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Friday, April 17, 2015

Graduation Season: a primer for parents whose kids are headed to (loud intake of breath) college -- guest post

These days, kids “graduate” a lot. Cap and gown ceremonies mark the exits from  kindergarten, elementary school, and middle school. But no graduation is as life-altering in its high and lows as the big one: high school. This clammy, hormone-lined passageway, celebrated in movies and songs, is both feared and longed for by students and parents alike. And with good reason.

As a teacher of 80+ college-bound AP Literature students, I see the senior year as a recognizable pattern. At Parents Night in the fall, I try to warn parents about the roller coaster ride they are about to take. But generalities only go so far when you have such diversity in senior students! There’s the girl who gets into multiple Ivy League schools and spends the spring jetting around to various admitted-student events, all while keeping her grades up. She basically glows in the dark. There’s the boy having a nervous breakdown and can barely pass senior year over anxiety about his girlfriend going to college in a different part of the country. There’s the party dude headed to a huge university to join a fraternity of young men exactly like himself in order to strengthen his fortress of homogeneous privilege, thus lessening his fear of learning how to cope with human difference.  There’s the budding theatre major who just KNOWS she is going to be the one to break through and make this passion a real career.  There’s the “signed” athlete, experiencing a peak of exultation that may not be repeated ever, despite his dreams of what lies ahead in college sports. And these are just a few of the senior stories I watch unfold. There are as many narratives as there are graduates, and some don’t have any kind of goal or plan yet. Which is really OK.

Let’s face it—high school is a bubble, and they are about to bust out, come what may. Graduation cards all scream, “Follow your dreams!” and “The sky is the limit!” True, it’s a fantastic milestone. But the future is not a slam dunk. And parents need to know this.

Everyone wants to imagine that their child will LOVE college life and everything will fall into place. But about half the time, that dreamy dream does not play out. And really, how could it? Despite a carefully considered decision, these kids are still very plastic, forming creatures according to brain development experts. So here are a few hard but true things to keep in mind as you get ready to shove your golden young bird out of the nest.

College is a big bunch of personal freedom. We all know this. But the fact is that many kids will not deal well with sudden self-regulation. Kids who have been in charge of their own getting-up-and-out regimen in the morning fare better than most, but it’s still a shock to the system. Nobody to nag you to do homework before fun. Nobody to stock the fridge if you missed dining hall hours. Nobody to care if you come home or not.  Which brings me to the next thing:

College is dangerous. Yes, it really is. Drink-spiking, drunk driving, full on peer-encouraged alcohol poisoning (and serious abuse of other substances), and plenty, plenty of rape culture. Despite the discrediting of the infamous Rolling Stone story of rape at UVA, this is a shockingly pervasive issue all over this land. Misogyny and the dehumanizing of young women is probably more intense in various pockets of American college campuses than anywhere in western culture. It’s hard for the good guys in the crowd too—they feel incredible pressure to join in the fun, whether it’s sexist (or racist) trash talk or worse. This grimness is worth another post entirely, but trust me on this one. If they experience this part of college life, and many will, your kids will probably never tell you the unvarnished truth, because it would make you cry.

Alternate reality: Some kids find their people early, even without the benefit of paid social networks like Greek houses. They form life-long friendships and steer clear of disastrous choices. Hurrah! But they are living in the same petri dish as the others. The culture is unavoidable. Either way, don’t hover. DON’T. They have to figure shit out without you.
Exclusion: If your kid gets sick, pay attention. You might have to swoop in. Campus health centers are notoriously lame. My daughter went to hers when desperately ill during her second semester and was offered either a pregnancy test or narcotic pain killers. I had to bring her home to get the triple threat diagnosis of tonsillitis, strep, and MONO. Yikes.   

College will make them different. A year from now, you may hardly recognize your higher ed scholar. Some boys get extremely scruffy and unkempt.  For girls, the weight thing is big. Don’t comment. Gain or lose, the decisions that follow are not always the best, as in “let’s only do SHOTS because it’s less calories than beer or wine.” (Yes, the drinking factor seems to be a given. The question is what kind.) They experiment with styles and personas. I moved my daughter into her freshman dorm with computer cords, cleaning supplies, notebooks, and a poster of the Eiffel Tower. On move-out day in May I carried a chocolate fountain, rose-patterned cowboy boots, and sexy bras I had no part in purchasing. 

