason and I often have a conversation about the myth we feed children that the goal of every one of them should be to go to college and get a white-collared job. We, as a society, devalue so many jobs, yet we could not function as a society without the people to do them. I make a conscious effort to show my appreciation to anyone that has an optimistic and responsible work ethic, from our custodians at work to the girls at the drive-thru window.

25. I am thankful for Reality Television. (Ha! I know some folks expected to see that one!) It is my drug of choice. It is my guilty pleasure. Project Runway, Real Housewives of New York City, Dance Moms, Extreme Cheapskates, Million Dollar Shoppers, America's Next Top Model, Snooki & JWow, the list goes on- anything that doesn't involve alligators or long beards.

26. I am thankful for Office Supplies. Seriously. The way some women have that stereotypical genetic predisposition to shoe addictions (missing that!), I'm like that with office supplies. If I were to win a limitless gift card to any store of my choice, it would be a hard toss-up between Barnes & Noble and Office Max... although, Barnes & Noble would win because they do carry a limited amount of office supplies. Pens for color-coded agendas, journals with inspirational or quirky covers, funny folders, most of which I will never use but fill my closets and filing cabinets, I. must. have.

27. I am thankful for the perfectly carbonated Diet Coke. Again, yes, seriously. A poorly carbonated fountain Diet Coke can ruin my day just as quickly as one well-balanced in carbonation can make my day a little better.

28. I am thankful for Days when I have Absolutely Nothing To Do after coming home from school. These days are rare and treasured. No pressing household needs. No school work or Key Club or Relay to-do's. Just my bed, lap-top (not for work), television, and Benjamin snuggles.

29. I am thankful for the Gift of Animals. I wish I could be a pescatarian, but am not. I don't feel guilty for eating seafood but am riddled with guilt when I think about the meat I do eat. I love all animals. All except the occasional insect. I am filled with joy to come home and see a wild rabbit in the yard, and will just sit in the car and watch it for a while. Wow, that sounds corny, but it is true. Zoos make me sad, and hunting season even more sad.

30. I am thankful for Moments of Calm. My life is bordered by stress. I have an ongoing internal dialogue filling my mind with chatter. Prattle. I mute the television during commercials and rarely listen to music because the influx of information, in addition to my internal dialogue planning the next event, the next day, the next few minutes is just too much to work with. So, those rare moments when life is just calm, my mind is just calm, I am thankful.

Ok, confession... this list wasn't so easy. I found myself walking away from it a few times and having to come back. I don't think it's because I'm not a grateful person (the lady doth protest too much?) but that doing it in this format was hard because it called for much bigger umbrella examples (not that I am claiming in any manner these are all gratitudes of great or equal worth) rather than a lot of the small or immediate things that you think to note when doing it daily.

That, of course, causes me to begrudgingly admit that those expressing their gratitudes daily have a purpose... however, I still don't think it needs to be publicly broadcasted, on a schedule, highlighted during one month of the year.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Grinchy Krank... or a Kranky Grinch?

As the first day of Thanksgiving Break comes to a close, I have to say that this holiday season isn't kicking off as I had planned.

Following my abbreviated summer, I promised myself not to bring home work for Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, and really enjoy the time away from a classroom. Yeah... anyone that knows me in the least knows how that plan ended. Let's put it this way, we were unable to take my car to dinner last night because three of us could not fit in my four-door station wagon due to the amount of school stuff... stuffed in there.

I was a bit out of sorts yesterday and couldn't get into the swing of my routine to line up the day as I wanted, which would have helped in bringing home less work. First, was just some of the teenage drama that is occasionally expected of being immersed into high school life, but secondly Benjamin was at home sick. I was getting updates and pics from Jason at the doctor's office throughout the day as they gave him breathing treatments (his smoke-breathing dragon mask) and ruled out asthma - pneumonia - bronchitis...

There are moments in life when you are reminded how distinctly motherhood has changed you. Diving beneath your toddler with cupped hands to catch his vomit would rank high on that list of moments... each of the three times I did it last night.

The long-standing plan had been to take the boys and a friend to see "Catching Fire" today. Not knowing what Benjamin's condition would be today though, those plans got changed because I didn't want to leave town.

Jason and I grabbed breakfast at Fred's, where he told me how much he would like to get the house set up for Christmas this weekend... ... ... I haven't mentioned lately how much I hate the holidays (Doesn't count).

Justin is in town for Thanksgiving week. One of our primary goals during his visit here was to get his driver's license straight. We went to DMV today and found out it would be a pretty easy feat to accomplish... if we only had one more day. They are not open tomorrow or the next day for the Thanksgiving holiday. When did the Friday after Thanksgiving become a state-observed holiday? Grrr! Of course, this issue could have been easily solved too if we had went one of the past two days, but Monday was Key Club commitments x 3 until 7:30 at night, and Tuesday everything was thrown completely out of routine with a sick Benjamin. So, unless Justin's schedule will allow him to stay through Monday, this might be an issue left unresolved.

On a more productive, less stressful note... I did watch a couple of movies (that's the less stressful, not productive part of the day).

