The Little Things – a recap of a whirlwind tour of Europe

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” ― Terry Pratchett

Anyone who knows me even a little bit knows that I am all about stories.  It’s how I teach my students, how I entertain at parties, and even how I connect with my own family (although my girls and the wifie frequently tell me I am a bag of wind).  The sharing of stories is the reason I started this blog, and “Capture the Story” is the speech I give during the last class of each school year.  Life is so much more fulfilling if the story is worth living.

The last 9 days spent in Europe were, without a doubt, one of the best chapters of my story to date.

I wasn’t sure it would be.  After all, 9 days to see London, Paris, Florence, and Rome (with Assisi as a bonus) seemed like an overwhelming amount of ground to cover.  I figured it would be an exhausting trip (it was), and that I might miss some things I really wanted to see (I did), and that travelling overseas with a bunch of high school students might not be the wisest choice I’ve ever made (I was wrong).  When we met at the airport, I was still full of misgivings.

Then, the plane took off, and the stories began…

As a teacher of history, I cannot express the excitement I felt to see some of the places I have taught about.

To stand in the Tower of London and look out over the Thames.


To look up at St. Paul’s cathedral and imagine the dome still standing amidst the  wreckage of World War II.

St pauls

Looking out over lovely Paris  from the Eiffel Tower while your students wonder if you are about to die because you are sweating like a pig from climbing the 704 stairs.

eiffel stairs Eiffel

Standing awestruck in the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris, having never imagined how insignificant a person can feel in the House of God.

Notre Dame

Looking down upon the stunning city of Florence, and down upon the Italian countryside from majestic Assisi.

Florence    Assisi

Oh, and Rome too – no big deal…

Pantheon Colosseum

Much as I enjoyed every single one of those places, they aren’t the story.  They are simply the setting – it’s the people that made this story so amazing.  I could spend hours writing up each individual tale, and perhaps in time I will.  But here are a few highlights of why the last 9 days were so memorable…

  • Clarence, the Texas school teacher/scientist/moonshiner that basically took over the trip several times with stories, riddles, and his questions to our tour guide, Tessa.  “Tessa, Tessa,” he said in his best Texas drawl as we made our way from Florence to Assisi, “do you know how to churn butter?”  Official Winner: Most Random Question of the week.
  • My first ride on the Tube.  Stranger danger.  Everyone who was there knows what I mean…
  • Getting lost in London for almost 4 hours, and blissfully roaming the cityscape.
  • The boat tour of the Seine in Paris was perhaps the high point of the trip for me.  Indescribably beautiful, yes, but the stories… from the rat hanging out on the banks of the river to the girls who angered the Brits by cutting in front of their picture, excitement was in the air before things had even started.  Clarence was in high style, wearing his “gen-YOO-ine” beret purchased earlier in the day.  The old Asian couple that stood in everyone’s way followed by the younger Asian man that kept staring at me whilst wielding his selfie stick.  And of course, there was dancing along the banks of the Seine – by several young gentlemen who put on a show that could best be described as an eyeful.
  • The night train to Florence.  What can I say?  6 people crammed into each cabin.  Filthy bathrooms visited by a barefoot bonehead (luckily not from our group) who proceeded to slice one of his toes open in the grime.  Stories of roving gypsies that will steal anything and everything.  Locked windows and broken air conditioners.  No showers for 36 hours or more.  In a word: glorious!
  • Carrying one of my former students up to the top of the hill in Assisi after she had injured her knee… only to realize there was another hill to climb to get to the top of Assisi.
  • Finding no room at the adult table for dinner one night (not unusual for me) and spending a week getting to know an amazing group of students at our dinner table.  We supped together on some delightful food, and some terrible food, and even some onion-coated food (UGH), but we spent the last 7 days together and the stories are amongst the best of the trip.  Some of these students I already knew from my own classroom, and others I had never met – but getting to know all of them better was something I will always treasure.
  • Rooming with a fellow teacher that I had only talked to once before the trip, and coming home feeling like I had made a true friend.
  • Feeling thankful for the teacher who organized this whole trip, dealing with the logistics so the rest of us could enjoy as much as possible.
  • The joy on one student’s face when a surprise birthday cake was brought out for her.  Her radiant smile was even visible through her ever-present mask.
  • Breaking my bed in Hotel Sketch-fest in Rome.
  • No water in Hotel Sketch-fest in Rome, leading to this conversation between the Hotel Host and a lady from another tour group.

Host: “Ciao”

Lady: “Y’all gonna get water back up in here soon?”

Host:  Looks confused.


