Thursday, December 31, 2015

Year-End Programming, Part 4

This is it!  I've covered audio, nonfiction, and children's and YA.  Now, I'm listing my favorite adult fiction of 2015.  I read 20 titles in this category this year, down from 28 last year.  I got pretty into nonfiction this year, it turns out, which is a surprising development in my reading life.  Never a dull moment!

In any case, here's are the best five works of adult fiction that I read in 2015!

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina HenrĂ­quez. This novel about Maribel and Mayor, two first-generation immigrant kids who live in the same apartment complex in Delaware, is a slow build. I began it as a summer reading assignment, and it wasn't until the last chapter that I realized the deliberate, compelling structure and beautiful prose.  It sticks.  It's worthwhile.  It's highly accomplished.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. Ambitious and entrancing, this is a collection of interlacing stories about the inhabitants and relations of a particular house in Kabul. The novel spans generations and continents, and it's peppered with surprising and gorgeous sentences. It's heartbreaking and hopeful, with a moving sibling reunion that resonated.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.  This is a spellbinding novel about a flu epidemic that wipes out 99% of world's population.  I'm usually not one for disaster scenarios, but I couldn't stop reading this. Mandel weaves the stories several survivors with flashbacks to the world as we know it.  Gorgeous, sad, and ultimately hopeful, this novel made me care intensely about each lead character.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty.  I covered this book in the audio books post.  I'll just add here that pretty much everyone I know who's read this book also loves it.  It's got wide appeal.  When my friend Jordan recommended it to me, she said, "Don't be deterred by the dumb title."  That was excellent advice.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.  Last year's "unlike anything I've ever read" was A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. This year's is Offill's slim and genre-bending novel about a marriage.  The wife (she's nameless) narrates the story of her partnership - the early flutterings, the endless days of parenting a baby and then a toddler, the fraught landscape of betrayal, and the spiraling nature of the ordinary.  I read it in a couple of hours, and then I started over.  This is the other contender, alongside The Crossover, for my favorite read of the year.

And that's it!  So many fabulous finds.  Here are my next favorites:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

And here are the others I liked a lot:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
Euphoria by Lily King
The Hand That Feeds You by A.J. Rich
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

I'm reviewing as I go in 2016 on Twitter: @52BooksPlus  Yay!  Reading for Life!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year-End Programming, Part 3

I covered audio books on Sunday and nonfiction on Monday.  Now, I'm on to the best Children's and YA titles I read in 2015!  I read 25 titles in this category, up from 16 last year.

So, here we go!  They're in alphabetical order by author.

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.  This is an electrifying, heart-wrenching novel in verse about twin basketball players and their dad, a former NBA pro.  It screams to be read in one sitting, it's uber-accessible, and it compels the reader to evaluate the universal themes of family, consequences, identity, and forgiveness. Five stars, for sure - maybe my favorite read of the whole year, and it could probably be devoured by readers 4th grade and up.  It is pretty sad in parts, though.

El Deafo by CeCe Bell.  I blurbed this in the nonfiction post.  I'll just add here that in addition to my endorsement, this memoir is a Newbery Honor Book for 2015.  Last year's fave, Brown Girl Dreaming, was an Honor Book, as well.  The Crossover (above) was, of course, the winner. These three books are all brilliant.  El Deafo could be enjoyed by kids in 3rd grade and up, I think.

Son by Lois Lowry.  This is the final book in the Giver quartet, which I greatly admire.  The main story is of Gabriel's birth mother, Claire.  We find out early on that Claire failed in her role of Birth Mother (Gabriel was delivered via caesarean section) and was reassigned to Fish Hatchery Attendant.  She's fascinated with Gabriel and takes risks to see him, even though it's strictly prohibited.  "She adored you," a character explains to Gabriel, "but love wasn't permitted."  So worth the read and good for kids who've already read The Giver.  Maybe ages 10 and up.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier has a lot in common with El Deafo, in that each are graphic memoirs that document the authors' struggles with looking and feeling different in middle school.  In Telgemeier's case, a fall causes a traumatic mouth injury and years of pain, dental surgery, and embarrassing orthodontia. Funny, relatable, and hugely popular with students in grades 2-8 - such wide appeal!

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.  Okay, I'm crazy about this one.  Madeline is an eighteen year-old kid with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, a rare disease that renders its sufferers allergic to the world. Her mom, a physician, keeps her enclosed and safe. Things are going reasonably well for Madeline until she watches Olly, a handsome guy with his own problems, move in next door.  Suddenly the world that was more or less enough, falls vastly short.  Love it!  It's probably for 7th grade and up.

Yay!  This set of books is probably the best of all four lists I'm compiling this December.  Here are my next favorites:
Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty by Christine Heppermann
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
March: Book 2 by John Robert Lewis and Andrew Aydin
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

Here are the others, all of which I liked. There was one I didn't like that I'm not listing:
The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
The Field Guide (Spiderwick Chronicles #1) by Holly Black
Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gerwitz
Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
Alex Rider: Point Blank by Anthony Horowitz
The Sixth Grade Nickname Game by Gordon Korman
Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
Ms. Rapscott's Girls by Elise Primavera
Why Do We Fight? by Niki Walker

And that's it!  Yay!  Tomorrow, I'll do the last list of 2015, which will be my favorite adult fiction.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Taking a break from book reviews to recap my favorite #TwinTuesday shots from this year.  #TwinTuesday is a little-understood, highly quirky creative collaboration.  Each week, Lee and I choose some random objects to photograph together.  The two objects are supposed to engender a feeling of the unexpected.  Like, wow, I never expected to see a photo of a wrench and an avocado together!  Or, Hmm! A flip flop AND a matchbox car?!

