Life on Florida’s West Coast

How I Got Here

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School starts in just over a week. I go back to work Monday.

I love that I am able to segue from my associate job into the classroom teacher job, at the same school I was at last year. I know most of my students and am already comfortable at the school. I have a support system in place, several good friends on the staff, and know what I need to do to fit in and be a productive part of the school community. It’s a blessing to not have to fumble along in a brand new school and face class after class of students I have never seen before.

All those years ago in college I had thought I wanted to be an English teacher. I had an adviser as well as the chair of the communications department talk me out of that plan, instead convincing me I had a great career in writing. My career has been exciting, involved a lot of writing, and allowed me to accomplish a great number of interesting things. However, I never stopped knowing I would make a good teacher.

So, when I got divorced, I took a look at my life and decided to start over and accomplish some of my original goals in life. It feels good. I love my job and I adore the students. I relish how each day is different and the challenges keep coming my way. It is also easy to admit that having the summers off to be with my daughter is a dream come true. It is actually a little bit like having the best of both worlds – a satisfying carer AND the time I need to spend with my child.

Good News, Good Job

It’s been a long and painful journey for me in my career change. I went into education when the state was crying about needing teachers, but by the time I finished my one-year alternative certification program, there was all of the sudden a crisis here in our schools and teachers are losing jobs left and right.

I spent the summer losing my hair, developing ulcers, and sleeping poorly. I had lost my own position and was worried about supporting myself and my daughter. In the 11th hour, though, another teacher left my old school in my department and I am going to be taking his place. I will be teaching my favorite subject (English), working at the school I love, and teaching challenging (yet rewarding) students.

It’s all good and in the end I learned how little I was trusting God to work things out for me.

More Sock Monkey Fun

The sock monkey night light I posted about in my last post was such a huge hit with my daughter that she insisted we get another to give to her friend, Chloe, this weekend. It’s Chloe’s birthday and my daughter told me she is obsessed with the Bratz Dolls, but I’m not a huge fan and asked if there was anything else Chloe might enjoy. The sock monkey night light was Gigi’s first reply.

I was a little nervous that the kids at the party might not know about the whole sock monkey phenomenon, but was greatly relived upon the opening of the gift to hear several of the children exclaim “Sock Monkey!!”

So, the gift was a success. And, the party was fun. Unfortunately, I somehow did not hear Chloe’s mom tell me it was a POOL party. On the upside, we only live about a mile away and I was able to run home quickly and get Gigi’s suit. Gigi had a blast. I got a sunburn.

Remember Sock Monkeys?

Back in the mid to late 70s, my mom made my sister and I sock monkeys. Sock monkey dolls have been around since the early 1900s and have always been made with Rockford Red Heel® socks, positioned so that those red heels become the mouths of the cute monkey toys. I loved mine to pieces, literally I think. I cannot find it anywhere and seem to recall the stuffing eventually coming out of the thing. Sadly, I am pretty sure I will not be able to talk mom into making me another.

The good news is that I do not have to depend on mom if I want to get my hands on another sock monkey. You can buy a vibrant, updated sock monkey at They sent me a Colonial Candle Sock Monkey night light to try out and the entire family has fallen in love with the cute little guy. It’s a little bit of nostalgia in the face of the modern world. And, it’s been a great way to introduce my six-year-old daughter to the classic Sock Monkey of my youth. The updated versions come in red, blue, green and orange and really appeal more to kids my daughter’s age than the classic brown monkey dolls. Plus, this version has magnets in the hands and feet that can cling to one another or any metal surface. The options for fun are endless. The site offers clothing for the dolls and related accessories. That’s where you can find the link to buy one of the night lights like the one I have pictured in this review.

Vibrant, stained-glass style colors.

The warm glow of the light when it is switched on in a dark room.

Roadside Assistance

I have had a roadside assistance plan in one form or another since I started driving at 16. My dad put me on the family AAA plan and continued to give me a policy every year for Christmas until I got married. When I was married, my ex-husband and I went back and forth between AAA and the roadside assistance plans that came with the warranties on our vehicles. Either way, I have never been without some way to call someone if my car breaks down, gets a flat, run out of gas, or need a tow.

