Sunday, August 31, 2014

Birthday Weekend

30 Aug 2014: Mary and Debbie enjoy a girls' afternoon out.

This is it. The weekend I turn 60. It just happens that this year my birthday falls exactly on Labor Day, September 1st. Which seems appropriate, since my mother was in LABOR for 72 hours before I was finally delivered.

I've both dreaded and looked forward to this birthday. On the one hand, 60 seems so old. On the other, consider the alternative. My Grandpa Haley died from a massive stroke at age 59. My mother had her first small stroke at age 59 and died 5 years later, after a continuous series of serious health issues. So, I admit, I've been a little nervous. I've never had the level of health issues my mother or grandfather suffered from, so I told myself I should be around for awhile, but it's still a relief to have made it to age 60 without a stroke. That's if I don't have one tonight, of course!

There is also longevity in my family tree. Grandma Butler lived to the ripe old age of 100. Great Grandpa Beierschmitt lived to be 99. Most of my grandparents and aunts and uncles lived anywhere from their late seventies to their nineties. My father will turn 80 just three days after my birthday, on Sept. 4th, and he's still very active with bowling and traveling and yard work and other handy projects.

And I think I'm pretty well preserved for an old gal. I still have thick hair with hardly any silver, and I still have all my own teeth! On Friday I attended a multi-district conference, where I sat next to a young teacher from another school district. I was telling him that I was looking forward to retirement (someday) after 35 years as an educator. He laughed and said, "I'm not even that age yet!" So I told him that I'd be turning 60 on Monday. As I went on talking about my desire to retire, he stopped me and remarked, "I have to say, you look like you're still more than ten years from that age!" I love to hear that!

An excellent local eatery!

My sweet friend Debbie, whom I've known for 24 years, helped me start my weekend out right by treating me to lunch at Persnikkity's. We spent a wonderful 3 hours visiting and getting caught up. Debbie, a retired teacher from Mesa High School, and her husband George live in Apache Junction but spend summers here at their trailer in the pines. They'll return to the Valley this week, so it was fun to see Debbie one last time before she leaves the mountain.


I was good as gold, too, in my menu selection. I ordered a Cobb salad and removed the croutons and gave my little breadstick to Debbie. I'm not too big on croutons, so those were easy, but that breadstick sure looked tasty... I even asked the server for specifics regarding the jalapeno-ranch dressing I selected, which she assured me had no sweeteners, but was simply composed of buttermilk, ranch herbs and spices, and the jalapeno sauce. It was delicious, with a kick!

A cute, glittery birthday card and JC Penney gift card from my friend!

Thank you, Debbie, for making my weekend special! It was such great fun. I'll look forward to seeing you next May!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

On Being Spontaneous

16 Aug 2014: Breakfast at Darbi's with these lovely ladies, Liz and Karen.

I am not spontaneous by nature. I'm a planner. It's probably related to my OCD, but I'm just uneasy about a new situation if I haven't first planned for every contingency. My first husband, Mark, was totally spontaneous. He'd say at 8am, "Let's go spend the day at Big Lake." I'd look at our two toddlers in diapers and ask, "Why didn't you tell me this two days ago?" 
And that was just for a day trip. For family vacations I spend weeks researching attractions to see (including addresses, prices, and hours), printing out maps of the area, checking out local eateries and their menus, and preparing a detailed itinerary so we don't miss a moment of the fun! That's not to mention the packing lists, shopping lists for stocking the condo pantry, and pre-vacation to-do lists that must be drawn up!
So my day started out in the comfortable routine of planned activities. I met two friends at Darbi's for breakfast at 8:30 this morning. Then I returned home to clean the kitchen and wash up dishes, after which I did some laundry. Dylan and I drove over to the water store to refill eight 5-gallon bottles with purified water. Finally, I quickly checked my emails and Facebook before tackling the next chore on my long list.

Sarah this afternoon in Apache National Forest, near Greer, AZ.

Then, to my surprise, my daughter Sarah called me at 2:45. She and her husband Chris left after work yesterday to go camping up near Greer, about 45 minutes from here, along with Chris's mom Brenda and his two nieces, Morgan and Keri. They had invited me to join them, but I knew I'd be too tired at the end of the week, and Saturdays are just so busy!
Even so, I toyed with the idea of going out there for a few hours today. I love being in nature, and it's nice to get away from the chores, where you're kind of forced to relax. I also thought I might scout the area for one setting I hadn't yet located for my novel. The terrain around Greer just might fit what I was looking for. By Friday, though, I'd given up on the idea.

Love the exposed roots of this tree on a dry creek bed.
I might be able to use this!

