Wildcard Wednesday: Packing

As much as I love going on trips, I hate packing for them. While I know I am not alone in my hatred, I also know that some people actually enjoy it.

For me, packing is stressful. I hate trying to account for every possible scenario that could happen in an attempt, which I know will end up being a failed attempt, to ensure I have everything I need for a trip.

Even though less than half of my trips generally involve flying somewhere, I am always stuck in airport packing mode. Tonight as I was packing to leave for a visit with my best friend in Georgia, I realized I’d forgotten to pack baby shampoo for my kids. I had a moment of panic because I couldn’t find one of the tiny travel sized bottles I usually have in their medicine cabinet. I looked all over for it with no luck. Then, I ransacked my bathroom cabinets for a tiny container I could pour some shampoo into. It took me five minutes or so to realize I could just throw the entire bag of shampoo in my bag because we are driving to Georgia and not only do I not have to limit my liquid ounces, the only reason to put my liquids in a baggie is so they do not leak all over my bag.

Oh crap, I need to find a baggie for my liquids so they don’t leak.

Aside from airport packing brain, my other big stresser is trying to figure out what I’m going to forget. Because I always forget something. Usually it’s pajamas. I don’t know why packing my pj’s is always gets left off my list, but it does. Considering what a fan of jammies I am, this seems like such a strange thing to forget, but just about every other trip I do. Did I pack them this time? Hold on…be right back.

Ok, pajamas are packed. What else am I forgetting?

Even though I realize that I’m not leaving the planet, let alone the country and that everything I can get at my local Kroger I can also get at the Kroger right down the street from my best friend’s house, I still freak out that I’ll forget something. Which is sort of pointless because of course I will forget something. As long as it isn’t one of my children, everything else is replaceable.

I know some of this stress could probably be avoided by packing just a bit earlier, but no matter how early I start packing, because I need my glasses/book/iPad/medicine/ whatever the night before I leave, I always have to wait until the morning of to really finish packing my bag and the panic sets in again.

Hopefully I have everything. Or at least all the major things. After driving for 10 hours tomorrow, I don’t want to have to hop back into my car and run to Kroger. I want to be able to bring our bags in, get my kids off to bed and just relax with my best friend.

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Teaching Tuesday: Finals week

My school is on a block 4 schedule. Five years ago, when I was getting my master’s degree in education, I looked at different types of scheduling as part of a massive research paper. During my research, I found out that of the 348 public high schools in the state, we were one of 13 schools in the state still on block 4. With the start of this year, that number has dropped to single digits. Our school librarian believes we might be the last holdout.

I am actually not a huge fan of block 4 scheduling for a myriad of reasons I don’t have the time to delve into in this current blog. The only real positive about this schedule right now is that this is our finals week, which means that at the end of this week I am halfway through with my current group of students. Considering all of the whining and complaining they’ve been doing alongside the drama they are creating over a group project (which they had the option and time to do on their own), I am really ready to wrap this grading period up.

Sure, when we get back from fall break they’ll all be right back in my classroom, but hopefully the marvelous two weeks we get off for fall break (we are also on a balanced calendar), will help cool some tempers, stop some fussing and generally make me remember that at one point I really liked this group.

First I have to make it through finals though.

It’s not so much the finals themselves that make me slightly crazy. I use the same basic final each year–I just tweak it based on the amount of material we covered and the examples I used. In my Film Literature class, one section of their final requires them to watch a 30 minute clip of a movie and then analyze it for all the elements of film we’ve learned about over the course of the grading period. Every year I switch it up with a new movie clip, so that keeps it kind of fun for me.