Host: Shrugs shoulders

Lady:  “If y’all don’t get water up in here soon, it’s about to get STANKY AS HELL!!!” (pronunciation: Hale)

I don’t know if I was alone in this yesterday, but as the plane came to a halt at the terminal, I had mixed emotions.  I was happy to hold my family in my arms once more, to clutch my daughters and infant son in a hug and get busy sweeping my wife off her feet again (I’ll let you know how that works out after leaving her for over a week with the kids – luckily I’m a real charmer :).  But I already missed those 9 days in Europe.  I missed the sights, the sounds, and especially the people.  I feel, as the quote above says, that I have come back a different person – a better one, one that understands the world just a little bit more.  I’ve seen the world through British eyes, French eyes, Indian eyes, Filipino eyes, and eyes with glasses.  I’m someone new, and I don’t want that sensation to fade.

I’m doing my best to capture this story.

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The Really Big News…

First I have to disappoint all of you that are waiting for my mother-in-law to meet the Hillbilly Blog Challenge.  She has yet to indicate that she will take part in it.  In fact, she has yet to speak with me at all since My Hillbilly Vacation was posted last week.  I am hoping it is simply a function of not seeing each other – I haven’t been over to the Hillbilly Home since we got back from the trip, and it’s not like we frequently call each other just to shoot the breeze.  However, I know a lot of you have contacted me asking when she will be meeting the challenge and I just don’t know the answer.  Maybe soon, and maybe never.  I’ll keep you posted.


In the meantime, I should probably update everyone as to the other big news – just in case you missed it.  I’ll share it with you as my wife shared it with me.

Many of you know I started grad school last January.  It was a spur of the moment decision and really should have been thought through a little better, but that’s not how I roll.  So I dove in head first, and found myself swamped as I tried to keep my head above the water. Several other really big (and negative) things happened at that time, and I will share at least one of them here in the weeks to come.  It genuinely was one of the worst periods of my life, though it somehow managed to bring our little family closer.  

When May finally arrived, my first semester of grad school came to an end.  Good riddance.  As I typed the last few lines for my reflective blog, I felt a sense of peace come over me.  It crept out of some unknown corner inside me and just overwhelmed me and lifted my spirit.  I’m not a positive guy by nature, so this was a strange and welcome sensation.

I clicked submit on the blog, and I soared out of my chair.  Done!  Heart full of hope, I sought out my wife, who was sitting on the bed organizing her purse.  Even seeing the contents of her purse (the stuff of nightmares) dumped on our bed couldn’t bring me down.  

“Babe, guess what?  I just hit submit on my last paper of my first semester of grad school.  I’m done!”

“Oh, that’s so awesome!  I am so proud of you!”  Even the wifie was feeling my positive vibes.

“I can’t even tell you how happy I am.  My whole spirit is… lifted.  I just feel so full of hope right now.  I feel like no matter what happens, everything is going to be OK!”


“Do you really feel that way?  Just from hitting submit?”

“Well, yeah.”  Couldn’t she feel the positivity crackling in the air?  “Right now, I feel like EVERYTHING is gonna work out for us!”


“Well,” wifie said, somewhat cautiously, “since you are feeling so positive, I should probably give you this now.”  She handed me a card.  “I was going to wait, but since you are so… hopeful… you should probably read this.”

Hmm… this was a bit strange.  I opened the card, and found this on the outside:

Baby card

OK… maybe she was wishing me luck for the end of the school year or the upcoming semester of grad school…

Then I opened the card:

baby card 2

Did I say EVERYTHING is gonna be OK?  

Another kid?  A decade after the last one was born?  I mean, our hands are already full trying to keep the two girls from starting a red light district in our town. And now we’re gonna be parents again?  And this time, we’ll be old parents too! Of all the things I expected to find in that card… To borrow the famous words of my hillbilly father-in-law, “Oh my…”

More to come…


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The Hillbilly Blog Challenge

So my last blog about my recent Hillbilly Vacation seemed well received by most people.  I tried not to be mean spirited or hurtful, and just tell some stories people of all backgrounds would enjoy.  

Of course, I was taking a risk.  In nearly two years of blogging, I had never written about the in-laws.  When I told them I was writing a blog, they quickly made it crystal clear that they expected to never make an appearance.  This was especially true of my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law.  For the most part, I have honored that.  Other than my father-in-law delivering the news that Santa didn’t exist while saying good night to the girls on Christmas Eve, I am pretty sure they haven’t appeared here.

Until yesterday.

