The Substitute Teacher Series: From Middle School Math to High School Detention

This is a revision of a previously posted story. For privacy purposes, in this particular series, I do not disclose real names, other than my own, or locations. Although the original story content was positive and uplifting, I thought it might be too specific and possibly identifying, therefore, I chose to revise.

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My 2nd sub assignment: 4th and 5th graders

After a class of 25 kindergarteners, this was a piece of cake.

The morning began in a computer lab, along with another teacher, helping students with practice math games on the computer. Good students … no problems here, unfortunately, no hilarious anecdotes either.

I spent the rest of the day in the office/classroom of the teacher I was subbing for. For 50 minutes at a time, I tutored small groups and individual students who needed help with reading and story comprehension. I loved that part of the assignment; I would be happy tutoring all day, every day.

Tuesday – Detention Duty:

On Tuesday, my assignment was half-day detention duty for high school students. Not really knowing what to expect, I was a little apprehensive about this.

The sub coordinator gave me the lowdown:

1. The students would arrive at a certain time. They would use detention time to work on homework assignments.

2. They could request breakfast and lunch, which would be brought to them. They could only leave to go to the restroom and I would need to accompany the entire group to and from the classroom where the restroom was located.

3. At the end of the day, each student would leave with a parent.

I must have had a “what have I gotten myself into” look on my face, because the sub coordinator was quick to add that students in this program are generally good kids, they’ve just racked up too many unexcused tardies, absences, or other minor offenses. That was good to know.

In a situation of this sort, I think it would be normal to anticipate some attitude, but all I encountered was politeness and respect. To the school system and the parents: kudos.

At the end of the day, the classroom emptied and I packed up my entire library, in the form of a Kindle reader. On the surface, detention duty didn’t sound like a positive gig, but it was surprisingly pleasant, and I got a boatload of reading done.

*These are true stories. In this series, all names, except my own, have been changed.

This is a first draft, no editing. Please accept my apologies for any grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.

Hardly Working: The Lazy Man’s Guide to Seeking Perfect Part-time, Temporary Employment

Recap: When the 2013 school year started, my 9-year-old grandson moved away to live with mama. I, Grammy, had a big role in his day-to-day activities up to this point. Now that he was gone, I would need to find something to do to fill the time, yes, but mostly to fill the void of being ‘The World’s Most Awesome Grandma.”

What to do?

I’ve been retired for 9 years and love the freedom; I’m not ready to be tethered to a structured 9 to 5 yet. Rather than settling down for a specific job, I got the bright idea to become a floating employee. That would allow me a couple of things: experience in a variety of areas, and interesting blog fodder.

At this point, employment was just an idea; I didn’t really have a plan.

I was running errands one day and saw something I hadn’t noticed before, it was a sign for a business called Spherion. The part of the sign that caught my eye was, “staffing agency.” I stopped in and chatted with a recruiter and decided to sign up. That was in September; I’ve yet to get that first call for work through this agency.

In conversation over supper one evening, John mentioned that one of his training peers had been a substitute teacher at one time. That piqued my interest, so, I did a little research to see if I qualified to substitute teach, and how to go about applying. I applied at 3 school corporations with the thought that I would get more opportunities; more work and more variety.

The application process for Yorktown was completed on Wednesday; Thursday evening I was called to fill a position for Friday. I was called in for work 3 days the following week as well. And boy howdy, did I ever get variety. Day 1: Kindergarten, Day 2: fourth and fifth grade math, Day 3: high school detention, and Day 4: high school English.

Now, for the fun part … blogging about it.

Stay tuned …

Hotel Thurston: Hope’s Big Adventure Part One

For purposes of understanding, I suppose I should preface this story with a bit of vague personal history. I retired in 2004 to help care for my then newborn and very precious grandson, Elliot. He was our first grandchild, and my weekdays were packed with shear joy from the time mommy or daddy dropped him off in the morning until they picked him up after their workday.

 ~In the meantime, a lot of stuff transpired~

When Elliot was old enough to start school, 3:30 pm became my favorite time of day because that’s when he would get off the bus at the end of our driveway, and, as is the way of Grandmothers worldwide, he was always greeted with smiles, hugs, and pre-homework snacks.

John retired in 2009, but almost immediately was contracted to train new hires at the company he retired from. He joined the daily grandparent routine as much as possible and enjoyed it as much as I did.

~More stuff transpired~

Fast forward to the present: Elliot’s mom is in the military and stationed 2 hours away. Elliot went to live with her for the school year. I’m happy for her and Elliot, but very sad for me (Grammy),  John (Poppy), and Jonathon (dad).

Sans Elliot, I felt a need to add a little adventure to my daily routine. To appease the writer in me, I put out a fleece amongst friends to see who would be willing to put me up for an evening and let me blog about it. I got a few bites.