After we chatted for 15 minutes (I was shocked her cell had such good reception out in the middle of nowhere), Sarah mentioned that they'd come across a place during a hike that morning that might fit what I was looking for. The temptation to drive out there was strong. But it was already 3:00 and there was still so much to get done. No, I mustn't. But maybe... No, that's crazy. But what if? You think? Wait, wait! Why wait? Do you think...? Okay, let's do it!

A view of the dry creek, with a bed of smooth stones covered in greenery.

So we hung up and I quickly gathered a few things before heading out the door fifteen minutes later. It was kind of a scary but exciting feeling to just drop everything and go like that. But I'm glad I went.

This cliff at the top of a steep hill will hover over the hero's isolated home.
The final battle will take place here.
The site Sarah found was perfect. As always, when I find the right setting, the action that takes place there becomes clear in my mind, even suggesting other exciting events to enhance the tale. Several elements of the final battle, which I'd been struggling with, fell neatly into place while we stood in the forest, surveying the surroundings.

The hero's house will be in this meadow, with the dry creek running through the yard.
A view of the meadow from the opposite direction.
This shot was clicked accidentally, when I brushed a bee off my shirt.
But I like how it shows the pines towering over the cliffs behind them.

Strange but pretty plant with green flowers.

Fields of flowers.

The rugged terrain is perfect for my story!

Back at camp: Chris, Morgan, Brenda, Keri, and Sarah.

After an hour tromping through the forest and taking pictures, Sarah and I hiked back to the road and drove back to their campsite. Chris and his mom and nieces had recently returned from playing in a large creek back toward Greer, where they'd found wild raspberry bushes and brought a nice harvest back with them. They showed us pictures of their watery fun while we nibbled on yummy fresh berries.

Freshly-picked wild raspberries!

Chris kept saying, "Are you sure this is your mom, Sarah? Maybe someone made a clone and your real mom is at home getting things done!" This really is outside my character.

Keri eats a berry by the campfire.

Diego waits patiently for Keri to drop a crumb of her sandwich.

The sun was going down when the girls started roasting marshmallows.
As she blew out her marshmallow, Morgan said, "Let the Hunger Games end!"

After visiting for a while, Brenda, Morgan, and Keri prepared a nice dinner of hamburgers, hot dogs, green beans, and salad. When we finished eating, the youngsters were ready to make s'mores! 

Assembling a s'more with a well-blackened marshmallow.

That was my cue to head home. I can resist graham crackers and marshmallows, but Hershey's chocolate? Not so much! It was a lovely, unplanned interlude that caught me quite by surprise. I may have to try this more often! Thanks, Sarah, for the opportunity to enjoy three full hours of nature today!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Be It Ever So Humble

This is my 39-year-old house. Jacob knows I love soft Christmas lights
all around the porch, rather than a single harsh bulb overhead,
so he bought new strings of Christmas lights and put them up for me. 

My little house isn't much to brag on. It's almost 40 years old, having been built in 1975. It badly needs both a new roof and a paint job, although I'd really like to afford new siding all around. It's awfully small, only 1200 square feet. And, as a teacher and single mom, I've never been able to keep up with the repairs. But it's mine. It has been mine for 21 years, since Mark and I bought it in July 1993.
And I never appreciate it more than at the end of a long work week, when I look forward to the comfort of my own place, surrounded by my own things, where I can relax and just be me.

Our kitty Gimli greets us at the porch.

Family life can be hard on a house. Our porch used to be all screened in, with a screen door to keep out pests. Then, in late February 1994, Mark brought home an adorable 5-week-old puppy with feet the size of saucers. Half pit bull and half Labrador. Sarah wanted to call him Whiskers. With those huge feet to grow into? We named him Rambo.
One night in March, after I discovered that Rambo had chewed up Sarah's doll furniture, I banished him to the porch. When we went out the next morning, all the screens had been ripped out of the porch. And there was little Rambo (who later grew to 100 lbs of pure muscle, "a show dog on steroids" as a colleague once described him), with his head stuck in the screen door. I was not amused. Only the pleading of my husband and children (and a sentimental story I read that night in Readers Digest about a dog saving its family's lives in a house fire) saved him from the dog pound. We never were able to afford to have the screens or door replaced.

March 6, 1994: 6-week-old Rambo stuck in the screen door.

Though the house is a bit run-down, it is filled with memories. This is where my children grew up. Sarah was only three years old when we moved in. Jacob had barely turned two. Dylan was born here four years later and has never lived anywhere else.

This is where we've celebrated twenty-one years' worth of birthdays, Christmases, Easters, and other holidays. This is where we've mourned the deaths of Rambo and other assorted pets, from turtles to rabbits. This is where my kids donned their new school clothes and backpacks before setting off for the first day of school, with equal parts excitement and nervousness.
This is home.

The new entertainment center in the living room.

