Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Racism is wrong – no matter what form it takes

Okay-I’m about to open a big ole can of worms…..Last month my fiancé and I rented 12 years a slave and I found it to be a profoundly disturbing movie.  It was so awful to watch, it simply hurt my heart and soul to think of someone treating a fellow human being like that.  Worse, the movie presented people who considered themselves to be good, God-fearing Christians, yet they not only stood by and accepted or tolerated such evil, but many actively participated in the horrors of slavery and the brutality of a race of people simply because their ignorance allowed them to believe someone was inferior because of the color of their skin. 

Even though slavery is a thing of the past in this country (sadly it still exists in some places in the world) Racism is alive and well in our country.  Just turn on the news this week and you will hear about the racist comments made by Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.  I know about racism because I see it every day.  I teach in a racially diverse school, in a state known for intolerance. 

The stain of racism is not limited to any one particular group.  As a nation of immigrants, our treatment of Mexicans and individuals from other Central and South American countries is disgraceful. One need only look at the SB1070 controversy to see that.  History has shown us countless examples of ethnic groups who have been mistreated to one degree or another.  Last month, the SAT’s came out with data on the enormous racial gap in scores.  It is astounding the difference that race still makes in our society. 

Many well-meaning individuals will say things like, “racism is a thing of the past, I mean we have a black President” yet this current President has been treated with more open disrespect than any previous President in the last century.  People don’t just disagree with his policies – they viciously attack his character and compare him to Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.  Even respected members of Congress shouting “you lie” during a Presidential speech.   It does make me wonder how much his race plays a part in the criticism. 

Are there systemic problems with government assistance programs?  Sure.  Do we need to hold individuals more accountable for their actions and decisions?  Sure.  But let’s not kid ourselves, racism is very real and very present in our society. 
We also have situations where there are well meaning individuals, in their desire to eliminate racism, they have created an almost reverse racism.  I witnessed an incident this week, where someone was allowed to say, “I don’t like you because you are white” which in my opinion is as completely wrong as saying I don’t like you simply because you are black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.  In no way am I suggesting that racism is not a very real challenge, but there are some situations where the desire to eliminate any form of racism has created an almost double standard.  No one, of any color or race, should be allowed to be hostile or disrespectful to anyone, no matter what their race.  Words can be incredibly powerful and someone’s race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation or anything else should NEVER be a reason to dislike someone, without fairly judging who they are as a person based on that person’s actions. 

“Hating people because of their color is wrong. And it doesn't matter which color does the hating. It's just plain wrong.”
Muhammad Ali

Monday, April 28, 2014

A happy accident & a new plan

Sometimes things just happen, you have an idea…a plan of how you think things will go and suddenly, they go in a whole new direction.  I have been working hard on promoting my current book and learning the do’s and don’ts of indie book marketing.  I have two different historical fiction novels outlined and started, and I was trying to decide which one to focus on, when I was going through some files on my computer and my new book idea hit me like a lightning bolt.  It was one of those moments when it all just made sense, and I knew I had to change course. I love how life throws you curve balls like that.    
I am not going to share my new book topic yet, but I am so very excited.  It is perfect – a fusion on my skills, talents & interests that I think will literally jump onto the page.  I almost couldn’t sleep I was so filled with enthusiasm for this new book. 
I have already started researching online and reserved a few extra reference books from the library.  I have posted some questions on my social media that I hope friends will answer to help my book research.  I know this is the right project for me. I guess I better get busy writing …..

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah)

I don’t know why, but when I was in junior high school I became enthralled with books about the Holocaust.  I read every fictional account of the Holocaust that our school library had. Of course I read Anne Frank's diary, but I read literally dozens of other books as well.  I was so moved by the stories that I read.  I remember crying more than once.  I was in complete awe of the Holocaust survivors, who faced such brutality and horror every day and yet lived to tell their stories. 

As an adult I still read quite a few Holocaust survivor memoires.  Recently I read Gerta Weissman Klein’s personal account of living through the Holocaust.  It was compelling and moving, I still cannot fathom how this great tragedy was allowed to happen. 