My very first adventure trip was the evening of a girl’s night out to the Indiana State Fair, the girl’s night out that was crashed by two of the husbands, Dave and Dave.

~This is where the story really begins~

It was late when we returned from the state fair, so Joni put me up in “my” room. I’ve stayed at Joni’s a few times, in the same beautiful, cozy room each time. She calls the room the Beanie Room because of the large collection of Beanie Babies occupying the shelves of a bookcase in that room. This time Joni and Dave had added a TV with DISH connection. I felt as though I were in a swanky Beanie Baby themed hotel room. Joni told me I could watch TV to my hearts content; they slept with the TV on in their room, therefore would not be bothered by sounds in the night. I watched TV to my hearts content. It was heavenly.

Joni’s husband, Dave, works at a golf course and had to be at work early the next morning. He said he would brew coffee for Joni and me before he left. In the morning I awoke to silence and figured Dave had gone to work and Joni had probably been up for hours. I got dressed and tiptoed downstairs to look for Joni and coffee, but mostly coffee.  No Joni. We got in late; I thought, she must have slept in.  No coffee; I thought, that Dave, what a slacker.

The kitchen was dark and unfamiliar. I fumbled around trying to find a light switch. I ran my hand along the wall and found a switch, which I flipped on.  My ears were pierced with the sound of angry wolverines. I had found the switch to the garbage disposal. I quickly turned the switch off, but needed a few seconds to recover; I was in a mild state of shock from the sudden broken silence.

I found another switch and held my breath as I gingerly flipped it on. A glow of soft light came from the screened-in patio just off of the kitchen.  I grabbed a newspaper that was lying on the edge of the kitchen table, opened the sliding glass door and slunk my way to a comfy chair. A few minutes later, I heard soft but hurried footsteps on the carpeted stairs. Ah, Joni’s up …

No. It was Dave. He hadn’t set the alarm clock because he trusted his internal alarm. This particular morning his internal alarm failed; he had overslept. He shoved a cap on his head, ran out the door and drove away.

A few minutes later, Joni appeared. The perfect hostess, she offered all sorts of breakfast and coffee options, but I suggested we go out to breakfast. We’d already decided it would be a day of shopping for both of us, so we’d just head out before the stores opened and grab a bite to eat. I’m not much of a breakfast person, and I was glad to discover that Joni isn’t either, so we decided on Dunkin Donut’s drive-thru coffee and possibly an early lunch instead.

Coffee in hand, we headed over to Sam’s Club where I thought I had hit early Christmas bargain pay dirt: summer clearance items. However, Joni shamed me into realizing that it would be in very poor taste to give summer clearance items as Christmas gifts, no matter what a great buy, and no matter how much they would be in demand when next summer rolled around. I would buy them anyway. Joni would never know. Instead of a terrycloth pool-side chaise lounge cover for Christmas, Joni would get a ceramic Santa I got on clearance at the end of the holiday season at Hobby Lobby last year.  Win-win.

An enormous warehouse store, Sam’s club is the twilight zone of retail grocery shopping. Shortly after my summer clearance extravaganza, Joni and I were separated. She became hopelessly lost within the bowels of the frozen food section. I pushed my cart for hours gazing upon Paul Newman’s Own salad dressing by the case and M&M’s in 40-pound bags. It was not unlike my shopping trips to regular stores in the fact that I ended up in the magazine aisle.  I put my hand on the cold, gray, metal magazine shelf to steady myself as I skimmed the covers in search of one that really piqued my interest. I was intently reading the cover of a food magazine when I felt a tap-tap-tap on my hand. Curious, but disinterested, I looked in the direction of my hand; there was a large, and by large, I mean the size of a child’s shoe, bright green katydid sitting millimeters away from my pinky finger. For a split second, I thought it was a clever refrigerator magnet, or a life-like toy bug, but then the antennae moved to tap my hand again. I let out a short, high-pitched squeal, danced a little jig, and jumped back about a foot. The katydid held his ground.

Sam's Club: a popular shopping destination for katydids.

Embarrassed, I looked down the aisle to see how badly I had humiliated myself. There were 3 grown men who were so engrossed in shopping that they never even looked up. Either that, or my squeal was so high-pitched that only dogs could hear it. Perhaps high-pitched squeals were a common occurrence in Sam’s Club, what with the fantastic bargains and all. I high-tailed it to the front of the store, grabbed a manager and whisked her back to see the giant bug. I pointed to the katydid, who was still busily reading magazine covers. Joni appeared out of nowhere and offered her empty coffee cup and lid to the manager as a humane bug trapping device. The manager scooped the katydid into the cup, calmly telling me she was getting used to it. Just the day before, she had to escort a preying mantis outside the store in a similar manner. The place was obviously bugged. I suggested they hire new security.

