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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.


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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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.


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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Teaching Tuesday: AP scores are in!

AP scoresEvery summer there is one event that seriously kicks my lesson planning for the next year into gear: The College Board releases the Advanced Placement scores.

Each May, students across the country take Advanced Placement exams in a variety of subjects. Although I am always interested in the overall success rate of all the AP teachers at my school, I am, of course, anxious to see how well my AP Lit and Comp and AP Lang and Comp kids are going to do. Although the tests are taken in May, due to the complexity of the tests, they must be hand scored, which is time consuming. Each of my tests not only has a 48-55 question multiple choice section which students get one hour to answer (after reading 4-5 excerpts from poems, literature and works of non-fiction), but they also have to write 3 essays, also based on poetry, literature and non-fiction in the span of 2 hours.

For anyone who has never taken an AP test, these are not easy questions. Passing the test is supposed to show that students in high school have the same general knowledge a student would have after completing and passing an introductory college course in the subject. These kids have to not only be able to read and analyze complicated piece of literature and non-fiction, they have to answer nuanced questions about author’s intent, themes, and literary techniques and they have to do it in a manner of minutes. Really more like seconds when you consider they have to first read and analyze each passage. They get around 30 seconds to answer each question.

Here’s a sample question for you: Paragraphs 1 and 2 develop their ideas by means of

I) metaphor and simile
II) allusion
III) paradox

A) I
D) I and II
E) I, II and III

So, in 30 seconds, students have to go through and look over two paragraphs, figure out which of these literary devises are used and if they help develop the idea of the paragraph. They call these “killer questions” for a reason.

These tests are pretty darn stressful for my students. And while their performance on these tests does not directly impact my evaluation as a teacher the way the results of the ISTEP tests do*, I know my principal and my superintendent, as well as our community cares very much about the outcome of these tests. In fact, only two years ago, it was decided that the majority of our AP math and science classes would be replaced with ACP courses in order to give more students a chance to earn college credit (our AP scores in these areas were low). I love the AP program I have developed in the English department and I desperately want to keep it going, so every summer I wait for the scores to be released.

When the scores are released, I hold my breath, sign in and hope they’ve absorbed all I’ve tried to teach them.

I always check on my seniors first. In part because most of them have taken an AP test, and more importantly, an AP English test before. They know how the test will be structured, how to manage their time, and they have practiced answering both the multiple choice and essay questions so often, I’m pretty sure most of them could take the test in their sleep. Considering how some of them looked the day of the test, they might have actually been sleeping a bit. This year my seniors made me very proud. Not only did 82% of them pass the test (the national average is 55%), 63% got 4’s or 5’s on the test** which is more than double the national average of 28%. In general, my kids pass this test at a rate of 78-100% (only got that 100% one year, but I’ll take it), so this was about what I expected, but their 4 and 5 rates were just wonderful.

My confidence was not as high when I opened the file with my junior scores. Their scores are historically lower. This is due in part to inexperience with the test and inexperience in English classes. It is also due to the fact that I teach AP Lit to juniors, which is not a common practice. I have my reasons. I think they are very good reasons, but I know a large percentage of schools basically replace American Literature, which is generally taught during 11th grade with AP Language, since this course is supposed to focus more on non-fiction and it is very easy to work the founding documents of our country into the curriculum. This is a great way to teach the course. I did it for years and it worked fine. The way I teach it now just works better for me and since I made the change 3 years ago, the overwhelming majority of students who I keep in touch with after high school say the switch in classes was very beneficial to them in college.

As usual, I digress a bit.

As predicted, my AP Lit scores were not what I was hoping for. My pass rate was only 58%, which is the lowest pass rate I’ve had in just over a decade of teaching the course. I was expecting lower scores than usual. This is the largest group of students I’ve ever had take the test (it was nearly 4 times as large as the first group I taught 11 years ago). This was also the first year I had multiple students fail my actual class. As a rule, I have two or three kids who get a D during a grading period. Until this year, I’ve only had one student actually get an F in AP Lit. This year I had 7 kids get F’s and several more get D’s. I also had far too many barely scrape by with the C needed for academic honors. I expected my lowest pass rate ever, but I didn’t expect it to be only 5% higher than the national pass rate. I’ve never had a pass rate below 65% in this course. It was a bit of a blow.