It was fun to scroll through the year on the blog and revisit the #TTs.  On the way, I realized I've really had a heck of a year.  I started writing and sharing fiction. We had several blog challenges that each produced interesting work. I continued to teach with two of the most talented, creative professionals I've ever met. I connected with siblings I've never known before. We road-tripped to Michigan. I took my blog down for several weeks, and then I brought it back. We procured the best dog I've ever known. I parented two delightful and interesting children.  I partnered in all things with a calm, whip-smart, and hilarious husband.

It's not been a bad year.  And #TwinTuesday has been a constant - a reliable mainstay - throughout. My faves are pictured above. They are, in order by date:
Lemon and Plastic Bug, 3/17
Flip Flop and Matchbox, 6/30
Baking Dish and Map, 7/21
Wrench and Avocado, 11/17
Smoothie Greens and Magnet, 12/15

Here are my next faves, just in case you wanted to know:
Bubbles and Avocado, 9/1
Poem and Charm, 9/22
Garlic and Dragon, 10/6
Framed Art and Energy Bar, 11/3
Salamander and Dryer Sheet, 11/24 (Included above for purposes of aesthetics)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Year-End Programming, Part 2

Today I'm naming my favorite five nonfiction books I read this year.  I read 23 books of nonfiction, up from 15 last year.  Here are the best five in alphabetical order by author:

El Deafo by Cece Bell. This is a charming memoir about the ubiquitous experience of feeling different.  In the case of the author, she begins a new school with a conspicuous hearing aide strapped to her chest and navigates the usual middle school friend minefield with this visible difference.  Bell draws herself as a rabbit with gigantic ears, a feature I particularly enjoyed.  It's for kids, but adults love this book, too, as far as I can tell.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. You might know that this book has recently won the National Book Award.  I'm having a heavy feeling in my chest as I'm writing this blurb.  It's about lots of things, but mostly about the danger of being black in America in that your body - your life - are consistently threatened.  It's about that and the author's wishes and fears for his son, whom he feels he cannot protect. It's pretty much required reading.  Lots of people are saying that.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay.  I keep thinking about these essays, which range in topic from bad television to competitive scrabble to sexual violence to performing gender and racism.  Some are laugh-out-loud; some are excruciating.  Lots of them are sticking with me and guiding my reading into 2016.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert.  I blurbed this yesterday in my best audio books post.  Here, I'll just add that interspersed in her advice about living a creative life, she injects the stories and philosophies of artists and intellectuals who have, in fact, cultivated their creativity.  Inspirational.

Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim.  This is a fascinating account of the author's experience at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, a school for the sons of North Korea's most powerful families.  In order to secure and maintain her post, Kim has to feign Christianity, follow the exacting and oppressive directives of the "counterparts" - the North Korean supervisors of the teachers, take notes for her journalistic memoir in secret, and censor her every sentence when speaking to the students and her colleagues.  This is empathy-building, emotional, and informative - I learned all sorts of things about the Korean War and the devastating separation of the two Koreas.

That's the top 5!  Here are my next favorites. An asterisk indicates the book was written specifically for children or young adults.  I think all of them would be equally enjoyed by adults:
March: Book 2* by John Robert Lewis and Andrew Aydin
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights* by Steve Sheinkin
Smile* by Raina Telgemeier

Here are the others I liked, minus the one I wouldn't recommend:
Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different* by Karen Blumenthal
Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn by Larry Colton
The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist's Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults by Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
Sisters* by Raina Telgemeier
Why Do We Fight? Conflict, War, and Peace* by Niki Walker

Here are the titles that apply specifically to teachers.  I liked them all, but the ones by Johnston are practice-changing:
The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, and Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell
Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children's Learning by Peter Johnston
Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston
Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Every Reader by Penny Kittle
Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We'd Like Them to Be by Teri Lesesne
The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Year-End Programming, Part 1

In the last few days of 2015, I'm going to re-cap my year in reading.  This was the second year I resolved to read 52 books.  I love this resolution, and I plan to continue it indefinitely.  It's a major life-brightener.

This year, I've read 61 books so far, including these 20 audio books.  Audio books definitely "count," and in most cases, the reading experience is enhanced by the narrators, who elevate characters and description in sometimes surprising and curious ways.

Here are the best audio books I've listened to in 2015 - the top 5 with brief descriptions, in alphabetical order by author.  Hip hip hooray!

