Waldorf Rhythm – Musically Speaking

FullSizeRenderIf you’ve done any reading at all about Waldorf education, you have surely encountered Waldorf’s three R’s: rhythm, rhythm and rhythm. Yes, rhythm is a BIG DEAL in Waldorf world! Visit any Waldorf-inspired blog and you will likely find a post. Google “Waldorf rhythm” and you get 461K results! Pinterest is full of Waldorf rhythm pins and every Waldorf book will include it. In fact, there are actually entire Waldorf books just about rhythm – why you need one, what it is, how to tweak it, what to put in it, how to get your family doing it, etc.  Every website I’ve visited, every book I’ve read, when they get to the practical steps to establishing a Waldorf home starts with rhythm. There’s just no escaping it, no skipping it, no racing on to the gnomes, play silks and knitting. Even if you do race on to the gnomes, play silks and knitting…you will eventually find yourself back where you started trying to figure out rhythm!

If you haven’t done any reading at all about Waldorf education, check out the links on this post. For rhythm-specific reading, my favorites can be found here on Waldorf Essentials by Melisa Nielsen and this post at Waldorf Inspired Learning. These ladies do an amazing job of explaining what you need to know about rhythm – what it is, why you need it, how to do it, etc.

Fortunately for me, we already had a good start on rhythm before coming to Waldorf. I don’t consider myself to be especially organized, but I am a rather regularish sort of person – a regularish sort of person with two small children I homeschool, a household to run and a menagerie to tend. Out of necessity, I have had routines in place for a long time! But as I dove into my rhythm reading, I realized that what I was doing was not a rhythm. A rhythm is not simply “Breakfast at 7, Lunch at 12, Rest at 1” or “clear the table, put away leftovers, wash the dishes” or even “floors on Monday, bathrooms on Tuesday, kitchen on Wednesday” – a rhythm is so much more!

Rhythm is a pattern of in breaths and out breaths.

??????????

Yeah. That breath thing made no sense to me. So, I read some more and then put it into terms that mean something to me – music terms!

What does rhythm mean in music? Well, as a Kodaly-inspired educator, this means the children first learn to “pat steady” to a bank of folk songs. Once they can do this, then I give them the term “steady beat” to name that constant patting, stomping, clapping, dancing heartbeat they have experienced. Then I guide them to identify that the words of the songs don’t plod along following that steady beat exactly, one word to a beat. Some words do fall exactly on the beat – but some crowd together and move faster than the beat. And sometimes there are no words at all – just a beat or more of total silence. Once the children have found places in their familiar songs that do all of these things, I give them the term “rhythm” to name the concept of patterns of short and long sounds and silences. Next come the names for those sounds and silences – quarter note, eighth note pair and so on.

As their musical repertoire grows and they create their own songs, we explore how different rhythmic patterns evoke different moods and sensations and this is where Waldorf rhythm starts to make sense to me! They experience the excitement – and exhaustion! – of many rapidly repeated notes, of accelerando (speeding up). They feel soothed by a succession of slow, sustained notes and ritardando (slowing down). They feel anticipation or completion at a rest and the engagement that happens when rhythms vary, the lack of satisfaction when changes are too abrupt.

Here is the song we were singing before I thought about home rhythm in these terms.

Daily Rhythm
6:00             Good Morning!
6:30             Breakfast, clear table; dress, teeth, hair.
7:30             Outside Play/Mom does chores
8:30             Monday – Friday: Main Lesson; Saturday – Sunday: Free play.
9:30             Snack Time
                     Monday – Friday: Lively Arts
                     Saturday: Library/Baseball
                     Sunday: Free Play
12:00           Lunch, clear table
                     Free Play
1:00             Rest Period
3:00             Walk Dog
                     Free Play/Housework and Dinner Prep
5:30             Evening Activities
6:30             Dinner
7:30             Shower, Pajamas, Teeth, Etc. Maybe a story if we aren’t furious with each other.
8:00             Good Night!…maybe. Probably not. Up and down, and round and round.

You can see there was a lot of free play while I tried to get things done – free play that usually became a free-for-all. Someone almost always got hurt, something almost always got destroyed – and I wasn’t really getting any of those things done I was trying to do! And meals and rest times were battlegrounds!