My one bright moment, however, was when I went online to find the national averages and found out that according to Trevor Packer, the head of the College Board, this was lowest pass rate for AP Lit in a decade. So while my kids hit a historic low, so did kids across the nation.

Now I wait for the AP planning guides to come out so I can get a better understanding of where my kids struggled the most on the test in order to retool those lessons in hopes of boosting those scores next year.

*Part of my “success” as an educator is based on how well students at my school perform on the ISTEP test. They take the English portion of this test during their sophomore year of high school. Despite the fact that I only teach juniors and seniors and have no chance to impact their ability to pass this test, part of how “effective” I am as a teacher is based on their scores. I am also impacted by their scores on the ISTEP math and biology test. This is true for every teacher in my school. Art teachers, music teachers, PE teachers, social studies teachers, etc. are all held accountable for students they have never had in class in subjects they don’t teach. Now, go ahead and tell me teachers are the problem with our education system.

**The test is scored 1-5 with a score of 3, 4 or 5 as passing

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Chocolate Monday: Godiva Chocolate Icons

godiva icons allI know, I know, two Godiva posts in a row is a bit much. It’s not that I don’t branch out. In fact, I solemnly swear the next Chocolate Monday post will be something from a company I’ve never reviewed before. But….I was at the mall and they have a Godiva. And I have a very strict rule when it comes to Godiva: If they have a new chocolate, I must try it. This rule is pretty non-negotiable for me. Even if the only new chocolate they are offering is dark chocolate, as long as it is not dark chocolate coffee, I must purchase it to try. Now, if they offer a milk or white version it is far more enjoyable for me to follow this rule.

In addition to the eclairs I reviewed last week, I noticed Godiva also had these brightly colored Icon chocolates. Since they are molded from their famous Lady Godiva and Lion molds, they were instantly recognizable as something familiar, but still new. Of course, after the debacle over the under-labeling of the eclairs in the chocolate case at my local store, I was a bit nervous about any additional surprises these new pieces might have.

By the time I got home, I’d forgotten which piece was which flavor, so I went online for some guidance. Interestingly, I found 3 of the 4 pieces no problem. The green lion I could not find on the website, so I saved it for last as my mystery piece.

Godiva coinsI started with the two Lady Godiva coins. According to the website, the yellow one is white chocolate lemon olive oil. While I may not remember exactly which piece was which flavor, I did remember the yellow one was labeled as lemon. No mention was made of olive oil, so it seems Godiva really is paring their labels down. Still, I am a huge fan of olive oil. I love going into fancy oil and vinegar stores and sampling all of their wares. I almost bought a lemon olive oil on my last visit, so I had high hopes for this one. My expectations were met! Since the coins have a thinner chocolate shell than the lions, I got an immediate burst of lemon in my mouth. It was tart and when mixed with the white chocolate, it was a tiny bite of lemon meringue pie. It is a very light and clean flavor. I don’t actually taste any hints of olive oil, but that is fine. I love a good lemon filling.

The orange coin is white chocolate mango. Mangoes happen to be one of my favorite fruits on the planet, so anytime something is made from mangoes, I get very excited. It is, however, often a flavor that is not utilized well, so I’m always wary. Unlike its lemon cousin, this one was entirely white chocolate on the first bite. The second bite was fruitier, but this piece has a slightly gritty quality to it and a slightly bitter aftertaste that I am not fond of. It’s kind of hard to describe, but I do not think it lives up to the potential it had. The mango flavor is too subtle and gets drowned out by the white chocolate. Plus…the grit is odd.


pink godiva iconThe pink lion is white chocolate passion fruit with pink peppercorn. The first bit tasted mostly of solid white chocolate. As I was finishing the bite, I got the tiniest hint of a tart passion fruit. I was initially underwhelmed. Thankfully, the next bite, which was the center of the piece contained a sweet, slightly tart fruity burst. This time, at the tail end of the bite I could taste the slight hint of pepper. It’s a bit of an odd combination. I’m not usually a passion fruit fan, but the creaminess of the white chocolate and the very, very subtle hint of the pepper offset it, so I found this piece quite enjoyable.

