Author, Dreamer

Diane Bixler

Escaping Jacksonville

Chased by a Cop in a Broken Car

OK, I don’t like to travel and I downright hate driving. I survive pretty well on a motorcycle, but not so well in a car. And finding my way around (as any of my family will attest to), well, I couldn’t find my way out of a wet paper bag. They have told me as such. And that’s why, this day, I allocated an additional 30 minutes of “get lost” time to what my map application said should be an hour drive. Surely I would need that time to get lost, have a hysterical breakdown and suddenly find my way. And after that trauma, I would need an additional few minutes to calm myself, once I arrived.

The thought of driving to Jacksonville wasn’t pleasing, but it was a necessity. Armed with my new phone and an ipad, my trip started at the kitchen counter. I found written directions on the ipad and snapped a screen shot. This was a proactive measure in case the GPS from the phone failed. Next up, I found the address on the phone’s map application. Gotta love smart phones – not only would it provide my tunes for the trip, but hopefully, it would get me there first try.

Armed with as much technology as possible for the hour-long trip, I revved up the engine and headed out. To my surprise, my phone started talking to me. Turns out, my new phone not only has the GPS to track me, but a calm female voice tells me where to go. “Turn left in a quarter mile” is where I started, which was followed by a reminder “turn left in 1000 feet”. This wasn’t so bad! I already knew the easy part – get onto I-95 and head north for 50 or so miles. That was honestly the bulk of my trip, but it was the part I was least concerned about. My navigator was silent those 50 miles and before I knew it, I was heading for my exit.

Here’s where traveling gets tricky. Typically, I’m trying to look at a map while driving, which doesn’t work. But my calm navigator was spot on. We turned right, then left, merged here and soon, I was at my destination, half an hour ahead of schedule. There were no tears and not one wrong turn. I was impressed with myself and posted on social media as such. After my 3 hour training, I calmly walked to my car, hit the “switch” button on the map application and set my course for home. It was 8:00 at night, but as easy as I got there, even in the dark, what could possibly go wrong?

As I got to the end of the driveway, my calm navigator informed me I should take a right. This was odd, considering I had made a right into the place and I really felt I should be turning left. But hey, I’m the one directionally challenged, so I simply switched lanes and did as I was told. I made another right, then a left and promptly stopped the car. I was in a neighborhood on a narrow two lane road and the lane I was travelling down was barricaded due to what appeared to be a small sinkhole. The car behind me went around me (cursing, I’m sure).

Now I’m not all that familiar with Jacksonville. As I have mentioned, I really don’t like travelling. But I didn’t have to know where I was to know it wasn’t the right side of town. And I’m looking for an interstate here! I had two options – I could pull up the map application and attempt to find another route or I could trust my calm navigator to lead me home. I chose the latter, going around the barricade and deeper into the neighborhood.

“Make a left in 1000 feet” was my next instruction. I stopped at the sign and checked for traffic. A police officer turned onto the road I was exiting from and promptly pulled a u-turn as I made my left. He proceeded to ride my bumper, I’m sure just waiting for me to screw up somehow. I tried to remain calm, hoping he didn’t pull me over. There was no way I was staying calm much longer, let alone if he stopped me. After another right hand turn, I finally saw a sign that said “I-95” and it was all I could do not to speed up. As I approached the I-95 South sign (which, by the way, I was never so damn happy to see in my life), Mr. Police Officer veered left and away he went, apparently pleased with my decision to leave town.

This was the home stretch – I totally had it home from here. I physically relaxed and turned up the tunes. Fifty miles of interstate and I would be home. But as I made my way through the interstate construction, I found myself looking where the hood of my car disappeared. At first I thought it was a figment of my imagination, but as I kept looking (trying to also focus on the road and driving), I realized it was real. There was something there, flapping on my hood. I turned down the radio and sure enough, I could hear it. Sighing, I made my way to the right hand lane and took the next exit, my calm navigator attempting to turn me back the right way.

I pulled into a gas station and parked. Walking to the front of the car, sure enough, there was a rubber strip that seemed to have come loose from the underside of the hood. It was attached at either side, but totally loose in the center. In the 70 MPH wind I had exposed it to, it flapped, but being a small, black piece of rubber moving at a high rate of speed in the dark, it was hard to see while I was driving. I pulled it, snapping it at either side and tossing the loose piece into the back seat. No damage to the hood, so I followed my calm navigator and made that u-turn to head back to the interstate.

