6 Must-Have School Supplies if You Want to Stay out of Jail and Not Commit Felonies

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I’m with you–it’s a bit of a bummer to take an innocent trip to the grocery store in search of my favorite Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia ice cream only to have my eyes assaulted by school supplies in July. Assaulted: like a super violent Quentin Tarantino movie assaulted. Like a green polyester pantsuit assaulted. Like seeing your elderly neighbor’s thong when she’s gardening BY NO FAULT OF YOUR OWN assaulted. A part of me loves the smell of new pencils and choosing pastel-colored markers, but it has to be on my own time, and that’s not in EARLY MAY, MR. WALMART.

I know the C.E.O. of Walmart is not really named Mr. Walmart. I just put that in to be funny. Sorry if you are personally affiliated with the Waltons in any way. Please tell them I said hello.

Of course, most schools put out lists of what your kid needs, but as a teacher and a mom of three, I’m going to add a few things to your list to make your life a bit easier.

  1. A good set of quality, comfortable ear buds–for you and your kid. One of my kids has a touch of ADD, and it helps immensely to have ear buds plugged into the computer to silence the everyday sounds of the dog barking, the dryer spinning, computer games in the background, you get it. If you can afford sound-canceling ear buds, take my recommendation and BUY THEM FOR YOU. You won’t be sorry. Also, there are many “concentration” apps available, proven to heighten your attention span. Sleep Sounds can slide between concentration to relaxation depending on the binaural beats you choose. It helps me as a doctoral student to  block out conversations around me so I can finish my thrilling statistics assignment. It works, people
  2. Extra freezer packs for lunches. You can’t get too many of these. Nate was at marching practice and a kid became a bit overheated, so Nate took an extra from his lunch and put it on the kid’s forehead and back of his neck. I’m not sure if it smelled like ham or n0t, but it did the trick.
  3. Extra poster board and craft stuff. Maybe this has never happened to you. Maybe you live in a perfect, Everybody Loves Raymond kind of world where your kid never tells you at 8:00 that he has a project depicting the history of the German people due the next day that’s worth 2/3 of his grade. Lucky you. I perform the sign of the cross and bid you a good day. If it does happen, though, you are ready. You have two or three different poster boards, markers, scissors, glue, pictures of the German people (ok, you’re on your own for that one) and lots of coffee. If nothing else, buy lots of coffee.
  4. A stack of cheap magazines. Maybe this has never happened to you. Maybe in your perfect, Modern Family life, you’ve never had a kid announce that she needs to create a collage that represents “Joy” for her art class and all you have sitting around are Walking Dead graphic novels. Just in case, have a stack of women’s magazines (you can collect these for almost nothing at the Salvation Army or MeeMaw Jan’s coffee table. Come on, if Burt Reynolds is on the cover, she’s probably not gonna miss it.
  5. An extra printer cartridge and paper. If you don’t have a printer, get one. It’s a lifesaver. Unless you just love going out in the rain to your office to print off your kid’s Of Mice and Men essay at 1:00 in the morning, then that’s up to you. For the rest of us, I’d rather just print it off in the kitchen like a regular person. Sorry if you’re a weirdo.
  6. Try to buy all your kid’s English novels at the beginning of the semester. I’m sure this would never happen to you, in your perfect Breaking Bad life (wait, bad example). I’m sure your kid would always remember two weeks in advance that his teacher was assigning All Quiet on the Western Front, and the two of you could happily make a trip to Barnes and Noble, where there are three versions of the book to choose from, and you could buy your copy, all the time laughing and joking and drinking coffee and hot cocoa at the Starbucks inside the store and feeling proud of your kid’s planning and even admire his adorable grin.

If this has really happened to anyone reading this blog I want you to come down to Tyler so I can punch you in your veneered teeth.

Just in case it happens the other way: It’s 10:00 at night, you’re in your pj’s watching Gilmore Girls reruns, finishing a tiny glass of wine while coloring in your “De-Stress and Color Fuzzy Animals” coloring book and your kid casually strolls into the living room, coming up behind you on the couch when you didn’t notice and says “MOM” in your hair and you almost pee your pants and then he tells you he needs a copy of the Gutenberg Bible for class tomorrow or else he’s going to fail, well then you’re both screwed. Because Barnes and Noble does NOT have a copy, and apparently the only copy is in a traveling exhibit in Turkey guarded by six 300 pound men with no sense of humor and so you’re going to end up printing all 3,000 pages off on your printer (you bought that, right? No?)  violating international copyright laws and hoping and praying you’re not arrested because you’re not built for prison life.You don’t even stomach Quinton Tarantino movies very well.

Do us all a favor. Buy the books.

