Category Archives: pet peeves

Spring Break Quarantine: Week 1

20200318_171023Although I have not traveled outside of the country, my famiy’s spring break trips have been canceled due to threat of the coronavirus. Since we’ve been stuck inside, I took to Facebook and started posted daily quarantine updates in a style I like to think mirrors a Jane Austen heroine.

What follows below are my famiy’s exploits from our first week in quarantine.

Day 1 of Spring Break under quarantine: The day dawned as usual, although it was with a heavy sigh that I lifted myself out of bed. Today I was supposed to embark on an adventure to a Magical Kingdom, but alas, I am relegated to spend the next month at home.

After a morning and afternoon spent trying to sort out various travel issues for my clientele, I was finally able to take a short repose in my favorite chair. I sent the children outdoors for a constitutional, hoping they would stave off cabin fever with a frolic in the snow. My youngest was delighted. My eldest is displaying his dissatisfaction by tossing snowballs at my window and glowering at me. I fear this will be the first of many withering looks in the weeks to come.

As food shortages have already begun at the local markets, I am baking bread.

I have finished reading the first of the novels I plan to read during this long spring. I have high hopes that all will be well.

 

20200315_144241Day 2 of Spring Break Quarantine: Everyone was beyond thrilled when I served bacon for breakfast, since breakfast is usually a rushed affair so that we can be on our way to school and to work.

As a family we took our first daily constitutional around the neighborhood. The wind was bracing and made me long for the tropical climate we were supposed to be experiencing as we toured the world in only a few hours thanks to the magic of Florida. But there is no use bemoaning what should have been. Jumping over mud puddles on our walks will have to suffice as our daily thrill rides.

Later I finished the second of the novels I brought home to read. I also made progress on two other heavier works of non-fiction.

In addition to our twice daily walks, I am also instituting a family game hour. My daughter chose Munchkin Shakespeare and although I should not take quite as much pleasure in this as I do, I trounced both of my children and more than my fair share of Elizabethean monsters.

Dinner was a hearty soup with some of the homemade bread from day before.

The children were enconsed in their beds with little fuss and I settled in to my favorite chair, blanket on my lap to play some virtual cards with dear friends.

 

20200317_175654

Day 3 of Spring Break Quarantine: Books are sustaining us through this long, cold, distance with others. I have finished the three of the books I brought home with me. My son has read twice that number. I fear he will soon run out. And with no libraries to sustain him, madness may set in soon….

I began cleaning our homestead. Although much was accomplished, my work was brought to an abrupt end when I found some mementos of my dear departed father and decided to seek solace under a warm blanket and Netflix.

Our morning constitutional was a success, but sadly as we headed out for our evening waltz around the neighborhood, a light drizzle began to fall and my children stubbornly refused to remain out of doors.

Despite the slight rain, spirits did improve with a delivery from Amazon which brought Nerf guns for my son. He is planning a full scale attack on his friends once this quarantine has been lifted. For now, he seems to be plotting against his sister. At the moment a peace holds, but I can’t help but wonder how long it will last.

 

20200318_103523Day 4 of Spring Break Quarantine: Cabin fever has suddenly set in. The day began with sibling squabbles which culminated in sibling shouting. It was truly much ado about nothing, but it is hard to reason with children in the throws of unreasonable anger.

Tempers cooled and clearer heads prevailed when a Lego challenge was issued. My son took up the gauntlet and created a new roller coaster for a theme park. My daughter created passengers for his ride. A small dose of teamwork brought them together.

Thankfully we were able to take more than just a turn around the room and actually escaped outside for our daily constitutionals. We desperately needed the fresh air and escape from the confines of our humble abode.

I was also able to finish my fourth novel of this quarantine and make impressive progress on The Story of the Trapp Family Singers. Sadly, I did not make as much progress on my Fast and Furious quest. This was due in part to the hour I spent in a Zoom meeting with the dearest companions of my heart. They lifted my weary spirits and made this time apart a bit more bearable.

20200318_171030Day 5 of Spring Break Quarantine: The weather foiled our attempts to get some fresh air. The rain came tumbling down upon us and drove us back indoors. Since it did not cease until after dinner, we were a bit more desolate than usual. The dreary day made our spirits even drearier.

Thankfully a delivery of food arrived from the local market, so I had some beautiful carrots and potatoes to accompany my roast. I also made some biscuits to round out the evening meal.

My daughter decided we needed a special project to busy ourselves, idle hands and all…so she suggested baking cookies. Sugar cookies were her choice so that we could make a thorough mess of the kitchen. They have special unicorn chips in them and are quite tasty. But now we have three dozen cookies and only four of us. Normally I would take these extra goodies into school to share with my students, but alas, since school is not in session and we are quarantined, we will have to put our best effort forward and make sure none of these precious morsels are wasted. In hindsight, I should have frozen half of the dough. Clearly I have not adjusted to this new world we find ourselves in.

