Tuesday, March 6, 2018

You Asked, I Answered.

The TN State Department of Education puts out an educator survey each year, and this morning, my coffee and oatmeal were particularly energizing, so I used half an hour of my 45 minute planning period to fill it out. The questions are crazy, leave no room for qualification or explanation and sometimes don't even apply (an NA button might be nice!), but at the end, educators have an opportunity to share anything else with the state BOE they feel compelled to share. The box allows 1800 characters and my count was '0' by the time I finished. I'm sure no one will read it, but in case you're curious just how brave my sumatra and oats made me this morning, below is what I typed...and I mean every. single. word.

Testing initiatives are killing learning in our state. We are seeing a stark decline in love of learning and also in learning itself. I can attest to the fact that years ago, I had genuinely smart students who loved learning new things and took on challenges because they wanted to be better. Now that we're offering free education after high school (TN Promise) and we're pushing every student toward college (something that is completely backward, in my opinion), students have no need to strive for better knowledge or learning. I also teach college in our state and have seen a stark decline there in effort and appreciation of learning. Students who should be learning trades or earning vocational hours in high school are using state money to come to college and then failing to complete the requirements to graduate. Instead of letting them fail (on all levels) we are passing everyone as a means to avoid rocking the boat and then wondering why the workforce is complaining about their soft and hard skills. They are socially inept and only conditioned to test. If they aren't receiving a grade, the effort isn't worth it, and even when they are receiving a grade, they know they can't fail, so the motivation to do well is capped at "passing" because if a 70 gets me a high school diploma and free college, why do I need to work for advancement. I think we need to seriously reevaluate our approach to education in this state, or good teachers like myself are going to burn out and find other professions. It's hard to love what you do and to pour your heart into it endlessly, only to be defined by numbers 1-5, determined by variables far beyond your personal control. I've been labeled a moron and a rockstar in various schools over my 13 years of teaching, and I've learned that an objective rubric and subjective evaluation of me on any given day is certainly not the defining factor that will make or break me as an educator. Consider getting real teachers instead of suits at the BOE.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Glitter Polish

I paint my nails quite frequently now...a little sparkle in the crazy that is currently my norm. Show up to 13-year olds every day for several months, and you'll need more than glitter polish to forgive and forget the ridiculousness that 7:30-2:30 entails.

Things I've said since August:

"What did you just put in your mouth?"
"Please get off the floor."
"Put your shoes on."
"Did you just eat a booger?"
"Stop hitting people with your ID."
"Put your ID around your neck...not on your head, hooked over your ears with the clip up your nose."
"Stop beating on things."
"Don't staple your body parts."
"What's that smell?"
"Why is your paper sticky?"
"Get out from behind the door and sit down in your seat."
"I'm going to pop your head if you don't stop squirming around so much."
"What's going on in the bathroom? Are they pounding out beats while using the urinals?"
"Stop yelling...I'm right here."
"Stop touching one another."
"Don't look at him/her."
"Be still."
"I love y'all's little faces, but you're annoying about 99.999999999 % of the time."
"Pork chops! Stop talking!"
"If you don't stop blurting out and interrupting people, I'm going to flick your eyeballs."
"I will be the sole paper trail for your trip to RT if you don't stop."
"I am so glad it's Friday. I don't have to see you and you don't have to see me for two whole days."
"This is the best day of my life."
"Best story I've heard all day."
"Wish I'd brought my caring face today."
"This middle school business won't cut it in high school."
"Where is (insert crazy child's name here)? How did I lose a child in one room?"
"You may have ONE sheet of computer paper. That mess is expensive."
"Yes, you're right, this is my job, but I don't get paid enough to deal with your greasy butt."
"Get your face off the book/desk/floor/her purse/my podium/the wall/etc."
"Where's your agenda?"
"Why are you so mean?"
"Yes, it's true that I'm old enough to be your mom."
"Yes, I only have cats."
"Girls, they only get taller and harrier, not smarter. Remember that. Fat and bald at the 10yr reunion. Fat and bald."
"Sit down! It is not time to go yet, and I will stand in front of that door."
"Stop kicking the locker."
"Put your backpack away."
"No, you may not BORROW a peppermint, but you may eat the entire thing and not give it back."
"Y'all listen like you don't have ears."

This is mild compared to some things I've said. I've had to liken the hallway to a highway just to get the zoo animals to stay in their lane. I have to remind them that once-upon-a-time in a land far away, libraries were quiet places where reading was acceptable and social hour was NOT the agenda. I am the current subject of a popular snapchat where a child is flipping me off because she loves me so much. And in the next couple months I'm going to learn just how much compassion and understanding middle schoolers have -- more on that later.

