Category Archives: my childhood

Throwback Thursday: The Enchanted Forrest

My parents divorced when I was 5 years old. I really don’t have many memories of living with both of them. Just some hazy pictures that might not even so much be actual memories as remnants of stories or actual pictures I’ve seen from my earliest years. One very real memory I do have moving from Indiana to California via Amtrak train. It was quite an adventure, which for the most part I enjoyed. I do remember getting some sort of turkey with brown gravy dinner that I thought was disgusting, but other than that, I loved our tiny little sleeper car (which did not seem tiny to me) and watching the country fly by before my eyes.

This trip, while exciting, meant starting a new life in California with my mom, step-dad and little brother. And that meant leaving the rest of my family, including my dad, behind. That part was beyond awful. I spent 46 weeks out of most years with my mom in Southern California, but for 6 glorious weeks every summer, I got to come back home and be with my family.

Those 6 months were, without a doubt, the most exciting of the year. Since my dad got me for such a short amount of time, he made sure not to waste a single second of it. It was 6 weeks spent in an almost non-step quest for fun. Sure, my dad had to work during that time, but he was a paramedic and usually worked a 24 hour shift followed by 2 full days off. That meant that of the 6 weeks I came to visit, he only had to work about 2 of the weeks, plus, he always took off vacation time, so really he only worked a handful of days during my visit.

While we did have “normal” days where we stayed at home, watched TV, played in the yard or ran errands, we had just as many days where we went to parks–both the natural and themed variety. Despite the fact that back in SoCal, I had Disneyland pretty much in my backyard, I LOVED visiting theme parks with my dad and anyone else in the family who wanted to tag along, which usually meant my aunt and grandma.

My favorite destination was definitely Six Flags Great America, just outside of Chicago. Not only was it a day filled with delicious (and completely unhealthy) snacks, rides and tons of souvenir stuffed animals, shirts and knick-knacks, but it also meant a long drive with my family where my dad would tell stories, we’d sing songs and he’d let me hold the money for the toll roads. It was heaven.

As much as I loved Great America, since it was a bit of a drive, we usually only went once each summer. However, that hardly meant only one day of thrill rides for me. Not too far away from my dad’s house there were a couple small, locally owned amusement parks. My favorite was the Enchanted Forrest, located in Porter, Indiana. My aunt and I used to ride the Mad Mouse roller coaster until I had screamed myself hoarse and was ready to puke. As much as the crazy jerks terrified me, I loved it. I also was crazy over the Tilt-a-Whirl. And don’t even get me started on the mini-train that we could ride all around the park.

The Enchanted Forrest¬†actually hosted corporate type events all the time. I remember one time the steel mill my grandpa worked at rented it for the day and we got to go along. Not only did we get to ride all of the rides, but there was a huge company picnic. Another year, my dad’s fire department had an event there and while we didn’t quite have the whole place to ourselves, I felt so important being there with all of the firefighters. The Enchanted Forrest was the first place where I drove a go-kart. It was also where I began my love affair with skee-ball. Since it was located right next to the Indiana Dunes, even when we weren’t going to spend the day there, we drove by it quite often on our way to play at the actual Dunes.

Sadly, it closed in 1991. I had just started high school and was not old enough to drive there to hang out with my friends, but too old to ask my parents to go with me. I did, however, watch as it transitioned into an entirely new theme park: Splash Down Dunes Water Park. I went off to college before it was actually finished, so I never went there. It was odd to watch one of my favorite childhood playgrounds become something so very different.

I only came home for college one summer. Once I returned for the start of my sophomore year, I never lived near the Dunes again. I didn’t even realize that SDD closed in 2009 and then was reopened as Seven Peaks Water Park. I know my aunt still went there with her kids, but out of habit she still called it Dunes water park. Apparently as of June of this year, even it has closed down due to guests getting chemical burns from the water. There are currently no plans to reopen it.

It’s odd to think that a place that has brought so much fun to so many people for almost 60 years is closed. Even though I’m not a huge fan of water parks, I hope that they are able to fix the problem and that it does reopen. Families need places like The Enchanted Forrest and Splash Down Dunes and Seven Peaks Water Park to build those memories.