Our living room is small. Too small for all the furniture we have crammed into it. But there's a story for that, as well.
In June of last year, we had new carpet put in the house. While my ancient little Walmart-vintage entertainment center was being carried out of the living room, it crumbled. So Ed and I headed out to the local furniture stores to look for a new one. I'd hoped for another modest unit, but it seems with today's larger TV screens, everyone is selling larger entertainment centers. We found one I really liked and decided to order it. I prayed that it would fit in the room. It does, barely.

I love being able to display my Willow Tree figurines here, dust-free.
All but two of these have been gifts from my sweet daughter Sarah.

While we were arranging financing, Ed noticed a sign stating that we could get a free 50-inch TV with the purchase of a couch, loveseat, coffee table, and two side tables. Back we went into the store. During our search for the entertainment center, we had tried out a couch with electric recliners. I will admit, they were incredibly comfortable, but I really didn't want to spend that much money. In the end, though, we'd ordered the couches and tables before we walked out of Furniture Row.

The new loveseat (foreground) and couch with tables.

The irony of purchasing these sofas and tables that Ed wanted so badly is that they were delivered three days after he moved out of my house for good. That leaves me to pay for them, and they are definitely not pieces of furniture I would have chosen for myself. The colors are very dark and masculine, while I prefer lighter furniture in soft colors. This was supposed to be Ed's room, but he never got to enjoy it. 
Nonetheless, everyone who comes to my house admires the furniture, so I suppose Ed did show good taste in his selections. I've learned to appreciate the new look.

I do love the variety of textures and colors in the tables' tiles.

And I will say that the electric recliners (both ends of the couch and both sides of the loveseat) are unbelievably comfortable. I don't think I've been able to stay awake through an entire Netflix movie since the couches were delivered!

Our tiny kitchen and dining area. Not even room for a real dining table.

The kitchen is probably the most run-down part of the house's entire interior. I dream of one day remodeling, with brand new cupboards and countertops, tiled walls instead of the cracked and peeling old wallpaper currently in place, and more storage areas with space for a dishwasher. That's right. I haven't had a dishwasher for 21 years.

Remember that this house was built in 1975, originally designed as a summer cabin. And 1975 was during the era of some awful kitchen colors, like avocado and poppy, or the harvest gold of my chipped, scratched, discolored counters. I long for beautiful marble or granite countertops.
I do love my new kitchen flooring, though. And I'm very happy with the black flat-top oven and range I bought back in February 2009. Recently, I treated myself to new candy apple-red pans and new plates, bowls, serving platters, and glasses, so I have nicely matched sets now. And Sarah gave me beautiful new silverware for Christmas. Little by little, I'll keep working on improvements...

I have the world's most comfy bed.
It's always an adjustment to go from being married to being single, and nowhere is that adjustment more difficult than in the bedroom where you've shared your most intimate moments as well as your most intense arguments. Although the bedroom furniture was mine, I had to do a bit of rearranging when Ed took his gun safe, oxygen machine, and a few other items from the room when he left.

It took awhile to get through the grieving process, but eventually I made a few changes to take back my space. The cheeriest change was getting rid of my old blue floral quilt and replacing it with this fun Southwestern-style quilt. It brightens up the whole room.

Putting all my Willow Tree figures in the entertainment center
freed up a lot of space on my dresser!

The room needs brightening. I always complain that it feels like I'm sleeping in a cave, with brown paneling on every wall. Paneling is nice as a highlight on a wall or two, but I'd really like to paint a couple of walls (like Mark and I did in the hall just outside the bedroom door).

My stuff is now on top of Ed's dresser. Through the opening is my home office.
You see the box piled high with Ed's things? I've run across them as I've
deep-cleaned the house these past 6 months. I'll need to get those to him someday.

One of the best things I did for myself recently was to finally tackle the cleaning of my home office, where my books, desk, computer, and food storage live, along with a lifetime's worth of documents. It also tends to be the catch-all for the entire house, so it feels wonderful to have it clean and organized for the first time in about 5 years!

Before: Jacob's bottom bunk and Dylan's top bunk.

Lastly, there have been subtle changes in the boys' bedroom as Jacob has gotten married, moved out, and taken his belongings with him. It created a lot more space for Dylan and made it much easier to keep the room clean. I thought it would be fun to compare perspectives of their room when they shared it, to when it became solely Dylan's domain.

Now: Dylan has the bottom bunk.

As shabby as my house may be, I will say it is always clean, now that it's just Dylan and me. He's good about putting his clothes in the hamper, making his bed, putting away his things (although I sometimes find his shoes and backpack in the middle of his floor after school!), wiping up the counter, and rinsing his dishes. He also feeds the cat, takes out the trash, helps with the laundry, and cleans his own bathroom, along with other chores I assign. For the most part, we have a pretty peaceful, quiet life together.