"The Internship" was an interesting look into the world of Google. While free cafes, Quidditch intramural games, and nap pods may make it one of the most desirable and competed-for employers, I just cannot imagine I would be productive in that environment. I need absolute quiet and no disruptions in order to get "real" work done.
"The To Do List" was set in the post-graduation summer of 1993, which was only a few years after my own high school years. So, the nostalgic nod to lots of music and icons from my teens years was totally awesome. However, the extremely vulgar sexual nature upon which the whole movie was centered was a bit over the top, especially to watch with the boys, of legal age to watch rated R movies though they may be.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Just Dance.

Let me share Thursday's events, which preceded this particular event and can perhaps shed a little backlight on the situation... Wednesday night some of my Key Clubbers helped the high school's Teen Library Council with a program at the county library. I stopped by to take some pictures and show my support, as I try to do for any of the events other school groups have for our kids.

Fast forward to Thursday evening, following Movie Night with the Key Clubbers when I am sitting in a restaurant with Jason and thumbing through Facebook on my phone (romantic, I know). I see that the librarian has linked a page of event pictures to her Facebook, so I flip through those. And. there. I. am. I am highly skilled and extremely talented at detecting and deflecting any camera in my vicinity. I have been this way for a long (LONG) time. I joined the Yearbook Staff in high school for the main purpose of making sure my photo appeared nowhere other than the mandatory mug shots. In my ten years of teaching at the high school, I'm pretty sure I only managed to endure three photo day pics. This, was not one of those years.

There are people who don't like to have their pictures taken... and there are folks who just can't take a good pic. I am both of those people... but so SO much more. I am not one to exaggerate medical (or psychological) conditions, quite the opposite. I am very quick to minimize and ignore them. However, I think it is quite possible that I have true blue panic attacks about having my picture taken or seeing my picture when I can't avoid it. Thursday night at the restaurant after seeing the unexpected picture, which I didn't even realize was taken, I began to hyperventilate. I had to talk myself through calm breathing and try not to look to psychotic in public... or before Jason, who just wouldn't understand. He doesn't like his picture taken but thinks my response is over-reactive. But I just can't help it. I have cursed at elderly family members that wouldn't stop pointing cameras at me. I have avoided attending events that I know would have cameras flashing.

Is it a weight thing? Sure. But it's not "just" that. I have been this way for a long time. In the last ten years I have voluntarily posed for a casual picture far less than 10 times. Each time was so hard for me that I remember the details succinctly. If I were to die soon, yes I know how melodramatic that sounds but I am making a point... my children would have not pictures to remember me by. And? I'm FINE with that. Perfectly fine with it. I have toyed with the idea of making 2014 the year I overcome my Fotografizophobia (yes, I just Googled that... and the first listing was a Social Anxiety Disorder forum...).

The thought of addressing it, even though at a later date, is causing me to feel a little nauseous now, so let's move on....

Friday night, following our Red Cross Blood Drive (yes, it was a busy week), the Key Clubbers were guests at Zuni Presbyterian Homes for a Thanksgiving Dinner & Dance.

The older Cameron grows, the more differences I see between him and Justin. One thing they definitely have in common though is their ability to dance.

At Friday night's dance, I told Cameron they must have "got it from somewhere." While I was being facetious, I did love to dance. I so(!) loved to dance. I don't think I missed a single dance from junior high through Senior year. I had no qualms about jumping on stage and shaking my booty. And once I could get into clubs, I found every chance I could to go and hit the dance floor. As long as I could just drag one friend along with me (I wasn't that much of an exhibitionist), I didn't care if we were the only two on the floor all night long.
I guess it was post-married life that the chances to lose it all on the dance floor came fewer and farther between... until they just no longer existed. Don't get me wrong... I have zero delusions that I was ever good at dancing. Ever. But I just didn't care. It was fun and I enjoyed it and that was always enough. I never learned any of the line dances, not even the Electric Slide. I always told myself I would go on Youtube and figure out how to do it before the next school dance, but I didn't. I think I could get out there on the floor with the kids and have some fun doing that... but actually would be too self-conscious learning it on the dance floor, or not looking like I knew what I was doing, in general.
It is something far greater than the fear of feeling self-conscious in front of the kids that stops me... it's the fear of their... social media.
I was reading, took a break but will be going back, to a memoir called "I Dare Me" about a woman who tried something new every day for a full year. Why it wouldn't technically be "something new," I was really channeling the things she wrote about- what she got from the experiences- to try to knock down some of the barriers I built around myself and enjoy myself Friday night. I do not think I will ever be presented with a less judgmental atmosphere to enjoy myself dancing. The mentally-challenged adults who are the residents at the facility certainly were not that interested in my "moves." As far as the kids there, I have to allow myself to think as far as "my" kids go, they are a group that respects me enough that they wouldn't take videos of me dancing and post on-line. But they might... So I couldn't...
Last song was called, The YMCA, and I nestled myself into a tight group and had some fun on the dance floor. It was short-lived but brought back some of those liberating free-spirited times of years before. I think I need to find ways to embrace chances at those moments more...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Glass Half...?