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Throwback Thursday: The State Fair

poopThe sun is beating down mercilessly. The smell of fried dough and cow manure lingers in the air. The air is filled with the cacophony of thousands of voices and calliope music.

Yes, it is state fair time again!

My dad took me to my first fair when I was about 8 years old. Although we probably had state and even county fairs in Southern California, I’d never heard anyone talk about them and my mom definitely did not take us. Granted, we had two pretty impressive amusement parks practically in our back yard (Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm), and we spent a considerable amount of time there instead. I have always been a HUGE fan of rides and games of chance, so finding out that NW Indiana had rides, even on a small scale was amazing to me.

Every year my grandpa would save up all the aluminum cans he could (my family drank a LOT of soda). When my plane touched down for my annual summer visit with my dad, one of our first stops would be to visit my grandparents. We’d pile in my grandpa’s truck and take the cans to the recycling place. I got to keep every penny so I could spend it on games at the fair. My folks always paid for the rides and the food, but the games were all on me. Well, until I ran out of money anyway. Then, just the right smile could usually get me a few extra dollars.

Although neither my dad nor my step-mom usually rode the rides with me, they never complained when they spent hours waiting at the bottom of rides for me to get off the ride and get right back in line. The Gravitron was a personal favorite, but it made my step-mom absolutely sick. I also really liked The Flying Bobs¬†and the fun houses. If there was a ride, I pretty much went on it. And the games…don’t even get me started with the games.

I cannot even count the number of completely worthless “prizes” I won playing carnival games. Aside from the countless low quality, knock-off stuffed animals that were never comfortable to actually snuggle with, I won several goldfish, plastic blow up toys, small square mirrors with band names and unicorns on them and so many really cool hair clips. Or at least I thought they were hair clips. I could not understand why my mom threw such a fit when I came home with these absolutely beautiful feathered hair clips. While she didn’t make me throw them away, she refused to let me wear them to school and I was ANGRY! It wasn’t until I was a grown adult going to the fair with my friends that someone told me my elegant “hair clips” were really roach clips…which I still didn’t understand as I had no idea that the tiny bit of a joint that was hard to hold by hand was called a roach. In hindsight, I get why my mom was not thrilled with her 10-year-old bringing them home.

This past weekend, my husband and I decided to take our kids to the state fair. We hadn’t taken them since my daughter was still in a stroller, mostly due to the outrageous cost of everything at the fair and the unbearable temperatures in early August. This year, however, we had an absolutely lovely Saturday and I fooled myself into believing that it probably wouldn’t be that expensive.

Boy was I wrong!

This year we managed to snag some free parking, so I was pretty proud of us. And, on our way to buy tickets at the gate, two different groups of people gave us free tickets, so we only had to pay for our kids. Unfortunately, anyone over the age of 5 is $12 a ticket, which meant we dropped $24 before we even entered the fair.

Although I still love rides at amusement parks, there is something about the temporary nature of fair rides and my growing understanding of my own mortality, that makes me steer clear of the rides now. I haven’t been on a ride at a fair since I was a teenager. I also stay away from the games now as I have no need for the chinzy prizes. I prefer to spend my time at the fair looking at the exhibits in the buildings, petting cute animals and tasting yummy, although horribly unhealthy food.

I tried to steer my kids away from the midway, which was not easy. While neither of them were really excited about the rides (my son is kind of chicken), they both really wanted to play the games. My husband and I managed to persuade them that most of the games were rigged and it was next to impossible to win. We almost succeeded, until they saw the duck game in the special kiddie section of the fair and heard the barker cry out “everyone wins!” I forked over $10, my kids reached in, pulled up 3 ducks and *surprise*–each one a prize. I figured my daughter would go for one of the knock off big-eyed Beanie Babies. I don’t know why I was such a fool. My daughter could not possibly want a practical toy like another stuffed animal for her bed. No, both she and my son wanted giant, blow up poop emojis. Yes, that’s right, just like their mother, they won totally useless, rather disgusting prizes. Not only did they carry them around the rest of the fair (which got us all kinds of looks), but they ate their dinners holding on to them AND they made so many poop jokes that I thought I might lose their minds.