My study of Waldorf rhythm has brought me to compose something new – a day with rhythmic variety without any abrupt changes. I’ve tried to alternate “rapid notes” and “slow notes” and I make sure we have some strategic “rests” as well. I’ve also thought about transitions and incorporated accelerandi and ritardandi  to eliminating abrupt shifts.

 

James with Flowers
Happy boy!

Of course, I am also learning that no matter where we are in our rhythm, my active engagement is required. We can alternate degrees of my active engagement – I can teach a lesson, then work on computer, read them a story, then fold laundry while they play – but I can’t check out for long stretches of the day to play on Facebook clean. I can have tiny little breaks – a quarter rest, maybe even a half rest – but no tacit for mommy! (A tacit is when a musician has rests for a really long time, pages even.)

 

Armed with a new understanding of rhythm, our days now look like this:

Daily Rhythm
6:00     Good Morning!
6:30     Breakfast, clear table, dress, teeth and hair
Morning Home Care (Daily chores we do together)
             Outside Play & Nature Walk
8:30     Monday – Friday: Main Lesson
             Saturday – Sunday: Free Play/Special Time
9:30     Snack Time
Monday – Friday: Lively Arts
Saturday: Library/Baseball
Sunday: Free Play
12:00    Lunch, clear table
              Story Time
1:00      Rest Period
3:00      Walk Dog
Afternoon Home Care (Major chores we do once a week, together)
Handwork
Meal Preparation (which we often do together)
Free Play
5:30      Evening Activities
6:30      Dinner
7:30      Shower, Pajamas, Teeth, Etc.
Story
8:00     Good Night!

Daily Rhythm

You can see that our morning time still begins with a lot of focused activity – eating, getting dressed, morning chores. I have accepted that I am going to have be actively involved many times – they aren’t going to dress, etc., without my being present in their room. This sustained concentrated effort is hard for Scooter and Cheech (and me…) but once done, they get to slow down and play outside and I finish up my morning routine. After a short time on their own, I take them on a nature walk. This time acts as a gradual accelerando into main lesson time and has been smooth sailing since the change! (Gnomes be praised!) Lively Arts act as a lovely little ritardando right through lunch and story culminating in a satisfying and welcome rest.  After rest, we jump right into activity/accelerando – walking the dog and hard-core housework (together!). Handwork, which is somewhat active (mentally) but also relaxing (physically) creates a great ritardando into dinner prep time and free play. Our evening activities are usually another series of “rapid notes” before our final ritardando – dinner, getting ready for bed and a story. By the time we get to bedtime, that rest is (mostly) welcome. Some days circumstances (illness, baseball practice, torrential rains) intervene and we have to rearrange – we play jazz and improvise.  But having once established the rhythm, we can easily reestablish it after any departure.

Of course, rhythm is only one part of those changes, but it is a BIG part! My kids are getting regular doses of intense mental/physical activity and interaction with me and each other throughout the day as well as and regular doses of less intense activity and interaction. Overall, they are calmer, more cooperative and we are more connected. And that is good for all families, right? Not just homeschool families or Waldorf families!

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Waldorf Homeschool Resources

photo
Spring Nature Table

After a year of cobbling together my own curriculum…I am done. D. O. N. E. DONE. Scooter is done, mama is done, we are done. Maybe I’ll blog about it later, maybe not. I have a lot I could say that maybe someone somewhere might find helpful, but that will just have to wait for now. I am up to my eyeballs in a complete paradigm shift as we change course radically and implement a Waldorf-inspired packaged curriculum from Oak Meadow. I am excited about it, it is amazing, it is changing our family dynamic and I’d love to share about all of that in great detail – but it will just have to wait!

In the meantime, several of my homeschooling friends are very curious about what we are doing  and have asked me to share a few resources I’ve found helpful. There is a ton of information available, so these are just things I’ve found and loved so far in no particular order.

Websites

Oak Meadow

Waldorf-Inspired Learning

Waldorf Without Walls

The Waldorf Homeschool Connection

Moon Child

The Online Waldorf Library

Waldorf Homeschoolers

Books

The Heart of Learning

Waldorf Education: A Family Guide

Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside out

Seven Times the Sun: Guiding Your Child Through the Rhythms of the Day

Materials

Oak Meadow Bookstore

Waldorf Books

Bella Luna Toys

And, of course, Etsy. Beware. If you search, “Waldorf Toys” you will be on there a long, long, long time and you will spend all your money.