There have been a couple of times this week when I have wanted to blog that "It is a good week." Then, just a few moments before I take the time to write... something blows that mindset to smithereens.

My English classes are enduring enjoying their poetry units this month. Each year, the ninth graders read the poem "Making a Fist," which creates an extended metaphor between a car journey and the ultimate journey... life. One of the questions accompanying the poem asks if it ends with an optimistic or pessimistic tone. And, each year I have to explain what pessimistic means. Unfortunately I am all too familiar with this term and at ease in explaining what it means.

The great metaphor, the not-so-great cliché, we all are familiar with is... that glass of water. Is it half-full? Is it half-empty?
If you're thirsty, does it really matter?
I wish my glass was more "full." I wish I didn't allow negativity to be so draining. I have said about my own kids before, or to parents about their kid, that "he adapts to his environment"- meaning around good influences, he behaves. Around negative influences, not so much so. I can't say that I am so much different.
I try to be conscientious about removing myself from environments charged with negativity. Sometimes... that is not an option. And often, I can deflect the negativity around me - not even just ignore the negative talk, but combat it with excessive cheerfulness so well portrayed that the dripping sarcasm is not obvious.
Externally though, I often find myself falling into the pits of negativity. Making comments I wish I could retract. Taking part in conversations that I wish I had walked away from... or not started. However, even though that is the case, it is still far more easier to avoid the external negativity than the internal negativity forever churning within.
I wish I could see the positive in a difficult situation, the humor in a frustrating one. Although I can be an objective and sympathetic person and put myself in the place of others to understand their viewpoint (although many would tend to disagree)... when I am looking at something from within, from my viewpoint, it is often tinged with the negative. I implode, not explode. So, all the "good" of a day can be ruined by one brief frustration, or all the "fullness" of a good week can be tainted by one stressful conversation.

There was a movie in the 80s called "Mask." It starred Eric Stolz (pictured above) and Cher. Rocky is a high school boy, strong student with big dreams, but hindered by his extreme facial deformity. His cranial bones will not stop growing and ultimately lead to him having a pity-induced shortened life span. Following his death, his alcoholic slutty mother, Cher, finds a poem he had written and reads it at his graveside. There were two stanzas, things that were good and things that were bad. Both stanzas ended with "sunshine on my face."
I get that.
I wish I could squelch that internal dialogue though... so the good is just... good. I guess I can work on that. I have done well at curbing my knee jerk reaction to responding to situations... sometimes.

So, the good...

I was awarded Teacher of the Month for November. This is something the new Superintendent instituted, so I'm not really sure of the parameters or selection process. I think the administration just decides who to award it to since there's been no "voting" amongst the staff for it. The boss gave me flowers and I have a luncheon with the other county recipients and the Superintendent on Monday. Acknowledgement is a good thing. I would work as hard and long without it, but it's nice to get the nod that your efforts are not unrecognized. (See how good I did there not footnoting it with complaints of the picture required for it today?) (No, this doesn't count.)

Our New Mom in the English Department has returned from Maternity Leave. So, we have an intact English Department for this school year finally and I only have to worry about my four classes again. (Some funny perspective at work there to make me "thankful" for four classes, when the norm is three.)

It's Key Club week. We have had a jam packed week of achievement and fun. I have allowed myself to be more laid back, not get stressed about the event details, and let the kids step into their leadership roles. They were outstanding at Induction Monday night, and I use that word in its literal sense- they stood out amongst their peers. Breakfast on Tuesday and Movie Night tonight were just plain fun, with many guttural laughs. And tomorrow will be a long yet rewarding day with the Blood Drive, followed by a Thanksgiving Dinner & Dance with our adult mentally-challenged friends at Zuni.

Then on Saturday, Justin will be coming home for Thanksgiving week.
I haven't seen him in almost a year.

So much GOOD to reflect on...
I just need to drink the dang glass of water and be over it already.
I definitely need to drink more water seriously though, relying far too much on caffeine this week (always)!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Play time before homework?

I cannot believe that when I finally take a pause to note what I did last weekend that the week is almost over and a new weekend in dawning. Time sure flies when you're... well, time just flies.

Last Saturday, despite feeling dreadfully tired at 4 p.m. after doing nothing more strenuous than emptying a few slots on the DVR by catching up on Grey's Anatomy and America's Next Top Model (yes, exciting, I know. Be jealous), on a whim, I decided to get out of town. I had Special Olympics the week before and Habitat for Humanity the week after, so it was a rare free weekend during a busy season, and I didn't want to regret on Monday having let it dwindle away.

Jason wasn't feeling up for the adventure, so I enlisted this McHottie.

We quickly changed into more publically presentable clothing and hit the road before I could change my mind. Although we departed without any real plan in mind, knowing we'd have an hour drive to figure it out, the abrupt change to Saturday's leisurely pace was energizing in and of itself.

First stop became Barnes & Noble. If such a thing as Heaven truly exists, mine will be the ethereal version of Barnes & Noble. Just to walk in and smell the store... and not even the Starbucks... is a little glimpse of Nirvana for me.