My son found solace in his drawing lessons and my daughter in her music. I retreated into books again, and have finished my fifth book during this isolation.

20200319_164603Day 6 of Spring Break Quarantine: Today we actually left our home! What was originally supposed to be our day of rest in between two whirlwhind visits, first with family in the bustling city of Orlando, and then with friends in the quiet countryside of Athens, was instead the first day we’d left our neighborhood in nearly a week.

Fear not dear friends, our sojourn into the world did not put us at risk. We had to pick up some medicine from our local apothocary and also had to stop by the local market to acquire some additional ingredients for our meals. We did not actually venture in to either of these establishments, but waited for our items to be passed to us outside. We were back home in less than half an hour.

We were home in time to take our morning constitutional, which was much needed, especially when the rain picked up again and our evening one had to be forgotten.

After luncheon, we moved to the parlor where we wiled away the afternoon playing games the children invented, which were surprisingly amusing. Later, while the children played more games remotely with their cousins, I found even further entertainment from one of my favorite musical groups, The Indigo Girls. They had a concert in their parlor and invited the world to watch. I was so excited at how so many people who were so very far apart were brought together through the wonders of this modern age. My heart delighted in it and I may have danced in my kitchen.

20200320_105341Day 7 of Spring Break Quarantine: It’s been a week and the days are beginning to blend into one another.

One noticeable difference was that my husband was not needed in town until later in the day, so he spent the morning with us. The children were happy to have some time with their father, and disappointed he had to leave before our morning constitutional around the neighborhood. It was windy and the sky was overcast, but it was suprisingly warm. Although we wore our coats, we almost didn’t need them. It gave me hope that maybe we’d see the sun again soon. My spirits were further lifted when my daughter reached for my son’s hand and he actually let her take it for a few minutes as they walked.

Once home, we sat and wrote letters to some of our nearest and dearest. My daughter was excited to post hers, but was filled with grief when I informed her that her cousins would not get her letter or the game she sent them for several days.

Upon my husband’s arrival back home, we decided to play parlor games. My daugther chose Apples to Apples and we had a delightful time playing with words and clever turns of phrase. Once again, I won, much to my husband’s chagrin.

I was downtrodden when one of the avocados was completely spoiled, but still managed to produce a passable guacamole that my family loved with the remaining fruits. It complemented the tacos perfectly. Even during a pandemic, it is hard to complain when there are tacos.

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Munchie Monday: The best Godiva ever

Godiva cranberryIt seems that whenever I fall in love with a piece of Godiva chocolate, they discontinue it. Well, not discontinue per say, but remove it from the case where I can buy individual pieces (or maybe a dozen). Sure, Godiva gift boxes are great and if someone wants to get me one, I’ll accept it and be beyond thankful for it, but I prefer to make my own little gift boxes with my favorite chocolates. Who wouldn’t?

Which is exactly why I was miserable when Godiva took my absolute favorite chocolate ever, the raspberry cordial, out of the case. I loved it so much that I even bought the chocolate assortments it would show up in, and suffer through the far inferior cherry cordial to get it. But then, even that disappeared. It has been years and I still miss that cordial. DeBrand’s has a piece that is similar and I’ll admit I shop at DeBrand’s way more often than Godiva now as a result.

Because I love all things tart, my second favorite piece at Godiva was the holiday cranberry truffle. I’d wait all year for it to come out, go to the store and buy a dozen or so each holiday season. It couldn’t replace the raspberry cordial, but it was a solid backup.

And then they pulled it from the cases too. It’s like Godiva has some sort of strange vendetta against me and wants me to be unhappy. Thankfully, it is still available in the holiday collection, so I can still get it. However, now I get one each holiday season, which breaks my heart.

20191222_190606The truffle itself is a masterpiece. Even though it is wrapped in dark chocolate, which I am not a huge fan of, the fact that it is paired with this perfect, crisp, tart center, makes the dark chocolate the perfect mix. This fantabulous center would wither inside milk chocolate. The center has that perfect cranberry bite. It’s just fruity enough to make it pleasant, but tart enough to make my mouth water a bit. It reminds me a bit of the cranberries in the cranberry apple crisp I make. The perfect blend of sugar and tart.

I can’t see a way this  truffle could be better. Unless Godiva came to their senses and started putting it back in the case. Each holiday season I hurry in to my local Godiva boutique in hopes they’ve come to their senses. And each year I am disappointed and leave with a holiday box like this one and nothing else.

Overall:

Taste: 10/10
Appearance: 7/10 (when it was sold in the case it had a fantastic bit of cranberry sugar on it.
Value: 2/10–if I could buy these on their own, the value would be 10/10, but they came in a “Limited Edition Holiday Collection: which had four truffles available all year round and only two “holiday” truffles. I didn’t want the other ones, so I was NOT happy about the price I paid.

