Close to my Heart

Like many published authors, I don’t earn enough to pay the bills penning books, so I need to have a day job to supplement my income. Currently, I am employed at a local elementary school. I work with special needs students, inclusion, which is where I go from classroom to classroom spending anywhere from fifteen to forty minutes, either helping with assignments, or I bring work equivalent to their academic abilities.IMG_2689

This week the third, fourth, and fifth grades are taking the bulk of the state issued standardize tests. The fifth grade have already tested, and those who didn’t pass are retaking make-up tests. The fourth graders have taken one exam and will complete their tests this week, but this is the first round for third grade students.

These tests are specifically designed to measure individual student progress in relation to content directly tied to the state’s knowledge and skill essentials, meaning every test question is aligned to those standards.

During test time, hallways are quiet, guarded by paraprofessionals to ensure no one enters. Teachers read the instructions, and after, must stay silent. They cannot read the questions unless the child has accommodations which state otherwise. (Most of my students.)  Faculty and staff members may not sit during the four-hour duration, but must walk around and observe. They cannot read or write, only actively monitor to make sure students are honest, stay awake, and bubble in their answers.

Are the stakes too high?

Most diametrically connected with education and parents cry foul when it comes to these cookie cutter assessments, the weight that they carry, and rightly so. I’ve witnessed so many students and teachers struggle with this material, either teaching or learning.

One problem is the exam language is written beyond the child’s grade level. Current tests are devised three language Lexile’s higher than former standardized tests for the same grade level (a Lexile measure is the numeric representation of an individual’s reading ability or a text’s readability). Students may know the subject matter, yet not understand, because test questions are phrased in language beyond their comprehension ability.

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Oh, no they didn’t…

The State Board of Education decided in 2015 to “push down” fifth grade math material, which was originally taught in the seventh grade. What else does “pushing down” imply? It means teachers must teach the material during the school year, pilfering valued time needed to teach basics.

This practice makes math harder to learn, student’s are more rushed, and the material is developmentally inappropriate, which means students are held to higher performance standards on unsuitable objectives with the threat of grade retention held over their head if they fail.

Until 2014, my state has never included standardized test scores for final grades. Under state law, local school districts awarded final grades as classroom teachers are in the best position to assess a student’s knowledge and academic progress.

 

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All is fair, or is it?

Studies also show standardized tests are more challenging to students who are hampered by less fortunate circumstances. Low-income pupils typically begin school less prepared as opposed to their affluent counterparts. Schools in lower-income areas often have a greater employee turnover, intensifying the instability by the state’s current policy of further destabilizing campuses with low standardized test scores.

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Should they or not?

Research shows standardized tests are not a true measure of what a child knows, and tests certainly do not measure a child’s worth.

Should children take state tests? Absolutely! But let’s be real. Children shouldn’t be over-tested and should not be judged by their scores. State test ought to be used as a measuring stick to target needed improvements, not as a weapon against kids doing their best against challenging odds. Children aren’t standardized, and they shouldn’t be evaluated as such.

They deserve better.

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My Journey With Mom

I have an amazing mom. Over the years, she’s been my biggest champion, my rock, and as I grew older, she’s become one of my closest friends. She has a huge heart, and if anyone is in need, she’s first to step up and help. My mother is an example of a selflessness. She’s a true giver, and she does it for pure joy.

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In 2016, she turned 80. She loves to tell people she 80, because everyone says she doesn’t look 80, nor does she act 80. She eats that up. But it’s true. She’s a progressive thinker and open minded. It took me a while to get brave enough, but now I send her my books to read before I email them to my publisher. I value her opinion, and let me tell you, she doesn’t hesitate to give it.

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She’s gone through a lot of tough times in her life and weathered those storms with grace and dignity. But a few weeks ago, she was dealt with probably one of the greater challenges she’s yet to face, only this time it was different. This strong, fiercely independent woman had to accept she was the one needing care.

At first, she went into a bit of denial. She did, but I didn’t.

I suspected the news wouldn’t be positive when she revealed to me that her recent mammogram showed a mass, and her doctor wanted to do a biopsy. She preferred to keep it quiet, and I agreed. No use worrying until we had something to worry about.

I insisted on taking off work and going with her, although she was adamant that she could drive herself. According to her, this was no big deal.

Except it was. The results showed a malignancy.

