Back to School Means Goals

CindyCarrollEA new school year always means goals to me. Like the goals I create at the beginning of every year, when a new school year starts in September I feel the need to create goals again. Or at least look at the ones I had and reassess. For us the schools start again on Tuesday next week. I live in a University town so the coming weekend will bring lots of students back to the city and we’ll welcome new students here for the first time. Some of the major roads going through town are closed next Saturday for most people to help the students moving in get where they need to go.

From Depositphotos Copyright kzlobastov
From Depositphotos Copyright kzlobastov
This year going hand in hand with the goals reassessment is end of summer cleaning. My brother in-law is going to be visiting in October for Thanksgiving so this is the perfect time to scrub the house and get everything (my office included) in order. I will be going through all the rooms in the house and getting rid of things we don’t use anymore. Donating things that can be used by others in need of them. Once the house is spotless and my office looks like an office it will stay like that. I’m actually looking forward to diving into the rooms this weekend. Tossing things that I meant to get rid of years ago. The garage has turned into my replacement storage unit. When I empty the storage unit I did no purging. We just moved everything from there to the garage. I loved getting rid of the monthly bill but now I’d like my garage back.

Also part of my back to school plan is a writing goal. It’s lofty. It’s going to be hard. But I’m determined to succeed at this goal. I can’t reveal what it is yet but I will go into it in my September post. It involves a lot more writing than I’ve been doing and lot more publishing. I think I can do it.

Once the house is order again I think I’d like to have a dinner party. Or a party period. It seems we haven’t had people over to the house in ages and it would be nice to entertain again.

What does back to school mean to you?

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ReflectionsFinal2A road trip without a plan sounded like a good idea when Lena and her friends hit the road. After hours of driving in the heat in a cramped car they’re all ready for something to eat and a good night’s rest.

Reflections Inn looks perfect for the group of friends. A little run down, it hides a supernatural horror. A curse that replaces people with their repressed alter egos forces the friends to fight for their lives. Duplicates who lack restraint, crave gratification emerge from the mirrors. Too late they realize they didn’t know each other as well as they thought.

One by one, Lena’s friends learn the truth about their repressed emotions, their suppressed violent urges.

What doesn’t kill them can only make them stronger.

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your Profile PhotoThis post by Jennifer Flaten

I love school supply time. Okay, so I don’t love having to purchase an entire warehouse full of supplies, but I do love the idea of all those fresh new notebooks, pencils and yes, even tubes of glue. There is so much promise in all those lovely blank notebooks. They are  just waiting to be filled.

And, what could be better than a box of freshly sharpened color pencils. We have an entire container of now dull colored pencils. Yes, we have multiple pencil sharpeners, but who wants to stand there sharpening a pile of pencils!

When the kids were smaller and still did art projects and coloring I would love the sound of them sifting through the crayon/colored pencils looking for the perfect crayon. In order to be perfect it had to be the right color and it had to be sharpened or at least not worn down to a dull nub.

One of my daughters refused to use the “nakedy” crayons, those that had no wrapper, she didn’t like how the crayon felt in her hand.

As the kids get older their school supply lists change from crayons, markers and colored pencils to loose leaf paper, post it notes and binders. There is nothing fun about purchasing 15 black 3” three ring binders.

I might just have to pick up a box of colored pencils and an adult coloring book just for myself. How about you, do you love new supplies?

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It’s a Classic

This post by Jennifer Flaten

How do you feel about “Classic Literature”? Is is something that you seek out or is it something that you vaguely remember reading for your school work and after slogging through ‘Moby Dick’ it is something you’ve vowed never to read again?

Personally, I had to read a lot of “classic literature” for my english classes, yet I still feel that I missed out on some, or might have appreciated them more if I wasn’t forced to read them.

Maybe it isn’t even the reading part, it was the dissecting them in English class. Nothing will turn you off a book then listening to a bunch of 12th graders parse what the author meant….or maybe that is just me.

Really, I liked ‘Lord of the Flies’ and a lot of the Shakespeare when I read them on my own, but listening to my classmates dissect what the whale symbolized made me want to bead them about the head with a harpoon.

