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Begin With the End in Mind

Today is Saturday, and my goal for the day is to do as little as possible.

Why?

Well, because I just finished my first week of the new school year, and this teacher is dog tired.

But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s back up to last Thursday.

When I got home from my pre-planning day, I called my friend, Megan, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for seven years. As we were chatting, I mentioned something about going to school the next day, and she asked me why?

You see, we didn’t have to work! The school district was still on the four-day work week schedule it follows during the summer. Someone I work with had told me that we did have to work. Good gravy!

It was a good thing that I’m an overachiever! I’d left my classroom near-ready when I’d left on Thursday.

Thank heavens!

I spent the weekend working hard around the house. I also prepped food for the week.

That’s Soul-Warming Stew and Dumplings from A Virtual Vegan’s new cookbook. It is absolutely divine!!!

The recipe makes a TON of food and, hence, lots of leftovers.

I also made a batch of Chewy Peanut Butter Granola Bars.

Oh, and this Vegan Chocolate Tart begged to be made.

It has an Oreo cookie crust which, surprisingly, is vegan.

I sliced the tart up into sixteen pieces because it was so rich.

I also texted two of my teacher friends who love my vegan cooking and offered to take slices of chocolate heaven to them for the first day of school. I didn’t exactly have to twist their arms to say yes. Ha!

Sunday night, I watched Big Brother and set my weights out for the next morning.

Then, I set all five of my alarms – thirty minutes apart – and headed off to Dreamland.

And then this happened . . .

If you’ve ever been a teacher or are one currently, you’ve experienced the fear of oversleeping on the first day.

I gave up the fight around 3:45am, got up, and worked out.

Because I’d gotten up so early, I was ready to go by 7:10. My goal had been 7:00, so I was doing okay.

Here’s my back-to-school picture.

That’s a dress I’d bought in Atlanta, and I’d been saving it ever since our trip because I knew I wanted to wear it for the first day. It was light, airy, professional, and so comfortable!

Poor Gambit. He wasn’t thrilled to see me head out. I felt a little badly because this would be his first go-round of long days without his brother by his side. 😦

I grabbed my cup of London Fog (Tea Latte) and said see you later to my fur baby.

Can I just tell you that it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been teaching. You still get nervous.

When I walked into my classroom, I saw my letter board at the front of my room, and my nerves settled down.

Y’all, that’s how I run my life. It’s especially true of my teaching.

We had homeroom, and then the gauntlet began.

My schedule this year begins with a senior reading class. It’s a small class since most of my juniors passed their reading test last year. This class is comprised of mostly students I taught last year. It was so comforting to me and to them, quite honestly.

Class flew by.

My next two classes were junior reading classes. I knew none of them, so there was a flurry of new faces and names.

Fortunately, I’d created an alphabetical seating chart and had posted instructions on my Smartboard. The kids were surprised to learn that they had to turn their phones off and put them in corresponding pouches in my cell phone holder.

Amazon for the win!

That’s not the one I have, but I am going to order it because it’s more durable than the one I currently have.

This was a system that served me well last year, so I’m continuing it again this year. Everyone complied, though, so I didn’t have any issues.

Y’all, the first day of school is tremendously crazy. There’s attendance to take for faces and names you don’t know. There are new kiddos constantly coming in because they got lost trying to find your room or had impromptu schedule changes.

It was nuts.

There are questions about what the class is about, why the heck am I in here (not me but them), and can I go to the bathroom (maybe this is me as well as them).

Nutso.

But wonderful because this teacher had a plan.

I have first lunch, which was ridiculously early and a first for me.

Then, fourth period came in – my English 4 class. These are seniors – about 3/4 of whom I taught last year.

Another comfort, let me tell you.

Then came my 5th period class – comprised of mostly boys.

Very active and loud boys.

I knew, instantly, that this would be my “spirited” group.

Oh y’all. Most kids are very well behaved the first couple of days of school.

Not this crew.

So, I had to put on my non-smiling face and cut to the chase.

Yep. It’s sad to say, but I immediately knew that if I didn’t set the standard immediately, they’d be running my class.

After five days with them, I can honestly say that though they will take a lot of my energy because of the constant attention they’ll require, I’m pretty certain that they are going to be among my favorite kiddos.

Their personalities are big, and they are so funny (although I can’t let them think that quite yet).

Sixth period, I had planning.

This was a reminder that God certainly is in the details. He knew that I’d need a break after my 5th period class.

I had earned my chocolate tart snack.