I have been suffering Book Hangover, you know, the last book (actually two) having been so great - The Weird Sisters and Running with Scissors - that I haven't been able to find a new one to capture my attention as equally. So, I grabbed a stack of those that caught my eye, or interest, and parked for a while at Starbucks to peruse the merchandise. I really hate that my favored B&N got rid of their big comfy chairs. I could spend a whole day kicked back there, thumbing through books... of course, reasons such as that may very well be the reason they disappeared. Regardless, I did find three that I was anxious to read- THREE! THAT I BOUGHT! Seriously, did Santa come early or what? (Ugh... let's not think about how close the holidays are.)

Then, we tossed back & forth the idea of whether to grab dinner or just get snacks at the movie. When decided that simply popcorn and drinks at the theatre would likely cost as much as a smart dinner, we opted for the latter plan and hit Panera. Although not of equally Nirvana status as B&N, I do really adore Panera also. Especially cheap Panera! Cameron had an unexpected gift card tucked in his wallet from International Convention over the summer. He wasn't sure if it still had money on it... but when we checked.. cha-ching! Five dolla' dinner!

Lastly, we went to see "Gravity" with Sandra Bullock. I have had a girl-crush on Sandra Bullock long before she became a Mega-Star. Yet, I still wasn't overly eager about seeing this particular flick. It didn't seem the plot was going to be much more beyond Sandy floating around in space... and it wasn't... and yet SO good! Despite how enamored I may be with her, I would not call Bullock a "serious" actor. It's her awkward kooky-ness that I love... but if she does not get a nod for and Emmy, or  Oscar, or whatever it is actors get, she will have been robbed. This movie just PUNCHES you in the gut. Everything about her character is so believable (despite some ridiculous criticism I heard about her hair not floating properly in zero-gravity). I just cannot imagine how someone would embrace the real-life terror of going into space and looking down on Earth as a career aspiration, let less if something went wrong in that predicament. It is completely unfathomable, and yet so believable in how it is portrayed. For as much as I am singing the praises of this movie though, I have to admit the lost screws floating through space was a gratuitous and trite use of the 3-D effects.

Alas, we returned home late in the night... and I spent nearly 12 hours Sunday on lesson plans and grading. I must admit though... the stress of the school grind was a bit lighter Sunday after having relaxed and played Saturday night. Sometimes play time does need to come before homework ;)

Saturday, November 2, 2013

I Kicked the Bucket

I should be a List Maker. Heck, I should be The List Master!

Alas, I am neither. I have to much going on (in my head, and in my life) to just try and remember it all... but I try... and usually I do. That is not because I am able to calm my scatterbraininess enough to do so, but because I function only worrying about the next task at hand (for the most part). I don't do well with long-range planning because there is too much in the immediate to take care of. So I allow myself only to worry about the now, now and postpone worrying about then, until then.

I have the very distinct feeling though that life would feel a little less stressed though if I did allow myself to look ahead of the "Now Showing" to the "Coming Soon" features of my life.

I believe it was Dr. Phil (don't judge) that I heard once advise to imagine your perfect day and to start making small changes in your life to make that day happen. I think about this often. Actually each night as I lay my head to rest, I visualize what the next day will be like... and that's usually boring enough to put me to sleep.

That "Perfect Day" for me begins with getting up after just one assault on the Snooze alarm (as opposed to the normal five, or so)... Then, there's the image of me eating breakfast at the kitchen table looking over my calendar and making a Priority To-Do List for the day. I tend to waiver back and forth as to whether this would make my day more or less stressful. Needless to say, this has yet to happen- the morning To Do List or the single assault on the Snooze alarm.

I do, however, indulge in the occasional "Bucket List"- not in the grand scheme, as in quirky life goals- but in a shorter and much more manageable time frame. I haphazardly robbed one from The Martha for summer before I knew how condensed those free days were going to become.

So, when it came time for Autumn, I was kind to myself and only pledged two goals (small bucket)- Drink Apple Cider and take Benjamin to a pumpkin patch. I bought apple cider for the Keurig and have had it many times since. I don't know that I had tried it before and am very yucked out at the thought of drinking apple juice, so liking cider was an interesting twist. Pumpkin patch, I was not as successful with. I let myself cop out to Benjamin having gone already with the Pre-School class when things got busy in October. (Thus, "I kicked the Bucket... List")

We did manage a fun Halloween despite the lack of craftiness and pageantry. I didn't even both pulling out the decoration tubs this year. Early in the month, at the dinner table one night, I asked Benjamin what he wanted to be for Halloween and after thoughtful consideration, he replied, "I want to be a red dinosaur. I'm going to scare people."

I was really surprised that he had such a defined and thought-about idea about what he wanted to be. And, a few Google clicks later, I found the perfect red dinosaur. The following weeks (after having ordered the costume) had many conversations like this-

Benjamin: I want to be a blue dinosaur for Halloween.
Mom: No way dude, red dinosaurs are much cooler.

Benjamin: I want to be a witch for Halloween.
Mom: Nooo, girls are witches, you want to be a red dinosaur!