There are two things that make finals a stressful time for me. The first is the schedule changes that happen. Rather than just keeping our already really long blocks just as they are–they are 85 minutes each–final blocks are 2 hours long. Since students only have 4 classes at a time, they take two of their finals on Thursday and two on Friday. In order to make sure there are 4 solid hours for testing each day, the other two blocks have to be shortened and we have to get rid of our student resource time, which just happens to be the time my newspaper class meets. So not only do I lose two days of class time with my newspaper kids, but since I teach the same class 1st and 4th block, tomorrow I will have one group an hour and the other for two. Sure, I’ll get the opposite of that on Friday, but for my 1st block class, they’ll have already taken the final, so I have a full hour and not much for them to really do. On top of this, to make the testing times work, instead of going to blocks 1-4 in order like we always do, tomorrow we’ll start in block 2 (which the kids will forget), test in block 2, then go to block 4 (which messes up everyone’s normal lunch time and therefore causes chaos) and then finish the day with block 3. Even after having this schedule for about 7 years it still confuses me.

Aside from the schedule shift, the other truly annoying part of finals is the rapidity in which the kids expect the finals to be graded. At our school, all the work they’ve done for the grading period is 80% of their grade. The finals they take in our classes make up the other 20%. Far too many kids slack off during the year and then they expect to pull some Hail Mary magic on the final in order to save them from failing. This is particularly frustrating for me as nearly all of my students are seniors and failing their senior English class means not graduating. The week of finals I get a steady stream of kids asking me what percentage they have to get on the final in order to get their desired grade in my class (and for far too many of them, that grade is a D).

The minute they finish taking the final they start asking when I’ll have them graded. If I don’t get them graded before break (and I almost never do as we have until the Tuesday after break to turn grades in), I get emails over break asking about their grades. I get their full on sob story as to why they so desperately need to know their grades. Interestingly, they rarely elaborate on why it took them 9 weeks to actually get concerned over what grade might fill in that blank on their report card. Nor do they comment on all the 0’s in my grade book from the assignments they never bothered to do.

As excited as I am for the start of break, I am dreading the next two days of classes. I hope we all make it out in one fairly sane piece.

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Chocolate Monday: Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch

Hershey's Cookie Layer CrunchI was rushing through Kroger with my kids the other day, trying to pick up my daughter’s prescription when we happened to pass one of those stand up displays that divides the central walkway in half. You know the displays, the ones that guarantee that if you come around a corner and get stuck behind someone pushing their cart at a snail’s pace, you’ll be stuck in the store forever. They are the concrete dividing walls of the grocery world.

Thankfully this trip we were sans cart and we could zip around the horde of shoppers all trying to grab those final ingredients for dinner.

As I started to pass on the left, a glint of orange caught my eye. I’d seen the Hershey’s cookie bars before, but only the mint chocolate and vanilla creme ones. Not that I’m too good for either mint chocolate or vanilla creme, but at first glance they hadn’t stood out and screamed, “TRY ME!”

I’d picked up the mint bar before as mint chocolate chip is one of my favorite taste combinations, but it’s dark chocolate. I’m not a fan of really good, high end dark chocolate and I am REALLY not a fan of cheap dark chocolate. To be honest, aside from Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I’ve never been a huge Hershey girl, and I have never liked those little Hershey’s dark miniatures. While vanilla creme is admittedly more up my alley, I just got the impression it would be like a cookies and cream bar and I’ve never been a huge fan of that flavor combination either.

So I’ve passed by many a Cookie Crunch display.

This time though, I saw the orange sparkle that almost always announces caramel. I paused in front of the display, staring at the package. Should I? Caramel and chocolate is a must have on any sweet list I make. Surprisingly it was not the caramel that sold me. It was the bits of shortbread cookie. One of my favorite candy bars of all time, Twix, mixes delicious caramel, chocolate and shortbread, so this one had to be a winner too, right?

Hershey's cookie midshotThe chocolate is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Hershey’s: inoffensive, nondescript chocolate. I know many people love Hershey’s chocolate. One of my grandmother’s absolute joys in life was a simple Hershey bar. She didn’t even want almonds mucking up her bliss. For me, the only truly good use for a Hershey bar is in a s’more. Other than that, I have little use for them. The chocolate is fine, but it’s just that: fine.

And that’s what this chocolate was, fine. I was a bit disappointed that the shortbread was just in small bits throughout the bar. I wanted a little more cookie in my cookie crunch bar. I wanted it to have that distinct Twix-like crunch and this bar is kind of lacking on the crunch element. The shortbread is fine, but it seems to provide more texture than flavor. And it’s placement is spotty so some bites didn’t even have that much shortbread in them, which was a disappointment.

