Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: National Anxiety over Opening School

As we begin to explore strategies to reopen school this fall, teachers across the country are experiencing anxiety about their own safety, that of their students, and that of their own families. It is an agonizing position.

Many teachers feel they must choose between their health, and the health of their family, or their career.

Teachers are collecting Lysol wipes, pricing room foggers for sanitation, and stockpiling gloves and masks. Some are collecting page protectors that can be sanitized and plastic pencil cases.

Let's be clear. If we are talking about putting pencils in individual plastic boxes so nobody else touches them, if we are worried about getting Coronavirus from a pencil, we have already lost this debate.

This back-to-school debate has exploded since the President spoke last week and said that schools must reopen or risk losing funding. I've been reading one article and study after another all week long, and they keep on coming.

Districts across the country are trying to figure out how to do this safely. It is a Herculean and perhaps impossible task and I do not envy these decision makers.

What absolutely must be done is that each community must decide if opening school is safe for them; to do this there must be low community spread of the virus. Currently, Louisiana has a 97% community spread.  As of this writing, cases are climbing as are hospitalizations.

Across the country, it is estimated that at least one-fourth of our teachers are 50 years old or older. Many teachers are themselves in a high-risk group and many more live with someone who is. While teachers are worried about their students, we are also worried about the health and safety of our own families.

For some teachers, a return to the classroom would also mean self-quarantine from their elderly parents to avoid risk of exposing them as well.

And yes, it is true that essential workers have been on the job for months. But unlike a grocery cashier, a delivery driver, or even a doctor or nurse, a teacher will be confined in a classroom with 25 or more students every single day for at least seven hours. Many of these classrooms are in older buildings with poor ventilation and windows that cannot be opened.

We are looking at returning to school with daily temperature checks of students and staff, seven hours in face masks, and a barrage of cleaning chemicals and heavy sanitation measures. Students will have to keep six feet apart (maybe three feet with masks, but I'd prefer six), there can be no sharing of materials like pencils or Chomebooks (what about library books?). Hand washing has been recommended every two hours. How many portable hand washing stations will that mean for a school with 1200 students or more?

And  all that hand washing goes right out the window once the kid pulls out his cellphone, doesn't it?

It's all very dystopian.

We can't let our overwhelming desire for a normal return cloud our better judgement for safety of all of us.

Teachers across the country have come up with some sensible strategies, and while they are not always easy to do, some of them make sense, like keeping upper grades virtual for nine weeks, or until this is under control, and using our buildings and classrooms for lower grades where kids are less at risk, and for kids needing special services. This would enable classes to be quite small and spread out.

Teachers have a lot of questions and here are just a few of mine:

1. Who is going to wipe down my room between classes every day? Where will all of these disinfectant wipes come from? I haven’t seen any since March. Will we use bleach? How will this affect kids with asthma?

2. Will my classes truly be 10 to 15 students? I normally have 25 or more and we are literally on top of each other in my small room.

3.  Under our proposed Phase 2 hybrid model students will be on an A/B schedule and attend every other Friday. If little Johnny shows up on the wrong Friday, are we sending him home? Keeping him? In class? Who will watch him?

4.  Will there be an isolation room for kids with fever or symptoms to stay until a parent comes to get them?

5. Will there be daily temperature checks? At the front door or in homeroom? Once an infected person is in the building, what’s the point? By the time he gets to homeroom he will have exposed many other people.

6. Who will be quarantined if there is a positive case of COVID-19 in a classroom? For how long?

7. If students have to eat lunch in the classroom, masks will be off and there will be much talking; exposure will still be high. When will the teacher get a break?

8. When the inevitable teacher shortage comes due to early retirements and illness, where will all of the subs come from? Subs are often in high risk categories themselves.

9. Will teachers be required to cover classes when there are no subs?

10.  If masks are required, what of the student who shows up without one, wears it improperly, refuses to wear it, takes it off, shoots it across the room, wears a bra cup on his face instead of a mask, etc. Are we to be mask police, too?

11. What will be done to improve ventilation in classrooms with windows sealed shut?

12. How do we ensure students are washing hands every two hours as the CDC guidelines, and the Louisiana Strong Start guidelines suggest? Will there be handwashing stations throughout the schools? Hand sanitizer stations?

13.  Will schools be provided extra personnel to manage all of this?

I feel like I work at the absolute best high school in the world and I work for the best administrators ever born -- no doubt. And our students? They are solid gold; they are loving, kind, wonderful kids and we all feel like family. I want normal school. Don't be confused. I want normal school. I want to look my students in the eyes, I want to be able to tell if they are okay, and I want to help them when they need me to. I want to keep that crate of snacks for the hungry ones, and I want explain a concept in class so that everyone understands what we are learning and why. I love my kids. I love the hugs in the hall, the high-fives, the ones that come stop in on their way to the bathroom or office just to say hi.

School gives me joy. But how can we have that if we are worried about dying from a pencil?

How?


Here is a short list of some of the things I've been reading this week; it's not homework, you don't have to read them. But I decided I wanted to collect them in one place, so here they are.

Further Reading:

Shut and Reopen: the role of schools in the spread of Covid-19 in Europe.  (A UK study whitepaper, 6/20/2020)
"A large-scale reopening of schools while controlling or suppressing the epidemic appears feasible in countries such as Denmark or Norway, where community transmission is generally low. However, school reopening can contribute to significant increases in the growth rate in countries like Germany, where community transmission is relatively high. Our findings underscore the need for a cautious evaluation of reopening strategies that ensure low classroom occupancy and a solid infrastructure to quickly identify and isolate new infections."


I Don't Want to go Back: Many Teachers Are Fearful and Angry over Pressure to Return. (New York Times, 7/11/2020).
"Teachers say crucial questions about how schools will stay clean, keep students physically distanced and prevent further spread of the virus have not been answered. And they feel that their own lives, and those of the family members they come home to, are at stake."

E-Learning is Inevitable for US High Schools Next Year (Medium, 7/10/2020)
"However, the only way to eliminate the risk of transmission during in-person school would be to know with certainty that no one who enters the building is COVID-19 positive. Unless schools can accurately test every person who enters the building every day with real-time results, the spread of COVID-19 in schools will occur and that type of real-time accurate testing capacity will not be possible by this fall for any school let alone all schools."