Hug a middle schooler because their mean heads need it. As a matter of fact, they need butt whoopins and hugs...the kinds of hugs that hurt a little and make their eyes uncomfortably bulge. They like it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Sore Losers and Winners

I have lain dormant for the past few months, partly due to personal issues regarding my job last year and partly due to lack of something substantial to say, but the silence has to be broken at some point, and I refuse to break it in the form of some whiny FB post that feeds into the drama dividing Americans in the first place.

This post could drone on; however, I want to point out a few of my own observations in short; observations that aren't really soliciting response but, instead, just need to get out there for my own sanity and for the safety of my social media feed.

  • All politicians lie. Yep. If you didn't vote for a candidate based on his/her propensity for lying, you're lying to yourself in thinking you voted for one who doesn't. 
  • Jack Nicholson said it best when he screamed, "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!" Americans are horrible about demanding the truth and then even worse about sorely licking their wounds when they get it. Regardless of my own leanings, I'll say that Trump has been more forward with his opinions (sometimes to his detriment), thus pissing off everyone who loves a good sugar coating of serious issues. You don't have to agree, but at least acknowledge the balls required to say some of what's been said out loud. Most of you don't have the set to speak up for your own trivial issues because you fear what people think. He put it all out there and left it up to the people to decide if it was bad enough to make them reconsider his policy.
  • Not one debate focused solely on policy. Both candidates did piss poor jobs sticking to the script and being respectful. Despite the outcome, one has to work with and abide by the policy of the other. Debates are for disagreements and pitching arguments; they aren't meant to be shit shows full of name calling and blatant personal attacks. 
  • The media has skewed EVERYTHING regarding this election, and they'll continue to do it as long as we are ignorant enough to buy into the hype. Had today's news sources existed decades ago, people would have made different choices in candidates as well. As a matter of fact, JFK persuaded Nixon to participate in televised events, and it worked in his favor. Statistics over the last several decades show that voters often make decisions less on policy and more on superficial factors like age, health and overall aesthetic. The fact that several late night shows took policy from each candidate and pitched it to voters on the "other side" to prove people don't know their candidate's policy should show us how ignorant and sheepish we are to make decisions based on media depictions. The media is "guiding" us and poking fun at gullibility. 
  • Neither candidate loves all or hates all of certain portions of the population. Trump wants to hyper regulate immigration while Hillary claims we should let everyone into America. Trump makes sexual comments about women while Hillary advocates women's rights and has more of a platform on the sole fact that she is a woman as opposed to any policy she's presented on the issue. Trump is a rich businessman who gets a bad wrap for a million dollar loan his father handed over once upon a time, and Hillary is a rich politician who throws around just as much money and not always for good. So, you're mad because the one you didn't vote for is rich and misuses money and rips people off...yeah, they both do.
Many Hillary voters should be ashamed of themselves for having such poor attitudes toward the loss, and an equal number of Trump voters should be ashamed of themselves for reveling in their defeat. At the end of the day, we are all Americans. We are not Democrats, Republicans, Independents or any other party title; we are people who should be living and working together for common good and for the improvement of our county. On a regular day, most don't give a rat's behind with which ticket people more closely align, and it shouldn't be any different in election times. People will always thrive; people will always struggle; and no one is 100% on either ticket (surprise surprise...we all have a little of both going for us). 

Either way, there's good and bad. I could spend hours listing the deficiencies of each candidate; however, I'm under the impression that a president has been elected, and as an American, I have an obligation to act with respect and dignity and not let myself stoop so low as I've seen others stoop in public forum. Burning American flags, skipping the country, wallowing in the triumphs and/or sorrows of self and others -- these are all embarrassingly ignorant displays of American spirit. Until party lines are blurred and people start working together to improve various aspects of our county, we will continue to bitch and moan, ultimately causing our own division and accomplishing nothing. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Snow Angels and Shizz

I sort of feel like I'm in the Gilded Age of teaching...ya know, a super crappy time coated in all the feels I have toward educating the children; at this point,  it's the only thing that keeps me getting up every day. It's the Gilded Age because I am actually happy, not stressed, that we've missed three days in a row and will probably miss a fourth on Monday because of blizzard-like conditions that swooped in overnight. I literally have sat on the same couch cushion for three days straight with minimal moving. I've managed to make it to the gym once, go for a snowy walk, break out the Wii for Just Dance 3, and get myself inordinate amounts of food and La Croix waters from the kitchen (luckily in the same room as the couch). A year ago, I would have cheered, then jeered, at the thought of so many snow days in a row, and now? Now, I'm jaded. Having that 20-something moment of needing to "find myself" career wise. On top of that, you can only sit on the same piece of furniture with your cat while talking to your boyfriend on the phone without thinking, "wow, I'm literally snowed in with a furry man cat. I am sort of a cat lady." Le sigh.