And finally, I had only the green lion left. The only other lion listed on the website was a dark chocolate black tea lion, so I knew that couldn’t be what I had. Mine was decidedly made from white chocolate and quite green. And, I’m not entirely sure what flavor it was. There is a definite tea-like bitterness in the back of my mouth as I ate it. It didn’t really have any citrus hints to it. My guess is maybe a green tea, but I’ll be honest, I’m not sure. I generally love green tea flavored desserts, but this was just ok.

My favorite was definitely the lemon piece which I would buy again in a heartbeat. I might pick up another passion fruit piece as well. I’m glad I tried the other ones, but they were nothing to write home about.

Appearance: 7/10 (it’s fun to see a new twist on old favorites)
Quality: 6/10
Value: 5/10 (they were about $2 a piece, which is really only worth it for the lemon piece)



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Free Reading Friday: be-liev-a-rex-ic

BelieverexicOne of my summer goals, aside from reading at least 20 books, is to read as many of this year’s Rosie nominated books as possible. For those of you who don’t know what that means, “Rosie” is the nickname for the Eliot Rosewater Indiana High School Book Award. The award is named after a character created by Kurt Vonnegut, probably Indiana’s most famous author. Rosewater not only shows up in several of his novels, but also has one directly named after him, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.

Each year Indiana high school students rate the books they read off of the Rosie list. The book that receives the best rating wins the award. The books that come in second and third receive Rosie honors. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven won the 2016-2017 award and if you haven’t read it, you really should. It was breathtaking and heartbreaking and everything an amazing YA book should be.

Each year there are 20 books nominated and my wonderful school librarian not only has copies of each nominated books, but also highly promotes the books, both to the students and to the staff. Not only did she give each English teacher a great poster of the Rosie nominees, but she also gave us bookmarks and let several of us truly dedicated readers on staff bring home books for the summer. As a result, I have read 12 of the 2017-2018 nominees (7 of them this summer).

The most recent book I checked off my list (the bookmarks actually have check boxes on the back next to each title) was be-liev-a-rex-ic by J.J. Johnson. The author refers to her book as an “autobiographical novel” because she was admitted to an inpatient program for bulimarexia when she was 15. According to Johnson, the admission and discharge dates are real as is the information about the therapy sessions, rules, groups and policies Jennifer goes through in the novel. She does, however, change some of the situations, add fictional details, consolidate characters and change the internal time line to make the story function better. That being said, the book is incredibly real and definitely coincides with other memoirs I’ve read from girls who have been hospitalized for eating disorders.

I think this is a great book for teenagers, especially girls. Unlike several books I’ve read about eating disorders, this one centers on the recovery process. There is no glorification of the disorder nor is there anything that could really constitute a “how to” guide that many books dealing with disorders are accused of containing. The author deals very little with the behavior that lands Jennifer in the hospital and more with the issues that lead her to the hospital. The book is about the road to recovery and the slips along the way.

Considering that according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder, it is critical that books like be-liev-a-rex-ic get into the hands of young adults to let them know not only the seriousness of eating disorders, but also that there is hope and help. The statistics on eating disorders are pretty darn scary. Every 62 minutes, one person dies as a direct result of an eating disorder. Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

As a teacher, this is an issue close to my heart. Over the years far too many of my female students have told me about their struggles with eating disorders. Some have been hospitalized. Many have been in counseling. Some have tried to fight it on their own. It breaks my heart even more because I know their struggle. It was my struggle too. Thankfully mine never got to desperate levels, but much like Jennifer, no one around me noticed. I was good at hiding what I was eating…or more specifically, what I wasn’t. When I got to college, I had a wonderful boyfriend who noticed my shaking hands, my fogginess, and the fact that I would go an entire day and only eat a single Kit Kat bar. It took a lot of work, a lot of tears and a lot of self-examination, but I changed my habits. However, food has always been and will always be a life long struggle for me.

While be-liev-a-rexi-ic may not be my favorite book on this year’s Rosie list (right now that honor goes to Salt to the Sea by Rita Sepetys), I think it is an important book teens should read.

