Momma’s BBQ, South Haven

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We pass this little BBQ Airstream every South Haven trip, it wasn’t until today that we followed our nose in. On the corner of Blue Star Highway and Phoenix Street, the trailer/smoker is located next to a great produce stand with outside seating. From the stand we added local strawberries to our picnic. The stand also sold a good selection of Michigan beers.

A friendly recent, Allegan grad greeted us and we knew we made a great stop. The prices were decent, the smells heavenly, and I fell in love with the Airstream turned functional take out kitchen. Rib tips and smoked chicken are popular. In fact we snagged the last chicken and it was only 12:15. The usual sides of slaw, beans, and corn on the cob were available. We opted for 1/2 a chicken, two pulled pork sandwiches, and two corns. $17.00 with a can of pop.

Missing are the delicious, mouthwatering food pictures. Apparently my love for pulled pork has passed on to the kids. All I had was a 1/2 of ear corn and 1/3 of a sandwich that was nibbled on by the youngest. The husband did share one small pull of his chicken. Thank goodness we had the strawberries. I ate a few handfuls before the kids finished them off. The sauce was mild and did not over take the smoked meat. The chicken was the charmer! It had a pleasant smoke taste and was not over powered by the sauce. The corn was bland, missing smoke, butter, and salt. The meat though made up for it! By the time I remembered to take pictures, all was left were a few BBQ stained wet wiped and a few full bellies.

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We will not be passing up this place again. It was a great stop for our trip to the children’s park! So glad we picked BBQ over ice cream.

Summer Solstice

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As part of the Latvian Jāņi (Summer Solstice) tradition, women and girls wear vainags (crown of flowers). My first couple of Jāņi celebrations, I fumbled my way through vainags preparations. Then, I landed at the mothership, Rīgā for Jāņi.

Driving back roads to country homes, it is perfectly acceptable to pull over and tromp through fields in search of “the” flowers. “The” being nature’s bounty, wild. Next the task is to weave and fasten the crown using stems, leaves, and more “nature” parts. I learned from the Obi Wan of vainags, locals…in a roadside bar.

This year I painstakingly picked flowers from around our home. Upon arriving at vecmamminas (grandmother’s), the husband and daughter added some additional floral pieces from the generational plot. Thirty minutes later and this…

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Yes, my daughter wore it with pride until…she noticed a masterpiece. A crown so tightly woven that the flowers hugged the head like a floral halo. Never mind that the flowers were store bought or held together with artificial pieces, she wanted that vainags. The golden Jāņi crown. Gone was my mommy pride, leaving behind only two green thumbs and thorn punctures. The vainags tossed aside with her dinner plate.

Oh Jāni, give me another chance. I will avenge the 2014 vainags!

In summer time

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Summer is now 1 week into the history books. Parenting during this time is a mixed bag. Suddenly 5 individuals who usually are apart for a good chunk of the day now together all day…after day. Our summer schedule is “KEEP BUSY!” Idle time results in overwhelmed people, usually the adults.

My first teaching week “off” has been anything but off. Learning new technology, educational readings, answering emails, participating in chats, tweeting, and I could go on, but teachers reading this understand.

Olaf talks about having his snow up in the sand getting gorgeously tan. Mine will be in a chair, phone or computer near, getting grossly underpaid to work during Summer.

Now back to the regularly scheduled programming, parenting. 7:00 is too early in the summer.

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Good enough and Smart enough

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Good enough and Smart enough

“I’m good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” Stuart Smalley, SNL

The last few months, this has been my daily affirmation.  I have it on a tiny, fortune cookie sized paper on my keyboard.  Some days in education are a crap fest.  Some days one must question why stay.  After a few rough weeks of getting a negative beat down, I had to change focus.  I chose to rise above.  My students reminded me one day that no evaluation can accurately assess the “smarts” a person contains, the love for his/her job, teaching passion, life’s impact, or the inherit goodness in one’s soul .   True, true.

How many times do I impress upon my students that there is a job out there for each of them that is their glass slipper?!  Not everyone is destined to be a farmer, rapper, teacher, CEO, telemarketer, or sanitation worker.  While in college, I drove a forklift for 4 years and while it was fun, it is not something I could do as a career.  Hats off to those that do.  I also shelved and repaired books at the local library for 3 years.  For a high school student, it was a well paid, accommodating job.  Now?  The library’s quiet, tranquil atmosphere would be a welcome reprieve from education and mommy-hood…just not a year after year fit  for me.  In the end, I believe that I’ve found my glass slipper.