When I was younger I gave very little thought to being Jewish.  My Mom’s family was Jewish, but since she didn’t really practice any religion – it was simply part of our heritage; I didn’t feel a strong connection to Judaism.   I ate Matzah, we watched Fiddler on the Roof, and I even went to a Jewish deli a few times, but I didn’t know much about the Sabbath or Yom Kippur or any of the Jewish holidays and traditions. 

My mother looked very Jewish, although when I was younger I didn’t realize that, to me she just looked like my Mom.  I remember having a conversation with her when I was in junior high and reading all those books.  I had just read a very moving book “Alan and Naomi” about a little Jewish girl who came to New York after the holocaust and she befriended a little boy named Alan.  I remember being very upset by this book because Naomi kept getting picked on for being Jewish – even though she wasn’t in Germany, she was here in the United States.  I was telling my Mom about the story and she shared with me how she was often picked on when she was a little girl.  I was so shocked by that.  She described people calling her names and yelling “get away little Jew girl” and other equally degrading comments.  I had never faced any kind of discrimination, so I was blown away by her admission of this.  I was also angry, extremely angry that someone would do this to my mom or anyone I loved. 

I am half Jewish and half Irish, so no one who meets me would assume I am Jewish.  I have had many people make stupid, thoughtless and hurtful comments to me or in front of me over the years.  People have used the phrase “jewed him down” or equally hurtful statements.  I often struggle to decide if I should confront someone when they say something racist like that.  Many times I do tell them that I am Jewish and what they said is insulting, and most often they respond with an apology, but I hate that they said it in the first place. 

As Holocaust Remembrance Day draws near, I think about the fact that my Great Grandmother emigrated here in the early 1900’s.  She and her cousin came from a small village outside of Warsaw, which was actually considered part of Russia at the time, because Poland did not become a separate country until after WWI.  She spoke only Yiddish, she didn't have any papers, and I can't help but wonder if she came here to get away from persecution of Jews by the Russian people at that time (watch Fiddler on the Roof to learn more about the pogroms).   If she had stayed in her village, she would have been one of the Jews that was persecuted by the Nazi’s.  I am sure many of her extended family were arrested or killed during the war.  I don’t know which village she came from, but I can’t help think it was a pretty little place not far from some of the worst places in man kind’s history.   

Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah) 2014 begins in the evening of Sunday, April 27 and ends in the evening of Monday, April 28.  I will take some time this year to think about my Great Grandmother & her family.  I will remember what happened in Germany 70 years ago, and I will hope and pray that nothing like that ever happens again. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Marketing Mayhem & Mistakes

I have been learning a great deal about writing and about publishing in the past six months.  Much of what I have learned from the writing experts is that I have been making lots of mistakes – and to me that’s okay.  Albert Einstein would agree, he is quoted with saying “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

For most of us writing and publishing are a learn as you go process - a bit like building the plane as you fly it, I am learning what seems to work and what doesn't.  Through my blog, Facebook fan page (& personal page) Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest and Google+ I am trying hard to make connections, grow my circles and really engage with people.  For me, as an emerging author, I don't really have a marketing budget, so social media is really my primary strategy, but you can't just spam book promos all day long.  Finding Facebook or Google+ groups that fit your target audience is really important and making sure you are interacting regularly.  It has to be genuine relationships or it just won’t be effective.   You also have the potential to make some new friends along the way. 

I have found that doing reviews for other authors is not only a good way to read some great books and help out the writing community, but it is a fantastic way to build relationships so you have a base of folks who will also do reviews for you.  I have several positive reviews so far – but of course, I would love to have even more. 

Through some of the social media connections that I made, I have been featured on several blogs so far, including an Author interview with Rita Lee Chapman and a Self Published Sunday feature on Novel Notions.   I will also be featured on Peace, Love and Writing during Book Madness Week.