Let me know what you find and love! Happy reading!

Dear First Year Teacher in a Title I School

My first three years of teaching were in a Title I school, a school that received grants because of the number of high-needs students it served. During the 2009-2010 school year, 56,000 Title I schools served 21 million students. That’s a lot of schools and a lot of kids. And there will be many teachers starting their careers in these schools this year. According to this article from the National Education Association, “It’s one of the harsh paradoxes of teaching: the schools least prepared to support new teachers—that is, low-income, low-performing facilities—are the ones where most new teachers are sent.”

So like thousands of other new teachers, I started my career in a tough position. The first year was, in a word, awful. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, in fact. Why was it so awful? I started six weeks into the school year replacing a teacher who just disappeared one day. He had enough and just didn’t show up for work; we learned later he had moved about an hour and a half away. The teacher before him lasted one semester – as had the two teachers before her. I was the fourth teacher in this classroom in two years. The kids expected me to leave them. (Many of them wanted me to leave them!) But it was an awful year not because of those circumstances. It was an awful year because I was so poorly prepared for the job. Not in the academic sense; I have a Master’s degree in my subject area and received intensive training and weekly mentoring for classroom management and facilitation of learning. I just had no grid for helping children who didn’t know if there would be food over the weekend. No one taught me how to respond when a student asked if she could come live with me, “I have my own blankets, Miss.” What was I supposed to say when a student said I was almost as old as her grandmother at the ripe old age of 28? I had no skills for dealing with in-your-face defiance from the campus drug dealer – much less from the teenage girls who made running me off a game or point of pride – or in supporting children suffering from untreated mental illness. No one could teach me those things, either. No book or manual or class could bring about what needed to happen: a complete paradigm shift. The children and families I served were not lazy. They were not “working the system.” The vast majority were not drug abusers or child abusers or amoral or gang  members. In fact, most of them worked hard. Most did not relish receiving public assistance and would give what little they had away to help someone else. Most were clean and sober and loved their children fiercely. Most were working hard in legal occupations – certainly harder than my family had ever worked – against much steeper odds to have less and to stay on the same rung of the socioeconomic ladder generation after generation.  My middle-class upbringing left me grossly unequipped for teaching children from extreme, generational poverty, children who were first-generation Americans or children from families affected by inequity in our judicial system. My students and their families changed me for the better. But, man, was I an awful teacher that first year!

Fortunately, my friend starting her teaching career in a Title I school is so much more enlightened than I was; she is not mired in the rhetoric of the privileged class or blinded by buy-in to the bootstrap mythology. But even so, I know the year will be a challenge. I’ve written her a letter, and because I know there are thousands of others out there who find themselves in the same circumstances, I will share it here.

Dear Friend,

I am so proud and excited for your new venture! You are going to be an awesome teacher and your students are going to have a great year with you. I know you are excited and nervous (and all the other feelings), but I just know everything is going to be great. We’ve talked  about it before, but I think it needs saying just one more time before you walk in the classroom tomorrow. All your feelings are okay. All of them.

It’s okay to feel exhausted, physically and emotionally. The emotional roller coaster and the paperwork, the meetings, the planning, the resource gathering, the professional development – plus more – are draining. You will spend hours on bulletin boards and practice packets and lab trays. Since you are just starting out, you will have to make many of your materials – or spend weekends scouring garage sales for treasures you can use or bargain stores for supplies your students can use. You might ask for people’s trash. And you will likely feel so very tired many days. Not as tired as you were during the first six weeks of your babies’ lives, but pretty dang close. Plan now for some rest. Make time to recharge – or you might be that teacher with the nagging cough from October through February. Take care of yourself. No one benefits if you run yourself into the ground.

It’s okay to feel sadness and even despair. There certainly will be children who have suffered neglect, abuse and/or the near-crippling effects of generational poverty who act out those feelings of betrayal and distrust with extreme anger and defiance. There may be children (and colleagues) who are so hateful – to other children, to you, to entire groups of people – that you despair of teaching, of the next generation, of humanity in general. Weep for them and the way things are, the way things have been. Weep for feeling overwhelmed and under-equipped to meet a need so vast and so deep. Cry some big ugly tears. (Just do NOT do it in front of the children. Really.)  Let your heart be broken; you know that light shines more brightly through our cracks.

