Sunday, August 31, 2014

Six Months Already?

After blogging for only six months, I'm a relative newcomer to the scene; therefore, I'm not qualified to give advice on the subject. I do, however, have several observations for those who want to blog, those who already blog, those who read blogs, and those who are simply patient enough to follow my posts.

1. Everyone who enjoys reading blogs should give writing one a try. I tell people how much I enjoy it, but they look appalled when I suggest that they start a blog of their own. I understand their unwillingness/fear. I, too, didn't think I could write anything worth reading. But once I got started, I got more comfortable and found my voice. Find a way to ease into a blog. Plenty of topics that don't require much writing such as Wordless Wednesday and Finish My Sentence Friday are available online. If you don't want strangers reading it, make your site private until you find your voice.

2. If you want your post to get read by lots of people, write a blog about food and/or crafting. I love to look at food/recipes and dream of the day I’ll have time to craft. Presently, I don't actually cook any of those beautiful recipes since I don't really cook anymore; however, I keep collecting them in hopes that I will be inspired to cook again. The one time I posted a recipe for blueberry cobbler, I had lots of readers. This post probably won’t get many, and I’m ok with that.

3. Don't start blogging unless you have time to read other blogs. The blogging community is extremely helpful. They answer questions, help newcomers and host share sites where other bloggers can post and get readers. They really work at blogging and deserve readers who comment and share their words.

4.  If you do write a blog, do a print-worthy job. Write, revise, have someone else edit, revise, and on and on. Writing is work and presenting a clear message to your readers is vital. Check and double check everything. Condense sentences. Get rid of dead construction and wordiness.

5. Include lots of pictures. I’d rather look at pictures than read words which is weird since I’m an English teacher/language lover. My mind has gotten lazy! I’d rather you show me than tell me. The irony here is that I didn't include any pictures, just Google images, in this post. It's 3:34 a.m. and I have procrastinated on writing this post. No excuse -- just how it is many times.

6.  Learn every means of social media. I’ve got a good handle on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest; however, Twitter still confuses me. I tweet links to my posts but rarely get readers via Twitter. I’m putting Twitter on the “’I’ll do this when I’m retired” list.

Six observations – one for each month I’ve been a blogger. I look back at what I have written over those months and am impressed with the quantity. I’ve never written so much. I’m embarrassed by some posts but extremely proud of others. With each one, I hear my voice getting stronger and more self-assured.

Blogging is a great endeavor, one that more and more people are trying. Why not you?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Shifting Roles: GAPs

In May 2011, I thought my life was headed toward the good times. My daughter graduated from high school and would be moving out on her own within a couple of years. My special needs son had an established routine of work and adult day program. I was newly married and in the middle of remodeling our home. I had only four years left to work. Then I could travel or do nothing. I longed for time to actually make something I saw on Pinterest, for time alone with my already retired husband, for time to just be carefree.

Yes, I was going to be sitting easy. That was my plan.

Just two months later, my plan changed when my 7-year-old granddaughter came to live with us. Her moving in with us was not simple because it also brought many court/lawyer/mediator visits along with a tremendous financial cost, but I had to do it. Her parents did not make wise choices with their lives, and she needed to be protected. If you are a grandparent, you probably agree that the love for a grandchild is so different from the love for a child. Our role is to have fun with them and enjoy their growth without having to be as responsible as we were with their parents.

So much for my plan. 

Even though my granddaughter is a very easy-going child, the transition into our household was difficult. She missed her mom and dad, and like most kids, held on to the belief that she would go back to live with them. My marriage of six months was under tremendous strain. My college freshman wasn’t pleased with having to share her room with a first grader. My special needs son suddenly didn’t get all the attention anymore. I felt caught in the middle with trying to please everyone.  My role shifted from the spoiler to the disciplinarian, a role no grandparent wants. I was supposed to be the person who supplied the fun and excitement for her while her parents took care of the rules.

My situation is not a unique one. In the U.S., almost 7.8 million children are living in homes where grandparents or other relatives are the caregivers. Grandparents are raising 5.8 million and other relatives care for the remaining 2 million.

Now, three years later, I found a manual for this very situation that I wish I had known about earlier – Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide for Raising a Second Family by Sylvie de Toledo and Deborah Edler Brown. This book should be provided free of charge to every grandparent raising his or her grandchildren.