Admittedly, I used my roadside assistance a lot more when I lived up north and got stuck in the show from time to time. I have slid into my fear share of ditches. I also used to lock my keys in the car fairly often. Thank goodness I grew out of that bad habit.

I still carry AAA, because now it is what my mother gives me for my birthday every year. Is it just my family that finds a roadside assistance policy to be a phenomenal gift? I cannot help now, but think of things like AAA as something I should give as a gift.

I guess this is on my mind right now, because I have a car out in the driveway that needs towed – again. I cannot seem to keep the battery charged. The car is small, inexpensive, and paid off. I do not have it insured right now, because I have not been driving it. A lot of people ask why I bother to keep the thing tagged and registered. I guess I just hate the idea that if something happens to my van I would have to go out and buy a new car when I could have this backup car available in an emergency.

What a Pickle

I went this morning to talk to my old supervisors. They want me to come back to my old school and in fact, they are already working on the master schedule with me in mind. However, nothing is EVER set in stone in our district. Things can go wrong. They have not been able to speak to the principal yet to get the final word.

In the meantime, this afternoon I got an offer from the high school where I interviewed last week. I had to ask the gal in personnel to give me two days to work out my issues and hand her a final answer. I really do prefer to go back to my old school, but we have to ensure the spot is actually open. I do not want to turn down the other high school if I cam not 100% certain things are going to work out at my old school. And, we probably will not really know about that until Wednesday morning.

High. Anxiety. Situation. :)

Curiouser and Curiouser

Yesterday afternoon, not too many hours after my interview, I got a broadcast e-mail that went out to everyone at my old school. One of the teachers in my department is leaving – to be the vice principal at the high school where I had just interviewed.

That would mean I would have an advocate at that school. Even better, it would mean a vacancy at my old school! I have to jump on this one.

Teaching Interview

I had a teaching interview today. It went very well. The school is beautiful and newish. I liked the people I met who I would ultimately be working alongside. I like that it is a high school, close enough to home, and a job teaching classes that interest me. I am, however, just slightly apprehensive about the population I would be teaching. Don’t get me wrong. I love the strugglers. I have a place in my heart for them over and above a typical student. It’s just a tough group and I have heard about the high rate of teacher burnout at this particular school.

I need guidance.

A Good Stylist Makes All the Difference

Finally, I got myself a good haircut! It’s been a long time. I have been wearing my hair longer and going in to have it trimmed and shaped, but I have not had a real hairstyle for years. Yikes. I had no idea how out of control it had become.

I have very thick hair. The strands are each quite thin, very fine and silky. I just have a lot of them. A lot. So, I had the hairdresser thin out my hair and you should have seen the pile on the floor. And still, the hair left on my head looks thicker than most people’s.

It helps to find a hairdresser you like. I have a hard time with that. Often, it takes me years after a move to find someone to cut my hair that I feel is skilled and confident enough to meet my expectations. I had a phenomenal hairdresser when I lived in Morgantown, WV (Spa Roma). Here in Florida I have only found one hairdresser I really loved in the 11 years I have been here, and he was up in Gainesville. So, finding Jennifer up at my corner salon was a surprise and a blessing.

I feel like a new woman. Please please please remind me to never neglect having a good stylist on hand ever again.

The Job Dance

Things are getting ready to ramp up in my job situation – I hope. In a week or so, the district will open jobs to others than the displaced teachers. There will be a small period where voluntary transfers will be considered first. Then, it’s open season, so to speak. I have watched positions at a lot of the schools I like come and go and it has been nearly excruciating to not be able to apply for the positions. In a couple of instances, I got as far as drafting a letter and then had to stop myself and remember that even if I did get an interview, the district hiring people would reject the recommendation for the school.

I’m hoping and praying that something opens up at my old school. That is where I really want to be.

Summer Reading Obstacles

It is a shame that when we need the library the most, they really are not there for us. Not only do school workers like me not get paid over the summer, I am also dealing with the loss of my postiin at the school and the reality that a lot of us who were laid off might not find slots this fall. I am sure it will work out in the end, but things are tense right now. I depend on the local library more than ever to ensure my daughter and I have lots to read this summer without breaking the bank.

