Sunday, December 28, 2014

I'm on VACATION! :-)

I'm sorry to disappoint my readers today, but I don't have a real blog post to share. I'm enjoying my two-week break from school and can't find the motivation to write. I am, however, thinking of several topics for future posts:

1.  helicopter parents
2.  anxiety
3.  racial unrest -- past and present
4.  One thing I swore I'd never do as a parent

I'd appreciate any feedback you have on any of these topics, especially number 4. 

Another reason I'm not writing a real post this week is because I'm totally involved in a novel, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer. 

One reviewer said, "I'm not sure I will read a better novel this year than Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See. Enthrallingly told, beautifully written and so emotionally plangent that some passages bring tears. It is completely unsentimental -- no mean trick when you consider that Doerr's two protagonists are children who have been engulfed in the horror of World War II."

So far, and I'm only half finished with the book, I think I agree with the reviewer's statement. It's one of my favorites this year. 

I'm going to enjoy the next seven days off work and try to have a fantastic post for you next week. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Buy or Rent: Did I Make the Wrong Choice?

When I became an adult, I bought into the American Dream: marriage, career, kids, home, security, etc. I knew that if I worked hard, I could have it all.

Owning a home was a big part of that dream. It meant stability, putting down roots, an investment for retirement. I wonder sometimes if I was a sucker who bought into a dream that originated with a real-estate agent.

I have been a homeowner since 1981 when my then husband and I bought a single-wide mobile home. We lived in it for a year until we could save money to buy a starter house. I lived in that house for the next 25 years, remodeling, adding bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as the normal maintenence. During that 25 years, the value of the house increased from $35,000 in 1981 to $230,000 in 2005. That's when I sold it and bought the house I live in now. 

I loved my new house. It was perfect -- huge stone fireplace, vaulted ceiling, loft, 2 beds/1 bath upstairs for the kids, walk-in attic, garage, master bed/bath downstairs and pool all on 3/4 acre. I made a few changes -- replacing the fence, painting inside, new carpet upstairs -- but the house didn't require much changing. That was 10 years ago.

This week, the week before Christmas, the furnace broke and we found out that the septic system has to be replaced. In the last year, we have replaced the roof and all rotted wood, repaired the broken driveway, and painted the outside. During the wood-rot removal, the workers discovered the header over the fireplace was rotted completely which could have caused the roof to collapse. That necessary repair was not cheap.

This year, we are looking at a new pool liner and concrete decking repair, new kitchen countertops since the present ones are 40 years old, and numerous other expenses that go along with owning an aging home.

I bought this house in 2005 at the height of the housing bubble. In 2008, I saw the value of my house drop 25%. In all likelihood, I’ll not live to see my house return to its original value.

Would renting be a better option? The older I get, the more I think yes. Advantages and disadvantages exist with both choices:

My daughter is a senior in college and lives with two roommates in a resort-style apartment for $550 each per month. She lives in a 3 bedroom/3 bath really nice, secure apartment with granite countertops and modern furniture. The many amenities included are pool, gym, tanning bed, computer lab, free printing, coffee bar, and lots of entertainment. Most college housing today is like this.

If I had lived in something like this when I was in college instead of the cheapest housing I could find, I'm not sure I would ever have wanted to buy a house. Why would I want to work and save to own a house that I have to maintain when I could call the landlord to fix the broken furnace or to put in a new septic system?

People talk of the American Dream being dead. I see how goals have changed because of the economy and the decline of the joys of owning your own piece of land and home, so maybe it is changing somewhat. I don't believe it will die completely.

I still love my house, but I am tired of the upkeep that homeownership brings. I'm reminded of that 1980s movie The Money Pit starring Tom Hanks.  All of you homeowners will get a good laugh about his experiences while all of the renters will sit back and feel smart and smug. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Finding Joy Amid a Stressful Holiday Season

We make Christmas such a stressful time. First, we have to do the shopping for just the right gift, only to then worry that the person will not like it. Next is all of the decorating that doesn't get done in one day but becomes an ongoing process throughout the month of December. At my house, decorating gets put off until almost too late to do it. Finally, there is all the extra "stuff" in the house that makes the place feel so cluttered. Often during this time of year, I have to stop myself from becoming the Grinch and find joy in events that don't happen at other times of the year.

