Anais Nin Quote

"Living never wore one out so much as the effort not to live." Anais Nin

"A life undocumented is a life unlived."

Monday, June 19, 2017

Summer Fun Reading List

One of my favorite things to do is read. I remember being a kid, sitting on my bed with books scattered everywhere, completely immersed in a good story. I read everything - Sweet Valley High, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Ramona Quimby, Superfudge, Stephen King books, Nemesis (my first Isaac Asimov book). These days, it's harder for me to find the time to read as I did back then. Too many things pull me away from my books whether it's something to do for work or simply the pull of Facebook. Summer break and a forced convalescence have given me back some of that time. I've been able to actually enjoy reading again. I'm back to reading everything, but this time, I have a small goal. I want to read Pulitzer Prize books. For the next few weeks, I'm still reading my other books, but I'm throwing in a Pulitzer Prize one. I figured I would be able to get through the ones from the past decade so here is my list:

2017 - The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
2016 - The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
2015 - All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (I'm reading that one now)
2014 - The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
2013 - The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
2011 - A Visit from the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan
2010 - Tinkers by Paul Harding

After that, I may do a theme reading. Remember all the characters from A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? That would be a good theme - reading the books those characters were based on. We shall see. The nice part is that I can read without feeling as if I need to take notes which is refreshing.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Teacher Summer PD Resource

I just completed my first year of teaching high school English. During the year, I spent time planning, grading, lamenting, crying, drinking, and sleeping in various proportions depending on the time of year (does inadvertently becoming an amateur wine connoisseur count as teacher PD??).

I had a lot of OMG moments - good ones, bad ones, and ugly ones. By the end of the year, I was a wet mess and couldn't wait for it to be over. 

The other interesting emotion I had was panic. It's all over! I had so much more to do! So much more to teach! How could I have fixed things?? I have failed as a teacher!! Oh, the horror! Within the first few days of summer break, however, that feeling blissfully passed away and I was in full teacher summer break mode. 

Now, I'm in that wonderful state of being where I'm not panicked and I'm not dreading the upcoming year. I'm looking forward to setting a new classroom up, and piecing together some of the things I'll be teaching this next year. I can reflect on my first school year without going into a depression. I can read articles without a sense of dread. I can watch videos and be inspired. Speaking of which, one of my favorite video resources is Teaching Channel. A colleague from my CREP days at the University of Memphis introduced me to this website and I have found myself going back again and again (you're my hero, Sarah Brown Wessling!!).  Teaching Channel has every video you can imagine and I look at a ton of them. I don't even limit myself to English or high school. Most of the videos you watch on this site can be adapted to your particular grade in some way. AND they also have a place where you can add and save notes for any of the videos so you can go back and review. 

It IS summer break, though, so I also have lots of time to stay in my jammies, sleep until 10 am, binge-watch Netflix, eat whenever I want, and read books that I don't have to make notes in. Here's to enjoying summer break in all its unstructured bliss!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Many Shades of Student Loans

Many moons ago, I bought a house with my now ex-husband. By the end of that first year, our mortgage had hopped from one bank to another to another, like a hot potato. That was the world of financing – juggling money to make more money.

Fast forward to today. I currently don’t have a mortgage, but I do have student loans. A few years ago I realized I needed to go back to college in order to be able to make it on my own. Grants, scholarships, and many loans later, I am now a high school English teacher. Not a bad trade-off, right? Currently, some of my student loans are being serviced by FedLoan Servicing and others are now serviced by Navient after they’ve been bounced around a couple of times (like a mortgage). So far, I haven't had many issues. The customer service has been very cooperative in helping me navigate payment plans as well as answering any questions I've ever had about my student loans. However, Navient has received its share of complaints over the years and recently has been involved in a lawsuit for negligence and unethical practices - not exactly the type of behavior that inspires confidence in a loan holder (Google them). That was in January.

Today, I received a note from Navient stating that the Department of Education was transferring my loans from Navient to FedLoan Servicing. A safe assumption would be that action is a direct result of the pending lawsuit. So now, all my loans are under one loan servicer that has had its own share of complaints (yeah, Google them, too).

I’m not sure what all that means outside of conjecture. I’m assuming all will be made clear here in the next few months. On the one hand, it’s nice to have all the little loans combined under one umbrella and away from the craziness of what is now Navient. On the other hand, I’m not entirely sure I trust that umbrella.

Why don’t I transfer them all to a private loan, you ask? Well, the main reason is a neat little program called the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. If I make regular payments on my loans for 10 years as a teacher (some restrictions apply), then the remainder of the loan will be forgiven at the end of that 10-year period.