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith.  Read by Robert Glenister.  I anticipated this mystery - the third in the Cormoran Strike series - more than any other book this year, I think.  My love for J.K. Rowling, who writes these novels under a pen name, endures, and the long sentences and quirky characterization in the Strike novels rocket me right back to Hogwarts.  Of course, at Hogwarts, women don't have their body parts hacked off and mailed to detectives.  This was delightful, suspenseful, and pretty gross in the serial killer sections.  Just so you know.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Read by the author.  Very rarely, you get to hear a book read by the author.  It's a cool experience for sure, as the author presumably emphasizes the parts that she wants to emphasize, adopting a gentle or firm or definitive tone at will.  Big Magic was a book I needed just when I read it, and Elizabeth Gilbert's voice is one I appreciate in my ear when doubt and fear get in my way.  This is a book I will return to.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.  Read by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey, and India Fisher.  Probably everyone has read this monster hit. Like millions of others, I loved it. Rachel, an alcoholic with a faulty memory, cracks cans of gin and tonic on her London commuter train and watches a "golden couple" she's named Jess and Jason drink coffee on their terrace while the train is stopped at a signal.  When "Jess" disappears, Rachel realizes she may have critical information in the case and becomes deeply and uncomfortably entwined in the investigation.  Engrossing.  Addictive. Kept me doing chores with my headphones on for hours.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty. Read by Caroline Lee.  Again, this book has spent many weeks on the bestseller list, and you've probably already read it, but still.  I loved this book and Lee's charming and warm narration.  Here's the story: Cecilia's husband is on a business trip when she discovers a letter from him in the attic, to be read only in the event of his death.  Tess, meanwhile, escapes to her mother's house after her own husband confesses that he's in love with her cousin-slash-best friend.  Finally, Rachel has been mired in grief for the many years since the murder of her daughter.  The stories, all humanizing and ultimately hopeful, intersect and morph.

Big Little Lies also by Liane Moriarty.  Also read by Caroline Lee.  This is the first time I've had two books by the same author on a best list.  Big Little Lies also features three interesting and believable women and their intersecting stories about love, parenting, and grief.  It's also warm and emotionally immediate.  I'd call Moriarty's utterly readable and popular novels "guilty pleasures" if not for the tight, clever, and basically first-rate writing.  I'll be reading more of hers in 2016 for sure.

And that's the top five!  Of course, I noticed that most of these have huge fan-bases already and you're probably not getting any ideas for new titles.  I feel sort of bad about that, but these are my top five and that's that.  Just in case, here's a link to my favorite audio books of 2014.  

And here are my next favorite audio books of 2015:
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Without You, There is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza

And here are the others I liked, minus the one I didn't:
Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gerwitz
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein
Alex Rider: Point Break by Anthony Horowitz
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
Euphoria by Lily King
H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
The Hand that Feeds You by A.J. Rich
The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Once Again

Okay, we've made it!  One of my highlights this Christmas was a nice chat I had with Brother-in-law-John and his lovely spouse, Galen.  These two are highly creative and smart - just the kind of people you'd love to talk with about ideas for living a cool and meaningful life.

Recently, these high fliers wrote and produced a show called The King of That Also, a mix of new baroque music, singing, poetry, and projected art works. I had to miss it because of my trip to Arizona, but you might not have to if you're in New York City on 12/27 or Chicago on 2/5.  I did get the accompanying book, which pleases me.

During the same conversation in which we supported and celebrated each other's creative endeavors, I also learned that Galen has a podcast review blog called Hear That Noise. It seems like something we need to read.  I'm going to read it and then listen to her recommended podcasts.  This will be a good thing to do.  Maybe we can share this experience together.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

#TwinTuesday Status Report

Okay, yeah, it's Thursday.  I'm on School Holiday Time, which is a thing where I lose track of what day it is.  Here's what's happening:

Rash: It's a psoriasis outbreak!  Turns out psoriasis can be small and dotty and scabby, in addition to being larger and pink and scaly.  Who knew?!  Luckily the professional dermatologists did, and I'm properly medicated to the tune of 307 additional dollars.  I'm also back on the light therapy.  This winter, I'll try not to do the thing where I tell every person who remarks on my tan-ness that my complexion is due to the light booth I frequent to treat my hideous and expensive skin condition.

Sisters: One of them is moving on Saturday from Minneapolis to a place called Easton, Pennsylvania.  It's been nice having her here, to tell you the truth, and I would prefer that she could be a premier arts consultant in the Twin Cities instead of in Easton.  Sadly, we don't always get what we want.  And, since we're lucky enough to live in the digital age, she can continue to text me constantly even from many states away.

Birthdays: It's my mom's birthday today.  I happen to know she reads this blog.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!

Raggedy Ann: How random that Lee and I both have Raggedy Ann dolls!  What a magical pairing for a Holiday #TwinTuesday.  I'm sure you're as glad to be a part of it as we were to make these photos for you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Treat You Right

I have some unfortunate news.

In addition to my winter psoriasis outbreak, I now have a full-body dotty-type rash.  Red dots and bumps.  It itches, and it's ugly.  And it kind of hurts, now that I'm thinking about it.

I'm using some self-help type thinking to get through this difficult time.  "This is tough," I remind myself, "but I'll get through it."  I rationally think through my options and decide on a course of action.  I'm pleasant to the on-call nurse in the dermatology clinic who helpfully assigns me to a recent cancellation time slot.  "Thank you SO much," I say.  "Of course I can be there at 3:30."

Only one time did I photograph the rash and send the picture to a friend.  I limited my Google images rash photo examination time to one-and-a-half or two hours.  I only check to see if the rash has spread every fifteen minutes.

Things are obviously totally under control.