Hershey's cookie close upI wasn’t quite sure from the picture on the front what to expect as far as caramel consistency goes. One thing I love about caramel is the way that different companies change up both the flavor and the texture. I love ooey-gooey caramel. I love rich buttery caramel. I love thick, chewy caramel. Pretty much any form caramel comes in, I love. The caramel in this bar was a bit uneven. In the first bite it was almost completely absent. I got a slight hint of it, but not enough to even figure out what type of caramel I was dealing with. The second bite was better. It had more caramel flavor and I was able to tell that the texture was thicker than a Caramello, but more liquidy than a Turtle. The consistency of it was good, but apparently in the piece I was eating most of it had somehow managed to pool at one end. When I got to that end, there was a ton of caramel and it was by far the most enjoyable bite.

The flavors meshed ok, but I felt over all the entire bar, which I had high hopes for was just ok. There’s nothing really negative about it, but also nothing really positive. It just sort of is. It’s better than a Hershey bar, but if I really want this flavor combination, I’ll save the $2 extra dollars (and change) and just get a Twix.

Overall:

Taste: 5/10
Appearance: 4/10
Value: 4/10

 

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Free Reading Friday: Replica

Replica 1I am a huge Lauren Oliver fan. My best friend and I share a love of YA fiction and she suggested Oliver to me several years ago. I started with the Delirium series and have been hooked ever since. I especially appreciate that Oliver has not gotten herself stuck into one type of writing. While the Delirium series is dystopian, Before I Fall and Panic all take place in the real, modern world. She hasn’t even pigeon-holed herself as just a writer of YA fiction as she also has her adult novel Rooms, which is a ghost story of sorts, but securely set in the very real world.

I wasn’t sure quite what to expect with Replica, but I was instantly pulled in by the cover. Not only is the book decorated in a really cool duel toned book jacket with bright butterflies, but depending on how the book is flipped, it tells two different, but intertwined stories. I’ve never read a book like this before, and even if Oliver had not written it, I might have picked up a copy because the concept was so cool.

One half of the story is the story of Lyra, a “replica” living at the Haven Institute. From the very start of the narrative, Lyra tells the reader that she is not human, but a replica (clone), made at Haven. Lyra’s story chronicles her life in Haven as well as her escape from Haven and her connection to Gemma, the main character of the book’s flip story.

Gemma is a teenage girl living with very strict parents in North Carolina. She and her best friend April call themselves “aliens” because they’ve never quite fit in with the other kids in their class. She feels ostracized from her peers in part because of her history of childhood illnesses, in part because of her parent’s strict eye on her and in part because she is teased for being overweight and a “freak.” Gemma also feels disconnected to her parents, especially her father, who she feels has never really loved her. After a strange incident that links her father to a mysterious place called Haven, she goes on a quest to find out just what her father may be hiding from her.

Although the two stories stand alone as completely separate stories, they also intertwine in very key moments to make a bigger, more complete (and compelling) story. Although I liked both stories on their own, I definitely felt pieces were missing at times. I was particularly dissatisfied with the ending to Lyra’s story…that is until I read Gemma’s and both stories were completed.

Well, as completed as the first book in a series can be. Oliver definitely sets the book up for more to come.

Although readers can technically read the stories in either order, there is definitely a reason that the words run down the spine correctly when Lyra’s story is the first one (and the reason there is a bar code on Gemma’s story). The book is more complete and more rewarding if Lyra’s story is the first one.

I cannot wait for our school library to get a copy of this book because I know my students will be lining up to read it. I also cannot wait to read the next book in the series, Ringer, which just came out.

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Throwback Thursday: Friendcations

IoPI recently returned from a glorious and much needed friendcation at the Isle of Palms, South Carolina. For those of you who don’t understand my completely made up word, a friendcation is a vacation taken by a group of amazingly close best friends who, thanks to the cruel hands of time and career, have been flung all over the country and rarely get to see each other.