Have a great school year!pic1

 

The Hard Stuff: When Students Need Help

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I’ve been teaching for four years now. It’s really just a drop in the bucket compared to some of my friends who have been teaching 20, even 30 years.

Of course, I’m here to help students with writing and literature. That’s what I’ve been trained for. That’s why I spent almost seven years of my life reading and writing, studying and learning, sweating and praying for. I’ve paid dearly for my education, in dollars and time and sacrifice.

Here’s my secret:no program or lecture could have possibly prepared me for some of the conversations I’ve had with students. As their teacher, whether or not I deserve it, I am placed in a position of trust that I didn’t earn.

Sometimes, questions are a no-brainer. For example, in cases of abuse, I’m required to legally report it. I’ve never had to, thank goodness.

Many times, though, the questions are not so black and white.

Sometimes, the students who I perceive to be the most difficult (or checked out, or angry) are the ones who come to me with questions or situations I don’t know the answer to, like:

How should I tell my dad I’m pregnant?

Nobody knows I’m homeless.

Since I got out of the Army, I’m really trying to do my best in school, but I can’t sleep from the nightmares.

I haven’t been in class for the past two weeks because I was beaten so badly by my ex’s new girl I was hospitalized.

My husband doesn’t really think I should get my degree.

I’m gay and need to come out to my parents. What should I say?

I need to tell my mama I’m transgender. How can I do that?

I’m falling asleep in class because I work three jobs. No I can’t quit, or we’ll be out of our apartment.

I can’t come back to school next semester because I’m pregnant again.

These are hard questions, and sometimes there are really no right answers. As an educator, I’m expected to know the answers. Sometimes, I just don’t.

Sometimes, I just give the student a tissue and let them talk it out. I ask questions to try to guide them. I don’t judge them, ever, because nobody is perfect and there’s no way to tell what someone’s been through by one experience or one talk. I pray with them. I cry with them. I ask them what I can do to help. The ones I can’t help keep me up late sometimes, worrying. Sometimes I feel like I’m their mama and it’s up to me to make everything okay. But I’m not.

Sometimes, they don’t need a teacher, they need a sounding board, a counselor, a mom. I do my best.

Sometimes, I can help. It’s the ones I can’t that haunt me.

 

 

 

On Blackberry Dump Cake, Stats, and Goodbyes

Last Friday, I went to Lindale, Texas to meet my bestie Rachel to work on Statistics homework. I’m not gonna lie: it’s soul-crushing and brain-melting, enough to cause some students over 40 (me) to question their sanity for doing this in the first place. I mean, for most people, a master’s degree would be plenty. Not me! Nope.

Finding a place to do our homework together has been…challenging to say the least. If we work at my house, then we risk being constantly annoyed by my dog who thinks my only reason for existence is to play “fetch the cheeseburger toy” for hours. She’s very…persistent. If we go to Rachel’s, where she has small children, then she feels like she should have a babysitter so we’re less distracted. Not that stats are not fascinating. But there’s definitely a risk. Cute kids? Definitely distracting, because cuteness, and it doesn’t take much to make a person choose to play with kids over doing spirit-squishing homework.

Last week, we met at Collins Bakery, which I must say is quite a little jewel. Coffee, wi-fi, and pie…what’s not to love?

In front of the bakery, some nice folks were selling juicy peaches, red, ripe tomatoes, and blackberries bursting with purple-black color. I went a little nuts. I love produce stands, and they are one of my favorite things about summer–perfect for 4th of July celebrations.

My girls, who are grownups and have their own apartments (and dogs) come over every week to see me, and to encourage this I cook for them. So that if they’re ever sitting at home in their A/C watching The Walking Dead and feel the least bit reluctant to cash it all in for the Texas Summer Inferno to come over, they will decide it’s worth it because Mom cooks the most delicious concoctions, and let’s face it, there’s a lot of Ramen noodle dinners over there.

Last night, they stayed over, which meant a lot to me, because they are both moving in just a few weeks. Not down the street, or to a town nearby, but several hours away. Like a day trip, spend the night, kind of distance.

Mama’s having a hard time with this, y’all.

I’m so very proud of both of them for graduating from college and finding jobs in their fields and everything. That’s what I wanted for them from the beginning–that they would be able to do what they love and not have to spend their adulthood working at crap jobs like I did just to make ends meet. Now, they won’t have to.

Since I had those gorgeous berries waiting, I wanted to make something special. Since it was the 4th weekend, and one of the last weekends we will spend together like this ever, I may have cooked up the entire house. For a moment, I could make them a treat, pack it up with some coffee and send it with them to their jobs. For a moment, it felt as if they were still in school and I was making their lunches before band practice.

Just for the briefest of moments.

I made Blackberry Dump Cake with these juicy blackberry babies, and let me tell you–there’s nothing easier than this recipe.