Before: Jacob and Dylan

After: Just Dylan

Before: Jacob and Dylan
I gave Jacob and Danielle that old dresser.
It was built by Harold Benge, Jacob's dad's great-uncle.

After: Just Dylan.

Every house has its tales to tell. My house has just shared some of its tales with you!

Friday, August 1, 2014

I Survived

This is my desk as it looked today. I still have some piles to work through!

I made it through the first week of school! I wasn't entirely sure I would. When I went back to work last week, to prepare for the students' return this week, it was immediately clear that I wasn't completely recovered from my bout with diverticulitis. Although I was definitely better, I was still having some pain and nausea. It was a tough week.
Thankfully, I'm much better now, so this week went pretty well. Still exhausted at the end of the day, of course, but able to keep my head above water. And so grateful that Friday has come!

Looking out at a sea of student desks from behind my desk.
Yes, I sit on a yoga ball! It keeps my back flexible.

2014-15 is going to be a challenging school-year. Due to yet more budget cuts, several teachers were let go in May. When they found themselves short one teacher for a freshman English class, the administrators asked if I would teach it. I was a bit intimidated, but I agreed. I always like a good challenge!
I've been teaching English classes for 35 years, the last 25 years right here at Blue Ridge High School. However, I've always taught classes for students with learning disabilities in reading and/or writing. Thus my class sizes have always been fairly small, in comparison with regular English classes. I think the largest class I ever had, briefly, was 18 kids. Normally my classes run from about 8 to 16 students. 
And so it was kind of a shock when my classroom went from 16 desks, surrounded by plenty of open space, to 33 desks crammed into every spare spot!

I have 33 desks in my classroom, and 34 students in my freshman English class!
My stool and podium are at right, and my aide's desk is in the back left corner.

Another change necessitated by loss of staff was moving to a new 6-period schedule. For the past 22 years, I have taught under a 4-period day, in which I taught three 90-minute classes, with a 90-minute prep period. The students completed their classes before winter break, and then they started four new classes in January, thereby earning a total of 8 credits per year.
Now we are back to a more traditional schedule, with 6 classes, each about an hour long, which the students will attend for the entire school-year. Meaning they can now only earn 6 credits per semester, unless they take a zero-hour or 7th-period class (which are limited). It also means we teachers are teaching 5 classes with only an hour of prep time.

The view from my aide Joe's desk.
Joe's a hard-working retired gentleman who keeps things running smoothly!

At least, that's how it would be if I had a prep. Since they asked me to teach freshman English in addition to my usual class load, I have no prep period this year. So I stay after school everyday for an extra hour to stay on top of planning. Luckily, Dylan also stays, to attend 7th period band (looks like he's taking up the clarinet in addition to the many other instruments he already plays), so we drive home together at 4:30.
This is how my schedule looks:
     Period 1     Freshman English (aka English 1)
     Period 2     Read 180 Block A
     Period 3     Read 180 Block B
                            Homeroom (Sophomores)
     Lunch        (30 minutes)
     Period 4     English Writing
     Period 5     Read 180 Block A
     Period 6     Read 180 Block B
I also continue as the special education department chair, which comes with its own set of duties and meetings, so my days are quite full. There has been no "down time"!

Folders and baskets, ready for the freshmen English kids.

Since I've been teaching my other classes for many years, preparation consists mainly of making sure the materials are ready for the kids when they come in. I practically have the lesson plans memorized, but I'm flexible when necessary and add updated activities and lessons whenever something new and interesting comes along.
This new English class, however, requires a whole new perspective, because the needs of the freshmen will be different in many ways from the population I've served for so many decades. I'm sure my ability to break down concepts to make them more accessible to struggling learners will continue to be useful, but freshman English still looks like a new breed of animal to me!
The English department chair has been very helpful and loaded me up with the materials, assessments, and novels used by the other English 1 teachers at BRHS. With her direction, I'm now hard at work organizing it into a curriculum that fits my teaching style. I do enjoy organizing things! And so far I'm really enjoying the group of kids I've inherited for the year, in every class.

A Reading Station in the back of the room for the Read 180 program.
Lots of good books!

It's been a hectic week, but we're off to a good start! I've even been successful in getting most of the students to call me "Mrs. Carter," which is a challenge since I've been "Mrs. Reynolds" for the past 4 years. The freshmen, of course, find it easy, since most of them didn't know me until this week!

May 24, 2014: Read 180 students at the Software Station last semester.
Soon my computers will be busy again with industrious learners!
(You can tell it's last school-year, since "Mrs. Reynolds" is still on the door.)

I can already tell that this is going to be a year of challenges, accomplishments, and growth, both for the students and for me!