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November 2016 entries

Happy 10th Birthday, Gabrielle Rebekah!

I cannot believe that my little girl has been in my life, changing it in every way, since 2006.  But time passes, as it must, and Gabrielle has grown into a beautiful young woman with a huge heart, a creative eye, and a clever mind.  I am so proud to be her mother.  She has been celebrating big time -- starting with a sleepover of friends a couple weeks ago, and ending with dinner, presents, and cake tonight.  

I am always telling her that I love her to the moon and back, so when I saw this necklace, I knew it was perfect for a young lady's 10th birthday.  The two birthstones are ours: Ellie's November topaz and my August peridot.

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She has been properly spoiled with toys and games and love.  

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Spontaneity and Love

As we were traveling back from my family's farm, we passed through Hershey, PA.  Gene was driving, and whispered to me, "Do we have time to go to Chocolate World?  We can't drive this close, with all these kids in the car, and not stop, right?"  I looked at the clock and did some quick math, and the next thing I know, we are pulling into HersheyPark.  Ellie was reading the road signs, and kept saying things like, "Wouldn't it be cool to go to HersheyPark sometime this summer?" and "Wow, Chocolate Way? That sounds delicious" as we got closer and closer to the parking lot.  

Once the squeals stopped, we headed for Chocolate World, and had a fantastic time.  The park is decorated for Christmas and the gift shop is filled with seasonal and traditional treats.  

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In all, our spontaneous side trip took about an hour.  And the kids loved every stinking minute of it.  

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It was absolutely worth adjusting our schedule to allow for this time together.  And that is what I find myself left with (aside from those dark-chocolate Reese's cups, I mean) -- we must make time for spontaneity in life.  If we only stick to the tightly-controlled schedule, sure we may "accomplish" a lot, but we will fail at enjoying life: something I strongly believe we are meant to do as human beings.  

We often have a list of things that we will do or should do "some day."  And we all have a list of things we must do or think we must do "today."  But every once in a while, "some day" needs to be "today," or we run the risk of coming to the end of our life and being met by regret.  

I know, I know.  We stopped at Chocolate World.  We didn't go hang-gliding or mountain climbing or scuba diving.  But, truth be told, we don't have to do big things in order to make a big difference.  "Some days," a spontaneous excursion off the turnpike is just what we need to love and enjoy life and each other. 


Road Trip, Thanksgiving Style

After our family dinner, we left the next day to visit my aunt and cousins at the farm.  Kaylea had already met a lot of these folks on the beach trip we took this summer, but it was Gene's first time meeting a lot of my extended family.  Not surprisingly, they liked him instantly and welcomed him into the Hershey/Harrop fold like one of their own.  Because, honestly, that is what we do.  You are one of us, until you mistreat one of us or disrespect one of us.  Then, you need to watch out because we take care of our people.  

As soon as Gene walked in the door, my aunt gave him a hug and said, "Welcome to our home!  If you are hungry, eat; if you are thirsty, drink.  Whatever we have here is yours, and you are welcome here anytime."  In that moment, I realized how much I am like my aunt.  What she said to Gene, I have said to every person who has crossed the threshold of my house.  Funny how we pick up philosophies from our family members without noticing, isn't it?

And "family" doesn't always mean blood to us. My cousin is father to two sons that aren't "his," if we are talking DNA tests. Ever since I was a kid,  I've called my aunt's best friend "Aunt Sharon," even though she's not really my aunt.  And that mentality has spilled over into my adult life -- I am still "Aunt Denise" to two little girls who mean the world to me, despite a divorce which legally makes me not related to them anymore.  I have always loved that my family is inclusive and welcoming, and that we don't exclude people because they don't have the right last name or a neatly packaged, traceable lineage back to us directly.  Frankly, when people exclude others who aren't "blood," it reveals an arrogance which is usually ill-founded:  You aren't one of us, so you must not be as good as us.  Puh-lease.  Give me a break.  That kind of attitude will only make you miss out on some amazing people.  

We spent two days surrounded by amazing people -- my mom and dad; my aunt and uncle; my cousins and their families; even my cousins from Texas who made the journey up to PA for some holiday cheer.  We had a group of 36 at Shady Maple, an enormous smorgasbord that we like to go to when we've got a large crowd together.  

