Thanks for checking into my blog!

As a "recovering" middle school teacher with a unique outlook on life, I stopped active teaching in 2010 and moved into another career path... writing! Here goes! In addition, I am a travel buff, forever baseball addict, movie fan, music fan, foodie extraordinaire, NCIS devotee, gardener, and more.

Just love writing for kids, travel writing and basic journalism. Pretty unusual, since I taught Home Economics! But there's a story here too - a non-fiction one or more...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

O‘s, Magic-al Natitude!

Rule #22 - Question everything         
Rule  #40 Be grateful

      It’s time for some inter-league play. You know, the stuff that the World Series is made of…

     I checked the team website today to see for myself what my mind has a hard time comprehending. Yes, the Orioles are tied for first place. We are about a quarter of the way through the season and, as of this writing, Buck’s Boys have won 29 games. They’ve beaten up on some old adversaries. They’ve taken their share of licks and come out still tickin’.

     Whodathunk? If you asked me last year if this was possible, I’d say no. Many here in Bird Land still are in disbelief. The team is now really putting butts in the seats at Camden Yards. There was a large sea of orange to compete with the Red Sox fans in a recent series. There’s almost as much orange in the stands when the Yankees come to town too. Serious fan frenzy exists here in Baltimore, to the extent that the Ravens can hold their off season practices without too much fanfare.

     This fan frenzy was really visible in a recent inter-league series between the Orioles and the Washington Nationals. The really crazy thing was that it was a battle of 2 first place Eastern division teams that were last year’s cellar dwellers. Again with the “whodathunk?”

     For those of you unfamiliar with this area, there are about 40 miles or so between Baltimore and Washington. It’s a relatively straight shot down I-95 from Camden Yards until you get lost finding Nationals Stadium in D.C. It really is easier to take public transportation to Nats Park. Many media pundits tend to blend Baltimore and Washington together like it’s one big mega-city. Both have similar crime statistics. Both cities have lots of auto traffic. Both have culturally diverse populations. But both also have unique identities. Baltimore - to me - has an old city feel with neighborhoods that reflect the original immigrants who settled there. Washington is more cosmopolitan, more transient. There’s lots more history honored in DC, but people visit that city and sometimes only stay for 4 years. (ask any presidential candidate or staff member)

     Washington did have its own baseball team for years - the Washington Senators. They played in DC from 1901 until 1960, mostly under the name of the Senators. In 1960, Major League Baseball expanded teams and the Senators moved to Minnesota and became the Twins. The city held the rights to the names “Senators” and “Nationals” (another of their team names from 1905 - 1955). The team records were less than stellar. Oh, there was the World Series win in 1924 and their last World Series appearance in 1933. After those glory days, not so much in the win column. But the location made for great photo ops for politicians who dream of baseball stardom.

     Moving the team to the twin cities area of Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota (AHA! Now you know where the moniker “Twins” comes from) left baseball fans in DC without a team. Another Senators franchise surfaced after 1960, but left town to become the Texas Rangers in 1972. Most people who live in DC are from somewhere else, so those fans kept their home town loyalty. But those native to DC migrated north and supported the Baltimore Orioles. It was a marriage of necessity for DC residents. There was no other major league team closer to DC than Baltimore.

     Before the 2005 season, many wondered if this area could support two Major League Baseball franchises. In 2005, the Orioles were in the middle of a “fight for last place in the AL East” With either Toronto or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (that’s what they were called, folks). The Montreal Expos were in serious trouble financially at that time. Dozens of people showed up to the games (not thousands). So that franchise moved to DC and became the current Washington Nationals.  The first few years they played like a bunch of transplanted Expos. But last year they started a winning “Natitude” and were putting more butts in the seats of the stadium. Things were looking up for DC and baseball.

     And last year things started looking up for the Orioles. They started the season well, then spent most of the rest of the season in their usual funk. They just couldn’t pull it together. They either had pitching or they had hitting, but never the two together. The bull pen was bull, too. But something gelled at the end of last season. They went on a “If-we-aren’t-going-to-the-playoffs-you-aren’t-either” win streak. If you played the O’s, your ranking in the division wasn’t safe. Ask the Red Sox and Terry Francona (now of ESPN because he didn’t get the Sox to the series). Baltimore played like they had nothing to lose – because they were in the basement of the division – again.