But they will also change politically and socially, and THAT is some excitement, people. Sophomore year Thanksgiving dinner is often the scene for shocking revelations. Don’t get hot under the collar. This deliberate separation from you is a healthy part of becoming themselves. Love them for it. And warn Grandma.

They might F-ing HATE college. 
Well, it happens. It might be the wrong place at the wrong time--no way to know in advance. They might transfer, take time out, quit and get a job. They will learn, whether they are in college or not. This is huge, crucial figuring-out time, and some kids take longer than others, and there is nothing particularly magical about the year 18. You’ll do yourself and your child a favor if you can be at least kind of OK with this rootless period of questioning and ennui.  Don’t get in the way if you can help it. On the other hand, do not let them languish forever living the life of young idle royalty in your home. The more personal responsibility, the better. And the more honesty about all issues above, the better.

Wallow in all the “lasts.” These final days of your child’s at-home adolescence are like fitful dreams. They will be vivid and ephemeral. Your kid will plan endless “last chances” to get together with this or that friend as they take flight, one by one, for brand new territory. And when they are gone, you will be OK. It’s a tough passage; the emotion you will feel is the sister of grief. It flares and wanes and finally changes into a quiet star that burns with nostalgia, intermittent fear, and joy.

But even if it hits you like a spear to the heart, even if this is the last chick out of the nest, keep reminding yourself that you would not have it otherwise. It’s a great time to sit still and think about your own sweet life in this new reality. Where will you put all that energy you have beamed into your progeny for almost two decades? Savor the satisfaction of a job well done; congratulations are in order. Breathe in the freedom. Get ready for a personal renaissance. You are graduating, too.


Susan Lilley is a Florida native. Her work has appeared (or is forthcoming) in Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, The Southern Review, Drunken Boat, Slipstream, Sweet, and American Poetry Review, among other journals.  She is the 2009 winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Award and her chapbook, Night Windows, won the Yellow Jacket Press contest for Florida poets. Her 2012 chapbook Satellite Beach is from Finishing Line Press. Her MFA is from University of Southern Maine. She lives and teaches in central Florida and blogs at The Gloria Sirens.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Creating Great Workspaces at Home -- Guest Post

More and more of the workforce is telecommuting or working at home at least part of the time.  There’s lots of benefits to this: it reduces your commute time and likewise your environmental impact, it can allow for more productive and uninterrupted work time, can save on relocation costs, and a host of others.  Telecommuting is a huge boon for parents who need and value the schedule and workplace flexibility.

But how do you make sure your work-from-home time is as productive as it can be?  It starts with a dedicated, well-designed workspace.

Ask yourself some questions to begin determining what kind of space will meet your needs best.  Where are you at your most productive? Do you need lots of natural light? Do you meet with clients or business partners in your home office? Will you need space for special equipment or filing cabinets? What is your budget?

While larger homes mean that many of us can set up whole rooms as home offices, not everyone has that luxury.  Check out a variety of home workspaces below and determine what might work best for you!

New Workspace / Nick Keppol / CC BY 2.0

Workspace number 1: Dedicated home office

If you have a spare room that you can use for your office, you can set up a great workspace sanctuary.  Choose paint colors that will inspire you to be most productive in your work- shades of blue and green work well.

With a dedicated room, you can enjoy quiet for conference calls, and easily use the space to meet with clients and others. You can keep things as minimal or as cozy or cluttered as you like.  If you’re lucky, you can use a space with lots of natural light- or if you prefer a more den-like workspace, the basement may be an option for you.

No matter what your space, you’ll want an ergonomic desk chair to support you while you’re working, or you’ll want an anti-fatigue mat if you use a standing desk.

Workspace number 2: Secretary or small writing desk in a spare corner

Do you lack a spare room to set up your home office? Perhaps a secretary desk or rolltop writing desk would be a good option or you!  Secretaries are great for tucking away your work when you’re doing other things, and have a small footprint, while allowing you to maintain a dedicated workspace.  Add your laptop and you’re good to go to get your work done.

