Year 1 (again)

My new “classroom,” a/k/a our home office

In the days ahead, social media will be flooded with photos of kids holding signs indicating their new class year at school. There will also be pictures of teachers proudly displaying the same sentiment, “My 5th year teaching!” or “My 14th year teaching” which is what my sign would have said this year. But for COVID-19.

Due to falling into a category where chances of a difficult recovery from COVID-19 are statistically higher, I’ve elected to sit out this year. My school, which I dearly loved, is celebrating the start of the new school year today, August 25, 2020, in a hybrid formula, with some students in class five days a week, and some students attending school virtually throughout the school day. I wish my former colleagues the best of luck during this stressful time.

Today, I am holding the #1, marking my first year (again) in a career situation. I will be offering my services to tutor and/or teach via Zoom, while continuing with my freelance writing career. These are all things I had planned on doing during retirement, but I was hoping to decide when that would be, not based upon my doctor’s recommendation, my family’s urging, or my concern over my own health.

My first career, from 1978-2002, was in the legal field, primarily in commercial real estate and shopping center management. For two years my family lived overseas where I volunteered at the international school my daughters attended. Upon our return to the US, I began working in education, first as a youth minister from 2004-2007, and then as a middle school language arts teacher from 2007-2020. While teaching writing to 7th and 8th graders, my own creative juices pushed me into my third career, as a freelance writer, with profiles and articles being published in regional parenting magazines from my area.

As I struggled with my decision all summer, I experienced the same anxiety and restlessness that many teachers and parents have felt. While I will greatly miss the daily contact and connection with my students and colleagues, I know this is the right decision for me.

My goal is to document this first year of change here on this site with daily posts about all of my favorite things in life: family, friends, faith, food, teaching, reading, and writing. Follow me on this journey as I begin with Year 1 (again).


In the Silence

Silence. As a former middle school teacher, I have often thought, “How can you hear me if you are talking?” Or, “Weren’t you listening? I just explained how to do this.” As adults and educational professionals who spend all day in noisy, busy classrooms, is it possible for even us to listen and talk at … Continue reading In the Silence

What Y’all Want to Eat Tomorrow?

If high school football is classified as a religion in Texas, then food is certainly a religion in Louisiana where it is always a prime topic of conversation. While enjoying a delicious meal, someone will inevitably say, “What y’all want to eat tomorrow?”  I grew up in southeast Louisiana, where from a young age I … Continue reading What Y’all Want to Eat Tomorrow?

Small Town Girl in a Big City

The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which aired from 1970 to 1977, was a sitcom about a young single woman moving to the big city of Minneapolis. The show began my freshman year of high school and lasted through my junior year of college. It was designed as a star vehicle for Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017), … Continue reading Small Town Girl in a Big City

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No Gobble Gobble for Dinner

Enjoy this short comic piece of mine recently published by The Daily Drunk Literary Magazine! You may enjoy it even more if you knew my father Roy Blanchard!

https://thedailydrunk.com/f/no-gobble-gobble-for-dinner

 

 

Book of the Day!

Enjoyed the original format, the movie, and now reading the Young Readers’ Edition by @scholasticteach @scholasticbookclubs

Can’t wait to teach it next year! #amreading #amteaching #amwriting #lessonplans #summerreading #teacherlife

Thanks @marthastewart48 for the lunch idea! #lunchonthepatio watermelon 🍉 mozzarella 🧀

#hiddenfigures #blacklivesmatter

Shielding our Differences

The summer before my first year of full-time teaching in middle school literature and English, I looked over the textbooks I would be using. As a second-career teacher with no formal education courses behind me, I had no idea how to plan a unit, but I knew how to read and analyze a piece of literature, and more importantly (to me), I loved talking about literature. Friends had told me over the years that I made a book seem so exciting they couldn’t wait to read it. This is exactly what I wanted to do in my classroom: instill in 7th and 8th graders my love of reading.

In the 7th-grade literature anthology there was a short story called “Suzy and Leah” by Jane Yolen. It was very different from other short stories in the anthology. I hadn’t really seen anything like it before, and certainly not for young readers. The story is told from the perspectives of two different 7th grade girls as excerpts from their diaries. The story is laid out such that Suzy recounts the activities of a day in her life, and directly below that, Leah recounts the activities of the same day in her life.

