Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Sometimes, tacos can make everything okay.  After a long day of coaxing and convincing 150+ students that literacy is important, I need a couple of  Del Tacos to remind me why I get up in the morning. The crunch of the shell as it shatters into flakes of salty goodness on my tongue, the grease drips out the corner, pools in my hand and then runs down my arm, the bite of cheese, the cool, crisp lettuce . . .

I understand why an entire day of the week is dedicated to tacos.
As a kid, when my mom would ask what I wanted for my birthday dinner, I would often request those golden parabolas filled with happiness.

Despite my need, respect, and admiration for the power of the taco, I do have one complaint: how they are assembled: first meat, then sour cream/salsa, lettuce, cheese and finally tomatoes.

There are many kinds of tacos, but my issue relates to the hard-shell tacos from fast-food and sit-down restaurants.

Eating a hard-shell taco goes something like this: bite into taco, scoop up what falls out of the taco and tuck it back into the shell. Bite, scoop, tuck.  Bite, scoop, tuck. As the shell whittles away, what beef, cheese, salsa, tomato escapes gets scooped directly into the mouth. At that point, one wonders why he or she didn't just order a taco salad.

Why not just let what tumbled from the taco remain on the plate (or in your lap or on the floor of the car)?  Because what is first to fall is what is on top, and what is usually on top is the cheese and tomatoes. And what eventually gets shoved out of one end of the taco after each bite is the meat and sour cream. Who is their right mind is going to leave behind that beautiful cheese? Those ripe, red tomatoes? That seasoned, spicy meat? That refreshing sour cream?  I'll eat cheese off a pile of shit if that's the only way I can get it.

If lettuce was to fall out of my taco, I wouldn't care. Who scrounges for lettuce? Dieters, that's who. But dieters don't eat tacos because dieters have given up their souls.

I understand the reasoning behind putting the cheese and tomatoes on top: marketing appeal.  I see that cheese smiling from over the top of a taco shell and it's like an old friend.  A taco bursting with lettuce is not going to draw anyone. Except dieters. And they'll only buy one.

So Mexican restaurants of America, display those cheese and tomato crowned tacos, but do me a favor: make sure that cheese and tomato is ensconced between the meat and lettuce.  I promise I won't complain that what you give me doesn't look like the picture.

Friday, April 14, 2017

In Awe and Reverence of Parents

I am amazed to see parents who can manage to hold down a job, keep a house, remain social, and not go absolutely nuts.  Several of my co-workers have young children and every day they show up with a smile on their faces to teach even more children. With smiles on their faces.  Fashionably dressed. Healthy, packed lunches at the ready.  I'm convinced they are medicated.

Or, Holden Caulfield so eloquently stated, "All mothers are slightly insane."

I keep my nephews for 24 hours and I feel, look and behave like a mental patient whose been on the streets for weeks.  If manage to brush my teeth, I feel like a champ.

Those who own me.
There is nothing, nothing I love more in this world than my two nephews: Jay, who is 5, and Blake, who is almost 1 1/2.  They spend the night with me often, usually one at a time, but there are occasions when I keep both. One is hard enough; two, OMG.

This parenting shit is hard.  And I am not even parenting; I'm quasi-parenting. Actually, I just keep them alive. Naively, I figured all it required was to throw food at them, change a diaper, and block them from running into traffic. Guess what? It takes a lot more than that.

I have to convince Jay flipping over couches and leaping off chairs can result in him getting hurt, try to get him to eat anything other than candy and chips (I have no problem spoiling him; I do have a problem with the demon within unleashed by sugar), and if I take him to the park? That adds at least 100 other ways he can hurt himself: slides, swings, strangers, oh my.

And the gear one needs to keep a baby alive: I don't know how anyone can afford to be parents.  You need diapers, 5 changes of clothes per day, a sleep sack, butt cream, wipes, whole milk, baby food, regular food (that he'll like, that he can "swallow" without choking because chewing is new), a high chair, and a pack-n-play. Oh, and toys.  Lots and lots of toys.