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And the bathroom remodeling saga continues

refinished floor part 2Dear Journal: 

I fear I must write this quickly before I succumb to the vapors escaping from my room. As if the hardship of once again being reduced to one toilet and having to reside in the guest room was not enough, the smell of the polyurethane wafting beneath the door is making me light-headed.

But the smell does signal a step in the right direction, even as it hinders me from taking a step on my floor. And we probably won’t perish from the fumes, right?

I do hope not as I would like to actually be able to shower in my bathroom at least once before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

Before he began work on the floor, he did refinish the mirror frame, so I suppose that is also a tally in the positive column. I am still uncertain whether or not our vanity can be installed tomorrow. I do not believe that tomorrow will bring an end to this saga.

vanityDear Journal: 

The second deadline for completion of the bathroom renovations has come…and gone. As I feared, it is still not finished. While on the surface it appears to be a fully functional bathroom, there is something evil lurking within. Or rather there is something broken sitting right in plain sight.

When I walked in the door, I was thunderstruck at the addition of the vanity. I remembered it differently from the photograph I was shown, but considering that the fleeting photo I saw was viewed over a month ago, I chalked that up to a mere fault in my memory. What is not a trick of time, however, is the fact that the faucets my husband was so proud of finding at a stellar discount, are both broken, although interestingly in different ways. One has a hairline crack which cannot even be detected unless the water is turned on. The second is missing a thingamabob which does not hinder its function, but according to my husband cannot be endured.

So, in addition to the time we will be unable to use the shower due to painting and allowing the paint to dry, we also cannot use our sinks until these faucets are returned and the new ones are ordered and installed.

My husband’s prediction is a fully functional bathroom by Tuesday. I smile, nod my head in agreement, and secretly assume it will be another week.

Oh, did I mention the floor has to be resanded and resealed on Monday as well?

paintingDear Journal:

As we enter the fifth weekend with only one bathroom, I was prepared to rise from bed, sighing heavily at the prospect of two more days without progress. Miraculously, this did not end up being my lot today. For today, there was progress. Granted, that progress is completely due to my husband’s obsessive nature.

While I am still faced with the prospect of at least three more days without a functioning bathroom, today my husband took up a brush and began painting. For the past 10 hours he has been working toward two full coats of paint on the walls. The inner shower room has been completed. Now he is working on the outer area, which is much larger.

The paint is darker than I anticipated and I am anxious to see how it all comes together. But, as of this moment, I have hope.

bathroom painted with toilet.jpgDear Journal: 

While technically there was no further progress made today, late last night my husband set his paintbrush to rest.

Last night I was not able to fully appreciate it, but in the dawn of this new day, I was able to truly view his endeavor. While the paint is still darker than I expected, I do think it will grow on me.

I have been assured that tomorrow our house will be completely restored to us. Our contractor claims he must away and instead of starting the kitchen job for another client, he now says he is leaving the country. Maybe I have become a bit jaded as a result of this project, but this latest development sounds dubious.

Nevertheless, the final payment is on the counter and tomorrow our garage will once again be capable of holding two cars. Alas the project will not be finished as we are still waiting on the replacement faucets to arrive. So we will have two sinks but no way to use them. But maybe by Tuesday I can actually shower in my own bathroom.

Here’s to dreaming.

 

no faucets.jpgDear Journal: 

The bathroom is finished! Of course the floors are still drying so we must sleep in the guest room. And if you look at the photo, you’ll notice there are no faucets on the sinks. We are patiently awaiting replacements for the defective ones that at least made our sinks look usable. Our best estimate is that we might have working sinks on Friday.

The trim still needs to be painted and some sort of shoe molding also must be applied. In addition we need two additional lights and a vent for the shower room.

Alas, it appears I have at least one more day to endure the children’s shower. Although at this point I have become numb to the torment.

Dear Journal: 

It is a Christmas miracle! Yes, of course I do realize it is not yet Christmas. But there were snowflakes yesterday and a simple jaunt across the street today found my legs and ears nearly frozen stiff, so it’s close enough. Although really the miracle has nothing to do with the season and everything to do with with five weeks this bathroom fiasco has persisted. But as I have mentioned, this morning there was a minor miracle. Not a water into wine miracle, but a water based miracle nonetheless.

Yes, that is right dear readers, I was able to shower in my bathroom for the first time in five weeks! It took a bit of adjusting. My first hurdle was the fact that now there is only one shower door to slide open. This may not seem like much of an obstacle, but I did not want to be pelted with cold water while I waited for the water to heat. Nor did I want water to pour from the shower while I kept checking to see if the water was ready. It was a bit like being in a hotel.