These girls are polar opposites. Suzy is a white American born and living in Oswego, New York. She is pretty, blond, and popular. She has everything she has ever wanted, including a closet full of pretty dishes and a mother who prepares home-cooked meals every day.  One might say that Suzy is a spoiled brat with no idea what is going on outside of her own little bubble of a perfect life, which is not entirely her fault.

Leah is a Jewish refugee who has been sent to America with other Holocaust survivors. She has lost everything, her parents, her younger brother, her extended family, her family farm, her security. She has nothing of her own and is given Suzy’s hand-me-down clothing to wear. Because of her experiences in the concentration camp, she is terrified of everything and everyone. The Americans tell her she will be fine, but that is what the Nazis said as well – at first.

The conflict of this story is that Suzy has been assigned to be Leah’s buddy at school, to help her get oriented and learn English. Suzy is unhappy about this because of Leah’s sullen personality, which Suzy takes personally as she has no idea what Leah has been through. Suzy’s mother goes through Suzy’s closet and donates some of her older clothing to the refugee camp and as luck would have it, Leah wears Suzy’s favorite dress to school the first day. To add insult to injury, Suzy’s mother invites Leah over for dinner and instead of eating the food, Leah wraps it in her handkerchief and sticks it in her pocket. She is bringing food back to a young boy in the refugee camp who reminds her of her now-deceased brother. The climax of the story is that Leah falls ill and is rushed to surgery for a burst appendix. She nearly dies because she hides the pain so long, afraid that the same thing that happened to sick people in the concentration camps will happen to her if she admits she is sick. It is during her convalescence that Suzy reads Leah’s diary and begins to understand what Leah has been through and why she is so sullen. In response, and as an apology, Suzy brings her own diary to Leah in the hospital, so she can read it and see Suzy through her own eyes. It is through the willingness of the girls to share their fears and failings that they become friends, letting down their individual shields and getting to know each other, an important lesson for our world today.

Jane Yolen was once asked why she wrote “Suzy and Leah” and her response was that she wanted to write a Holocaust story for her young children to read, something that brought to life the horrors of what happened in Nazi Germany while setting the story in the safety of American soil. At my end of year survey, “Suzy and Leah” always ranks in the top three of things my 7th graders have read. It is a gateway piece of literature for further study of the Holocaust for my students as they mature.

The alternating diary excerpts and contrasting perspectives of the two girls is very compelling. Jane Yolen did a masterful job of developing the character and personality of the two girls in such a short space. She is a great storyteller. Not only that, this short story completely changed the way I view epistolary novels as I had previously not been a fan of the genre. For me, “Suzy and Leah” was a game-changer. Unfortunately, I don’t think it is available as a stand-alone piece of literature or as part of a collection of short stories that can be purchased. I’ve only been able to find it as part of the Prentice Hall Penguin anthology for 7th-grade literature, which is a great collection. If you can find it, I highly recommend you get to know “Suzy and Leah.”

Book of the Day!

Can’t wait to dive into this one! Beautiful day, great coffee, great author. Loved #deadwake and have read several books on #churchill already. #amreading #teacherlife #summerreading #readingteacher #communitycoffee #ErikLarsonfanclub

The “Pan”-Demic Experiments

“Sometimes you feel like a nut / Sometimes you don’t / Almond Joy’s got nuts / Mounds don’t” was the jingle used during the 1970s to advertise two of my favorite candy bars. 

SONY DSC

By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11364190

And, likewise, sometimes, I feel like doing culinary research for several hours, shopping at multiple grocery stores and markets, gathering stand mixer, blender, bread machine, and an array of measuring cups and measuring spoons on my countertop, to create a dessert worthy of the final round of Food Network’s Chopped. However, sometimes, I just want to whip up something quickly with what I have on hand, get it in the oven, and have it on a saucer thirty minutes later. 

Yes, these sorts of desserts rely heavily on packaged, processed elements, but while this pandemic has bestowed upon us all ample time for big projects, it hasn’t always given us the energy or enthusiasm for them. I do enough cooking and baking from scratch that it doesn’t bother me one bit to give my family something made from a box once in a while. 