Epidemiologist: Schools Can Open Safely, and Here's How. (Sherman, TX Herald Democrat, 7/11/2020)
"The focus should be on protecting teachers. It begins with a robust testing program, so they feel safe in the classroom. We know that uncertainty about one’s health and the health of others makes it difficult to feel confident enough to return to work."

No One Wins, but No One Dies: What School Must Look Like... (The Suitcase Scholar, 7/9/2020)
Because no matter how much you want this school year to look like any other school year, it can not and it will not. If we want to accomplish all three of these goals, here’s how it can be done...

How to Reopen Schools: What Science and Other Countries Teach Us (New York Times, 7/11/2020)
"As school districts across the United States consider whether and how to restart in-person classes, their challenge is complicated by a pair of fundamental uncertainties: No nation has tried to send children back to school with the virus raging at levels like America’s, and the scientific research about transmission in classrooms is limited."

Nobody Asked Me: A Teacher's Opinion on School Reopening (Teacher Life Blog, 7/9/2020)
"Remote learning isn’t most people’s first choice, but it is a safer solution in the meantime, while we figure out this global health crisis. It is also hard to imagine how much learning would be taking place in the classroom anyway after they wait in their 75 foot long lines to wash their hands for 20 seconds multiple times a day. School days are already crammed full and now we will be adding in disinfecting constantly, monitoring for symptoms, sending kids to “quarantine”, trying to get ahold of parents, dealing with masks, giving “mask breaks”, etc."

Study of School Reopening Models and Implementation Approaches During the Covid-19 Pandemic (Covid-19 Literature Report Team whitepaper PDF, 7/6/2020)
"This document is a brief summary of the models and implementation approaches to re-opening schools that focuses on the approaches used in 15 countries for which we were able to identify data."

One in Four Teachers at Greater Risk from Coronavirus (CNN, 7/10/2020)
"Nearly 1.5 million teachers are at higher risk of serious illness if they contract coronavirus, according to an analysis released Friday evening. These teachers and instructors, about 24% of the total, suffer from health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or obesity, or are older than age 65, which make them more vulnerable, the Kaiser Family Foundation report found."

These Arizona Teachers Shared a Classroom for Summer School: All 3 contracted Covid-19, 1 died. (USA Today, 7/10/2020)
"The educators decided to teach virtually while together in the same classroom, but took what they thought were extensive measures: They wore masks, they disinfected equipment and kept distance between each other."

The Case Against Reopening Schools During the Pandemic: by a Fifth Grade Teacher (Washington Post, 7/10/2020)
"Safety is the prerequisite for all learning. Ordinarily, we offer hugs and reassurance when a child is upset. We encourage students to walk their peers to the nurse’s office when they get injured on the playing field. We give high-fives and pats on the back when students achieve their goals. We provide private spaces for students to share confidential information, or to de-escalate from distress. In a social-distancing school setting, everything is inverted. Closeness and warmth are now dangerous. Students and teachers must remain hypervigilant, watching for face mask violations, friends too near, an uncovered cough, unwashed hands, and unsanitized surfaces."

Nation's Pediatricians Walk Back Support for In-Person School (NPR, 7/10/2020)
"The American Academy of Pediatrics once again plunged into the growing debate over school reopening with a strong new statement Friday, making clear that while in-person school provides crucial benefits to children, "Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics." The statement also said that "science and community circumstances must guide decision-making."

Covid-19 is as Deadly and Dangerous as Ever. (Medium, 7/8/2020)
"The idea that Covid-19 is becoming less dangerous or deadly is false, the latest data reveals. “The virus is as lethal as ever,” researchers at the Harvard Global Health Institute said in a statement. “Deaths and hospitalizations are rising in hot spots around the country. Exactly as public health experts feared.”

Mounting Evidence Suggests Coronavirus is Airborne--but Health Advice has not Caught Up. (Scientific American, 7/8/2020)
"Converging lines of evidence indicate that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, can pass from person to person in tiny droplets called aerosols that waft through the air and accumulate over time. After months of debate about whether people can transmit the virus through exhaled air, there is growing concern among scientists about this transmission route."

Large Antibody Study Adds to Evidence Herd Immunity to Covid-19 is Unachievable (FOX-17, "Nashville, 7/6/2020)
To achieve what epidemiologists call herd immunity, mathematical modelers suggest at least between 60% and 70% of people would need to be immune to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two paths to herd immunity for COVID-19: vaccines and infection. Vaccines would be the ideal approach, though experts say its effects can wane over time. Another path would be infection, but there's much still unknown about COVID-19, including if having the virus makes a person immune to future infection."

Spike in Cornavirus Cases Means some Schools Won't Open at all this Fall (EdSource, 7/10/2020)
"As coronavirus cases spike across California, some school districts are making the decision to keep campuses closed to most students and to educate them online next school year. Districts in Los Angeles County, which has more coronavirus cases than any county in the state, are preparing for the possibility of classes being completely online at the start of the school year. In neighboring San Bernardino County, its school district this week announced classes would resume next month online."

I'm an Epidemiologist and a dad: Here's Why I think schools should Reopen (Vox, 7/9/2020)

The same will likely be true in schools. The potential risk to teachers, therefore, goes beyond the classroom. Staff risk in schools likely looks similar to the risk of any adult working in a crowded indoor environment during the pandemic. School opening plans must consider teacher safety in addition to the well-being of students.



Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Anxiety

I'm tired of this virus. Aren't you?

It's been several weeks since I posted about it; my original intent in even writing about Covid in this space was to keep a sort of record for my own later recollection about this very strange time in which we are living.

My productivity has improved; I've made some progress on my next book project and have finally moved into the actual writing part. I'm still doing some research as it arises, but I'm at least working. For the first several weeks of this pandemic I was mired in inertia and could do nothing productive except devour the internet for news on the pandemic.

So, there's that.