Sunday, December 20, 2015


#NovelSnip is a tiny portion of my fiction writing project.  Here's another #snip of the new project, which I'm calling School Story. Isobel has survived her asinine department meeting, praise The Lord.
Thirty minutes later, Isobel hunched over the steering wheel of her Sienna, headed home, where Mark would have blessedly prepared dinner, and Callie and Riley were likely ensconced on the couch, engrossed in an infernal Disney Channel offering.

“I know, Mom,” Callie would look over her shoulder lazily when a ridiculous caricature appeared on screen.  “It’s culturally insensitive.”

The drive was thirty minutes, far enough from the high school to avoid too many awkward grocery-store run-ins with the parents, whom she would recognize as familiar, but with no idea to which student they belonged.  Inevitably when these encounters occurred, the well-dressed mother would launch into a thinly-veiled critique of Isobel’s methods or grading, while Isobel, make-up free and sweatpants sagging from her hips, furtively stuffed a box of Lucky Charms into her cart that was otherwise filled with leafy greens and coconut water.

That's it!  I woke up early and wrote some more, and now there are six single-spaced pages.  Turns out, I have a lot of fodder when it comes to ridiculous school-based scenarios.  None from my current post, mind you.  But my previous job was just screaming to be fictionalized.

Friday, December 18, 2015

This Can't Be Me

I stopped by the Lower School library yesterday, and Elaine, the librarian, showed me that Mac's book, "Jack and the Beanstock [sic]" is number 1 on the local circulation list.  About two weeks ago, he started writing tons of books, stapling them together, drawing a few pictures, and handing them out to everyone, including the librarian with a directive to put this particular one into circulation.  

Elaine and Julie, the fabulous library teaching assistant, barcoded it and filed it with the picture books.  Awesome, right?

"Oh my God," I said, when Elaine showed me the Top 10.  "That kid is so..."  I paused here, trying to think of the right adjective.  "Funny," I decided.

"I was waiting to see what would follow 'so,'" Elaine laughed.

"What a weirdo," I shrugged.  

She nodded. The truth is, he's just so totally himself.  There's no convincing him to be anything but MAC.  It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.  After I heard the #1 news, I snuck up on the second grade room and took the above photo of him through the window on the door.  You can see his new look: long socks with shorts.  Part of me wants to just buy him a couple of pairs of tights, but I think Dan might disapprove.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Funk and Fusion

Yesterday morning, I met my fiction writing buddy in a Google hangout at 5:30 am.  We exchanged pleasantries, and then we did a fifteen-minute "sprint" of writing.

"Can I call it a 'jog'?" I typed to Susan.

"Yes!" she said. "But keep the 'j' silent like Ron Burgundy would."

After fifteen minutes we reported back our word counts and congratulated each other on our excellent focus and production.  #amazeballs, I said.  #butterchurn, she said.

Dan, of course, laughed at us.  "It's a weekday, which makes this extra nerdy," he said.  Who even cares, Dan, because I wrote 632 words!

Later I employed the same strategy with my sixth graders who really, really need to finish their informational writing books on e-waste, water scarcity, and global food systems.  "We're going to crank it out," I told them, and set my timer for fifteen minutes.

At the end of fifteen minutes, I made them brag to their writing partners about their massive accomplishments and went around high-fiving everyone.  When my friend Lynne walked in at the end of one class period, I told them to brag to her, as well.  She was promptly mobbed by  twelve year-olds shouting their word counts at her.  "637!" "451!" "730!" "397, but I was already almost done!"

So yeah, super nerdy, but also awesome.  #literacyforlyfe

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


It's #TwinTuesday, and this is smoothie greens + magnet.  I didn't even know I had this magnet until I looked carefully at my refrigerator trying to choose the best magnet for a photo.  See?  #TwinTuesday causes you to look at things as if for the very first time. 

Anyway,  Lee and I have been drinking green smoothies with Cultivate Wellness.  I've also got Dan and Shef drinking the smoothies.  The smoothies are life enhancing.  This photo could also be life-enhancing.  You just never know.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Here Comes the Comeback

10ish years ago, I started working with my pal Tim, who was obsessed with his first child, a fluffy mid-sized pooch named Gunnar.

I made a lot of fun of Tim for talking about Gunnar like he was a real person. I especially made fun of him for dropping Gunnar off at a daycare facility.  I mean, Tim paid cash money to watch his dog play with other dogs on a webcam. Ha ha HA!

Well, fast forward to the recent arrival of my 3rd child, a Goldendoodle named Teddy Bridgewater.  As you may have heard, he needs an amount of exercise that even I find prohibitive.  Come to find out there's a daycare facility on my way to work, and if I drop him there and pay cash money, I can watch him play with other dogs on a webcam.  And BONUS: he's so tired in the evenings that he sleeps docilely at my feet instead of finding and chewing everything in the house he's not allowed to find and chew.

File this turn-about in the "Never Say Never" category.  I'm upping daycare attendance to twice per week.