Now, let’s talk about seventh period. That’s another English 4 class. Most of the seniors were kids I’d taught last year. There’s a sprinkling of some who’d had another teacher, so I didn’t know them.

I’d been a bit concerned when I’d previewed the roster. They were a loud group last year.

Let me tell you that this combination of kids, slightly different from my sixth period last year, is going to mesh together so well.

There’s a young lady in there who loves me. I didn’t realize just how strong of a bond we’d developed last year until I’d seen her in Guidance during my planning, and she was yelling at the people in there – demanding that she be placed in my class. She’s sassy but she’s had a hard life and clings tight to those she trusts.

My heart, y’all. THIS is why I teach.

Seriously though.

The day ended, and I was actually smiling.

The rest of the week went by pretty smoothly.

I slowly introduced classroom procedures and began conveying my expectations.

I even took up my first pair of slides for the year. The kiddo had a pair of sneakers in his bag, so he knew what he was doing. Sheesh.

I discovered my new favorite pens because y’all, writing utensils are important things for teachers.

Office Depot for the win!

We did a book speed dating activity on Tuesday, and my kids were reading self-selected novels by Wednesday.

Don’t those pictures put a smile on your face?

My kids were so happy when I told them that I’d be giving them twenty minutes a day for reading. One even said that NOBODY does that.

Well, kiddo, I do because I know how important it is and that you’ll have no time to do it outside of class.

I also modeled reading by opening up this brand new book and reading along with my kids.

Late in the week, I showed my reading classes their test scores from the spring. They hadn’t seen them since the scores hadn’t come back until the summer (the state of Florida is ridiculously slow in EVERYTHING they do).

Several years ago, I created this form, which I hand out to students so they can record their scores and write some reflections about them.

I tell the kids that knowledge is power, and they have to know what they’re facing if they’re going to improve. I liken it to a game against an opponent, which is certainly true with this thing we call testing. They were immensely grateful for the real talk we had and the time I allowed for this activity.

I have to tell you that this was the first year that I can remember starting school on a Monday. We usually don’t get started until a Wednesday.

I was soooo happy when Friday rolled around. Although we were encouraged to wear red for school spirit, I wanted to wear a new t-shirt I’d bought a week ago.

By the time my last class rolled around on Friday, we were exhausted.

One of my girls – the one I wrote about earlier in this post – broke down in tears as she was reading the book she’d selected.

Something she read had hit her hard, and we stepped into the hallway to talk about it. Poor girl. I saw such a different side of her in that moment. It solidified our bond. The power of books, y’all. Just wow!

When I left for home on Friday, I was pleased but tired.

After letting Gambit out to potty, we settled in for a short nap. He was so happy to have me home.

This had been the best first week of school that I can remember having in a long time. I don’t exactly know why.

Maybe it was because I’m teaching a lot of the same kids I taught last year.

Maybe it’s because I like my preps.

Maybe it’s because I saw the hope on the faces of the juniors who suddenly realized how important my course is and why they need to be on their game.

Maybe it’s because I have my eyes on the prize – the end that we are aiming for – and I can’t wait to see my kiddos reach their goals.

Year 10 had started off quite well, and this teacher just couldn’t ask for more (except maybe winning the lottery, which would be perfectly acceptable). 🙂

Worn Out Wednesday

It is Wednesday, and I am tired.

I am sitting at four days until the first day of the school year, and I am completely worn out already.

There have been days upon days of meetings.

There have been hours upon hours of lesson planning.

There have been pages upon pages of course descriptions, data tracking sheets, and lesson plan materials copied.

The only time I am a list person is the week before school.

Truth be told, I could probably teach tomorrow if I had to.

No, things wouldn’t be up to my standards, but I could do it.

But I’m not because my schedule may be changing, last-minute, so there may be many tweaks that need to be done . . . lesson plans to be adjusted, class folder buckets to be relabeled, binders to reorganize, and rosters to reprint . . . to name a few.

There isn’t an Easy Button when it comes to teaching.

Heaven help this over-planning, overachieving girl.

That was last night’s photo. I’m currently up to 59 pages in my Smartboard file.

Please say a prayer for all of us education folks.

The excitement of a new school year is there, for sure, but it comes with a price – lost sleep, sore muscles from moving rearranging furniture fifty times, and headaches from looking at our computers too long each day.

Four days, y’all.

I’ve got this!

Heartstring Triggers

Disclaimer: This article isn’t all sad, so don’t skip it because there’s some cute stuff midway through.