            I have paid for several promotions, including A Girl and Her Kindle, Ebooksoda, and  Goodkindles.  I listed my Kindle Direct free day promotions on Reader Giveaways and Pixels of Ink. I am giving two copies of my book away through Goodreads.  I actually tried an ad through Facebook (which I don’t recommend – it had very little impact for the money).  I found a group of authors through Google+ that are doing a blog tour so I have jumped on board with that, and I am looking forward to learning about that experience as well. With each new connection or promotion I check to see if there has been an impact in my book sales. 

            As you can tell I am trying lots of avenues to get my book in front of potential readers, and even with all of that work – the return has been limited so far.  I am okay with that. I would love to be an instant hit, selling thousands of copies each day, but to be honest, I know this will take lots of time and lots more mistakes along the way.  Despite that, I LOVE being able to say I am an author and I love the fact that people are reading my book.  Now I just have to get busy writing some more – so I can use the knowledge I have gained for my next book. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Age gets better with wine

           Age gets better with wine J I saw that on a sign in a shop during a recent trip to Napa California.  I completely agree!  Getting older makes you care less about what others think, it causes you to focus on real priorities, and it helps you to understand what really matters most. 

I had the chance to visit Napa with a wonderful friend of mine (from Junior High) who lives and works in Napa.  I had so much fun looking at the stunningly beautiful scenery and trying so many amazing wines.  The whole experience was fantastic.  I learned so much about wines and really enjoyed the time with my friend.  I feel so grateful to have opportunities like this in my life.   When I was younger I was always in a hurry and stressed out.  I was busy raising kids, saving money for the future and generally staying so busy that I never slowed down long enough to just enjoy myself.  I never allowed myself to just go and spend some time with a good friend.  I kept putting off things, thinking about sometime ‘in the future’ when I could slow down and do all those things I had been planning.  There were so many things I put off doing, because I was too busy.
One of the main problems with rushing through life is that sometimes life has other plans.  For me, those other plans included becoming a widow and single parent at 43 years old.  It was unbelievably hard to deal with such an inconceivable change in my life, but it did challenge me to look at my priorities.  I now know that the people in your life – the people who you love and care about, they are the only things that really matter.  Work will still be there, but there are no guarantees that your loved ones will be there.  It is important to take time to treasure the relationships in your life.  It is important to slow down and really enjoy yourself. 

When I was younger, I worried about ‘doing the right thing’.  I worked so hard at gaining approval as a good mom, a good employee, and a good whatever.  As I have gotten older I know that it doesn’t matter what other people think or what someone might say about me.  I don’t need anyone’s approval. Age brings a level of confidence and wisdom, so that I no longer care what someone else thinks about me or says about me.  There is a freedom that comes with age, freedom to simply be yourself, unapologetically.  Having a glass of wine with a good friend is much more important than rushing around trying to please other people. 

Age really does get better with wine – especially great wine from Napa. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Anyone can write a book?

Have you seen a comment or book promo that announces "anyone can write a book"? response is - sure anyone CAN write a book, but perhaps not just anyone SHOULD write a book. 