Before I’d had a chance to completely digest the door dilemma, I realized there was an even weightier matter to deal with: I did not even know how to turn the water on. It took a moment or two of finagling, but then a cascade of warm water rushed out and I was able to step inside with minimal water leaking onto the floor.

Of course, since we still do not have working faucets, I still had to use the children’s bathroom to relieve myself (so I could wash my hands). I had to venture back in there right after the shower because my contact lens was bothering me and needed adjusting. Still, it was a relief not to have a child banging on the door, demanding to be let in to use the toilet while I showered.

It really does seem that this nightmare will be over soon.

Dear Journal: 

I did not write last night on the eve of our bathroom’s completion date. After all, it seemed silly to me to crow over some painted trim when today I was finally going to have working sinks, a finished floor and lovely shoe molding…the finishing touches on a job that began so long ago on that much warmer November day.

But alas, Fate has stepped in and dashed my hopes yet again. It seems at every turn I am crushed by the universe’s cruel sense of humor. Each time this job is brought to the precipice of completion, something pushes it back so it is miles from finished.

What malicious turn befell my bathroom today? Just after nine am, my husband received a message from our contractor. Despite waiting the entire week in anticipation of his arrival today, he did not appear. The message explained that he’d been delayed on his return from Singapore. Yes, as in the country half the world away. He and an old friend were “piggybacking home,” and our bathroom would have to wait until at least Monday. Yes, that is correct, our two week bathroom project has now entered its sixth week. And yes, this is now the fourth time in those six weeks that our contractor has contacted us the morning he was supposed to arrive in order to tell us he would not, in fact, be arriving.

So, for my friends who felt sad these posts were ending, I hope you’re happy. I feel your longing for amusement has inspired Fate and prolonged my suffering.

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The never ending odyssey of bathroom remodeling

toilet restoredDear Journal: 

Today I am truly thankful that our toilet was reinstalled yesterday. Nothing else in our bathroom may be functional, but thank all that is holy that the toilet is. I know some have wondered at what might appear to be an obsession with having two toilets. Our contractor chided me about it yesterday and I know was a bit bitter that he stayed later than planned (he didn’t arrive to start work until 11 am) to reinstall it, but I had a premonition that could not be ignored.

Even though it is only the four of us gathering around our table for a decadent meal this evening, my husband awoke with one of his violent migraines. I was roused much earlier than I expected by his retching. Since that first unsettling event, he has been on a continuous toilet-bed loop for the past several hours. if it were not for that second, much begged for toilet, we would all be far more miserable than we currently are.

As it is, I will be cooking a huge meal with my husband’s favorites, that he may not be able to eat. But at least he can vomit in peace without a child banging on the door with a bladder emergency.

Dear Journal:

Yet again I mourned the loss of my second bathroom. Our contractor was supposed to be here this morning. On Wednesday he spoke of finally attaching the shower doors, cleaning the floors and removing the carpet from the vanity area in order to begin work on that area in earnest. But, like so many other mornings during this project, an emergency arose. While we were celebrating my husband’s birthday with a special breakfast, our contractor called and left a message that he would not be arriving today.

So now we sit through four days of no progress at all. IF this bathroom is finished by next Friday, I will be amazed beyond belief. My hopes of a three week bathroom remodel have been dashed and I fear my revised hope of a four week remodel will meet a similar end.

At least I have mashed potatoes and cranberry orange sauce to sustain me in this, my hour of need.

Dear Journal: 

There is no progress. I am adrift in a world without my shower.

 

Dear Journal:

It seems silly to continue to write at this point. Nothing has changed. When I put fingers to keyboard, all I feel is despondent and lost.

bathroom vanity #2Dear Journal: 

We have been assured that the bathroom will be completed by the end of the week. To say I am dubious would be an understatement. Understatement is probably an understatement of how dubious I am about this situation. After four days without any improvements to our bathroom situation, I was desperate for some real progress today. What I found made my heart sink. Did I mention that I am dubious this project will conclude by Friday? The odd clearly are not ever in my favor.

shower doorsDear Journal: 

Today I returned home to find massive wind machines pointed toward my bathroom walls. Apparently their job is to help the “mud” on the walls. I am still uncertain as to why mud on walls is a desired aspect of construction, but I am assured it is a necessity. I was pleasantly surprised to find actual doors attached to my shower. I was nearly giddy with delight when my husband told me that tomorrow morning I would actually be able to bathe in my own shower.

But alas this happiness was short-lived. My visions of showering without Barbie dolls and plastic whales at my feet are still but dreams. Less than an hour later he requested I wait one more day to make sure everything was fully dried before I could be introduced to my new shower. I am not sure exactly why shower doors need to dry. There is so much that is utterly perplexing about construction.