We’d had all the adventure we could handle at Sam’s Club, it was time to move on. My trunk was fully loaded with Sam’s Club purchases, and unbeknownst to Joni, possible probable Christmas gifts. It was well past lunchtime and we had worked up an appetite.

Joni suggested a place she and Dave liked called Granite City Food and Brewery. I think Joni had the crispy shrimp tacos. I had a bacon, tomato, and avocado grilled cheese sandwich. The food and service were both good and we caught up on life events: kids, grandchildren, weddings, in-laws and future in-laws, since my son was getting married in a few weeks.

After lunch, I dropped Joni back at her house. We said our goodbyes and parted ways. On the way home, I thought of all the changes in my life and how certain friends have been there through so much of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve thought of friendships that fell apart because of a misunderstanding, or when the weight of a difficult time became too much to bear. Even success, sometimes especially success, can put a strain on relationships. I felt more determined to be the kind of friend who could weather the difficult storms, and the successes of my friends and family. I’m incredibly blessed for all the Joni’s and Dave’s in my life, and this Joni and Dave in particular.

A special thank you to the Thurston’s for taking me in, making me laugh and giving me something fun and meaningful to blog about. A special thank-you from John as well, for providing a safe adventure for his wife of 40 years.

Spontaneity – the Spice of Life?

In June of 2009, John and I had a few free days.  We decided to take a mini-vacation to Mackinac Island – my favorite quick getaway.

Since it’s an 8-hour drive, we were going to leave on Monday morning, drive all day and stay in Mackinac City that evening.

It was Sunday afternoon and I had an idea.

What if, just on the spur of the moment, we left Sunday night?  We could drive north for a couple of hours, park at a well-lit, well-occupied rest stop, catch a few winks and hit the road again on Monday morning.  That would give us a few more daylight hours to explore Mackinac City’s shops and beaches.

John questioned – “we aren’t gun toters, what about our safety?”  And, “we aren’t youngsters; can we sleep comfortably in bucket seats?”  This, from a man who’s traveled unarmed in foreign countries with native guides, slept in tents on the sides of mountains, in huts with tarantulas hanging from the ceiling, and encountered wild animals in the jungle.

I questioned – “where’s our spontaneity?  We’re retired, who says we have to plan everything down to the minute?”

Half-heartedly, John agreed.  We loaded our suitcases, pillows and a couple of light blankets and we were on our way.

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A while later, as hoped, we spotted a busy rest stop and pulled into a parking space.  John, imitating Peewee Herman in Peewee’s Big Adventure, squinted one eye and drawled, “I’m a rebel, Dottie!”  Right.  We were rebels.

Our strategy was to be conspicuous enough to ward off evil-doers, and inconspicuous enough to ward off suspicion that we were actually camping out in our car at a rest stop.

It was a busy place.  In an effort to stall until there were less vehicles coming and going, we hit the restrooms and … well … rested.  When we returned to the car, we flipped through the atlas for a while, feigning nonchalance.  Finally, when there were no vehicles on either side of us, we lowered our bucket seats, got our pillows and blankets from the back seat and proceeded to catch a few Z’s, or try anyway.

Brilliant idea.  The place was lit up like a football field – high-powered lights from one end of the parking lot to the other; vehicles came and went all night long; carloads of loud people piled out, then back in again – driving off, only to be replaced by more carloads of noisy people.

Finally, it was morning.  We tossed our pillows and blankets in the backseat, maneuvered our bucket seats upright and set out to find coffee.

Over breakfast, I admitted that sometimes the idea of doing a particular thing is a lot better than the reality of it.  John admitted that he thought it was a little bit fun, if not an all out hoot.  It’s probably not something we’ll do again anytime soon.

Once in a while I churn out a good idea in the name of spontaneity.  Take last Friday, for instance.  John had been in Muncie running errands all morning when he called home to ask if there was anything I needed from the store.  I popped the question: “How would you like to spend the afternoon at the Indianapolis zoo?”  Forty-five minutes later we were on our way.

We got there just in time to enjoy the dolphin show and for the next couple of hours we strolled the entire zoo taking in all of the animal exhibits and snapping photos.  We even hit the gift shop on the way out, purchasing for our grandson a $3 toy that pops 4 feet into the air when turned inside out and placed on the floor.

We stopped at a restaurant we’d never tried before: Maggiano’s Little Italy, on 86th St. in Indianapolis.  As first-time diners, the chef introduced himself and brought out an appetizer, on the house, for us to try.  John ordered a beef dish; I ordered a chicken dish – the food was delicious.

On our way home, and again, on the spur of the moment, we decided to stop at our favorite Indy bookstore, Half-price Books.  Bingo!  Another winner!  They were having a one-night only, 20% off, storewide sale.  I snagged a steam train book for Elliot and a popular Food Network cookbook for myself: Semi-homemade by Sandra Lee.