10 Ways to Improve Public Schools

One of the best things about being a homeschooling mom who was and remains a certified public school teacher is that I am in a unique position to say what I really think about the current state of affairs in public education without sounding self- serving. I have a lot to say – don’t get me started unless you want an earful! In summary I believe in free, high-quality public education for all and I will fight for it until my last breath. Period. The End. Many people – even those who homeschool and even those without children or whose children are long grown – share that sentiment. I am proud to call many of these people friends. On a recent Facebook thread for another teacher friend, some of these amazing people asked what they could do to help their local schools, teachers and students, and I was only too happy to share 10 Ways to Improve Public Schools!

1. Buy gift cards to stores that sell school supplies and grocery items (many of us buy food for our students as well as paper/pencils).

2. Join your PTSA and if there isn’t one to join, start one.

3. Volunteer in the classroom or in the school office. If you can’t spare time during the work day, call and ask how you can help at home – cutting out bulletin boards, collating homework packets, prepping lab supplies.

4. Attend school board meetings. Spend the first few times listening, then participate.

5. Send your child’s teachers a note or small something when you feel the school year is dragging along. The teacher probably feels the same way and could use a pick-me-up, too. A handwritten note, a $5 Starbucks card or just some spiffy new post-its work wonders.

6. Ask your school’s principal if there is a teacher/class/child who needs to be adopted. Then adopt that teacher/class/child, either as a family or as a civic/church group.

7. Ask your school’s principal how you can help at-risk kids. Can you start a tutoring group? A parenting mentor group? A backpack feeding program on the weekends? Teachers can’t do everything, but we will kill ourselves trying.

8. When you catch a teacher being awesome, send a letter. An actual, physical letter. Even the good ones need positives in their folder come evaluation time.

9. Stick up for your teacher – with your kids, with other parents, with the community. If you hear groundless teacher-bashing, stop it. If it has grounds, challenge the person to take it to the right person to get the problem solved.

10. Vote. And I’ll be bold – vote Democrat. Right now, those are the people who are looking for common-sense solutions, equitable funding for all children and asking actual boots-on-the-ground folks for their input.

If you can’t do all of these things all at once, pick five and put them on your calendar. Get involved, speak up, be the change. Teachers need you. We absolutely do.

This year, I’m adopting the classroom of a friend who is beginning her first year of teaching in a low-performing school. I have her first care package ready to go and will send more throughout the year. Locally, I am looking for financial supporters to bring Communities in Schools to our district. We have such a high rate of poverty here that nearly all of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. In fact, the number of non-qualifying students is so low, that our district was easily able to cover the difference so that every child eats free on every campus. Let that sink in for a moment. Communities in Schools is a partnership between the district and CIS to identify and meet needs on campus to improve campus climate, learning, attendance, and graduation rate –  things that schools with high levels of low-SES students typically struggle with. If you want to know more about them, follow this link.

It’s just not enough to sit around and fault-find and complain. We can’t sit around wringing our hands and saying, “Back in my day…” longing for the way things used to be. (Hint: “the way things used to be” is only good for certain groups of people – it wasn’t rainbows and lollipops for everyone.) And it’s really a cop-out to shuttle your children to better schools, private, public, or in the home and say, “Well, MY kid is taken care of – my work here is done!” or “I pay my taxes – that’s my share!” It’s just not enough. We all have to do something to make it better for everyone.

So, what will you do? Be the change.

Where I’ve Been

Before I became a SAHM, I worked part-time and thought it was probably the best of both worlds, if both worlds were to be had. I multi-tasked. I got lots of things done. AND, I got to spend part of my day doing grown-up things, changing the world, yada yada, and part of the day doing mom things, changing the world, yada yada.

But when we decided to have  a second child and I looked at the costs of quality childcare and my paychecks, it was a no-brainer for me to stay home. Sure, we would have to forgo the yard guy and the cleaning lady, but I would be home to do the yard and the cleaning. I wouldn’t be able to drop a few hundred dollars every season on a new wardrobe, but I could just wear mom clothes – you know, jeans and tee shirts and comfy cardigans with a cute pair of shoes. And forget about the trendy hair cuts and nails, because who needs those when you’re cleaning toilets and sculpting play dough, right?