But, our local government is seeing some of the same financial woes that the school bard is seeing and they have cut library hours drastically. Most branches are only open in the evenings a couple of days a week all branches shut down two days out of the week. You should see how CROWDED the libraries are now when they are open. The irony is that more people than ever are using their servers and they have to fit all those people into less hours. Yikes. Don’t expect a quiet place to study at any of the libraries around here. They are mini madhouses filled with people eating in line for computer access, crowding into the video aisles, and jockeying for the best books in the children’s section. Oddly, the people who WORK at the library are the loudest ones of the bunch, but that’s more appropriate for a letter to the editor than a blog article.

Anyway, you can see how much I rely on the library for our household book consumption. Even with my complaints, I would rather see my daughter spend time reading than doubling up her time on the computer or spending too much time in the hot, Florida mid-day sun. The library is the one local tax-funded amenity I really use and I try to do my part to help. I donate books, help with fundraisers and gladly overpay on fines. It’s just so flipping stressful to go there now and fight the hoards. I have had a stack of books to return sitting on my foyer table for a week. In the meantime, I have actually made two trips to the Barnes & Noble around the corner and purchased some of the books I have been eager to read. It just seems easier. I find that I am avoiding the library for the same reason I avoid the Mall – too many people rudely jostling for position, too many out-of-control kids, and not enough incentive to stay.

On the other hand, my daughter and I are both re-discovering some of the books we already have on our bookshelves. Re-reading is a luxury I rarely make time for and now is the time to remedy that.

Simple July 4 Celebration

Instead of outdoing myself this year, I decided to keep things simple. I invited over several family members and put out a spread of several different varieties of hot dogs and sausages, appropriate toppings, the world’s best hot dog sauce (recipe here), chips, home made pasta salad, southern iced tea, and a crock dull of sweet, rich, home made vanilla ice cream.

We sat and talked, watched the kids play, and looked through the bucket of gems my nephew and niece found when they went gemming last week in Georgia. Something, by the way, that I am very anxious to go when my daughter and I go to visit her Godparents outside Atlanta this summer.

Once evening came, we piled in the car and headed over to Safety Harbor. We were a little late getting started and the fireworks had already started by the time we headed out. Really, the best view of the night was from our car as we neared Safety Harbor. We parked and ran along the sidewalks, making it out from under the canopy of trees right in time for the spectacular finale.

It was simple, no frills, and completely satisfying. Happy 4th of July to my amazing nation, the United States of America.

Get Kids Excited About Reading

I just posted an article about being the kind of parent who gets involved and makes sure your children stay academically sharp over the summer. One of the points I made talked about sitting down with your kid and helping them to choose a book that engaged them on a personal level.

For some kids, reading is a chose. For others, it is a delightful escape. No matter, all children need to be reading as often as possible. The more they read, the better they get at reading. The better they are at reading, the more they read. It’s an unending circle.

More often than not, someone just needs to spend one-on-one time with a child and help them to find at least one book that captures their interest. I LOVE to read, but a textbook on Economics puts me to sleep and is often a struggle for me to comprehend on a satisfactory level. I’m no different from anyone else. If we are honestly interested in what we are reading, it is easier to read.

For some kids, the text that hooks them might be a sports magazine, or a book about robots, or a story about a princess. One genre I have found interests a wide variety of children of school age is fantasy adventure. It just seems to resonate with children, probably because children have more vivid imaginations by nature than their adult counterparts.

Here then, is one reading suggestion along these lines: Chin and the Magic Stones: Book One – Becoming Guardians by L.J. Salazar.

It has adventure chock full of riddles. It has an entire world of fantasy vivid with the potential of magic. It has lessons in the value of positive thinking, and it has a protagonist that kids can relate to in our modern world. If you think your child would find joy in the fantasy genre, this is a good first book to give them as they embark on their new reading journey.

Clocking in at a brief 108 pages, Chin and the Magic Stones will not overwhelm a struggling reader. And, it will leave more confident readers anxious for the next book in the series. It is generally suited for young readers from the ages of 7 to 11, but we all know that kids read at many different levels at any given age, so this is a book actually appropriate for a much broader age range.