 

refinished floor part 1Dear Journal: 

Reality has gobsmacked me once again. 28 days later, 7 days longer than I anticipated, I am still bereft because I only have one bathroom. There was a bit of a kerfuffle yesterday evening with the contractor. Apparently there were differences of opinions about how much of the small strip of the wood flooring in the bathroom needs to be finished. My husband and I fell firmly on the “all of it” side. Our contractor did not wish to refinish the the portion that will rest beneath the vanity

However, since the vanity is raised, the unfinished wood would show underneath it and the mishmash would be unseemly. Tempers flared. Words were exchanged. Nails were bitten in anxiety.

While I am happy to say that cooler heads prevailed this morning, and the contractor cane around to our way of thinking, this means almost no work was done and alas, it appears the job may spill over into next week. I nearly fainted when I heard this news.

And since this nightmare refuses to end, once the work begins on the floor tomorrow, I will be evicted from my bedroom as well. It appears I will be relegated to the guest bedroom until the floor is dry. So not only will I be down to one toilet again, I will also have to suffer in a full-size bed.

The horror!

 

 

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Further Odysseys in bathroom remodeling

20191114_223638Dear Journal: 

When I entered my house, there was an alarming scent of burning wood. Since my husband was home and did not seem even remotely unnerved, I deduced that nothing was currently on fire. Apparently at some point during the day a two by four was ablaze in some fashion. The details are still hazy, and the smell persists.

Much discussion was had about where the detachable showerhead would hang. At this point, as long as it is on a wall, I will be thrilled.

My husband believes there will be tile when we get home tonight. Ever the skeptic, I worry I will be disappointed.

20191114_223644Dear Journal: 

Curse my prophetic soul! My premonition that no tile would be up when I returned home did, in fact, come to pass. Evidently another calamity has befallen the head of our crew, so no work was done on Friday. So it is now another stretch of three days with no progress.

The smell of burning wood has mostly subsided, but every now and again when the wind shifts, I catch a faint vapor to remind me.

Not to be detoured, my husband has purchased a new leaf blowing machine and will begin work in our backyard, not even pausing to give our poor destroyed bathroom a second glance.

When will this nightmare existence end?

 

 

Dear Journal: 

Darkness taking over. Words failing. I am utterly miserable. Had to wait ten minutes to relieve myself while another family member showered. I believe this is what Dante wrote about in the fifth circle of hell. Must persevere, but not sure quite how to.

 

Dear Journal:

20191118_182212

Dear Journal: 

You may have noticed, dear reader, that this saga skips a day. This is no accident nor a mere oversight. After facing yet another day of looking at the hole that once was my bathroom, I simply could not set fingers to keypad. I had to leave off to gather up my spirits.

I wish I could say that after 3 full days of stagnation I returned to a wall of tile. Alas, I did not. I returned to almost half a wall of tile and two seemingly random floor tiles which I am not sure are actually affixed to the floor. Apparently there was some sort of mix up at the tile store and we did not buy all the required tile.

Instead of going to my much needed exercise class, I had to go home and care for the children while my husband trekked back over to the merchantile to purchase the missing tiles.

Once again I have been assured this project will be completed before Thanksgiving, but I fear that I shall not be giving thanks for my new bathroom this year. Or perhaps ever.

20191119_173354

Dear Journal: 

Not to be outdone by days past, but another calamity befell our bathroom today. As our contractor was creating the lovely nook that will hold a shelf for our toiletries, he discovered our wall was bowed. This required much refiguring and additional destruction in order for reconstruction to be done. Honestly, I’m not sure what it meant or what was done, only that it created a two hour setback, so limited tiling was done.

Just as I was getting over the shock of this step backwards, my husband added more bad news: apparently painting is not part of this remodel. At this rate I may never shower in my own bathroom again.

 

20191120_181533

Dear Journal: 

Wonder of wonders! Our shower is actually starting to resemble a shower. At least if I don’t turn my head to where the actual showerhead would be. It is rather delightful to see the tile extending all the way to the ceiling.

Although I still don’t know how the third wall, floor, toilet, vanity, double sinks, wall surrounding the sinks, a refinished mirror, carpet pulled up, and hardwood floor beneath will be refinished by Thanksgiving.

For now I’ll close my eyes and dream that it is not just a dream.

 

 

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Baking for fun…and students

cran apple crisp #2When I make a trip to Tuttles Orchard, it means I have to bake! This is a cranberry apple crisp I made with my delicious bounty of apples.

Although this one looks slightly different, this is also a cranberry apple crisp I made.

cran apple crisp #1.jpg

Why make two that are different sizes?

Because this year I gave all of my juniors and seniors a reading challenge. Every year there are 25 YA books on the Eliot Rosewater Award nominee list. Every year I read them all and this year I told any student who also finished the list that I would bake for them. If they finish half of the list, they get a smaller version of the treat.