My particular group of best friends found each other in college. We all met in various ways during our freshmen year of college and quickly became inseparable. The core group of us are all from more than slightly dysfunctional families (and all but one of us have divorced parents). We went to college seeking knowledge, but it turns out we were looking for a bit more. We were looking for family.

And that’s exactly what we found. I have lived every significant event in my life with these people. I’ve also lived most of the very insignificant ones with them. At several times in my life, I think they are the only reason I kept going. I know with absolute certainty that I would not be who I am today without them. I also know that I cannot begin to thank them for all they’ve done for me or to express to them just how much I love them. But luckily, I know I’ll never have to. They already know. It’s part of what makes us, us.

Not only are we close emotionally, but for most of our adult lives, we’ve lived close to each other as well. Up until 4 years ago when she finally landed her dream job as a professor of literature at a wonderful university, my best friend in the entire universe lived right around the corner from me. Not long before then, another one of my besties and his girlfriend moved out to Arizona (and then Colorado) so that she could pursue her dream of getting her PhD in psychology. The third in our group actually moved away much earlier to pursue a career in political journalism in Washington, DC, but since he still has family in the state, we saw him a few times a year.

As of now, there are only two of us still in Indiana and it breaks my heart on a regular basis.

Thankfully, two years ago my Colorado bestie and his girlfriend decided to get hitched. Rather than have some crazy elaborate wedding with hundreds of guests, they invited only their closest friends and family members for four days of merry making and celebrating. We all jumped on planes and piled into the biggest, nicest vacation home I’ve ever stepped foot in for one of the best long weekends of my life. Not only did I have the honor of seeing two people I love very much vow to love each other forever (in a gorgeous lake side ceremony in the mountains), but I got to spend 4 solid days with the people I love most in this world (well, at least outside of my immediate family).

Over the course of those four days we tried to escape from a Phantom of the Opera-themed escape room, went on the best scavenger hunt ever, saw a fantastic burlesque show, played drunken Street Fighter at a video game bar, ate a ton of amazing food, helped prepare a few million pounds of food with very dull knives, had drinks at a super swanky bar I do not think we belonged in, played trivia, partied until hours of the morning I’d forgotten existed outside of shoving a bottle into a baby’s mouth, had some funky eggs benedict (my favorite breakfast food) at a super groovy brunch place, and ya know, went to a wedding.

It was so fantastic that we all decided we had to do it again.

DestinSo last year, right smack in the middle of September, my best friends and my Colorado besty’s wife’s best friends found ourselves barreling toward Destin, Florida. Once again we rented a HUGE house. This time it had not only a hot tub, but also a pool. The weather was gorgeous and we spent four days playing on the beach, swimming, hot tubbing, racing go-karts, chasing each other on water bumper boats, eating amazing food, playing D&D (did I mention we are all geeks to the core?), singing karaoke, and biking around town. It was amazing.

When it was time to get back in the car and drive home, I didn’t want to. I knew that the second the car pulled away I would start missing them all so much. And I did.

I went back to work the next day and thankfully it was a silent reading day in two of my classes (the entire period isn’t silent reading, just 25 minutes). I’d just started a new book called Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma. I didn’t really know anything about the book, but I loved the cover. It turns out that in many cases you can judge a book by its cover. In the first few pages of the book I knew I’d found the perfect book for me. The book centers on four best friends who met in college. Four friends who became family and still lived near each other, supporting each other through everything. I swear Jansma wrote this book about my friends.

As soon as silent reading time was over and my students started journaling, I logged onto my personal email (something I rarely do at school) and sent my friends a message containing a quote from page 5 that perfectly described us: “Sometimes we missed those who hadn’t come to the city with us–or those who had gone to other, different cities. Sometimes we journeyed to see them, and sometimes they ventured to see us. Those were the best of times, for we were all at home and not at once. Those were the worst of times, for we inevitably longed to all move here or there, yet no one ever came–somehow only left. Soon we were practically alone.”

It was like Jansma knew us. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.