For the most part, I think it went over OK.  Just like the Facebook posts I made during the trip, my mother-in-law seemed amused, yet irked.  I think she took it a little better than she otherwise would have because I tried to divvy up the stories between her and the father-in-law instead of just picking on her.  She laughed about it in the car, and commented that the blog made her laugh (though I have been met with glacial silence from the sister-in-law).  

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that all is not well in Hillbillyville.  My mother-in-law has been a good sport, but she has repeatedly indicated that “there are two sides to every story,” and that her version of the story is the “authorized” version while mine is the “unauthorized” version, and finally that I am “really good at embellishing the truth.”

I suppose I can understand her position.  After all, I shined the spotlight on them for humor’s sake when they might not have wanted the attention.  I didn’t let them read it before hand (though it was basically fleshing out the Facebook posts from last week.)  And despite the fact that I tried my best to handle the story with care, I suppose it could have still been uncomfortable and embarrassing for “Mama.”

Originally, I had planned a step-by-step rebuttal to her accusations of embellishment.  While certain points might be slightly different than what happened in real life, it’s only because I tried to eliminate parts that I thought would be even more embarrassing for them.  I certainly didn’t add totally made up stuff to make it sound worse.  But if you want to believe that she only called me “Idiot” instead of “Idiot Jerk,” I won’t hold it against you.  Just know that if the story was changed, it was done to cause less embarrassment, not more (at least from my perspective).

However, I guess the real issue is that I broke the unspoken truce: I dragged the hillbillies into my realm.  I caused embarrassment.  I need to rectify the situation.  So here’s the deal.  In her FB posts, she has continually eluded to the fact that she could start telling embarrassing stories about me.  So, in the spirit of fairness, I will give her the chance.  I challenge my mother-in-law, also a blogger and a great storyteller, to tell a story, any story, about me.  I will post it here, on my blog, and I will do so without editing it at all, since she was not allowed a chance to edit mine.  I will share it on Facebook, and she can too.  

The ball is in Mama’s court now.  Is she up for the Hillbilly Blog Challenge?


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Hillbilly Vacation

It’s been forever since I wrote a blog, as my tens of ardent fans have pointed out. It’s not been due to lack of material. So much has happened since last I traded words with Momof4istired, and eventually I will get around to posting about some of those things. It’s mainly been due to grad school – I feel bad for blogging when I have a ton of homework due by 2 am. Plus there’s the whole inertia thing – once I stopped, it became harder and harder to start again. I needed something momentous to shake me out of it – something huge and noteworthy. Life changing, really.

If you’re thinking this is where I announce the conception of a new child… you’d be wrong (that’s a whole ‘nother blog).

Nope, there’s only one thing that could shake me from my doldrums.

A road trip with my hillbilly in-laws.

Now you’re probably thinking, “wait, I thought the Furry Bard was banned from talking about his in-laws on the blog.” Well, I think that might have been more of a suggestion. You know, like the speed limit. None of us really follow the rule all the time, but it’s there to keep us from getting too crazy. I think it’s time to apply the same attitude towards the hillbillies. I mean, they’re a huge part of my life – how can I keep them off the blog altogether? Besides, my mother-in-law was reading some of my Facebook posts about the trip (#hillbillyvacation2014) and said, “This is hysterical. You really ought to write a book about this.” Later, she tried to retract her statement and claim she didn’t say the “about this” part, but once the green light flashes, you are free to go…

However, I will ease into it. No use stirring the hornet’s nest too much this early. Let’s just look at a few of the top moments of travelling with the hillbilly in-laws:

1.  Leaving The Hillbilly Home: Original target departure time: 10:00 am. Actual departure time: 1:12 pm. Note: this is actually not too bad.

2.  Upon leaving, Big Daddy (the father-in-law): “I think it would be nice to stop for gas and a meal in Monroe.” Monroe is 25 minutes away from the Hillbilly Home. Stoppage time: 45 minutes. This is gonna be a long trip.

3.  Several versions of this exchange occurred between the father-in-law and mother-in-law (Mama):

“Big Daddy, are you awake?”
“I’m fine, Mama.”
“Big Daddy, your eyes are closed.”
“No, just resting them a bit – they’re not closed.”
“I’ll stop soon.”
“Now mama, stopping on the side of the road would be dangerous.”
“Now mama, everything is gonna be ok. Just calm down.”
30 seconds pass…
“I think we had better switch drivers”

4.  We are supposed to meet my buddy Dave for dinner. I tell him we should arrive in Lexington in about an hour. Immediately upon hanging up the phone, the mother-in-law says, “I need a bathroom break and a snack.” I remind her we are eating dinner and that I just told my buddy we would be there in an hour. No matter. Everyone piles out of the car (except me, sitting and watching the clock). They take exactly 22 minutes in the gas station. We are almost half an hour late to meet my friend.