As a self published author myself - I know how much I value the freedom that self-publishing affords those of us who really want to send our words out into the world to be read, but as I have read other new books out there I sometimes feel like some work is just not ready (and quite frankly some of it may never be ready) to be 'published. 
I don't mean to put down a fellow author but.........I recently ran across a post on Google+ that was promoting a new book, the post said "Do you have a burning desire to write a book, but don’t know how? Have you been thinking about writing a book for a while, but have just never ‘gotten round to it?’ Would you like to get your book completed quickly? Serial entrepreneur & author XXX XXXX explains how to write a book in two weeks (or less). "  Really - 2 weeks or less.....lets be honest here folks - that would NOT be a very good book.  If you really have a 'burning desire' to write a book - you will do just that, and if you have never 'gotten around to it' then maybe its not really your passion. 
Although I have not sold a ton of books, I am extremely pleased to say that almost everyone who has read it told me they enjoyed it, it has many positive reviews ( in total disclosure - there is one review that said my book wasn't funny, which honestly perplexed me since so many of the other reviewers thought it was hilarious).  I know how long and hard I worked on my book - and it was not written in 2 weeks....I can venture a pretty good guess that any of the books on the best seller list were not completed in 2 weeks either. 
Anyhow - Here are some things that I have learned this year as a self published author:
  • I don't have a lot of patience.  I, of course, want my very first book to be read by the masses and be an instant hit, but it takes time and lots of work to get there.
  • Beta Readers are amazing - their input was so helpful and valuable.
  • Book reviews are the most coveted thing in the publishing world.  It is hard to get folks to read and review your book - but it is necessary for a book to be successful.
  • It's hard to be heard above the noise.  According to an article in Forbes Magazine, There are somewhere between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone.  Getting your book noticed can be a herculean task. 
  • Not as many of your friends and family will actually buy your book as you thought.  They mean to, but its not as much of a priority to them as it is to you. 
  • Authors are really kind and supportive people - I have met so many wonderful fellow authors online & they are very sweet and supportive.
  • Writers (especially new authors and self-published authors) spend as much time marketing their books as they do writing them. 
  • and mostly I have learned, there really isn't any money to be made in writing - with the rare exception of extremely lucky & exceptionally talented writers, the rest of us won't make millions, we will be lucky to make enough to go out for fast food once a month. 
I am not trying to discourage anyone from writing - I plan to continue and I am hoping to be one of those rare exceptions, but I know there is no short cut for success.  I love the idea of sharing my work with others and knowing that people will read what I have written.  Writing is hard work, but if you really do have a burning desire to write a book - GO FOR IT because there is nothing quite like seeing your book in print. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Review: I Will Never Forget: A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia by Elaine C. Pereira

I Will Never Forget: A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through DementiaI Will Never Forget: A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia by Elaine C. Pereira
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This lovely memoir was moving & poignant. The author openly shared the story of her mother’s journey through dementia, and all of the personal and emotional turmoil it created. At times the story felt jumbled when the author would jump from childhood memories to the present and back again, but overall this was a beautiful story of love and loss and tremendous personal strength, as a loving mother and devoted daughter faced the cruel reality of dementia and memory loss.

The author was able to create stunning prose to describe the daily struggle as she faced, “the nebulous abyss of being a parent to your parent.”

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Trouble with Ta-Ta’s

Q: What did one boob say to the other boob?
A: You’re my breast friend.

I have been having lots of shoulder pain lately, which is not surprising considering that my breasts are enormous.  Yup – they are DD cups.  I went to the doctor to complain about my shoulder & she said it was inflamed bursa – whoa, wait just a minute….Am I an old lady with bursitis?  I think it comes from my bra strap digging into my shoulder.  Having large breasts is not always very fun.

I have never understood why someone would ever want to get breast augmentation. I guess it will always be one of those ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ kind of arguments – but I cannot figure out why on earth someone would consider paying for larger breasts.

I think breasts are somewhat annoying & they always seem to get in the way.  There are so many things that are harder with large breasts. 

·         Having a mammogram is uncomfortable for any woman, but when you have very large breasts – mammograms can be downright torture.  Squishing your breasts as flat as a pancake is quite a task for DD cups.
·         Large breasts make any form of jogging or running into a great challenge, often requiring extra support – even using more than one bra to double up the support.

·         Clothes shopping can be a challenge, many clothing styles do not work with large breasts. Summer time is not halter weather for women with very large breasts.  Braless is not an option. 
·         Going through menopause and hot flashes, breasts are now a new and uncomfortable place to collect sweat. 
·         Bras are not cheap, and sturdy support bras rarely come in cute styles and patterns.  Finding a swimsuit that supports well is nearly an impossible task.