I haven't worn real clothes in three days. THREE DAYS. And no, gym clothes don't count. Spandex in public is really only acceptable if you're going to or coming from the gym. Take note, ladies.

So, after fighting with a spaghetti squash for 15 minutes, I'm sitting here smelling the yummies bake in the oven while I formulate a million 'what ifs' in my head for the near future. Instead of divulging too much, I'll just tell you more about me from the perspective of the children:

I am an idiot. I know nothing about college, student loans (or how to avoid them), ACT scores, or scholarships. As a matter of fact, I should just stop trying to tell them things because I just sound stupid when I "lecture" about having a plan for the future.

I still have no idea how to be a good teacher. I certainly know nothing about Shakespeare or English, and I really should stop with all this history stuff about Rome because what in the world does that have to do with reading and writing about Julius Caesar?

White girls can cook? ANNNNNDDDD bake?

Apparently I'm the most generous person ever: one child literally takes my water every day and guzzles it after lunch. "Thanks, Ms. Freeman!" You're welcome, I guess. I mean, is it couth to say "thank you" when you didn't ask in the first place?

I don't understand the difference in late and on time. I mean, I should totally let you in if you're sprinting down the hallway and still around the corner when the bell rings. Shame on me for making you get a note to class. I'll work on that.

I am a social outcast because I don't watch Empire. I can't believe I don't know who pushed pookie or boo boo or bae down the stairs last week.

Sit in chairs? Who sits in chairs? On their bottoms? Looking respectable? I missed the memo where we sprawl across desks and chairs because we're 'tired' and just don't feel like learning today. Next visitor to my room should expect me face down on the lectern. I can totally teach that way.

Whoever came up with putting things away after you use them should be placed in front of a firing squad. How dare I ask the children to push in their chairs and put away the borrowed pencils at the end of class. And stack textbooks? No. That's doin' too much.

Leave school at 3pm when I'm allowed to walk out the door? Well, if judgmental looks and mumbles from the permanent fixtures are all I have to worry about as I grab my belongings at 2:59, I'll surely shake them off at the slam of the heavy metal door. Some people, for their own sanity, get their crap done strategically during planning, before school, and while the children are working. Some of us are over the times where taking work home is the norm. If I took work home at this point, I'd cry all the time, have no boyfriend, and really be a cat lady. No bueno.

So, in the spirit of getting to scrape the cool looking (and super stubborn) spaghetti squash, I'll spare you any further weirdness or insights into my soul. I'll probably watch You've Got Mail for the third time in three days and continue to sit on my couch cushion. C'est la vie, people.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Oh. You don't say?"

I don't know if I should be glad or worried that my skin has thickened to the point that I almost laugh in the face of pretty scathing insults. Maybe it's a matter of survival; maybe I'm becoming increasingly disturbed; or maybe I'm being sucked into some vortex of self confidence that helps me to deflect the loads of crap kids blurt each day. Even if you think you know me well, this week has illuminated things that even I didn't know about myself.

1. English is not History class, so you just need to stop with the History already. Aren't we supposed to be putting those little things in sentences...you know, those things, Ms. Freeman. Commas and stuff.

"Oh. You don't say?"

2. You don't want kids to learn; you just don't know what it means to teach. At least other people want us to do well. You keep failing us because you don't want us to play sports or anything. You're just sad.

"Oh. You don't say?"

3. As a matter of fact, you should just stop teaching the History behind some of this writing. History isn't even real.

"Oh. You don't say?"

4. I don't even know how you got a man who looks like that to like you. You just want everyone to be nerdy, and he is NOT nerdy. But you're probably going to make it.

"Oh. You don't say?"

5. You always follow the rules. Always. You are the only person who follows all the rules all the time. I mean, don't you ever get tired of being nerdy and boring all the time, Ms. Freeman? You really should just break a rule sometime.

"Oh. You don't say?"

6. I know you keep telling us you can't control the thermostat, but I think you just make it cold in here because you know we don't like it. You like it when we're uncomfortable. That's because you're a bad teacher.

"Oh. You don't say?"

7. You don't teach college. You just tell us that because you want to look like you know what you're doing.

"Oh. You don't say?"

8. That's your brother? (pointing to the picture of the boyfriend) Gross! You date your brother?!? You white people don't make sense.

"Oh. You don't say?"

9. You never teach us any English stuff. We're always reading and writing and looking up words and annotating. When are we going to do the English stuff. I don't even think you teach the right stuff.

"Oh. You don't say?"