Blackberry Dump Cake

2 cartons fresh blackberries (you can use frozen)

1 box yellow cake mix

1 stick of butter

This is really all there is to it. I couldn’t lie to you. I know you’ll be tempted to add sugar to the blackberries, and you certainly can, because AMERICA, but resist, because this cake mix has about nine bags of sugar in it already. Like a whole sugar cane field worth. But I’m not judging if you want to sprinkle a tiny bit on them.

Melt the butter. Make sure the blackberries are rinsed and there aren’t any leaves or anything in them. Pour the blackberries right into the bottom of the pan.

Next, pour the cake mix, right from the box, on top of the berries.

Lastly, pour the melted butter on top of the cake mix. Try to spread it evenly so the whole top gets wet.

Bake for about 25-35 minutes until the top is brown and bubbly.

Serve to your daughters for breakfast after their last sleepover. Try not to cry thinking about it. Try not to be a blubbering mess.

For Paul, and Other Stepdads who Rock It


My  cousin Paul is one of the best dads I know. 

His fridge is covered with drawings and report cards. Every Facebook post boasts pictures of the latest report card win, the latest father-daughter dance at school or kid’s ballgame (he’s the Coach, of course). 

He’s never afraid to get dirty, be silly, or wear a tutu to baseball practice to encourage his team.  Paul has only even known these children he calls his son and daughter for the past few years. But you’d never know by seeing him with them that he wasn’t there the entire time. These children, along with their mother, are his entire life. 


Beyond this relationship, others outside his immediate family have noticed his fatherly qualities and been grateful for them. Paul is a “father to the fatherless” to many it seems, and I’m just proud to know a man of such caliber.

Paul, I’ve known you since you were a tiny thing, and I’m so proud of the man you’ve become. 

Proverbs 20:7

“The righteous man walks in his integrity; his children are blessed after him.”

Living in the South: Creekside

Tina Bausinger

It's pictures like this that inspired our own creek visit. It’s pictures like this that inspired our own creek visit.

A couple of weeks ago I innocently asked my cousin Rachel if we could visit the creek she’s always talking about when we visited.

Let me tell you something: the Bartons and Hignites take such a request SERIOUSLY. Before I knew it, we had three cars, two trunkfuls of BBQ supplies, rafts, and other sundry creek essentials piled to a precarious capacity. The girls, Mancub and I showed up with nothing but the 110 SPF sunscreen I found especially for my skin tone: pale Irish vampire. This is a necessity if we don’t want to end up the shade of red usually reserved for fire hydrants or Target insignia.

It’s not that we MEANT to be a pack of freeloading panhandlers. We just didn’t know what we were in for. We thought we’d show up, swim around for a couple of hours…

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Navy Bean and Ham Soup

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It’s so good, people.

And cheap! Who doesn’t like cheap?

The best part: the majority of it cooks in the Crock Pot, so it’s very low maintenance.

1 pound dry navy beans

1 red onion, chopped

5 stalks celery, chopped (in this picture, I didn’t have any celery, but I had leftover asparagus so I used that instead–the beauty of SOUP!)

5 carrots, chopped

10 strips bacon, cooked and sliced thinly

1 pound ham, sliced thin (almost any kind works)

2 tbsp. concentrated ham broth (I just discovered this, and it’s heavenly. If you can’t find it, you can use chicken broth. If you use liquid, just pour in the whole box.)

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. pepper

1 package dried onion soup

1 jalapeno, chopped (optional)

water to cover beans

Directions: Rinse and clean beans. Pour into Crock Pot. Add the other ingredients, and fill most of the way with water. Put Crock Pot on low. Let cook 8-10 hours, until beans are tender. Serve with cornbread.

7 Steps to Throwing a Great Birthday Party for Your Teenager

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The scenario:

My son’s 17th birthday was quickly arriving and he has not had a proper birthday party since he was 10. Not a “invite your buddies over and hang out” kind of party, anyway, and I really wanted to make that happen. Particularly, I wanted it to be a surprise party.

The problems:

First, he is really busy. He’s in the band (which is right in the thick of concert competition) and a few other activities that eat up most of his time.

Secondly, I am also very busy. I teach full time and am working on my doctorate. Also, I agreed to be a UIL Ready-Writing judge this year. The only weekend that was available was the same weekend (the same day, to be exact) as the contest. This meant I’d be in a competition myself most of the morning and afternoon. What the frick was I gonna do?

Thirdly, there’s no realistic way to keep this a surprise when I’m having to pre-plan so much of it. I mean, for real. I was STRESSING OUT trying to keep it a surprise.

AHHHHHH!

Couldn’t push it to the next week because the band was taking a trip. So it’s now or never.