Again, she didn’t want anyone to know. I get it, and so do family and friends. One of her biggest complaints is about “old” people whining about their ailments, and she didn’t want to be classified in that category. Except this wasn’t whining. She had cancer.

At this point, we semi-reversed roles, and she didn’t relinquish hers easily.

Thankfully, the growth was caught in the beginning stages. Her physician explained the risks were minimal, and she’d be just fine. She was given several choices: Chemotherapy, remove the breast, or they could take out the mass and later she’d have radiation treatments.

She chose the latter, saying Chemo was poison, and she didn’t want toxins in her body. She didn’t want to have the breast removed, because that required an overnight stay in the hospital, and only sick people spent the night in hospitals—her words, folks. She elected to get rid of the mass and do radiation.

The surgery was scheduled on Monday, March 13. They’d operate in the morning, and she could home in the afternoon. She announced she intended to go to quilting on the following Tuesday, and she had a meeting on Saturday she had to attend. While I know better than to say, you’re not going anywhere, Mom, I suggested she see how she felt before she made any definite plans. (She didn’t go to either.)

Once more, I had to wrangle my way into driving her to pre-register into the hospital. We both got a good chuckle when the attendants inquired about her medications, and she produced her only prescriptions, which are vitamin D and calcium. The look on their faces was priceless. One even commented, “You’re 80 and that’s all the meds you take?” True story.

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Then she told me I didn’t need to take off work, she could drive herself to the hospital for the surgery. Umm…no…I took off work.

The surgery went smooth. They also removed a lymph node to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread. First words out of the doctor’s mouth after the procedure, was my mom was a tough old bird, and she was going to be around for a long time. I knew that, but it was nice to have a professional opinion.

I drove her home, then ran to the grocery store, picked up her prescriptions, and dinner. To this day, she’s only taken one pain pill, although recently she admitted that the incision did bother her, and ibuprofen had become her friend. She also expressed that the entire episode kicked her butt. She didn’t bounce back like she thought she would. Really?

She went for a checkup this past Thursday. Results came back clear. Yesterday, she wanted me to take her shopping. Of course, I did. We had a great time. She was feeling much better, and there was an added spring in her step that I hadn’t seen in a while. All a relief.2017-04-02 (3)

We’re not finished, yet. She still must see an oncologist, hear their suggestions, and decide what the next move should be, but she’s ready.

And she asked me if I would take off work and drive her.

Special thanks:

I want to thank our family and friends who’ve been great support and cheering for her on. I also want to express my gratitude to those who’ve been there for me, too. There were times I felt very alone and scared. Your encouragement and kind words helped me battle those fears and put on a brave face.

I want to give special, special thanks to my cousins, Mac, and Kathy for remaining by my side. The phone calls, texts, the wine, and hanging out at the hospital were just what needed. You rock! I love you to the moon and back!

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Dating: Times Have Changed

Inventing creative ways to introduce a hero and heroine to each other is a challenge writing in the romance genre. I suppose I can draw off my personal experiences, which are dull, or I could “borrow” my friend’s encounters, and spice them up a bit.

I could. But I don’t.

I prefer to conceive my own concepts. Experiment with different scenarios until I discover a method that works between the duo’s story I plan to tell. Like almost everything when writing a manuscript, forming future lover’s beginnings involves research.

My explorations led me to dabble in the latest way leading to coupledom.

Online dating: The internet has emerged as a popular way to meet potential mates. As a single, middle aged woman, I confess this approach doesn’t appeal to me, although I’m familiar with many who have met their soul mate through the internet. Either way, I thought it would make a great plot-line, and I decided to investigate.

I started by signing up on one of the more popular sites. My profile isn’t visible, but it allows me to view potential dates/mates. Warning: From here on, I’m going to pick on the guys, since their profiles are all I can see, but assessments insinuate women lack in this area, too.

So, here’s what I found:

The internet has made people lazy, my friends. I’m sure most people who use these sites are very nice, but little effort goes into constructing profiles. My initial wonder is, are they serious about finding their Ms. Right?

Think about the old days, spending Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in clubs and disco’s. Everyone dressed up. We wore our nicest polyester, platforms gleamed, and shag haircuts were perfectly layered and drenched in Aqua Net.

I get it. Times have changed. But seriously.

Think I’m exaggerating? Look at a few pics I lifted from the dating site.