The girls have an end of the year english project that includes reading one “classic” and one contemporary book and doing a compare and contrast.

One kid found it easy to pick out her two books. She selected an Agatha Christie and a George Orwell, although she hated ‘Animal Farm’ with an undying passion so I am not sure how she is going to react to ‘1984’.

My other daughter is struggling to find something she will enjoy, and she is the type of reader who must enjoy what she is reading or she won’t do it.

She is interested Jane Austen but felt a couple of the books were a little long. Hey it is staller de ilustracion digital - 428chool work after all she wants to get it done with as little energy expended as possible. I encouraged her to try Emma because it seemed the most lighthearted of the lot.

So far she hasn’t cracked ‘Emma’ open but she did take one of my SciFi (lite) books ‘Carter and Lovecraft’ and I am very interested to see how she contrasts that to ‘Emma’!

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Gift Of Words


This post is by Joe Stephens


In my other life I’m a teacher, as you can tell from many of my posts. I enjoy that job because I love being around young people. Some of the experiences I’ve had with them over the years will live with me forever and I have many lifelong friends among my former students.

Some lessons and activities I’ve done a time or two, while others have happened every year without fail because they just work so well that they

Poonam Jenna
Sometimes former students become family instead of friends.

become tradition. One of the most memorable activities we do every year is the Gift of Words presentation right before Christmas break. I can’t take credit for it. Like much of what I learned about teaching AP English, I got this from Dan and Becky Daniel, my mentors.


It’s really a multi-faceted activity, but the heart of it is asking the students to share gifts of words with others. The idea is that, in these modern times, we tend to think of a gift as something we buy for someone, but one of the greatest gifts we could ever give someone we love is the gift of words from our hearts. So my kids write a sonnet to a loved one as well as a letter. Then, in class on the last couple of days before break, they share a gift of words that they’ve received. Sometimes it’s a letter or sonnet from another student or former student. Other times it’s a passage from their favorite book or an acceptance letter from their dream college.

  Sometimes the presentations are lighthearted, but once in a while the event takes a more emotional turn. Some of the most poignant ones have been letters written to the students by loved ones who have since passed away. That the kids feel comfortable enough in my classroom to share something so personal and sad is a gift I don’t take for granted.

We end the time with the exchange of traditional English Christmas crackers, which are small gift-wrapped cylinders (think toilet paper or paper towel roll) filled with small little trinkets and candy, as well as a brief greeting for the new year, since this is the last time we’ll see each other until the next year.

Cas and Dev
Last day of school with some beloved former students

Aside from the goodbye PowerPoint presentation I give on the last day of school, it’s the time I’m most likely to cry. I’m a big crybaby and I think it’s important that my students–especially the boys–see that it’s okay for a man to cry. And, bar none, it’s my favorite thing that we do together the entire year. The kids have great fun and so do I. But it’s a lot more than fun. It’s meaningful. And that’s more important.


Joe Stephens is a teacher at Parkersburg High School. He is also the author of Harsh Prey, Kisses and Lies, and the recently released In the Shadow, all of which are available in paperback and Kindle formats. The paperback may be purchased from Createspace, Amazon, and most online booksellers. In the real world, you may purchase from J & M Used Book Store in Parkersburg and from the author’s trunk.

ITS Cover ArtCheck out his newest book on Amazon

kindle cover

Take a look at Harsh Prey on Amazon 

Kisses and Lies Cover Michele croppedTake a look at Kisses and Lies on Amazon

Join Joe on Facebook 

Check out joe’s website.

Good People Are All Around

1This post is by Joe Stephens

I’m so tired I can barely think straight, so I hope this make sense. But the reason I’m so tired is what I want to talk about. I spent today at my school’s fall blood drive. I usually just help with these events, but the person who normally supervises them is in Texas right now, having witnessed the debacle that was the WVU-TCU football game. So, with the help of a few folks that covered my classes and a couple others who came and worked when they could, I was the shepherd of the Student sleeping, bed, covers, pillows, arm, handCouncil blood drive committee. It was a long but satisfying day.