The first time I watched both boys for an extended period of time, we barely made it. And when I say "we" I mean me.  After that harrowing 24 hours, I swore the next time my sister asked if I could take both overnight, I'd immediately volunteer as tribute for the Hunger Games. I just don't have enough arms, patience, and brain cells to keep both of them alive for an extended period of time.

As with all other great pains in life-- heart-break, labor, crossfit--time blotted out the memory of it, so when my sister and mom went to DC for five days, I volunteered as tribute to watch both nephews overnight to provide her husband with a break.

I prepped like a motherfucker: I stocked up on child and baby preferred snacks: Cheerios, bananas, fruit, and cookies.  Bottles are pulled out and lined up on the counter.  Sheets were laid over the furniture to save them from ruin. All breakable items were stashed in a closet. Pack-n-play was set up (after a lot of cursing and sweating). Wine was chilled. And if shit really gets rough, children's Benedryl was loaded in the medicine syringe ready to fire.

The first 5 hours, I managed fairly well.  Kids were fed and entertained.  My apartment was littered with toys, but nothing has been broken. Each kid had only one or two brushes with death.

Inevitably, my strength waned. I'm not sure why Jay can't get it through his head that he shouldn't cover his brother's face, and since I don't speak baby babble, I'm not sure how to communicate to Blake that kamikaze diving off my ottoman is not a good idea. I had been watching Teen Titians, PAW Patrol, and Team Umizoomie forever, so I found the movie Dawn of Justice: Batman vs. Superman for them to watch--it's about superheroes, so it's child-appropriate, right?--but after Jay asked me 1000 questions about the plot, I'm ready to go back to helping Umizoomie save another one of their dumbass friends. My feet were pock-marked from stepping on legos. I considered putting tape over Blake's mouth to keep him from shoving anything and everything into it--he can still breath through his nose--but the last thing I need to be doing is giving Jay ideas.

I had poured a glass of wine, but couldn't find two seconds to actually drink it.  One of the kids might have drank it; I don't know.

When I got Blake to go to sleep for the night, I figured I might be at the end of the gauntlet. Jay was watching television, so I told him I was going to take a quick shower.  And I mean quick--long enough to get clean--no relaxing, not pampering.  In and out.  But as soon as I had lathered up my hair and then . . . surprise! My shower curtain flew open and there was Jay, "Auntie, are you done yet?"

Yes, young man, I am done. And I still have about 12 hours to go.

I'm sure parenting books have a chapter on how to synchronize the sleeping of multiple children, but I haven't read them.  Blake was asleep at 8:30 p.m. and then up at 3 a.m.  We hung out for two hours--me trying to convince myself that I'm a rockstar being up at 3 a.m.  I think "rockstar" status is negated by poopy diapers though. I finally got Blake back to sleep at 5 a.m. just to have Jay pounce on me at 6 a.m.

I had to make it until noon.  If I made it, I had planned on auditioning for Survivor.

Jay doesn't understand the concept of brain development. To tell him that Blake "doesn't understand"--well, anything--doesn't quite sink in.  So, when Blake threw his Cheerios all over the floor, Jay figured he had license to throw his much bigger bowl of Cheerios on the floor. Fuck it; I told them to pick their breakfast out of the carpet. Hell, I saw Blake eat a few Cheerios he peeled off the bottom of his foot. Breakfast turned into a scavenger hunt since they had to sift through the toys that blanketed the floor.

I've heard parents--moms especially--lament the time they used to have to themselves.  They claim they can't do anything alone.  My own mother swears that she hasn't "peed or had a can of Pepsi to herself in 35 years."

While my nephews scrounged for their breakfast, I decided to duck into the bathroom. Not ten seconds after my butt hit the toilet seat, Jay comes in asking me how kryptonite works.  As I explained this (for the 100th time), Blake toddled in with a small tennis ball and began bouncing it off the walls.