I just love it when my great ideas morph into something wonderful.

We didn’t sleep in the parking lot, but we still had an amazing afternoon running around being spontaneous.

Up In Smoke

I was seventeen and my husband was twenty-one when we got married. I thought we were quite mature for our age, turns out we had a lot of growing up to do. We moved away from my family and closer to John’s family.

I came from a family of 7: mom, dad, 2 older brothers, and 2 younger brothers. I was an only daughter and sandwiched smack-dab in the middle. I was not the spoiled brat one might imagine. However, I was spoiled by never having to lift a finger around the house.  Mom thought there’d be plenty of that later in life, so anything of a domestic nature was mom’s business. Mom loved me dearly, and she meant well, but she didn’t do me any favors by sheltering me from housework.

John and I married young; we were in love. He was a hard worker. He had actually worked odd jobs since he was a very young teenager. He managed money well and bought his own first car. When we married, he still lived at home, but he had a steady job and was bringing home a decent paycheck. I, on the other hand, had never cleaned my room, much less a house or an apartment, I had never been grocery shopping, and I had never cooked a meal or even helped cook a meal.

Even though I had never done anything remotely domestic, my life’s ambition was to be a wife and a mother. I never wanted to be anything else.  Even though I could have been labeled a domestic failure, I was overflowing with love for my husband and the family we would have.

My mother-in-law took me under her wing and loved me like I was one of her own. She never belittled me or made me feel that I was anything but special.  She was never intrusive. We lived about a mile apart, but she never just showed up on my doorstep, she never came over without an invitation. Looking back, I realize that I didn’t extend an invitation nearly often enough.

In contrast, her door was always open. There seemed to be a steady flow of friends and family coming and going at any given time. Mary Bee “Mom” expressed love by doing. Family dinners always included friends and acquaintances. The homestead was a gathering place, a place of comfort, a place of peace.

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We spent a lot of our spare time at my in-law’s. Our family grew, we had 2 sons who adored their Mamaw. She rocked them and read to them on the sofa in the living room. The large antique wooden desk was always stocked with paper and pencils, fresh artwork by all the grandkids hung by magnets on the refrigerator door.  Shelves made by my father-in-law held various collectables; there were souvenirs from far away places visited by the kids, photos of grandkids and great-grandkids, and an owl collection.  The fuel-oil stove was the focal point of the living room and had kept the family warm for close to 60 years. An upright piano sat in the living room; most of the brothers and sisters had grown up practicing piano in that room, at that piano. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas it was a tradition for John’s older sister, Janie, to play Christmas carols while others gathered around to sing.

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The house was home-away-from-home to so many. There were memories tucked away in every room. The love was palpable. Friends and family loved gathering there, which they did often.

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My father-in-law passed away in 1988. John’s older sister Janie moved into the home so Mom wouldn’t be alone. She and my mother-in-law kept the love and tradition going for another 28 years.

When Mom passed away in 2011, the family was happy that Janie wanted to stay and continue family tradition. Janie married a wonderful man and they both looked after the homestead and kept the traditions and memories alive.

That house held so many memories; birthdays, holidays, new babies, tears of sadness, tears of joy, and so much love you could cut it with a knife.

Then the unthinkable happened. Friday, January 25th, around 9 am, the phone rang, Janie was on the other end and I could sense the stress in her voice.

“Is John home?”

“No, he’s running errands in town … is everything okay?”

“No. It’s not. The house burned down this morning.”

Shocked silence.

I managed to snap back into reality. “Oh Janie … I am so sorry … are you okay … is everyone okay? What can I do?”

“We’re okay. Please call the family.”

The calls were placed. It is so difficult to break bad news to someone over the phone. The ache in my heart felt like a gaping hole in my chest. I can only imagine how the family felt.

Charlie and Janie did get out safely, but with just the clothes on their back.  Friends and family have been gracious and generous. People have donated clothing, household goods, groceries and money. They are in their 60’s and 70’s and are starting over.

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This story is both an ending and a new beginning. It’s a story of love and hope. It’s a story of seasons. Winter seems bare and sometimes muddy and ugly. There may be a few days of beauty when the snow falls and covers the ground with a blanket of white, but Winter in Indiana is cold, blustery and generally unpleasant. The hope is in knowing that the future brings Spring and with Spring comes life; the trees bud, the grass turns green, wildlife begins to stir.  What lies dormant for a season blossoms into life and beauty. And so will it be with the Newby’s and their beloved homestead.

This story is not over … we will remember what we had, but we will press on to the future, which holds not just one yet unwritten chapter, but many.

Wrong Hands

Cartoons by John Atkinson. ©John Atkinson, Wrong Hands

White Elephant in the Room

random insight from an unwanted houseguest