And, in the end, it all comes down to helping our children make reading choices that will not only engage and excite them, but also have a positive impact on their lives. Anyone who experiences Chin’s adventure along with him will come away with the benefits of some of the lessons he learns about believing in himself and understanding that positive thoughts lead to self esteem and the fulfillment of dreams. These are lessons we all need to learn – over and over.

Salazar is the father of an 11-year-old son, so you can rest assured that this story is coming from someone who understands the age group for which he is writing. On the surface, this is the exciting adventure of a boy and his dog (the extraordinary Eagle). On a deeper level, it’s a handbook for positive thought.

Take a look at Chin and the Magic Stones on Amazon’s website. You can pick it up for less than $10.


Don’t Stop the Learning this Summer

It’s summertime. At least for now, schools all over the nation are out for the season and kids (and teachers) have the opportunity to recharge and relax. I know that from a educator’s standpoint, we NEED this time to take a step back. Teachers would have meltdowns regularly if they did not have summer breaks. I know a lot of people see teaching as a job where you do not work as many hours in a day or as many days in a year as most other salaried folks, but they fail to take into consideration the almost constant engagement you have with students and their families throughout the school year. Teaching is indeed a job you take home with you.

However, that wasn’t my point. Sorry about that tangent.

My point is that, as parents, we need to make sure our kids still have opportunities to learn over the summer break. It is true that a good bit of time at the beginning of each school year is spent reteaching some of the skills kids seem to lose over the summer months. That’s not going to change.

You can help your kids stay just a little bit sharper, though, with minimal planning and effort.

Keep your kids active.
When I was a child, summer meant being outside from morning until late-night sundown. We ran and built forts and skateboarded down hills. We built dams in the creeks behind my neighborhood and explored old civil war bridges and chimneys in those same woods. Of course, I grew up in the DC outskirts of Virginia, where summers were temperate. Here in Florida I have to put a little more effort into figuring out places we can go to be active without getting to heatstroke. We load up on water and hit the local beaches and parks.

Help your kids stay interested in reading.
Especially with struggling readers, summer can mean months without picking up a books. Sit down with your child and help them find a book or magazine that is in their interest area. Find fun reading material that will wake up their imaginations. And, no matter how old your child, offer to read aloud to them. Even your teens will benefit from some reading aloud by mom or dad.

Find some fun lesson ideas.
If you are really motivated, you might even do some research and find some fun lessons online to help bolster any areas your child struggled in this past year. You don’t have to be a teacher to find a search engine and type in “lessons multiplication grade 4” – or whatever the relevant subject may be. You would be surprised at the massive cache of free worksheets and lesson ideas out there floating around in cyberspace.

I found some worksheets and learning strategies I am going to use this summer to help my daughter with some of the reversals she struggles with in reading and writing (b, d, p, etc.). I am also going to take things a step ahead and work with her on multiplication and division. She did not cover that in Kindergarten, but she loves math and actually delights in working ahead.

Anyway, my message is simply this – use the summer to keep your kids sharp. Believe me, the teachers will love you this fall. Parental involvement is something that has been proven to make a difference and teachers can tell which kids are receiving more parental involvement than others.

Fawcett’s Death Made Me Cry

She fought hard. She had the money to fight hard. She had resources most people will never be able to access, due to money. And still, cancer is relentless. You can fight and use all the money in the world to try and find a way to beat cancer, but in the end you are powerless.

My mother has cancer. She has been fighting hard for over 14 years now. Mom living this long with the sort of cancer she has is a miracle. It is nearly unheard of. And still, if cancer wants to win — it will. I suppose that’s the reality that makes me feel so out of control when it comes to understanding my mother’s illness. She tries every day to live life as though nothing is wrong. After all these years, I have to believe that her ability to keep on living and to not give in to the cancer by giving up onn a normal life is why she is still with us.

I have Farrah’s family in my heart today. I know they must have all had a similar outlook after watching her fight so hard. They must have been focused on life as usual and the reality that we can often beat cancer. In the end, cancer won, but I am convinced that Farrah and everyone around her learned a lot about love and faith along the way.

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