5.  Big Daddy wants to sit down for a “good Mack-Donald’s breakfast” before we hit the road the next day. We have 7 hours of driving time ahead of us according to Google Maps. We get in the van at exactly 9:50 am (again, I am keeping track of these things). Mack-Donald’s breakfast takes us to 11:05 am.

Then my father-in-law wants to visit a local church, “just to drive around and take some pictures.” He drives through the church lot at 2 mph, waiting for someone to notice us.  Finally someone comes out and spots him. He jumps out and the guy says he’ll give him a tour. Not to be outdone, Mama says, “well I can’t let him get a tour – people will wonder why I didn’t get the tour.” Note that she visited the same church with us a decade ago. Anyway, after about 20 minutes, they come out to the van and say, “he’s gonna give us a tour of the baptist college five minutes down the road!” Or fifteen minutes down the road, but who’s counting time (besides me)? After the college tour, we finally hit the road. It’s 12:15, and we are not a single mile closer to our destination that happens to be seven hours away.

Later in the day, I point out that we left my buddy’s house at 9:50 when determining how long we have been traveling. Big Daddy corrects me. “Well, you can’t count breakfast and the church and college tour.” Umm… yes, you can. And I do count it when determining our actual travel time for the day (see below).

6.  When Mama took the wheel, the van got a workout. 65 mph… 80 mph… 65 mph… all in the course of 60 seconds. It was like she was giving it interval training.  Luckily, she was driving on the actual road, unlike Big Daddy, and her hands never left 10 and 2. But at one point, in the mountains and with trucks surrounding us, she looked at her hubby and said, “Buckle up, Big Daddy!” in a very stern voice. I made sure I was buckled too. Gulp.

7.  My mother-in-law kept a close eye on my Facebook updates during the trip. She doesn’t like it when I quote what she actually says instead of what she wishes she said. But for the most part, we got along fabulously (so long as the sis-in-law didn’t try to get her mad at me). At one point, she started reading my posts for the day. First a chuckle, and then “Ooh, you dirty devil!” Then the comment about writing a book I mentioned earlier. Then she got to the posts on her driving. “YOU IDIOT JERK!!!” She later tried to claim she didn’t say JERK. She did. Believe me. She often let’s things slip out of her mouth without thinking and then tries to claim she didn’t. I won’t tell you what most of them are. But this is definitely one of them.

8.  The hillbilly in-laws popped in a tape with a hillbilly comedian/singer. We asked them to move all the sound to the front of the van, but we could still hear it. The comedian started singing about how his wife won’t listen to him, so he talks to his cow. The in-laws are laughing uproariously. You know the type of laughter – where you start laughing, and then look at the other person and repeat what was just said and laugh some more.  The wifie and I start dying laughing at them. They think it’s because we see the humor in a man talking to his cow. A good time is had by all.

9.  At around 12:15 am, we pull into the driveway for our cabin. That’s right, it took us 14 hours and 25 minutes to get there. More than double the time called for. We had 2 Walmart breaks, 8 bathroom breaks, 2 emergency “Big Daddy is sleeping again” breaks, one church and college break, and three meal breaks. Well, only two meal breaks and no church and college breaks if you don’t count anything Big Daddy says shouldn’t count.

And that, my friends, doesn’t even include the actual time in GA/AL or the journey home!

Be prepared for Mama to tell you this is a fabrication of her “dirty devil, idiot jerk” son-in-law.  Just nod your head and flash her a knowing smile.  You know the truth… you know what it’s like to go on a true hillbilly vacation.

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Meet the Spouses…

Blogging week continues…  if you missed any of the earlier posts, you can click on them here:

The Infamous Mr. Dicks and why I blog… – Derek

Losing everything and why I blog… – Nicole

Interview with a Blogstress

Banter with the Furry Bard

Derek Says:

While blogging can be an exhilarating experience in self-expression, there are certain danger zones. Much of blogging deals with everyday life, and thus the people in our everyday lives are apt to make appearances in what we write. But what if those people don’t want to make an appearance? Or they simply do not want certain information shared? Or worse, were unaware that they have made an appearance, and then someone else tells them about it?