10. *refuses to complete work; gets progress report* What?! I'm failing?! This is stupid. You think you can just give me grades? That's what you do. You just give out grades because you don't actually want us to do well. Other teachers help us; you never help.

"Oh. You don't say?"

If I continued, I might actually start to question my purpose in life. That, or I'd laugh hysterically to keep from crying at how misguided and skewed the opinions are. For now, I'll don my duck feathers and let it all roll off. According to this bunch, I'm just as well to join the circus. I have a 25lb cat and could probably learn to jump through flaming hula hoops; it may not be a glamorous life, but it sounded cool when I read Water for Elephants.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Everything I needed to know about life I've learned in the last four months.

If you said you understood my current plight, my affinity for stress baking, or the rusty brakes on my struggle bus, I'd say, "You flagin'!" "Get your life!" and "That's dead."

You don't. You can't. You don't want to. I'm somewhere between questioning purpose and throwing caution to the wind, and the middle ground...well, it slipped out from underneath me a few weeks back. From tears to necessary laughter, from disbelief and doubt to accidental recognition and praise, I've run the gamut of feelings, and I don't think any SEL training in the world can help me make sense of them. Every time I sit down to blog or to write in a journal, my proverbial pen leaks all over the place, and I'm left with a mess of things that I can't quite manipulate into cohesive thoughts. So, I just don't. And, there's the explanation for the four month hiatus. As far as the life lessons I've acquired in the last four months? Imagine that "Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten" poster and read on, friends.

1. Change is good, even if it's not quite the change you expected. 2. Meeting new people is fun, especially when you have to trust one of them, on day #1,  not to let you fall off a rock wall in Nashville. 3. I now understand what it means to have a work spouse. My work husband can be appeased with baked goods, and he's basically the male version of me, so we get along swimmingly. 4. Inner city children are bold and brazen when it comes to navigating the city, but they have no clue what it means to tackle seemingly impossible academic tasks. 5. Being called racist and told to "go back to where you came from" hurts in the moment, but you cry later. They will eat you if you cry in front of them. 6. Thick skin is necessary in teaching; however, body armor is essential on some days. 7. Too many people don't stand up for their talents or fight for their rights. 8. Those same people are too afraid to challenge authority for fear it might make them appear insubordinate or noncompliant. 9. Always use your resources. They're there for a reason. If the person on the other end of the phone or email isn't providing what you want or need, push the issue appropriately. See 7 and 8. 10. It's hard to be super invested when you don't quite feel like you belong. 11. Time doesn't heal everything, but it provides clarity, even when you feel like driving into the fog will result in a monumental crash. 12. Pep Rally doesn't take on the same meaning in the city. 13. Twerking is a serious skill. 14. People are increasingly easy to read as I age; however, teenagers are, and always will be, ticking little time bombs. 15. People who don't know me don't like that I speak my mind and stand up for myself. It's in my nature. No gray area here. 16. I know what I'm doing even if you think I don't. We all have things to learn, but we all deserve praise for what we already do well. 17. Job security fear is a real thing. People who feel they have something to lose don't surround themselves with smarter folks. 18. Some people cannot discern the difference between discipline and attitude. 19. Respect, to some, means letting them do whatever they want, when they want. Where I come from, respect is earned not demanded. 20. Name calling, vandalism, and defiance top the list for "I'll show you" behaviors. 21. Violence is the answer for some people. 22. I make a mean u-turn when a kid is running down the street with a gun in one hand and the other hand in the air to avoid police gunfire. 23. Environment effects change on personality. I might curse a bit more than normal. *embarrassed face here* 24. The value of sleep is underestimated by the school system. 7am class is for the birds. 25. "If it's out, it's fair game" is the philosophy of borrowing vs. stealing. 26. A city block can make all the difference in someone's quality of life and available opportunities. 27. I'll never again check school email on my phone. You should delete your app, too. For once, leave school at school. 28. Never underestimate the power of someone to embarrass you in a faculty meeting by screaming, "I learned that Ms. Freeman's Thanksgiving break highlight is that she tends to like making sexualized cookies." Long story on that one... 29. When your work husband gets wind of sexualized cookies, he's gonna dare you to blurt things aloud and make you laugh from across the room. 30. Doing the running man in the hallway just before saying, "BLESSINGS!" makes the potential crazy you're walking into seem a little more tolerable.

I plan to add to my list. But, for the sake of time and sleep (beautiful, beautiful sleep), I'm going to end on a cliff hanger and come back for more sometime this week. I've yet to cover traffic, today's teenager assumption that "history isn't real," and the relationship between super short hair and the word "dyke." Enjoy, my lovelies. The hiatus is over.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Firebird Fires Back

The proverbial summer has come to an end, and school begins full force tomorrow. This certainly has been a summer of firsts, seconds, and holy craps and while I'm nervous for everything to come, I know that it's all going to be eye opening and humbling for me. After two months of letting rumors fly, bets be placed, and minds reel, I thought it best to clear the air and set the record straight.

