Monthly Archives: June 2017

Free Reading Friday: “Quiet”

QuietI am a book junkie. Big time. There is not much I love more in life than finding a good book, a comfy chair and some peace and quiet. The first two items are usually fairly easy to come by, but the last one…well, anyone with kids, or a spouse, or roommates or pets, knows it is not always quite as easy to find.

A few years ago, one of my best friends, who I also have the pleasure of working with, started up a school-wide teacher book club. Well, her intent was for it to be school-wide, but it turns out the only people who are really dedicated to book club are other English teachers. Well, other English teachers and this one totally off-the-wall science teacher. Like a great many book clubs, in theory we structure each meeting around a book, but in reality, we spend about 15 minutes talking about the book and the rest socializing about our days, our families and whatever else is on our minds.

We meet once a month and each month we pick a book in a different genre. Everyone throws potential book titles into the ring for each genre. Our illustrious leader puts the titles as well as their Amazon descriptions into an online survey program and then we vote for our favorite books. The book that gets the most votes is the one we read for the month.

Despite being the only member of book club to actually finish every single book we’ve ever chosen, I am the only one whose suggested books have NEVER, not even once, been picked. Not that I’m bitter or anything…

But it does explain how I ended up reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

I have always thought of myself as an extrovert. I’ve been teaching for 20 years and I’ve never really had a problem getting up in front of a room full of students and being, “on.” I’ve been in a dozen or so plays both as a teen and an adult. I directed plays for 7 years which meant nightly pre-show curtain speeches to auditoriums full of strangers. I was in show choir and even a band. I can tell stories and at parties where I have a core group of friends, I have a great time. Last month when I read Amy Schumer’s book, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, and she called herself an introvert, I wanted to laugh. She had to be kidding, right?

And then I read this book and I realized that while I am really good at putting on my “game face,” at my core, I am surprisingly introverted. Like most people, I think I have been mislead to believe that introverts are the super shy people who rarely talk or participate in social activities. And that’s not me, except that, I am not great at small talk. I hate it. I don’t really like talking to strangers. If I’m introduced by a friend, it is easier, but I still don’t love it. At social events if I don’t know people, I find a chair, sit by myself and play on my phone. I would rather sit with a book, even one I don’t love, than do most everything else. I never leave the house without a book…I take it to the coffee shop, children’s birthday parties, Super Bowl parties…everywhere. I hate group work-I want to figure it out on my own. I would always prefer my small group of insanely close-knit friends to large groups. I make excuses not to go to social outings because I often just can’t do it. I am highly empathetic and the kind of person who can listen to others for hours.

It turns out all of these traits make me far more of an introvert than I ever imagined. This book made me understand so much more about myself, my husband (who is also an introvert, but a really good salesmen) and my kids, who also lose themselves in books and are fine playing alone in their rooms for hours–just like I was.

While this book was very enlightening, I think my enjoyment of it was a bit limited both by all the self-referencing (examples: I’ll get to that in chapter 6, remember this from chapter 3, strategies for that are in chapter 11), and the fact that I read this while vacationing at the beach. This book is not good beach reading, but I had to read it for my book club and I’d put it off too long, so I pulled it out while trying to avoid direct contact with the sun’s rays. I definitely got distracted by footballs whizzing by, squeals of joy and constantly scanning the beach to make sure my kids were still alive and with my husband. It’s hard not to get distracted from the most riveting book while waves are crashing a few feet away, but when it is a book filled with the results of studies and the medical opinions of doctors and psychologists, it gets even harder.

I also got distracted searching for the online Myers-Briggs test Cain mentions several times in the book. I really wanted to take it, but it cost $49.95 and I was already on vacation spending way too much money on slightly fancy and very delicious seafood dinners, so instead, I took this one. While I’m sure it is not nearly as accurate, it confirmed what the informal quiz in the front of Cain’s book also told me: I’m a bit of an introvert.

The test also told me that I fit in the Mediator Personality, which didn’t surprise me all that much. I do consider myself “poetic and kind-hearted.” I am altruistic and have a “vivid imagination.” However, I often let both that imagination and my altruism get the best of me. I always expect situations and people to be more idealistic then they are.