So every blogger has to be careful about what they write. To me, life should be an open book… but that’s only my life. I can’t speak for others on that, and it has led to problems in the past. The most glaring example found people accosting my 10 year-old daughter and discussing the tooth fairy after reading about her attempt to catch us in a lie. What the what? Really, you’re going to talk to my child about something I wrote? She was very hurt that I would write about her without telling her, and assumed I was making fun of her. I had to smooth it over and now she actually asks me, “ are you gonna write a blog about that, daddy?” But for a few moments, I thought I had gone too far.

No where is this more evident that when writing about a spouse. I know both Nicole and I have extensively written about our spouses. As exciting as it can be for us to tell our tales to the world, it can be extremely uncomfortable for them. We think we paint them in a light that will flatter who they are, because we know what we mean in our hearts when we write about them. However, they sometimes feel embarrassed or worried that others might not perceive them that way.

I remember thinking it beautiful when Nicole told us about her trip to New Orleans with her gentleman caller named Mike. She painted her trip on a canvas for us all to enjoy. But I also remember when Nicole wrote her piece on “Coming out of the closet” about her love for Mike. Her words caught us up in that moment, but a lot of us that follow her held our collective breath – should she be putting this out there in a blog? What if it backfires? I mean, suddenly the whole world knows she’s in love – what happens next? Wonderful things, as it turns out, and we were all along for the ride…

I typically try to only involve the wifie in funny stories on my blog, but even that can create moments of discomfort. As simple a story as it was, the first blog I wrote about her made her very worried – she was concerned people would perceive her as mean-spirited. I just hit submit and assured her there was no problem – but in her eyes, I could see she still had doubts.

So Nicole and I thought it would be instructive to ask our spouses: what is it like to be married to a blogger? I interviewed Mike, and she interviewed the wifie – here are their own thoughts, shared with us all on their own terms:

An Interview with Mike, Nicole’s Husband

Tell us a little about your relationship with Nicole:

Almost instantly I could not get enough of her… she immediately made me laugh and feel at ease and she is so damn smart. I know we are going to have a lifetime of fun and interesting conversations and experiences together.

1)What were your initial thoughts when Nicole told you she was launching a blog?

I was excited for Nicole. I knew she had the capacity to speak to a lot of people through her writing. I am not surprised at all with the amount of successes she had with the blog so far…and I see limitless opportunity for her to explore her writing through blogging and other writing forums.

2) What is the best part about being married to a blogger?

There is never a quiet moment. She is always searching for the next thing to write about or experience. Seeing the world through Nicole’s eyes is an amazing thing as she is never one to judge and truly appreciates the uniqueness in all people. She loves watching human interaction in the purest and most simplest ways.

3) What is the worst part about being married to a blogger?

It is sometimes uncomfortable to see the personal parts of our relationship discussed but I think it shows the realness about what truly goes on in a marriage…both the highs and the lows

4) When was the first time you thought…”are you really going to write that”? What did you do?

I can’t remember the specific instance but I am sure I reached for a beer.

5) Do you think blogging changed your wife? If yes, how so?

Blogging has been great for Nicole. It has made her so much more confident in herself and her writing.

An Interview with Amy, Derek’s Wife (AKA the Wifie)

1) How did you feel when Derek said he wanted to start blogging?

When Derek said he wanted to start a blog, I was really excited for him. He writes beautifully, and has always had such a way with words. He’s got a good heart and mind, and really thinks things through–I think his words are worth sharing! He’s always wanted to be a writer, and I thought this would be a great way for him to finally start doing what he’s always been good at doing!

2) What is the best part about being married to a blogger?

The best part about him being a blogger, is that it makes him happy. I also like having others notice his wit and way with words! It’s fun to have acquaintances and friends send me a message, or stop me when they would normally pass by, and say how much they enjoyed Derek’s latest blog! I’m happy for him!

3) What is the worst part about being married to a blogger?

The worst part about being married to a blogger, might be the worry that everything that is done or said in the household, might be written about! 🙂 After the ground rules were set that I had to give clearance to things that are written about the personal side of me, I felt much better–And he has stuck to his promise! 🙂

4) When was the first time you thought…”are you really going to write that”? What did you do?

The first time I gave an adamant “No” was when he first let me proofread his blog “Husband’s monthly shopping trip“. I laughed so much when I read it though, that I felt if he made a few minor changes, it wouldn’t be too embarrassing. I obviously ended up agreeing to it! 🙂

5) Has blogging changed your husband?

I think it’s changed Derek in a positive way. He really likes writing and telling stories, so when he’s blogging, he seems to be more hopeful that things are going the way they should.