I left Station Camp because...
...it gave me a great start as a public high school teacher, but I had my moment, and it's time for someone else to go in and love the kids. From crying on a daily basis my first year to walking the halls with my tough reputation in tow, I ran the gamut as a bison. Student council, prom, AP Lang Comp, Froshies -- I wouldn't trade a minute of my time at SCHS because it helped me to find myself as an educator; however, I need a new challenge to keep me on my toes so that I can learn more about teaching, about life, and about myself.

I chose Pearl Cohn Entertainment Magnet because...
...I was afforded a great opportunity to leap, so I slid off my floaties and dove head first. The outpouring of community from the teachers and staff (and even the BOE -- education people will understand why this one is a surprise!) has been huge, and I'm glad to have spent a good chunk of my summer working with new "family," not to be confused as replacements for my bison family. This job is different in every way imaginable, and it doesn't require me to give up everything that I love. No, I won't be teaching AP for now, but I will get to continue my involvement in TASC and student council, and I'll have some amazing opportunities to collaborate with teachers all across the school and district.

Why some people think I'm going...
...almost makes me laugh yet simultaneously makes me sad. I am not choosing a turn-around school with a poorer population in order to splint a bunch of broken wings and return baby birdies to the nest; I am choosing a turn-around school with a poorer population because I need a challenge to become a better teacher. I need a kid with the guts to go toe to toe with me; a kid who desperately tries to get people to give up on him even though he needs them to stick around; a kid who will force me to ask myself how to do my job better and who will constantly force me to ask "who am I?" and "what is my purpose?"

What some people secretly think but won't say to my face...
is a bit disheartening. Even if it's out of worry, it hurts my feelings that people who supposedly know me well wonder if I truly know what challenge I've accepted...some even think I'll beg to have my old job back. Naive is something I try not to be; although I'm not always successful, a good majority of the time, I'm cognizant of what it means to trade one set of problems for another. I made the trade. I chose this job, and I'm scared and excited for the challenge.


The other thing that makes me sad is that people immediately judge the school and students based on location and past reputation. I have actually been asked if congratulations are in order since it's Pearl Cohn. My response? If you would congratulate someone on taking a new job that is a pay promotion, a good solid challenge, and an opportunity to meet and work with well-trained colleagues, then yes. Congratulations are in order. But please don't wish me well if you don't mean it.

I will miss SCHS dearly because the people there are like family. The emails, comments, lunches, phone calls, etc. have been more than a generous response to my departure. Some of the people I respect the most but never knew thought so highly of me have passed along precious advice and regard for my new adventure. The biggest compliments have come from the students surprised to hear I'm leaving. Not one (and that is not an exaggeration) has questioned my motives but, instead, they've encouraged me and maintained that it's a move fitting for my personality. It's sad to leave the children, but I get to inherit new ones. :)

Regardless of what you think, I know why I'm making a change. So much has transpired since the beginning of May, and I can't even begin to explain it all. I don't need to. Stay tuned. I hear each day will be a helluva story, and those who know me well will expect a blog of follies. Oh man, I can only imagine I'll have them.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Road Trip Tips

A week on the road, and I'm happy to be back in TN. I think this post will come as a surprise to most people, but I thought many of you would like to know my true thoughts about this week.

Places visited: 4 major; several minor
Accommodations: booked through AirBnB (total cost was over $200 less than hotel listings)
Time elapsed: (including drive days): 8
Geography: Southeast coast
Transportation: personal car (2005 Nissan Altima)
Miles Driven: just under 1800
Total cost: (including tips, activities, accommodations, gas, food, souvenirs): under $1000

Wilmington, NC:
I. Love. Wilmington, or as the locals often refer to it, Filmington. Hollywood East is known for numerous television shows and movies, and the locals really eat up the tourism in a good way. The people are friendly, humble, and gracious, and they love out of towners strolling down the river walk. I stayed 1.5 miles from downtown, and it was an easy walk to get to local coffee shops, cafes, and the downtown area. After dark, it's not super safe to walk out of downtown, but the city itself is really safe. An Uber or regular taxi is only about $5 bucks if you're staying nearby; traffic isn't all that heavy at any time of day. Humid days and cool, breezy nights define the city's temperament, and the city itself is easy to navigate.