Much like my home dinner, these two days at the farm reminded me of how fortunate I am to have an extended family that is able to simply pick up where we left off after months of not seeing one another.  I love my family -- blood or not -- and I couldn't be more proud to come from these hard-working, dedicated, compassionate, generous people.  

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Give Thanks

Wow, what a crazy few weeks it has been!  The musical is fast approaching, and my classroom has buzzing with students eager for holiday breaks and field trips (the most notable one would be that our 100-member marching band took over Disney this past week!).   We've also launched a very successful fundraiser for the theatre arts club: 2017 calendars featuring photographs by a local man whose work is adored by many in our area.  The photos are beautiful shots of Montoursville -- from town to countryside -- placed within a gorgeous design by a local printer.  

Take all that and add the hectic social and academic lives of my three children and Gene's three children, and we have a lot going on!

That also means we have a lot to be thankful for.  

Because of work schedules, we hosted Thanksgiving at my house on Friday this year.  My kids were at their dad's for the actual holiday, but they came back home in time for our family dinner.  We have one of those turkey fryers, so we put Gene's son Kody in charge of the bird.  

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While it doesn't look like we are taking it too seriously in that photo, I promise the turkey was amazing.  

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Ellie and I baked pies on Wednesday, when we didn't have school.  I let her take the lead in all the recipes, from the measuring to the mixing to the baking -- and she did a great job.  We also make traditional sides like stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, baked corn, and rolls.  

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Oh, and the less traditional, but equally delicious, cranberry Moscow Mule.  (If you haven't had a Moscow Mule, you need to drop whatever you are doing and go have one.  It's ginger beer, vodka, lime juice: basically heaven, served in a copper mug.  This holiday version adds a splash of cranberry for festive flair.) 

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I have two traditions that I like to do at holiday meals -- The first is to set an empty chair/empty place setting as a symbol of respect for those who can't attend the meal because they are no longer with us, physically or emotionally.  I found a small prayer and placed it on the plate, and Aidan read it for us before we said Grace.  The second tradition is to somehow share something we are thankful for with each other -- this can be verbal or written.  This year, I found a cute clipart that I liked so, I printed one for each person to write on.  At the end of the meal, Kaylea pulled them from our Gratitude Jar and we had fun guessing who wrote which one.  

These two were perfect.  The first was written by Scarlett, nearly age 3 (well, OK, someone helped her do the writing); the last one is by Liam, whose gratitude was brought to us by a rectangle roughly in the shape of Pennsylvania and the number 5.   

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The sunroom was the perfect place to host so many wonderful people, and I found myself constantly reminded of how blessed I am to have the family and friends that I do in my life.  So, even though it was a day after the calendar holiday, our Thanksgiving was everything it is meant to be: a fun gathering of people who love each other, a bountiful feast of delicious food, a strong reminder of our many blessings.  I hope that your own Thanksgiving meal was the same for you! 

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Spoiled

Yep, that's me!  Yesterday, Gene sent two dozen gorgeous red roses to the school for me.  Everyone kept asking, "Is it your birthday?  Is it an anniversary?"  

Nope!  It was just Thursday.  :) 

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I've decided to keep them in my classroom for now because they are really heavy to carry/transport, and because they make my room smell amazing.  I really am spoiled . . . and I love every second of it.  And Gene will tell you that I spoil him, too.  It's truly wonderful to be in a  healthy relationship.  Here's to Love! 

 


Am I Getting Through?

Recently, a friend shared an article on Facebook that resonated deeply with me (and her).  The article talked about how overworked teachers are, and about how the demands placed on teachers do not help to get the results that schools want.  It makes complete sense.  When a teacher is feeling overwhelmed and overworked and under appreciated, the stage isn't exactly set for high test scores and positive school environment.  

I've been struggling lately with how much I need to do in a given day.  I fall into bed at night, completely exhausted -- physically and mentally.  And I know I am not alone.  I am not the exception to the rule.  I look around my building and I see teachers who are giving and giving, creating interesting lessons and assessments, spending time truly listening to their students (all 100-150 of them), and dedicating their lives to making a difference in the world, even if it is in some small way.  These same educators also have family and community responsibilities waiting for them when they do get home.  And the same is happening in schools all across our country.

Let me be clear:  I am not complaining.  I am blessed with the best job in the world -- I have the job that teaches all over professions.  I love teenagers, and I love being part of their lives.  I'm fortunate enough that when there is a snow day for my own children, I have one too.  I have summers to spend with my children.  It's a good -- no, a great -- life.  