Nicole says:

When I decided to open my world to the whole world, so many people in my life were affected. I didn’t think I could share my thoughts without sharing my experiences, for me the two went hand in hand. When I read Amy and Mike’s responses to our questions, it really occurred to me how much impact what I write (or what Derek writes) has on my family.

I think we are lucky to have people in our lives that support us in whatever makes us happy–even if that means they reach for a beer when they are a bit uncomfortable or ask if we might change a word or two so they will sleep better at night.

After all, what we are writing about is our lives–our marriages, our children, our jobs, our fears. And through all of that, there is someone standing beside us, their dreams are unfolding just like ours.

And while we are living, we–the bloggers– are remembering the details to be written down at a later date, to be twisted a little into something special– to make people laugh or wince or cry.

And the whole time we are writing and remembering, there’s a husband, or a wife, standing nearby, wringing their hands, just a little. And wondering just what life story we will be writing next.

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Interview with a Blogstress – the high school years…

Joint blogging week continues with a throwback (you can find the first post about Mr. Dicks here, and Nicole’s journey to blogging is here).  If you read the post about Mr. Dicks, you know that Nicole and I met in 9th grade Earth Science… and if you are reading this, there is a decent chance you also went to Northville High School back in the 1990’s.  We thought it might be fun to open the book on some of those high school experiences for this blog post.  If you were there, it might bring back some fond memories.  If you weren’t, maybe it will give you a new perspective on us.  You’ll find Nicole’s answers below – mine to follow tomorrow.

 So let’s get this rolling with a softie.  There’s probably a lot to choose from over four years, but what is your favorite memory of high school?  If you can’t narrow it down to just one, feel free to throw a couple memories my way.

My favorite high school memory…I have lots of wonderful memories of lots of wonderful people. Most of my best memories relate to band, I know that makes me a band geek but I don’t care. I remember “band camp” every year to be such a fun time. Working in the back room outfitting everyone in uniforms with the other drum majors, Matt Falkawicz, Beth Patterson, Adrienne Dunkerley, Andrea Crawford. I loved when we would have a substitute teacher and everyone would switch instruments, Jenny Cole might play percussion and one of the percussionists would come to the alto sax section. But most of all, it was the football games. Sitting in the stands, marching over the bridge, going out afterwards to big boys or pizza hut. These are the things I remember. And the memories I hope my daughter makes when she goes to high school next year. Well most of the memories. Some of them…I would ground her for making. 😉

Hmm… while the natural follow up might be to ask about band camp (are the rumors TRUE???), I think I will go a different direction, lest we find out what offenses you now deem “groundable” for the next generation.  It seems like the core of your high school experience revolved around band, but that was a long time ago.  Does your “band experience” still have an impact on who you are today?  If so, how?  If not, why?

Phew.  Dodged a bullet there (those experiences in “band camp” are top secret).

I think anyone who played in band would say that they never leave those experiences behind.  I made some of my first friends there and those are friends I still see today.  For me, music has always been such an integral part of my life.  I learned to play the piano before I went to school, was writing my own songs when I was only 7 or 8…I was never really really good (there were far better players of music than I that we went to high school with) but I just loved it so much.  It’s something I can’t imagine that I would be the person I am today without.

Band camp happened at NHS by the way, so the scenes from American Pie didn’t exactly go down.  But there was one time, in a hotel at State Band Festival….oh boy! 🙂

What about the menfolk… I always remember you talking about this boy or another… who was your first high school crush?

Somehow all of my youthful stories revolve around menfolk, which in retrospect, would probably be a highly contributing factor to my sketchy GPA in high school.  But I’ll keep this one simple.  My first real kiss was in 8th Grade with a certain drummer/percussionist that I am currently Facebook friends with and it was so nice.  I have a sweet memory of that kiss—I’d call it my real first date.  I’ve always wondered if it was his first kiss too.  I hope it was.  In 9th grade I was still figuring the whole high school boy thing out.  By 10th grade.. .well.  My mom reads the blog.  And so does my husband.  But I had some very lovely, special boyfriends in high school and I was a pretty good girl, especially by today’s standards.  Can we just leave it there? 🙂

 Wow…. I’m not FB friends with too many of my ex-girlfriends… except my wife’s sister.  Anyway, four years is a lot of time to make great memories, but also plenty of time to make some mistakes.  If there was anything you could get a “do over” for, what would it be?

Note to self: Ask D-Rock about his wife’s sister.

I think if I could do it all over I would be more truthful with myself and others, I felt like I had to be “someone” in order to fit in and now I realize, I was always someone.  And that would probably have been enough.  And I would work harder, study more.  I was an average student in high school.  At this interval, I am 3/4 of the way done with my Bachelor’s Degree (even if I am a late bloomer) and I have only had 3 B’s in college ever.  I am proud of that.  But it makes me realize how much better I could have done if I had tried.  My daughter is so much smarter about that than I am.  I am so glad.

