Tuesday, January 3, 2023

My Dirty Little Addiction

I have an addiction. To my phone. When I feel unhappy, unfulfilled, overwhelmed, depressed, bored, anxious, I turn to my addiction for escapism. And this past year, I have felt those emotions ALL the time. I reasoned that it wasn't a big deal. I mean, it wasn't harmful like alcohol, nicotine, or drugs so it wasn't really bad, right? Except that I was wrong. It was harmful. I think it has broken my brain. 

I can no longer seem to concentrate on a single task. I can't watch a movie without simultaneously scrolling on my phone. I can't clean my apartment without taking breaks to grab my phone. I can't talk on my phone without putting it on speaker so I can play games at the same time.

Cellphone addiction is not recognized as an actual psychiatric disorder, but there is a growing body of evidence that supports the notion. Obsessive use of smartphones can cause sleep disturbances, lowered concentration, anxiety, loss of relationships, poor school/work performance, among others. According to addictioncenter.com, research has shown that chronic phone use can alter a neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid in the brain, as well as decrease gray matter, and it's linked to an increase in suicide.

I'm inordinately embarrassed to admit that I averaged over 9 hours a day on my phone last week. NINE HOURS! 

Now granted, I've been on winter break from school for the past 2 weeks, and this isn't the usual amount of time I spend on my phone, but still! I know I spend too much time on it. Over the past year, I could have spent that time on so many other more worthwhile endeavors. I never purposely looked at my usage statistics, so when this popped up a few days ago, it was an eye-opener. I mean, I knew I was pretty addicted to my phone, but I didn't realize just how much. After my shocking revelation, I resolved to change my habits immediately.

I conducted an earnest examination of my habits and concluded that my problem wasn't social media. I didn't feel like I was missing out on some elusive thing if I didn't constantly check my feeds. I never looked at TikTok, Instagram, and, other than occasional updates, had mostly stayed away from Facebook for years. For me, the biggest time wasters on my phone were games. I played them obsessively. I started during the pandemic, and quickly became so entrenched I couldn't stop. It was just a way to "numb out" so I didn't have to deal with the unpleasant things in my life. Of course, the unpleasant aspects of life don't go away when you ignore them. They are there, growing like a cancer even while we stay blissfully numb, idly playing on our phones.

I admitted that I also picked up my phone whenever I was bored, or whenever I was overwhelmed and didn't know where to start on my tasks. I picked it up whenever I was sad. I brought it with my everywhere - the laundry room, the bathroom, taking out the garbage.

Although there was some appeal to the idea of just getting rid of my phone, I knew that wasn't realistic. And really, smartphones are handy tools. They have features that make life easier, to be sure. Smartphones aren't inherently bad if you use them wisely.

When I went to bed New Year's Eve, I deleted the games from my phone, and vowed to be more cognizant of my phone usage. For the past 3 days, I've reached for my phone countless times, but each time, I've stopped and asked myself -  Do you really need to use it? If the answer was yes that I wanted to call my parents, text my kids, video chat with the grandkids, add something to my grocery list, check my email, look up some information, then I allowed myself to use it, careful to put it down the second I finished my task. If the answer was no, I was only reaching for the phone out of habit, then I refrained.

I figured I'd be pretty twitchy by now, going through cellphone withdrawal, but I was so absolutely disgusted by the time I'd been spending on my phone that I actually feel good with these new rules in place - 1. no games 2. use it consciously for purpose, and not just out of habit.

Tell me I'm not alone. Does this describe anyone else?

Sunday, January 1, 2023

These Names for Grandparents are Truly Unique

When my oldest son told me that he and his wife were expecting their first child, I could hardly contain my excitement and anticipation. I have the best memories of visiting my grandparents. I know my own kids loved playing with my parents, and sleeping over at their house was a total treat. I couldn't wait to create those amazing memories with my own grandchild. Thoughts of a snuggly little, sweet-smelling baby filled my head. Austin continued, "So what do you think, Grandma?"

Wait what? Grandma? Grandma??? No. Oh no, no, no. I am much too young to be a grandma. I mean, I know that having a grandbaby and being a grandma aren't exclusive; it's kind of a combo deal. You have a grandbaby - you become a grandmother. But no. Just no.

When I hear the word grandma, I think of a little old lady, her gray hair in a bun, a shawl draped around her stooped shoulders, as she knits and slowly creaks back and forth in a wooden rocking chair.

But grandparents today don't fit the picture of the little old lady in a rocking chair, they're vibrant and active. It's understandable why they may not want to be called grandma/grandpa because of the little-old-lady/man connotation, and have come up with these creative alternatives.

Nan Nan
Nice Lady                

Then again, like Donk on Downton Abbey, sometimes it doesn't matter what name you pick for yourself because those grandkids can come up with some pretty, uh, interesting names on their own!

My granddaughter, Islah's other grandmother is known as Lela (pronounced Layla.) She's Latina and her first granddaughter couldn't say abuela (Spanish for grandma.) So she became Lela and it stuck.

Dede: My grandson came up with Memoo. My daughter was going for Memaw. 

Krista: When my twins were toddlers, the word “Grandma” came out “Gaga”. They are 19 now and my mom is still Gaga.

When my nephew was little he called his dad's mom white grandma his mom's mom brown grandma. It was their hair colors. 

Amanda: My cousin referred to our Grandma as "Grandma Blue" when he was little. She used a blue tint on her hair.

Lisa: My favorite story is about a former coworker's mother who wanted to be called Grandmother. The first grandchild couldn't say Grandmother (duh) but could say Uffer, and that is what she was called. 

Jennifer: My mother-in-law was nana-shh because we would tell them to be quiet just in case she was asleep.

Anna: My grandkids call me Merma because my oldest couldn’t say Grandmom.

Megan: My kids call my mom "Pooh Pooh". There's a story behind the Pooh Pooh as that is definitely not what she envisioned being called.

Sandy: I was called grandma tomato when my granddaughter was maybe 3 we were teasing each other she said she was a good girl and I said that was debatable , Some how in her little mine she heard tomato so she started calling me grandma tomato.

Kim: I was supposed to be Grammy but when my granddaughter started referring to me she always said “Day” and that’s what both of my grandchildren call me.