Taking a dump while explaining the power of a glowing green rock while a ball pings around my head: #glamlife.

At 11:30, I loaded those kids up and drove 80 miles an hour to meet up with their dad to hand them off.  In my pajamas.

When I got home, it took me hours to get my place and my psyche back in order.  A week later, I'm still stepping on Cheerios.

In my opinion, setting a pack-n-play up and breaking it down qualifies as a workout.  I may not have been able to brush my teeth, but I could scratch "exercise" off my list.  Shit, I can't even do that on a day without kids.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Honoring Dad

My father, Michael MacDonald Vance, died from a heart attack on Friday, September 4, 2015 at 11:59 p.m.  He was 69 years and 6 days old.

I am very conscious of dates and time and so was my father. Therefore, I am exact when people ask me when he died. Those who knew him would appreciate that he died at 11:59 and that he expected me to be accurate. He died on Friday night not Saturday morning. Such an error in detail would be egregious.

But since Dad has died, my concept of time has been thrown off. From the time when he went into the hospital for a host of other physical ailments to the time he passed was 3.2857142857 weeks and yet to me it feels like 6 months. Then there are days when I feel like I have just seen him; have just talked to him. He is no more distant than the moment I am thinking of him.

Dad with his "kitties" Fluffy and Scooter
Every day this week I’ve been thinking, “Friday will be one month since Dad died.”  I’ve rallied friends to keep me company so that I don’t cry my face off.  Then last night when I was shuffling around my apartment I happened to glance at the calendar and realized that today is the 2nd, not the 4th, of October. It is not the one-month anniversary of his death, but the four-week anniversary. The only timeline that’s measured in weeks is pregnancy, so Dad would be annoyed if I mourned his one-month anniversary today, because it isn’t the one-month anniversary. And there’s a part of me that wants to honor his love of the punctilious and reign in the emotions until Sunday.

But when it comes to love and grief, time means nothing and everything. Those sentiments would make him crazy, but that's also a way for me to honor my father. I loved prodding him with such lofty, abstract thinking. 

Nevertheless Dad, I miss you every second of every minute of every hour of every day of every week of the month. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Party Never Stops

Teaching writing is far more challenging than teaching literature. With literature, a teacher has fascinating characters, engaging plots, and important themes that they can easily get behind.  English teachers, even those who are just paying the bills until they get their great American novel published, did not choose their major because they loved writing essays (or even novels). They did so because of literature.  Teaching straight, expository writing is much more challenging because it’s hard to make the writing process interesting to students.

At least I can make the topics of writing more edgy and fun when I teach my college students.  For example, when introduce the classification and analysis essay, I ask students to break up the guests of a typical House Party into different categories.  The term “guests” is a bit of an euphemism because very few people at House Parties are actually invited.  For those of you whose rebellion happened before the 21st century, House Parties, formally known as Flyer Parties (90s), formally known as Ragers (80s) occur whenever a teen’s parents have gone out of the town for the weekend and word gets out that there is an adult-free abode in which to indulge in iniquities.  Concept has been around for decades (hell, centuries) but the name has changed.

Same with those who attend.  As the students shared their categories, I learned some new labels.

For those who for the tradition of drinking:
·         The hot heads: The ones that start drinking and just want to get down. “Getting down” means to fight. I thought it was a reference to sex. In context, both definitions make sense to me.
·         Flops: People that can't handle their alcohol

The fact that no one offered a category of silly, jovial drunks makes me wonder just how much fun is to be had at House Parties.