It started with us getting tables and chairs and putting out refreshments to finish setting up the gym where the drive would take place. Much of that had been done by my good friend Michelle Swisher the night before. Michelle also covered most of my classes so I could work in the gym all day. Soon after, the Red Cross van arrived and the kids jumped in hauling boxes and crates with no prompting whatever. The Red Cross folks pointed out where to put things and the kids did all the heavy lifting without a cross word.

Once the drive started, donors were greeted by students who checked them in. Once each donation was complete, other students escorted donors from the donation area to the canteen, where they handed them off to still other volunteers who got them drinks and snacks and watched over them to make sure no one had any ill effects from giving blood. There were also people carrying the donated blood from the donor tables to the area where it was cataloged and stored.

Throughout the day, when something needed done, I was never short of more than one volunteer. They sought out custodians, delivered items to the office, fetched drinks–whatever needed done. And always with a smile.

At the end of the day, it was all done in reverse. Refill the truck, take the tables and chairs back, and clean up the canteen. And again, not a word of complaint from anyone. In fact, almost every single one of the students thanked me for helping them. Sometimes it’s easy to generalize and say today’s teenagers are self-absorbed, shallow brats. But anyone who says that just needs to come to one of these events and they’ll see it’s just not true. These kids make me confident that we’re not in as bad a shape as a lot of people think in this country.

So, to all you kids in the Parkersburg High School Student Council, here’s to you. I’m proud of you and I’m sure your other teachers are too.

Joe Stephens is a teacher at Parkersburg High School. He is also the author of Harsh Prey, Kisses and Lies, and the recently released In the Shadow, all of which are available in paperback and Kindle formats. The paperback may be purchased from Createspace, Amazon, and most online booksellers. In the real world, you may purchase from J & M Used Book Store in Parkersburg and from the author’s trunk.

ITS Cover ArtCheck out his newest book on Amazon

kindle cover

Take a look at Harsh Prey on Amazon 

Kisses and Lies Cover Michele croppedTake a look at Kisses and Lies on Amazon

Join Joe on Facebook 

Check out joe’s website.

Summer’s Over – Or Is It by Erin Farwell

IMG_3021_1I live in Georgia, where the summers are scorching and school starts in August. Yes, August. Fulton County schools started yesterday, the latest start for schools in our area.

When my daughter was young, the start of the school year was difficult for both of us. All summer we had slept in, read, played, dinked around, and generally had a great time together. As Willow has gotten older, I have taken on more responsibilities outside of child rearing including fiction and freelance writing, teaching, and volunteering on the PTA board. Since she started middle school, I work most CIMG0659summer weekdays but she gets one “fun day” per week where she picks an activity that we do together. It’s a good compromise but not the same, though we still enjoy a good sleep-in.

Yesterday she started 8th grade and I am left to wonder where the time has gone and how I kept my sanity this summer. I remember the sense of loss and anxiety I felt as she went off for her first day of Kindergarten and I wonder where the time went. When did she get so smart, talented, confident, and beautiful and how did I survive a summer with this same teenager who is figuring out her place in the world and driving me crazy in the process?

IMG_20150810_075703 (2)She was ready to go back to school this week and I was ready for her to go. I have freelance writing commitments and my next manuscript absolutely, positively has to be turned into my publisher by mid-November. I have PTA committees to oversee and classes to teach starting in September. My mother and I are going to Bouchercon in October and I’ll be helping a friend run some art booths at a few shows. I want to spend time with friends, especially the Moms’ night out crew, Jodi, and Stephanie. Steph and I were roommates in Chicago and she moved down here this spring. Given my crazy schedule I haven’t been able to spend much time with her but hopefully that will change now that school is back in session.


Actually, I am hoping several things will happen now that school has started again. I plan to create and stick to a stringent writing schedule, keep the house clean, make healthy and flavorful meals, exercise at least three days per week, and, as long as I’m fantasizing, lose 20 pounds and shave off a few years while eating tons of chocolate. A woman can dream.

The odd thing is that in Georgia, for those of us with kids, we are asking ourselves, “Where did the summer go?” People without kids or who live in other parts of the country, look at us like we’re crazy and say, “What are you talking about? It’s still August.”

How is your summer going?