I am out of sorts today because I am at this moment missing my grandson's eighth birthday party because of the pandemic. Both Louisiana, where I am, and Texas, where he is, are citing spiking case numbers. So, err on the side of caution.  We really have been trying to be careful.

And we usually travel to Iowa about this time every year to visit family, but again, not worth the risk. My husband's mother is definitely in the high risk group because of age.

All of this, yet we are talking about returning to school in what....five weeks?

I have so many questions and concerns about that. Right now, our numbers are spiking.

I know that leaders and administrators are doing their best to make good decisions. And people tell me, "The kids need to be in school! We have to go back!"

But I have concerns.

And I don't have those answers yet.

So, I worry.

Like, if I get exposed, do I have to use my sick leave to self-quarantine for fourteen days? How many times will this happen?

What about new teachers with no accumulated sick leave; is pay docked when you can't work because of Covid?

What about teachers that live with high-risk family members? Are we supposed to abandon that caution simply because the kids need to go back to school?

Do I have to sanitize my desks between each class? Where in the world will all of that sanitizer come from? I haven't seen Lysol wipes in the store since March.

Do I have to teach both in-person and virtually for those who opt for a virtual classroom?

If our school is on an A/B block, and one cohort comes on Monday and another on Tuesday, what is going to keep the Monday kids from infecting the Tuesday kids when the teacher sees them all and gets the virus and exposes them all?

How many students will actually be in my classroom and am I going to be able to space them out far enough?

How in the world am I actually going to be able to teach through a mask?

There are so many questions. I've talked to colleagues who tell me to chill out; it's no worse than the flu and we get through flu season every year. But COVID-19 is not the flu, and in many cases has serious after effect and long recovery times. According to The New York Times:

Patients may leave the hospital with scarring, damage or inflammation that still needs to heal in the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver or other organs. This can cause a range of problems, including urinary and metabolism issues.

As I said, I live with a person who meets most of the high-risk criteria, and age-wise, while we aren't 65, we aren't far off, either.

So yeah, I have a lot, a whole lot, of anxiety about returning to school.

In all likelihood, I'll be just fine, and once I get back to work and into my routine, it will have been much ado about nothing. But, I'm a worrier.

So, I'm recording those worries here, so hopefully come August, or September, when I look back at this I will laugh and chastise myself for being such a ninny.

I hope.

Additional Reading:
How the Hell Are We Going to do This? (Politico 7/4/20)
Strong Start 2020: Louisiana's Plan
Teachers Worry About Return to Classroom Amid Surges in Covid-19 (ABC News)




Previously:
Recording Covid-19 (March 17)
Surreal Times (March 18)
The Corona Chronicles: Day 3 (March 19)
The Corona Chronicles: Spring Cleaning (March 21)
The Corona Chronicles: Rising Numbers (March 26)
The Corona Chronicles: Unfocused (March 29)
The Corona Chronicles: Be Kind (April 3)
The Corona Chronicles: Stir Crazy (April 13)
The Corona Chronicles: Classroom Cleanout (May 15)










Monday, June 22, 2020

Summer Reading 2020

Read anything good lately?

I have been reading like a mad woman during the COVID-quarantine, so I'm going to share some of my favorites with you.

Coming out this week is Megan Miranda's The Girl from Widow Hills (June 23).  I loved her book,The Last House Guest, which was the Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick for August 2019.

The Girl from Widow Hills is even better.

It is difficult to review this book without spoilers. The story centers on a woman named Arden who at age six went missing during a storm and was dramatically rescued on live television. The story captivated the nation and the publicity nearly destroyed Arden and her mother. As a young woman, Arden leaves Widow Hills, changes her name to Olivia, and begins a new life. When Arden/Olivia finds a dead body behind her house, she's not certain if she is the murderer or if someone else is.

I can't give away more, but the characters include Arden's addict mother, a policewoman who wants to solve the murder case, and a neighbor named Rick. Throw in a mysterious box of her mother's effects, and you have all the ingredients for a great psychological thriller and an ending that will surprise you.

I really enjoyed this book and was thrilled to receive an advance copy through Simon & Schuster and NetGalley.

Coming out next week is the graphic novel version of The Great Gatsby.

I had an opportunity to read this book thanks to Scribner and NetGalley, and as a high school teacher,
I can tell you that I am grateful to have this book for my very visual students who resist picking up a classic novel because "It's too many words!"

I've pulled more than a few students into To Kill a Mockingbird through the graphic novel version of that great novel, so I anticipate that teachers and librarians across the country will be glad to pick up this interpretation of Gatsby.

The story is still there; F. Scott Fitzgerald's words are still there, now supported by terrific graphic illustrations.

Check it out!

Coming up in August: everyone's favorite -- Fredrick Backman -- has Anxious People coming out. For anyone who loved A Man Called Ove, or Beartown, or any of Backman's other charming stories, you will not be disappointed in this one. I'll post a full review soon, but trust me, I loved this book almost as much as Ove.

What are you reading?!

Friday, May 15, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Classroom Cleanout

I went to the school this morning to get a few things and clean out a little bit. It was much harder than I anticipated.

On a Friday morning at 10:30, second block should have been winding to a close and kids should have been anxiously waiting for the lunch bell at 10:40. The mid-day announcements would be coming over the intercom.

By the time I left, about 11:00, there should have been kids in the halls, duty teachers monitoring those kids, microwaves across campus warming up teacher lunches. The office should have been bustling, Mrs. Kiper laughing and lobbing wise cracks with kids and administrators. The library should have been filled with kids using the computers or playing board games at the tables. The courtyard should have been filled with kids burning off a little energy before third block. Teachers should have been making that last dash to the restroom before the long afternoon classes start.

I didn't see any of that today.

The halls were dark.



The parking lot was empty.

There were ZERO students on campus.  My room was quiet as a tomb.

My room would have normally had a couple of kids in there eating lunch about that time of the day.

Instead, I found empty desks, library books abandoned in the baskets underneath.



I sighed, looked around, and went to get my things that I needed to work from home.

I missed the sound of kids, and the notes they'd leave for me if they came by while I was out.