Sure some days the glass slipper is a little loose, slipping off as I walk the educational tightrope.  Other days the shoe is a tight fit, like I cannot possibly jam my swollen, overloaded foot in for a day’s work.  Most of the time, it’s perfect; everything clicks, gels, and works.  Any given day I strive for the glove fit.  But I cannot always prepare for the the temperature, amount of walking, or overall stress that I put on my feet.  Education is like this.  I can have the best laid plans, most interactive lessons, but one student or moment can change this.  Can anyone get 100% engagement all the time?  Will a teacher be able to reach every student, every moment?  I believe that good teachers reach for the 100% and have “plans” in place to reach that engagement level.  However, be honest, there are things going on in student’s lives that do not make that possible.  For instance, the student who blurted out during a lesson that she was pregnant or another who wanted to openly share his recent court proceedings.  While class time is not the best opportunity to discuss these life events, I cannot simply ignore or redirect without validating the emotions involved.  These are the moments that a teacher rating scale does not address.

Rather than a few walk throughs and brief layovers, come join us.  Engage with the lesson, participate in the discussions, become a part of the class.  See the classroom from a student’s view.  The exit slip?  Take it.  The daily journal?  Write it.  See all that we do, offer, and participate in.  Question us!  Dig deeper.  The evaluation is more than some boxes to check.  100% engagement, while not unattainable, must be a goal for all.  Terms like “all” and “never” are strong, powerful.  “Never…late paperwork”.  I cannot remember completing a single late IEP, email, or grades, but I understand that it could happen.  What was it?  Did you ever have something late?  Probably.  If we are to look at the teacher evaluation process, let’s look at the wording.  Evaluate honestly.  Be consistent across the board.  Words like “always”, “all”, and “never” are lofty goals that we must all strive to achieve, but be universal.

So you upped the anty.  Raised my bar.  I get it.  I’ll take the challenge.  And I have a challenge for you, join in, come down to a teacher’s level (or better yet, a student’s), and see what is really happening.  What or who is the teacher beyond just boxes to check or numbers to crunch.

I know I’m good enough and smart enough and gosh darn it, I love what I do.  Come in and stay awhile.

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Involvement in PLCs. Not one of the check boxes.

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All volunteer program run throughout the school day. Work done after school, during lunch and planning, no box on evaluation for school enrichment programs.

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1. Teaching a split class. 2. Enriching lives and getting students to see that every class is important.

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Multiple fundraising events for Peer to Peer program completed after school hours.

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Tracking and managing 45 student link/volunteers and 10 peers is time consuming.

I will remember this when that itch is quite bothersome.

Keeping focused.

Oh Fiddlesticks

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Excuse me a moment while I vent.
)”&)(,?!??!!,.:@!/#%+•!!!!!

The end of year should be about the journey. Look at the progress you’ve made. You were at point A in the beginning and now you are at D. You couldn’t do X in the Fall and now you can. But often teachers are left doing the dance. The “I have some time off so cut a jig” booty dance. It’s not that we do not love your precious children. This jig is more about the big picture.

Education reform. Retirement. Class sizes. Evaluation process. State mandated testing. To name a few. The home stretch is a dash to meet so many standards, benchmarks, and goals. Never mind that Joe had less suspensions than last year, Susie graduated after so many personal strikes against her, or Bob finally passed Algebra. No, more often we ramp up at the end of the year for a big finish and get increasingly bogged down by education politics.

By the end of the school year, many educators tire of talking such education b.s. Instead, they want to discover their own path. Attend a conference, take a class, follow a twitter chat, or gather to share ideas.

This summer I’m enjoying the mental day to day break from teaching, not from Education. My Ed bucket list is deep. I’m a teacher and a learner. Move aside Ed politics, summers are not just a teacher’s free time playground, more like a learning station break.

Don’t tell me that it must be nice to have summers off. Let’s sit and talk about my educational learning and discovery that’s so called “summers off”.

Letter to my seniors

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Dear Class of 2014,

You were the Freshmen class like no other. You fought, cursed, refused, argued, and clawed your way to graduation. Never before a group to enter my doors and from day #1, leave a mark, everywhere. Most carpet stains and messes. Most colorful words and gestures. Most fights, attempted fights, and verbal accusations. Most argumentative of factual and irrelevant crap. Most notes from substitutes with something like “worst class ever”. Most likely to ask, “how much do I have to do for a passing grade”? Pregnancies, homelessness, heartaches, breakups, meltdowns, bullies, dropouts, and more – you endured it all. Biggest class whittled down to the smallest.

Yet, through four long turbulent years, you taught me the most and left the biggest mark on my career.

Standing between a few of you as you spewed hatred. Holding strong as one decided to take to social media to “mouth off” against me. The cat fights, oh the drama. Did my “drama free zone” sign mean anything? The girl issues, no you cannot clip your nails and paint them in class, ever!

Where are we now? A week from graduation. A few on the honor roll. Some ready for the work force. Others signed up for post secondary training. College bound for a few. And me, one proud teacher. Whew, you made it. Despite the chaotic beginning, the hurdles, the trouble, you’re here. You did it your way and I expected no less. So go forth Class of 2014 and continue to fight your way through life. Mrs. Z is proud that she you made it.