Anyway, we pulled it off, and the feedback says it was “the best party EVER.” Keeping in mind, this party is fully chaperoned and no mind-altering substances were allowed. So I’d call that a win!

The solutions:

1. Have a co-conspirator. My partner in crime was Nate’s girlfriend, Hannah. She made sure all Nate’s buddies were invited. And forget the surprise element. It’s just not feasible for busy people who have to take these things in stages.

 

2. Like I said, take these things in stages. How to eat an elephant? One bite..never mind.  I bought decorations one day, food the next, cooked the next day (and supervised decorating). Small chunks. For example, the cupcakes were baked the night before.

 

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3. Have all your ducks (reasonably) in a row. We decided on the theme a few days before the shopping (we had a FIESTA, and Nate was required to answer the door wearing a giant sombrero). Then we planned the food and decor around the theme.

4.Check out Pinterest–but with a grain of salt. So many ideas. Sometimes, you look at something and think, “WOW! They just build the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks! I could do that!” Maybe you can. I sure can’t. It’s best to admit that right now.

4. Enlist help. I did the divide and conquer method. Hubby did the shopping (I made a DETAILED list), my daughter made the cupcakes and my son and his girlfriend decorated. I just realized they NEVER USED THE MEXICAN FLAGS I BOUGHT. Are you kidding me? Those were legit. Beware though, enlisting help requires Type-A’s to let go of control and trust others. Easier said than done. Breathe deeply, my friend.

 

 

5. Have food. LOTS of food. Bring it out regularly. We did a nacho bar, which worked really well and was easily cleaned up. I cooked all the meat the night before (and chopped toppings). The kids would start on the left, choosing chips or tortillas, then load it up with meat, cheese, cowboy caviar, lettuce, sour cream, salsa, etc.

taco bar

Also, keep in mind not everyone eats meat (I KNOW! Shocking!) and some people are health nuts. A few, anyway. So have options.

6. Watch the weather and have backup. We were hoping it would be warm enough to swim (and it was, thank the Party gods), but if it wasn’t, there were video game options.

7. Keep the party moving. We fed them, sent them out to swim, then did gifts and cupcakes, then they swam until dark. Afterwards, everyone came in to play video games (Nate’s buddies brought a couple of different systems) and we let them play until about 10:30 then we kicked them all out. MAMA’S TIRED Y’ALL.

Overall, though…it was fun, and everyone survived. Even the house!

 

 

Why Writers MUST Write

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“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
Anaïs Nin

Here’s what a lot of people don’t understand when it comes to being a writer.

The cadence of words, they way they are communicated from keyboard to screen–to us, it’s lovely. It’s a kind of delicate dance with many missteps.

Many people write for fame and glory. Many people fail.

But those of us who write to remember will always have a reason to rejoice.

The recording of life’s seemingly insignificant moments takes them from ordinary to extraordinary. We are the historians.

If I take a moment to write about the surprise snow day when my son was ten, it ties this moment to both our hearts. If I describe his joy as he ran around in the front yard before 7:30 in the morning, glorying in the ease of the wet snow’s ability to form dozens of snow balls, it won’t be forever forgotten. If I mention how I put a coat on over my scrubs and followed him into the yard for a snowball fight under the treehouse, it matters. And, years later, when my boy is no longer small (he’s 6’5″ now) and the treehouse has been long gone, it won’t seem sad, but precious.

If I don’t note the exact day my  baby girl lost her first tooth, who will? Who will give this moment the importance it deserves? And, years from now, when my daughter has gone gray and visits me at the nursing home, how else will I be able to remember? How else might I carve these memories in my heart, press them to my soul?

Memories fail, but the pen does not.

 

 

Nate Takes the 100% Pain Hot Sauce Challenge

 

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Because testosterone–and the strange ritual of male bonding. When I want to bond with my girls we go shopping or have tacos. Painless tacos.

You’re welcome.

Pain Challenge

7 Signs Mom and Dad Need a Date Night

Tina Bausinger

sushi

The scenario:

Sometimes when Watergirl comes to visit Mancub can’t help becoming all starry-eyed. He can actually be motivated to…wait for it…clean his room if that’s the condition set. They are really adorable, just sitting on the couch next to one another, holding hands, staring into one another’s eyes, basking in the heady feeling of young love.

I remember the days of my early courtship with my hubby.
The primping, eyelash curling, hair crimping, sliding into my best pair of stonewashed jeans (it was the 80s so back off). My hubby wouldn’t dare come pick me up without slicking back his impressive mullet,wearing his Izod polo, and zipping up his custom-made leather jacket. Oh the days of young love! We both looked like a million bucks…by 1988’s standards.

Fast forward a few decades. Most days, I don’t look like a million bucks…I’d be lucky if it was five bucks. Sometimes I…

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