I was so relieved to be home. James had a glass of red upon my arrival, which helped calm the nerves. I have no idea where in Jacksonville I was, but I’m not looking forward to the return trip. In the mean time, I’m sticking close to home and working up the courage for the next big adventure – A 5-day trip to Jacksonville, coming & going each day. Maybe I could just hire a chauffeur… 

Breakfast this Morning was a Disaster

Breakfast this morning was a disaster.

I must admit I don’t know why,

But my plate started spinning faster & faster.

The next thing I knew, it started to fly!

 

The toast fell off, butter side down,

And began heading for the door.

It chased itself round and round

Leaving gobs of jelly all over the floor.

 

My flying saucer flew all around

And then into the dining room.

It tried to land on the ground

But crashed instead with a “boom”.

 

Then I saw the most amazing thing,

Right before my very eyes,

My spoon began to dance & sing!

I must say, I was quite surprised.

 

The bacon decided this was his chance,

To try and become a star.

He started off with a song & a dance,

But then he went a little too far.

 

He made a crack about orange juice,

Which got my drink quite upset.

I tried to grab him but he broke loose

And all of us got soaking wet.

 

Then mom came in and she was screaming,

Why, I dared not ask her.

She threw me a towel and yelled “start cleaning!”

Which is why breakfast this morning was a disaster.

 

I have a huge file of pieces I’ve written, most of it being poetry, some of it I don’t even remember writing. It’s from this file, I pulled Murder in D Minor, though that story was heavily adjusted for publication. Most of my poetry (and short stories, for that matter) are very dark, usually focused either on someone dying or death itself. Then, around the time I was in college & studying education, my writings started getting playful. Maybe it was because I interned in a 4th/5th grade combo class, my only time teaching at the elementary level. Whatever the reason for the change, this is one of my poems from some random moment in my life when I felt more light-hearted.

And now, back to a brief cruise to the Bahamas before killing my lead character’s wife.

The Wicked Witch of the West

“You didn’t ride your bike in today, did you?”

This is not something you want to hear 20 minutes before you’re supposed to be leaving work for the day, especially when the answer to that question is, “why yes, I did ride my bike in today.” I’m now thinking I may be thankful for choosing the BMW over the Ducati. With the fairings and windshield, I at least stand a chance at getting home in one piece.

“Yeah, I did,” I answer, leaving my office and heading toward the nearest windows. As I peer outside, the question I ask has an obvious answer. “Is it supposed to rain?” It’s dark outside and it’s not even 3:00 in the afternoon. I watch a moment as several pieces of debris fly through the air. Rain is going to be the least of my problems.

“The storm is moving in. You should go. You need to get home before it hits.”

I quickly shutdown my computer and grab my helmet. Of course I wore no jacket today. And I never did bother to put the saddlebags back on my bike after the service I had done. You know, the bags with my rain suit in it. Ah yes, those bags, safely in my garage at home, my rain suit nice and dry with them. The logical thought does cross my mind – I could wait it out. But where’s the fun in that?

Less than 30 seconds later, I’m on my bike fighting the traffic out of work with the rest of people also trying to beat the storm. Except they are in cars and not getting pummeled by the huge, heavy drops starting to fall from the sky. The first drops are monsters and distinctly separate – they splatter when they hit the ground, leaving big blotch-marks on the dry pavement. They fall randomly, so slowly and so few in numbers, you could probably count them, if you wished. These are just the beginning. Soon the downpour will hit.

As I finally turn out of work and onto the main road, the deluge starts, the rain pounding and cold, just as I had mentally predicted. These drops don’t just fall like their predecessors; they shoot from the sky, striking the ground (and me) with a vengeance. I find myself naturally hunkering down close to the bike, trying to catch any break I can from the sting of the rain. It’s not just wet but cold, the temperature on my bike telling me 62 degrees. It takes less than a minute until my skin becomes numb to the pain of the needle-like drops. I may be cold and wet, but at least I no longer hurt.