Well, it’s only November and one of my students rose to my challenge. So she gets her very own cranberry apple crisp. I was out of disposable pans, so I moved it into a disposable plastic container to take to her tomorrow.

For anyone who doubts the dedication of teachers, I would like to say I am not an anomaly. Not every teacher is also a baker, but they are all doing things like this to encourage and challenge kids. Kids are not just a paycheck for us. Nor are they data points on standardized test reports. They are people we care about and go way beyond the extra mile for.

I write this not because I want praise or awards myself, but because I hope people who are not teachers will take just a minute to think about all the extras teachers around the country are doing right now to help kids learn and grow. We are not just in it for the money (we’d be fools if we were). We are invested in our students. And if you are also invested in those students, you should be invested in us too.

Tuesday, November 19th is Red for Ed Action Day at the Indiana Statehouse. Many of your children’s teachers might not be at school that day. But it’s not because we just want a bigger paycheck. It’s not because we don’t think our presence in the classroom is important on that day. It’s not because we are lazy and want a day off. It’s not because we don’t care about your children.

It’s because we care so much. All the things that you want for your kids, we want too. We want our schools to be fully funded. And that doesn’t mean putting that money into our pockets. It means putting it into or schools so that we can fix some of the major shortfalls we are facing. Want to know more about them? Check out this infographic from the Indiana State Teachers Association. My guess is that you’ll be amazed at how bad it has gotten in Indiana.

Indiana facts.jpg

And just because I know that some people will want to say, “you knew what you were getting into when you were hired,” I will tell you that no, I didn’t. I was hired 22 years ago, when experience and level of education still factored into our pay scale. I was hired in when Indiana still provided good health care benefits and competitive salaries for our teachers. I was hired in when every year I got at least a cost of living raise for doing my job well. That has not been true in my district since about 2008.

And for those who want to bemoan the fact that teachers get paid even though we get summers off, you need to understand some basic economics. We do not, in fact, get paid for taking the summers off. Our contracts run from the start of school (in my case late July) until the end of school (in my case late May). I have a 10 month contract. My pay is for those 10 months that I work. However, my district (and most) require that our pay be spread out over 12 months. So they are actually withholding our pay from us for two months, not paying us for not working. And I have worked for districts that have not done this. I got a partial paycheck in August and a partial check in June (this school was in session for at least the first week in June), but no check at all in July.

And, after 22 years and a master’s degree, I still have to work additional jobs. Not only am I a Magical Vacation Planner, but I also work for the College Board as an AP Reader. I do these in part because I love them and in part because the small bits of supplemental income help my family. I have two children of my own who are in upper elementary and middle school. One needs braces. One is autistic and needs behavioral therapy. They will both eventually want to drive and go to college and I haven’t even gotten a cost of living raise in about a decade (that does not mean I haven’t gotten any raise, but that my salary has not increased enough to be considered a cost of living raise).

 

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Teaching Tuesday: AP Scores

AP scores were released at the end of last week. As usual, I was on edge all day. My student scores did not get released until 8 pm, so I watched the message boards as teachers across the country posted their reactions long before I got even a hint about how well my students did on the test. My nerves were up even higher than usual since Trevor Packer’s (the head of College Board’s AP program) tweeted with the score breakdowns almost a week before we got to see our scores. When I saw AP Lang had 57.4% of students who got a 3, 4 or 5, it got me wondering how my students compared.

Even though I shouldn’t, I can’t help but compare my student’s AP scores with the national scores. I also find myself comparing their scores with the scores other students at our school get on completely different AP tests, which is really quite ridiculous. I know I shouldn’t feel inferior when I see my own school tweeting about how wonderful it is that 95% of our AP Spanish students got a 3, 4, or 5 on the test. I should not let that diminish how well my students did or make me think less of myself as a teacher, but at some point, it always does.

My AP Lang students did not do as well on the test as the AP Spanish students did. It’s pretty hard to. But, 78% of my students got a 3, 4 or 5 on the test. However, no one in the district is tweeting about it. This is more than a little discouraging. Especially since last year, despite the fact that 82% of my kids got a 3, 4 or 5 on the Lang test, I was not one of the teachers recognized for having a history of excellent AP scores–even though my AP Lang score has never fallen below 78% and one year all of them got a 3, 4 or 5.

Now, I realize that neither 78% or 82% sound anywhere near as impressive as 95%. However, this year, 88% of all students who took the AP Spanish test (60,000 kids worldwide) got a 3, 4 or 5 on the test. Last year, 89% of the kids who took the test got a 3, 4 or 5 on it. That means, that students at my school did 7% better than the national average this year and 9% better last year (there was a 100% rate last year). This is impressive, however, this year just under 600,000 students worldwide took the AP Lang test. That is ten times as many kids as AP Spanish. Of those nearly 600,000 kids, 57% scored a 3, 4 or 5 on the test. Last year, nearly the same number of kids took the Lang test and 55% of them got a 3, 4 or 5 on the test. My students did 21% better on the test this year and 27% better on the test last year than the national average, which I think is darn impressive and worthy of celebration.