Breasts are intended to feed our babies and it can be a wonderful experience for Mom and baby, but it can also be a source of great stress when things don’t go well.  There is a reason men don’t nurse their children; sore nipples, engorged breasts and babies getting teeth are all struggles that only breast-feeding moms can truly appreciate.  Even when breasts are used for their intended purpose, it is hard not to feel like a farm animal sometimes – particularly if you are trying to use those awkward breast pumps to store some milk for later. 
Life as a large breasted woman isn’t always easy and since I am stuck with these rather large ta-tas, I guess I just have to deal with it. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chocolate - Nector of the Gods

According to historians, the ancient Mayans used chocolate as a form a currency.  Only the wealthy and important were good enough to have some.  Even then, chocolate was a prized possession. 

As we enter the Easter season, children everywhere will squeal with delight as they find a large chocolate bunny among the items in their Easter basket.  Some children take their time, taking only small, tantalizing nibbles from their prized delicacy.  Other children ravenously devour large chunks of their bunny, with creamy chocolate residue covering their little hands and faces, as a sweet reminder of the chocolaty goodness. 

For young and old alike, chocolate is irresistible.  Easter chocolate, Valentines chocolates, romantic strawberries dipped in chocolate, we continue to worship this marvelous gift of nature.  Calories are forgotten when chocolate is involved.  Nothing is more romantic than a sumptuous chocolate fondue, which is most likely the reason why the Melting Pot Restaurant is so popular.  Dipping chunks of fruit and cakes in the smooth chocolate and feeding it to your loved one makes for a sensuous evening like no other. 

It is not only children who dream of visiting Willy Wonka’s factory, to swim in the chocolate river like the gluttonous Augustus.  We all hoped to win the coveted prize – a lifetime supply of chocolate. 

As we get closer to Easter, and the chocolate eggs and bunnies tempt us, it’s okay to take a bite – because unlike the ancient Mayans, everyone today is allowed to have chocolate & isn’t that a sweet thought. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Book Reviews – a win-win

I love to read.  Reading has been one of my favorite pastimes for most of my life.  I started reading in elementary school and I have never stopped, from Charlotte’s Web to Harry Potter, reading books has been an important part of my life.   It is not surprising that most authors are also avid readers; there is a direct relationship between reading and writing.  As I muddle my way through the maze of marketing and promotion for self-published authors, I am also finding a very direct relationship between my reading & being a successful author. 

One of the most coveted things for every author is book reviews.   I know as a reader, when I look for new books on Amazon or Goodreads, I check to see what other readers have said about the book.  Before becoming an author myself, I never realized the importance of those book reviews.  Having positive reviews can have a significant impact on the success of your book. 

There are literally thousands of new books being published each week, big publishing houses, small publishing firms and loads of independent authors using publishers like Amazon’s Kindle Direct, CreateSpace, Smashwords and others, have allowed anyone who wants to publish their work to enter into the world of published books.  While this opportunity for anyone to publish is a great thing, it has made it harder to get noticed among the many new releases out there.  Positive reviews are an important way to distinguish yourself and get your work noticed, reviews can help you to be heard above all the noise.  The challenge is how to get those first reviews.

As I am learning the ropes of indie publishing, I have begun to do reviews for other authors.  I see these reviews as a win-win.  To me it is positive author karma.  Not only do I get to read a lot of great books, which helps me in my writing craft, but I know I am helping those authors by providing the valuable reviews they are seeking.  I also hope that when my books are ready that many of my fellow authors will reciprocate the favor and review my books in return.  I have found that doing reviews for other authors is not only a good way to read some great books and help out the writing community, but it is a fantastic way to build relationships. 

As a new author I have worked hard to find and encourage people to review my book.  I have asked friends and family to do a review.  I have searched online to find people who offer book reviews. These valuable book reviews make a huge difference in a customer’s decision whether or not to purchase my book.  Positive reviews are the most important form of advertising for an author.  Reviews tell customers that your book is worth reading.  Reviews can also help to improve your writing.  Reviewers can offer valuable feedback for the author.  I have also had the wonderful privilege of having folks called ‘beta readers’ review my book.  These are individuals who are willing to read your manuscript and provide feedback prior to publishing.  I did use a paid editor for my final manuscript, but I also had a few beta readers review my book, and I found their feedback to be very helpful.  Authors need and really value this feedback to help improve their work.   I am overwhelmed by how supportive the writing community has been so far. 