As I start making my way home, I think about the last time I attempted to race a storm on my bike. I had left work due to an approaching summer storm from the north. It hadn’t started raining yet, but the sky was black and menacing. As I made my way home, I realized I wasn’t going to make it, but thought if I could just get to the underpass, I could wait it out there. I was behind a minivan that was going way too slow. I was about to pass when the van came to a complete stop. Annoyed, I stopped too, trying to identify the source of their stupidity. I looked up and realized why they had stopped – the road ahead of us disappeared into a brownish cloud of swirling debris. I don’t know if the air temperature dropped or if I just got the chills from the sight ahead of me, but my whole body shuddered.

More is lost by indecision than poor decision. Why the van just stopped, I don’t know. But that mass was moving in our direction and would be on top of us in just a few moments. I sped around the van to the next break in the center median. I banged out a u-turn and headed south at a high rate of speed. I crossed the light and kept going until I got into a neighborhood. It was weird to be in the sun knowing the darkness that was chasing me. I found a house with two cars in the driveway. I parked my bike between them and sought shelter under the cover of their garage. A woman came out and insisted I come inside, which I did. The storm passed quickly and violently but within 5 minutes, I was back on the bike heading north, a light rain replacing whatever that was that had passed.

That’s the thing about summer storms in Florida – they may be tough, but they move through quick. Now, winter storms… they can be a different experience. The storm I found myself in today wasn’t nearly as volatile, but it was relentless. As I was heading north, the rain came in sheets, blasted by the wind from the west. Somehow my brain connected the west wind with the wicked witch of the west and I found myself singing that song from the Wizard of Oz. “Ding, dong, the witch is dead. Which old witch? The wicked witch! Ding, dong the wicked witch is dead.”

I made it home safe, of course, or you wouldn’t be reading this now. I should know better than to try to beat the storms, but I guess I’m either brave or stubborn or maybe just a little of both. I always say I won’t do that again, but the memories of the dangers of the storms will fade and come summer, I know I’ll be pushing my luck again to beat some storm home. I just hope the wicked witch doesn’t get me some day.

A Serial Killer and an Assassin Walk into a Bar…

The nature of the books I write has given me cause to dig a little deeper into the vocabulary related to my topic. Murderer, serial killer, assassin, vigilante – what am I creating?

One question I have always pondered was exactly how important must you be before you move from being murdered to being assassinated. Turns out, importance and fame aren’t the sole criteria for having your murder deemed an assassination – the plotting and motivation of the killing are also factors. Assassinations are planned kills, sprung on their victims as a surprise. Typically the purpose of the killing is to make a political or religious point. In previous years, the victim was required to be a politician or an aspiring politician, but recent definitions reflect a much broader scope and can include celebrities or public figures. Your trivia answer of the day – the first literary use of assassination was by Shakespeare in MacBeth.

The legal definition of a serial killer was changed by the FBI in 2005. Prior to this change, a serial killer murdered at least three victims in a minimum of three separate events. The current definition used officially by law enforcement only requires two victims murdered in a series of unrelated events. This minimal definition would technically place many murderers into the serial killer category. In addition to serial killers, there are also terms such as mass murderer and a spree killer. A mass murderer kills at least four people within a single event. While you will find references to a spree killer, law enforcement doesn’t officially recognize this term.

And then there are the vigilante killers. From a law enforcement perspective, vigilante justice is loosely defined, but there is no specific criteria to being an actual vigilante killer. I was surprised at the many references to vigilante justice gone wrong (both killing and otherwise), but the lack of articles for successful vigilante justice. While there are acknowledged and public vigilante justice groups and individuals, their work (likely due to the illegal nature of it) and the successes of their actions remain mostly a mystery. The limited accounts of successful vigilante justice are usually documented through the investigation of the aggressor.

All of this brings me back to my protagonist. Technically, somewhere in book two, he becomes a serial killer. What?!? I didn’t create a serial killer! I never thought of him like that and I know he doesn’t think of himself in such a manner. He’s just helping karma catch up with those the justice system missed. So after his second or third kill, will he have a moment of self-realization? Will his perceptions about himself change him, and if so, adjust his actions for better or worse?

I think my protagonist and I need to have a little chat. And my author brain is now kicking around the idea of upgrading him to assassin. Maybe I should go outline book four – it’s not yet started. And book two may have just taken a slight psychological twist… Time to write!

Social Media, Part 2 – Navigation

I couldn’t start today’s topic without wishing Facebook a happy 10th birthday!

So, you’re using social media. Great, but are you using it effectively? Are you really using the right social media to meet your needs? Today, we will take a tour of common social media platforms and how to manage them so they work for you.