I also had nearly twice as many students take the AP Lang exam as took the AP Spanish exam.

Do I think I’m a better teacher than our AP Spanish teacher? Absolutely not. She is an amazing teacher. Those kids work to earn those scores and both she and her students should be celebrated and congratulated. But so should mine.

And that’s where I get hung up, even though I know I shouldn’t. When I first saw my student scores, before I’d seen the scores of anyone else in my building, I was pretty happy with my kids. Six of my kids got 5’s, six got 4’s and no one got a 1. My kids did 21% better than the national average. Fourteen of my students improved their AP Lang score (from their AP Lit score last year) an entire point. Two of my students improved 2 whole points. That is HUGE progress and a cause for celebration.

But then I saw those AP Spanish scores, the tweets from the school and the message of congratulations on the school website just for that class and it got me down. I wanted to send emails to everyone in my administration office as well as the district administration office explaining just how awesome it is that 78% of our kids got a 3, 4 or 5 on the AP Lang test and why it is every bit as impressive, and maybe even more impressive, as that 95%. I also wanted to include Packer’s message that unlike all the other AP tests, “the knowledge/skills measured by this exam [AP Lang] have a very strong relationship to overall college success.” On the test that specifically measures all those skills kids need to be college ready, our school not only got an impressive 78% of kids with great scores, but those scores are 21% above the national average. We should be shouting this from the rooftop because our kids are amazing and they will succeed!

Instead, I wrote an email to my students and told them how proud I was of them. I told them not to be disappointed if their score was not quite what they hoped for. I reminded them of all they accomplished and how amazing they are. I wished them luck next year, which I seriously doubt they will need. Because even if the district isn’t singing their praises and bragging about them, they are all going off prepared for college. Even the 22% who got a 2 on the exam are not going to struggle in college. They may  have to work a little harder, but they are all going to be ok.

And I have to keep telling myself that that is what really matters. Not a number on a website.

 

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Wild card Wednesday: allergies

When I was five or six, I had a crazy allergic reaction to Mr. Bubble. My aunt was babysitting me at my dad’s house. She must have brought the bubble bath with her, because I’d never used it before. All I know was that within minutes I was howling to get out of the tub (which I NEVER did as I have always adored baths) because my skin was burning. Sure enough, I had a rash on a good portion of my body and I was itchy. She called my dad, who was on duty as an EMT, who brought the ambulance over to the apartment to check me out. I was, of course, ok, and after an antihistamine, I conked out. In the morning nothing remained of my bespectacled back side.

For years I refused to use any sort of bubble bath and despite Mr. Bubble’s claim that in 2008 a new company acquired the product and switched to a gentler formula, I am wary.

It’s sort of a strange allergy to have though. Whenever I’d go to medical appointments and they’d ask if I had any allergies, I’d get slightly red faced and reply, “only Mr. Bubble.” Doctors would usually smile or chuckle, assure me I’d be fine and we’d move on.

It wasn’t until I had surgery for the first time in my early 30’s that I discovered I am also allergic to Demoral. At least I think that’s what it was. In all fairness, I was pretty out of it with pain. All I know is that I had a button I could push for pain meds and when I pushed it, I was violently ill in seconds. Since I had nothing in my stomach, all I could do was dry heave. Dry heaving is bad enough, but I’d had surgery to remove some rather large fibroids and in order to get to them, they had to mess with my stomach muscles (my scar is basically a C-section scar). It was the most horrific pain I’ve ever been in. They quickly switched me over to morphine and my life improved greatly.

But, aside from Mr. Bubble and Demoral, allergies have never really bothered me, until last week.

I have no idea what toxic bit of nature my body has decided to rebel against, but on Friday I had my first bout with what far too many people regularly suffer from. It was terrible. I was so stuffed up I could barely breathe. My throat felt raw and also blocked from all the horrible mucus raging through my body. My eyes ached. My head ached. I had no energy. All I wanted to do was sleep, and I am not a napper. But I took so many naps that day.

Thankfully my kids were wonderful. They brought me many, many cups of water. They let me nap and kept as quiet as possible (without totally destroying my house). They agreed on some sort of truce, so they only yelled at each other like once the entire day.

I took some of my husband’s OTC allergy medicine, but it had almost no effect. Turns out I had managed to find an expired bottle. I didn’t realize it until the next morning when I still felt bad, although remarkably better, and went to take another pill. When I saw the expiration date, I realized why the meds had had almost no impact, so I searched through the medicine cabinet until I found a new box of allergy meds and took one. That batch actually did some good.