Benjamin: I want to be a scary monster for Halloween.
Mom: Dinosaurs are way scarier than monsters! Especially the red ones.

Thankfully, when the ridiculously oversized box arrived with the costume (which I thankfully ordered in a size too big because it was still too tight) arrived, it didn't take much more convincing that he still wanted to be a red dinosaur (ROAR!) for Halloween.

I didn't bother with the Downtown Trick-or-Treating this year. It felt a little too much like the "More Porridge Sir" scene of Oliver Twist to stand in such long lines for a Tootsie Roll or Peppermint. Instead, I just took Benjamin to Sedley for the community party the Key Clubbers run games for each year. He played some games and then went Trick-or-Treating at the houses near the fire station hosting the party. This after a Pre-School day with a Halloween Party and Costume Parade at the local nursing home made for a pretty full day for The Red Dinosaur.

Coolest Trick-or-Treating House EVER! - Three pieces of candy, pencil, book mark, BOOK! and movie!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

My Big Fat Turkey

Disclaimer: This is not a Thanksgiving post.

You know how the "Diet Experts" will advise you to use a smaller plate, such as a salad plate, for your meals because it will mentally trick you into not thinking you are eating smaller portions? (Yeah, cause fat people are dumb.)

And, you know how "plate" is often used as a metaphor for life? Such as "I have a lot on my plate right now"? (Well, I do.)

Right now.

It feels like my life is one of those "tricky" smaller salad plates and my "life" that is piled on top of it is an oversized, steroid-injected turkey that you buy your first year on your own without realizing it will never thaw so Thanksgiving morning is spent sodomizing it with a hair dryer (or at least, that's how my first Thanksgiving on my own began). (Neither the Butterball hotline nor I recommend this method of defrosting poultry.)

First, I just have to pause and take a moment to mourn the passing of summer. Many joke that the top three reasons teachers teach are: June, July, and August. That is certainly not the case with me. I love my job - my career and my school. Even when those particularly stressful years end, I am anxious to get back and start all over again.

This abbreviated summer though made me realize the importance of those months away, to renew and rebuild. Even though I spend many a summer day floating on a raft at the water park mentally plotting out a new lesson plan, I am still physically away from the daily grind.

This summer though after teaching summer school and then doing remediation, and then coming back early to work on curriculum in my new role as Department Head, and then starting in-services before most in my new role as a Mentor to new a new teacher, my actual summer seemed only about two weeks. I know, I know! The "average" person only gets a two week vacation anyway (and you already have off every weekend and holiday, you spoiled teacher). Perhaps had I known it was going to be such an abbreviated summer, I would have planned a better use of my time... but probably not, as it was far too much of those two weeks was spent watching TV court shows. (Love me some Judge Alex.)

I am thankful for the monetary gain that some summer activities brought and thankful for the workplace recognition the other opportunities brought. The main effect was that this school year didn't have that "Kick Off" feeling that punctuates the end of summer and begins the school year. It feels like I never left... because basically, I didn't. There is, of course, nothing that I can do about that now. I just want to make note of it, so when reflecting back on this summer in planning for the next, I am more inspired to take advantage of the days away from school.

I have also made a weak-hearted pledge to myself that I will not bring home any school work for Thanksgiving or Christmas Break and make the most of those times to unplug and reconnect... but we'll see how that resolution goes.

I loathe when people complain to me about how busy they are. Well really, it's the people that always do it... and who I don't see doing very much at all. They are just "too busy" surviving life and thriving on the attention from being overwhelmed. I try so hard not to be that person, not to complain about how busy I am. I know there are times I fail at that. I know there are times when I am a hypocrite for doing the very thing I loathe so much. I know there are ridiculously egotistical times when I want to compare my "busy" to someone else's "busy."

All that being said... I am really damn busy! And, I don't mean my normal busy (see, there's that egotistical slant). I mean busy to the brink of insanity (literally, I will explain in a second). Having come into school earlier than most this year, I could have been in a position to start the year off ahead of the game, but then a new twist made that impossible. I was honored to ask to be English Department Chairperson (even if by default) and the duties of that role were manageable. I was so very happy to finally get the chance to Mentor a new teacher. I strive to keep a positive helpful attitude about the kids we teach and the school we teach in, and that is the attitude a new teacher should be greeted with. It helps that our new English teacher comes in with experience, a wealth of knowledge on differentiated styles, and a student-focused attitude. It has been many years since I had that kind of shared philosophy and peer-connection with another teacher.

The stickler to that smooth transition into my tenth (10th!) year of teaching was taking on a fourth class. This is not uncommon in our budget-compromised school. However, it wasn't a traditional English class and needed some curriculum development from the ground up. So that has been consuming, and I have had to stay several steps ahead of myself to feed the needed material to another teacher working with this "Freshman Success" program. Thankfully, it's only a quarter class so I get a whole new batch of students next week and know the tweaks to make to the program after the first run-through. So, I feel like I am over the hurdle on that one... but it was a painful, mud-drenched, final leg of the race kind of hurdle.