One recent COVID-19 night my older daughter, who lives and works from home, was itching for a brownie. We had no packaged brownie mix, and we had not found a source for all-purpose flour yet, which was nowhere to be seen on the shelves of our local grocery store. We did have a chocolate cake mix, though. So, off to the internet we went where we quickly found a food blog about cake mix brownies. I’ve been making cake mix cookies for years–one cake mix, two eggs, and a half-cup of vegetable oil mixed together by hand with a wooden spoon, portioned out with an ice cream scoop onto a baking sheet, and voila, a batch of cookies before you can bat an eye. But, brownies? 

Our first experiment produced something that totally satisfied her craving for a brownie, moist and slightly gooey, definitely chocolate and cakey. The best part was that it only required four ingredients and one bowl, a wooden spoon, and one pan: chocolate cake mix, two eggs, half-cup of vegetable oil, and a cup of chocolate chips, mixed by hand and spread into a greased 8×8 square cake pan. Baked for 20 minutes at 350°, the results were amazing, and better yet, FAST.

Yesterday, I decided to experiment again, this time with a yellow cake mix, which I mixed with the requisite two eggs and half-cup of vegetable oil, but I also added one teaspoon of cinnamon, one teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and a cup of cinnamon chips I had stashed away in the freezer. After I spread it out into the greased 8×8 square cake pan, I sprinkled the top with cinnamon sugar and baked it for 20 minutes at 350°. Cinnamon Chip BrownieMy daughter said it tasted like the cinnamon swirl coffee cake at Starbucks, which I haven’t tried but I’ll take her word for it. Suffice it to say, we were all happy to sit on the back patio with a cup of coffee and a quick treat that didn’t leave the kitchen looking like a White House State Dinner had just been prepared. 

Next on the list for experimentation: strawberry brownies! Stay tuned!

Peace

#alllivesmatter #prayforpeace ☮️ #prayforjustice🙏 #prayforequality🙏🏽 [image not mine]

Silver Linings

BCB55D0D-151D-45DF-A63C-AA49012D7E64Today is April 11, 2020, Holy Saturday. It’s a gloriously sunny day in metropolitan Washington, DC. Spring, as they say, has sprung. The pink dogwood in my front yard is blooming, and the white dogwood in my backyard is doing the same. It’s brisk and windy, but beautiful out—out where we are not supposed to be during self-isolation and social distancing from the COVID-19 pandemic we are experiencing.

Maryland schools, including mine, will be engaging students via distance learning for at least two more weeks. Given that our neighboring Virginia has already announced campus closures for the rest of the year, I wonder if Maryland will follow suit, or if the president’s commitment to reopening the country to commerce and industry, a/k/a normal life, will affect that.

img_5960Either way, this is the time of year when I think about my summer plans, the start of the fourth quarter, the wrap-up of the school year. Last summer, my husband and I were supposed to go to Hawaii to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, but on May 4, I tripped playing with my dog in our living room and broke my ankle. No luau for us, as I spent the summer in a non-weight bearing boot. This summer, we were hoping to at least get to Los Angeles to visit our younger daughter, who lives and works there as a writer. But, with the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, a summer vacation seems very uncertain as of now. Luckily, she is staying well and working from home, and we are thankful for the ability to FaceTime with her.

IMG_6578 2I can’t say that I am miserable in self-isolation. I’m with two of the three people I love the most in the whole world, my husband and our older daughter. We enjoy each other’s company, and we get along fairly well for three adults feeling the stress of the situation. We have a 16-pound troublemaker of a dog who keeps us laughing and pushes us outside to walk around the block for some exercise.

I love to cook and bake and being home-bound (but not chair-bound) has given me more time to do so. When I’m not teaching online via Zoom or preparing lessons and grading materials on Google Classroom, I am enjoying yarn crafts like knitting and crocheting while watching Netflix or Amazon Prime with my family.IMG_6566 2

I’m also enjoying more time for reading. I’m on my 6th book since my school campus closed, with a last-minute trip to my local MCPL branch the day before it closed. I have a nice stack still to go and my Kindle is loaded with possibilities if I run out.

IMG_6693 2The COVID-19 pandemic has been terrifying and watching the news for too long at any given time is very stressful. I’ve tried really hard to look for the positives, the silver linings, from this experience, the best of which is that my family of four is healthy and well cared for. Slowing down and staying home was a huge adjustment, but this time will eventually end. The curve will flatten, and the virus will run its course. Life, with all its stresses and busyness, will return to normal. Until then, we will get through this one day at a time, praying for those affected and those on the front lines of the battle, always looking for our own individual silver linings.