Every single kid was important to me, is important to me, and it just feels like we didn't get to finish what we started. It feels tragic and sad...unfinished.

Their journals were still on my desk, graded, ready to return.



We left school on the Friday before Spring Break: March 6. My assignments from that day are still written on the board.

We all expected to come back to school when we left that day. Kids took library books home, textbooks, projects to finish, uniforms to wash, schedules to fill out for next year, and plans. They had plans for their graduation, prom, ring ceremonies, sporting events, and yes, academics. None of that happened.

So yes, all of that literally hangs in the air when you walk in the halls now. It's a tangible thing.

I cleaned out the snacks I kept in my desk for kids that needed something to eat; that won't keep until August. I took home my coffee cup, emptied the water in the Keurig. I looked through projects that weren't finished, some that were, and I scored a bottle of GermX from my supply closet. I erased my board, bagged up things I needed to take home, and I turned out the light.



I hope we NEVER have to go through this again.


Monday, April 13, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Sitr Crazy


Some quarantine reflections:

Yoga pants are very comfy. Can I wear these all the time?

BlueBell Cookie Dough Overload is really, really good.

I've seen more people walking in my neighborhood than I've ever seen before.Where have these people been?

When the apocalypse comes, I want to own stock in WalMart, grocery stores, and garden centers. Their parking lots are full.

I have gained five pounds.

I have now seen every single episode of Law and Order and Gunsmoke ever made.

Online shopping? I see how people get addicted to this. You can buy anything online. Except toilet paper. Can't buy that.

Who ever thought we would live in a day and age where people post pictures of their toilet tissue scores on social media. "Twenty four pack!  Score!"

Jigsaw puzzles are coveted items. Simpler times, no?

I really miss baseball.

I'm very grateful for my Kindle and the Libby app; I've just finishing reading Michael Henry's Luffing to Cuba: Sailing with Asbo, which was great fun. Before that, I read Tana French's The Trespasser, which means now I've read all of her novels. Before that, I read A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke. I can go on...

I will meet my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal for this year. Not a problem.

I have not watched Tiger King.

Banana Nut Bread is delicious.

If we replaced Ice Cream Trucks with Margarita Trucks, or beer trucks, things might get interesting. Someone do this, please.

I need more yoga pants.

How much longer are we doing this?



Friday, April 3, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Be Kind

Quarantine is so much more of a challenge when the forecast is seven or eight days of rain.  More of a rain/sunshine balance is optimal for me. Less rain. More sun.

The nagging guilt to be creative and work on my book has been alleviated a little bit in recent days. Ella Dawson wrote a blog post that really resonated with me as she articulated exactly what I've been feeling these past few weeks:

We still get to live with all the bullshit we dealt with before, only now there are more layoffs, fewer healthcare benefits, more push notifications, less safety for our loved ones. Rent still needs to be paid. Debt payments still need to be paid. Groceries still need to be bought. We live with more uncertainty, more danger, more grief. This is not a #coronacation, it’s a psychological onslaught. 
Just get through the day.  
As our minds struggle to process this new normal, our muscles tense up and brace for the unknown. Our bodies throb with stress hormones as we live in a state of constant hyperarousal. All of that stress builds up in our bodies until we release it through exercise, which is easier said than done when we’re trapped inside our homes. If you’ve broken down in sudden caustic sobs, that’s your body searching for an outlet for all that cortisol. We are not going to be as productive as we were before. Anyone who urges you to keep striving has a product they’re trying to sell. Our energy is pulled in too many directions: watching the kids, worrying about our parents, flinching at the thought of our bank balances. Our bodies are operating with less. This is not weakness; it’s biology.

There's more at the link; I encourage you to read her post if you've felt as disoriented as I have lately.

I finally managed to clean out my closet this week and filled a huge black plastic bag with clothes, purses, and belts that I will never wear again. I donated them in a local drop box where I had no contact whatsoever with another human. It's the little things now that give a sense of accomplishment.

A somewhat new development in this new normal: I have discovered that I need to strictly limit my time on Facebook. So many people there are snarky and just mean. Part of this is in the obvious fact that tone does not come across well in online posts. I'm finding Instagram is a much nicer place these days.

On my own Facebook feed, the wide majority of my posts are things I've shared that I find interesting or informative, sometimes funny. The problem comes when commenting on someone's post, specifically these neighborhood pages.

In two specific cases in the past couple of days, I've left an innocent (I thought) comment and people jump on it like sharks in the water. Example: there's been much discussion on one of these local threads about limiting the number of family members in a grocery store at one time. I made a comment about having run in and out of WalMart yesterday for one necessary item. I saw a family of five with the kids engaged in picking up items, putting them back, handling everything in sight, clogging the aisle, not observing six-feet distance, etc.

Sharks in the water. "Wow. You're criticizing people being in the store when YOU were in the store."

Several other similar comments with increasing hostility popped up and then I just deleted my comment.

And I know better. I really do.

Just be nice, people.  Be kind.

Go back to the Ella Dawson article: we are all dealing with a lot of stress right now from a lot of directions. There is no need to add to it by being ugly to anyone.

And you know, that's kind of the way it should be all of the time anyway.

Do what you have to do right now to take care of yourself. If that means distancing yourself from social media for a while, do that. If it means avoiding certain pages on social media, do that. If it makes you feel better to achieve those baby step goals, like cleaning out a closet, go for it. Bake some cupcakes, cookies, a fancy dinner.  Reading takes too much concentration right now? Do a jigsaw puzzle.

Just be nice, people. Seriously.

Nobody is going to win a prize for being the biggest jerk.


Sunday, March 29, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Unfocused

Three weeks into this stay at home business and things are beginning to be routine now.

I find that I can't write. This is a golden opportunity to work on my book project. There are some low cognitive things I can be doing on that, even. Things not too complex. But I can't find the attention span.

I'm having trouble reading, too. I find myself able to concentrate on a few pages at a time, but then I lose focus and turn to Facebook or Twitter, scrolling, scrolling.