Workspace number 3: Shared office

Maybe you and your spouse or partner can work well in the same office, and you can save space that way! Shared offices are a great way to keep workspaces separate without taking up as much living space.  Consider a double desk or a built-in workspace, and play rock-paper-scissors to decide who gets to sit by the window.

Home Office /Panjanfirst / CC SA 3.0

Workspace number 4: Office/Guest room

A combined office and guest room allows for efficient use of space, without sacrificing a place for guests to stay.  Consider a murphy bed to keep the sleeping area tucked up and out of the way during your workdays. Portable screens can also help to divide space and allow privacy and comfort for your guests if you need to access your workspace while they are staying with you.

Guest Bedroom / Adriane Leithauser / CC BY 2.0

I work from home one day a week myself, and my workspace is an office I share with my husband. What is your home workspace like? Share your photos in the comments!


When she’s not making play-doh spaceships with her two young sons, Jenny Hill, CPLP creates engaging, accessible, and effective learning experiences, so learners can reach their potential and do their most meaningful work. You can contact her on LinkedIn at

Carpet vs Hardwood Floor for Newborn Babies -- S Post

First time parents might feel overwhelmed as they try to figure out how things should be done. There are so many decisions to be made that when it comes down to flooring it can be too much. Deciding whether you want carpet vs hardwood floor for newborn babies is something that many parents spend countless hours trying to figure out. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of Hardwood Floor

Easy to Clean

One of the best things about hardwood floor if you have a newborn baby is that it is easy to clean. Many people do not realize just how simple it is to clean hardwood. Plus carpet can have lingering dirt and grime that goes beneath the top layer of fibers. With hardwood parents do not have to worry about this as their babies get older and start to roll and crawl on the floors.

Last Forever

Carpets are known to stain, fade, and wear out. With proper care carpet will last several years but over time it can look very old. When it comes to hardwood floors they can last for much longer. In fact some historic homes have hardwood floors that are more than 100 years old. So when you choose hardwood, you are choosing something that is going to last you a long time. Some hardwood floors are even made to last a lifetime.


Wood floors offer a classic and timeless look. Wood flooring is never going to be out of style so there is no worry about updates or having to replace the floor in a few years because it is something that you hate. In fact there are many different versions of hardwood flooring so you can pick out exactly what you want.

Offers A Rich Look
Many people will love the fact that hard wood flooring looks rich. Some people even think that homes with hardwood floors look way more expensive than homes with carpeting.

Natural and Organic

Many different types of hardwood floor are natural and all organic. They come from organic materials and are non-electromagnetic. Many doctors from around the world recommend that you use hardwood flooring in your home when you are having a new infant.

Advantages of Carpet

Less Likely to Fall or Slip

Many people complain that they slip or fall more on hardwood floor. It is true that hardwood floor can be slick. One of the major advantages of carpet is that you never have to worry about slipping and falling on the flooring.

Help Keep Air Clean

Carpeting can actually help to keep the air clean. It can trap dust particles, dander, and pollen. So it can actually help purify air which can benefit people who are severe asthmatics or have severe allergies.

In the past people sometimes chose carpeting because it was more affordable. Today with so many competitive companies out there, there are many hardwood options that are affordable as well. One great thing to consider, if you are looking at whether or not you would like to have hardwood or carpet for your newborn baby, is that you can actually get free samples of hardwood flooring to make sure that you get what you love.

Choosing flooring is just one battle that you will face as new parents. In fact there are a ton of additional things that you will ask yourself from the type of diapers that you are going to use to the car seat and everything in between. Some families even struggle with knowing whether their baby needs a schedule or if they should choose to a go a different route and not have a schedule.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The spirit world is waiting for a good way! -- Guest Post

When I was 11 years old, I had my first paranormal experience. At that time, I had no idea what the word paranormal meant. In fact, I didn’t even believe that there could be spirits or “ghosts” lurking on this planet. Some may call it naivety; I call it innocence. I have always been the type to want to learn more about the occult. At an early age, I was mesmerized by events surrounding Halloween and the mayhem that accompanies it. The first item that drew my attention was the Oujia board, as I had seen it used in my horror movies of the time. Unbeknownst to me, my mom took me on a surprise trip to Toys R’ Us. As I was skimming through the board games, I came across the Oujia board. Who knew that Milton-Bradley offered divination tools, but I knew I had to have it. It took me weeks to save up, but it was worth it. I remember the checkout lady giving me a weird look as I was smiling from ear-to-ear, but I had no care in the world. I knew that I would be using it as soon as I got home!