For those who are into a little bit more than alcohol:
·         Burnouts: People who come to do drugs
·         Fiends: People that are just looking to smoke weed and just want people to smoke them out. I assume they differ from burnouts because they are cannabis-focused where burnouts will take anything.
·         The Dealer: The person that comes to make money from drug selling.
·         Ballooners: Go to party to do noz from the noz tank until they forget how to speak. This party behavior is new to me.  Apparently, if it’s a good party, then there will be a tank of nitrous oxide to take hits off of (kind of like a step-up from inhaling from helium balloons).  And yes, the goal is to become a drooling idiot.  I also pointed out that the goal is to kill off your brain cells. Permanently.

For those looking for a little tail:
·         The thirsty: people desperate to have sex.  Before submitting this category, a student asked me if I know what “being thirsty” meant. I was a little suspicious: either they think I’ve been ballooning too much or if it was too scandalous to put into spoken (or written) language. I told them I assumed that it referred to a bonafide alcoholic. I stand corrected.
·         Smashers: girls only good for sex.   
·         Outcasts: socially awkward people that show up so they could get noticed.

As a teacher and possible mentor, even to college students, I did take this opportunity to point out that these highly destructive behaviors are all ways to escape.  Those who frequent House Parties are probably suffering some sort of personal trauma or self-esteem issues.  I commented on the irony of parties becoming the stage to let all the things that are no-so-fun about us to come out.  Our social lives, which are meant to be a reprieve from stress and anxiety, are quickly becoming the fuel for more stress and anxiety.

Not sure anyone understood me. Maybe too many Ballooners in the room. Maybe I have fallen into the Party Pooper category.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Smarter Than I Look

I understand that most teenagers believe teachers (hell, adults) behaved differently when they were teenagers.  We went to sock-hops. We loved school.  If we felt like rebelling, we wore racy clothes and drove our cars too fast. Maybe smoked a cigarette; maybe took a couple sips from a beer occasionally. Honestly, I don't blame them.  I thought the same thing too.
What strikes me is that they think we are not akin to their subterfuges.
The high school I teach at starts a half-hour later on Fridays; combined with the fact that this occurs at the end of their week makes hitting Starbucks a must for adolescents.  I  sympathize and have no problem with that as long as students arrive to class on time and don’t spill that Venti, blended goodness all over my floor.
But this morning, a little lady told me a bold-face lie so that she could retrieve her beverage after class had started.  One thing I have no patience with or tolerance for is lying.  She asked me is she could go to the restroom. I gave her permission.  She came back with a Venti passion tea.
I hauled her tush outside and said, “Samantha, don’t ever lie to me. You ask to go to the bathroom and you come back with Starbucks. Did you really think I wouldn’t catch that?”
Her eyes get real big.  “I didn’t lie. I just happen to run into my friend, and she had an iced tea for me. I swear.”
My response: “Do you really think I’m that stupid?”
“I swear that’s what happened.”

Yes, she thinks I'm that stupid.
“So, you expect me to believe that the exact same moment you had to ‘go to the bathroom’ your friend happened to be walking the halls with an ice tea for you? You really think I am going to believe that?”
“I swear.”
“I don’t believe you.”
 She stands there blinking at me. 
“Don’t ever lie to me again.”
She huffs and storms into the classroom.
(Little does she know that next time --or the next dozen times-- she asks to go to the restroom, the answer will be “no.”)
I tell my students from the beginning of the year that they will always win with honesty and never win with lying. Honestly doesn’t mean no consequences, but they will come down soooo much easier.  All Samantha had to do was say, “Hey Ms. Vance, my friend just brought me an iced-tea. Can I go grab it?”
It’s Friday. We are just doing some leisurely reading.  She’s playing it straight. I would have said, “Sure, but this is an exception. Don’t make this a habit.”  The end.
Instead, she lies. Instead, she assumes that I’m not going to catch on.  She assumes that I am stupid. I’m a lot of things, but stupid ain’t one of ‘em.
Trust me, I was not a straight-laced kid. I rebelled. I rebelled hard.  And I used the same tricks they try to use on me.  When I set my watch back 20 minutes so that when I arrived home after curfew I could raise my little doe-eyes to my parents and show them how my watch says I’m on time? When I forged my own notes to get out of school early (I had an “injured knee” my junior year and had many, many doctor’s appointments) did the attendance workers know I was lying and just didn’t have a way to call my bluff? (They never called my mom, which is good, because then I’d be well . . . dead).  My parents never have been push-overs.  If I got caught doing wrong, punishment was severe and swift.  Yet I still ditched; I still snuck out; I still lied. I wonder how much they actually knew and just didn’t address because I was still bringing home good grades and treating them with respect?  Were they just worn by the demands of their daily lives so they would allow a few transgressions?
The message I’d like to send to all teens is this: we know a lot more than you think we know.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