Amy: My daughter calls her grandmother "hams". She had a hard time saying "grandma" and would say "hamm-ma" which as she got older just became hams. 

Don: The three younger grandkids call us guppy and gummy. The older of this group had a hard time saying grandpa and it came out something like guppy. So Guppy I became.

Five years ago, when I got to hold that first little, minutes-old grandbaby, I thought, You can call me whatever you want! That granddaughter now calls me Grandma and I wear it with honor. Because being a grandparent is pretty awesome no matter what you're called. 

Thursday, August 11, 2022

How to Get Rid of Forehead Wrinkles

I’m thirty-twenty-two years old. That somehow sounds better than “52.” Or maybe that just makes it sound like I’m seriously math impaired. Which I am. But still . . .

Anyway, so I’m thirty-twenty-two and I feel old. I mean, my grandmother is 101 so in comparison, I’m still youngish. But really, yeah, I feel old. Recently I’ve noticed wrinkles on my face. I don’t look like the crypt keeper, or you know, Keith Richards or anything. Yet. But it’s coming. I can tell. And I’m torn between wanting to grow old gracefully, and wanting to fight it tooth and nail.

Anyway, maybe it’s because this summer, I binge-watched the show Botched. Have you seen this? In the show, these L.A. plastic surgeons fix botched nose jobs, boob jobs, and other plastic-surgeries-gone-bad. That should deter me from wanting to fight the aging process, right? But nope. It made me start considering Botox. By “considering,” really I mean that the thought of Botox fleetingly crossed my brain only to be instantly discarded because

1. I can’t afford anything like that!

I don’t think I want needles stuck in my face.

3. What if I have a bad reaction and I end up looking like Glimmer in The Hunger Games after being stung by Tracker Jackers.

    Or this guy in Just go with It.

    So, instead of searching for dermatologists, I looked for miracle creams, lotions, and potions that claimed to smooth out wrinkles. I found a product on Amazon. It had a 4.9 rating and the reviews were promising. This product wasn’t a face mask, or a moisturizing cream. No, it was stickers. Yes, you read that correctly. It was a pack of stickers that one applies to one’s face before bed. One sleeps with these stickers affixed to one’s face, and in the morning, one peels them off to reveal fresh, wrinkle-free skin. The reviews claimed, “This product worked amazingly!” “Wow this really does help!” “ . . . immediate results” “. . .  easy to use” “. . .  great results” “. . . lines a lot less noticeable” “My wrinkles have vanished!”

Sign me up! 135 people can’t be wrong. Face stickers for the win!

So I got these stickers, and the first thing I noticed was the packaging. There was an address on the box that listed Ireland. Perhaps the verbiage on the package was translated from Irish? I thought that English was the language most spoken in Ireland, but who knows? Or maybe it was written by illiterate 2nd graders. Or monkeys. Still, if you’re going to save money by having a monkey write your advertising, you might want to consider splurging on an editor to translate the monkey-ese to English. Just a suggestion.

random capitalization, spelling errors, poor grammar , , ,

Despite the poorly written verbiage on the packaging, I excitedly applied the stickers to my face before bedtime. I held my skin taut and carefully smoothed the sticker across my forehead. I continued with a few more stickers around my mouth. Ta da! I went to sleep with the knowledge I was going to look amazing when I awoke!

wrinkles on my forehead

wrinkles all around my mouth

I pulled the tape off as soon as I woke up. Are you ready for the "after" pictures? Brace yourselves for the awesomeness!

The angry look is just my usual "morning face."

Well, the wrinkles ARE less visible. However, my skin is all rippled and wavy from the way the tape bunched up which, I'm sure you'll all agree, is a huge improvement.

And here we have the original wrinkles plus some extra BONUS wrinkles! Score!

Feeling a little extra stupid after this um, experiment, I decided there was only one reasonable way to fix the wrinkles on my forehead.


1988 called. They want their hairstyle back.

I began blow-drying my hair, but stopped when I realized I was starting to resemble my high school pictures. If only I had a can of Aquanet. Do they even still make Aquanet? I'm pretty sure the females (actually, the males too. I mean, this was the 80s afterall) in the senior class of my high school alone are probably responsible for the hole in the ozone. 

Anyway, my forehead wrinkles are gone. It didn't cost me a cent, and I didn't end up looking like poor Glimmer. I am a beauty EXPERT, you guys!

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Procrastinators Unite! . . . Tomorrow

 I was talking to my sister on the phone today and we were commiserating like we often do. 

"I've had this whole summer to write and I haven't written a word. One time, ONCE, I opened my laptop, pulled up a fresh new Word doc and stared at it. I muttered to myself, 'Just write. Write something. Anything." The cursor continued to blink in the upper left corner. I gave myself a little pep talk. "C'mon, you know once you start writing, the words will come. Just START! Write something.' A half an hour later, I closed my computer and played the Harry Potter game on my phone."

My sister, nodding in agreement, responded, "I was supposed to look for a job this summer. The summer's not over though, right? I keep thinking I should be cleaning my basement and doing productive things because when I start working again, I'll look back and be like 'why did I waste all that time?' Then again, I think - I'll be working soon and I don't want to look back and wonder why I didn't have more fun doing the things I want to do, you know?"

"I understand. It's a conundrum. But I haven't even been having fun or anything. I think I'm becoming agoraphobic. I never leave my apartment. I just sit here, escaping life by watching tv. My cats are starting to think maybe I died."

"Yes, I saw on Facebook that you've finished Netflix."

"And Prime and Peacock too," I added.


"I figure I'll just win the lottery and then I can quit my job and write. Although, having all the time in the world this month hasn't given me the ability to write so . . ." I trailed off.

"Have you bought a ticket?"

"Uh no. I actually ran to Publix the other night to buy some heavy whipping cream because I got a sudden hankerin' for chocolate mousse. I saw ropes strung out across the store with a sign directing people where to line up in order to buy lottery tickets. Only 2 people were in line because it was like 9:45 at night (which is a perfectly normal time to feel the need to make chocolate mousse.) I thought about getting a ticket because there wasn't a long wait, and because the jackpot was like $830 million dollars. But alas, I never buy tickets so I wasn't sure what the process was and being the tender age of 52, of course I couldn't just ask the guy at Publix. So I paid for the whipping cream and left, all the while thinking I was stupid for not just asking how to buy a stupid ticket and knowing that I would be so pissed off if the winning ticket ended up being sold at that Publix. I mean, how do you go on from something like that?