Christmas cards – Wow! This exchanging of cards has certainly changed over the years. It used to be that people sent simple cards reminding us of the reason for the season, the joy of the holiday time or the anticipation of Santa Claus. These were prettily/gaudily decorated with some winter scene, glowing angels or Santa and his elves.

Now people send the funniest and/or cutest cards that really show the personality of their family. I have two friends with twins (Is there some kind of mathematical problem here? Friends2 x twins2?) whose Christmas cards truly show the joy and trouble of raising two or more kids. These cards bring a big smile to my face each year. I actually save these cards and enjoy comparing them from year to year.

Children's programs – Honestly, I should be done with children’s Christmas programs at my age. However, my son with Down syndrome attends a performing arts program for adults with disabilities, and they have a Christmas performance each year. This year, the clients actually wrote a musical that showed how talented they are. The show included Christmas songs and lively dances as well as excellent acting. These people are serious about their craft, and I’m always amazed at what they can do.

I also attended the performance of the Capital Children’s Choir, a musical program offered by FSU to children in kindergarten through ninth grades who want learn about music. My granddaughter is a member and has been rehearsing for the past ten weeks. This program is one of the best kept secrets in town. For only $30 a year, a child learns to read music and to sing songs in other languages from FSU music students and their college professor, Dr. Suzanne Byrnes.

Silly jokes – We have an Elf on the Shelf in our house. This year, Twinkle has left some pretty funny jokes for Cloee (and me) to enjoy.

If athletes get athlete’s foot, what do elves get? Mistle-toes

What’s a parent’s favorite Christmas carol? Silent Night

How many elves does it take to change a light bulb? Ten – one to fix the bulb and nine to stand on each other’s shoulders so he can reach the bulb.

And my personal favorite:

What did one snowman say to the other snowman? Do you smell carrots?

Parties – I don’t go to many parties during this season; however, my work friends usually get together at someone’s house and enjoy lots of laughs, good food and catching up. We always invite the retired teachers, and I love hearing about how they are doing in their new lives. One friend inspired me when she said, “Next year, we can ride together to party.”

Finishing the semester – I know I’ll miss a lot of my job next year, but this year I’m having fun counting down the days. After giving the semester exam in my dual-enrolled English classes, I started cleaning out file drawers, throwing out countless copies of grammar exercises that I won’t use again and passing on my units/lesson plans to teacher friends. We teachers are packrats, collecting anything that we may one day use to impart knowledge to today’s youth. Some of my units date back to my first year teaching and are printed using a mimeograph copier. I plan to have everything cleaned out of my classroom by June 1 so that on my official last day, June 3, I can walk out of school with only my car keys in hand. (Who is tired of hearing about my upcoming retirement? I only mention it in almost every post!)

I hope each of you has a wonderful holiday with as little stress as possible. Go out and find some fun activities that only happen this time of year.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

"See, I Can Do This Without You!"

“One day, when you have children, you’ll understand how what you said makes me feel. I love you.”

“I’m not having kids. I love you, too.”

So went the text exchange between me and my daughter yesterday. She’s now three months past her 21st birthday and is finding her voice. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to hear this voice, but I remember being that age and trying out my new wings of adulthood.

It’s hard to be caught in this semi-state of adulthood, searching for autonomy but still yearning for the past life to stay the same. You live on your own, enjoying all of the freedom, but when you come home and realize that home and the people in it have moved on, it’s hard to accept.

I remember when I was that age. I now realize that I wasn’t always the easiest person to be around. Do you hear that, Mom? I’m admitting that I was wrong most of the time. However, I would never have admitted to that then. I knew what was best for me, and no one could tell me differently.

I watch the kids I teach as they make the milestones of turning 16 and getting the freedom to drive, of being 18 and becoming legal, and of being 21 and getting all of adulthood thrown into their lap.