THAT is all getting ready to change under the new leadership of Betsy DeVos. The forgiveness program is getting ready to go away along with some other major changes to student loans:

The $1.3 trillion student loan problem facing Betsy DeVos

Also, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program has had its own share of issues, one of which involve lack of clarity on whether or not your particular job qualifies for the loan forgiveness program. This issue wouldn't be much of a problem except that it's rearing its ugly head after participants have already been approved and have been certifying each year:

Student Loan Forgiveness Program Approval Letters May Be Invalid, Education Dept. Says

All of this combined doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the system. My hope is that the loan forgiveness program is stepping aside to make room for a new and improved loan forgiveness program of a different name and that everything will settle down soon. If not, I predict a lot of banks are going to be receiving an influx of student loans with the promise of lower interest rates and a more stable environment – me included.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Hysterectomy Adventure

A few years ago I noticed some pain in my abdomen. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I typically ignore aches and pains these days. I’m 44. Random aches and pains have been part of my life for a while. But for whatever reason, I noticed these pains even though they had probably been around for quite a while. It wasn’t cramps, although it did feel a little cramp-y. It wasn’t severe pain. It was just simply a dull ache as if my body was saying, hey! You’ve got a little something going on here. Turns out it was fibroids and they had made home in my uterus for a lot of years, multiplying like little tumorous rabbits. The pain slowly increased to the point where I realized they were going to have to be evicted somehow. Since I had so many of them, my doctor suggested a full hysterectomy. I was fine with that since I didn’t plan on having any more children anyway. This was the fall of 2016, my first year of teaching high school. Over the course of the next few weeks, I made plans, appointments, and eventually came up with a date for the surgery: May 30th, the Tuesday after school was out for the summer. The date was far enough in the distance where it didn’t really seem real. Life went back to normal.

About a month away from the date of the surgery, I started getting a bit concerned. I had never really had surgery outside of an emergency C-section almost 20 years ago. I had never been put out completely with anesthesia and for someone who has a bit of trouble giving up control, that was a bit of an issue. Then I did the worst thing possible. I started Googling it. DON’T DO IT! the discussion boards screamed. YOUR DOCTOR IS WRONG! *sigh* I read about all the horrific things that could happen before and after surgery. Even my nurses were jumping on the band wagon, lamenting that my body will look old before its time. I quit Googling. I got a haircut. For bravery.

The weekend before the surgery was the first weekend after school let out. I had a bunch of friends over for cards and we had a great time. It was the perfect distraction. Sunday was pretty quiet. I worked my second job delivering pizza. Monday was spent vegging. We ate a quiet dinner and I went to bed. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink after midnight which was just fine with me as I had to get up at 4:30 anyway. That next morning, I packed, looked at my coffee pot in longing, and my boyfriend drove us to the hospital. I had bathed in Dial soap, I was lotion-less and makeup-less. I did wash my hair.

That day was a bit surreal. I checked in and we waited until it was time for me to go back and get prepped. I had to wipe myself down completely with antiseptic pads, clean out my nostrils with some type of antiseptic iodine (gross), and crawl into the traditional backless gown. And wait. We talked. We laughed. We left the TV off. They set me up on an IV. One of the nurses explained that the nose cleaning thing was part of long-term research, looking at ways to cut down on bacterial infections (cool!). The doctor came in to chat and gave me the disclaimer – all the things that could go wrong. I listened with half an ear. I figured since I was already on the table, I was pretty committed anyway. I wonder if anyone has ever backed out after hearing about all the bad things that could happen during surgery? The two nurses came back in, told me they were putting something in my IV to help me relax and proceeded to wheel me out of the room. I’m on my back, idling looking at the ceiling, watching the fluorescent lights float by, and that's where my memory stops.

My memory comes back when I’m in my room. I have no memory of the surgery, of course. I have no memory of the recovery room. I first remember my parents and Bryan walking in, talking to each other and talking to me. The surgery was over. I was now minus a uterus and two ovaries and the scar tissue that had built up over the years from my C-section incision was now cleaned out. I have a nice, even horizontal scar that stretches from leg to leg.

Day 1 post-op: Wednesday. That first day was a a blur of nurses coming in and out, checking things, administrating medication, and me chatting with Bryan. Mom and Dad left after a while. I had some pain in the beginning, but they got it regulated pretty quickly. It was nice and hazy and cozy. The room was huge. Bryan was impressed with the size of the bathroom. The TV had horrible reception. The nurses were friendly. At some point during the day, I realized I was on a catheter which was weird. I had never been on one before and it was odd not having the sensation of needing to go to the bathroom. A nurse occasionally came in and emptied the bag and if it weren’t for my seeing that, I would never know I had urine going out of my body. After about an hour or so of being in my room, they came in and removed the monitor once my vitals were stable. I have no idea what Bryan and I talked about.