These gentlemen either look asleep, or they’ve been given bad news, or they’re mad, or they’ve photographed themselves gazing in a fun house mirror.

Speaking of mirrors, what’s this?  Selfie’s taken in the bathroom mirror??? Can I just say yuk!!!

Males also seemed to like to pose with dead animals. Polls show women don’t get too excited about pics of men and their carcasses. On the flip side, men aren’t thrilled over women who post snaps with their cats.

Pictures unfocused or sideways? Lazy. Flipping someone off? High school mentality. Tons of pictures in a bar embracing an alcoholic beverage? Do we have a problem? Numerous photographs at home. Never goes anywhere, and way too much into themselves.

No shower? No problem. Serial killer? Sure, why not!

And finally, a little mystery can be a good thing.

This is first impressions, folks.

I’m nitpicking, but the written bios are a big deal. The edit button was invented for a reason, take advantage. Complete sentences, capitalization and punctuation are important. Let’s talk about content. Anger? Next. Exposing personal baggage? Next. Wanting sex “all the time”. Next. Oh yeah, married but separated? Next.

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But by all means, write something!

Just want to spend time with someone

Okay, this part is especially for guys. I understand men don’t want some “ancient” unkempt lady on their arm. Trust me, women feel the same way, but let’s be realistic. Unless you’re Hugh Hefner, 18-35-year-old women are probably not going to jump at the chance to spend their lives (or even a second) with you. You’ll have a better shot in the real world.

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And this age thing goes on and on…

I confess, I only scraped the surface, but my observations are as follows. The premises of online dating has merit, except it also removes personalized accountability. It makes meeting others easy, but without much putting effort in the process.

Thoughts?

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Grateful

This week is my official birthday week. I’m prone to celebrate the month of March, because, why not, but Thursday is my actual date of birth. It’s not one of those “big” birthday’s, one that ends in 0. That’s another year away, but my age has climbed high enough to receive funny cards about saggy boobs, senior discounts, and laps in memory. And those are great. I truly love to laugh at my age.

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But turning a year older also has me reflecting. I have more years behind me than I do ahead. I’m not trying to be Debbie Downer, it is what it is. Instead of dwelling on the obvious, I’m going to be grateful.

Yes. I’m grateful for growing older. I’m thankful I’m still here, and for the experiences I’ve encountered and lived through. I’m grateful for the good times and the bad. Both have shaped and molded me into the person I am today.

I’m grateful for my amazing family. What a gift! My parents who instilled high standards, values, and they demonstrated what true commitment means. They taught me the meaning of unconditional love. They always supported me, even if they didn’t always agree with my choices.

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I’m also grateful for my children. They’re grown, and I couldn’t be prouder of the fantastic adults they’ve turned into. A bonus, they also married equally fantastic spouses. I don’t see them as often as I would like, but it’s comforting to know they’re just a text message, phone call, or video chat away.

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I’m grateful for my extended family and that includes my friends. I’ve been lucky enough to keep a few since I was a girl, and they are especially special. I’m thrilled with my new friends, too. Writer friends, bunko babes, work buddies and those in-between. Social media has provided the opportunity to reconnect with those I no longer see and quite a few I’ve never met. I appreciate each one of you.

 

I’m grateful for my job. No, I don’t make a ton of money and every day is trying, but I’m fortunate to work with brilliant people who teach, encourage, and laugh with me when things become too crazy. I also cherish the children we try to educate. Many come from dire circumstances, and yet they’re positive and resilient. We can all learn from them.

 

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I’m grateful for my talent and the ability to share it with others. My writing career began at the age of 12. I wrote by hand in spiral notebooks and hid them in the back of my closet. Fast forward 40 years and I’m a published author. Who’d a thought a shy, timid, introvert would ever get up enough nerve to allow the world to read her work?

 

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I’m grateful for the little things: chocolate, wine, stretchy denim, a haircut that fits my face, stretches of highway with the 75-mph speed limit, fresh sheets, silence, 80’s rock music, PayPal, my iPhone, vanilla scented candles, DSW, IDTV, spring, everything connected with the ocean, my laptop, and of course, my fur baby’s.

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Later this week as I stand in front of my cake, aiming a fire extinguisher, ready to douse the bonfire, I’m not going to make a wish. Nope. I’ll express my gratitude for the life I’ve been given, and hopefully I still have many years of gratefulness ahead of me.