     Two teams in the same general neighborhood playing great, always broadcast on TV – is this a great place for baseball nut or what? So what happens when they play each other? Lots of just plain fun, that’s what.

     This past series was in DC and so many O’s fans went down for the game, it was fantastic. You could watch and see O’s orange and Nats red all over a packed house. Colors were interspersed in the crowd. Families had divided team loyalties, but still had a great time.  There was even a “Let’s go O’s” and “Let’s go Nats” chant smack down during the games. It had the atmosphere of 2 high school rivals playing football – without the required fight after the game.

     Refreshing? You bet. I’ve heard stories about other parks, like Yankee Stadium. Not sure if they are true or not, but I’m not about to find out. That’s my last ball park in my bucket list quest to see them all.

     Makes you wonder too… If two fan bases could sit next to each other during a game without hostilities, why can’t the bigger nations do the same? Or maybe we should scrap wars altogether and settle things on the ball field… Hmmmm….

     At any rate, in this tale of two cities, both towns had a boat load of fun, both in the park and in the media. The Orioles took two and the Nationals won the Sunday game. Oh, and Teddy didn’t win the Presidents race… again…still. But if the Nats get to the Series….? And if the O’s get to the Series…? Don’t know if some of our hearts can handle that one.

     Oh, and I am using Rule # 40 and am very grateful for this season so far. I just hope I didn’t jinx either team.

     If you are into a bit of baseball history, check out these websites. You all know that Wikipedia is not 100% authoritative, but the Sports Encyclopedia is. Enjoy your searching.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Rule #4 – Write from your experiences

     Remember when I told you my husband and I watched only 5 or 6 channels of our Comcast lineup? Ok, I lied… It’s more like 10. Add to the mix HGTV and DIY Network.

     I’ve always loved the home decorator shows on HGTV. Absolutely loved “Garden Police” when it was on. The premise was that 2 landscapers burst in on homeowners and redid their front yards. Move now to “Curb Appeal“. Same idea, different opening/host. I was really hooked on “Neat” too. I got some great organizational strategies watching that show.

     Most of the above have been moved to DIY Network or other networks in reruns. DIY then introduced their Crashers series. You have “House Crasher,” “Yard Crasher,” “Bath Crasher,” “Kitchen Crasher“ … all with the idea that someone gets you to take them home, and redo the room/yard/bathroom/kitchen in a set amount of time. It could be 2 or 3 days depending on the project/crash.

     Now I have a question: How in the name of all that is holy can you get “Crashed” in 2 or 3 days? I mean really… 2 or 3 days for a major renovation… in my hometown? Not happening!!!!

     When watching my favorite, “Yard Crashers,” I see this herd of people crawling all over the yard. I wonder if they don’t get in each other’s way. And layering the projects? How does that happen if everyone is there at the same time? Basic question: when does the concrete dry???

     I wonder what the yards look like a year after crashing… (insert smile). Did the homeowner keep up with the upkeep?

     What brings this to mind now is that we are embarking on a major renovation. We’ve lived in our house for almost 30 years and we still have the kitchen that came with the house. Most people would not have a problem with that. I do and I don’t. The cupboards are starting to bow from the weight of the stuff on the shelves. Bottom cupboards allow for sleeper cells of salad oil, corn meal and other things to hide and just stay there to work some kind of magic until they expire. Some top cupboards are totally unusable because of accessibility issues. I actually found some cans buried in the back of cupboards that might allow me to set up a renegade botox clinic. Such treasures to find… or such waste… I am not sure. We’ve seen lots of houses NOT sell in this current market. Realtors keep telling sellers that things need to be updated. Home buyers are too busy - or too lazy - to do their own design work.

     What gets me in the process is the prep time. We spent time searching for a contractor. When we finally found one who would work on the design process, we started that portion of the project. So many beautiful cabinet designs are out there! Talk about eye candy.

     And then there is countertops and backsplashes… now that took research. Do I want what is popular? Do I take a realtor’s advice on my purchase? Or do I chuck the whole thing and get what I want? (Monte, I’ll take door 3)

     Floors are an issue here too. I know what I want and it will spread into the dining room. So, technically, we are crashing 2 rooms here.