The content covers every topic a GAP might experience. It is a support group in itself because there are different stories and situations about parental death, abandonment, addiction, mental illness, etc. The authors included information on government aid, legal issues, education, setting boundaries, and just surviving from one day to the next. I also found information about actual support groups in the area.

I counted my blessings when I read about the 70+-year-old grandparents now raising a newborn, the ones living in a one-bedroom apartment with four grandchildren and the ones who have to choose between their grandchildren and spouse.

The past three years have been hard, to say the least; however, my family, especially my granddaughter, has learned to roll with it. She has gone from an extremely shy little girl to one who now has lots of friends. She’s involved in dance, chorus and church and is also an excellent student who rarely misbehaves. 

We are all so proud of her. My husband, who had no grandchildren of his own, has taken care of her when she’s sick, hauled her to activities, listened to countless read-aloud books and attended recitals. My special needs son has learned to just ignore her when she gets on his nerves or she gets more attention than he. My daughter moved on to college and her own apartment. And I’m in the rut again of daycare, checking homework and elementary school open house.

Richard and Cloee carved a one-of-a-kind crazy pumpkin for Halloween.

Christmas 2013 -- a typical, ordinary disfuntional family pose.

It’s not the path I envisioned that I would travel at my age; however, it’s the one I have. Is it fair? Probably not, but as I’ve said in an earlier post, fair is where you get cotton candy. I, like the other 5.8 million grandparents who had to shift roles, care for our grandchildren because of one reason -- the extraordinary love we have for them.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Can I Let It Go?

If you have seen the movie Frozen, you are aware of the song "Let It Go," a beautiful song beautifully sung by the beautiful Idina Menzel. This song is one that stays in your head, and you find yourself singing it over and over until you either hate it or are inspired by its message. 

Honestly, I've experienced both. 

Over the years, I've had to let go of lots of items such as toys, clothes, books, etc. When I moved from a house I had lived in for 25 years, I gave away tons of stuff. Most material possessions can be replaced, so cutting loose from them is not so hard. Maybe that ease of replacement is why I look around me now and see tons of new stuff that somehow gathered in my house over the past ten years. 

I've also gotten rid of people such as the bad, toxic former friends or spouses. I admit that it takes me longer to get rid of people than it does material possessions. I guess that's why I stayed in a really sucky marriage for way too long. 

In my most recent quest to let something go, I decided to start small by cleaning out my email inboxes, a task which at first really frightened me. I have three email accounts -- work, old personal and new personal. My work email had messages dating back to 2008, and my old personal had some over ten years old. My new personal account is only three years old so I'm not as attached to it, but how could I let go of all of those contacts, important messages, memories from long-gone friends? 

At first, I looked through all of the messages to see what was important and filed those into digital folders, but I soon realized that task was too big. I then asked myself how often I used any of those old emails. Also, I realized that most of the emails stay around in the cloud or somewhere because I can search for them and they magically appear. Therefore, I went cold turkey, hit the Empty-Your-Inbox tab and just like that, everything was gone. I even got an encouraging message and smiley face. 

The email purge took place about a month ago, and I've worked hard to keep everything cleared out. It's like a game I play every day to decide what is truly important and what can go. I take to heart the lines from the lyrics of "Let It Go" -- I'm never going back. The past is in the past

I really enjoy the emptiness of that inbox because, to tell the truth, it's the only thing on my desk that is free of clutter. I have my stacks of papers, my books, my scattered pens and pencils, my very cold cup of coffee, etc. The clutter may change from day to day, but it's still there most of the time. 

I stand by the old saying that I know where everything is on my desk, but actually, that's not true anymore. With my advanced age, I can't remember where I left something if I put it down. Sometimes I look at an item I'm holding in my hand and wonder why it's there. 

In my defense, I use the following statement by Albert Einstein:

My next Let-It-Go project -- my closet. If you have any helpful advice or an encouraging song, please let me know. If you saw my closet, you'd know that I need a lot of help. 