The first thing I did when I went home, was call my cousin. She always talked about the Ouija board, but she never would have thought that I would have it. As soon as she found out, we organized a date and time to try it out. It just so happened that she would be visiting me that night, so the excitement was even higher. Later that night, my cousin and I opened the box for the first time. We both sat on the floor, and glared at the box. Inside was this mysterious board, full of letters of numbers. On the side was the piece that glided over the board, of course by itself because we would never push it with our fingers on purpose. With everything setup, we turned out the lights. I got my father’s flashlight to add some lighting on the board, and we began to ask questions. It didn’t take long before we realized that we weren’t alone. The flashlight began to trickle its luminosity, and the gliding piece was circling hectically on the board. Freaked out, we stared at each other. That’s when it happened. As I leaned back against the wall, I felt a hand or arm against my back. All I could feel was this chilly presence around me. My room became extremely dark, and cold. My cousin and I began crying, and ran down the stairs. Out of panic, I jumped half way down the staircase and almost broke my elbow. The adrenaline scared the crap out of me, but it also confirmed to me that this was something worth investigating in the future.

Spirits, or “ghosts”, have long been a topic of discussion whether it is good or bad. For centuries, communication to the other side has been explored through various mediums. Societies throughout the world have considered this area of life taboo, but there always existed those who were blessed with the ability to communicate with the dead. Sadly, this also has led people to abuse this gift and make money off those seeking closure or guidance from deceased friends and relatives. Despite all of this, Hollywood still continues to make huge profits of paranormal investigations via reality television and film. In my case, it took years for me to develop a peaceful connection with the Spirit world. As a practicing Hindu Pagan, my spiritual path is combination of traditional Hindu deity worship intertwined with Wicca. Throughout the years, this path has enriched my sensitivity to spirits and has opened channels of communication. Through meditation and fervent desire, I allowed my spirit to connect to their world through many tests of personal life challenges. It hasn’t been easy, but God and Goddess above (and their various avatars throughout time), have finally provided me the way.

As an adult in my mid-30s, this paranormal fever is stronger than ever. It took me many years to finally dedicate time and money into exploring this field. Researching techniques and tips on paranormal investigation on YouTube, I discovered my “role model” in the field. Steve Huff, from Huff Paranormal, has been a guiding light in redefining myself as an amateur, but avid, paranormal investigator. His videos contain tremendous evidence, much so that he is the most valid investigator at the moment. As a result of his work, he was able to get the attention of another paranormal investigator and mobile application developer, Anthony Sanchez from Both teamed up, and created the first, authentic “ghost box” named the SCD-1. This tool has been a blessing, because it has allowed an amateur like me to explore the Spirit world head on. My first session produced amazing results, while my second session confirmed the validity of the device through Spirit communication. As a result of such promising results, I have decided to visit various landmarks around Gainesville, Florida and surrounding areas with the SCD-1. North Florida is now my official paranormal playground, and I can’t wait to communicate with those on the “other side”.

Apart from being an amateur paranormal investigator, Carlos Alberto Soria is the main writer for the blog, “THE LOS PERSPECTIVE: The Journey and Adventures of a Hindu Pagan”. In addition, he is the main content creator for LOSMEDIASTUDIOS.COM, a start-up, online media studio located in Gainesville, FL. While he loves helping students succeed during the day at the University of Florida, his main passion is film, photography, and digital arts. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Ask a teacher: What do teachers really want for Teacher Appreciation Week?