If you love reading – please help out the authors by posting reviews!  They will love you for it.  And if you have time – please leave a review for my book too! 


Friday, April 11, 2014

Book Review: A Taste of Reality by Joanne Mc Donnell

A Taste of Reality (Book 1 - Reality Bites)A Taste of Reality by Joanne McDonnell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are young and like Vampires, this book is for you.  I reviewed this book as a request from the Author.  I enjoyed this book, it had likeable characters, and will appeal to young adults. The characters in the story were relatable and fun.   I did feel like the relationship between Sorin and Rosie was not fully explained or developed until very late in the story, but overall the story kept my attention. The book had a nice pace, although some parts were predictable, the story was engaging.
The author is Australian so you will notice the differences in spelling and some of the phrases, but this story was a fun read and should appeal to young adult readers.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The mercury is rising in Phoenix


The mercury is rising in Phoenix, today the high temperature could hit triple digits.  I know there are lots of folks who will whine and complain about the heat – but as a semi-native I understand both the positive and negative parts of our weather all too well.

Yes, the temperature is rising, but for us allergy sufferers that is actually a very good thing.  Once the temperature stays above 90 degrees for several days, the trees will slow down their pollen production, which will in turn slow down the itchy eyes, stuffy noses and all the other irritating allergy symptoms that so many of us deal with.  The extreme summer heat also does a great job of reducing the insect population, like us, the annoying flies and mosquitoes are driven into hiding from the heat.  Another great positive to the rising temperatures is the accompanying rising temperatures of our swimming pools.  I love swimming – so the sooner the pool gets up to a comfortable temperature the happier I am.  Being outside in the warm sunny weather also helps me with getting enough Vitamin D (see my
previous blog post about Vitamin D).  Growing up in the Arizona I have always loved the sun and I have grown accustomed to the heat.  I consider the heat of the summer a very fair tradeoff for not dealing with icy, snowy cold winters.  Watching the news each night, and gazing in wonder at the mountains of snow and ice in other parts of the country, I am always grateful to live in the sunny southwest. 

I know there are also downsides to the rapidly rising mercury.  Once it gets over 90, I can no longer enjoy having the top down on my fun convertible.  Rather than a fun experience – it feels more like someone holding a hairdryer up to your face and turning the switch on high.  I know the rising temperatures are in direct proportion to my rising electricity bills.  It takes a lot of power and a lot of money to cool off our homes and businesses.   It is only April, so we will be dealing with these high temperatures for the next five months, which can be difficult for anyone to bear.   Arizonans know that summer heat means trying to park in the shade and being careful not to touch anything inside your car until the a/c cools it down.  The metal portion of the seat belts has been known to cause severe pain for many of us.  I can no longer open the windows at night and enjoy the fresh air – instead my house is closed and dark, windows shut, and shades pulled down to keep out the heat. 

Being from Arizona means learning how to deal with heat, and even if it comes sooner than we want, we know it is here to stay so we might as well find a way to enjoy it. 


Monday, April 7, 2014

No Housework Day! What a GREAT Holiday to celebrate

Did you ever notice that watching even just a few short minutes of the TV show Hoarders will inspire you to go and do some housework.  Something about the dirt and bug infested houses of the people on the show cause you to simultaneously be thankful for your own semi-orderly home & spur your need to go clean something...
I have always described myself as 'domestically impaired'.  I am not Martha Stewart!  My version of a clean floor is one that has no large chunks on the floor, thank goodness I have those natural built in vacuum cleaners called dogs, fortunately they do pick up any and all food items on the floor, including licking the floor clean at times, but they do tend the leave piles of their own hair all over the place.  My house is not disgusting like the people on the TV show, but it is not as clean as some people.  I have always been the kind of person who would rather go  have a tea party with my daughter rather than clean the house.  I do clean - but only when I am really stressed out about the condition of the house - in other words, when it finally gets bad enough I clean.  Sometimes I even specifically invite people over, because I know it will force me to clean. 
I was so excited to find out that April 7th is officially no Housework day - this is a holiday that I will really enjoy celebrating.  To those of you who are like me, those of you who HATE housework, I want to wish you a very Happy National No Housework Day!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Big decision – Cake or mini-cakes?