Facebook – This giant is by far the most popular as it approaches 1.25 billion users. However, I also hear people complain about it’s filtering system and organization. First, let’s remember the saying “you get what you pay for”. The majority of users don’t actually pay for Facebook. It’s paid for by the advertisements and by businesses paying to have the public (and their following) actually see their posts. I’d gamble that making Facebook so frustrating to the average user is part of the equation to eventually offer a fee to basically get what you want from the platform. But I’m sidetracking… Let’s get back to how to use it effectively.

For my first few years on Facebook, I actually didn’t have a home computer, so I only used it from my phone. Today, I do own a computer, so I am developing a stronger feel for how to manipulate it to meet my needs. You can organize your news feed on the computer or the phone by either most recent or most popular posts. Going into your personal settings, you can get very specific about your privacy settings and notification settings. This will allow you to set specifics like who can tag you in posts, who can message you and even who can find you on the site.

Businesses and public pages are filtered heavily by Facebook. Many times, a post by a business is only seen by less than one third of those who follow them. So you like a local newspaper? You’re not going to see all it’s posting (or all the news) without making an adjustment. Go to the pages you like and select “get notifications” from that page. This will ensure you get notifications (that little number by the world symbol) for everything that page posts. This is the only way to ensure you actually see a business or public page posts. So even if Facebook filters it from your news feed, you will see it. Many businesses spend a lot of money just to make sure their audience sees what they post. Businesses – posting with pictures will ensure a larger audience actually sees your post rather than plain text. Keep that in mind when posting…

Facebook is now asking you to take a survey to improve your news feed. I’ve done it, but I don’t see a difference. Supposedly, you can take it multiple times and it will help determine what posts you want to see. Again, I see a paid version of Facebook in our future for the simple ability to actually see what everyone posts without a filter. But the tips above should help you get more information and, if you’re a business, reach more of your audience.

Depending on the business you’re promoting, or maybe you’re promoting your professional self, LinkedIn could be a useful platform. If you’re not familiar with this platform, think like a professional Facebook. Instead of posting those cute cat pics or what you had for dinner, you post your professional services, business offerings or articles related to business topics. LinkedIn is useful for branching out and networking with others. The more contacts you have, the more your news feed will be filled with articles of interest. You can message folks privately, view profiles, send requests to connect and follow businesses. If you’re looking to reach out to others professionally, I would strongly recommend this platform. If you’re looking to reach mass potential customers, Facebook is still the happening place.

Instagram is growing in popularity, especially in the younger generation. The idea is that a picture is worth a thousand words, so this platform allows the user to share pictures and videos with the ability to customize them for the mood or effect. Your profile (and all your uploads) can be public, meaning anyone can “follow” you or private, where you must authorize the person to view and follow your pictures. I do not use Instagram (there is only so much time in a day for social media), but do know you can also share your content through other platforms. Take a picture, manipulate it and share it on Facebook or tweet it.

Twitter is another platform very similar to Facebook, but was designed with a slightly different take. The posts, or tweets, are only allowed 140 characters. First, this short of a message would match most texts and therefore, Twitter would work on phones with SMS. Secondly, keeping to a short message, Twitter encourages users to get their feelings out quickly, being more spontaneous. Unlike Facebook, once you start tweeting, anyone can follow you. There is no “friend” filter. The upside to this is just that – anyone can follow you. You get to “meet” new people and your conversations aren’t limited to those you know. For some, this is also the downside. With anyone following your posts, use with caution. Again, Twitter is not a platform I use, so I’m not familiar with all the details of how to manipulate it.

These are only a few of the more common social media sites available. I chose them because of their popularity and due to the nature of their platforms. These are the most common for sharing your personal or professional life. Businesses may also wish to look into Quora as another potential site. I didn’t include Pinterest because this site isn’t really dedicated to sharing your personal or professional life. It’s a form of networking, but not in the sense for this article. Same with YouTube, which technically could be considered a social media site, but still, not as defined for the purposes of this article. And, just in case you were wondering… The original social media site MySpace is still in existence. It attracts a diverse crowd, but has morphed a bit into the entertainment scene rather than it’s initial intent.