I can't think of any people I want to get rid of. At least not at this moment, but give me a minute. I'm sure there are a few.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Beginning of the End

Teaching -- You laugh, you cry, and  you work harder than  you ever thought you could. Some days, you're trying to change the world and some days you're just trying to make it through the day. Your wallet is empty, your heart is full, and your mind is packed with memories of kids who have changed your life. Just another day in the classroom. (

On August 18, 1980, I started my career as a high school English teacher. 

On August 11, 2014, I will begin my last year as a high school English teacher. 

Although I'm excited about the future of not having to work, I'm also feeling more than a little uncertain and also sad at what I'm leaving behind.

At my first teaching job, I was hired two days after all the other teachers started their planning week. I felt excited, nervous and very out of place. I actually cried on the way home from work because I was in a job that I felt was over my head, working with people who had so much experience and were much more intelligent than I was. I was lucky that those really smart teachers helped and shared with me to keep me one chapter ahead of the students and to fool the students and parents into thinking that I knew what I was doing. 

Much in my personal life has changed over those 34 years. I had three children, one with special needs. I divorced after 22 years and married again 3 years ago. I moved to a new city and started a new teaching position after 25 years of security at my old school.  I am raising my granddaughter because of bad choices her parents made.

During all of these changes over all of these years, my title of teacher has been the one constant. I am forever thankful that I chose this profession. It allowed me to interact with some truly awesome young people, to see the ones in charge of our planet's future, and to be an integral part of their lives for a short time. 

This career has also shown me the bitter side of life -- abuse, abandonment, neglect, apathy, etc. Some days, the negative seems to outweigh the positive, and I am at a loss as to how to help these children. School is so much more than just a place where kids learn from a textbook; it's a place where they display the training, or lack of training, they receive at home, the problems they experience in and out of school, and the frustration they feel because they can't change what's happening to them.

I have several goals for this last year that I hope I can achieve. I will laugh every day, which is an easy goal to master since I frequently find humor in myself. I will try to cherish each day of a lesson instead of looking at the whole unit or getting everything finished because the grading period is almost over. I will try to be more patient, knowing that I will not have the opportunity to help these students again. 

will not cry when my career is over in 42 weeks, 2 days and 13 hours. It's been a fine one, and I've found great satisfaction. I will move on to the next chapter, one in which I hope to still be of value.

My husband says that when your hair becomes white, you become invisible to those around you. I will continue to color my hair.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

From Lottie Moon to In Cold Blood -- My Life-Changing Books

I love to read. When I was a kid, nothing was better to me than finding a book that I really liked and reading it from cover to cover. I had much rather stay sedentary and read than go outside and get all hot and dirty. My love of reading didn't help my rather chunky physique.

I had lots of favorites like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, but my most favorite genre was non-fiction, especially biographies and autobiographies. The one book I most remember from my childhood was an autobiography of Lottie Moon, a Baptist missionary who served in China. I checked that book out of the Union Springs public library several times. I thought Lottie led such an adventurous life -- single woman moves to the land of infidels to share God's word. I honestly thought about being a missionary just like Lottie and traveling to some exotic location. Alas, with age, the desire to serve as a missionary went away.



When I was in middle school, I started reading more advanced works of "literature." My dad was a big reader and like many people, kept his current novel in the bathroom. As an adult, I now know that it was the only door he could lock to get away from the rest of the family. The book he left in the bathroom that got me into mass-market smut books was Harold Robbins' The Carpetbaggers. One look at the cover of the book and I knew it was something I shouldn't be reading; therefore, I had to do it.


The description on says, "A LEGENDARY MASTERPIECE - A STORY OF MONEY AND POWER, SEX AND DEATH. Jonas Cord coveted his father's fame, fortune, even his young, beautiful wife. When his father died, Jonas swore to possess them all. But Rina Marlow was the celebrated screen goddess no man could master. Her sizzling sensuality might inflame and enthrall millions, but her personal boudoir was no Hollywood fantasy. She consumed her lovers on the fiery rack of her burning desires."

I don't remember anything about this book, but I ask you, what middle school age girl wouldn't want to read this kind of trash?

This novel is in the life-changing category because over the next year or two, I read every one of Harold Robbins' books. I then went on to John Jakes’ North and South, Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds and its sequels,  and of course, Jacqueline Susanne’s Valley of the Dolls. This is when I started my habit of finding an author I liked and reading everything written by him or her. I might have been reading trash, but I read a lot of trash which increased my reading vocabulary (even the words I shouldn't know) and speed.  The Carpetbaggers might be worth a re-read now to see if it still captivates me. 