You’ve mentioned your daughter a few times at this point.  What are you feeling as your first child nears high school?  What misgivings do you have?  What do you want her to KNOW above all else as she soon moves into the next phase of her life?

Those are great questions.  I think you must have a unique point of view on this because you are a teacher of teenagers—I can’t wait to ask you about that in your interview.  Being a “younger” mom of a 13 year old, I feel like I am caught in a strange space.  In some ways I still remember the awkward wonderfulness of being 13-14-15 and I want her to have those experiences, I don’t want to take the magic away from them by allowing my own fears to interfere.  On the other hand, I still remember how much trouble there is to get into—and more trouble now than ever.  I am lucky, she is so good–much more focused than I ever was.  Maybe more focused than I am even now!  I have to tell her to relax and not sweat the small stuff more than anything.  I am strict about school and working hard, but I want her to have memories and be happy most of all.  Not too many memories though.  And ones that involve as little boys as possible…;)

I am also hoping to keep my daughters away from those dreaded “boys” – especially if the boys are like I was!  I need to work on my scare tactics…

Well, we could keep this rolling indefinitely, but lets cut it off for tonight.  Hopefully you enjoyed this little foray into the past.  If you happen to think of additional or follow-up questions, feel free to email either me or Nicole.  Tomorrow, I’ll take the hot seat.

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The infamous Mr. Dicks and why I blog…

As many of you know, I will be blogging in tandem with Nicole Acciaoli Emamuel this week.  She started her blog several years ago, which was one of the main inspirations to begin my blog a year later.  We decided to do a few blogs together this week and share some of the things we’ve learned along the way.  We both hope you’ll enjoy the journey!

Of course we should probably start with a few questions: How do I know her?  Where did this idea come from?  What’s the plan?  To answer these questions, I think it would be instructive to return to the very beginning…

I spent most of my first day of high school alone. The kids from Cooke Middle School and Meads Mill Middle School were reunited, and everyone seemed to know everyone else. Lumbering seniors patrolled the halls, at home in their element, while a puny kid sporting a spotty beard and some wisps of chest hair felt totally out of place.  High school was not looking promising for me.

That was before Mister Dicks.

The last hour of that dreadful day found me traveling down the science hallway for Earth Science and a dose of the mysterious “Dicks.” I didn’t know who Dicks was – it was just a name on the first semester schedule. As it turned out, Dicks was a silver haired goon with an unnatural hatred of hats. The man most likely would have put an early end to my high school career if not for the posse that surrounded me.

At the table in front in front of mine sat the two Jennys. In true “it’s a small world” fashion, Jenny R. went on to marry the music coach of some of the most talented freshman students I have ever been privileged to teach. Behind us sat Sara from Australia, who kept the semester moving by giving us a daily concert countdown – “22 more sleeps until Megadeth!” And then, there was my table partner, Nicole Acciaoli.

A few things I remember about Nicole: after a brutal first day of High School, she was really kind to me. She seemed to be friends with everyone around us, and could start up a conversation with anyone. She frequently wore silk shirts, as did I (in 1992 silks were the height of fashion). And she was my ally in the battle against Mr. Dicks.

Mr. Dicks didn’t like me. I’m still not quite sure why – I really didn’t come out of my shell in his class, and never caused a ruckus. But I was a hat wearer. And he hated him some hats. In fact, he had banned them from his room altogether – you couldn’t even bring a cap across the threshold of his classroom. And believe me – he always kept an eye open to see if the hat-haired boys had a cap tucked away in their sweater or jeans.

One day, I was running a little late. Most likely I had been hitting on some of the young ladies in the class of 1996 – showing off my latest chin whiskers.  While rushing to Earth Science, I realized that I was still sporting my brand new fitted Georgetown cap. Crap! Should I got back to my locker and take a tardy (and risk the wrath of Darlene, my rough and tough mama)? Or should I try to tuck the cap into the back of my trousers and sneak past Mr. Dicks? I decided to take the risk. I mean, could Dicks really notice every hat that came into his classroom? My money was on NO.

I slipped into the classroom and took my seat. Whew.  No problems so far! I simply sat on my hat and started chatting with Nicole. I wish I could say where the conversation went – probably Nicole’s new manfriend (pretty sure she had 15 that semester ;), though the 21 intervening years leave me fuzzy. However, what came next isn’t fuzzy at all.