I am serving as Chairperson for the School Leadership Team this year. It speaks to how big of a dork I am when I wanted so much to do it in an atmosphere where everyone calmly avoids eye contact not to be nominated. That considered, I am also picking up the secretarial duties of the team. Not to continue my questionably-over-reiterated-cheerful attitude about school though, I would really like to see this team grow and lift the school's culture of success with it. Many roles I take on knowing the actual duties are not time-consuming or frankly, that important in the wider scheme of operations. This is one case though that I would like to hold the spotlight myself down on the group and work with them to achieve great things in our school.

If I can find time.

In my new role as Department Head, I am back on Staff Council, which is good because I am intrinsically nosey and like to know what's going on. This year our school is undergoing evaluation for continued accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools (SACS). I was asked to chair the committee on our school's Purpose & Direction. Even though this is potentially one of those positions that involves extra time and stress, I am honored to be "voluntold"  as a representative for our staff in this manner. For all those days that I question if I am doing too much, acknowledgement in this manner is invaluable to me.

I stepped up to the role of Sophomore Sponsor, but that is one of those rare times that I know it is more title than work, with my primary duty thus far having been writing receipts for Class Dues. Key Club, of course, is quite the opposite. We are going into this year with 87 members, more than 10% of the school. We are pretty much booked solid through Christmas Break (and several events afterwards). There are many weeks during which we have events every single day, often several on the same day. I think this role is enough to define my life as "busy" if none of the others existed. I have been worried about this graduating class. Although many developed Senioritis before the school year even began, I will be graduating my last strong wave of leadership. I am latching onto a few younger ones and trying to pull them up in the ranks. Thus far, things are looking more promising than I had thought.

Outside of school, the new Relay Year is starting to boil. I was dreading the added stress of it at first, but after just one meeting with Rochelle and Billie I am ready to get things rolling (especially if measured by proportion of Pinterest time spent pinning Relay ideas!). Thankfully, so very thankfully, Billie who pretty much did serve as a Co-Chair last year, although she refused the title, has embraced it this year so I will be able to narrow my focus more and hopefully feel less stressed and more involved hands-on, than behind-curtain, on Relay Day.

Busy and all this seems, it is only shades of grey (heh!) from my "Normal." The biggest life adjustment right now is in relation to Jason's health. He has had to medically withdraw from college this semester, maybe year, due to the painful and unmanageable cocktail his life has become of competing medical issues. There is a teetering scale in our lives measuring the lessened stress of Jason not being in school on our day-to-day schedule with the added stress of health concerns and the life-hold caused by him not being in school.

We are slapped in the face with the news that we need to improve our health. It is so wrong to even refer to that as "news." We know this. We've known this. I have purposely avoided writing about anything weight-related during this blog's resurrection because in the past writing about it, and then failing at whatever trail to success had inspired me to write, was too hard to look back to. This is where praising my busyness fails. I can't take the time to plan a meal or cook a meal or take a walk because I am so overwhelmed by all that I have to do. All that I always have to do. Always. "Nutrition" is about the quick & easy. "Health" is about the dealing with it only when I have to.

Obviously, I have to.

I'm not dealing with the medical crises that Jason is, but I am constantly lethargic. It takes a great deal of effort to do anything. Anything. I used to rely on my brief spurts of energy through the day and night to tackle the waiting tasks. They don't come any more.

I went to the doctor this week. I have been having issues with half of my face going numb for a while. Of course, I just shrugged it off. Mainly I contributed it to my overdue dental needs or ever-present eye issues, maybe coupled with sinuses. Well last Friday, the numbness moved to the other side of my face completely, and that left me a little freaked. I didn't even Dr. Google it and I could only wonder if it was the precursor to having a stroke.

The doc wants me to see a neurologist, and suggested that it might be a response to stress. I replied ... wait for it... that I don't get stressed. I don't have time in my life to be stressed, nothing would get done. Logically, I know this is not true. I just try to bottle my stress and sit it tucked away on a shelf behind the counter for none to see... as I volunteer to take on more work, and more work. Following the doctor appointment, as I have monitored when the numbness is happening, I think it very well may be a response to stress. My body rejecting what my mind is denying. Ultimately, and I know wrongly... I know... I'm just going to shrug it off, for now, with other medical concerns I don't have time to worry about.

So, perhaps that is the genesis for this ridiculously long self-serving, self-reflecting blog post. I am, and always will be, very reserved about what I post on "Them Internets" but maybe I need to reconnect to the therapy of writing it out. I feel a bit less weighted just putting these labels on all the bricks weighing down on my shoulders right now.

And, should any of our family manage to read through all these ramblings, perhaps they will understand why last year's Christmas gifts are still sitting in our Dining Room.

In closing, I will share my new phone lock screen image.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Slow Low Country Boil

This was my first post to Instagram Friday night. I know, I know, not too long ago I was just on this very blog proclaiming to boycott the (not so) newest social media trend. Then... I caved.