But the main reason I became a SAHM was because, for me, having “the best” of both worlds meant both worlds were rather mediocre. I received great reviews and my classes were thriving – but I knew that I could have been doing so much more for my students if I wasn’t also feeling the tug of hearth and home. My house was mostly clean and we ate many home-cooked meals, but I could be doing so much more if I wasn’t also feeling the weight of responsibilities at work.

I was convinced that things could be excellent instead of just acceptable if only I did one thing full-time. I chose motherhood. Sucker.*

Reality is that things are still fairly mediocre. The house is clean(ish), the laundry gets done (but not put away) and meals are usually at home (though they are often gross kid-friendly things like pizza and spaghetti). My kids certainly see more of me – a LOT more of me since we ended up homeschooling – but I can’t say that being home with my kids almost all the time has made me a better mother. Sacrilege.**

The fact is, I was better at the Hallmark-greeting-card motherhood stuff when I didn’t have to get to do it all the time. The thought process went something like, “I only get to see him three waking hours a day, so let’s make a memory!” Now I think, “Three more hours until bedtime?! You have got to be kidding me!!!”

So, in January, I decided maybe I should pursue some things for just me: exercise, creative writing, curriculum development. And those things were going well. I ran my first 5K in 10+ years, I got an offer for my first book, and people were requesting my curriculum creations. But, you know what wasn’t going well? The motherhood part of the equation. Not well at all.

Scooter started having more frequent temper tantrums. He lashed out at Cheech. He reverted in some key skills like sharing and falling asleep alone at night. But the final straw for this mama was when he started calling the stinkbugs at the park his best friends. Stinkbugs, y’all.

I’m sure it isn’t all due to me taking time for myself. I’m sure it has more to do with moving away from all of our friends and family, the trauma of a terrible school experience, so few activities in this neck of the woods, etc. But whatever the causes, the only thing I can really change is how I spend my own time.***

So, instead of working out/writing/developing curriculum, I’ve been doing anything and everything I can to get my son on solid ground and to make some friends other than Katie, the stinkbug. (They are all named Katie and he thinks he’s finding the same one every day. I’m not going to tell him otherwise.) I’ve been driving him all over kingdom come to camps and play dates. I’ve been making friends with moms who have children his age. We’ve put Cheech in a three-mornings-per-week daycare so that they both can have a break from each other. During that time, Scooter and I do stuff one-on-one.We have a lot of conversations about dinosaurs, animal habitats, and hypothetical situations involving tornadoes and flash floods.

And it’s helping I think. He’s doing better. And that has to be more important to me than that half I wanted to run or the book I wanted to publish. I think it would be to any parent. Do I wish it didn’t require so much of my time? Absolutely. It’s exhausting – especially those conversations about dinosaurs. Shoot me.

Someday, I can write a novel and run a half marathon and even go back to classroom teaching. But not today. And probably not tomorrow, either. But, I personally can’t be the mom my kids need AND write the next great American novel. But the blog will be here when I get back, right? I’ll just be hanging out with Scooter and the stinkbugs for awhile.2015-07-05 11.22.38

*I know, many will say, “Motherhood is your greatest work!” I hope not. Because I am just not very good at it, y’all. If this is my best, that’s just terribly sad.
**It’s just me I’m sure. All the other mommies in the Interwebz have got it all figured out and cherish every little moment with their precious snowflakes. I don’t deserve children. Yada yada.

***”Put him in school!” the people cry. The people don’t live here. The people don’t understand all the factors. Next year, people. Next year.

My Best Work

2015-07-05 11.00.49I’ve been working away on various writing projects–researching, plotting, outlining, writing, revising, editing. I don’t know if any of it will actually be fruitful but I’m plugging away. I realize that most of the time my best work–the stuff I do that will surely be fruitful and have a long-lasting impact–has nothing to do with writing. Today, however, writing did actually result in some best work.

Here is what I wrote today. It’s a stunner. Seriously. Prepare to be wowed.

A bee said, “Buzz! I will sting your butt!” I ran and jumped. I jumped in the lake. The lake is blue and deep. OH, NO! A snake! The snake bit! But it did not bite me–it bit the bee! I am free! The snake ate the bee and swam to a hole. Yippee!