By the time night came, I was a bit more aware of things. I was able to talk to the nurses without sounding drunk.

By morning, I was attempting to sit up and eat some actual breakfast – oatmeal, yogurt, and some juice. The plan was to get me out of bed and moving around. They removed the catheter about mid-morning and by mid-afternoon, I was up, going to the bathroom on my own, eating solid foods even though I still didn’t have much of an appetite. I was sent home that evening, with a binder for my waist, prescriptions for pain meds and a stool softener, a patch on my arm that gave me the hormones I was now missing, and the cool yellow socks they issue (a friend says I am now officially part of The Yellow Sock Club). I had been advised by one of the nurses to not pick at the glue on my incision. It was a little bit unnerving knowing that my incision was held together by glue and dissolvable stitches on the inside of my body. I was a bit panicked that first evening – what if something went wrong? I no longer was under the safety of the hospital where if things went badly, I could have the nurses and doctors right there to fix it. We made it through, though. I tried eating some soup, just enough to get something in my stomach for the medication. I crawled into bed and slept through the haze of pain medication. I really was happy to be back home. 

Day 2 post-op: After about three doses of the generic equivalent of Percocet, I'm done with it. It makes me feel as if my head were detached from the rest of my body and I don't like that feeling at all. I stop taking it and instead start taking the generic Tylenol-3. Much better. I feel like my couch is going to have a permanent butt-print on it. I don't feel like doing much other than watch movies on TV. I’m gassy and gurgly which I’ve been told is actually a good thing because that means my gastro system is functioning.

Burning question of the day. What happens to that gaping blank space where my female innards used to be?? Turns out that my bowel takes up a lot of the space. So basically, I’m even more full of shit than I was before. haha

Day 3 post-op: Friday. I’m still eating foods that are easy on my system – soup, things like that. Breakfast has been oatmeal or yogurt. Bryan gets take-out from Dixie cafĂ© and I'm able to get some mashed potatoes, turnip greens, squash, and black-eyed peas. I’m still drinking a ton of water along with some cranberry juice. He had brought me some coffee that morning and I was able to drink half of it. By now, my stomach has been rumbling so much that I fear I’m going to have the Mount St. Helen’s version of a bowel movement at some point soon.

Day 4 post-op: Saturday. I’m reading my books, playing around on my computer, and watching TV. I have a new appreciation for high-fiber foods. I’ve been able to poop little poop nuggets at this point. I’m feeling pretty good. My incision was a little achy, but I haven’t had to worry about any adverse reactions to the Tylenol-3 or the stool softener. We watched the Nashville Predators game that night (Go Preds!).

Day 5 post-op: Sunday. I'm not able to go to church, but a couple of my church buddies stop by afterwards with some altar flowers which made my day. They're beautiful. White hydrangeas. One of the parishioners had a wedding there the night before and typically the flowers are always left for the next morning.

Day 6 post-op: Monday. While everyone else is at work, I’m looking forward to a week of Netflix binging and guarding the couch. Today is my first day eating REAL FOOD. Pizza. That was the best thing I had ever put in my mouth. I ate two pieces and a couple of the little mini-cupcakes that Bryan brought over. He’s been the best care-taker.

Day 7 post-op: Tuesday. I’m paying for the pizza. But it's worth it. My gastro system is obviously working. Today is follow-up day, one week since the surgery. The doc is happy with my progress and how my incision worked. The nurse removes the tape that was on either side of my incision. She pops a small blood blister that had formed through a part of the glue (ow!). I mention that I have a bit of restless leg syndrome at night and that I had a bit of diarrhea. Both are part of the healing process, nothing to worry about. He says I'm free to drive a little if I want to. That seems a bit soon for me so my plan is to wait until the beginning of the third week unless I just had to go somewhere. Luckily, I live in town so everything I need is a 5-minute drive away, tops. He encourages me to walk as much as my body would allow. We go to Arby’s for lunch and I can eat about half of my food. I spend the rest of the day relaxing on my back patio. I hadn’t been wearing the binder since I got home, but I did use it for the first time that night and slept like a rock. I think I’ll probably continue to wear it to bed for at least the next week.

Day 8 post-op: Today-Wednesday. I have regular bowel movements (you don’t realize how much you appreciate those until you’re not able to have them), I’m no longer on any type of pain medication, and I’m on hormone therapy. Hormone therapy was another hurdle to jump over. I’ve heard opinions from both camps on this and yes, I Googled it, which was another mistake. Don’t do it! they screamed. I stopped Googling. My plan is to stay on hormones for a few years until the time that my body would naturally go into menopause and then start weaning myself off of the hormones at my doctor’s direction.