While I think few people who know me now would describe me as shy, and even I would not describe myself as shy, outside of my family, I only keep in touch with two people who knew me before the age of 14. My freshmen year of high school was not the standard transition of a teenager into high school. There were only two new students in our freshmen class and since the building housed 7-12 grades, the other 98% of the kids in my class had been roaming these halls for at least a year. Most of them had friendships dating back to first or second grade. On top of this big transition, this was the 9th school building I’d been in during my 10 years of schooling. That’s right, K-9 I went to 9 different schools. I was always the new kid. By the time I made it to Indiana at the age of 14, I’d developed a way to cope with being the new kid: pretending to be a lot more extroverted than I was.

My act was so convincing that I even convinced myself that they quiet, shy kid who hadn’t really talked to anyone for several MONTHS of her first grade year was gone. I even joked about being the shy new kid in my salutatory address at my high school graduation and I got lots of laughs from my classmates who knew me as very outspoken and quite the “joiner.” But all that joining was balanced by long stretches of not leaving my room and surrounding myself in utter quiet at home.

The several different personality tests I took as a result of reading this book have shown me that I’m actually a pretty good mix of introvert and extrovert. All of the tests put me just slightly over into introvert territory. Based on descriptions and finding in Cain’s book, this is what I suspected as well.

Quiet is a great read for anyone looking for insight into why they don’t enjoy some of the more social aspects of life they may feel pressured by society to engage in. It has also made me reconsider some of my teaching approaches. When I start my lesson planning for the upcoming school year, I have some adjustments to make.

 

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Throwback Thursday: Small town blues

My mom is in town. For some people that is probably not really a big deal. I have lots of friends who see their mothers at least weekly and a few who see or talk to their moms every day. My mom and I, however, haven’t lived in the same state for 28 years and have only seen each other about 8 or ten times since I was 14. We don’t exactly have the mother-daughter relationship that Hallmark dreams of.

What we do have is my 97-year-old grandmother who is seriously declining health. As hard as it is to see my grandmother, who has always been a major force to be reckoned with becoming meeker every day, it has brought my mom and I much closer. She’s actually been back to visit three times in the last 18 months. Each time she comes to stay with my grandmother for a week or two, I take my kids up to visit with them.

The trip up is always a bit odd for me. Not because my mom and I have a strained and complicated past that we both sort of pretend doesn’t exist, but because my grandmother still lives in the same tiny (and I do mean tiny) town both my mom and dad grew up in. While I only lived in the town for the first year or two of my life, it is still a place flooded with memories for me as two sets of grandparents, my great grandmother and various aunts and uncles lived there throughout my childhood. It’s a place where I used to go to the Labor Day carnival which I thought was spectacular, but also terrifying. One of my earliest memories is of my youngest aunt, who is only 10 years older than me, in a cast after her seat on the swing ride (you know the one that tilts and turns as riders fly up in the air) broke and sent her uncontrollably airborne.

The town also has the community center my family meets at every year to celebrate Christmas together. Sure, we usually celebrate a week or two after the actual holiday, but I come from a family of paramedics and firefighters who often had to work on holidays, so we’ve never been huge sticklers to the date itself.

On the main road through town, which houses every business in the actual town is the park where we took pictures when I was the maid of honor at my aunt’s wedding. There is “The Little Store,” a convenience store so small it’s hard for more than three people to be in it at the same time, where my dad used to stop and buy me treats.

Driving down the main road, I can still see the charred remains where my great-aunt’s apartment used to be. I’m not actually sure apartment is the right word for it, but she always called it her apartment building. And it was hers. She owned the property. Only a small portion of it faced the main road. The rest of it was on the street behind the main thoroughfare. There was a lovely garden with a tiny bridge over a tiny creek. There were raspberry bushes she’d let me stuff myself on. There was a giant balcony that ran the entire length of the second floor of the building that I could run around and play on. I know she had a few small apartments that she rented to people, but she and my uncle owned a rather massive two story apartment that had a secret passage way behind a giant picture of the Virgin Mary. The passage way actually led into the shop that she owned (but rented out) which was on the main drag. I think it was a Christian bookstore, which might explain the picture. I can’t recall her ever actually being religious.