Last week, one female student turned 18 and boasted about now being legal. I wonder how her life is going to change. She can go into a bar now, but she can’t drink alcohol in it. She can buy lottery tickets, but with no job, I doubt she will spend her allowance on games of chance. Her big transition is mainly in her mind. She considers herself “grown” and doesn’t have to listen to her parents anymore. She could move out if she wanted, but she’s stuck, at least for another seven months until she graduates from high school. Even then, she probably won’t have enough money to move out.

She is an emerging adult who is caught with all the rules of her parents and of high school. Her voice inside may tell her that she doesn’t have to do all of this, that she’s endured these rules long enough. She’s legal now and can tell everyone to kiss off.

I’ve seen students do that, too. They get to within four months of graduation and quit coming to school. They are just so sick of being tied to those rules, and they have all of this freedom now. It’s so much more fun to work that minimum wage job and get a paycheck than to have to endure hours/months of sitting in that same old classroom with presumably no paycheck. Instant gratification feels so good.

All of these young adults have so many decisions to make – college, military, jobs, grad school – and for the most part, they have to make them on their own. On one hand, they are scared of making the wrong decision, but at the same time, they are using that grown-up voice to say, “See, I can do this without you.”

As a parent, a grandparent, a teacher and a fully grown-up adult, I find it hard to watch them make decisions that I know are mistakes. I can encourage, motivate and try to redirect their paths, but I can also stand back to see what they decide. After all, it’s their choice.

I’m sad that I won’t have any more grandchildren, not only because my daughter’s children would be a beautiful extension of her, but also because I could say the words I heard my mother say today, “You are getting paid back for all of the grief you caused me.”


Friday, November 28, 2014

Yes, It's Another "I'm Thankful" Post

Every November, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with friends listing all of the things/people they are thankful for. There’s the 25 Day Thankful Challenge, the 30 Day Thankful Photo Challenge, and the #IAmGrateful Challenge.

Fortunately, I’ve never been tagged on social media to comprise any of these lists. I would have declined which may/may not cause me to feel guilty (see recent post: No More Guilt!). I tried keeping a gratitude journal back when Oprah was all about doing one. I listed five things that happened each day that I was grateful for. After a week, I decided that I didn’t need to focus so much on the past, even if it were just one day at a time.

Social media/technology has made me lazy in many ways but especially as far as thank-you messages go. I was raised to write a thank-you note if I received even the smallest gift or gesture. Now, I tell myself that I don’t have time to actually write and mail a note, that an email or a sincere public statement is enough. I know that’s not correct etiquette, and I promise to do better next year.

I’ve avoided the public showing of all that I’m grateful for, but since I’m into that huge transition into retirement, I felt compelled to list a few of the people/things I’m thankful for.

My family is the best. Like most of you, we have many dysfunctional people in our group, but we love and tolerate them or they do a good job of tolerating me. They/we provide lively conversation, whether they/we are doing the talking or family members are talking about them/us.

I’m so grateful that I got to raise children. Watching children grow and develop is the greatest joy. I only wish I had slowed down and appreciated it more instead of worrying about work or having a clean house. Now that I’m raising my grandchild, I hope I’m doing a better job of living in the moment.

Kelsey (8)
Kelsey (1)

Kevin (9 months)

Sweet Drew (9) giving a hug to his baby sister (3).

Kevin (3) bringing in the newspaper on a Sunday morning. This memory of Kevin is one that is frozen in my mind. It's like I can remember everything about him when this picture was taken. Such a sweet baby and little boy.

Kevin (6) and Drew (2) Check out Drew's ortho shoes. He was born with clubbed feet and had to have surgery as well as wear those shoes made for braces.

My nieces, Grace and Mary Griffin, and Kelsey eating watermelon.

Cloee's 4th birthday at Disney World. This trip was the best ever. It cost me $1,000 but when it was over, she said, "Thank you, Honey. I love you." It was worth every penny.

I don't mean the following statement to sound egotistical. I’ve accomplished so much in my life, and I’m truly thankful for all the help I’ve gotten from friends, colleagues, family and students. Many of my greatest accomplishments didn’t make the news; however, they have seemed really great to me. I’m so proud of what I’ve been able to give to all the people I’ve taught during my career. Any old teacher loves hearing from former students, especially when they tell us how much they loved the class, about how much they learned or about how much they connected to us. What a huge ego trip!