 

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The hardest part of loving is saying goodbye

This has been a difficult month. I had to say farewell to someone I loved. A family member, a friend. My cousin, Roseanne Renee Henriksen passed away. She suffered with health issues a good while, and her death shouldn’t have surprised me…except it did.

I don’t come from a large family. I’m an only child. My father was also an only child, and my mom has two brothers and a sister. There wasn’t a lot of aunts, uncles or cousins around when I grew up.

I had six first cousins. Now there’s five.

I’m the oldest. Three sisters followed me. The other three came along later, so for a while, it was just us four girls. Renee was next to the youngest, and the middle child in her family.

They lived in Minnesota, and I lived in Texas. We didn’t see each other often, but when we did, it was always a lot of fun. Sleep overs where no one slept, trips to Six Flags, and I recall one Christmas, a relative made us matching robes. We used those robes as costumes. We put on a performance, singing songs, and performing skits we made up to entertain our grandparents and parents.

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Renee is on the left end.

Of the four of us, Renee had the heart of a rebel. A petite blond, she was funny, brassy, and charismatic. She was strong willed and strong minded. The one who was willing to jump into any situation headfirst and worry about consequences later.

As we entered our teens, our lives changed. No judgements on either side, it’s just how things were. Renee was no different from many teens, and she became more rebellious, determined to live the way she wanted. She got into trouble, but by today’s standards, it was nothing major. In the end, she was like a graceful cat and landed on her feet.

Thankfully, she settled down as she grew into adulthood. Her parents moved to Texas and she resided in Nebraska. Unfortunately, our spans of time together was less often. The few times we did get together, the visits were always crazy and fun, just like the old days.

As an adult, she became the ultimate “earth”person. During her visits, she would hang out with my dad. She’d work with him in his garden, peppering him with questions about growing techniques. Eventually, she grew her own food, which coincided with her love of animals as she was a stanch vegetarian.

Renee didn’t put on airs. What you saw was who she was. I can’t remember her wearing anything but jeans and t-shirts. She didn’t use make-up or fuss with her hair, her casualness fit her personality to a tee, and she wore the lifestyle well.

Renee was also an amazing artist. I was honored to have been given a piece of her artwork as a wedding gift.

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We moved many times and our moniker hung in the entryway of every home. It was usually first to go on the wall. Sadly, I removed it when the marriage ended and stored it away. My son, Stephen was married four years ago.The piece was passed along to him and his wife. Thirty-six years later, it’s back  in an entryway.

Like all of us, Renee battled with heavy issues. One place she was lucky, luckier than most, was in love. She met the love of her life, John at an early age. I can’t say for sure, but I believe they were together about forty years. I’m sure he’s heartbroken over losing her. Renee also leaves behind her mom, dad, and three sisters, their spouses, plus five nieces and a nephew. Condolences to you all.

I don’t know how to end this, so I’ll just say, dear cousin, I am a better person because I knew you. I’ll cherish every memory. Goodbye for now and Rest in Peace.

Roseanne Renee Henriksen                                             February 29, 1960 – February 16, 2017

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Keeping Resolutions

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I’m a bit late on my New Year blog, but then again, posting it on the last weekend of the month almost seems fitting. I’ve always seen the beginning of a new year as a time to make a new start with New Year’s resolutions in place, the common ones, eat better, exercise more, be better at this or that, be the ball, Danny — no wait…

I’d begin all gun-ho to keep myself on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately, my vows would quickly dissolve  and were forgotten near the end of January. I’d file them away, and when the next year rolled around, I’d start over again.

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Didn’t Einstein say something about doing the same thing and expecting the same results? Yeah…insane.

Eventually, I stopped making resolutions. Since I didn’t keep them, I didn’t see a point. Instead, I made goals. Some attainable, others not so much, and few were accomplished. I read once if you write down an idea, then it became a goal or if you told someone your goal, they could hold you accountable. Well, I beg to differ. It only works if a person is motivated to achieve whatever it is they’re driven to succeed.

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Last year, I was somewhat laxed on my writing, enough to become frustrated with myself by the end of the year. I didn’t publish a book in 2016, despite having two manuscripts completed, and a third almost done. Life, computer issues, and other roadblocks kept bugging me and getting in my way. I’ve also struggled with keeping up with the promotional side of the industry. Two author friends and I did YouTube videos. They were a blast, but filming was extremely time consuming and took away from our writing time, sooo I slept through a lot of 2016.