The town also houses the cemetery where my dad, my step-mother and my little brother are buried. I cannot make a trip to see my grandmother without passing it and every time I do, the wound opens back up for a bit. Since my parents’ deaths, I don’t go to my home town anymore. There’s no reason to. No one else in my family lives there. My parents’ house, which was not the one I grew up in was sold off a few years ago and I have no desire to see someone else living there. I have a few high school friends who still live in the area, but we keep in touch over social media and haven’t met up in a decade or so. Which means I can avoid the pain I know would come from being back there.

But I can’t avoid my grandmother (not that I want to). So every time I see her, I am thrown back to my childhood. And when I get to that cemetery, all I can feel is the ache of a little girl missing her daddy.

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Wild Card Wednesday: Handicapped parking spaces

About an hour ago I ran to CVS to pick up some Gatorade for my husband who is in the midst of a rather violent migraine. He was cursed at a very early age with not just head-splitting pain, but also the inability to keep anything down, including his own saliva, whenever one of these demonic fits hits him.

The store was pretty empty and as I approached the counter, the two employees behind it were finishing up a conversation. I caught the tail end of it. Apparently one of the regular customers had been in earlier in the day and had gotten rather irate with another patron for parking in a handicapped space, even though the person he’d yelled at had had the required parking tag. According to the irate patron, who uses a wheelchair, anyone who can walk and doesn’t have the official license plate doesn’t deserve to park in a designated handicapped spot.

I interjected myself into their conversation when she waved me forward to ring up my purchases.

“I hate when people get judgmental about who deserves a handicap space and who doesn’t,” I said.

She agreed and went on to tell me that the same customer yelled at her a few weeks ago when she stopped by CVS with her daughter. Her daughter, she told me, has brain cancer, and while she can walk, she can only do it in short bursts. She tires very easily and every little bit she doesn’t have to walk really helps her. The cashier was clearly still very upset about the way the customer had acted.

I sympathized with her. My step-mom had a handicap tag on her car for about a decade and we used to get nasty looks and muttered comments all the time. Sometimes the comments weren’t even muttered. I heard more than one person comment on how being fat must be a disability now. Because yes, my step-mom was overweight.

Even my ex, who is a very sensitive and compassionate human being, did not think she was sick enough to have the parking tag. My ex initially thought my step-mom was being lazy and actually using my grandmother’s parking tag (my grandmother had died of cancer earlier in the year).

But neither laziness nor fat were the reasons she had the tag. My step-mom developed pretty crippling arthritis in her late 20’s/early 30’s. In order to combat the pain she was in, she took some pretty strong medications that made the pain easier to deal with, but damaged her lungs and weakened her heart in the process. Before she hit 40, she had both a portable oxygen tank and one at home. The one at home she used like she was supposed to. She was not always great about bringing the portable one though. Even with it, the trip from the parking lot into any store was taxing on her. But as long as she could push a cart at her pace (or later ride in a scooter), she loved going shopping, so we’d park the car in a handicap space, one of us would run and get her a cart or a scooter and then we’d head into the store. She was a bit of a menace with a scooter, but she was out and she was happy.

Many years later, after my dad had one of his kidneys removed during his first bout with cancer, he also got a handicap tag. He was more reluctant to use it because he didn’t want to give in to how much the cancer was taking out of him. But, after the second surgery when he was without his adrenal glands and down to only 40% of one kidney, he too gave in and took the parking space he needed. Although, if you hadn’t known my dad before the cancer hit, you probably would have looked at him and thought he didn’t need that space either. I could see the drastic change in him. He’d once been this sort of colossus, reaching 6’3 and weighing in at about 270. He was a firefighter and a former football player. He was a HUGE guy. While he still had the height, after the cancer he was down to about 175 pounds and his clothes hung off of him. Since he’d refused chemo or radiation though, he still had all of his hair and didn’t have the frailty that so many cancer patients have. If I hadn’t known his prognosis, I’m not sure I would have realized he was really sick either. If I hadn’t seen how hard it was for him to get down on the floor and play with his grand kids, or seen how just walking out to get the mail winded him or seen him fall asleep right in the middle of a conversation because just visiting with family wiped him out, I may not have known he was sick either.