This may sound like an acceptance speech on some TV award show, but I want to say that I am thankful for my Lord. I may not make it to church every Sunday, may not read the Bible daily and may have agnostic periods, but when I sit and am still, I can hear Him. When I look at the majesty of this earth, I can see that someone had a hand in it. One of the greatest parts of worshipping a common power is the togetherness that you find in a church. I feel sad for people who do not have a place of safety that belonging to a church provides.

A beautiful tree in Perote, AL.photographed by my daughter.

My Top Five Contacts – I talk to these five people almost every day, and on really good or really bad days, I talk to them two or three times in a day. They are my blessings and my security.

I’m finished. I could go on and on about all the people, things, and experiences I’m grateful for in my life, but I’m afraid there’s not enough space on the Internet. Does that make sense? Does “breaking the Internet” by showing your butt make sense, Kim Kardashian? I was going to put a link to a site explaining about KK's naked photos, but I didn't want to give her any more exposure (pun intended).

Anyway, please know that I’m grateful for all of the people who take the time to read this blog. You have made these past several months some of the most interesting ones. I couldn’t have done this blog without the help of my editor/husband. Each week, he  proofreads all of my drafts and gives lots of, sometimes too much, advice. I frequently tell him that he should just start his own blog because he often tries to overtake mine. However, I’m forever thankful for him and that he picked me.

Richard and I eloped on Dec, 21, 2010. We were married in the judge's chambers in Apalachicola, FL.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Any Time, Any Place, Any Where

Every five years, we teachers have to accumulate enough continuing education points to renew our teaching certificate for the next five years.  We can get those points by physically attending classes or in-service trainings, but now many classes are offered online and are free. I have to renew soon, so I enrolled in an online class to get the necessary points.

The online class I’m taking sounds so appealing: free, work at your own pace, work at your leisure, interesting topic. I have from October until January 5 to get it all finished. I’ve got this covered, I thought.

Like most people who first get into a project or class, I was super excited to get started. I worked hard for the first couple of weeks and got everything in on time. I was feeling proud of myself because I was making great scores since the assessments are mostly essays, which is a piece of cake for an English teacher.

But then the reality of work deadlines, flu, and just life in general took precedence.  My momentum dropped to nil, and I didn’t work on the online class until I got a friendly reminder from my teacher. At that point, I fooled myself into thinking that I would get busy and finish a majority of the work; however, I collected research papers from my students that I had to grade and return. Now I’m behind again, and I think my Thanksgiving holiday with family will make the assignments even later.

Online learning sounds great. It is convenient and with free wi-fi available most places, you can literally work on the Internet anywhere.  Remember the TV ads for Pajama University? 

Many of the online courses available are free, as well, which makes them attractive. Also, the variety of courses means there is something for everyone, for class credit, for your own information or just for fun. 

One site,, has a very inspirational statement on its home page: 
Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free.  We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.
If you have ever dreamed of going to Yale, now’s your chance. Other universities offering classes which are taught by top professors are Emory, Georgia Tech, Duke, Peking University and of course, the University of Florida (“GoGators!” from proud Gator mom) to name a few.

Another well-known free online learning site is Khan Academy. Started by a man wanting to help his niece with math, Khan Academy has grown exponentially to include courses in just about everything. 

The institution has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the White House to provide online academic help to all ages. Khan Academy states that it offers “A free world-class education for anyone anywhere" and:
is an organization on a mission. We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere. All of the site's resources are available to anyone. It doesn't matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. Khan Academy's materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.

Khan Academy sounds great, and several of my students attest to the program being useful and easy to navigate.

The largest on-line instructor by far is Who hasn’t searched YouTube for tutorials in knitting, making balloon animals, clogging or repairing your 1976 BMW motorcycle? 

I use YouTube several times a week to show my students movie clips or when my granddaughter asks me how to do something. YouTube videos are posted by normal people who have the same issues that you do, which makes them easy to relate. 