"Oh my gosh, you're turning into me!" My sister has always been a super introvert. I mean, she's super, in that she's very introverted. I guess she is super at being introverted also. Like she's an expert-level introvert. I, on the other hand, have always been quite extroverted. Until recently with my whole shut-in status, and my fantasizing about being a hermit when I grow up.

"I know!" I said in my best Monica voice. (My sis always gets my Friends references. And literally any TV show or movie quotes. It makes our parents crazy because it's like we speak another language. The language of love! <--- Sorry, I got sidetracked with a Better off Dead quote. As I was saying, we speak the language of random movie quotes. Our mother especially LOVES when we go off with the quotes in the middle of a group chat. She'll be talking about something serious, like telling us about her visit with our grandma who has dementia. She'll mention that our grandma had mashed potatoes for dinner and my sister and I will cut in with:

These mashed potatoes are so creamy.
l could never make a good pot roast.
You need good beef.
John Wayne was tall.
Dustin Hoffman was five-six.
Argentina has great beef. Beef and Nazis.

At that point our mom generally gives up and leaves the conversation.

 "So if I'm going to be a shut-in, I should at least spend my time writing, right?" I asked.

"Yes, you should! You need to move back here to Chicagoland so I can motivate you to write! And you can motivate me to clean my basement!"

"You know that wouldn't work. We'd both be like, 'Meh, why rush it? Let's have margaritas instead!' And we'd spend the day drinking."

"Good point. Well, I'm telling you now to write something. You have to give me a half an hour of work. I want it on my desk by 9:00."

"Okay Ross." (Friends again.)

"I mean it," she insisted.

"A half an hour of work is too loose. I mean I stared at a blank screen for half an hour earlier this week. You need to be more specific. Give me a word count. Or wait! How about if I don't work on my stupid book, but I'll write a blog post. Does that work?"

"Yes! Do it! Don't forget! Put a post-it on your cat or something so you don't forget."

So this is my blog post about wanting to write a blog post because, as I told my sister, "I can't keep saying I'm a writer if I never write anything."

And here is a picture of my post-it, reminding me to write.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Mass Exodus of Educators Is Real, And It Isn't Why You Think

Remember at the start of Covid, when kids around the country were having to do school from home, and frazzled parents everywhere said, "Dear teachers, we're so sorry we didn't appreciate you! We'll give you whatever you want! Anything at all! Just please take our kids back"? Yeah, I don't really remember that either. It was rather a short-lived phase. As soon as the kids were back in school, parents forgot all about the stress of home-schooling. And honestly, it wasn't even home-schooling. Parents didn't need to curate curriculum, ensuring standards were met. They didn't need to differentiate instruction, or really give any instruction at all. Parents didn't need to collect data, make sure IEPs were met, or administer assessments while trying to ascertain if cheating was going on from afar. They didn't need to monitor kids working from home while also teaching to the students physically in their classrooms, attempting to give adequate attention to both groups, but failing because it's a literally impossible task. Parents had to simply monitor their kids and make sure they were logging into classes and doing work (something they should be doing anyway.)

But here we are. And teachers are leaving the profession in droves. According to the National Education Association survey of its members, "a staggering 55 percent of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned. This represents a significant increase from 37 percent in August and is true for educators regardless of age or years teaching, driving buses, or serving meals to students."

It's a vicious circle. As more and more educators leave, those who stay are left to pick up the slack. In an already trying year, staff is constantly being forced to combine classes, give up planning periods to cover colleagues who are sick, and take on more responsibility as people leave and aren't replaced. At some point, those who stick around meet their breaking points, and join the ranks of those who have left the field. And so the circle goes round and round.

What does that really look like? On any given day, a school can easily have 12 teachers out, another 2 teachers who left and haven't been replaced yet, and 3 administrators out. And that school will have 4 substitutes show up. So where do the other 10 classes of students go? Schools double and triple up classes and put them in the media center, the cafeteria, the gym. School health assistants, bookkeepers, librarians, and clerks are pulled from their responsibilities to sub in classes. Students lose yet more instructional time when they're already suffering educational deficits, and the teachers sticking it out and staying are held accountable for these losses.

It's not just the teachers who are leaving. It's all support staff, and this includes bus drivers. Like teachers, bus drivers are having to double-up, packing students 3 to a seat while driving combined routes. Students are oftentimes stuck at school for an hour after dismissal before a bus arrives to take them home. My nephews' schools had to pivot back to home-learning because there simply weren't enough bus drivers to take the students to school.

But that's not the main reason people are leaving. 

I have teacher friends with masters degrees who say if it weren't for their spouses, they don't know where they could live because they don't make enough to afford housing on their own. There's something extremely sad about individuals with masters degrees who can't afford the rent by themselves. And every year, they have to fight to get any kind of raise, or to keep the districts from raising their health insurance, or cutting coverage. If we entrust our future generations to teachers and expect them to turn out self-sustaining, educated, productive members of society, we need to give them the tools to do that.

But that's not even the main reason people are leaving.

According to my own unscientific survey of my coworkers, we're leaving because of the ridiculous amount of disruptive and disrespectful behavior from students with absolutely no accountability. Aside from the unruly behavior and disruption, there are the students with zero motivation to learn. I call them the TikTok kids. Their attention span is the length of a Tik Tok video and then they're "bored." So many teachers spend an insane amount of time dealing with behavior issues, and trying to coax kids to just do. their. work. that they don't have time to teach the students who are actually there to learn. It is absolutely draining. I know I personally leave work, mentally exhausted. And there are so very many parents that are just checked out. Those are the good ones. The others condone their child's abominable behavior choices, and try to place the blame on the teacher.

Those not in education might not understand the kind of behavior teachers are dealing with. And of course, this varies from elementary to middle to high school, and from school to school, district to district, and state to state. But I think I can say with absolute certainty that student behavior has gotten much worse over the years, no matter where you are. Here are a couple recent comments I got from teacher friends around the country:

I had a student walk in to class, shout, "'Sup b*tches?!" then proceed to jump on top of a desk and hop from desktop to desktop across the classroom.