Looking in from the outside, it’s easy to see someone with a handicap tag and think they don’t really need it. Or maybe they don’t need it as much as someone else, but to quote the amazingly wise Atticus Finch, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Before my parents got sick, I have no doubt that I was every bit as judgmental, but I have learned the hard way that sometimes those with the greatest need are the least likely to show it. I’ve also believe that as a society we need to stop trying to fit everyone on some sort of suffering scale. We don’t just have to help, or empathize with or support those who are in the absolute greatest amount of pain or have the most suffering. Just because someone may suffer more does not diminish others who are suffering. I know handicap parking is sometimes limited, but everyone who needs it deserves to have access to it and should not be shamed, and especially not yelled at for using it. Just because you may not be able to immediately see their disability does not mean it is not there.

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Teaching Tuesday: Lesson planning

lesson plansI know, I know, it’s summer! What could I possibly have to say about teaching during summer, right? Everyone knows teachers only work 180 days each year, so they have 8-12 weeks (depending on the school system) to just sit around, watch Netflix and eat bon bons, right?

Of course, anyone who has ever been a teacher knows this is complete bunk. In the nearly 20 years since I became a teacher I’ve never gone more than a few days without doing something school related. Even during my beach vacation last week, I was answering emails from my newspaper students, helping to facilitate the changes the new editors want to make for the upcoming year as well as coming up with a working production schedule that will actually mean the first day of school articles will be ready to be uploaded to the online newspaper, which, of course, means I’ll be spending the last few weeks of my summer “break” reading and editing student articles. And all of this work is in addition to the real work I do every summer: planning for next year.

Even though it is amazingly tedious making sure that all the ideas I have swirling around in my head to make my English classes ones that students not only want to take and will help them succeed in the real world, but also line up with all of the state standards, I actually like creating lesson plans. I am particularly proud of the Essential Questions research project I have restructured my AP Language and Composition class around, but that’s not what my mind is on today.

Today I’ve been psyching myself up to really start planning for next year. I dug out my lesson plans from last year and started glancing through them, just refreshing my mind and making note of what I want to change the next time around. I know it is a big misconception outside the educational world, but most teachers are constantly changing their lesson plans. I know few teachers who teach the same material, the same way year after year. As everyone else in my department LOVES to point out, I am a veteran teacher (they call me grandma–even though my oldest just hit double digits this year) and I haven’t taught the same class twice, in, well ever. In order to start lesson planning, I need something to plan in.

For the last several years, I’ve used paper calendars like the one in the picture above. It takes a bit of time, but it’s very simple to augment and print out Word calendars for each of my courses and use those boxes to get my general planning done. I can see an entire grading period in a very easy glance, which I really like. However, right before the end of the school year, one of my colleagues (and a good friend to boot) showed me her very lovely Erin Condren lesson planner. And I got very jealous. Yes, that’s right, lesson plan books are actually the items teachers covet (we also get obscenely happy about back to school shopping–it’s a sickness really).

If you’re a teacher and you haven’t seen these planners before, I suggest you immediately click on the link I’ve provided and take a gander. Go ahead, my blog will still be here when you get back. Although, if you’re like me, that might be a few hours from now as there are so many fun options to pick from.

I really, really want one of these cool planners. But they are $55 each AND in order to be really useful to me it would need to be a lesson planner/grade book. The website does offer checklist pages, which could be used as a grade book, but the planner only comes with 7. I can add 21 more of them for an additional $10, but even that would not be enough pages to cover all six of my classes (plus attendance tracking) during all four of our grading periods. It seems pretty clear that these planners, while spectacular, are really aimed more at elementary teachers. The events/volunteer pages, absentee log, stickers and grid pages seem to back this theory up. If they are meant for middle and high school teachers, they aren’t very functional for teachers on block scheduling.

I know this is probably the smallest teaching upset I will have in the coming school year. I know it’s a bit of a silly thing to be annoyed about, but like I said, I take my school supplies pretty seriously and this one looks super cool. I know it is far more practical to use my free Word calendar pages and one of the half dozen or so $1 grade books I bought at the Target Dollar Spot a few years back. I know that the money I’ll save by not buying this really cool planner will be spent on a myriad of other supplies I need for my classroom but my school cannot provide. I know all of this, but I can’t help it…I want the fancy planner.