     Oh and this little thing of removing walls and moving doors….

     By the time, we signed the contract - and wrote the first check - it was about a year later, and we were almost exhausted. How do “Crash” victims deal with what is done to their properties? What if your tastes don’t jive with the Crash designers? How many crashes were undone? And how do they get that design done overnight?

    Anyway, the process is underway… or as we say the beast was unleashed. We found a very reputable contractor who will handle the entire job. And we found him the old fashioned way - we talked to people. Nope, we are not “Angie’s Listers.” We have a fairly accurate assessment of job completion. And, no Tom Hanks, it won’t take another 2 weeks (like in “The Money Pit”).

     And we are not done prepping!!! We did get our new “fandolier” for the kitchen. I would like to get a new light fixture for the dining room, too. Now to choose paint colors… OY squared! My eyes hurt from all the color comparisons and my head hurts from the decision-making work.

     When I broke the news of the renovation to my family members, my sister had one request: “Don’t be like Mom was when we had our kitchen done. She didn’t understand the long term process and how one thing has to get done before something else gets done.”

     My late mother - the Crash fan?? She wanted it done in 2 days?

     Well, folks, I do have a lot of patience. Having a schedule in front of me should put my mind at ease and get me into the proper “psyche” frame of mind for this. But, by the calendar, I have about 3 weeks before initial demo starts. Must start packing up the dining room and the kitchen!

     Whoa!!! Have I got a lot of stuff!

     Note to self:  Rewatch “Neat” and purge, purge, purge. You have the opportunity so take it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

...On Teaching....

Rule # 1 - Be passionate.
Rule # 2 - Write from what you know.

     I sit here today with Teacher Appreciation Week - at least that’s what it is in Maryland - done and over. Not sure if this is a national thing or not.  I have vivid memories of this week when I was still teaching.

     Some schools make a big deal of appreciating the teachers during this week. PTAs usually treat the teachers and staff to lunch. Sometimes, small gifts find there way into teacher mailboxes. One school I worked at had a daily drawing for gift baskets. Other schools only made announcements over the p.a. system about appreciating the teachers in kid’s lives. At the high school level, most kids blew off the announcements and also, the reminders.

     My biggest memories of this week were of the last 3 years of teaching. I was in a middle school – you know, the SERIOUSLY hormonally challenged kids. Teaching FACS – or Home Ec for us over 25 – let me teach some great career skills. I had a project for my 8th graders based on Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice”. The kids grouped themselves, planned a luncheon with menu and decorations, and kept this event within a certain budget. They “sold” their idea on presentation boards and “pitched” the idea to their class. All boards were put in a central location for voting. The winning group got to host the event as the “boss”, and hire their cook and wait staff for the event. It was an intense process for me in planning the dates and clearing calendars. It was really intense for the kids, because they got a real taste of the world of catering and event planning. The event for the last 3 years was a Teacher Appreciation Luncheon. We worked our butts off and had a blast. The kids really looked forward to participating as “employees” of my Crazy 8’s Catering Company. My fellow teachers also looked forward to the process of voting and visiting the luncheon. Helping to honor my peers was one of the most satisfying parts of the job.

     I really thought I was doing a great job with the kids. And, on top of that, I was very happy and looked forward to going to work each day. I was excited about the lessons I taught, especially the job lessons.

     But then came a voice from administration that what I taught didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Said to my face - in front of my peers and my team. Said often, too. Said in a way that was supposed to belittle me personally. I was often reminded that what I taught in FACS (home ec) was not of the state sponsored tests at all so why do the kids need to learn this stuff? Why learn nutrition? Why learn different methods of cooking? Why learn how to sew or take care of clothing? Why on earth would anyone need to learn money management? Talk about useless skills….  I should get a job teaching real math…

      It’s precisely this attitude voiced by administration that helped me make my decision to leave teaching. There really isn’t anything wrong with public education - that students who care, admins who lead and not butt in, and losing all lawyers and politicians wouldn’t cure. I found the school where I worked moving toward a faculty of robotic yes-people. They didn’t want teachers with their own ideas on how and what to teach… they wanted to make over the newbies in their own image. There was a move in the school to have everyone use the same terminology, same teaching strategies, and same philosophy. We were to differentiate instruction for the 30 to 40 kids we saw per hour, but we weren’t to be a bit independent or creative in the way we presented our information. Everyone in every class had to be at the same knowledge point at the same time. Kids were having terminology and philosophy literally shoved down their throats. Why? Because it supposedly brought test scores up. And test scores say the kids will be successful (which any sane person knows is bull….).