I will quickly be one to laugh at the Key Clubbers when they take pics of their food at convention or on other adventures. It's as if "they's not use to such fancy eatin' ." So, it's a little ironic that I post a meal pic. However, I told Jason that I was documenting the dinner meal I cooked so if he were to so foolishly suggest that I never cook, I could produce evidence otherwise. Of course, we are near approaching a week since the displayed meal and I have yet to crack an egg since then.

The cheddar biscuits are from a Red Lobster box mix. The recipes for Slow Low Country Boil and Coca-Cola Cake (a Cracker Barrel knock-off recipe) are posted below.

Slow Low Country Boil (a crockpot meal)


4 quarts cold water
1/4 cup Old Bay or other spicy seasoning
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more, to taste
4 celery stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 yellow onion, diced
1 head garlic, halved
2 1/2 pounds small red potatoes
4 ears corn, shucked, each cut into 4 pieces
2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 1 1/2-inch slices
2 pounds medium shrimp, in the shell, deveined

(halved lemons for garnish, optional)


In a slow cooker combine the water, Old Bay seasoning, salt, celery, onion, garlic and potatoes and cook on low heat until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, 4-6 hours.

Add the corn and sausage to the crock pot and simmer until the corn is tender, 1-2 more hours.

Add the shrimp and simmer until opaque, 20 to 30 minutes more. Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper, if necessary.

Serve immediately.


This made a massive amount of food! Our family of 3.5 hearty eaters got two full meals from it! Also, we have a pretty large crockpot, which could only hold 4 quarts of water. So, following each step I have to remove a few cups of water to fit more food in the pot, and it all worked out deliciously fine. The pic may make the meal appear a bit bland, but after swimming in an Old Bay broth for two hours (there is no substitute for this Eastern Shore girl!), all the contents were very flavorful (and cooked just right using the low end of all the time estimates provided). Happy Eats!

Recipe found at cdkitchen.

Friday, August 9, 2013

40 months

Dear Benjamin,

We have had a rather relaxed summer. In the past month, we have taken a trip to the zoo, the playground, your first movie, Busch Gardens and Water Country. You have still gone to pre-school two days a week at Gingerbread House. You love it there and I think your first "Ginger Momma," Miss Patty, is still your favorite. You are just getting to the age that you will tell me about your day, unprompted, when I pick you up. Last week you told me that you "made" a beach and the ocean was blue.

You have lots of friends at Gingerbread House and recently you went a birthday party for Addie. It was at the gymnastics studio in Windsor. Daddy took you to the party and was quite proud that, unlike the other young party goers, you would leave your cluster of friends often to come to tell him what you were doing.

It is still rare that you will wake up in the bed that you were put to sleep in at night. Usually around 2 a.m., although it often could be earlier or later, you will wander out of your room and look for Dad or me. For now, we have compromised by making you a small nest of blankets on the floor by our bed to house your nightly wandering.

You have grown just enough to reach Expert level at Counter Surfing. We have to "Benjamin-Proof" the house now by keeping the bananas and fruit gummies on top of the fridge and making sure the pantry door (with its child-proof door handle) is closed tightly at night. You have enjoyed the abundance of blueberries at your easy reach over the past couple of days, but bananas and "macaroni and cheeeese" would still have to be your favorites (other than anything on our plates.)

Dora doesn't quite hold your undivided attention as she once did. I would venture to guess that "Bubble Guppies" and "Team Umi Zoomi" are your favorite shows right now, both of which drive me bonkers. Dad says I do not like "Team Umi Zoomi" because it is about Math. He may be partly right. You, on the hand, are quite the Math Whiz. You can just about count to 20 perfectly. You can count backwards from 10 easily, and to 5 in Spanish (Thanks Dora!). You can even tell me how many objects are in a grouping.

We were also very surprised that when you were playing with your Magna Doodle the other night, you drew a face with eyes, a mouth, and hair. When I asked you what that was, you said "That's Benjamin McHenry." Your first self-portrait! This really shouldn't be such a surprise to us since you  have already mastered the "Selfie" on my i-phone. You have no problem even flipping the camera to take pictures of yourself versus others. You also love playing with the flashlight on the phone, using it to play doctor and check our eyes and teeth. Most funny is your new game of shadow monsters, played by shining the light on the wall behind our heads as your "Monster" hand shadows attack our silhouette.

You surprise us everyday and we find ourselves asking over and over, "How does he know that?" One thing that you can't quite grasp yet is the idea of "going home" versus "leaving." I guess it's because you see all your friends "go home" from the Gingerbread House. However, whenever we leave the house to go somewhere you ask "Are you going home?" Cameron has been volunteering with the Summer Reading Program at the library. So, on most Tuesdays, he's gone all day. Because of this, you think "the library" is very far away and it must take a long time to get there." So, occasionally as we are leaving the house to run an errand you will warn us, "Don't go to the library! It's too far away." (Actually, it's barely a mile from the house.)

Unfortunately (or not?), you do however, have quite a grasp of "bad" words. I guess this must be from school too. Any time we say a "bad word," even passively in conversation to one another, you will quickly retort "Don't say that!"

The other funny thing you will do is ask "Alright?" whenever not immediately responded to. Then, if needed, you will further prompt with "Say alright." And when finally, we give in and say alright, you will respond "Okay?" And await that second confirmation from us.