Well, Scooter loved it. It helped him review short vowel sounds, long “e” and final silent “e.” And it was certainly more interesting than some of the other readers we’ve been using. PLUS, it has action! Tension! Plot twists! At Scooter’s prompting, it even ties up loose ends. He just had to know what happened to that snake. And he is the one editor I know who loves exclamation points! Loves! Them! A! Lot!!!

This one will be a bestseller for sure, y’all. For. Sure.

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Weekly Flash Fiction Practice

Do you write flash fiction? Either as your primary form or as a way to practice writing?

book-thumbnailI was reintroduced to the form last year by my friend and mentor, Rachel Crawford, co-editor of Her: Texas, an anthology of fiction and nonfiction, poetry, song, painting and photography by 60+ Texas women. As with anything suggested by successful people in my life, I immediately wanted to know more.

What is it? Back in the day, we just called it a “short short story,” but kids these days call it “flash.” In a nutshell (a very small nutshell – think pistachio, not walnut), flash fiction is a complete story in very few words. It has a protagonist, conflict and a resolution. How many words exactly? Some sources say less than 2K, some say less than 1K. Micro-fiction, a sub-classification of flash fiction, is usually 300 words or less.

Who to read? Chances are you have already read some flash fiction if you’ve read short short stories by Chekhov, O. Henry, or Hemingway. Google “flash fiction” and you will find a treasure trove. Do your own homework and dive in, but for starters, here are 12 Super Short Stories You Can Read in a Flash. Bon appetit.

But I don’t just read flash for fun. I read it to learn. I write it to learn as well. My personal goal is to write 1-2 flash pieces per week. Here’s why.

1. The economy required necessitates doing away with all of the things that bog down the writing. I can’t waste words on backstory, telling instead of showing, dialogue tags, long-winded descriptions, or even adverbs. As my eleventh grade English teacher would say, “Omit useless words!” Every word has to have a purpose – preferably more than one. (If you’re reading this, Mrs. Stanton, you were right!)

2. It’s a great exercise in starting with the action. No one wants to read a story that starts with a preamble. And when writing flash, you can’t use up your word count including it. Stace Budzko, writer and Instructor of “10 Weeks/10 Stories” at Grub Street says, “Think: the final gesture of a love affair, or the start of a good old-fashioned gang fight.” (Read more here.) Who doesn’t love a good gang fight, amiright?

3. I like the high demand on my creative stores. Telling a story, creating a character the reader is invested in, and giving markers as to time and space in less than 1000 words? Challenge accepted.

4. This is a great way to make sure I write every day. If I’m stuck on a larger project, or simply in research phase, I can still do some actual writing (or revising) every day. It fits well with the rhythms of family life. When I’ve thought through what I want to write (usually while folding laundry, washing dishes or scrubbing toilets), I can shoo the kids out the door to hunt worms and frogs and just about the time they start fighting hammer and tongs, I have pounded out a draft of my 800 words. When they nap, I can revise (or write a blog post, or do some research, or whatever I want to get done that day).

5. When I pass it off to my writer friends for their feedback, it doesn’t require them to block out a day or longer to give it their full attention. They can read it, think about it, and respond with helpful comments in a few hours or less. I appreciate my friends’ willingness to help, and I don’t want to monopolize their time.

How do I do it? I get my ideas from interesting people I see or from events from real life. Next, I think about the story arc, about the conflict and how to best show the reader who the characters are. The number of characters is usually fewer than three, but this week’s work-in-progress has seven. Is each one a major player? Of course not. But if a high school English teacher forced a student to dissect the piece and give details about each character with supporting evidence from the text? Doable. (I’m looking at you, Mrs. Stanton.) Omitting useless words goes for speakers, too. Dialogue is sparse and multi-purpose. Generally, a speaker gets one sentence or phrase in the entire piece. There may only be one or two spoken phrases in total. In those phrases, I give hints as to character’s motivation and personality as well as drive the plot forward and/or reveal conflict.

Flash is a great exercise in saying exactly what I mean, and for me, a good way to get better at something I enjoy. It’s a game, an assignment, and it usually ends up in a drawer. But it’s fun and really gets my brain buzzing. Since I’ve cut back on caffeine, I really need that. Try it and let me know what you think.