Sunday, December 13, 2015


#NovelSnip is a tiny portion of my fiction writing project.  I haven't been posting it for awhile because of some factors.  These factors stalled my writing and filled me with self-doubt.  But then, a few circumstances arose that put me back in business.  One of these was that I heard an interview with Lauren Groff, acclaimed author of Arcadia and Fates and Furies.  She shared in the interview that she always works on more than one project at once.  If one project's not going well, she picks up the other.  That seemed smart to me. So, one time during Creative Writing Club at the urging of the sixth graders, I started a new project.  Here's a little bit of it.  Maybe you'll like it, maybe you won't. But here it is:

Isobel’s eyelids drooped ominously in the after-school faculty meeting.  A heavy fatigue had dogged her for most of her teaching day, sucking her prep period down a dark hole of scouring the Spanx website for an external solution to the five pounds she'd gained since school started again.

Now, several hours later, her department chair expounded on the importance of using language to foster a democratic learning community. “For example,” Mary continued, a full twenty minutes into her monologue, “an effective teaching strategy is to begin with an open question.”  Isobel pinched her left thigh in an attempt to perk up.  Next to her, Jamie, a twenty-five-year old in the midst of her first year of teaching, drew a sixth row of hearts in her college-ruled spiral notebook. Isobel gave her a sidelong smile, and Jamie rolled her eyes.
I'm so happy because I already have a plot idea for this gal.  Unlike in my Alice project, I know what the inciting incident and major conflict are.  That's gotta make things easier, right? We'll see.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Still Goodbyeing

Ok, let's just blog every day for the rest of 2015.  It seems like the only thing to do.

Along with my new creative writing life, I'm a little behind this year on the gift buying.  Will I catch up?  It's likely.  I'm pretty sure the holiday will roll around, and I'll have something for everyone.

It might not be the perfect thing.  But there is no real perfect thing.  The perfect thing is a fallacy.

Will I catch up on creative living?  Catching up on creative living is a fallacy.  You just start right where you are.  Whenever you start is the right time.  Whatever you produce is the right thing.

Well, it might not be the right thing, but that's a fallacy.  It's better than no thing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


I'm digging the pink here on today's pairing of Support for Planned Parenthood and Celery.  The whole thing seems really unexpected.  Lee's has a cool woody backdrop, so that's awesome.

Other unexpected things that happened today:
  • While I woke up with a very sore throat, it subsided as the day continued.
  • There was thin-crust veggie pizza for lunch.
  • My newest nephew was born in the evening.  His name is Ellis.  I think he's tops.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Cut Me Into Two

We're coming up on the annual holiday violin concert, an event in which I play in a section with middle school girls.  This year, I'm contributing to three pieces, including "Fiddle Like the Dickens," "Wassail Song," and Gigue from Veracini's Sonata in D Minor.  I'm excited, and my goal is to limit air-bowing to 14 measures of the the gigue.

I realized the other day that I've been studying violin with my teacher, Jennifer, for four years now. I find violin to be meditative, satisfying, and generally life-enriching.

Mac has also been studying with Jennifer for four years.  He finds violin to be torturous, excruciating, and generally soul-sucking.

Although it's made us both miserable on many occasions, I have diligently persevered in forcing that child to produce music.  "He's the type of kid that needs to be made to do something," I'd explain to skeptical friends.  "And he's really good at it," I rationalized.  And sometimes, on a rare occasion, he actually did seem happy playing his little instrument.  But most of the time, in the vast majority of cases, he wailed and stomped and barred himself in his room to delay putting the bow to the strings.

So, finally this fall, I conceded the battle over violin.  Today's recital is his last.

I talked at length with Jennifer about my decision to throw in the towel as a Suzuki parent.  Am I a failure? I asked.  Am I doing the right thing?

"Look," she said, "Mac is probably the strongest-willed student I've ever had in my studio."

I was relieved to hear this.  The problem is not that I'm faint-hearted; it's that he's a total, unrelenting pain in the butt.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Front of My Shirt

Here's the "best damn video $20 can buy" from Noah Engh and Jason Mezilis.  We all love this song at our house. Mac sings along with Uncle Noah, complete with long, rounded vowels.  It's so adorable, that I don't even mind him adding in the "ass" and referencing his underage cigar smoking.  It might be bad parenting, but I'm pretty sure it could be worse.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


It's December and it's eggcellent.  Let me count the ways:

  • I'm done bragging.  Bragging is harder than it seems.
  • It's tights weather, and I love tights.  I especially love Spanx tights with a heavy duty control top.  
  • Mac and I are playing our holiday concert on Sunday.  It's been a rough go, in terms of stamina, for violin this fall, but it looks like we've both weathered the storm.
  • Lee and I have this amazing #TwinTuesday: BrenĂ© Brown book + egg.
  • I'm working on living a more creative life this month.  I'm engaging in some self-help.  I'm also reaching out, growing creative community.  What could be wrong with that?  It's all so good.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Book and Movie Reviews: Not Super Braggy Except to Say that I Engaged with These Texts

Good news: I've recently experienced two non-fiction stories in different media.  One was a movie and one was a book.  Here are my blurbs:

Last night my mom and I saw Spotlight, the film about the group of investigative reporters that uncovered the massive sex abuse cover-up in the Boston Archdiocese.  It was riveting and inspiring.  It also highlighted the importance of teamwork.  As David Sims writes in his Atlantic review, the film resists glorifying any one player, but rather heralds the "combined efforts of a well-run, well-staffed journalistic organ not beholden to moneyed interests, and with enough will to push past any political or social pressures."  I'm going to go ahead and heartily recommend this film.