That being said, there are some things that are becoming routine. I check the COVID numbers every day at noon. I check in on my students in Google classroom and leave feedback and assignments, even though I'm not to give grades at this time. I find that I am perfectly capable of mindlessly pulling weeds out of flowerbeds, cleaning out the refrigerator, and doing the laundry, but cleaning out the file cabinet is too much. Or my closet. Not happening.

I'm not sure why this is; nobody I know personally is sick or exposed (that I know of). I think it's just a general worry and anxiety that has my focus out of whack.

I am increasingly irritated at people who do not take this pandemic seriously.  These people who say that the flu is so much more deadly. Maybe that's true, maybe it's not, but we have vaccines and treatment for flu and we do not for COVID-19. This new virus incubates so much longer than flu and can infect so many more people because of that.

But whatever. I'm not going to argue the point with anyone.

I'm irritated with people who don't respect that six foot distance in the store. I try to avoid going to the grocery store unless it's a necessity. You still can't buy toilet tissue unless you are there at the crack of dawn and run around to multiple stores to check, and I'm not doing that. No Clorox wipes or anything like that in my grocery store, either. I had to make a store run this morning and was checking a carton of eggs to be sure none in the carton were broken before picking up the box, and a man walked up, leaned right in front of me, and grabbed a carton. WAY closer than six feet. No. Just stop that. Be patient and wait a minute!

Maybe I'm over reacting.

I've been obsessively following the story of Michael Bane, a fellow in Chicago who posted his COVID story on Facebook. His story is poignant and he chronicles his illness from exposure, the development and worsening of symptoms, then one scary night and near death experience, and now he is out of ICU and hopefully on the mend. I've been engrossed, and checking on his progress has become part of my routine.

I hope that this lack of focus passes and my ability to concentrate, focus, and do something productive returns soon.  I try to give myself tasks every day and I do feel some progress as I check them off my mental list, so that helps. I get outside in the sun as often as I can, and that helps, too.

How are your days going? Is this just me?


Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Rising Numbers

Glorious sunshine!  It is such a mood-lifter after days and days of rain and gray skies!

I wish the news was as bright. The daily COVID-19 numbers just came out. In Louisiana, we took a large jump in numbers; we are now at 2305 positive cases and 83 deaths. There are 115 cases in Caddo Parish and 32 in Bossier.

Stay home, people!

We are under a "stay at home" order but if you look at the list of what is "essential," nothing much has changed. Traffic out there looks pretty normal to me. I realize some people still have to work: the termite inspection guy was here yesterday. A plumber was working across the street. The electric company is working down the block right now. Lawn services are working. The grocery store is open. So is the liquor store. I mean, there are a lot of people still working and moving around.

Meanwhile, our numbers climb.

And what I'm seeing -- man, a lot of people are not respecting that six feet social distancing thing. Grocery stores? Not six feet. I had to make a quick run today, and people seem to think that social distancing does not apply in the store. They'll walk right up next to you.  I'm astounded.

I've also personally heard reports that two people in someone's office is confirmed positives yet nobody else that works in the building is quarantined or has been notified that they need to quarantine due to being in close contact with the person. And because of HIPPA their identity is not revealed, so how do you know if you've been exposed?

Meanwhile, exposure spreads.

I tried to do the online curbside pickup thing at my grocery store. I have never done it before; I put five or six things on my list as a test run. My order was going to take four days. Seriously. No. Just no. I cancelled it.

I am constantly sanitizing my house. Wiping door knobs down, handles, light switches, computers, phones, lawn furniture. I might be getting a little excessive.

I'm washing my hands all.day.long. All day.

The sun helps my mood. Plus, Dave Matthews is doing a concert live from his living room tonight. That will help a whole lot.  :)

Wash yo' hands, y'all.  And stay home.




Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Corona Chronicles: Spring Cleaning

I'm not sure I'm doing this right.  This whole self-quarantine thing.

This seems like the golden opportunity that I've been longing for -- the chance to clean out all those closets, deep clean my house, declutter, write brilliant blog posts, make progress on my next book, do some fantastic yard work.... Yeah, none of that has happened so far.

I've done some (very) minor cleaning. I cleaned out a makeup drawer, tossing ten-year old eye shadows and dried out mascaras. I cleaned out under my bathroom sink: I discovered we have five -- FIVE -- bottles of baby powder. Why?!

Then I pulled a muscle in my leg while doing some minor yard work and it started raining so I just kind of stopped. I spent a couple of days scrolling Facebook, reading newspapers, surfing Twitter. Totally non-productive.

My attention span is short right now, for some reason. I haven't had any interest in binge watching anything on television. My reading has been sporadic and forced.

I need to get back on track. I need to do something productive.

To my credit, I have been busy on Google Classroom, assigning work and giving feedback to kids. Most are checking in there and doing the assignments but I'm troubled by those who haven't even joined Classroom. We've used Chromebooks in class a lot, almost daily, so there's no reason why every kid on my roster should not have joined the class, but they haven't. This bothers me.

I feel like this is all going to go on for a long time. Longer than a lot of people are anticipating. It seems to have the quality of something new, quirky, a challenge. The funny memes on social media, for example. I feel like as the monotony settles in people are going to become more and more frustrated and short-tempered. I hope I am wrong.

I keep encouraging my students to write about these days; I don't know if any of them actually are doing it.

Okay, so today I will clean out a closet, a kitchen cabinet, something. I will get on NetGalley and request a few books. I will write the reviews for the books I've finished there. Then I will cook something for dinner tonight. That should be good for one day, right?

I need sunshine. I need the clouds to go away and for the temperatures to warm back up. That will help.

Won't it?


Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Corona Chronicles Day 3

The conspiracy theories abound.

The more conspiracy theories I hear, the more willing I am to self-quarantine!

I've heard everything today from the martial law rumor, to all stores being closed down, to -- and this is my favorite -- the virus is a conspiracy propagated by the grocery store industry to boost their lagging sales.

I love that one.

Another: the National Guard is going to take all the sick people out to camps at Lake Bistineau and leave them to die.

Oh and this one is good, too: "the Coronavirus can be cured by intravenous vitamin C, but big pharma doesn't want you to know that."

Where do people come up with these?!