Social Media, Part 1 of 2 – The Psychology

If the research is even mostly accurate, you are more likely than not using social media. Current statistics indicate about 3 out of 4 Americans engage in some form of social media. Own a smartphone? About 40% of us access social sites from our phone, with almost 30% posting daily. Although the statistics do show some variations among age groups, gender (females are more likely to use social media over males) and income, truth is, you’re likely engaged at some point during your week. Research also indicates your interaction with social media is controlling you on some level, but that you are capable of controlling it as well. Let’s explore these thoughts further.

Are you familiar with dopamine? This neurotransmitter is responsible for sending signals to other nerve cells for a variety of reasons, one being to reward behavior. Basically, this little guy is responsible for sending signals telling your brain, ‘whatever you just did, keep doing it’. Research indicates when you get a social media notification (you have mail, someone sent you a friend request, someone commented or liked something you posted), a small amount of dompaine is released, encouraging you to check it out. In theory, it is possible to become addicted to this effect. Multiple articles reference this effect and are easily researched.

Has someone posted something that gets you so riled up, you almost can’t help but blast something (usually inappropriate) right back? In China, a study was conducted through a platform called Weibo, which is similar to our Twitter here in the US. Students from Bejing University studied over 200,000 users, analyzing some 70 millions posts, shares, comments and messages. They then categorized the content into four emotional categories – anger, joy, sadness, disgust. They were specifically looking for correlation between content and response, and guess which emotion had the most direct correlation. Anger. If a post or comment hits an angry nerve with you, you are much more inclined to respond in the same manner. The study dug further into this effect. You can check it out here – http://www.technologyreview.com/view/519306/most-influential-emotions-on-social-networks-revealed/

I remember when ‘online dating’ first became popular. Everyone proclaimed ‘whoever is behind the screen isn’t who they say they are!’ We constantly warned everyone how easy it was to hide who you really are through online screen names and fake pictures. So why don’t we hear more about this these days? Again, research indicates this theory still exists, but I was surprised to find that it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I mean, can you imagine the multiple personalities you could maintain through social media? Turns out, this really isn’t exactly how it works.

What we do is similar to splitting our personalities, but not like I was thinking. We create multiple accounts, but typically it’s to separate one’s personal and professional lifestyles. For example, I have had a personal FaceBook account for years, but just recently started my professional one. They are very different and the people I expect to follow each are also very different. Some people blog via multiple accounts, typically to maintain specific topics on each one.

Along these lines, I did find limited research hinting that people tend to either live up or live down to the online identities they create. For example, if someone creates a professional profile via LinkedIn and interact in such a manner, they actually start to develop their professional side. I liken it to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

All this is interesting and I admit, I enjoyed spending the time studying this topic. So what do we do with this information? Combined with a better understanding of what forms social media take and how to manipulate them, rather than them manipulating you, you can get the most out of your experience online. Part two will focus on the forms of social media and some simple ways to make them match your expectations.

Whiskey Sauce without Whiskey

I felt that last night’s almost dinner disaster needed to be shared, so y’all are getting a bonus posting this week, complete with the recipe. Enjoy!

Last night, the dinner planned was pretty easy & straight forward – steak & potatoes. James LOVES steak and potatoes. He also likes dipping sauce, so typically the steak comes with a bacon-whiskey cream sauce. It sounds complex, but it’s pretty simple and we always have leftover sauce, which means pork chops another night for take two. I had everything I needed to make dinner, so I proceeded to fill my afternoon with creative writing. I got a little carried away and next thing I realized, it was just after 6:00, when James is closing shop & heading home. I shut down the computer and headed to the kitchen, looking forward to a more mundane task requiring much less thinking.

The ingredients flew out from the fridge – steak, potatoes, bacon, half & half, butter, broth. I started roasting the potatoes, knowing they would take the longest cooking time. The sauce was next. I chopped the bacon and started simmering it, filling the kitchen with that dreamy smell we all know and love. I grabbed the step-stool so I could reach the liquor cabinet over the fridge for the whiskey, but found no bottle. Of course, single malt or bourbon would easily substitute, but we had none of that either. And in a pinch, I have used American Honey (Wild Turkey infused with honey), but that gives the sauce a unique sweet taste, not bad, just different. Tonight, nothing was available in the cabinet I could use.

It was too late to head out to the liquor store and James was already heading home. And that was another odd thought; James, of Irish descent, had no whiskey in the house. I checked the fridge – we still had Irish cream, so at least he wasn’t going totally bonkers. But now, I was in a bind. Bacon was cooking quickly and I had no idea what to do with it to turn it into some kind of sauce for the steaks, which I really needed to start if they were going to be ready with the potatoes.