Wrightsville beach is closest to Wilmington, but Kure and Carolina beaches offer some unique amenities not available at Wrightsville. A return trip will see me visiting those beaches, as parking on WB was horrendous and saw me donating 10 bucks to a mission trip for some church just to get a day spot without being charged out the butt. The walk to the beach was easy but long, but I'll say the bridge I had to cross into the beach area was gorgeous and offered great views of docked and moving sailboats. It was like something I'd seen in a movie...oh wait, I probably have seen it in a movie!

A few good eats: Folks' Cafe on Princess St., Port City Java, Blue Surf Cafe, Shuckin' Shack, Elwin's, Tar Heel Creamery, Front Street Brewery

Things to do: River Walk, Wrightsville Beach (a little crowded but nice), UNC Wilmington, riverboat tour (only 10 bucks, but 9 if you visit the Information Hut for a coupon)

Goose Creek, SC (North of Charleston):
Goose Creek is a great little community very similar to Hendersonville, TN but smaller. It's fairly easy to navigate and is as close to Charleston as Hendersonville is to Nashville, but because they only have one interstate from GC into Charleston, it takes FOREVER to get to the city, especially during busy times.

Charleston itself leaves a lot to be desired if you ask me. I didn't really care for the city, although I did find The Battery and the pier extremely nice and relaxing. The city itself is crowded and smells like pee. The people were friendly, and The Market was neat, but it was so crowded and overrun with tourists that it was almost impossible to stop to look at anything. I did have a great experience at a boutique called Palmettos, where I had the opportunity to be part of a PBS News Hour filming about rising water levels in the low country. The shop owner is originally from Ontario, and she and I had a nice chat and some fun fake shopping interaction for the cameras. My conclusion: I'm not a city girl, but I thoroughly enjoyed kayaking the low country off the coast of Folly Beach with Charleston Outdoor Adventures. The eco system and salt marshes are interesting if you enjoy the outdoors, and the low country is full of cool creatures; I saw bottle nosed dolphins right beside my boat. A picture couldn't have done them justice, so I just enjoyed the moment.

In the future, I'd like to go back to explore some of the islands and beaches near Charleston. People only associate Charleston with the city, but it's a big place that branches out.

A few good eats: Gilligan's (a handful of locations only in SC; I ate in Goose Creek), Charleston Crab House, St. James Place (Goose Creek)

Things to do: Charleston Outdoor Adventures (kayak, paddle board, boat tours), The Battery, the pier (there's italian ice!), The Market, Mt. Pleasant, (several islands and beaches that I didn't get to tour: Isle of Palms, Daniel Island, Sullivan's Island, Folly Beach)

*parking is a bit expensive in Charleston, but a garage is the only way to go. For 11 bucks, your car is safe, and you won't be assaulted by the very active and job conscious meter maids. The beaches and islands have strict rules for street parking; you might want to Google all of that if you plan to forgo the garages.

Bluffton, SC (Hilton Head Island)
Bluffton is a fun little community that's the diving board for HH Island. I didn't have near enough time in this locale, and since it's only 8 flat hours from home, I'll be going back soon to explore the island more throughly. Bluffton is booming with tons of retail spaces, grocery stores, and high-end residences, along with a more middle class population like myself. Hilton Head beaches, parks, and other amenities are just a few miles up the road, and the best part is that many places offer free parking -- and, it's not a fight for the spaces. Nature preserves, hiking/biking trails, beaches, cafes, marinas...you name it: Hilton Head has it. I will be going back to HH and Bluffton, hopefully this year, and I'll know this time to book my bike rental 24-hours in advance. The beaches are gorgeous, and oddly enough, the parks that offer free parking are near the least populated parts of the beach. Waters are cool enough to be refreshing but warm enough for comfort; sand is super fine and gets hot easily but in places is super saturated and will soak your towel and other belongings (but this wet, packed sand is easy to ride bikes on); waters are also relatively calm but have the relaxing sounds of crashing waves; the constant breeze is refreshing and quells excessive sweat so common in humid areas (hello, South!), but be careful because that breeze will fool you into thinking your sun tan isn't happening (trust me, you're a french fry). The final thought on Bluffton and Hilton Head is that I love both places and am excited about going back to spend more time on the island. There's so much to do, and I didn't even put a dent in it.