Seriously, I'm a little worried about people right now. Things are surreal enough without all this rumor mongering.

Stop it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Surreal Times

These are surreal times, aren't they?

I just went through my planner marking off one event after another due to COVID-19. I need to order a new planner...mine is a teacher planner and ends in June. But what will I fill it with? Right now, when the immediate future consists of moving from the living room couch to the porch swing to the occasional stroll around the block with the dog, it's getting difficult to imagine when things will go back to normal and what those days will consist of.

As a writer, I believe it's important to write about these days and to record what is happening. I don't anticipate that it will be great reading material for anyone later, but things are changing at such a fast pace, day by day, hour by hour, it seems important to nail it down by writing about it.

Our school year is still up in the air -- suspended -- but I feel fairly certain that soon we will hear that it is simply ended. I've never been a fan of the word "closure" as it seems so vague, but I do feel like there has been no closure to this school year, should that be what officials decide. My students were working hard toward specific goals. What now? It seems strange.

The COVID-19 news across Louisiana, and the nation, is obviously scary. The number of cases jumps exponentially, more so as tests become more accessible. As of right now, March 18, 2019, Louisiana has 257 positive cases, with 634 tested. Seven deaths. That number changes really quickly.

We are only a few days, less than a week, into this shutdown, but it seems like longer!

How are you spending your days?



Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Recording COVID-19

What a difference a day makes. One minute I'm on an airboat in the Atchafalaya Basin enjoying spring break and the next day I'm trying to figure out how to get all my students to sign into Google Classroom so we can do virtual schooling.

I teach ninth and tenth graders ELA. One of the things I told my students is that it's important that they write about what is happening right now. Just as Pearl Harbor was a watershed moment for my parents, and 9/11 was for a much later generation, my students will remember this moment for the rest of their lives.

One of the first things I posted on Classroom was a sort of check-in assignment. I did a Google form and posted four questions, mostly just to be sure they were checking Classroom and also to see what their concerns are. The responses began to come in quickly; these kids have a lot of anxiety about what is happening.

Many are worried about End of Course tests and AP Exams. Others are afraid they will be overwhelmed with online work. Some have anxiety about computer and wi-fi access. There were questions about graduation, prom, and other events. And yes, there are a few that see this school closure as a vacation and are pretty stoked, but those are by far the minority.

At this time, our district has told us to only assign supplemental and review materials. Since reading and writing are things we do every single day, that's the kind of assignments I'm posting.

We all have so many worries and concerns right now; I'm worried about friends and neighbors who have lost income and in some cases, their jobs. There is a lot of stress right now about making ends meet and just surviving. I am hopeful that everyone will come together and be mindful as we try to find ways to support each other and to help where we can. The long term economic repercussions of this is something I can't begin to wrap my head around.

Meanwhile, we stay busy. We are VERY early into this social distancing business, this stay at home because there's nowhere to go business, so finding ways to stay busy and engaged will be a huge challenge for some people.

For me, I have flower beds to weed, yard work to do, a garage to clean out, closets to clean out, and stacks of books to read. Oh and another book to write. So, I will be fine. Other people are already stir crazy. We are all going to have to adapt because I think this is all going to drag on longer than we may think.

One way I want to stay engaged is to revive this blog and get back in touch with people that way.

So, if you're here, leave a comment: tell me what you're doing with yourself these days. Maybe we can all help each other.


Sunday, February 16, 2020

Currently Reading: The Cactus League

The Cactus League by Emily Nemens
It's baseball season, y'all!  Finally!

In Shreveport, we aren't lucky enough to have a minor league team anymore. We used to have The Shreveport Captains but they moved to Frisco, TX several years ago and are part of the Rough Riders organization now. Their old stadium is now part of our urban decay landscape and has been take over by bats -- and I don't mean baseball bats. It's a source of much contention and local grumbling.

We do have several college baseball options, though, and so only a couple of blocks from my house is the Centenary Gents baseball field. Part of the SCAC, the Gents give us a few months of good, fun baseball every year. LSUS also has a baseball team, so we are not completely without options.

This week I started reading The Cactus League by Emily Nemens.  What fun this book is!  I love it so far. I'm not even halfway yet, but I can tell that this is one I'll want to own; I'm reading it as a library book right now. Apparently the book is told in chapter long vignettes from various characters; I'm still with the first character, a batting coach named Michael who returns home to Arizona for spring training to find his house has been occupied, and wrecked, by squatters. And where does Michael go to relieve the anger and anxiety from this discovery? To the batting cage, of course, at the brand new stadium complex.

I'm drawn into the story already and can't wait to get back to the book. Of course, I started it yesterday while at the Gents ballpark; I was reading before the game and during the doubleheader intermission. Totally set the mood!

This is a debut novel from Emily Nemens, but she's been involved with books and literature for some time as editor of The Paris Review and former co-editor of The Southern Review. Bonus: she graduated from LSU with a MFA degree in fiction.  I can't wait to follow her new path as novelist.





Monday, February 10, 2020

What are you Reading?


I’m an avid reader and am often reading at least two, sometimes three, books at one time. We do independent choice reading in my secondary ELA classroom, and so I am often reading along with my students; that’s usually some kind of YA novel that I might be reading so I can discuss it with my students, or recommend it to someone. At home I usually have two books going: one on the Kindle which I read right before bed, and often another physical book that I might read when sitting outside, or when I’m ignoring the Law and Order reruns on television.

I recently joined NetGalley which is one source of my reading fodder. In return for a fair and honest review I can get advance reading copies of books. This is right up my alley! I joined NetGalley because I discovered a new author that I enjoyed a great deal: Kelly Harms. It’s “chick lit” primarily, but she’s always got some kind of twist that I wasn’t expecting and her characters are usually engaging; I dislike a lot of chick lit characters because they are often insipid and silly, but with this author I don’t really see that. At any rate, I was so anxious of her next novel that I turned to NetGalley for the sole purpose of getting my hands on an advance copy.