Here on out, it’ll be continued recovery, but so far, so good. I don’t miss having a uterus. I don’t miss having ovaries. I do wish the doctor had sucked out some of the fat while he was in there, but whatever. I have another battle scar on my stomach which is fine. It’s just a physical thing and I never really worried too awful much about what my body looked like. I'll wear it with pride. As long as I’m able to walk and do the things I want to do, I could care less. I’m thrilled the surgery went well, I’m thrilled I’m recovering well, and I’m looking forward to enjoying my summer break in a way only a teacher can enjoy it.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Lesson Gone Wrong

For those of you who have worked with me before, you know one of the things I constantly do is reflect. Where did I go wrong? What could I have done differently? What worked and gave me that giddy holy-crap-they're-really-getting-it feeling? What could be improved? What? What? What? I'm constantly asking myself these questions as a first-year teacher. What can I do to improve myself going into the next year of teaching? I constantly am on the lookout for websites that will help me hone my craft of teaching. One of my favorite ones is Teaching Channel. I can watch a video and see how another teacher approaches a concept, the tools they use, and the techniques they implement in the classroom for student engagement. Teaching Channel recently began a new series called Tchr's Cut and I just watched the first video. I love, LOVE this series already. Veteran teachers are discussing what goes on in the background of the videos posted on Teaching Channel and provides us with a look at the sometimes dirty business of teaching. This series makes me feel wonderful as a first-year teacher because I know that even veteran teachers make mistakes. None of us are perfect, but we are all looking at becoming better teachers. My favorite thing about this series is being able to see these veteran teachers reflect on what worked, what didn't, and how they can improve their teaching in future lessons. Here's the link:

This first year of teaching has been a series of dramatic highs and lows for me and I'll be the first to admit that I'm mentally counting down the days until summer. However, I'm also encouraged that even though I have been frustrated, even though I have felt I haven't taught students well, even though I sometimes feel like a total failure as a teacher, I also know that I'm looking at these experiences through the lens of a new teacher. I've been praised as a teacher who has done very well for a first-year teacher, that I work well with my consulting teacher, that I show a positive attitude in wanting to better myself as a teacher, and I have good relationships with my students. This fall I'll be starting a new phase of my teaching career which really excites me. Here's to the next few years of my teaching adventure!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Spring Break

Today is my official first day of spring break.

I count it as the first day because it’s the first day where I’m supposed to be teaching and it’s very obvious that I’m not. Instead, I slept until 10. Drank my coffee at an unaccustomed slow pace. Ate my Cocoa Pebbles as if I had all the time in the world. Watched Netflix. I’m still in my pajamas.
Don’t hate. I’m actually trying to force myself to do this. My brain wants to plan for next week when we’re back in class. I want to look at lesson plans, peruse education articles online, and organize my teaching files on my laptop.

What I AM going to do this week, instead, is read fun books, play video games (Rocket League is calling my name), stretch my writing muscles again, stretch my physical muscles again (I haven’t exercised in an embarrassingly long time), crochet, play on my piano, and do all the things that I don’t have time to do during the school year. I might even clean and do laundry. But that’s at the bottom of the list.

Enjoy spring break if you're on it!

Saturday, January 21, 2017

What the Twit??

The inauguration is over. The Trump voters have spoken while the rest of us continue to speak. Across America, citizens are marching for their voice and the voice of others – immigrants, the Black Lives Matter movement, women for women’s rights, planned parenthood, access to birth control. While I don’t condone the violence that’s erupted over the last 48 hours, I do condone voice. Our voice as Americans is part of what makes us who we are as a nation. My fear is over the next four years, our voice is going to be slammed down at every opportunity. While the Trump administration can’t stop us from having a physical voice, they apparently can be more successful in stopping our virtual voice via social media, more specifically Twitter. The National Park Service has been banned from posting tweets as are all Department of the Interior bureaus. Posting anti-Trump tweets on a government site now that he’s President shouldn’t be allowed. I do get that. What I don’t get is a sweeping mandate stopping all Twitter activity until further notice. On one side, maybe it’s so proper training can be given to those in charge of the various Twitter accounts – “don’t post negative things about the President”. I really hope that’s the case because on the other side, the Trump administration is setting up a dangerous precedent for what would be a direct violation of freedom of speech from the very office that’s sworn to protect it. 

Summer Fun Reading List

One of my favorite things to do is read. I remember being a kid, sitting on my bed with books scattered everywhere, completely immersed in a...