I hit up Google on my phone (how did we survive pre-internet and smartphones) and searched some combination of words to get a very basic recipe for a sauce. It called for bacon, onion, butter and heavy cream. I had no onion and no heavy cream, but I did have garlic and sour cream. So the garlic gets chopped quickly and thrown into the cooked bacon with a dab of butter. Once cooked through, the half & half gets poured in and I add a small dollop of sour cream to thicken it. Then it hit me – I have horseradish! So I grabbed that and threw in a heaping spoonful.

At this point, the meat was almost done and a shake of the potatoes revealed they too were well roasted. I tasted the sauce. It wasn’t bad, but only had a hint of any kind of real flavor – the bacon & garlic were almost fighting with the horseradish and no one was winning. So I figured what the hell – I dumped in another heavy spoonful of horseradish and stirred. I heard the garage door open. Time was up, James was home and the steak and potatoes part of dinner was ready. I plated our food and scooped the sauce into a serving bowl. The moment of truth had arrived – would it be edible?

James poured some wine and took a seat while we chatted about our respective work days. When he reached for the sauce, I stopped him and explained tonight’s whiskey sauce had no whiskey. He gave me a funny look, then realized why. He laughed and said he was sure this would be just fine, dumping most of it onto his plate. I held my breath as he cut a piece and took a bite.

Seems we have a keeper. I had some sauce as well and it was really good.Good news, it’s easier than the usual whiskey sauce I make. Bad news, I don’t think this is a pork chop kinda sauce and we didn’t have any leftovers anyway. But it’s good and we will have it again. I’ve attempted to actually get down the recipe below. I’m not much for measuring, especially when in a pinch, but I strongly recommend trying this. Enjoy!

2-3 strips bacon, chopped

1 large garlic clove (or a few smaller ones), chopped (I used 1 clove elephant garlic)

1 tbls butter

1/4 cup half & half

1 dollop sour cream (2 tbls maybe)

1/4 cup horseradish sauce (I use a hot one and adding it twice, I’m really not sure how much went in)

Cook bacon over medium heat. When just about done, add the garlic and the butter. Cook until the garlic is tender and starting to brown. Reduce the heat and add the half & half and the sour cream, stirring. If it’s too thick, add more cream or a touch of water. Heat through and as it starts to bubble, add the horseradish sauce. You may want to start with a smaller amount & increase to taste. Mine had a good, strong horseradish taste, but there was still the hint of bacon & garlic.

A Saturday Schooling

A recent Saturday, I stepped well outside my comfort zone and drove three students to participate in a Best Buddies training. Originally, I was only supposed to drive myself, however, the following Saturday, I had a van, three students and a map to Jacksonville. I’m used to working with students, the majority of them having various disabilities. On occasion, I do work with students who do not have disabilities, but spending an entire day with these three, well, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

These three students couldn’t have been more different from each other. I mean, I know we’re all different, but when working with students with disabilities, I help them to explore their strengths, weaknesses, interests, abilities so they and their team can determine goals and what services they may need to reach them. As I listened to the conversations, sometimes silly and other times very serious, I learned about each of them so quickly, I almost started forming present levels statements and goals in my own head. I thought, really, each of them had their own Individualized Education Plan (IEP), they just didn’t know it.

I learned about some of the other students at our school and I learned a lot about the teachers. They had clear preferences of which teachers they liked and which they didn’t and were not shy about why. I was impressed with their reasoning for their preferences – most focused around a teaching style more than personality. They didn’t realize it, but through their everyday experiences in school, they were learning about themselves.

I listened with rapt attention, fascinated with their thoughts, their experiences, and their surprisingly limited expectations for the future. I asked specific questions at times, trying to get them to open up more about certain topics, which they did. In my own ESE world, we often say that if you’ve met a kid with autism, well, you have met ONE kid with autism. This is true, but I now know it is also true for all our students. I met three totally different kids Saturday. Each one had their own strengths, weaknesses, backgrounds, personalities, hopes and dreams, all of which lead me to my final thoughts.