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Chocolate Monday: Back in play with Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate

3 C close upIt’s been a while since I wrote anything in this blog….a very long while. For about two years I was caught up in work, writing a novel and raising kids. I’m still doing the whole parenting thing, but I finished that novel…or the first and second drafts of it at least and it’s summer break, so I have a bit of time at that moment.

On a VERY long drive back from vacation at Isle of Palms, SC, I realized that since I finished my novel nearly a year ago, I have been lax about writing. Not lax exactly, more like just avoiding it. I don’t really have a good reason. In fact, I know that I really need to do another editing pass on my novel and then send it out to some more test readers so that maybe, just maybe, this dream of being a writer that started back when I was about 10 can come true.

But I’ll admit it, I’m scared. I’m scared that no matter how many editing passes the book goes through or how much positive feedback I get from very kind friends (so far 3 out of 3 readers have liked it and had a few very helpful suggestions), that it won’t be good enough. I’m not even sure what good enough means, but I fear it. Really fear it.

So, before I take the really gigantic plunge, I thought I’d get my feet wet by restarting this blog. Seems rather fitting as I just finished dipping my actual toes in the Atlantic Ocean every day for the last week. Well, every day except Wednesday when the sky kept opening up and making the outside world pretty unenjoyable. Of course, the inside world wasn’t much better as I was trapped in a house with just about every member of my husband’s family. And while most of them are very nice people, it’s pretty close quarters when there’s no way to leave.

Since my husband and I, like most Americans, are glued to our technology, we knew the day we arrived at the beach that we were in for some nasty weather later in the week. That meant that instead of saving our annual trip into Charleston for midweek when everyone would be getting more than a little sick of sharing the same few hundred square feet with each other, we had to move our trip to our very first full day in town.

Thankfully, it was a truly glorious day. It was warm, but even in town there was a nice breeze that mean walking from the Charleston Crab House, our favorite lunch place, through the open air City Market and then back to our car was actually pleasant. Some years temperatures in the 90’s along with dehydrating levels of humidity and a complete lack of breeze makes downtown Charleston a beautiful, but intolerable place to be. This year our ice cream from the always amazing Kilwin’s didn’t even melt before we’d made it back to our car.

One of my favorite stops in City Market is Sweet Charleston, which is wonderful not just because it is located in the small portion of the market that is actually full enclosed and air-conditioned, but also because it sells my favorite treat on the planet: chocolate. I always find fun new cocoa bites to try out.

3 Cs containerThis year I was drawn to Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate, a company I’d never heard of. I’m always excited for new chocolate finds and the picture on the package really made my mouth water. Gooey caramel pouring over a chocolate dipped waffle cone? This sounds pretty much like Nirvana to me. The company is at least 20% Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA and proudly proclaims all of their Fair Trade ingredients on the back of the package, including their milk chocolate which is made from FT cane sugar, FT Cocoa butter, and FT chocolate liquor. They also list using grade AA butter and fresh whipping cream. I had to give this a try.

At first glance it’s pretty fun to look at. Pieces of waffle cone are pressed into the back side of the chocolate. They are scattered randomly, but there are definitely a lot of them. Inside the chocolate is a thin layer of caramel which actually stays inside the chocolate, unlike runnier caramels that pour right out after the first bite is taken. The caramel definitely has hints of vanilla. It’s not over powering though, just a light play on the tip of the tongue. The caramel is rather rich and definitely buttery as well.

It’s a bit hard to get the full flavor of the chocolate itself because it gets drowned out, not so much by the caramel, but by the waffle cone. The chocolate is creamy, but doesn’t stand out. I love the smell of waffle cones, but rarely get them because I always feel just a little let down by them. The taste rarely lives up to that wonderful smell, at least not for me. This waffle cone is no exception. I like the taste, but without the crisp of a fresh made waffle cone, the slightly soggy texture of the pieces on this bar make it fall even shorter than its larger, ice cream holding big brother.

Despite some texture flaws, the three flavors work well together and I will definitely be finishing the rest of the bar…it just may take me a few days.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10
Value: 6/10 ($4.95 per bar online although I paid an additional mark up of about .50 for it)
Appearance: 8/10

3 Cs bar and container

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