     Folks, I got tired of being the plumber’s helper, shoving information into a cranial cavity. There is no state-sponsored FACS exam… only that most questions on the state test are FACS based (especially the math ones), as I found out reading the tests. My discipline has a higher testing criteria - LIFE! What I taught to my students serves them in the long term later down the road of life. It’s not something that you can test on a multiple choice test and say they have it. I mean, really… our child care unit???? Our parenting courses???? You can’t test that knowledge out until you become a parent… and even then, there’s no “right” or “best” answer. But the knowledge you get as a 7th grader or in high school, will come back to you when you are a parent. At least, if you are permitted to take the courses and fit them into your schedule …

     Many people wonder why I quit teaching, and now you know. I sit on the educational sidelines and shudder sometimes at the “new” things being presented to the world as educational miracles. I read No Child Left Behind’s text and found it so ambiguous that you could have 50 different interpretations and still get it right. The only thing that is a true failure of NCLB is the 100% compliance rate. Acquiring an education is a behavior and its measurement makes it a behavioral statistic. Any statistician knows that you will never get 100% compliance in a behavior-based measurement, and to require it sets you and your program up for failure. Also, if I may pay honor to Sir Issac Newton and his laws of physics: For every valid statistic used to justify a point of view, there is an opposite and equally valid statistic that will justify the opposing point of view. 

     So, I still have several ideas on education that I will share with you all now. Here goes, from the heart of a former teacher:

1.  Not all kids should go to college and get advance degrees. Schools should stop pushing college-immediately-after-high-school on the students.

2.  Trade schools are the best, because then, you can get a job in your field. Way too many women’s studies majors are working at McDonalds (and that‘s the guys who majored in women‘s studies for all the wrong reasons, too).

3.  If you do go to college, get a degree in something that will land you a job in that field. Going to college to find yourself just means you (or your folks) have more money than common sense.

4.  If you have a degree of any level, it doesn’t make you better or smarter than anyone else. You can be book-smart and life-stupid. Lose the academic snobbery. You are not too good to clean up after yourself. And your plumber or auto mechanic will make you look foolish, because they are just as smart as you in their own way, if not smarter.

5.  Parents, let your kids fail. If they aren’t doing the work, let them reap the “rewards“, even if it means repeating a grade.

6.  Also, parents, remember that you have already been to and completed your basic schooling. You do not need to keep running interference for your child with his/her teachers. Your child will learn to advocate for themselves. It’s their turn to be in school.

7.  Kids, when you decide on what you want to be when you grow up, look also at all the other things you can do with your life, with your passions, and with your talents. Somewhere there is a career blend that will use all your skills. Go for it and target your education strategy to your career goal, even if it drives your guidance counselor nuts. There is no reason why you can’t graduate high school with enough college prep credits to get into college AND some marketable business job skills. It’s almost required now, in the business world.

8.  Always have a viable alternate plan B (or C or D…).

9. Decide to be happy, whatever happens.

10. Appreciate the fact that you - regardless of race, creed, gender, or legal citizenship - ALREADY have access to all the opportunities to become as educated as you want to be. You do not need to be “given” an education. You have the ability to go out and get it. So get off your butts and get more knowledge. Appreciate the fact you HAVE great teachers and learn from them.

     I didn’t mean for this to become an editorial, but there were some things I really needed to vent. You may or may not agree with any or all of this. That’s fine by me. Let me know what you think and it will make for a lively discussion. We can all be “right” on this subject.

     Remember, though, that teachers are the infantry on the front lines on the war on ignorance. Don’t forget to thank your teachers. And if you are a praying person, pray for them, too. It’s not an easy job and it’s not getting any easier. Respect the fact that they are doing the best they can and they really do have the kid‘s best interests in mind.

     Believe me, I know….