One our drive home they even started squabbling about their poops. They’d gotten tossed into the back of the SUV and my son was very worried that my daughter might get his poop instead of her own. This meant that when we got home, he convinced my daughter to let him draw glasses and teeth on her piece of poop so there would be no question about whose poop was whose.

Even though we had a pretty good time at the fair, as a grown up, I now have a very different view of the fair. We ended up spending over $100 for about 3 hours–and considering I only had part of a bison burger, part of a slushie, part of a fried cheese stick and two bites of a grilled cheese sandwich, I feel I might have gotten cheated (although I did stay on my diet).

 

 

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Throwback Thursday: stuffed animals

delia's bed.jpgWhen I was a kid, one of the many things that drove my mother crazy was the fact that I was, well, kind of a messy kid. Like most kids, it’s not like I was trying to be messy, I just had a TON of toys and didn’t really like to clean them up. I used to make up elaborate stories for all of my dolls and I was convinced that if I put my toys away, I would forget the stories I’d created and have to start all over again. Never mind that I have a crazy good memory and could easily recall all the very, very, very intricate details of the fantasy worlds I created for my toys. Or that I loved creating new stories. I didn’t want anything, or anyone messing with my narratives.

It did not help matters that I had about a million toys. While this is slight hyperbole, like many children of divorce, in order to help make up for the devastation of not having my family together anymore, my parents and my extended family bought me things. Since I only got to see my dad and his side of the family for 6-8 weeks out of the year, and never on my birthday, every holiday was accompanied by truckloads of presents. Within reason, if I wanted it, I got it.

I am not trying to brag here, I’m just trying to paint a picture of just how many toys I had. Among these toys were a heck of a lot of dolls and stuffed animals. I don’t know exactly how many I had, but I know I had 13 Cabbage Patch Kids, a CPK horse, Koosa, Furskin bear, Rainbow Bright, and at least two dozen other small stuffed animals. And they all slept with me…every night.

My mom would get so frustrated, in part because there was barely enough room for me on my bed. However, I always managed to find a perfectly comfy, tiny bit of my bed to sleep on, usually while cuddling at least three of my stuffed toys. I was actually pretty good about arranging them so that I could get in and out of my bed with relative ease.

I’m sharing this story because now that I am a mom, I finally understand my mom’s absolute wonder and disbelief with how I managed to sleep each night. My son, who is 10, has always had a few favorite stuffed animals. They reside on his bed, but his monkey George, who he has had since birth, is the only one he really cares about having on his bed. My daughter, on the other hand, is truly my child. The picture at the top of this post is of part of her bed. I have lost count of how many animals and dolls she sleeps with, but I think she surpassed my number a long time ago–and she’s only 7.

While the majority of her stuffies are tiny (many of them she’s won from the claw game at our local bowling alley/arcade), even tiny stuffed animals can create quite a pile. She has so many animals and dolls on her bed that I do not understand how she can sleep on it. And yet, just like I did, she does.

It’s amazing how with no prompting from me whatsoever, she has picked up the same habit I had in my childhood.

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Chocolate Monday: David’s Tea “Just Peachy” tea-infused chocolate bar

David's Tea close upIt took my most of my adult life to start liking tea. My step-dad loved cheap old Lipton iced tea, so we always had it in the house. Try as I might, I couldn’t stand the smell of it, much less the taste.

I tried tea again in high school, this time at the insistence of one of my best friends. I was losing my voice and we had a big show choir concert coming up, so she made me hot tea with honey. I choked it down…and I am not exaggerating, it was a struggle to drink it. Plus, when one cup didn’t magically cure me, I stopped trying it and went back to lozenges and Chloraseptic.

In college one of my boyfriends was addicted to a Chinese buffet place. Although I have never been an enthusiastic eater of Chinese food,* he could eat it almost daily. So, we compromised on once every few weeks, which meant way more time than I would have liked in that buffet line. I did, however, like the sugar donuts. I also took another chance on tea because it was free and we were broke. This time it was green tea and I found that if I dumped enough sugar in it, I could actually stand the taste of it. Of course, enough sugar was usually three packets in that tiny little cup, so I pretty much voided any potential health benefits from it.