I read an article recently, and a line from it stuck with me:

Interestingly, Hawaiian researchers have even found that the pain after the death of a pet is usually much longer lasting than the pain we feel with the loss of a loved one.

https://www.healthyfoodhouse.com/losing-a-pet-hurts-more-than-people-think/

Y’all, I know that many of us can attest to this.

Last night, I dreamed of two of my lost fur babies – Aubie and Molly.

As I spent time petting both of them, I remember thinking, “This has to be a dream, but it’s so realistic.”

The dream seemed to go on for a long time, and I kept telling myself that I must be dreaming even though it very much felt like real life.

I also remember thinking that Pele must not have been ready to make the leap yet.

I know where this idea came from – the book Good Dog, by Dan Gemeinhart.

I had read it last summer, around the one year anniversary of Molly’s passing.

I had sobbed my way through the book, which chronicled the story of Brodie, a beloved dog who had passed away but was stuck in an in-between world.

The book had gone a long way toward healing my still-raw and very broken heart.

Waking up confirmed that yes, I had been dreaming.

Sigh.

Then, as I was tootling around the house, I went to put up something that had fallen in the laundry room, and I saw this . . .

What had fallen was one of the dog’s halters we bought to make walks a little easier. As I reached up to put it away, I saw the second one.

Sigh.

Then, I picked up an empty bag from Walmart. It had been sitting on one of those shelves you see above, and here’s what was inside . . .

I’m thinking that the collection of baggies was from the week the Mr. and I spent in California last summer. I tend to be anal about organizing things for my dog sitters.

I am not going to lie, y’all. This grieving thing isn’t easy, even if it’s for an “animal.”

Of course we all know that I consider my fur babies like my human ones.

I am so thankful for the memories we have of the ones we’ve lost. I can’t tell you how many times the Mr. and I sit outside on our porch and reminisce about them . . . how smart Aubie was, how brazen Molly was, how deceptively intelligent Pele was.

The other night, the Mr. and I recounted the season when Molly climbed up and over our fence. I’ve shared the videos here before, but just in case you missed them, here they are.

Here’s the view from the other side . . .

Oh goodness, but look at this gem I just found on YouTube . . .

And this one, which is one of my favorites . . .

Oh wait, look at this! Excuse my horrible back yard, which was a casualty of a four-dog household.

Look how sweet the babies were to each other.

Here’s when Molly, who loved her ball, had to face a choice . . .

And then there were the post-bath play sessions . . .

The next video was from 2015. It’s hard to believe; it seems like yesterday.

And then the last video of the babies that I uploaded to YouTube.

Sorry for the video dump. This post sort of evolved into a digital walk down memory lane – a good thing when you’re sad because random things triggered your heartstrings.

Thank you for continuing to pray for us as we continue adapting to the hole in our home and our hearts.

You Say

Dear Heavenly Father,

I have to tell you a little something.

You really got me in my feelings this morning.

Oh, I know that You know this, but it’s still something that I need to acknowledge.

Despite my stubborn heart, which has been extremely resistant to the training I’m being required to sit through these past few days, You have been speaking to my heart in the tenderest of ways.

Yesterday, when in-service began, it quickly became apparent that I had sat through this training before, several years ago, only branded with a different name.

I reacted the same way many of my students do when I require them to get out of their chairs and talk to each other.

I balked.

I complained.

No, I was not the model teacher yesterday.

My introverted, stubborn self took over despite the fact that I was among friends.

The training involved various activities to help engage our students.

I was having none of it, let me tell you.

Then came the structure that began the shift in my heart.

It happened when we were tasked with finding a partner, responding to three questions, and then reversing roles.

I can’t remember what the first question was, but I sure do remember the second one:

“What do you like about me or our community?”

We had to do this activity THREE times.

Ugh.

My first partner was a new-to-us teacher. He couldn’t really answer what he liked about me. I wasn’t offended.

The second teacher’s response started melting my heart.

She told me that she liked that during meetings, I contributed helpful things I’d done in my classroom.

Although she’s a young teacher, I’d call her a veteran. Her mama has been in the education system for many years as well.

She knows her stuff.

I may have cracked a real smile.

But then . . . my third partner . . oh my heart.

When he answered the question about me, my jaw dropped to the floor. He said,

“What I like about you is that your students like you.”

I looked at him in confusion and even asked if he was sure he was talking about the correct teacher.

He assured me that he was and that his students had, indeed, repeated that statement.