A few good eats: Palmetto Bay Sunrise Cafe, Island Bagels and Deli, Kelly's Tavern

Things to do: bike/hike HH Island and beaches, explore downtown Bluffton (very old and cute and free parking! with lots of restaurants and shops), visit a nature preserve or beach, shop at one of the million Tanger Outlet Malls nearby (there are so many, they're numbered), kayak or boat tours with various companies around the island

Savannah, GA
During my stay in Bluffton/Hilton Head, I ventured 40 minutes south to Savannah, GA. I've been before, but honestly, my previous experience ruined this go round. The moment I stepped onto River St. in the Historic District, I got a sinking feeling that I couldn't shake. The city isn't easy to navigate, and honestly, I think I need to read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil if I really want to appreciate what the city has to offer by way of monuments, houses, and history. I ate on the river front at One-eyed Lizzy's (the gator quesadilla was delicious but rich), and after strolling the city, I cut out after only two hours. The perk of Savannah is if you can wait until 6pm, street parking is free (and impossible to find), and any one of the 5 city parking garages charges a flat overnight rate of 2-3 bucks. Beware, close to the riverfront is a parking garage that isn't associated with the city, and they price gouge. I was almost had but politely asked the parking attendant to let me leave free of charge since I hadn't parked yet. She was nice but perturbed. Make sure to look up Savannah city parking garages before you go. If you can't wait until 6pm, you're looking to pay about $16 to park for the day. Oh, and don't be alarmed as you walk around the city and see people carrying around alcoholic drinks; Savannah is known for having an "open container" policy, so the riverfront shops and restaurants actually sell "to-go" alcohol.  Surprisingly, only a few fools abuse the privilege and stumble into crosswalks; most folks have sense.

If you're interested in the beach while in Savannah, Tybee Island is about 45 minutes east, and it's a nice little place with quiet sands and only one busy street at the far end of the island. I've stayed in Tybee Lights condos before, and they are good for people who don't need upscale rooming and who only want to chill on the beach for the week. Biking the island is fun, but it's super expensive, so budget in advance.
So, this doesn't cover everything but it does the job for now. AirBnB is the only way to book accommodations, especially if you're interested in meeting locals, experiencing a homey feel, and saving money. Driving (within reason, obviously) is a great way to learn yourself (make sure to have your car travel checked and keep up with all routine maintenance; Car Care in Hendersonville did my travel check, and they were honest and helpful. I got out for 39 bucks total!).

My favorites were definitely Wilmington, NC and Bluffton/Hilton Head. I'm only interested in exploring Charleston's surrounding islands, and if I never went to Savannah again, I wouldn't cry about it. Solo travel is fun, and it really gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Heath, Vicki, Sabrina, and Sean were the best hosts I could have had for my journey, and I certainly hope to cross paths with them again. So, I hope you're asking yourself, "Where am I going to travel" not "Who wants to travel with me." If you wait for people to get on board, you'll never live your life. I'm already asking myself where the next adventure will take me. My 8-day excursion for under $1000 shows you that with some planning and courage, you can go on a great journey without breaking the bank.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Thanks, Harper Lee.

"Travel alone? Why?" 

If I've answered this question once in the last couple months...well, you know how the rest goes. A spring break trip with a couple girlfriends got me thinking about my life, my feeling of "treading water" and never really doing anything except shaking up my relatively predictable routine. For years, I've had aspirations of travel but no one willing to come along. After a text conversation with a friend and a gmail chat with my brother, I decided to seek my own adventure. Some research on good weekend trips with outdoor opportunities pointed me toward Asheville, NC, and at 10:30 one weeknight, I booked my accommodations for the weekend preceding my 32nd birthday. 

What inspired all of this? Harper Lee. Yep. Good ole Harper Lee published an article in a 1965 McCalls about children discovering the world. It's one of her rare nonfiction pieces that many don't even know she wrote. "When Children Discover America" inspired me to get out and explore America for myself; I've always said that I have little desire to go galavanting around foreign countries when there's much to discover here in my own country, so I asked myself what I've been waiting for. Myself didn't have an answer, so I made her buck up and make a plan, a plan without plans, so to speak. 

Booking my accommodations was exciting and empowering; my students were excited when we discussed the article (they read it during our reading of To Kill a Mockingbird) and the details of my intended trip leaked into conversation. Surprisingly, momma wasn't horrified that I was driving over five hours from home, by myself, for a weekend of hiking and adventure. My brother, always a cheerleader for adventure and travel, even got me a cool book for my birthday all about 36 hour trips to take across North America (36 Hours, 150 Weekends). 