Mr. Southwick – I’d like to see you at my desk.”

Uh, I didn’t even know that Mr. Dicks knew my name, and I am certain this conversation was our first ever chat. I glanced up and noticed he was looking down at his desk. I surreptitiously slipped my hat over to Nicole. “Hold this for me,” I whispered. My hat was precious – part of my freshman identity. I knew I could trust it with my lab partner. Nicole had my back.

As I walked to the desk of Dicks, I felt pretty confident. My hat was safe where he would never find it. Moreover, I had thwarted his ridiculous rule. If only my white sneakers (worn with black jeans, of course) hadn’t been squeaking quite so loudly as I walked to the front of the room.

Just as arrived at his desk, Mr. Dicks spoke again. “Miss Acciaoli, would you please throw Mr. Southwick’s hat in the trash for me?”


I looked back at Nicole. She looked up at me. Our eyes wide, she simply had to do as he asked. She walked to the front of the classroom, looked at me again, and tossed the hat into the metal basket.  The clang reverberated in my ears.

I don’t even remember what Mr. Dicks talked to me about that day. I know that in that instant, he became my mortal enemy.  Our epic battles would culminate in a yelling match in a packed hallway during my senior year. But that was years into the future.  What I do remember about that day is how profusely Nicole apologized for throwing away the hat.

I am so sorry, Derek! I didn’t know what to do!”

It’s ok. It’s not your fault. He’s the…” Not really sure what choice word I used in that moment. I’m sure it didn’t do Mr. Dicks justice.

But I feel SOOO terrible!”

No really. It’s ok. I’m not mad at you at all! I promise!”

OK. But I still feel bad…”

And with that, life swept onward. The epic journey to retrieve the hat is also a story for another day. And within a few months, a new semester began. I had a new class and a new lab partner, and Miss Acciaoli – the thrower-away-of-hats – became a memory. One semester became a year, which became all of high school, which became a decade and three years. I never had a conversation with Nicole again. Ever. I might have nodded my head at her in the hallway a time or two. Such is high school.

Facebook tells me that the first time we had contact was when we became friends in 2009 – my first conversation with Nicole since 1993. 16 years. Even then, it was a bit strange – who was this girl writing to tell me how beautiful my family is? I mean, I am a huge Facebook fan, and I love having contact with old friends, even if it is just to see picture of their families and lives.  But it still can be weird sometimes, you know? Especially when the main memory you have of the person revolves around them throwing your hat away…

Then, a few years later, Nicole posted a link to her blog. I’m sure many of you have already read it, and were just as moved as I was. What an incomparable wordsmith. As I continued to read her words, I often found myself laughing and full of hope.  Other times, I felt sorrowful, or even wistful. She toiled away to bring her words to the rest of us, reaching us in a way not possible a decade ago. She quickly assumed the role of the best-writer-I-personally-know, even though I still didn’t really know her. Moreover, she offered inspiration to someone who had put his own pen down years ago. Her blog made me want to write… but did I have the courage?

In December of 2012, I sent Nicole a message (via Facebook, that wonderful tool that connected us) to ask her about her blog. How did she start it? Why did she start it? Was it terrifying to put her thoughts out in the public sphere? Was it rewarding? What was her vision? When did she get so awesome at writing? The questions went on and on.

These were questions by a man in the midst of change – someone who had just switched careers and didn’t quite fit in yet. These questions came from the heart of someone who loved to write long ago, but let go of those dreams because that’s what you have to do when you are an adult in the workaday world. The questions came from a big, furry guy with a passion for telling tales above all else. I desperately wanted to tell stories, but I had no idea how to find an audience. Nicole was busy telling stories and making a difference. I had to ask her those questions. She was the only person I knew that was where I hoped to be.

Nicole encouraged me, gave me advice, and helped me find my voice. A few months later, I started the Furry Bard, my place to tell stories. Sometimes I feel a little bit embarrassed – I know I am not a skillful writer like Nicole or the multitude of other bloggers I now read and converse with. But I feel at home every time I hit “submit” on a new post. For that, I have Nicole to thank.

Blogging represents a huge community of diverse people from a multitude of backgrounds. Over the past year, I realized other high school classmates have their own blogs, as well as former students, friends, and arch enemies. Everyone has a story to tell, and the means with which to tell it. However, it often takes a catalyst, a brave person to show you the way or to offer a hand in help or encouragement.

I’m glad Nicole finally made up for throwing my hat away 🙂

I’m looking forward to a week of sharing some thoughts in our little corner of the blogging community.

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