I'm Baaaaaaaaaack!

Why did I drop off the blogosphere for last nine months?

No, I did not have a baby (unlike my friend over at Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares who also took a hiatus).  The idea of me procreating could be it's own horror novel.

No, it's not because I ran out of material. Trust me, being a 40-something, techno-challenged, even more man-challenged, teacher of high school English provides enough for this writer.  I didn't take a hiatus from writing (my seventeen-page essay on Ratchet is currently submitted to several literary journals); just from blogging.

To be honest, I don't have a good reason. Nothing concrete. No family illness, no change of career, no loss of career that left me homeless: no special marker that called for an end to my blogging career. I just lost the motivation. The passion was gone.  For a while, I thought my three-and-a-half-year relationship with Blogspot had run its course.  I didn't want to leave it for Word Press or Tumblr. I didn't give it an ultimatum like, "get me published or get out."  Quite simply, I just lost that loving feeling.

Ya, I'm coming back with cliches after nine months, dammit.

So, why am I back?

The catalyst was about a week ago when I was discussing with the department chair at the junior college I teach at about the possibility of apply for a full-time position. I wanted to make sure all that I would be giving up by leaving my nearly twenty-year career with my high school (primarily in the form of seniority and job security) would be worth it. Getting a full time job at the junior college level is nearly impossible. One would have to sleep with as well as kill several people to just get an interview: it is extremely competitive. As my department chair and I discussed what would help me pop as a candidate, one item that came up was to "make sure that [I] mention the blog."

It's ironic: my high school administration quivers in fear over my blog; my college one encourages it. I say absolutely nothing about it to my high school students. Nothing. Hell, I pretend to not even know what a blog is (and they believe me because as far as they are concerned I wrote my high school essays on parchment). I know it's been found; much to my surprise, some students have nothing better to do than google their teachers. As for my college students, I provide them with a link on the second day of class. Most of my posts analyze language; it will enhance their education, dammit. I also send links to my colleagues at the junior college.

Another little nudge came from a colleague at the junior college as well. While chatting with a lovely woman in the lounge a few days ago, we both realized that even though we knew each other's faces we weren't quite sure of each other's names. When I formally introduced myself, she replied with: "Your Holly Vance?! I am such a fan."

Even though it was a nice little spit-shine to my ego, I was a bit confused. When she didn't immediately mention that it was because of my blog, I began to panic. I never have, nor ever will, google myself, so who knows what's out there about me. What was she a fan of?

As it turns out, she knew about me through my high school teaching history. (And if you are waiting for the details, I ain't gonna provide 'em.  No need to give my high school an aneurysm before the new year even starts.) It had nothing to do with my blog, but it made me think about it.

All that matters is that I'm back. I feel the old spark of love for Blogspot. Hopefully, it will take me back with open arms. And roses. And chocolates from Godiva. And a flood of agents dying to market me to major publishing houses.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Not as Turn't Up as I Hoped

As previously posted, I hate grading papers,but there is an exception: my students' personal statements for college. I enjoy these papers because I get to learn about who my students are as young men and women.  It is often enlightening, sometimes heartbreaking, and once in a while didactic.