This year, we once again got to take our friendcation. This time, we landed in Isle of Palms, SC. We all stayed in the beach house my sister-in-law owns. Although it lacks a private pool, it is right next to the ocean, so we still managed to have lots of fun. We explored downtown Charleston, went on a ghost tour, tried out a gastro pub, played D&D again, sipped super fancy beers in a roof top bar that one of my friends joked we were not young or pretty enough to be in before leaving to go to a complete dive bar where we were definitely the best looking people, and sang karaoke. Most importantly, we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning talking and laughing and having the most fun in the world together. One of the best parts is that I actually flew into Atlanta so that I could ride to SC with my best friend, her husband and our wonderful reporter friend, which meant a full day of very exhausting traveling, but one spent with the best people.

On the way to the airport, we started making plans for next year. We all want to see the Big Easy, so I hope we can make it happen. I know that no matter what is going on in my life, I will make this next trip a priority. I miss my people too much not to.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Please stop parking on the sidewalk

Today we finally got a dose of fall weather. It’s still not our usual late September sweater weather, but the dip into the 70’s was very welcome after a week spent in the 80’s and 90’s. In honor of the gorgeous breeze ruffling the trees, my daughter and I decided to go on a walk around our neighborhood.

Well, I decided to go for a walk. She wanted to go for a bike ride. Once I got her all suited up in her helmet and pads, we headed off.

Our neighborhood is not very big. It’s basically one main road, which makes a circle (and therefore gets 4 different names depending on which curve of the circle you live on). I mapped it once to figure out how many miles an hour I was walking and found out that one lap around is .8 miles.

My daughter loves riding her bike, but she’s still a bit unsteady on it. She’s 7, but her training wheels just came off in June. Since our circle has sidewalks and the few people who enter our neighborhood tear through it like it’s the Indy 500 Speedway, I make her ride on the sidewalk. I think this is perfectly acceptable, especially since I walk along behind her. She has to stop every so often to let me catch up so I can scan for any hazards like cars backing out of driveways.

For the most part, our neighborhood is pretty great. It’s off a major road, but since it is small and only has one entrance/exit, only people who live in or are visiting come in. There are lots of old growth trees all around it. In fact, the entire neighborhood has an outer ring of trees separating it from various fields and apartments. Things are pretty quiet and there is almost no crime. Unless you happen to be on the main stretch of the road looking out to the busy entrance way, you’d never know we are in the ciy.

My only real complaint about my neighborhood is that people park their cars on the sidewalk.

Now, I don’t mean they jump the curb and park on the sidewalk. They park in their driveways, but instead of parking their cars next to each other (or in their garages), they park bumper to bumper so that the backs of their cars block the sidewalks.

When it’s just me out walking, it’s not really that big of a deal. It can be annoying if the grass is wet and muddy, but I can pretty easily step around their cruddy parking job and still stay out of the street. My daughter, who is still unsteady on her little bike, however, has major navigational problems.

Tonight she wiped out about a dozen times. About half of those times were because she’s also not very good with her hand breaks, so when she needs to stop, she just sort of slows down, lets the bike wobble and then falls. She’s generally good about aiming for the grass so while she may get a few stains, she doesn’t do any real damage.

The other half of her crashes were trying to avoid cars. And she wasn’t always successful.

She crashed into two cars, both of which had their tails sticking out over the sidewalk. The first one was just barely over the sidewalk, but it had a big wheel cover for a spare tire which hovered a foot or so over the sidewalk. She tried to steer herself onto the grass. She almost made it. Her handlebar didn’t quite clear it though and she sort of bounced off the tire cover and landed fairly hard on the sidewalk. I was proud that she didn’t cry. She was hurt and unhappy, but she got right back on that bike to try again.

Three houses later she was met by another car. This one covered the entire sidewalk and was on the bottom part of the driveway. I told her to get off her bike and walk it around, but she thought she could make it.

She didn’t.

This house was a particular nightmare to maneuver because they had those scalloped bricks lining the small grassy area around their mailbox, so when one side of her bike hit the back of the car and started to tilt, she was driven into those damn bricks.