I called a student in to my class so I could give her help making up some missing assignments in a class she's failing. She was so mad that I took her out of PE to help her do the work she'd been blowing off. She whipped out her phone, called her mom right then and there in class, and angrily stated, "This lady is making me work instead of going to PE!" From across the room, I could hear her mom's outraged voice through the phone say, "Let me talk to that lady. That's disrespectful!" Wait what? I'm the one being disrespectful here??

I had a student come in already angry.  I asked him to pick his head up and listen to the instructions (after offering all kinds of "cool down" time and options.)  Well, that set him off.  He stood up, flipped my table (others were sitting at it as well), cussed me out including saying that he was going to beat my a**, etc.  The SRO (school resource officer)  had to come and physically restrain him to calm him down and get him out. He was sent back to my class.  Same day.  Same class period. ...with a Dum Dum in his mouth from the SRO. That was almost a career change day for me.

The student behavior coupled with a lack of support from parents and/or administration, all while teachers are stretched thin because they're so short-staffed is what is driving educators away from the profession.

Education was already this big snowball, gathering mass as it rolled along toward a cliff. Covid pushed it over, and now it's on a downhill path, gaining momentum and girth at a staggering rate. But never fear, the powers-that-be are armed and shooting Nerf darts at the mammoth problem cannonballing out of control so I'm sure that will divert its crash course in no time. Either that, or that statistic of 55% of educators thinking of leaving will turn into 55% gone. Poof.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

A Li'l Update

I know I've kinda dropped off the face of the earth. I was getting so annoyed by everyone and everything that I had to step back from all human interaction. (That is, all human interaction except the interaction I need to endure at work since I kind of like getting paid. I mean, if I can't pay my rent, I'll have to live in a van down by the river. And I don't even own a van anymore so essentially, I'd have to live in a compact car down by the river. And that is not appealing.) Anyway, I hit my limit of stupidity and simply couldn't absorb any more so I drifted away from all social media.

So, what's been going on with me, you ask? Let's see . . . 

I learned that the treatment for cancer is worse than the cancer itself. My dad got cancer in his parotid gland. This guy who gets teeth filled without novocaine, and literally never complains of pain of any kind has been in so much pain. Between the throat pain and the gross taste that is omnipresent in his mouth, he hasn't been able to eat for weeks. But he recently finished treatment and is anxiously waiting to feel better, and to start eating again.

I learned that if you complain loudly enough, you can get what you want. Clay, Brooklyn, and I were able to visit my parents in Chicago for Thanksgiving, right before he started chemo and radiation. My dad and I went to pick up my Aunt Vasiliki and my grandmother, Lavonne to bring them out to my parents' house for the day. My grandma was impatient to get out to the car (I mean, I can't blame her! She'd been stuck in her assisted living facility for ages, and she's 100! She's done enough waiting in her life.) Anyway, she was impatient to get out and didn't wait for a nurse to help her, or for me to come inside and walk her out. She ended up falling in the hallway, hitting her head, and getting a giant goose egg. The paramedics took her to the hospital to be checked out since her blood pressure was also sky high. She was MAD! She didn't care about her head or blood pressure; she just wanted to get out and see her family. And she let everyone in the ER know it. "I'm 100 and my granddaughter from Florida is here! You let me out now!"

Anyway, they did let her out and she and I were able to join the rest of the family. I told my grandmother that although I enjoyed spending some one-on-one time with her, the next time I come to visit, we should hang out at home, not in the ER. Or at least pick a hospital with some cute doctors to admire! She agreed.

I learned that I have a new grandson. I haven't seen or talked to Austin, Codi, or Colynn in over a year. I don't even know why. I reread their vitriolic texts to me now and then, looking for some clue as to why they don't have anything to do with me, but to no avail. (They hadn't talked to Savannah and her family in over 2 years, but just recently made amends there which makes me happy.) Anyway, they had another baby right before Savannah had Islah so I have another grandson named Sage. I've never seen him.

I learned that I am way too old and fat to use crutches. At the end of December, I stepped off a curb, heard a pop, and my right knee gave out on me. I was unable to bear weight for a few days.  Apparently, my left knee was feeling jealous of all the fun (you know, ice packs, brace, and steroid shot) that my right knee was receiving so it decided to even things out a bit. While walking out to my car a couple weeks later, my left knee popped and gave out on me. MRIs showed small meniscus tears, considerable bone marrow edema, and little to no cartilage left behind my kneecaps. Walking has become a very painful endeavor. 

I learned, once again, that no matter how hard you try to teach your kids not to act like idiots, sometimes they do anyway. Clay moved out in the middle of the night right before Christmas, and as far as I know, moved in with his girlfriend. He doesn't come around or really talk to anyone anymore.

I learned why people have kids when they're young. Savannah, Ish, and Islah were going to move to Georgia for Ish to accept a job there. Long story short - that didn't happen, thankfully, because I would've missed them way too much. However, they lost their apartment in preparing to move and ended up moving in with me until they're able to find a place. I love being able to see Islah every day. It's amazing how quickly she grows and changes, and I very thankful for this time with her. But lemme tell ya, babies are loud! And crawling babies that like to get into the cat food are exhausting to chase!

I learned all the words to the Spanish versions of every kids' song ever written. Because Ish speaks Spanish, Savannah and Ish speak English and Spanish to Islah so she can grow up being bilingual, which is awesome. To this end, they play songs in Spanish for her, and little gems like Baby Shark run through my head in Spanish on a nonstop loop until I want to stab my eardrums with a sharp stick. Bebé Tiburón do do do-do do . . . 

I'll leave you with a couple pictures and a promise to start writing again because this has GOT to be my last year in education! 

my dad ringing the bell after his last treatment

my grandma after leaving the ER on Thanksgiving

my adorable granddaughter, Islah

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Florida, Are You Prepared for a Hurricane?

Having lived down here in Florida for the past 10 years, I've come to learn that hurricane preparedness to a Floridian means something entirely different than what the rest of the world thinks. To a Floridian, preparing for a hurricane means stocking up on alcohol, ice to keep your alcohol cold, flashlights to illuminate the area when pouring your alcohol, batteries to put in the flashlights so you can illuminate the area for, again, pouring alcohol, and juiced-up portable cell phone chargers so you can call your friends and invite them over to partake in some 'hurricane party' alcohol.