I'm going to do the same - heartily recommend - the investigated memoir by Suki Kim entitled Without You, There Is No Us that I finished yesterday. The book is about the author's stint as a visiting English professor at a North Korean university for the sons of the ruling class.  Kim's style is spare and factual, except when she discusses the love she feels for her students.  Her descriptions of the strict and baffling rules set forth for her and the other professors by "the counterparts," their North Korean censors, highlight the role of fear in absolute control.  I'm going to call the book chilling, and maybe a little hopeful.  As Euny Hong writes in her New York Times review, "Kim's narrative suggests that the regime's stranglehold on information is starting to crack."  Gosh, I hope so.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Catch Up Brag: Status Report

Yes, it's been too many days since I last published a blog entry.  But, as this is already my most prolific year of the last ten as a blog writer, I'm not feeling too terrible about that.

Let's see here:

Entertaining: Dan and I hosted a dinner for sixteen people.  All the food was amazing, even the food we didn't make.  The company was phenomenal.  The fact that three of my five siblings were there was unprecedented and sublime. Let's not talk about how I'm the shortest of all the siblings. It's not fair, but it's reality.

Running: Shef crushed me in our Turkey Trail Trot by 3 minutes and 21 seconds.  The kid can run.  He also got 13th place overall out of 237.  While it's true that I got majorly pounded by that one competitor, I did beat 210 others.  That's right: I got 26th place, 10th for women, and 3rd in my age group.  #stillgotit

Professional Development: Friday morning at 8am, I met MM for a lovely chat about our professional practices and interests.  We shared book and article titles and patted each other on the back.  It was delightful, and we're going to do it again soon.  Slapdash, you're on the guest list for all the other times.  Get ready.

Green Smoothies: I'm at seven days of drinking green smoothies.  I feel pretty great.  Highly energetic.  I got Dan to also drink them.  This seems to be a very good health decision, and I feel superior every time I mix one up.  It seems braggy and sort of annoying to tell you that, but that's the whole point of this month on the blog.  It might be the hardest challenge ever, but I'm obviously rising to the occasion.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Mind Meld #TwinTuesday

"Do you have a salamander?" asked Lee.

"I think so," I said. "And how about something with laundry?"

And so salamander and dryer sheet was born.  Little did we know we have EXACTLY the same red plastic salamander.  We actually had not an inkling until we posted our photos (mine on the left, hers on the right) this morning on Instagram.

There's never been a #TwinTuesday as #TwinTuesday as this. I know.  It's flipping out of control.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Incredible Health: Bragging About Breakfast

My friend Melanie is a food and nutrition blogger.  She's got this thing going on right now, which is a GREEN SMOOTHIE CHALLENGE.  You try to drink a green smoothie every day between now and January 1.  Because why wait to make positive health changes?  She says you don't even have to stop eating the other holiday stuff.  Just ADD the green smoothie.  Finally, she doesn't even get mad at me for not doing it.  She just says, Good Try!  Thanks for thinking about it!

So, it took me ten days and some whining and asking for special favors to start the challenge.

But I did, and I'm on Day 2.  My GREEN SMOOTHIES have had a blend of dark greens, including baby kale, chard and spinach, coconut milk, frozen mango, and a little banana.  Also I sprinkled in a little of Dan's protein powder.  Don't tell him, or he'll probably have me arrested for stealing, right after he makes me read his blog.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hate to Brag: Just Developing as a Professional Over Here

If you're not an English teacher, you probably didn't even know that you should come to the National Council of Teachers of English convention today in Minneapolis.  You wouldn't even have realized that it would be your chance to hear acclaimed and ground-breaking cartoonist Alison Bechdel discuss her path as a writer and artist.

You also probably wouldn't have had an opportunity to yuk it up with middle-grade writers who generously shared their processes and perspectives on diversity in children's lit.

Then, you wouldn't have been able to hear from one of your favorite researchers in a talk about teaching an LGBTQ-themed literature class to high school kids.

Next, you wouldn't have been able to peek in on Newbery winner Katherine Applegate talking about reading as a writer.

Finally, you wouldn't be sitting with me right here right now listening to some researchers and professors talk about teaching through Ferguson.

There are lots of times when being an English teacher might seem sort of ordinary and unglamorous to you.  That might not actually be the case. It might be the case that you just can't properly interpret what you're looking at - the unending thrill and sophistication of a constantly-evolving vocation.

Wish you were here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

So Brag: Thursday is the New Friday

This week, I was smart enough to sign up to go to the NCTE conference, taking place this year in MINNEAPOLIS, tomorrow.  That means this is my last teaching day of the week.  Also because I team teach, I no longer have to write lesson plans when I'm going to be gone.

Can you even imagine that benefit?  My team just covers for me, and kids have the same educational experience they would have had if I had been there.  Later, I cover for my teammates when they have alternative obligations.

It's smooth, it's smart, and it's good for kids.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Thank goodness we're still in the month of bragging, so I can tell you that this is one of my favorite #TwinTuesday pics ever.  I'm not sure why I find it so whimsical, but I do.   