In college, I read a book that stayed with me, even in my sleep -- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I love and hate this book. I love it because of the writing style and the dedication Capote had to telling the story of the murder of the Clutter family in Kansas. He presented the murderers, Dick and Perry, in such a way that I saw into the mind of a sociopath. After reading it, I couldn't get it out of my mind; I replayed the murders, the last days of Nancy Clutter, the eventual capture and deaths of Dick and Perry. It's the first book I just couldn't shake. 



Because I'm an English teacher, I have had to read and teach many works. I love teaching Shakespeare, Southern Gothic lit, and other classics. More recently, the book that had a great impact on me as a woman and a teacher is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. When I teach this book to high school seniors, I work so hard to make them understand the power of the words in this book.


This book is so much more than a story about characters in a foreign land during a war: it's a powerful message about the treatment of women, not only in the Middle East but anywhere. One line from the book that I particularly love is when the father tells his daughter that “society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated.” When I share that with my students, I feel like Oprah or Gloria Steinem, inspiring young girls to go forward and seek knowledge in order to better their lives and society.

The most recent book I read that had supreme staying power is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I have already written a post about that book and how much I love it (The Goldfinch), so I'll share a rather recent one that is still firm in my un-firm memory -- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. 

The description on reads:  Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells—taken without her knowledge in 1951—became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can't afford health insurance.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is one of those “shake-my-head” books, the kind that makes you think about injustices, ethics, and greed. 

In searching my memory for these life-changing books, I find that I have come full circle in my love for biographies. I've read many, many books, from classics to smut, but the important thing is that I have a true love of reading, of learning about lands I'll never visit, about the injustices in our society, and about me. 

What life-changing books have you read?

Monday, August 4, 2014

Stopping Time with One Little Click

I don't know much about cameras. Because I was the yearbook sponsor for high school students for 33 years, most people think I know about photography, but I never understood all those f-stops, apertures, or shutter speeds. I haven't even owned a camera for about seven years and really didn't think I needed anything more than my phone camera. However, now that I'm a blogger (or trying to be), my husband decided I needed a real camera.

After researching cameras extensively, we settled on a Canon Rebel T3i EOS 600D.

Please don't ask me what any of those numbers/letters mean because I have no idea. All I know is that I'm totally overwhelmed with all the different settings. I've watched YouTube videos and tutorials over and over, read the manual, read the Canon Rebel T3i for Dummies book, and shot thousands of pictures. I still don't know how I got some of the shots I did, but I think some of them are pretty interesting. Others are obviously the work of an amateur. I don't think it will take you long to figure out which is which. 

Above and below: These two pictures were taken using different light settings. I don't remember what the settings were because I was mainly playing with the different dials and buttons. The next photos get better so don't stop reading the post now.

Above and below: These two pictures are part of a series using the sports setting on the camera. On this setting, the camera takes several pictures in quick succession. Above is my son in the middle of a black flip. Below is my neighbor making a graceful leap into the pool. By the way, she's a ballerina.

Above: I'm getting a little creative/artsy by taking a picture of my daughter who is taking a picture. Below is another artsy shot of a branch of blueberries. This picture was taken on the depth-of-field setting. 

Above and below: Both pictures are of the same daylilly but taken at different angles. I like the off-center composition of the flowers. Which one do you like best? 

Above: This was taken on July 4. Cloee made the heart over and over while the camera slowly captured the shot.  I want to take more fun and cool shots like this one.
Above: I'm not sure I did anything special to get this shot, but it's one of my favorites. I like the light on Cloee's hair, her full attention on catching a fish, and her Uncle Drew watching her in the background. 
Above: I took this shot from the top of Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina. The trees in the foreground give me an idea of the thousands of trees found on those rolling mountains. 
Learning to use the Canon Rebel T3i is difficult but fun. Digital photography sure is a lot cheaper than using all that 35 mm film, waiting for your pictures to be developed, and then finding out you totally missed the shot. 

Like I said earlier, I have thousands more photos I've taken with my new camera. More of them are far from being professional or actually, far from even being good. I'll keep practicing and learning and hopefully, getting better at it. It's really quite fun.