I haven't quite attained that level of "Floridian-ness, thank God. This is basically all my knowledge about hurricanes:

The One In Which We Survive A Hurricane (And Being Trapped In A Bathroom With Clayton)

Preparing for a Hurricane

Getting Ready for a Hurricane

The REAL Danger of a Hurricane

The One In Which I Dye Everything But My Hair Blue

Now is a great time to take inventory and stock up on your supplies. I mean, you all remember The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, right? Stock up on supplies now before Jim Cantore makes an appearance. And it's the perfect time to do it because there's a sales tax holiday on all disaster preparedness supplies (other than alcohol) between Friday, May 28 and Sunday, June 6.

For full details on what's included in the tax holiday, check Floridarevenue.com/disasterprep

Monday, May 24, 2021

Could You be Unintentionally Harming Your Cats? (If You Have These Items in Your House, You Might Be)

This weekend, I learned something about cats and an item that is absolutely toxic to them. I feel the need to use this platform to warn other pet owners of this potentially fatal situation.

I spent over 7 hours at the emergency animal hospital this Saturday with my kitten, and as you can imagine, this was accompanied by a jaw-dropping bill.

When I woke up Saturday morning, my kitten (who ordinarily wakes me up by licking my nose) was nowhere to be seen. I walked out to the kitchen by myself, no kitten winding herself around my ankles, squeaking for food. I looked into the family where KitKat lay on the couch. She lazily stretched and hopped gracefully down to the floor. I flipped on the kitchen light and saw that her right eye was closed. Scooping her up, I nuzzled her soft little head and she looked up at me with her left eye. Her right eye only opened a crack and didn't look quite right. Her third eyelid was completely covering the part of her eye that was visible through her squinting lids.

At this point, I thought she was just sleepy and would open her eye more as she woke up. I filled her bowl with food; she sniffed it and walked back out to the family room. That's weird, I thought. She must be really tired. Usually she digs in when I feed her in the morning.

As the morning went on, KitKat continued to squint, keeping her right eye mostly closed. On inspection, I didn't see any debris or hair or anything in her eye that could be causing irritation. I was concerned, but as luck would have it, it was Saturday and her vet wasn't open. I called an after-hours emergency vet who told me I should bring her in if I was concerned. They also informed me there was a $95 fee to be seen.

I debated for a little while, asking myself what I would do if it was my kid whose eye was bothering them. I decided to take her in to be safe. After filling out the hospital's paperwork, I was told to wait with KitKat in my car. We waited for about an hour and a half, KitKat happily napping on my lap. I called the hospital to make sure they hadn't forgotten about us and asked if they thought we'd be seen soon. Apparently, 3 back-to-back emergencies had come in so we'd been bumped back a bit, which I understand. After 2 1/2 hours of waiting, I told them I had to leave to take my son to work. 

We went home, where I expected KitKat to run to her water bowl, assuming she was as thirsty as I was. She didn't eat or drink though. I thought she probably just didn't feel great because her eye was bothering her. Until Brooklyn mentioned, "That's the eye she had pollen on."

Oh right, I remembered. A couple days prior, KitKat had gotten into the vase of flowers Lexi had given me for Mother's Day. She had pollen on her face and her paw which I wiped off. 

I googled flowers poisonous to cats. Lo and behold, I learned that lilies especially are highly toxic to cats. Ingesting even a small amount of pollen, leaves, petals, or even the water in which they sit could be fatal. Guess what flowers were in my arrangement. Roses and lilies. That bright yellow powder that had been on her was from the lilies.

Freaking out that it wasn't just KitKat's eye, but that her kidneys were shutting down and that's why she wasn't eating or drinking, or being as playful as usual, I dropped Clay at work and then rushed back to the hospital with Brooklyn holding KitKat.

Long story short, after bloodwork to evaluate the state of KitKat's kidneys and liver, a shot of an anti-nausea medication, a stain of her eyeball to look for scratches, and medication for her eye, she was sent home with us. Thankfully, she didn't ingest any of the lilies when just a little bit of pollen on her face had caused such inflammation and irritation of her eye.

I was in tears, talking to the veterinarian, thinking that my ignorance could have killed my kitten. I didn't know. I didn't know that lilies were that toxic to cats. I had no idea. Since then I've been asking my fellow cat parents if they were aware. Only one of them knew. Only one out of a dozen or so people that I've spoken with this weekend. So I'm using this platform to bring awareness to the fact that there are actually several items that can be harmful, some fatally so, to your pets. Here are a few of the items that are especially harmful to cats.

1. Household Chemicals

Of course, things like bleach, detergent, insect/rodent bait, fertilizers, and such are toxic to anyone. Keep all such items out of kitty's reach (and all cat parents know a kitty's reach is far and wide!)

2. Human and Pet Medicine

Human medications like antidepressants, cold medicines, diet pills, and pain relievers are especially bad. Animal medicine is also harmful in the wrong dose, as is ingesting pet medicine that's for topical use. You should keep all medication out of kitty's reach.

3. Plants

Lilies, sago palms, aloe, mistletoe, azaleas, chrysanthemums, hyacinths, tulips, rhododendron, and marijuana are all toxic to cats. To be safe, don't keep them in your home or your garden if your cat is an outdoor cat.

4. Human food

Although some human food may be okay for kitty, there are many things that are seriously toxic. Some you may know like alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate. But also on this list of highly toxic substances are garlic, onions, chives, grapes, raisins, and the xylitol found in sugarless gum and candy.

This is not an exhaustive list. Talk to your cat's vet for more information.

If you suspect your pet has been poisoned, take samples of vomit, stool, and the suspected poison that was ingested.

Watch for symptoms of possible poisoning.

Know the number of your cat's vet, and the nearest 24-hour emergency facility.

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, 888-426-4435

Don't delay. Fast action can save your kitty's life if they've ingested something toxic.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The Things I Learn in Middle School

I work in a middle school and my students teach me things every day. I figured I'd share some of this precious knowledge with you.