 

Without realizing my intentions, I sat down near the end of the year and made a list of things I hoped to complete in 2017. It’s quite extensive and it covers just about every aspect of my life. Anyone who knows me, understands that this is totally out of character. Ask my family, they’ll vouch that I’m the flighty one when it comes to focusing and organization.

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I received an email from a fellow RWA member, holding a virtual whip. She wanted to know our writing goals for 2017. I had one ready and sent it back to her. Usually, she has to pry a list from me, I think I impressed her by being prepared. I hope she doesn’t get used to it.

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How have I done so far? Not too shabby for month one. I completed editing the manuscript, Afraid to Breathe. I plan to send it to my editor this weekend. I’m about finished with the Echoes in the Wind sequel, Echoes in the Storm. My target time to submit it is in March. As soon as I’m done, I’ll do some rewrites on A Lethal Affair and step into the self-publishing world. I’ve started the second of the three-part Afraid series, Afraid to Know is next. I also have thoughts on  how the third sequel will begin in the Echoes final installment, Echoes in the Heat. I planned to write an older children’s series, and the romance/suspense story I started years ago, Hanging on an Instant, is finally becoming clearer. I’m putting together marketing plans and hopefully will get my name out as an author. And my personal life? Yep, I’ve done some revamping there too, even made a few strides, but that’s for another blog.

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Will I continue full-force, tying like a madwoman to get my life in an orderly fashion or will I return to my usual chaotic mess? Who knows?

How about you? How are your resolutions going?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Knife in the Gut

Catchy title, eh? My knife in the gut today, is discussing book reviews. Okay, all of you non-writing people whose eyes glazed over due to boredom, and plan to click off and move on to Facebook’s newest profound proverb,

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If you’re an avid reader, you should know this: Authors need reviews. There, I said it. Yes, we NEED reviews. Not to stroke our fragile egos, not even to sell more books, although it can help, but reviews seem the only way to get up and coming authors the required promotion on sites which carry our work.

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Since the evolution and ease of self-publishing, the competition is fierce, and not always fair. This is true for newbies and many pre-indie pub old timers, who back in the day, say four years ago, the big boys of traditional publishing houses had a lot of pull on how well a book advanced. Today, almost EVERYONE in the publishing world is scrambling to get their books noticed.

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Authors beg anyone who reads their work for a review. Manuscripts or arc’s are sent to professional review sights. Some writers pay big bucks just to have their book covers on a website, so perhaps a reader will request a copy, which they will get free, and maybe they’ll leave a review. This is not a cheap venture. We’re talking $500 to $600 for a limited time, with the high risk of not earning a return.

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Authors are doing handstands while they juggle flaming knives with their feet to find an audience. It’s not an easy task, my friends. It’s daunting and overwhelming, particularly when we’d rather be working on our next greatest novel.

I know what you’re thinking because I’ve thought it myself many times; it’s a pain in the ass to log on or worse sign up and become a member to one of these sights, then you have to answer a ton of inane questions just to swipe over a few stars and write, “Great read.”

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But it helps. Even if we can’t tell you in person, your time, and efforts are appreciated.

Okay, a dilemma. What happens if you don’t like the book. Sigh. Then strike everything I said above. Don’t leave a review. I’m aware, there are tons of unedited books out there, full of misspellings, formatted incorrectly or plain crappy storytelling. It makes me want to scream, especially when I see a number of five star reviews. I want to scrawl across the page, ARE YOU KIDDING ME???

But you know what? It’s not worth it. I’m not trying to squelch your first amendment rights, but…2016-10-16-5

Imagine you’ve worked on a project five years. Once it’s completed, you send it out into the world where everyone can view it. A piece of your soul is in that work. Someone you’ve never met to rips it apart because that’s how they get their jollies and it isn’t cool. I’m here to tell you, even if you know they’re a troll, it doesn’t take away the sting.

If you feel the need to comment on a poorly written book, then please, find something positive to say–the blue on the cover is a nice shade, but this story isn’t my cup of tea. And give them three stars.

So, dear friends, one more comment, and I’m off my soap box. Whatever your currently reading, if you’re drawn into another world where you’re a spy or a hit man or you’ve met the man of your dreams, let the author know.

Leave them a review. Promise, it won’t hurt a bit.2016-10-16-6

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