A few years later, during another bout with illness, a friend brought me some peppermint tea and again, with the help of my friend sugar, I could not only drink it, but actually like it. It became my new cold/sore throat aid.

It wasn’t until I went on my super big diet in my late 20’s (when I lost 50 lbs), that I actually learned to like tea. I had to give up all sugary drinks and even though I still hate coffee to this day, giving up drink calories meant basically giving up my spiced chai lattes. I had to find an alternative and it came in the form of tea. Of course, since I had cut out most of my sugar, I added a bit of Splenda instead, and viola! I liked tea.

I am now a bit of a tea fiend, usually going through at least two travel mug-sized servings a day. Which means I spend a lot of time in tea stores.

david's tea packageAnd it is this time spent in tea stores that brought me to my latest find: David’s Tea’s tea-infused chocolate bars.

I first stumbled into the store after a visit to their competitor Teavana. I had no idea the mall I was at had two tea stores, but I needed a Godiva fix and David’s Tea opened up a mere two shops down from my chocolate mecca. Since the new tea shop was on my way to Godiva and it was full of bright, eye-popping colors AND they were offering free tea samples, I had to stop in.

I’m glad I did, because I fell in LOVE with their teas. When I was paying for my first batch of tea, I couldn’t help but notice the equally brightly colored boxes of chocolate right next to the register. I didn’t grab one then. After all, I had to make sure I liked the tea first, but I definitely looked at all the flavors.

I’ve been eyeing these bars ever since. Finally, on a recent trip, I noticed this peachy chocolate on sale and I figured what the heck. I might as well try it. I happen to really love peach flavored tea. I’ve never really had any peach flavored chocolate before, but I also love peaches, so I thought it might be an undiscovered gem.

David's tea full barThe bar is pretty thick. It’s separated into five distinct segments, each with the name of the tea shop on it. It’s not particularly interesting to look at. The back has a few little “bumps” where I assume peach or tea bits are, but for the most part it is pretty smooth. The chocolate itself doesn’t smell very peachy.

At first I didn’t get much of a peach flavor either. It’s definitely got a creamy milk chocolate texture. Letting it slowly dissolve in my mouth gave me a vague hint of peach, but nothing too grabbing. With the next bite I decided to really just bite into it. When I did, got a burst of peach that tasted not so much like a fresh summer peach, but exactly like a mug of peach tea, which has been slightly sweetened (these days I sweeten with Stevia). That’s when I noticed the gritty texture of actual tea leaves in the chocolate. It was a bit unsettling at first. After all, it sort of remind me of chewing on a twig, but once I got over that, I enjoyed it.

Subsequent bites were not quite as infused with peach flavor. It seems the peach tea portions are spread out so that for the most part it was creamy chocolate with just the tiniest hint of peach and then BOOM! full peach tea flavor.

It was definitely a unique tasting experience and I’m glad I tried it. I really want to try their milk chocolate macaroon bar as their chocolate macaroon tea is one of my absolute favorites. If the bar really has the flavor of the tea the way this peachy one does, I’m guessing it’ll be quite good.

Overall:

Taste: 7/10
Appearance: 5/10
Value: 8/10 (this bar was on sale for half price, so it was only $3, which is a good price for quality chocolate. At full value I’d give it a 6/10)

*I know I sound really picky here, but honestly, aside from Chinese food and lima beans, there’s not much I try to avoid. And I will eat Chinese food, it’s just never my go to and I always feel I could have eaten something tastier, like Thai food or Japanese food. I’ll also eat lima beans if they are in something…like soup. On their own those beans are dead to me.

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Throwback Thursdays: Doll Houses

dollhouse boxWhen I was a kid, one of my good friends had the most amazing dollhouse I’d ever seen. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was something straight out of a museum really. It actually reminds quite a bit of the dollhouse at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, although it might have been a tad bit smaller. I know the house had 8 rooms in it and was almost as long as we were if we laid down beside it. Not only was her dollhouse huge, but it was fully furnished with the tiniest and most detailed furniture and accessories I could imagine. The kitchen had tiny little fruits on the table. The baby’s room had a tiny cradle, and even tinier blankets and rattles. The laundry room actually had infinitesimally small boxes of laundry soap that we could actually read the names of.