Monday, May 3, 2021

Jello, my Favorite

Most of you know that Lexi has POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome.) Getting her diagnosis took several years, several doctors, several tests, and several misdiagnoses. So when I suspected Brooklyn of possibly having this, I cut straight to the chase and went to the cardiologist who diagnosed Lexi.

Recently Brooklyn has had episodes where her heart races for no apparent reason. She has gone to the school nurse a number of time in the past few weeks with a heart rate over 170. That in and of itself set of alarm bells, but it also got me thinking. When Brooklyn was doing cheer this past fall, she would come home from practice with a headache every day. She said she was totally out of breath and couldn't run around the campus without stopping several times. This girl has always been fit and athletic; she used to not only run around the football field, but she was usually one of the first girls to complete the circuit. Back when this was happening, I didn't think much of it. I told Brooklyn she was just out of shape after lying around, watching Netflix, and eating Nutella for months on end at the start of the pandemic. I mean, who wasn't out of condition this past fall, right? But given her racing heart issues, I began to wonder if there was more to her fatigue and breathlessness when she was in cheer.

And for many months now, Brooklyn will get up out of bed or off the couch, walk a few steps, then sit right back down because she's lightheaded. Again, I didn't think too much of it; I just told her to get up more slowly.

But with all these symptoms together, it was just a little too reminiscent of Lexi so I made an appointment with the pediatric cardiologist. Last week he did an EKG, an echocardiogram, and a chest x-ray. All were normal. Her heart looks fine which didn't surprise me since I think she has some dysautonomia thing going on. He's sending us a heart monitor for her to wear for 24 hours, and he ordered a bunch of bloodwork as well.

So I made an appointment at Quest for early this morning since Brooklyn needed to fast for one of the tests. One of the 24 tests he ordered confused the phlebotomist at Quest. Now, I get that maybe this isn't a common test, and maybe she hadn't encountered this one before. But the doctor had written out the instructions in simple, plain English. The patient was to lie down for 5 minutes, after which time her blood was to be drawn while she was still supine. Then the patient was to stand for 10 minutes, after which time her blood was to be drawn a second time for this particular test. Well, this completely stumped the woman at Quest. She made a phone call to someone who was apparently also clueless. She also said she couldn't draw the fasting test because the doctor had written something about having it taken at 8:00. (The doctor had told us it was fasting so we should go in the morning.) Our appointment was 8:45 and that was too long past 8:00 according to this woman so she wouldn't draw blood for that test either. She just stood there, looking at the papers again and again, dropping them on the floor, looking some more and saying repeatedly that they didn't know what to do. At this point, I just asked her to return all the doctor's orders so we could just go to the hospital to have it done. I was a little aggravated because I was expecting to get to work before school started, and now we'd have to go to the hospital and spend more time waiting.

Brooklyn and I left and went to the nearest hospital, registered and walked around the corner to the outpatient lab where a friendly nurse took us back to a room with a examining table. 

"Go ahead and lie down here. You need to lie here for 5 minutes before I draw your blood."

"Oh thank you! We went to Quest first, but they didn't seem to have a clue how to do this."

"Well, I'm just following the doctor's instructions. It's pretty simple."

After 5 minutes, she drew blood for that test and the other 20+ tests the doctor had ordered. Then she had Brooklyn stand up and walk out near the desk so she could keep an eye on her while we waited for the required 10 minutes before the second draw.

I stood next to Brooklyn, asking her now and then if she felt okay. She always answered, "Yeah, I'm fine! After a few minutes I relaxed because Brooklyn hadn't gotten dizzy and was feeling fine. About 7 minutes into her wait, she suddenly whispered, "I'm not doing so good." I moved closer to her so she could rest her head on me. And then everything happened at once. I could feel her going limp, I wrapped my arms around her. The nurse flew over to us. We gently lowered Brooklyn to the floor. Brooklyn made these loud snoring sounds as we settled her on the ground. I heard an announcement over the PA about a patient down in outpatient testing. Another person brought a cool washcloth that she placed on Brooklyn's head. Someone grabbed her feet and held her legs up to help blood flow back to her brain.

Brooklyn opened her eyes and looked so confused. A dozen people surrounded us by this time. 

"What happened? How did I get here?"

She didn't understand why she was on the floor surrounded by people. Someone gave her some orange juice and the nurse whose lap Brooklyn was in held the straw up to her lips.

They all jumped in SO quickly! It was honestly impressive. Brooklyn was still white as a sheet and her legs were shaking. Someone said that they needed to take her to the ER to check her out. A couple people placed a board under her and lifted her to the stretcher that had appeared next to us. In the ER, they checked her blood sugar, placed a blood pressure cuff and a pulse/oxygen monitor on her. Someone handed me more orange juice and a cup of Jello for her. Brooklyn said, "Jello, my favorite!" 

"Really? Jello is your favorite?"

"Mom, it's from Criminal Minds, remember? Reid likes Jello."

"Okay then."

Brooklyn's face was still pretty pale and she didn't look great, but she was quoting a favorite TV show so I figured she couldn't be that bad.

An ER doctor came in and tried to ascertain why Brooklyn passed out. He suggested low blood sugar from fasting which probably played a part in it. I informed him that she was under the care of a cardiologist who was testing to see if she has POTS or something else causing the elevated heart rate and the lightheadedness. I gave him the name of the cardiologist which apparently made him feel the need to tell us a story about his name. 

"My name is Negron. One time I had a patient and my name was on her hospital bracelet, only it cut off the last 'N' on the name. The woman was black. She was very offended that her bracelet said 'Negro' and accused us of profiling her. I had to explain that it was just my name." 

Okay then. So we hung out there for a while before Brooklyn was moved into a private room where she turned on TV and watched Friends reruns. Soon she was quoting Joey, "Custard good, jam good, meat good!"

Yep, she's definitely feeling more like herself.

The doctor returned and asked if she'd eaten anything.

"They brought her some orange juice and Jello."

"You call that food? That's not food. You need something else. Do you want some chocolate?"

He returned with a small piece of chocolate. "My wife gave me two of these this morning. I already ate one. You can have this one. It'll help."

When he left, Brooklyn said, "Thanks Professor Lupin," quoting Harry Potter. "I mean, I'm not going to pass up chocolate, but I don't think this is considered real food either." I hadn't eaten anything all day either and I had to agree with her.