By Monday I felt a lot better and thought that whatever had been in the air must be out of it. Sadly, I took comfort too soon. While I am no longer miserable and have been able to breathe freely for several days now, apparently my head is still full on congested because this morning I woke with some of the worst vertigo I’ve had in years.

I don’t get vertigo that often anymore, but for awhile, it was a regular occurrence in my life. I had high strength prescription decongestants and antivert, which doesn’t so much make me less dizzy as it does put me to sleep so I don’t care about being dizzy. But since I haven’t had an attack in a few years, I no longer have either of those two and my morning was really hard. I did have some generic Sudafed, which must have helped a bit because while I still get major waves of dizzy when I move a lot (or move my head at all), by mid-afternoon I could at least function.

I really  have to get this cleared up as I leave for the UK in 6 days and there is no way I can handle a whirlwind UK tour with 18 students when I feel like the floor might fall out from under me.

Although in many ways I know I have been lucky not to suffer from these allergies for the last 43 years, I am also very put out that suddenly, at age 43, my body has decided to plot against me and develop some new allergy. Stupid allergies!

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Free Reading Friday: Unshakeable

unshakeableMy principal gave me this book a few weeks before winter break and told me to read it if I got the chance. Unlike the Fish! book about improving morale, he wasn’t going to make Unshakeable by Angela Watson a school-wide book study. However, he’d liked it enough that he’d gone ahead and ordered a copy for every teacher in the building to read (or not read) at their leisure.

Although I am always a bit wary of books about education, I decided to go ahead and commit to reading it. I know it probably sounds odd for a teacher to say she’s wary of books about her profession. I mean, shouldn’t books about how to improve as a teacher be very important to my growth and development as a teacher?

In my experiences, I’ve found that they can be at times. But so often educational tomes are written by elementary teachers and while the advice and strategies offered are no doubt wonderful for elementary teachers, they have very little carry over into the secondary world.

I’m glad to say that Unshakeable did a better job of meeting my expectations than many education books do. While a large portion of the advice is definitely geared at elementary teachers, there are some gems in here for secondary teachers as well. Many of those gems I am already incorporating into my teaching, so it’s nice to see someone else confirm what I already believe to be best practice. Like Watson, I feel it is very important to be genuine with my students. I think they need to see the real me and know that I am not putting on some sort of educational three-ring circus in my class. I use humor and anecdotes about my life to connect to my kids. I respond to their journals and ask questions about their lives and interests and most share them with me. I take the time to get to know at least one important bit of information about every student I teach and that is hard considering I have nearly 150 students this year. But it’s important and I think it matters to my students, so I do it.

While I definitely appreciate her enthusiasm and some of her ideas, I do still see a huge elementary influence in this book. One of her early suggestions is to take time to call each parent to introduce yourself as a teacher and mention one positive note about their child. She suggests doing this in the first week or two of school. This is an awesome idea…if you have a class of 20-30 kids. She mentions that it took about an hour of her life and it was worth it. I don’t doubt it was. However, there is no conceivable way for me to do this for 150 students, especially since in the first week or two I’ve only spent a few hours with them and don’t know them (or their habits) very well yet.

I think her idea of having family festival nights or of having parents drop by the classroom before school starts is a great one, but again, with 150 students there is no physical way I could host these kind of events. The same is true of her idea to be outside the classroom and greet each student indvidually. This is a great practice and I try to do it as often as possible, however, my classes are 85 minutes long with five minute passing periods. Those passing periods are the only time I get to go to the bathroom, so as much as I’d love to stand outside my room and engage each one of my students, that’s not possible. I usually barely make it back to my room before the bell rings.

There is definitely merit in a lot of Watson writes and so much of her book is about having the right attitude while teaching, which is essential to loving the job. I just wish more secondary teachers would write these types of books because the difference between being an elementary teacher and a high school teacher is almost like the difference between being a lawyer and a judge. Yes, our jobs center on the same ideas and basic principles, but our roles and the way we apply those ideas and principles are so very different.

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Teaching Tuesday: Spring break stretch

The stretch between spring break and the end of the school year is the longest block of time in the year. Unlike every other quarter, this particular time does not contain a single day off…at least not on our schedule.

In the first quarter we get Labor Day just about half way through the grading period. During second quarter we get Thanksgiving break, which makes winter break seem like it is right around the corner. During third quarter we get MLK Day and President’s Day, which initially eases us back into school and then gives us a nice break at the midway point.

But during the final stretch we get nothing.

At this point we’ve only finished 3 full weeks of the quarter and it feels like it might never end. I know this is due primarily to the fact that the end of the year is so clearly in sight. We feel like we are creeping toward it though, not sprinting.

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