While it was not behind glass, she was never really allowed to play with it. Or at least not when she had friends over. I’m not really sure if she got to play with it when she was alone. Not that it mattered to me. I was perfectly happy to spend hours just staring at all of the tiny fixtures in that amazing house. I am not sure I have ever envied anything the way I envied Tiffany’s doll house.

Well, maybe the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle dollhouse at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, but that was in an actual museum and had a weeping willow try that “wept” real water. Even though I got to see the Moore castle at least once a year when I visited my dad, to me that doll house was a true fairy tale, whereas Tiffany’s doll house, which I saw every couple of weeks, was a reality.

I had a few dollhouse-like toys. I had a Little People A frame dollhouse when I was really young. One year I got the Barbie Dream House for my birthday. That was amazing and I loved it greatly, but it didn’t quite fit the niche of the dollhouse I always wanted. Everything in it was plastic and for giant Barbies. There was nothing small and delicate and artistic about it.

I knew my parents couldn’t afford a dollhouse like the one Tiffany had, but it didn’t stop me from wanting one.

old dollhouseWhen I was in my late teens, my great-aunt, who knew how much I’d always loved dollhouses, gave me this one. It only has one room and after some recent research, I’ve learned it was sold in catalogs between 1910-1920 for about $1.25. When I was a kid, I remember it had some metal furniture that looked very old-fashioned (there was an ice box). While I don’t have any of the furniture, it looked just like the furniture found on this dollhouse history website that was manufactured between 1920-1930. This makes sense as my great-aunt was born around 1915 (there is some debate about what year she was actually born).

It was very sweet of my great aunt to give me this treasure of hers, but I was not only afraid of breaking it, but also a bit disappointed that there was only one room to decorate.

Even as an adult, I still wanted a dollhouse. There was a store, about two hours from my house in a crafty little town that sold doll house kits and all that perfect little, tiny furniture and whenever I visited, I used to spend forever in it. There was a hardware/crafty store I used to go into when I’d visit with my parents and they always had these amazing dollhouse kits. I knew I could never build one, but I would just stare wistfully. I remember telling my dad that when I had a daughter of my own, she was getting an amazing dollhouse.

Seven years ago, I finally had a daughter of my own and one of my first thoughts was: this little girl is getting a dollhouse. For her first birthday, my aunt got her her very first dollhouse: another Little People one. She definitely loved it. So did my son. It was perfect for her because at 1 most of her toys went straight into her mouth. It also got me dreaming about her “one day” dollhouse.

daddy doll houseFor Christmas that year, my dad surprised both my daughter and me by refurbishing a dollhouse that had belonged to the daughter of a friend of his. He didn’t tell me about his project because he wanted to surprise both of us. Even though he put all that time and effort into painting it and finding new carpet for the my daughter, as soon as I saw the house, I knew that he’d really done it for me. He knew how much the dollhouse meant to me and that while my daughter would eventually love it, she wasn’t even two yet, so she couldn’t appreciate it the way I did.

Little did I know that it would be my dad’s last Christmas with us. His beautiful gift, to both of us, is still something we both cherish, although my daughter is still a bit too young to realize the full importance of it.

Since he fixed up the dollhouse over 5 years ago, my daughter has added a couple of additional “dollhouses” to her room. Two Christmas’s ago, my aunt got my daughter Elsa’s Frozen palace. Although it’s a dollhouse the same way Barbie’s Dream House was (at least in my eyes), my daughter still calls it her dollhouse and loves it.

doll house backAnd earlier this week my daughter spent her very own money on a 3-D dollhouse puzzle by Melissa and Doug. Of course while my daughter spent her money on the dollhouse puzzle, it was really my son and I who put it together. My daughter has never been a huge fan of puzzles, however my son is obsessed. The newest dollhouse is pretty cute and actually has movable furniture, two dolls, a cat and a dog to play with. Unlike her Elsa castle it did not come pre-assembled, but the hour and a half we spent putting it together was considerably less than my dad spent on her first one. She loves it and it appears her room is now turning into a small village.