Teacher Appreciation Week is just around the corner. Yes, I get a whole week. Be jealous. In addition to this, the end of the school year is fast approaching. Unless you were buried in Snowmageddon at some point this summer, in which case you have a few months to go. Whatever the reason, the desire to give a gift to your child's teacher make suddenly strike you. But what on earth should you give them?

First, please know that this is not expected and you don't need to spend an exorbitant amount of money on your child's teacher. I know money is tight and things get hectic. It's very rare for me to get a gift from my students considering the population that I serve. Honestly, a nice email or phone call from a parent would mean the world to me and other teachers if you don't have the cash for a gift. With that said, if you want to give a gift, here are some ideas.

The Practical

Pens/Pencils - Your kids might be well stocked, but not every kid is. I spend a lot of money every year on writing utensils for my students and very rarely get them back. While decorated pencils are cute, they often clog up the pencil sharpener, so plain pencils are best. In the younger grades, crayons and markers are also appreciated.

Paper - Whatever paper is used for your child's grade, from tablet to college rule, is beneficial. Like writing utensils, I spend a freakish amount of money every year on looseleaf for my students. Think in the hundreds. Yes, really.

Stickers - Kids love stickers. Even my 16 year old sophomores go nuts for stickers. Every teacher can find a use for stickers.

Classroom Library Books - I have a few hundred classroom library books, most of which I bought myself. Even in younger grades, teachers are in need of new and interesting books for students.

Post Its - I can never have enough. I like fun ones, but basic yellow is fine, too. Basically every size is used.

The Personal

Mugs - I can never have enough mugs. Seriously. Most teachers drink some kind of hot beverage, be it tea or coffee. I'm also taking them home on accident or stuck with a dirty mug. Travel and regular mugs are appreciated.

Notepads - I send notes to parents and students. Yes, even in this digital age. If you have the time and inclination to get a nice notepad, personalized or not, for your child's teacher, it will definitely be used.

Water bottle/Cup - I drink freakish amounts of water. Those cute plastic cups with straws and tops are a big trend amount teachers right now. Most teachers spend a lot of time talking and keeping your throat well hydrated is very important.

Hand Sanitizer - I go through buckets of this. I love your little angels, but they have a lot of germs.

The Gift Card Route

Store Closest to School - See what store is closest to your school and choose a card from there. I never shop of Meijer normally, but it's right down the street from school. A gift card there would work the best because it's literally minutes from school for me. See what's close to your school.

Organize It - If you have the time and inclination, see if you can organize a card from any parents that want to chip in. Maybe you were going to give $10 and another was going to give $25 and a third wanted to give $20, but the three of you combined can get an easy to use single card instead of three separate cards.

Restaurant - If you find out what restaurant your child's teacher enjoys the most, this is a nice, thoughtful gift. If you're not sure on their favorite restaurant, go back to a store card. Store cards can be used on personal purchases or classroom purchases. A restaurant card won't work for every teacher. I don't have the time to go out with my own kids and busy teaching and coaching schedule, so a store card would work better for me.

The Food

Individual Snacks - Things like granola bars are a huge hit. They're portable and have a decent shelf life. Individual snacks are great for teachers because we often get 20 minute lunches and sometimes don't even get to eat during then. A quick snack during class change is great for us.

Candy! - I freaking love candy. Remember smaller is better. I've gone through a huge 1lb bag of chocolate before. I have no self control, so a smaller package is better.

Hot Beverages - Find out how your child's teacher gets their caffeine or hot pick me up. Maybe they like tea or coffee. Maybe they have a Keurig or a traditional coffee pot. Whatever way they take their hot beverage, they always need more.

Homemade - I'm always down for your homemade Chocolate Zucchini Bread or whatever. Bring it on! Just remember dietary restrictions and let us know if it's been around peanuts or whatever.

Whatever you decide on, you can't go wrong by showing your child's teacher that you thought of them. I'm always grateful no matter what gift I get!

Emilie is a high school English teacher with two children. She holds a Bachelors in English and a Masters in Secondary Education. After completing student teaching at an urban, Persistently Low Achieving (PLA) school, she was placed at another PLA school in the same school district. Her Ask a Teacher column can also be found over at Teaching Ain't for Heroes.


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