Head over to Lee's blog to see her take on Wrench and Avocado. While we're on the subject, I hate to rub it in, but it's not easy to find a friend like Lee who will support your creative endeavors and do quirky projects with you. Even if you have found a friend who fits the bill, yours is probably not as great as mine.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Brag it up: Everybody's Looking Forward to the Weekend

Last Friday, I had some surprise visitors from another school.  They were interested in our curriculum and our system of assessments.  So, naturally, my boss had them come and see my class on Friday during the last instructional period of the day.  She gave me almost no notice of their planned observation.  Just a little, Hey!  I'm sending you some visitors!  Be sure to be impressive!  Hope that's okay!

Of course it's okay.  Because do you know why?  The magic happens whether I've got visitors or not. The magic happens whether it's Friday afternoon at 2:30 or not.  So, did we make some pretty fancy moves in informational writing?  Yes, we did.  Did I coach individuals and use language to reinforce our democratic learning community?  Oh yes I did.  Did the visitors remark on their astonishment regarding our productivity and functionality, even though it was Friday at 2:30?  Obviously.

And that's how it's done.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Braggy Status Report: I'm the Realest

Reading: Turns out, I finished my New Year's Resolution to read 52 books early.  I'm now finished with 54.  This total includes 17 young adult/children's books, seven books of adult non-fiction, 21 books of adult fiction, three books of poetry, and six teacher professional development texts.  I'm just saying.

Writing: Another New Year's Resolution was to work on my fiction writing.  I have 52 pages of original fiction now.  I printed it out, and I'm figuring out where Alice's story is going.  I need an arc at this point, so I'm developing one.

Teaching: We're doing something new with Writer's Workshop and using Units of Study from Teachers College at Columbia University.  My sixers are cranking out some really interesting information writing.  We're writing non-fiction books next, which excites us.  I'm a writing coach.

Parenting: I become only mildly to moderately exasperated most mornings when trying to get to work with the slowest child on the planet.  I mostly feel only mildly to moderately jealous of other working parents who commute unencumbered.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Brag Alert: The Morning Routine

I had to get to a meeting by 7:45 today, so the efficiency of the morning get-ready took on critical importance.  I woke at 4:55 to spearhead the entire effort, at which point I fed and walked the dog, prepared the coffee, ingested some breakfast, dressed myself in a fashionable and professional outfit, and then, at 6:30, empathetically woke the children.  I deposited Mac on the couch with his remote and the  poured him some cereal.  I gently shook Shef an additional time.  I applied natural-looking make-up to my face and curled my hair.  I supplied Mac with weather appropriate clothing and made sure he brushed his teeth.

Even with a last-minute shirt change by (who else?) Mac, we were in the car right on time at 7:16.

I'm sorry, but that's pretty damn good.  I even supported Shef when he explained on the way to school that his choir teacher instructed him to mouth, rather than sing, the high parts of songs.  "That happened to your grandfather, too," I told him.  He comes by his low, stubborn voice naturally.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


It's time again for a beloved feature on Word Savvy and A Little Leeway, two longstanding and razor-sharp weblogs.  It's true #TwinTuesday isn't universally understood ("Is there supposed to be a STORY with the pairings?" I was recently asked) or appreciated ("Sometimes," admitted my mom, "I'm just like pffftttt").  However, #TwinTuesday is reflective of the type of creative stretching Lee and I commit ourselves to each and every day.  

Listen here: Do you know what it's like to be an unfamous blogger day after day for eleven years?  To keep the content fresh and accessible for whomever might stumble across it?  To be true to our creative selves in a public, though under-appreciated, forum?

It's not easy, and yet we make it happen.  And #TwinTuesday is a part of that.  Enjoy it or else.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Cheese

Because we have completely refined palates, my sister Rachel and I have decided to sample and review area cheese plates.  The one pictured above is from Barbette.  We forgot to pay close enough attention to the descriptions of the cheese to actually tell you what they are.  The one on the left is a cow's milk, the one in the center is a sheep's milk, the one on the right is a blue.  That's all we know. Also, I forgot to take a photo of the plate before we started eating it, but you'll probably still appreciate the artfully drizzled balsamic glaze and thinly sliced apple.

Here's a rough transcript of our expert, sophisticated review:

Me: Which cheese was your favorite?
Rachel: I think the slab in the center.
Me: Didn't you like the thinly sliced apple?
Rachel: Yes!  It was very thinly sliced.
Me: What did you think of the chutney?
Rachel: I liked it, but I noticed you didn't eat all of yours.
Me: I liked the chutney with the cheese, but I didn't like it separately.
Rachel: Oh.
Me: If you were to rate the cheese plate on a scale of 1-10, what would you give it?
Rachel: I mean, it was good.
Me: Yeah, it was good.
Rachel: It would have been better with a glass of prosecco.
Me: Next time, let's get prosecco.
Rachel: Yeah.

And there you have it!  The cheese plate at Barbette is good, but better with a glass of prosecco.  You're welcome.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Brag It Up: Conference Edition

Yesterday, we gave a little talk at a conference.  To be honest, we were kind of disappointed to be assigned to the very last time slot of a two day conference that ended on Friday afternoon.  People don't generally feel like learning about grading for global competency at 4:00pm on Friday.  At 4:00pm on Friday, teachers generally stumble home or to a local establishment and order up a glass of wine after a long week of educating America's youth.

Luckily, a couple of schools offered bus service to the conference, and the busses didn't leave until after the final session.  Thus, some attendees were trapped with nowhere to go but our talk on grading for global competency.  I'm sure these people might have enjoyed hearing from us.  I mean, why not?!