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Back to School Shopping

This post by Jennifer Flaten

The school supply list posted last week. I figured it was bound to arrive soon, after all the stores have not only placed the school supplies on the shelves, but they have Christmas items waiting at the fringes of the store ready to knock the school supplies off the shelf and rush us into the holidays.

I printed out the list and the kids immediately pored over it, as if it contained the secrets of the universe, and maybe it does. Perhaps, if you have just the right pen, just the right notebook and the exact three ring binder then your school year will go perfectly.  file491253208393

From the master list the girls created individual color-coded and indexed shopping lists. Armed with these lists and grandma they descended on Target for an epic shopping spree.

Each notebook, pen and binder was carefully examined and chosen, not for their usefulness or perceived longevity, but for how aesthetically pleasing they were. Finally carts laden with colorful notebooks, pens and pencils the shopping trip was done, list complete mission successful.

Ah, but it doesn’t end there. Once home the items must be spilled out onto the floor and admired. Then it must be redecorated. Yes, that notebook that was purchased because it was the perfect shade of pink needs just a little bit of enhancement from washi tape, glitter and glue. Now it’s perfect.

Then everything is arranged by class and shoved into the backpack where it stays until the first day of school.

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Summer As a Weekend by Joe

This post is by Joe Stephens

This post is appearing in late June, but I’m writing it on Memorial Day, the date known to many as the unofficial start to summer. And the weather today is really bearing that out. Warm and muggy with the promise of thunderstorms over the next day or so.

It might sound odd (seems like I say that a lot), but I think the Memorial Day weekend is my favorite part of summer. And it’s for the same reason that Friday afternoon is my favorite part of a weekend. They share a lot of characteristics, as do various parts of weekends and summer. Stick with me and hopefully this will make sense by the end. Or not. But I’ll enjoy it either way.

Before I go any further, let me say that I’m not in any way trying to make light of or be disrespectful about the true meaning of Memorial Day. I am deeply grateful for the sacrifice so many men and women have made to maintain the american, flag, blue, sky, United States, USA, stars and stripesunparalleled freedoms we share here in the United States. Please accept my thanks.

Now, on to the reason I’m writing this.

Why is Friday afternoon my favorite part of the weekend? Several reasons. First, it’s the very beginning. It’s  as early as it can possibly be and still be the weekend. The whole rest of the freedom is stretched out before me. Plus, on Frgirl, woman, field, grass, nature, sunshine, sunny, summer, dress, fashion, peopleiday night, I can stay up later than during the week because I don’t usually have to set an alarm the next morning. Saturday is the bulk of the weekend, but on Saturday night I can’t stay up all hours like I can on Friday because I go to church on Sunday morning, so I have to get to bed at a semi-decent hour. And as a school teacher, Sunday after church and lunch with family and/or friends is usually just pre-school stuff. Grading, planning, reading (that I have to do, as opposed to reading I choose to do), preparing. It’s barely the weekend at all.

So what has that to do with Memorial Day? Well, it’s essentially the Friday of the season. It’s as early as it can be and still be, by any definition, summer. As a teacher of seniors, I’m even finished teaching for the year. The whole rest of the warm, relaxed, fun-filled days lie ahead of me. It’s pure potential. For more than two months, any school related activity I do will be purely voluntary.

The time from my last actual day of school right up to July 4th is Saturday. The couple weeks after Independence Day are Saturday night. As much as I hate to, I have to start getting back into the habit of going to bed at a decent hour and getting up early so that when school starts I won’t take all the way to Halloween getting acclimated. So it’s still fun, but the end of summer starts to be visible off on the horizon.

It used to be, back when I was a student, that Labor Day was the Sunday night of summer. I can clearly remember staying up most of the night watching Jerry Lewis and Ed McMahon on the telethon and my mom not letting me sleep all day because of those four dreaded words: “It’s a school night.”fireworks, sky, night, dark, smoke, evening, entertainment, people, spectators, crowd

Now, though, Labor Day is more like Monday afternoon. My first day back to school in the year coming up will be August 11, so the end of July and the first third of August are analogous in my mind to Sunday. It’s barely even summer at all. Football, soccer, and volleyball practices have started, autumn decorations are on sale in all the stores, and I’m in my room more regularly getting ready to start the year. If I close my eyes and breathe deeply, I can even smell it in the air. August, though still technically summer, starts to take on a different odor. No longer do we smell the perfumesfarm, fields, hay, rolls, grass, country, sky, clouds, sunshine of flowers and budding trees, their scents slowly being replaced by those of dying vegetation: piles of brown leaves, the rich loamy smell of a garden plowed under for the season, and the pungent whiff of bailed hay that was moist, verdant grass just a few weeks earlier.