Unlike my friend Tiffany’s house, my daughter plays with all of her dollhouses. Right now two of them are full of large plastic doll furniture and dolls, but my daughter is only 7 and not quite ready to turn any of them into art pieces. She may never be. And that’s ok. As much as that perfect, beautiful dollhouse with the tiny oranges and paintings and delicate bedding was my dream, I love watching my daughter actually play with her dollhouse. I won’t lie and say that when all the furniture gets turned upside down, I don’t sneak in there and fix it. And it does pain me greatly when I see the mess she makes in the rooms. But, I take a deep breath and try to remember that my dreams are not her dreams. Just because I liked to play one way doesn’t mean she has to.

I may not have gotten to have the dollhouse I always dreamed of, but she gets to.

all three dollhouses

 

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Teaching Tuesdays: Balanced Calendars

Five years ago my school district started kicking around the idea of a balanced calendar. When I first heard the idea, I had horrible flashbacks to when I was a kid and my sister’s elementary school went to year round schooling. It was quite a pain for our family because I was in middle school at the time and my school was still on a traditional calendar. So while I was off, enjoying my summer, my sister was in school. For every 3-4 weeks of school my sister had, she had anywhere from 3-10 days off. It was odd and confusing. Despite being in the same school district, we had very little time off together, so not only was my mom constantly taking one of us to school, with the exception of Christmas break, family vacations were pretty much out of the question.

Since this was my only experience with any sort of “balanced calendar,” I was not at all in support. Especially since my kids were in a different school district, on a decidedly traditional school schedule and the thought of all those extra child care expenses gave me major anxiety.

Luckily, it was quickly explained to us that while there are a variety of balanced calendars, my district was interested in going to a 45/15 calendar. Basically, what this means is that students go to school for 45 days, have a 15 day break and then just continue the cycle. After a great deal of discussion within the schools and the community, we decided on a modified version of this schedule.

The result is that our students have four grading periods with 45 days each, then they have 10 full school days off before the next grading period of 45 days begins. Basically, we get a 2 week fall break, 2 week winter break and a 2 week spring break, followed by an 8 week summer break.

Although it sounded great on paper, the first year was decidedly rocky. That extra time in the fall and the spring sounded awesome until July 29th rolled around and while stores were just starting to get all of their school supplies out, we were showing up for our first day of classes. After over 15 years of teaching, I was used to going back to school in mid-August, so staring classes in July just felt so very wrong.

I kept telling myself it would all be worth it as soon as we made it fall break. It probably didn’t hurt that since I had two full weeks of vacation, I scheduled our family’s first trip to Disney World during my fall break. My daughter was in pre-school at the time, so it was no problem to take her out. Even though my son went to school in another district, he was in 1st grade and with some preparation with his teachers, I was able to take him out of school for the week as well.

And that fall break trip was glorious! Not only was it one of the cheapest times to go to Disney World, the weather while still warm, was far more reasonable than the June and July temps I was used to suffering through when I went on other family vacations. Plus, the parks were not nearly as crowded. My children were over the moon about the trip. It is still the best vacation we’ve ever taken as a family. And we couldn’t have done it without the balanced calendar.

We did have a few snags with students whose families had planned vacations using the original proposed calendar for 2013-2014 (which only featured a two day fall break, a week later than our actual fall break fell). For the first year, we excused all of those absences with the understanding that moving forward, any vacations scheduled outside of the breaks, which we call intercessions, would not be excused absences. We’ve had few problems since.

Not only was the fall break a great chance for my family to take a wonderful break together, as a teacher, it was immensely beneficial to me. My school is on a Block 4 schedule. For those of you not in the know, this means that our students have 4 classes every single day for 85 minutes. Each grading period is 9 weeks long. At the end of the 9 weeks, a new grading period begins. So, instead of completing English 9 in a full year like students on a traditional schedule do, our students complete the course work in one semester. Some of our courses, which only meet for a semester on a traditional year-long schedule, meet for only 9 weeks on Block 4.

On our old calendar, this meant that some years students would finish a grading period on a Friday and the following Monday would start an entirely new grading period. In some cases, that also meant starting an entirely new classes. For teachers, not only did we have to prepare for a new grading period (and in some cases brand new classes with brand new students), we also had to have all of our grading for the grading period that just ended done by Wednesday before school started. So basically, we got four days to get everything from the grading period graded and prepare entirely new lesson plans for entirely new courses.