Does anyone in education responsible for making universal decisions and setting governing protocol truly realize what potential our students hold? Can you imagine if we spent even just a small fraction of our time in education helping students to learn more about themselves? I mean, I get that there is SO much more important stuff to teach our kids – like what the insides of a frog look like or how to graph equations or the regurgitation of historical facts. Re-read that last sentence with sarcasm if you just didn’t.

Seriously, all of our students could use an IEP of some fashion. They need to explore themselves. They need to connect that they don’t like this teacher’s teaching style because it conflicts with their own learning style. They need to know how to capitalize on their own strengths and how to overcome their weaknesses. The group of three I met Saturday are just starting to figure this out and they don’t even realize it. We need to actually teach this, take the time to teach it, make it a priority.

With all the talk about curriculum, Common Core, standardized assessments, we are overlooking the most important piece of public education – the student. We don’t assess the whole child, we only pick apart pieces of their knowledge base in regards to their achievement and intellect. We differentiate our instruction, but rely on standardized assessments to determine a student’s ability and whether they have learned from the instruction. Kids are so much more than this and we’re missing out on their true potential by narrowing our focus to such a small portion of their being.

When I look around the “real world”, which is what life is called outside a school setting (let that sink in a moment), I see different people doing so many different things. Some people fly planes, some people work in coal mines. Some people design sky scrapers, some people clean windows. We have professional athletes and movie stars and we have heroes fighting real battles in foreign countries. There are doctors who perform life saving operations and nutritionists who help others convert to healthy habits empowering them to save their own lives.

We are all so different and excel in different ways and yet every day we take millions of children, just as different as us, cram them into boxed rooms and make them all learn and do the same things. It’s not natural. It doesn’t meet their individual needs, regardless of how much we say it does. The problem with public education isn’t a lack of rigor (as much research, blogs, papers and such) suggest. The true problem with public education is a lack of variety. We have stopped accounting for individuality and are now holding education responsible for the standardization of all individuals.

I am not standardized. My students are not standardized. The three students I met on Saturday, regardless of how gifted and talented they may be, are not standardized. We need variety back in education. We need to help students discover who they really are, where their strengths lie, why they struggle and how they can continue beyond public education to be successful members of the real world. We need to keep in mind our youth are as individualized each of us as adults and we need to educate them as such.

OCD Living

It’s funny how some of the most random yet interesting thoughts pop into my head while I’m showering. They likely rival the thoughts I awaken to at all hours of the night, if I could just remember them the next morning. This morning, like every morning, I launch my daily routine with a long, hot shower. I like singing in the shower, but with my significant other still sleeping (it’s only 5:00 am and he’s not due to work until 10:00), I’ll let him sleep. I grab the new bottle of shampoo and start the scrubbing. As I’m rinsing and reaching for the conditioner, it hits me. The shampoo bottle is bigger than the conditioner bottle.

Now I know this isn’t any big deal to 99% of the population. But I have been purchasing the same brand of shampoo & conditioner for just over a year now for two specific reasons. First, the name – Ocean Breeze. OK, so it smells nothing like the ocean breeze, but it was a good marketing ploy none the less. Secondly, it’s the perfect color blue to match the towels and the blue flowers in the shower curtain. And yes, there was a moment of weakness in my life when suddenly, that mattered to me.

My OCD, which I openly admit plays a role in my everyday life, usually doesn’t start quite so early in the day. This morning, though, two thoughts hit me almost simultaneously and I struggled a moment attempting to determine which thought actually disturbs me more. When I made my shampoo purchase, I didn’t notice the bottle was bigger than usual. It’s one of those “33% more” gimmicks the brands rotate through to boost sales. I should have noticed this when I made the purchase, yet I didn’t, and my lack of attention to this detail bothers me. Furthermore, we tend to go through more conditioner than we do shampoo and well, I like the bottles to remain about even. Purchasing a bigger bottle of shampoo guarantees there may never again be equal amounts of shampoo and conditioner. Both these thoughts disrupt my shower bliss. Showers are for forgetting the cares and difficulties of the world (at least in my world) and provide a safe haven to sound out to my singing gods. Showers are not supposed to contribute to my stress.

I do manage to make it through my day successfully, regardless of the disturbing start. Upon my return home, thoughts of the morning’s angst replay in my mind. How did I not notice the larger bottle upon making my purchase? Why won’t my significant other use the same amount of conditioner as shampoo so they remain evenly used? Some of my obsessions are disturbed by my significant other. Don’t get me wrong; he has his own obsessions, but many do not align with mine and at times, our obsessions even clash. Equal use of shampoo and conditioner are one of our clashes. We somehow manage to continue to coexist.