This was a bit of a shock to me because I am a strict teacher. I value structure in my classroom and hold my students to very high expectations. I have a reputation among students, and it’s not always in the affirmative.

I’m not what I would consider one of the “popular” teachers. My introverted nature means I’m often more serious, and I’m cautious of people after being burned in the past. I tend to stay in my own lane. Sure, I am silly in my room, but I’m also tough on my kids. I hold their feet to the fire, and that is not always received well.

You see, God, while I’d like to believe that I don’t really care what people think of me, the truth is that I want to be liked.

More than that, my heart longs to be accepted.

Those words lifted my spirits, improved my mood, and helped me go home in a better mood than when I’d arrived.

And then, Lord, as if I hadn’t heard Your message enough, You spoke to me during my devotion this morning when You inspired the writer to explain that the Hebrew meaning of the word “breath” is literally “breath of God.” The devotion went on to explain that we should use our words to breathe life into others.

Powerful.

And then, as if yesterday’s training and this morning’s devotion weren’t enough, You spoke to me through the music I played as I got ready for work.

“You Say” reminded me that I’m enough.

“Speak Life” instructed me to go out and breathe life into others, whether it is the adults I work with or the students who will soon enter my classroom.

Just as I gained confidence and was inspired and motivated by the words that were spoken to me yesterday, through an activity that I didn’t want to participate in, so I must turn around and do the same for others.

I hear you, Lord, and I thank you for Your grace, forgiveness, and attention to my heart’s longings.

I thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to be me – that I don’t have to be like the “popular” teachers to positively impact lives.

Truly, You are a good God.

Another Day, Another Training

Welcome to Day 2 in the calendar year of a teacher’s life.

I started off my morning with a workout. Since it was my active recovery day from Beachbody’s LIIFT4 program (I’m on Week 4), I had carefully weighed my options.

I had found a sample workout from the Meltdown 100 program, but when I previewed it last night, I saw that it involved weights. Knowing that I would have a shoulder workout tomorrow, I decided to forgo it. Instead, I surprised Gambit with a pre-dawn walk.

Gambit had the absolute BEST time and managed to pull me at a fairly brisk pace for the first mile and a half. He started losing steam around the midway point but seemed content when we finished.

Just look at the gorgeous sunrise we were treated to when we finished.

Notice our lack of trees and the ones that are slanted – evidence that a Cat 5 hurricane came through last October

Gambit was worn slap out when we got home but his smile – oh my heart!

After living in running shoes and workout clothes all summer, I had trouble deciding between two different shoes – hello Megan for fashion advice.

For the record, I went with the sandals.

Onward to training!

The training was Kagan – rebranded – which I had many days of several years ago.

Sigh.

I did enjoy the company of my fellow teachers, so there was that.

The good thing was that we got out at 2:30 – thirty minutes earlier than expected.

Gambit was thrilled when I walked into the house. He gave me the major sniff-over to find out where I’d been before promptly going outside and sunning himself.

Oh y’all, all I want is to be in my classroom prepping for the actual classes I’m teaching.

Sigh.

Wishes and reality are two very different things, though, so I’ll be heading into Day 3 tomorrow.

Say a prayer for all of us teachers as we sit through another day of meetings.

Back to the Grind

Summers are like weekends – time accelerates, and before you know it, they are over, and you’re bemoaning the fact that work is calling you back to the office.

Well, folks, the office has called, and it wants its teachers back. That is why I, along with several hundred of my fellow education professionals, found ourselves scattered across the district sitting through the first of several days of in-service.

Although seeing my friends is always fun, and teaching truly is my calling, my heart longs for home.

Home is my safe place – my place where I create all of the fun dishes, where I maintain all of the green stuff (hello yard, I’m talking about you), and where I knit all the things.

Spicy Chili With Cornbread Topping
Brownie Batter Ice Cream (vegan)

It’s also where I can pee whenever I want instead of when the bells allow.

Yeah, I’d say that letting go of summer is difficult for me each year.

But my calling – to teach high school kids who struggle with their reading – well, it’s something I can’t ignore and not just because my bills remind me but because God led me on this path several years ago.

As I craft this post, schedules are being ironed out for children who are either already enrolled or are in the process of moving and will be enrolled soon.

I’m not quite sure what my personal schedule will look like, but I believe that I will be teaching juniors and seniors again. That makes me happy because these kiddos are one step away from their first big milestone – graduation.

And so it is that I got up to a 4am alarm, had my workout finished by 5:30, fed the dog by 6:30, and was out the door by 7:15.