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Throwback Thursdays: Charmkins

charmkins houseMy daughter has an obsession with Shopkins. She loves those teeny, tiny hunks of plastic shaped like shoes, pieces of chocolate cake or lawnmowers, each with a set of eyes, a sassy name and a gateway for her imagination to create little stories for them all. I walk into her room to find them all over her floor as she proceeds to make up elaborate stories about all of them. Each one has its own personality, friends and activities according to her mood and I think it’s adorable.

Of course, the reason I find this type of play so cute is because it was my favorite type of play as a kid as well. My little sister is seven years younger than me, so for a good part of the time I spent sprawled out on our bedroom floor (we shared a room from the moment she was born until I was 13), she really wasn’t able to play with me. By the time she was really into Barbies, I was leaving mine behind. While my daughter is lucky enough to have a playmate a bit closer to her age, my son, who is 10, is not always so keen on playing Shopkins with her. He’d rather be building Legos or setting up elaborate mazes for his cars to run through. But, like me, she spends a lot of her play time sprawled out on her bedroom rug creating lives for tiny little toys.

That’s the second reason I find this play so adorable: not only do we share a love for making up elaborate stories for our toys, we also share a love for building our stories around tiny little anthropomorphic ones. For her it is Shopkins, but for me it was Charmkins.

Any other children of the 80’s remember Charmkins? They were my LIFE! I had so many of them and I loved each and every one. For those of you who might have forgotten (or are not quite old enough to remember), they are tiny little plastic people and animals who have small loops, usually at the tops of their heads, which connect to pieces of jewelry like necklaces, rings, barrettes, bobby pins and headbands. Any Charmkin could fit into any piece of jewelry, so you could mix and match them.

charmkin jewelry caseNot only did they have fun pieces of plastic jewelry for me to wear, but they also had play sets. There were two different Charmkin houses. My picture at the top of this post is of the windmill house which not only has tiny furniture, but a flower petal windmill with tiny pegs that the Charmkins attach to and can spin round and round on. To the left of this paragraph is a picture of the Charmkin jewelry case which opens to reveal a little garden scene for the toys to “play” in. Although it’s hard to tell, there are tiny pegs on the floor of the garden where the people and animals can be fixed into place. There were also lots of pieces of jewelry that were sold separately. There were charm necklaces and clip on earrings and tons of hair accessories like the ones in the picture. There were also even smaller play sets that were square and had a little handle. When you opened them up, they had a little sticker scene and one single Charmkin in them, like my favorite Charmkin, Lady Slipper.charmkin ballerina I was taking ballet lessons when I got this one and loved everything about her from her flower crown to her teeny tiny toe shoes. I also thought the little heart-shaped flowers surrounding her were amazing. Plus, in the background of her little scene was the windmill house which was at the center of most of my play time.

On top of being adorable and fashionable, Charmkins also smelled heavenly. Yes, that’s right, it was not enough for them to have one gimmick. They had to have two. They were flower-scented. I could never really tell one scent from the other and I’m not sure if they were supposed to have distinct scents or not. To me they all sort of smell like lilies, which happens to be my favorite flower. Or at least they did smell like lilies. Now, Lady Slipper is really the only one that still smells vaguely of flowers. Every time my daughter pops open her little play set, I get a whiff of my childhood.

Charmkin ringAs cool as these toys were to play with at home, I LOVED the fact that I could also wear them places, so I always had a good reason to have a toy on me. That’s right, I wore my “jewelry” to school and then when it was recess, I played with my Charmkins. Well, up until the day that I lost Li’l Tulip on the playground. I was prancing around the playground with her on my finger and all of a sudden she wasn’t there. I had a sob fest when I realized she was missing, but thankfully one of the recess monitors took pity on me and helped me look for her. Thankfully we found her and I never wore her to school again.

Although I no longer play with my Charmkins, I am so glad I have them. Last year when I saw my daughter’s love for Shopkins, I pulled my Charmkins out of the closet and brought them out to show her. She was completely enraptured by them. While they still don’t get to go into the bottomless toy pit that is her room, when she asks nicely, I get them down from the closet for her (I keep them on the top shelf and even with her step stool she can’t reach them on her own) and let her play with them at the dining room table. She did loose my Baby Sunshine doll. At first I was sad, but then I took a breath and realized the entire reason I kept them was so that she could play with them. It’s fun watching my daughter fall in love with the same toy that captivated me.

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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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