Reflecting on all of this, I head into the bedroom and look at his shoe collection. They are neatly arranged in pairs, grouped by category. Just for kicks and giggles, I turn the left shoe of each pair upside down. It’s a perfectly harmless act, but his reaction when he gets home will mirror my morning shock, kinda like rubbing the fur of the cat backwards. They make this disgruntled face, brush it off with a little shake and move on. He’ll get that look, I’ll smile, he’ll brush it off, I’ll share my shampoo story and we’ll both get a good laugh. Then, we’ll both give a little shake and move on.

No kid, YOU are amazing

I woke up not feeling well, nothing too surprising given our cold weather lately. I knew the asthma was kicking in a little stronger than usual which, combined with the headache and exhaustion, meant today would physically be a tough day. As I muddled my way through my morning routine, I thought about what my work day actually had in store for me. I was supposed to pull a student out of class to discuss transition planning, run an IEP meeting, meet with the community problem solvers about their project and attend our team leader meeting after school. Neither the IEP nor the team leader meeting actually required my attendance and I could easily push my other two appointments to tomorrow.

I thought about staying home; my warm bed seemed to call out to me and I knew I could scrounge up some soup for later. It was tempting, but I really felt like I needed to be at work, even if I had to call it quits early. Not showing up just wasn’t me, so I slammed the last of my coffee and made my way to the local high school.

Not fifteen minutes after my (late) arrival, my first appointment walks into my office. I was impressed – I didn’t have to call him out of class. He remembered and took the initiative to show up on time, as scheduled. Smiling to myself, I thought of his parting words as he left the last time we met for his annual review. “You won’t forget me, right?” I had assured him that as long as he was on my calendar, I would not forget him. I closed out my email and turned the computer so we could work together.

At his annual review, he had asked about becoming a doctor and we were meeting today so I could help him explore this career field. At our first meeting, when he mentioned becoming a doctor, I pointed out he must love school. He didn’t fully understand, so I explained that earning a medical degree would take him the eight years or so after high school. He shook his head, saying maybe not quite a doctor, but that he wanted to help people. I told him there were many careers in the medical field and that I would help find the right one for him.

So when we started, I had my thoughts all ready for how we would proceed. He surprises me again, sharing he had to go to a clinic so he had asked some of the staff there what they do. He knew there was a technician there but he was really thinking that he would like to be a CNA. I explained those are both great careers and that we’d start with researching them. We jumped into a website dedicated to high school transition and started our exploration. I searched “nursing” and several related careers popped up, including CNA, LPN and RN. I explained the difference (as best I understood it) to him. He grabbed scrap paper and took notes, not just writing the acronyms, but what they actually meant and stood for. We started by looking up CNA. I read the job expectations to him and we watched a quick video about this career. He really liked it. He said he likes working with his hands and that he does not want to just sit around and do paperwork all day. I can so relate! I shared that the bulk of my career involves paperwork and that this, working directly with students, is my favorite part of what I do.

We moved on, exploring RN next and watching a similar video. He asked questions – lots of them and really good ones. He wasn’t afraid to tell me when he didn’t understand something. We dug deeper into all three careers, looking at the salary, employment projections and amount of schooling necessary. But he asked me to return to the CNA section. He says that this is exactly what he wants to do. He tells me that education is important and he wants to get a good education so he can help others. He looks at me and says “like you”. I wasn’t sure what he meant – I’m not a nurse. He must have read the confusion on my face, he explained, “You’re amazing. You take time to help kids like me get my education. It’s really cool.” I almost cried.

Shortly thereafter, the bell rang and we made an appointment for next week so we can explore colleges for him to attend. Next year is his senior year and he’s going to have a lot to do to get ready.

It’s days like today that I’m reminded so bluntly why, when I’m struggling to breathe, I still go to work. It’s not because I need a high school kid telling me I’m “cool” or “amazing”, which were his choice of words. I do it because that high school kid needs to know that I will never forget him, that I truly believe in him and that I will continue to do anything possible to help him get his education so he can help others.

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I'm Diane Bixler, full-time staffing specialist and part-time author.

When I'm not working or writing, I'm enjoying life to the fullest.

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© 2014 By Diane Bixler.

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