As our wedding draws near, we are getting more and more excited & we are spending more and more money.  I assume this is typical with all weddings.  There are so many decisions to make.  Recently we had the opportunity to do a cake testing with an amazing young new business owner.  She brought us some samples to try, so we could choose our favorite cake for the reception. 

Peter & I both had so much fun trying each of the flavors and making decisions about what we wanted at our wedding reception.  The cake is going to be done in a beach theme, with yummy tropical flavors for the little mini-cakes (they are square in shape – so they are not considered cupcakes).  I wanted to make sure our reception celebration is simple and fun, I didn’t want anyone to be worrying about cutting up pieces of cake for everyone.  Mini-cakes seem like such a good idea.  There will be a small cake on top for us and then several pretty tiers of individual mini-cakes. 

Even with a relatively low stress wedding like ours, there is a lot of planning that goes into any wedding.  As the list of things-to-do for the wedding grows longer and longer, it is a great feeling to know that we have accomplished something and had fun doing it.  Our cake is decided on, and ordered, now we have to decide on the food, get decorations, confirm the guest list, and at least a hundred other things.

I am trying to remind myself to enjoy the process and not let myself be stressed out by any of the wedding details.  I am really looking forward to those mini-cakes, I know everyone is going to love them. 


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Marvelous Marvel-Why we love our Super Heroes

Are you a superhero fan?  My fiancé is absolutely crazy about any and all superheroes.  We have seen every Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and Avengers movie that has been released.  Peter is also a huge Superman fan.  He absolutely loves any and all of the classic superheroes.  Who can blame him – I mean really, what’s not to love about our incredible superheroes.  They save the world!  They beat the bad guys!  They display all of the virtues that we hope and strive for. 

Watching our superheroes, life is simpler.  There is only good versus evil; right versus wrong.  There aren’t any messy subtleties that make our lives complicated.  When we watch these awesome movies – we always get to root for good, simply for the sake of good. 
My adorable fiancé is one of those guys who grew up following his superheroes.  These incredible heroes of today have their roots back in the 1950’s and 1960’s when kids like Peter would run down to the drug store with their allowance each week, to buy the latest installment of their favorite comic book.  Peter describes the special afternoons that he and his friends would all pitch in their allowance for the newest editions, then sit around and read each one, passing them around to everyone. 

As our world get increasingly more complicated, we long for that simpler time when right was always right and wrong was always wrong.  We didn’t have to worry about or consider what led to the bad guys making their bad choices.  Everything was always easier – no nuances, no shades of gray, it was clear cut and simple.  Captain America would save the day, or Iron Man would rescue us from the evil villain. 
While I am a huge fan of these incredible Marvel movies, and like all the fans I love to spot Stan Lee in his cameo roles, I know that life is much more complicated than a movie.  Bad guys aren’t all bad, good guys make bad choices sometimes, and even heroes are people too, they aren’t infallible.  I really wish they were real.  I wish Superman could fly in and save us all – every time something is about to go wrong, but I know that we all need to learn how to save ourselves. 
The real superheroes are the folks who learn how to overcome their challenges and struggles in life everyday. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Farewell to FAFSA