I was feeling excited until I got wind that some people interpreted my solo excursion as a desperate effort to get away -- a depressed vacation lamenting my singleness. They felt bad for me and assumed I was going away sad, yet it's quite the opposite! My 87-year old grandfather was fit to be tied, exclaiming to my mother his distaste for women traveling alone, really doing anything alone. What most people didn't realize is the same week I booked my Asheville trip, I got a wild hair and planned a week-long road trip along the East coast: Wilmington, NC; Charleston, SC; Hilton Head, SC; Savannah, GA. I searched AirBnB and made bookings with three hosts along the coast, and I'm so excited about the trip I can't stand it. The call's been made to get a travel check on Pepe (my Pewter colored Altima...get it, Pepe le Pewter?!), and after stuffing report cards on the morning of May 23rd, I'm heading out on a solo road trip -- like Thelma and Louise, except just me and the open road...and no Brad Pitt. :) I have places to stay and no solid plans of what to do, and that's how I want to keep it. After years of wishing for a trip to Wilmington, I'm finally getting the chance to explore Dawson's Creek in all its glory, a chance to eat oysters in Charleston, a chance to run on the beach in Hilton Head, and a chance to drink a beer on the riverfront in Savannah while talking to strangers and eating ridiculously good (and buttery, y'all) food. 

All of this is to say that I'm tired of living in the shadow of myself. The world has tons to offer, and my brother is right: if I don't explore it now, I'll look back and realize that I had a wonderful time in my single life to seek adventure, and I wasted it. I refuse to waste my time waiting on adventure to fall into my lap, trip me from around a corner, or randomly show up on my doorstep. We make time for the things important in our lives, and folks, I'm important to me. My want of solo adventure doesn't mean I don't enjoy travel with friends and family and certainly doesn't point to any harbored depression, but it means I'm bold and courageous and independent and fearless. The Asheville trip was scary but fun, liberating and new, and I can't wait to feel uncomfortable and out of my element when I'm nine hours from home making friends with strangers and watching sunsets on the beach. Don't feel sorry for me. Get out there and seek your own adventure. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Life is a like a box of choc...aphorisms, adages, metaphors...

"When life throws you lemons...," if you're me, you make a helluva lot of lemonade. Strong, independent, grounded -- I think that I resemble these qualities, but man my lemonade stand is overrun right now. I'm squeezing the crap outta the little suckers, and I feel like I'm just getting seeds everywhere. Yeesh.

School is always a stressor, especially at the peak of prom season, but for the duration of a couple weeks, I manage to sacrifice Ms. Freeman for a much harsher five-letter name and let the criticism "roll down like a mighty stream" (what up, MLK). Saying what you mean and having people take you seriously is apparently not customary, as it seems to be surprising to many when I actually follow through with what I declare. My froshies keep things interesting (even in the midst of a ridiculously hard research project), sometimes causing me to forget the exorbitant amounts of lemonade filling up my proverbial cup.

Oddly, I recently taught the difference in Romanticism and Realism, and I tell ya, it's amazing how teaching often seeps into real life, reminding me that I'm a real person with real feelings and often times no idea what the crap I'm doing on the daily. So that begs the question of the day regarding the shift from 19th c. Victorian Romanticism to early 20th c. Realism: is your glass half full or half empty?

Half-full vs. Half-empty:

Wouldn't we all like to claim half-full status so as not to be classified as a pessimist or grump? Of course, but it's unrealistic and ultimately fake. It's hard to pretend things are great when they aren't, and while I'm the queen of putting on a happy face for my kiddos even when my personal life is all shaken up, it's not my nature to put on. I'm in your face, blunt, and matter of fact, but sometimes you have to fake it to make it, and there's nothing wrong with that. On the flip side, everyone has a bad day, but people freak out when others unload. Anyone sporting frustration or sadness is automatically a sad sack clearly willing himself into unhappiness. I call BULL. Also, anyone with a legitimate complaint about life or work gets written off as mean or crotchety. People are so afraid of being classified as "empty" that they top off the glass, whether genuine or not, and smile until behind closed doors. Sadly, two transplants have said to me recently that people in the South are the most fake people they've ever met, and all I can do is nod in agreement, as a good majority of Southerners, especially women, aren't truly as accommodating as they appear. That's why people like me (and my friend Caty) are labeled "mean" and "scary": we are genuinely nice people, but we speak the truth. Always.

Life is definitely what you make of it, but holding in a half-empty kind of day doesn't make you a half-full person, and pretending to be half-full doesn't mean people don't see through you. We're not doing one another favors by letting people down easily and sugar-coating what we really mean to say; I'm not advocating outright meanness or kicking folks while they're down, but if more people told the truth without fear of dumping their cup, then clarity would triumph and worry and wonder would be squashed. The truth is, "you can't handle the truth," and people like me will continue to ride their brooms to work, "intentionally" shatter people's dreams, and will get their hearts broken by folks who just can't seem to say what they really feel is necessary to convey.

It's a tough world when you wear your feelings on the outside, but that's ok. The moral of this story is that my glass is full to the brim: it's full of insect-attracting, jaw-puckering lemonade, and I'm gonna keep on drinking the crap out of it until someone comes along and neutralizes all the tart in my life.