Will virtual school take over and be the death of the tangible teacher and traditional classroom? I don’t know. In my 34+ years in the classroom, I’d like to say no; however, more and more classroom instruction is tied to online sites. Our new literature textbooks have online, interactive components which I assume are included to better engage students in learning. It’s the new way of going to the board and writing your answer.

The best/worst point of e-learning is that, for the most part, you have to teach yourself even if there is a teacher sending email reminders or calling once a month for a required phone conversation. Some people work better simply reading the material and answering the questions. Others, like me, enjoy the human, physical interaction in the classroom.

Success in an online class (like the one I should be working on right now instead of writing this post) rests on the student, just like education in the traditional classroom. With young adult and old adult learners, it’s their choice to stick with the program, suck it up and complete the work in the online class.

That’s just what I have to do. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

This shouldn't make me feel guilty!

About 20 years ago, I was in a confused and somewhat depressed place in my life and made an appointment with a mental health counselor. This woman was great, cutting through all the crap in my head and getting to the point that was bothering me, namely the guilt I was feeling because of events happening in my life. I paid her $80 to tell me the best advice I have probably ever gotten, that I was the only one who could make me feel guilty.

I couldn’t believe it. I had a choice in feeling guilty or not? But didn’t that make me a self-centered, uncaring person? Wouldn’t people dislike me? Maybe, but she assured me that I would learn to like myself if I let go of the guilt, that I would feel empowered and self-assured.
It’s true, isn’t it? We allow people to make us feel guilty. These feelings start when we are young, and they seem to just snowball as we get older.
One of the first people in our lives to make us feel guilty is our parents. When we are young, parents make statements like “I’m so disappointed in you” or “I can’t believe you did this to me.” It’s hard living up to the expectations our parents have for us. If we choose a path they didn’t envision for us, we might live the rest of our lives hearing about how we failed them.

My mom always jokingly told me when I was growing up that she wanted me to be a pharmacist so I could afford to put her in a nice nursing home when she’s ready to go there. When I decided to be a teacher, her hopes of a nice nursing home went out the window. I joke and tell her that on my salary, she will get a single-wide trailer in my backyard. She just smiles, but what is she really saying in that smile? 
Various religions also use guilt for leverage, which is ironic. Since the Bible says our sins were wiped away when Jesus died, we are not supposed to feel guilt. I attended a few churches in the past that left me feeling apologetic because I didn’t give my entire 10% tithe and didn’t go down to the altar at the end of the service even after singing “Just As I Am” several times. Once I missed a couple of Sunday services, and the deacon actually asked where I had been and why hadn’t I been in church. Did he realize what he said?

Since I’m a parent, I can honestly say that there is nothing and no one who can make a person feel more guilt than her children. When they were growing up, I never thought I was a good enough mom and that I should do everything for them. Now that they're adults, I find myself with those same feelings of inadequacy every day because now I can see exactly what I should have done. That old hind-sight stuff stinks. I decided that I’m going to keep the guilt I have about the mistakes I made in parenting. I’ve tried to let this particular guilt go, but I don’t see it leaving; it's just too big.
I’m sure all employees feel guilt at some point. How can a doctor make a mistake with a patient's health and not feel remorse? I used to feel guilty when I didn’t get papers graded as quickly as the kids thought I should. If I didn’t have a dynamite lesson planned, in my mind I was a total failure and the worst teacher ever. When my students did poorly on a test, it must have been my fault.  How much of this is in my own head and how much did the kids even care? In my last year of my career, I believe I have a handle on the work guilt.

My husband said that we are all motivated by guilt. Otherwise, we’d tell the whole world to go to hell. He might be right. Guilt makes me want to do better, to make amends, to clear my conscience, so can’t some guilt be good?
What started my trip down guilty lane? I was considering not writing a post this week because I’m really slammed for time. I have research papers and journals to grade. I’m teaching a book next week that I’ve never even read. I’m going out of town tomorrow when I should stay home and clean my dirty house.  I’m feeling the stress, but I didn’t want to let down my readers. I actually felt guilty about not writing, but since I’m the only one who can make me feel guilty, I decided not to even consider the guilt and just write the damn post.

So here’s to guilt and to my therapeutic venting! Thank you.