One young lady wrote about her struggles making a new group of friends when changing high schools--quite a formidable one for a teen. (We all know the critical role our homies play during the adolescent years). She shared that unlike most of her peers, she doesn't like to get "TUed (turn't up)" on the weekends, so finding like-minded peers was difficult.

I had encountered "turn't up" before: the first time was a couple summers ago when one of my college students used it to help me understand "ratchet" when I was investigating that word (my investigation led to an article still in the revising process), but using slang to help define slang only increases confusion. Most recently, a student asked me how my weekend had been, and in response to my assurance that it had been good, asked "did you get turn't up?"

It doesn't take a linguist to figure out what it means. Hell, it only requires rudimentary understanding of teenage rebellion. But, I thought that the word's longevity might allude to a deeper meaning. (As with all things, the Internet speeds up the spread and burn-out of slang terms.)  I decided to do a little investigating.

I had a few minutes of class left after finishing one of my lessons, so I asked a group of seniors what "turn't up" meant.  After the laughter that inevitably results from my questions on slang died down, I get a mixture of voices yelling, "Partying," and "Getting wasted" paired with raise-the-roof gestures and bodies dancing behind desks.

I focus on the young lady sitting closest to me and hear her say, "It's like getting crazy."

"In my day, we called it 'getting amped', is that what you mean?"


I need to read my own blog posts. Not only was I trying to use slang clarify a definition of slang, but I was using slang of my generation. I probably could have said, "we called it 'getting ugga-bugga'" and would have gotten the same response. At least she wouldn't have known that "getting amped" ususally mean consumption of methaphentomine.

Lil Jon
Fortunately, I went in with a pretty good idea what "turn't up" meant: increasing the energy level of a social situation through being more boisterous and less inhibited, usually with the assistance of drinking, drugs,and music. Nevertheless, I wanted to clarify if, getting "turn't up" required drinking and drug use. Could one drink too many espressos, throw on the Motely Crue, and get "turn't up?" Do teens who do not experiment (or become dependent on) drinking and drugs use the term?

Several students said, "no" but with some hesitation.  My guess was that the answer was really "yes," but they were trying to protect me from the iniquities of teenage life. You know, because when I was in high school I didn't nothing more devious than drinking Diet Rite Cola and playing Candyland. On nights I really wanted to take it to another level, I busted out the Monopoly and regular Rite Cola.

While trying to get a consensus on the role of illicit party favors in the definition, a student said, "It's because of the song!"

Lil Wayne
"What song?" I asked.

" 'Turn't Down for What' by Lil Jon."

This brought on a couple more questions from me:  "Do you use 'turn't down' too?" and "I thought it was Lil Wayne."

No on both accounts.  Apparently there is a Lil Jon as well as a Lil Wayne, a Lil Kim, a Lil Fizz, a Lil Bibby, a Lil Boosie, and a Lil Bub. And while using "turn't up" is cool, "turn't down" is lame.

My students exhorted me to look up the lyrics to the song.  I did and they provided no further insight. In fact, the entire song is a repetition of these three lines:  Fire up loud/ Another round of shots/ Turned down for what?

"These lyrics aren't saying anything profound," I said.  "In fact, they aren't saying much of anything at all."

I am assured that if I listen to the song, it will enrich my understanding. I was not sure how, but I played the song.  As it turned out, I had heard the song before, quite a bit actually, but since my clubbing days are quite over and have been for several years, I related it to a funny cat video on Youtube called ""Kitten Jam Turned Down for What."  I admit, it does have a good beat.

But the lyrics = lame.

"Fire up loud" means smoke weed.

"Another round of shots" means another round of shots.

"Turned down for what?" has a couple interpretations.  One is "I am not turning down any weed or shots;" another, "why not get wasted?" If Lil Jon could let Lil Ol' Holly know which interpretation he meant, I would greatly appreciate it.

And the next time anyone makes fun of Whitesnake, Poison, or Warrant, I am just going to turn up Kitten Jam on Youtube.