To her credit, she didn’t cry this time either. And she did learn her lesson. Every time I saw a car hanging over the sidewalk I’d call for her to get off her bike and walk it around. She did. In fact, with each car hanging over the sidewalk, she started getting off of her bike just a little sooner to guarantee there was no way she’d run into another car.

I realize that there are situations where blocking the sidewalk might be temporarily necessary, however, when you live in a community, it’s kind of a jerk move. The sidewalk is there for people who want to walk. It’s there for small children on bikes or roller skates. Be kind to your fellow neighbors. Keep your car in your driveway, but not on the sidewalk.

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Teaching Tuesday: Dumb questions

Whoever said, “there’s no such thing as a dumb question,” obviously was not a teacher. Anyone who has spent any real time in the classroom knows that there are many, many, many dumb questions. Teachers get asked them every single day.

Every year I try to head off the barrage of dumb questions by telling my students right up front that there are dumb questions and that they should avoid asking them. For those of you who aren’t teachers, this probably sounds uncharitable and maybe even cruel. After all, we teach children, shouldn’t we be kinder and more supportive of their delicate egos?

Before you get angry, think of it like this: imagine your most annoying co-worker. The one who has a thousand questions that they should already know the answers to. The one who asks the same questions day after day and gets the same response every time, but just keeps asking the questions. The one you know just isn’t paying attention when questions are answered, so s/he interrupts whatever you are working on because they know you’ll have the answer.

Now, imagine that instead of one co-worker you have to interact with on a daily basis acting like this, you are surrounded by 138 co-workers like this. Seem a little less cruel now?

Ok, 138 is an exaggeration. Sure, that is the number of students I teach each day, but on any given day only about 1/3 of them ask me a dumb question. Of course, since the overwhelming majority of my students are seniors who will be going off to college, joining the military or entering the work force in less than a year, it’s a bit harder to take.

Believe me, my attempts to nip these dumb questions in the bud is really my way of making the world a slightly better place for the rest of you. I suffer so that hopefully you will not have to.

Now, you may be wondering what qualifies as a dumb question. Allow me to give you a sampling of a few I’ve had so far this week (keep in mind it’s only Tuesday).

1)What page are we supposed to be on?–This question comes after me clearly telling everyone to get out their books, waiting until their books are on their desks and then announcing the page number in a loud, clear voice no less than three times. Thankfully I rarely have to answer this question more than three times because by the fourth time another student gets so annoyed that they shout out the answer for me.

2) Did we do anything when I was absent yesterday?–It takes everything in me to suppress the sarcastic monster inside of me. The response I want to give is: “Nope, we just sat around staring at each other wondering what we should do without you. The sobbing stopped after the first 15 minutes, but as I looked around the room, lost as to how we could possibly go on, I noticed that most of your classmates still had tears in their eyes. Please don’t ever leave us again.” My decision not to give this response is only partially due to the fact that I might get a nasty email from a parent. The other reason I don’t give it is that I fear they may think I’m serious.

3) Did we have any homework last night?–I know these seems like another version of #2 on the list, and sometimes it is. However, it gets uttered a surprising number of times each day by kids who were, in fact, in class the day before. Now, I know this one may not initially seem like a dumb question. After all, kids forget. What makes it a dumb question is that all of my materials are available in Canvas, our classroom learning management system. I have a daily post that has all classwork and homework on it. I remind them of this every day for the first few weeks of school and then periodically throughout the year. Every one of my student also has a school issued Chromebook with wifi that they can check anytime they are in the building (and 85% of our students have internet access at home). See, dumb question.

4) What time does class get out?–The same time it did yesterday and the day before and the day before that. We have had the same class times for over 6 years now. Since most of my students are seniors, the majority have had the same start/stop times for over three years now. There is a large clock in my room and their Chromebooks have clocks as well.

5) Do I need to make up the test I missed?–Not, when can I make up the test I missed, but do I need to. And by test, I don’t mean a tiny pop quiz, I mean a huge test that covers a novel we’ve been studying. Again, I have to silence the voice in my head that just wants to scream, “No, everyone else has to take the test, but because you had an upset tummy yesterday, you don’t have to take it.”

See, there really are dumb questions.

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