And that was if things ended on a Friday. Several times, we would end a grading period on a Wednesday and start a new one (and again, brand new classes) the very next day. In those cases, our grades would be due before school started on Monday.

It was a NIGHTMARE!

Enter the balanced calendar. Now, our students get a full two weeks off after every grading period to relax and refocus. Teachers get two weeks to finish up all grades and prepare for the next grading period/set of classes. The breaks are short enough that there are fewer learning gaps, but just long enough to give everyone an actual break. The kids actually come back to class with focus.

Now that my kids are in my school district and on the same schedule as I am, I can see the benefits both as a teacher and a parent. And even though it is the first of August and we are already back in school, I don’t ever want to go back to a traditional schedule.

Now if we could just get off the Block 4…

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Free Reading Friday: Vengeance Road

Vengeance RoadI am not generally a fan of Westerns. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. I LOVED Deadwood, but I think that might have a bit more do do with my overall love for Timothy Olyphant. I also really like Westworld, but it’s not exactly a typical Western.

I was, however, a die-hard Little House on the Prairie fan as a kid. I can’t even count the hours I spent reading and re-reading all of the books. I still remember trying to grasp how Ma’s waist could be small enough that Pa’s fingers could touch when he wrapped his hands around it. When I was 10 I had no idea what a corset was. I also spent way more hours than any child probably should in front of the TV watching reruns of the show pretty much every day after school. My mom was really strict on what I was/wasn’t allowed to watch and Little House was on the approved list. So I devoured it.

I dressed up as Laura Ingalls for at least three different Halloweens. I also have a picture of me, in the fifth grade in a very 70’s (it was a Goodwill find), very pink, very Little House inspired dress. Thankfully I left the bonnet at home. Probably only because it was yellow and even I knew it would clash. That’s right, I loved the prairie so much that I wore it as part of my every day life. I was sooooooo not cool. But I LOVED me some prairie life.

I think my love for those good ol’ Little House days was probably what led me to grab Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman from the stack of books that arrived at my school library right before the start of summer.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the cover hinted at nostalgia and it’s on the Eliot Rosewater nominee list, so I added it onto my already considerably large pile. As is usual, my eyes get a little bit bigger than, well, my time, during the summer. I always think I’m going to get more reading done than I actually do. While I was certainly no slouch this summer (so far I’ve finished 22 books), I still see 4 books sitting on my piano bench and I think realistically I’ll only get through one or two more before classes start.

Despite its wild west exterior, for some reason I was not actually expecting this book to be about the actual Wild West. I really like going into books with no preconceived notions at all. It’s often a delightful surprise.

And it was with this book. From the opening line, “It weren’t no secret Pa owned the best plot of land ‘long Granite Creek, and I reckon that’s why they killed him,” I felt myself being pulled into the old West, a genre I’m not entirely comfortable in, but as I’ve said, have some serious, specific love for.

The first chapter of this book reminded me more than a bit of True Grit, a movie I quite enjoyed. The plot is only similar at the root–a young girl sets off to avenge the death of her father and along the way picks up two men who agree to help her. Both groups track the killer through “Indian country” and violent shoot outs happen along the way. Like the movie, the main characters have to show a lot of “true grit” during their journey. Huh…that really does make them sound quite a bit alike, doesn’t it?

The big differences lie in the ages of the main characters–Kate is 17 and the Colten boys are far nearer her age; Kate isn’t looking to bring her father’s killer to justice and the Colten boys aren’t actually interested in her revenge; and like most YA novels, there is a love story thrown in.

I quite enjoyed this book. It was a tad hard to adjust to the outdated and horrific grammar (“I were supposed to think she were dead”), but since it added so much to the voice and authenticity of the story, I told the English teacher in me to “shut pan” and get on with reading.

One thing I really like about this book is that I think it has a wide appeal. I think freshmen would like it just as much as seniors and boys just as much as girls. It has a good balance of action, adventure, romance and coming of age to satisfy a variety of readers. If readers can get passed the old-fashioned setting (I know this can be a struggle for kids), I think they will find it a highly enjoyable read. I like that it is a great window into a genre which is not as widely known or read.

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