Harms is the author of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, which is a fun read. After I finished that book I went back and read her previous novels, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The new book, coming out in May, is called The Bright Side of Going Dark and explores the world of social media influencers from both in front of and behind the lens. It gets a little vapid at times, I mean, we spend a lot of time focusing on a woman who makes her living as an Influencer, staging perfect pictures of her perfect life, and of course most of it is not real. But, overall, it was a fun, light read.

I’ve just finished reading Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown, which came out in January. This book disturbs me a little bit, in part because I see missed opportunities with the story. It was a good book and the initial premise is engaging.  Alice and Nate leave New York and purchase a 1950s era home in the suburbs The house is sold “as is” and includes the previous occupants belongings, old
floral wallpaper, Formica kitchen table, and overgrown garden.  Then we meet the previous owner in a dual storyline: Nellie and Richard lived in the home in a stereotypical 1950s marriage with Nellie in pearls and June Cleaver skirts preparing dinner before the successful Richard gets home from work. Nellie spends her days gardening, baking, and attending Tupperware parties.

When Alice discovers a box in the basement containing Nellie’s favorite cookbook, complete with annotated margins, and boxes of 1950s Ladies Home Journal magazines, she begins to learn a great deal about the life Nellie and Ricard led, which of course was not necessarily as perfect as it seemed.

I found myself much more engaged in the Nellie and Richard storyline and wanted to throat-punch Alice most of the time. She made many self-destructive and irrational decisions which often made no sense. The ending of the book left me with the impression that it was rushed and just needed to end. Alice needed one more chapter, for example.

I’m glad I read the book, and I ended up giving it four stars in my review, only because I couldn’t give it 3.5

I’m enjoying my NetGalley experience so far, as I think it will expose me to new authors and force me into some genres I may not normally explore. And hey, I’m always open to recommendations so if you’ve got one, drop it in the comments!

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Stuart Shannon: 1952 - 2019

Stuart showed no mercy in ping pong.
 Added: Services tentatively scheduled for January 8 at 1:00, St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Please spread the word with anyone who knew Stuart and please feel free to comment or consider this post as a guestbook to share with the /family.

One of the funniest, most fun-loving people I've ever known left us yesterday, on Christmas Eve.

Stuart Shannon was a friend of mine for almost thirty years. If you ever went to T.S. Station on Shreveport-Barksdale Highway, you probably knew Stuart. He was the manager of the place for many years.  He would have been the tall, fit guy in slacks and a tie with the big mustache, with the brisk, purposeful walk.

Stuart was born in Melbourne, Arkansas on November 5, 1952.  His parents, Josephia and Karr Shannon moved to Shreveport and Stuart attended Catholic schools, eventually going to LSU and to Centenary to obtain his MBA. He had one brother, Karr Shannon III, who lives in Coral Gables, Florida.

Stuart was the life of any party or gathering with his dry wit and infectious laugh.


Intense concentration on the Tyson fight.

Everyone loved being around Stuart. He could debate with you on almost any subject and his knowledge of sports trivia was unbeatable. We always made crazy bets: we'd bet on the Masters golf tournament, the over-under on a football game, the outcome of a prize fight and how many rounds it might go. And let me tell you, Stuart would never let you out of a bet if you lost. Never. One of my daughter's teenage friends made a bet with Stuart and lost, and Stuart made him pay up: he considered it a life lesson for the young man. "When he's a grown man," Stuart said, "and tries to get out of a bet, he could get really hurt!" It wasn't that much money. It was the principle of the thing. He might have seemed gruff sometimes, but he had a heart of gold.

Deck night debate.


We used to have "deck nights" on Friday and Saturday nights; friends and friends of friends would
Those chili pepper pants...
wander to our backyard where the twinkly lights were always on and the music playing from the CD player on the deck. Stuart would walk in wearing his "chili pepper pants" and the party would come alive. Our neighbors had a game room with a pool table and since we have a joined driveway it was easy to move back and forth between our houses. Stuart was a sharp pool player and tough on the ping pong table, too.  He'd tuck his tie in his shirt so it wouldn't get in his way and proceed to decimate his opponent.

Mardi Gras was one of his favorite weekends and the home where he lived with his mother on River Road backed up to the bayou. We would park at Stuart's, he'd mix a tall drink in a plastic cup, and we'd all go walking the parade route. Walking would be slow going because he knew so many people that he had to stop and talk every few yards.

I worked for Stuart for a year or so at T.S. Station; he let me come wait tables there and he never cut me one bit of slack because of our friendship. He expected me to show up for my shift just like anyone else. One time I had fever and tried to get out of work; he checked my forehead, told me I didn't have a high enough fever, and sent me out on the floor. I was mad about that for a long time, but I got over it. Everyone that worked for Stuart respected him as far as I ever knew. In the restaurant business where turnover is usually high, people generally stayed with Stu.

The Christmas outfit.
Stuart was a great cook; I remember him going to the restaurant in the middle of the night just to get the prime rib going. He loved to read, and he was a great golfer. Stuart was fearless; he was always up for anything.

I can still hear his laugh; Stuart had the most infectious laugh I've ever heard. To me, that is what I will always remember about him; that and those crazy chili pepper pants. And his friendship. If he was your friend, he was your friend for life.

We lost touch in recent years in that we just didn't get to talk or visit as often, but I always knew he was there. Stuart was one of those people that if you were in a bind and had just one phone call, you'd call Stu. He'd be there for you.

At this writing, I don't know what sort of funeral arrangements there are for Stuart but as I hear of anything I will update this post.

He was a good friend and I will miss him.

Crawfish on the deck.
Added:  Since I wrote this I keep thinking of stories. For example, one night, one of those deck nights, we were all outside on the deck, music blaring, conversations among small groups, and I guess about fifteen or sixteen people were here. We kept wondering when Stu would show up, but we never saw him.

The party started to wind down and a few of us went inside to turn on the television. At the time, we had a huge television in the bedroom which was right off the deck, so it was a natural landing space on those nights, for people to hang out in there and watch tv.

During a lull in the conversation we kept hearing snoring.  It was the strangest thing. Eventually someone looked under the bed and there was Stuart, fast asleep.

Maybe you had to be there, but man, we thought that was hilarious. It became part of the "Do you remember the time..." repertoire for a long time!