Back to the grind, y’all.

I am on a mission – to bring home the vegan bacon and change young lives in the process.

Road Trip – Part 3

Day 3 of our little road trip began with me getting up at 7 for another trek on the treadmill.

I knew that I’d be spending some time in the car, so getting my legs moving, while I could, was paramount.

Once the Mr. woke up, we packed our things and prepared to load up the car.

I had to chuckle when I compared my pile . . .

With his . . .

To be fair, that red laundry bag should have sat between the stacks of bags since both of our clothes were in it.

As we headed out, sans kids (boo), the weather wasn’t looking that great.

I was reminded, once again, of God’s grace the day before when the weather had been spectacular for the game.

When we were planning this trip, we had decided not to go straight home.

Our next destination: Auburn!

Atlanta sits less than two hours east of the prettiest town known to man, so we couldn’t allow the opportunity to visit pass us by.

We made a pit stop at a Chick fil A to potty, and I was struck by this dispenser in the rest room:

Something to fight the chicken biscuit bad breath, I guess. I wouldn’t know since I’m a vegan.

Anyhoo, it didn’t seem long before we entered Auburn’s city limits, and things just felt so good.

We headed into town to grab some lunch.

One of the kids had told us about a place called Pieology, which has similar pizzas to Blaze. Coincidentally, there was one right across from Toomer Drugs. Here’s what we saw when we went in . . .

When I first saw the crust advertised, I was excited. Then, I asked the girl working behind the counter if it was vegan. She told me that it had dairy in it. Dang! Their gluten-free crust is also vegan, though, so I opted for that.

There was also this sign . . .

Y’all, the world is slowly becoming a vegan-friendly place, let me tell you!

For the record, I am a vegan who doesn’t necessarily miss the taste of meat. I’d never been a huge fan of ground beef, and sausage was okay, but hey, I was up for trying new things, so I ordered my pizza with half “meatball” and half “sausage.” They were out of the “chicken.”

See that cheese? That’s Daiya – one of my favorite vegan cheeses. The gal had been extremely helpful when preparing this. She had a lot of knowledge of the products I could eat since she has to watch her diet as well.

I must have been hungry because I ate the entire thing!

Fueled by the delicious food, we were read to shop!

Now, if you’ve never been in Auburn on game day, you wouldn’t be able to compare the shopping experience we had during our road trip with a game day foray. There were some people out and about, but we were actually able to maneuver inside the stores fairly easily. We found several things on sale, and I tried on a few items.

I also purchased a few things because, well, when you’re in Auburn, you must buy all the things.

It’s tradition.

The Mr. and I did discover, after a long, hot walk, that the University Bookstore (my personal favorite because of its size) wasn’t open. Dang! Classes don’t start for another month, so they had no need for such silliness quite yet.

The Mr. was not happy.

As I said, it was hot, and our walk had been a long one.

We made our way back across campus, and he reluctantly posed with me for a selfie in front of Samford Hall.

We headed back towards Toomer’s Corner because of this . . .

This place is known for the VERY best lemonade you will ever have.

In fact, ESPN Game Day once did a story about this very special corner of lemonade heaven. I kid you not!

Of course a photo was in order – just to prove that the above pictures aren’t Google images. Ha!

What you don’t see in the picture above are the bottles I bought for later.

They’re labeled as being good up to four days post-purchase. I’m here to tell you that they can last up to a week (I drank the one above yesterday).

Ahem.

We rode around town, enjoying the scenery, talking of how much things have changed since we lived there almost thirty years ago, and enjoying the foliage, which we don’t have much of anymore because of stupid Hurricane Michael.

Then, we hit the road – destination home.

This was the hardest part of our road trip – returning to what we knew would be a house with one member missing.

I immersed myself in my knitting as a distraction and reflected on the wonderful trip.

I was thankful for its timing.

No, it hadn’t been great for Gambit, bless his heart.

For us, though, it had been a welcome respite from the stress we’d been under caring for an ailing pupper. Oh, we had enjoyed taking care of him and would have done it for years just to keep him with us, but if you’ve ever cared for a sick person or animal, you know that it wears on you.

The time away with family – especially after pretty much staying local since last October – had been a blessing as well.

Except for our trip to see family during Christmas and a couple of shopping trips to Destin after Thanksgiving, we had not left town since the hurricane.

The change of scenery and routine had suited us well.

A huge thanks goes out to the Mr. and Rooster for planning this, our children who worked the trip into their schedules, and those who prayed for us while we were gone.

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