They had Brooklyn stand up to see if she was dizzy. Her heart rate shot up about 40 beats per minute when she stood, so the nurse had her lie down again. I explained that the racing heart was nothing new, and in fact was the reason we were there to begin with. Finally, they discharged her later that afternoon and we were able to get some actual food.

Not exactly how I was planning on spending my day, but I was really thankful that Quest couldn't figure out how to draw her blood because I don't think they would've had the resources and wherewithal to handle a patient fainting. It was a good thing we had gone to the hospital.

Next up - a tilt table test for her. We'll see how that goes.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

How (Not to) Relax at the Beach

My friend Cindy and I love the beach and we take day trips to the ocean as often as we can. We both work at middle schools and this year has sucked the life out of us! Of the 10 years that I've worked at OCPS, this is by far the most stressful year I've had, with my year at the ghetto school a close second. I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about my students. I wake up in the morning with a headache. I leave school in the afternoon and drive to the chiropractor who manipulates my spine into place after I've been sitting at my desk, tensed up all day while juggling in-person students with the students learning from home. But knowing that administration appreciates me makes it all worthwhile. 😑

So Cindy and I decided to take a day trip to the Gulf for a little relaxation and Vitamin Sea. Brooklyn was free today so she and I piled our tent and bag of beach things into the back of Cindy's vehicle. I grabbed the handle of the truck when Cindy called out, "Oh, the locks are broken. I'll open the door from the inside." Then she instructed me to reach around and unlock the back door for Brooklyn. "The locks are broken, but the truck drives like a dream!" Cindy asserted. In fact, her husband had checked the oil and filled the tires with air just the day before so the truck would be all set for us to go.

We traditionally stop at Starbucks before we begin our beach journeys. As Cindy placed the order, she debated between a grande and a venti coffee. Needing a good hit of caffeine, she opted for the venti, knowing that we'd be stopping halfway to the beach to find bathrooms anyway because neither Cindy nor I can make it all the way without stopping. I mean, Cindy carried a whole litter of kids at once with her triplets, in addition to one more. And I've given birth 6 times so basically we pee when we sneeze. Ingesting 20 ounces of coffee does not help in the bladder control department. 

About an hour into our trip, as Cindy and I were starting to think - we're going to have to find a bathroom soon, we came to halt on I-4 because well, it's I-4. I-4 is literally always at a standstill no matter what time of day, time of year, amount of construction, or kind of weather. As we slowed to a stop, the truck died. In the middle of I-4. I-4, the highway which has earned the title of The Most Deadly Interstate in the U.S. That I-4. Cindy was able to get it started and inch forward a bit before it died again. Putting on the hazards, she desperately tried to get the engine to start once more. The truck turned over and Cindy looked for an opening to move over to the shoulder. Thankfully, we were at an overpass with an exceptionally wide shoulder so Cindy was able to stop the truck far from the traffic lanes and in the shade of the road overhead.

Cindy called her husband, but he was busy helping a friend and didn't want to leave to come get us. I thought about calling Clayton to come pick us up, but he's never driven on I-4 and I didn't think it would be a good idea to send him on an hour-long trek on the interstate by himself.

Next, Cindy tried calling AAA, but she wasn't getting good reception on her cell phone. I told her to go to the AAA app because that could pinpoint our exact location for the tow truck since we weren't exactly sure where we were. Unfortunately, the app wouldn't load because again, she wasn't getting good service. I pulled up the app on my phone and went through the process of requesting service. As I was about to submit the request, Cindy said, "No wait, if you request service, it'll go against your membership, not mine. You only get so many requests a year." So I closed the app and put my phone on speaker, and while she spoke with the folks at AAA, I pulled up my Waze map to pinpoint our position.

Because of Covid, the tow company can't give us a ride, not that the three of us could've piled into the cab of the tow truck anyway. Cindy thought about calling an Uber, but Ubers don't pick people up along the side of the road. Sooo, we had a tow truck coming for the truck within the next hour or so, but we had no way to get home. And the tow truck wouldn't pick up the broken-down vehicle and leave us just standing there on the side of the road, so we needed to coordinate a ride home for us that would get there at the same time as the tow truck. 

As we were trying to figure out how we were going to get home, Brooklyn decides she can no longer "hold it." Cindy passed an empty Starbucks cup to Brooklyn and told her to climb over the seat into the back of the Expedition to pee in the cup. When she was done, Brooklyn held her grande salted caramel cream cold brew urine with an expression like Now what? We instructed her to dump it out the window while thoughts of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry needed to pee, but they were lost in a parking garage went though my head. "But officer, I could get Uromysitisis poisoning and die. That's why!...Do you think I enjoy living like this?...the shame, the humiliation...You know I have been issued a public urination pass by the city because of my condition. Unfortunately my little brother ran out of the house with it this morning." Cindy and I looked at each other, wondering who would be next, and knowing full well that neither of us would be able to hold it for another hour. And unlike my skinny little 15-year-old daughter, neither of us relished the thought of flipping our um, fluffy 50-year-old frames into the back of the vehicle to pee.

Cindy dialed her best friend because asking someone to get up and drive an hour down I-4 on a Saturday definitely falls into the - something you could only ask of a best friend of 40 years category. I listened to Cindy's end of the conversation. "I have a huge favor to ask! I'm stuck on the side of I-4 with my friend Dawn and her daughter. I need you to come get us please! We were going to the beach. What beach do you think? Anna Maria. It's not that far. But the truck broke down. It think it's a coil."

"But it drives like a dream," I interjected.

"Rick is helping a friend," Cindy continued the conversation. "I may have to kill him. We're on I-4, off to the shoulder. Somewhere in Lakeland. No, before that exit. You can't miss us; we're off to the side under an overpass. Okay, thank you!!!"

All set. A tow truck is coming in an hour, and Cindy's friend and her husband should get here in an hour. Perfect. Or well, not exactly perfect because perfect would be us relaxing on a beach, listening to the waves right now. But at least we were off to the side out of danger, we were in the shade thanks to the road overhead, and we had people coming to get us.