Those of you who have struggled through college admissions, SAT’s and four years of filling out the dreaded government FAFSA form will truly appreciate what I am about to share – WE ARE DONE!  I have finished filing my very last FAFSA form.  I have been a single Mom helping both of my daughters through college and my youngest daughter is almost done, she is a junior and has only one year of school left.  Tonight she and I filed her last ever FAFSA.
For those of you who do not have children, or your kids aren’t old enough – and if you don’t remember doing this for yourself, the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Aid, is a required government form for students who wish to receive any financial assistance (grants, loans or scholarships ) to help with college tuition.  It is required every year, and the form must be completed by the student and parents, to help determine financial need.  Luckily, being an underpaid teacher and a single parent – need has never been an issue.
At first, the FAFSA form can be daunting, but this was my 7th straight year of completing the form.  I am getting pretty good at reading it.  I was very intimidated by these forms at first - being a new single Mom, I was unsure what to do and extremely nervous about making a mistake that might impact my daughters' educations.  I am fairly certain I was actually in tears the first year, but with time and practice - I got more comfortable with the process.  

Filing our last FAFSA is something of a milestone for our family – it signifies an end to an era – my daughters are growing up (an obvious point since both of my adult daughters are taller than I am).  I am so proud of both of my daughters, they both earned scholarships to go to college, and thanks to our dreaded FAFSA each year, they were also given grants to assist them in paying for school expenses.  I know that many college graduates face their working careers with large student loan debt, but thanks to a combination of hard work and financial need - both of my daughters were able to afford college and not end up with a mountain of debt.  I am extremely happy that I won't have to worry about FAFSAs anymore, I am looking forward to watching my younger daughter walk across the stage and pick up her college degree certificate, as her old sister did two years ago.  It may have been a hassle to fill out all those forms - but I have no doubt it was worth it.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards – AIMS, the most dreaded week of the year

When my daughter was in 4th grade, her teacher was trying to ensure that students would do their very best on their annual tests, so he told the students to ask their parents why they take the (AIMS) test (at that time the kids were still taking the Stanford 9 standardized tests).  My daughter told her teacher that her Mom said we take these tests to raise our property values.  Luckily, he had a sense of humor.
He laughed!  Unfortunately, high stakes testing are no laughing matter.  I believed back then, and I still firmly believe now, that testing – like the AIMS testing, is not intended to help students.  It is, in fact, actually hurting them.   

Testing week is the most dreaded week of the entire school year, the only ones who hate testing week more than the students are the teachers.  Teachers are under great pressure to achieve scores, their pay and evaluations now depend on student scores.  They often spend the two or three weeks before the test frantically reviewing all the concepts they have taught during the entire school year.  Administrators are frantic trying to ensure that every child is tested, regardless of whether students are sick or even physically unable to take the test.  All of this stress is felt by the students, and those with test anxiety are almost frozen with fear.  The stress in the air is almost like a visible cloud. 
During testing week, teachers must come in early each day to officially count their test packets and check them out from an administrator's office (who must keep the test under lock and key) and then they must check them back in at the end of the school day.  Teachers are not permitted to assist students in any way, they are not even allowed to look at test questions (yet they are responsible to make sure children pass the test by answering questions that teachers have not ever seen - enjoy the irony).   Some students simply give up & they begin to bubble in random circles, teachers see this, but cannot do anything about it except to realize that their evaluation score and salary are now in jeopardy by a student who simply doesn’t care or is too defeated to continue trying. 

The students spend 3-4 hours each morning testing, and then teachers are expected to continue to teach students in the afternoon.  Students are tired and cranky from testing all morning and are in no way interested in doing more mental work.  Teachers struggle valiantly to control and manage the students until the end of the school day and then, after checking the tests back in to the administrator, the teacher drags him or herself home only to repeat this torture for 4 more days. 

Once the scores are released by the state, they are posted in the newspaper and shared on the TV news and lots of so-called experts jump in to ask "is our children learning?" adding fuel to the legislative firestorm that is already so anti-teacher in this state that it is mind-boggling.  In the past, these legislators were extremely concerned that so many students were unable to pass these ill-conceived and poorly designed tests, so they lowered the passing score, rather than address the systemic problems of the tests. 

Yes – I have always disliked these tests, and after working as a teacher for the past 8 years – I am more convinced than ever that I was right – These tests are not designed to help children.