None of this is to say I dislike Monday or autumn. I love my job, but by Friday, I’m usually ready for a break. Time to decompress and do something different—or just less. Summer is the weekend of the year in a lot of ways. And Memorial Day is the Friday of that weekend. Who knows what magic lies before me? I can’t wait to find out.

So what’s your favorite season?

Joe Stephens is a teacher at Parkersburg High School. He is also the author of Harsh Prey and Kisses and Lies, both of which are available in paperback and Kindle formats. The paperback may be purchased from
Amazon, from J & M Used Book Store in Parkersburg, and from the author’s trunk.

kindle cover

Take a look at Harsh Prey on Amazon 

Kisses and Lies Cover Michele croppedTake a look at Kisses and Lies on Amazon

Join Joe on Facebook 

Check out joe’s website.


Jennifer FlatenThis post by Jennifer Flaten

School starts next week. Today the kids and I stopped at school so they could drop off the rest of their school supplies. As always, we are behind. We should have dropped all our supplies off at registration but we didn’t have the shopping list complete.

Do you remember when school supplies were simply a few pencils and a notebook? Maybe, if you were extra cool you brought a Trapper Keeper.

These days the kids must come equipped with three ring binders, pens in a variety of colors and oddly, three rolls of scotch tape. I wonder if they are going to school or performing a financial audit.

Of course, in addition to dropping off their supplies, the girls wanted to decorate their home away from home for the next nine months. So, they brought in pictures, magnets, and cute little baskets to hold all their stuff. One of the girls even clipped a package of spearmint gum to her locker door. Now, her locker will smell refreshingly minty. IMG_5910_

They spent a lot of time deciding just where they should hang each picture (the dog got top billing over the cat). My son, on the other hand, simply shoved all his stuff in his locker and slammed the door before it could escape.

The only decoration the boy wants for his locker is a disco ball, sadly I have yet to find a locker sized disco ball so his locker is plain.

I don’t remember having too many decorations in my locker, maybe a picture or two. How about you?

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It’s Twins

Jennifer FlatenThis post by Jennifer Flaten

In honor of the twin’s 13th birthday, I thought I would tell you what it is like to have twins. Everyone has heard the story about the newborn twins that are instinctively joined as one. In their bassinette, one twin reaches over and grabs the other twin’s hand.

Yeah, well, I don’t have that kind of twins. After daughter number one arrived, daughter number two refused to leave. Enjoying all the newfound space, she stretched her arms above her head and refused to leave.

The doctor paused my labor and we waited for kid 2 to switch into proper birth position, and we waited and we waited. It was clear she wasn’t coming out. So, he put the ultrasound wand on my stomach and chased her around until she turned in proper position.

When she finally arrived, she didn’t seem to impressed that her sister was there. No hand holding for them. During the first year, I looked for signs of “twin-ness”. None appeared.

They liked each other well enough, but didn’t seem to disturbed when they were separated. Occasionally, if I had one girl alone, she would look around as if to say “boy I’m sure glad that other guy went home”.

As they got older, they started to enjoy each other company a little more, even getting into mischief together, like the great crib breakout. file1311297121136

One night, after putting them to bed I heard a bit of thumping and shuffling. I opened their door to find them standing in front of the changing table with diapers on their heads. Apparently, they thought they were hats.

Over the years, there have been many adventures and some mishaps, and many accusations of one kid stealing another kids thunder, but overall they seem to enjoy their twin status.

Now nothing irritates them more than having a teacher confuse them, as they insist they look nothing alike.

This fall is the first year they will be in separated in school. They have only one class and lunch together and their lockers are miles apart. Can’t wait to see how this year goes.

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