The Virtual Un-Reality of Distance Teaching

https://washingtonfamily.com/2020/04/08/distance-learning-during-coronavirus/

At Sixes and Sevens

We are a family of four, but as a family in isolation during COVID-19, we are but three. Our younger daughter lives and works (currently from her home) in Los Angeles while our older daughter lives here in Maryland with us. She works from home most days so this social distancing has not been much of a change for her.

covid-19-handshake-alternatives-v3As three adults living together under one roof during this pandemic, we are getting along very well. For work purposes, we have established three separate and distinct work areas: Daughter #1 gets the small bedroom upstairs that she was already using as an office, hubby gets the den and the dog, and I get our home office, which is a small bedroom downstairs. The kitchen, dining room, and living room, all upstairs, are common areas where we congregate, while still keeping some space between us. We meet for lunch and afternoon coffee, but otherwise, we try to stay out of each other’s way. I am the outlier, the only one over 60, so we are being cautious because of the CDC guidelines for age, but I am not immuno-compromised and have no underlying health issues that are set forth for caution. Still, it’s best to be cautious given the devastating effects of this virus on some.

zoomI’m a full-time teacher and a part-time freelance writer, and my school is closed (as of now) through April 24, 2020. I’ve already spent two full weeks teaching online, via Google Classroom for the first week and a half, adding Zoom classes this past week. The Zoom classes I had on Thursday and Friday restored a sense of normalcy to this whole crazy situation. It was so wonderful seeing the faces of my students, 7th grade on Thursday and 8th grade on Friday. There was only a handful who didn’t log on to their scheduled Zoom class, basically the same percentage that could be absent any given school day.  In essence, those two thirty-minute classes were the best I’ve felt since my school closed on March 12, 2020. 

The rest of the time, up to and including this very moment, I have been at sixes and sevens. You may not be familiar with that saying, an old English idiom, but it means being in a state of confusion or disarray. During this self-isolation and school closure, I can certainly identify with this saying.

Richard_II_King_of_EnglandIts origin is not completely known, but it is thought to have originated in the 14th century, perhaps in a dice game, and early use in literature was by Chaucer in 1374, and later by Shakespeare in 1595 in his play Richard II, “But time will not permit: all is uneven, And everything is left at six and seven”.

H_m_s_pinafore_restorationGilbert & Sullivan used it in their 1878 comic opera H.M.S. Pinafore in the opening song of Act II, “Fair moon, to thee I sing, bright regent of the heavens, say, why is everything either at sixes or at sevens?”

In 1911, O. Henry published a collection of 25 short stories, for which he was a master, called Sixes and Sevens. He was certainly qualified to use it, being someone who was convicted on very sketchy evidence of embezzlement of a paltry $900 from the bank where he worked before becoming a writer. He was certainly at sixes and sevens for the three years he served in the Ohio Penitentiary. He had fourteen short stories published while imprisoned, under various pen names, but the pen name (and its origin which he refused to acknowledge) that stuck was O. H(io)(P)en(itentia)ry.

Eva PeronIn the late 70s, Andrew Lloyd Weber had Eva Perón use “at sixes and sevens” in the famous “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” to describe her relationship with Juan Perón. 

It is an understatement that I am a creature of ritual and routine. The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have stripped me of much of my ritual and routine, the very things that bring order to my daily life. With schools closed, but distance learning still going on, I feel completely at sixes and sevens. I’m at home 24-7, but I’m not on summer break, Christmas break, or Easter break. This week, week three of school closure, I am going to try to sort myself out by getting up at my regular weekday time, and following all my regular routines as though I was heading out the door at 7:15, my normal time.

I’m going to put on business casual clothes (one notch down from the professional attire I normally wear to school) and go to my classroom/home office and do lesson plans, prepare online materials, hold my Zoom classes, and grade research papers that have been submitted via Google Classroom. At the end of my school day, I’m going to shut it all down and go and cook a fabulous meal for my family and watch Jeopardy, my favorite way to relax. With a minimum of four weeks to go in our school closure, I can’t be at sixes and sevens another day longer.