Your imagination is always at work. You have set up chairs in the library filled with "animal" friends to watch a puppet show. You have also come to show me many times the "volcano" exploding from the top of your head. You also like to "cook" us imaginary foods, special ordered to what you think we want, such as cupcakes with ketchup...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dwindling Summer

Next week is supposed to be my last full week of Summer Break before returning to kick off the school year with two weeks of in-services and planning before the kiddos arrive. I had already decided to try (if rooms were available) to go in next Thursday & Friday (the week before our scheduled return to get a head start). Earlier this week... I was asked if I would come in to work with a committee to help plan Student Activities. Of course, I said yes because I love our students (and their activities). Shortly thereafter... I received a letter from the boss asking me to be a mentor to our new English department teacher. This will be my first time "officially" acting in a mentorship capacity, although I have always (well, most always) tried to take new teachers under my wing to encourage & collaborate. Then... having stopped in to use the office fax machine the other morning while picking up Cameron from Cross Country, I was given an "invitation" to the School Board Meeting on Monday night to celebrate the Key Club's achievements at International Convention this summer. Well, my eagerness to do that should not need explaining. And thus... school is starting back a whole week earlier than planned.
While I am excited to get this new school year kicked off, I have tried making the most of my few days of Summer Break. On Monday, the boys and I went to Water Country.

The weather was nice, if not a bit too cool, especially for Benjamin who spent a great deal of time transitioning between attractions bundled in towels. I often refer to the tot as "fearless" and the water park proved to be no obstacle to our resident Super Buddy. If unattended for just a moment, he was racing off to the next big slide or pool.

The first few times he went down a slide, he was none too happy, yet he kept wandering back. Once he figured to actually close his eyes before he emerged, twirling knee over elbow, in the rushing waters he was fine. It didn't take long for him to be bored by the kiddie slides and race off to those more suitable for school-aged children.

When approaching the bundle of slides at Rock & Roll Island, he informed me that he was going to ride the red one. When I explained that no he wasn't, he replied "Why? Am I crazy?" Then, he tried to get Cameron to sneak him off to the big (BIG) slide anyway. Thankfully when Cameron told him that he was not allowed to wear his life jacket going down it, he replied, "Oh, I can't do that."

In addition to all the splash parks and cruising on a raft in the lazy river, we also went on Hubba Hubba Highway and in the wave pool. Benjamin kinda shocked me with how brave he was. As long as he was holding on to a finger (and in his life jacket), he was bobbing right along. In the deeper waters of the wave pool I commented what a good swimmer he was and he replied, "I know. Look at my tail. I'm a mermaid."

After hemming and hawing, going back & forth, wrenched with indecision, I threw the boys in the car Wednesday (or gave them 20 minutes to get completely ready, packed, and out the door... same difference) and headed to Busch Gardens. We have Season Passes to both Water Country and Busch Gardens and I am pretty irked at myself for not using them more this summer... or at all, other than 1 pre-summer trip to BG.

We rode trains, flew planes, swung swings, played in Dinosaur Land and Elmo's World. We rode the merry-go-round and Benjamin was big enough to lay down on the parasail this year. He certainly wasn't all smiles and giggles this trip though. We wanted to get him measured and an arm band to know if there were any new rides he could go on. Well, you might think he would want to have surgery again rather than have his height measured by the fuss he was making. And, roller coasters... which were his favorite part just two months ago, scare him now.

We did make it late into the night though, aided by Wolf, which Cameron won playing a soccer game, and turtles. I took Benjamin into one of the overpriced touristy stores to pass away time while we waiting for the final show to start. There was a tub of small plastic animals and you could fill a little plastic briefcase with them for a souvenir. This distracted us for a great while. Surprisingly, Benjamin wanted no animal other than turtles, 12 pairs of them. This was very odd indeed having seen no particular affection towards the hard-shelled friend before.

Benjamin enjoyed the rock & dance mini-concert that ended the night, followed by fireworks, which he watched perched from Cameron's shoulders. When I awoke him, sleepy, after arriving home and asked what his favorite part was he said, "I have two- the music and the fireworks."

I had a couple of serendipitous events on both days out of town. At both Water Country and Busch Gardens, the "Preferred Parking" was open to the general crowd and we got (for free) the kind of front row parking you usually have to pay $20 for. I also stopped at a different thrift store during each road trip and found some good books- for my classroom library and for myself.

Not so fortunate was the drive home Monday. We pulled up to the ferry just as it arrived at the opposite dock. Waited 30 minutes for it to board there. Waiting another 30 minutes for it to depart from our dock, so the ride home took near three hours! Thus upon leaving the park yesterday, I decided to take the "city" way back home, which can be confusing and thus I usually avoid it at late night. However, the trip home was less than half the previous unplanned journey. THEN!!! Today Jason heard on the news that there was an accident on the ferry last night, with the barge pulling away while people were boarding, causing a car to actually go into the river! So, I guess it would have to be serendipitous too that we didn't venture that way last night.