With that all set, we were able to relax a little. However, now that the plans were all made, we didn't have anything to occupy our minds and our thoughts turned back to needing to pee. Cindy grabbed a box of crackers to munch on. "If I eat these, maybe they'll soak up enough urine that I won't have to pee.

Brooklyn and I looked up from our phones, eyebrows raised. "Yes, that's how digestion works," I replied drily.

"I know that's not how digestion works, but I'm trying to fool my brain so I don't wet my pants!"

"Bet you're glad you got the venti now."

"At least we're all wearing bathing suits," Brooklyn piped up from the back seat.

"Right!" I agreed. "And if your friends take too long to get here, instead of finding us a bathroom, they can just pull over in front of someone's yard, and we can grab their garden hose and rinse off."

"Stop making me laugh!" Cindy begged.

"Roll up your window! Oh my God! Brooklyn lock your door! Lock the doors! Oh my God!"

Cindy is completely freaking out which in turn, is freaking us out. I roll up my window and see in the side mirror that a car has pulled up behind us. I'm thinking a good Samaritan is stopping to see if we need any help. Cindy is thinking an axe murderer is stopping to kill us. A man gets out of the car and walks a few feet, stopping at the front of his vehicle. He pours some water on his face, and scrubs it with his hands. Cindy was in full-on panic mode at this point. "I have my foot on the gas! If he comes closer, I'm driving!"

"I don't think he's even coming here. It's okay."

"His belt is undone!" Cindy yelled. "I'm ready to drive!"

The guy walked around and got back into his car without giving us a glance. He started driving, but not out toward the lanes of traffic; he drove up between us and wall. Cindy was ready to floor it while she formulated plans to acquire her concealed carry weapons permit, but the guy continued to drive forward before merging into traffic. He was completed oblivious to us.

Not too long afterwards, the towtruck driver called to let us know he would be there in about 10 minutes. A couple minutes later, Cindy's friends pulled up. We climbed out of the truck and stood there while waiting for the towtruck. 

"It smells like urine out here."

We looked around innocently. "Hmmm, that's weird."

We transferred our belongings to their car and hopped in. After thanking them profusely, we begged them to take the first exit and find a gas station so we could pee. They took the first exit and we drove along. And drove. And drove. But alas, there were no gas stations. No restaurants. No anything. So we wound our way back to the interstate. Signs indicated that there were gas stations, hotels, and restaurants at the next exit so we pulled off there. And drove. And drove. And drove.  There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. 

"Well, worst case scenario is that we head back to I-4 and go to the next exit," Cindy's friend said.

"No, worst case scenario is that Cindy and I have to pay you to get your car detailed in order to get the urine smell out."

We finally found a Sunoco and pulled in. 

"Um guys, do you see the bars on the windows and the gunshot hole in the glass?" I asked.

"Oh my gosh! I don't know if that's a bullet hole. It looks like someone took a baseball bat to the window."

"Is that really better??"

"No! Keep going! Find another bathroom!"

We found another gas station and ran inside (which really says something about how badly I needed to go because I didn't have on any makeup and I was wearing a bathing suit, and I never go out in public like that!)

We finally all made it home thanks to Cindy's friends. Cindy may be digging a shallow grave in her backyard for her husband who didn't come pick us up, but probably not since he'll be the one to fix the truck. And I learned some lessons for our little adventure.

Don't drink coffee (or really anything) on the way to the beach.

I need to talk Cindy out of obtaining a concealed carry permit.

Wear normal clothes and make-up when going to the beach. Just in case.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

How to Make Red Greek Easter Eggs for Tsougrisma

Tsougrisma is a traditional game played by Greeks on Orthodox Easter. The game is played by cracking red dyed eggs together. The eggs symbolize new life and the color red symbolizes Christ’s blood shed for us. Each person chooses an egg and holds it upright while another person lightly taps their egg against it. The person whose egg cracks then turns it around and uses the other end. When both ends are cracked, the player is out. We take turns going around the table, cracking the eggs with each other. The person with at least one end intact at the end wins and is said to have good luck throughout the year.

When I was young, I remember my mom teasing that she was going to sneak this red alabaster egg, a decoration in our dining room, into the game. And one year, when we were little kids, my sister won this game when we celebrated Easter at my Aunt Vasiliki's. I swear I remember her keeping the winning egg and saving it in her closet at home until her room began to stink and my mom found it there. She insists that never happened, but will admit to saving some chicken bones wrapped in paper towels for her stuffed dog, Blooper. I guess we’ll never know for sure (I’m right), but the point is that I have some fond memories from celebrating Greek Easter with my family. And I hope my own kids will look back one day and recall some fun memories from celebrating this little part of our heritage as well.

Traditionally, the eggs are dyed on Holy Thursday in preparation for Easter. Here's how to color the eggs used in this game and in tsoureki, a sweet bread that has a whole red egg baked into it. I color my eggs with yellow onion skins. You can use any commercial dye (Greek markets sell a red dye at Easter time) but I don't like using store-bought dyes because I feel they don't yield as deep and vibrant a color as the onion peels, plus they tend to bleed and stain your hands red while playing the game.

1.  Get 12 - 18 eggs. Make sure you have enough for every person plus a couple extras in case they crack while boiling. Let the eggs sit out until they're room temperature.

2.  Peel about 12 yellow onions. You might think that red onions, not yellow, would create a red dye, but I promise you, as unlikely as it seems, that yellow onions will dye your eggs a deep red. (Then look up recipes that use a lot of onion! Or you can dice and freeze all those peeled onions in ziplock bags to use at a later date.)

3.  Put the onion skins in a large pot along with 3 tablespoons of white vinegar and 8 cups of water.

4.  Boil the onion skins for 30 minutes, occasionally stirring to ensure the peels are fully submerged. Turn off the heat and let it sit for another 30 minutes to cool.

5.  Pour the cooled liquid through a colander and into another large pot. Discard the onion peels.

6.  Return the red liquid to the stove. Add your eggs and bring them to a boil. Let the eggs boil in the red liquid for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat and let the eggs soak up the dye for another 15 - 30 minutes, checking them occasionally until they reach the color you'd like.

7.  Remove the eggs from the liquid, dry them, and then rub them with a little olive oil.

8.  Now, have fun! Christos Anesti!


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