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Window Above: Bragging in November

Not everyone could think of the idea of turning a department meeting into a found poem.  Come to find out, I thought of just that idea.  What I did was this: I wrote down key words that people said in our meeting on Best Practices in Writing Instruction, and then I arranged them into this poem.  I added some other words in between.  In any case, what a good way to make something (a department meeting) into something else (a poem).

The grind clogs my gut and spirals.
Fodder for the future, I think, already chiseling fiction from authentic experience.
Injury takes on perplexing utility.
I comb and scaffold the guidelines of my days,
bumpering ennui and ache
with the grammar of process;
partnering cosmos with alignment.

Fun, right? I didn't fit in my favorite departmental meeting phrase, which is "intellectual relentlessness."  I'll try for it next time, but nobody said it this time.  That's why it wouldn't fit into my poem.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dime in the Jukebox

I hate to brag, but I'll just mention that my small moment was featured by Mac's second grade teacher as a mentor text.

Mac told me all about it.  "We heard your small moment today!" he said.  "We discussed CRAFT moves."

"Great!" I said.  "What kinds of craft moves did I make?"

"You wrote that you said something THREATENINGLY," he said.

"Yeah," I said.  "Were you proud of me?"

"Uh huh," he nodded.

Then this morning, I saw Mac's teacher, and she too complimented my small moment.  "I had to write to several parents to ask them to, you know, beef up theirs," she said.  But she didn't have to do that to me.  Mine was full of craft moves as it was.


Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Would you look at that?  It's framed art and an energy bar.  It's the very energy bar I was eating for breakfast.  I don't want to brag, but that was a healthy breakfast choice, complete with protein and little fat and sweetness for the sake of satiety.

I also don't want to brag about this next thing, but I'll just go ahead and share that I brought my current events magazines to school in order to catch up.  I'm reading bits and pieces here and there.

And, I hate to toot my own horn, but I'll just quickly mention that I made an appointment for next week and promptly recorded it in my planner.

I'm just saying - and I only bring it up because it seems apropos of this #TwinTuesday pairing - that I'm pretty on top of things.

Monday, November 2, 2015

More Fish Than You

November, here we go!  It's time to get back into the writing swing of things and get some words on the page.  I'm talking about here on the blog and also in #novelsnip.

The truth is that things have been a little irregular and a little intense.  I'm going to just describe it as the Fall Funk of 2015.  But, I'm tired of it, and it's over.

Do you think that'll work?

Let's go for it.

Here's a fun little anecdote to get things rolling.  Teddy the Canine has been in obedience class.  It should surprise absolutely no one that none of my family members agree to attend this class with me.  It's just me and the most attractive pupil.

Sadly, Teddy is not the most academically advanced pupil.  Superior students include Pippa, Cuddles, Dakota, Lu, Basil, and most notably, Maisy.  Maisy is a flipping genius, and boy do her people love to flaunt it, walking all over the room breezily during "stay" practice, giving me little condescending glances as I gradually decrease my proximity from twelve inches to sixteen.  But as a teacher, I know that life-long learning is not about competition.  Life-long learning is about continual progress, and I think Teddy is moving along his own trajectory.  Also, he's cuter than Maisy.  So there.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Voice Like Nails

It's Halloween at school.  Tweens in costume throwing candy at one another in the hallways.  Whoooo!

Yesterday was likely to be the more productive day.  Yesterday, I was super excited to teach my first hour class about the components of sustainable development.  "We're going to do one of my favorite things," I told the class.

"You're going to teach us about grammar again?" asked a smiler in the front row.

"No!" I said.  "But I like grammar almost as much."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Pointing Out My Flaws Again

Coming to our house tonight: The Evening of Halloween Festiveness.  That's right. We'll be carving pumpkins and putting up decorations.  I'm going to swallow hard, don an orange t-shirt, and totally rock the enthusiasm.

This'll be a bit of a hardship because you know I don't like carving pumpkins, right?

And I don't like Halloween decorations, and I don't like costumes.  I also don't like candy corn because it makes me feel sick.

This is all part of my well-documented aversion to fun.

Sometimes I wish I loved things like Halloween and St. Patrick's Day and fireworks and Easter Egg hunts - in short, things that other people think are fun.

But you know what I think is fun?  Putting on sweat pants, cuddling on the couch, and reading aloud.  Also getting a latte and talking a walk.  I think talking about books is fun.  Seeing new places is fun.  Looking at art is fun.  Even going to movies is fun.  Studying commas with sixth graders is super fun. I'm the funnest person in basically the whole world.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


This is perhaps the most random pairing we've ever had.  Ungulate and jar?  Who's ever heard of such a thing.  Thanks to #TwinTuesday, we now all have.

Would you like an update on the Severe Psoriasis Face Outbreak of 2015?  Here goes: Lucky for me, I was indeed able to procure and pay for 534 dollars worth of ointments and solutions designed to abate my symptoms.  The symptoms have incrementally improved, I'm going to say, due to the efficacy of these expensive products.  On the down side, I did have to do a parent-teacher conference with a full facial psoriatic outbreak.  I didn't enjoy that, but I set a good example for my advisee by soldiering onward and getting the job done.  You don't have to be pretty to run a good conference.  But, I'm going to say that it helps.