Added:  Thanks to Timmy Mitchell for sharing this great photo with me!  What a great group of guys.






Saturday, December 14, 2019

Some Year-End Reflections

Bayou Teche
This is the time of the year when people tend to do a lot of reflection and self-evaluation, and I find myself doing the same thing.

I've spent a lot more time living life rather than writing about it -- my last blog post was this summer.

This has been an epic year for me and I am overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude and almost disbelief, sometimes.

I have said before that when I began this project to write about Cammie Henry and her life, her contributions to preservation and to the arts, I never had any idea where it would take me. Basically, I simply went where she led me, and I still am.

This book, and Cammie, have taken the reins of my life and led me on such a journey this year! I have traveled to cities and towns across the state and I have talked to groups large and small about Cammie Henry and Melrose Plantation.

At first I was terrified. At my first appearance at the Louisiana Book Festival (2018), I was a nervous wreck. Even though I have been teaching for over twenty years, it was still intimidating to me to get up in front of a crowd of people and talk.  As it turned out, that was a pretty friendly, and small, audience that included my husband, my editor, and an intern that contributed to some of the editing work.

In the spring I spoke at the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches (APHN) annual banquet; this was a very large crowd and I was still quite nervous. This was followed by an appearance before the Baton Rouge Country Club Book Club, and later the North Louisiana Historical Association. Most recently, I spoke to a group of architects at the Institute of Classical Art and Architecture event in Natchitoches and then to the Calico Belles, an auxiliary group of the APHN -- young high school age ladies who volunteer at events in Natchitoches like the annual Tour of Homes.

Each event has become a bit less nerve wracking and the Calico Belles event was downright fun because those girls were so enthusiastic and interested, plus we got to walk the grounds of Melrose and talk about Cammie and her friends. It was a joyous day.

Cammie Henry has also led me to many new friendships that mean so much to me. When the book launched in October 2018 at the Cammie Garrett Henry Research Center at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, in attendance was a fun-loving group of ladies who were the children and grandchildren of one of Cammie's sons. I visited with them that night and it seemed like all they did was joke and laugh. I remember thinking at the time, "These are my people." I felt instantly comfortable with them...connected.  Cammie kept throwing us together -- I started running into Dana everywhere! And in late summer they invited Steve and I to a small family gathering on Cane River and it was just the most wonderful day.

Another event that stands out to me from this past year is our trip to Lake Charles and McNeese University to speak at their SAGE program. That was another huge crowd and the first time I'd included a visual presentation with my speech. McNeese rolled out the red carpet for Cammie and Cane River Bohemia. Steve and I were treated to lunch and dinner at beautiful local restaurants, given a tour of the city, and I did two television appearances. May Gray, who organized the event, has become a friend now, and she made the trip one I will never forget.

I feel so blessed and honored for all of these opportunities and I know Cammie isn't finished with me. Our journey is not finished.

Besides book related blessings, this is the year I feel in love with Arnaudville, a tiny town in south Louisiana, where the arts are celebrated and the people are welcoming. I discovered Gateau Nana this year! And Song Trivia and Social Commentary! I made some great new friends and acquaintances in south Louisiana. I spend a lot of time waiting until my next trip to Arnaudville. The way we found Arnaudville and the house on the Teche where we stay has its own convoluted sort of story and wispy Cammie-connections which I'll be able to convey someday.

This year has also included a great first-semester at school; last semester, in the spring, was rough, rough, rough, but this semester has been good, and all but three of my students passed their EOC exam. And my gosh, the people that stepped up to contribute to my classroom library or to fill my Amazon wish list for my classroom have been amazing,

As this year comes to a close, I think we all tend to look back and evaluate our year, and I'm no different. It has not been without challenges, to be sure. Christmas is often a difficult time for me... I get overly sentimental and filled with loss for those who are no longer with us. We have a very small family and those losses are so strongly felt. But we persevere, we make new traditions, new friends, and really, I am blessed.

This self-serving post is really meant just to say thank you to everyone who made this year so exciting and gratifying for me.

You know who you are.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Where Did My Summer Go?


Kayaks on Bayou Teche (Arnaudville, LA)
With less than a week before I return to work for the 2019-20 school year, I looked at this blog and realized that I haven't posted a single thing all summer. My last post was the Kelley brothers D-Day post and technically, that was a re-post.  It is telling that the post before that one was from April and was about the restored cottages in Arnaudville, La., because that's pretty much where I've been most of the summer, either physically or in spirit.

As soon as school was out, we went to Arnaudville and stayed three nights; it was heaven. As I wrote in April, the cottages are lovingly restored and are the perfect getaway, at least for me. Arnaudville is in quick driving distance to Breaux Bridge (about 10 miles), to Lafayette, to any number of other places. New Iberia is less than an hour away. St. Martinville closer than that. Henderson Lake -- about 20 minutes or so. 

We've met some cool people in south Louisiana and made some good friends. I see a retirement destination in my future.

We came back from Arnaudville at the end of May and then spent ten days in Iowa, visiting Steve's family, then to Frisco, TX to visit my daughter and her family, then home for a couple of weeks and then back to Arnaudville for three days. And that was pretty much my summer!

On top of all that, I've had five days of teacher in-service work spread throughout that and I spent a couple of days at school getting my room spruced up for the new year.  My personal computer died and I had to get a new one -- always sort of traumatic for me.  And I've literally spent a lot of time watching my grass grow: we had a fungus attack our St. Augustine and had to treat that twice.  All those plans I had to clean out closets and downsize the clutter in my life never materialized.

The summer has blown by. 

Meanwhile, I've been working on a second book project; that's primarily in the research stages right now. The actual writing isn't happening yet, but I'm excited about it.

With all that happening, I haven't had much time to keep up with my blog, but I know it's here, and you know it's here, and I will get back into a routine before long.

I've had some thoughts and rants run through my head, and thought about posting them, but I'm trying to stay in a more positive place these days and decided I should probably keep my mouth shut on those.  Biding my time.

I'm still here, SIGIS is still here, and we'll get this thing rolling again before too long. Thanks for still being here!