But it's also an exhausting one.  And there are days when I have to wonder if I am getting through at all. WillI figure out the new website that is going to be required of me this spring?  Am I using enough of the writing program's buzz words to appease my administrators?  Am I making a difference? Am I teaching what they will need to know for the state or national test in the spring?  Will my numbers be high enough to appease the community?  Am I teaching the stuff that really matters, alongside the stuff that will be tested?

And then the Universe decides that after a day spent completely depressed about the election results, that I could use a little positive feedback.  

As I drank my coffee this morning, I checked my email to see what would be waiting for me for handle when I get to school.  I did a bit of a double-take when I saw a name of a student who graduated a couple of years ago.  The email opened with a line from one of the books I teach (a book this student read years ago), and proceeded to thank me for making a difference.  I don't want to say much about the personal details of this student or the email, but I will share these lines:

"You've influenced my academic and personal life more than you probably imagine. I imagine the same goes for all of my peers who had you. Thank you for not being [...] content with having students mindlessly regurgitate information before discarding it after taking some bullshit exam that tests nothing but their memory."

I have to tell you -- this alone makes me realize that all those hours I have spent (and will spend) grading essays instead of running a multiple choice Scantron through a machine are completely, utterly, entirely worth it.  Authentic assessment is time-consuming, but it's well, authentic.  

This email isn't just for me.  It's for all of my colleagues out there who are going back in this morning, a bit bleary-eyed, with traces of pen on their hands, and a stack of essays to return to their students.  

It may take a few years, and we may never hear from the majority of our "kids" about it, but we are getting through.  We are. 

Onward! 


Artistic License?

Liam brought home a drawing of Gingersnap, Aidan, Gabrielle, and himself.  It was really cute, and it was obvious that he put a lot of time and care into it. 

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As I looked closer, I noticed that Gingersnap seemed to be frowning.  She has a heart on her body, but she looks so sad. 

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Concerned, I asked Liam why the dog was upset.  Surprised, he answered, "She's not!  She's really happy to play with us."  When I asked why she was frowning, he replied simply, "That's just how she looks."

And you know what?  I think he may be right . . . 

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Here Comes the Sun . . . Room

When I moved in to the new house, Gene and I talked about how we could improve the sun room.  It's a pretty simple space that could even be used as a garage if need be (the double doors open, and the floor is concrete).  I love the idea of using the room as a social room: we eat there regularly, we have a space heater that keeps the place really warm, we use the space as a port for the kids' book bags and coats.  We wanted to carpet the room, and hang some lights (the room doesn't have outside electrical outlets, so Gene said he would wire some -- a skill set I clearly don't have!!).  And this weekend, we made some significant progress!

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First, we put down some indoor/outdoor carpeting.  We chose a nice gray color that will go well with lots of things.  I'd love to make the room a beach theme, with white or dark wicker furniture some day.  All in due time!

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And this handsome guy worked all sorts of magic, and we now have two outlets and a switch for the lights.  We bought these frosted globe lights at Target a couple of weeks back on clearance -- I think they were marketed to college students to use in their dorm rooms.  

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I bought a random string of colored lights that we put across the back wall.  The pictures don't really do the lighting justice; it looks so nice and cozy in the room.  And the kids love it as well.  Ellie said, "The sun room is my new favorite room!"

And I think Gingersnap likes it, too! 

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Breakfast Club, Kid Style

Last week, on Halloween morning, I took my children to a local diner which is quickly becoming my favorite place to eat.  As we ate, the kids all remarked that it was too bad Kale, their unofficial big sister, wasn't there, too.  We came up with the solution of having her spend the night the next Thursday night so she could come with us.  She loved the idea.  And since she wanted to go to a hockey game with a friend, somehow our plans morphed into her friend also staying the night, and we all went to breakfast together.  

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It's a little thing -- breakfast out on a Friday at 7 AM -- but it is the kind of thing that is big to me.  I love having my kids (all of them!) around me and around each other.  

And, tis the season . . . for Rubik's Cubes.  We have determined that cubing is a winter sport for Aidan.  He says the warmer months are collecting and studying bugs; the winter is for algorithms.  Liam has been watching every move his idol Aidan makes with those cubes (and with everything else, even photo poses!).  

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