Thursday, June 30, 2016

Quarterly Review

quarterly review, books, television, blog

This is the second quarterly review of 2016.   The first quarterly review is HERE.  It still holds up, in my professional opinion.

The Three Best Books I Read in the Second Quarter:
This is a toughie because I read two books by my fave, Liane Moriarty this quarter.  By this time, it's safe to say I'm a fangirl, and I've loved every book of hers I've read.  I had The Husband's Secret and Big Little Lies in the top five on the Best Audiobooks I Listened to in 2015. I've now added The Hypnotist's Love Story and What Alice Forgot, read on paper and/or Kindle. They're all good.  Here are three others I liked a whole lot:

  • The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly.  I did a full review for Literary Quicksand. The short version is it's got good writing, good plotting, and fun characters.  I haven't yet seen the movie with Matthew McConaughey, but I do find him to be quite handsome.
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.  I don't know why I waited so long to read this lovely and heartfelt story about true friendship and loyalty.  The 2013 Newbery winner is wonderfully, hopefully sad.
  • Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. Obviously, I was utterly charmed by this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I resented putting it down, even for scintillating conversation and important family events. If you're at all inclined toward Austen, you'll probably want to read this.  It's better than Bridget Jones and 100% habit forming. 
The Three Best Summer Television Shows Recommended by Shef and Mac:
I don't particularly recommend any of these shows, but the children do.
  • American Ninja Warrior. Okay, although I don't recommend it, I agree that sometimes this is kind of entertaining.  Also, Mac has registered for Ninja camp. It might be one of those things that doesn't quite live up to his imaginings, but we're giving it a go.
  • Gossip Girl. After weeks of dedicating watching, Shef has finally finished all six seasons.  I didn't watch all of it with him, but after listening to some of the plot lines (Bart Bass returns from the dead, tries to kill his son (twice!), and then falls off a building?!) I have to say, it sounds pretty dumb.
  • Phineas and Ferb. A classic.  Mac's go-to for morning watching, and it doesn't make me insane.  Winner.
Three Blog Posts by Other People that Rocked It:
  • This is cheating, but Lee had two movie reviews that made me laugh this quarter. One of them also features Husbandman.  Of course, I'm a fan of his as well. Here's "Independent Film Review: Love Thy Neighbor" and "The Lobster".  Both posts have pictures of the lovely 20-something daughter.
  • "Allentown Adventures" by Rachel. This play-by-play of an experimental festival in Pennsylvania made me laugh so hard.
  • "A Bump in the Road" by Dan. Truth be told, Dan was very disappointed that the children hated vegan dinners.  But, we recovered and we're mostly vegetarian, which should please the other vegetarians in our lives.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Writerly Wednesday: Storyboard

Mary Carroll Moore, storyboard, novel writing

I'm at the point in my novel-writing class where we're learning to storyboard.  I decided to make my board huge and put it on the wall in my studio.  Can you see it's in a "W" shape?  The points of the W are marked with blue stickies.  The W helps you see what has to happen and when. If you want to, you can keep writing "islands" of your story in any order you want, but then later, you know how they all fit together because you have a sticky note for each scene in the right place on the W.

Making the storyboard really energized me. Once I saw that I was nearing the end of Act I, I zipped right through my 500 word quota.  I'm even going to do a little more, as I'm trapped in my house with the AV guy and trying to seem productive and official, rather than idle and superfluous.

Yes, a water stain drips down in between the fourth and fifth blue stickies, but we're ignoring that right now.  I already called about the roof repairs.  I also talked with the damn cable company for 45 minutes and exchanged DVR boxes.  There's only so much I can do in a day, and right now I've got to write the First Turning Point.  This is my number one priority.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Alter Ego

summer running, alter ego, Shef

My oldest accompanied me on a run yesterday.  He loped along beside me like it was nothing, a lot of bounce in his little step. He chattered away, telling me little stories.  My favorite was when he said he wasn't Shef, but rather She-fifi.  

"She-fifi is a right wing republican who thinks Donald Trump would make a great president."

"Actually, She-fifi is running for president as a green party candidate."

"She-fifi likes goat cheese."

"She-fifi is very religious."

I got to thinking that with all the chit-chat, maybe She-fifi needed a little more challenge, so I suggested a couple of little pick-ups.  "Just pick it up a bit between here and that next garbage can."  On each of these, the kid just shot out ahead of me and then waited patiently while I plodded in.  It was sort of demoralizing, but at the same time, She-fifi has a lovely smile and told me I did a good job on the run when we were all done.  It seemed like he meant it.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Violent Video Games

video games, violent video games, Plants vs. Zombies, parenting, favorites

I'm not sure how great of a job I've been doing at summer parenting.  I plan to address this further in this week's Weekly(ish).  (And, yes, there WILL be a newsletter this week! Thank the lord! AND, thank the lord I remembered to put that (ish) on the end!) 

Here's the deal: I can't decide if the kids are under-scheduled and/or allowed to have too much screen time.  This is causing me some anxiety, but I've been coaching myself to focus on the positive. For instance, I make them read a book a week.  I feel confident that mandating reading is #goodparenting.  Also, they play outside a lot.  That's also #goodparenting.  

On the other hand, their penchant for sunburn and abhorrence for SPF swim shirts seems like pretty #badparenting.  Also the video gaming.  Just the other day, I let Mac use birthday money to purchase Plants vs. Zombies, which, I'm relieved to find after the fact, does appear to be a reasonable choice for a third grader.  I worried about this as we were discussing which child has "favorite" status in the car today.  Mac had claimed to be my favorite, and then, I promise, this gets back tangentially to violent video games.

"Does it seem like I have a favorite?" I asked.  "Because I don't feel like I have a favorite."  

I can't remember what they exactly said next, but the bottom line is that each boy feels he's #1. That seems good.

"I'm the littlest," said Mac, as explanation for why he is the favorite.

"But I was first," Shef said.  "So you've loved me for a lot longer."

"Nuh uh!" yelled Mac.  "She loved Dad first!"

"We're not talking about Dad!" Shef countered.

"Well," said Mac, very loudly, "I have a first person shooter!"

What?!  This is when I learned that the plants in Plants vs. Zombies shoot at the zombies, and that, as the player, you are a plant. Common Sense Media says otherwise, but this is how Mac understands the game.  Also, in Mac's mind, the fact that he now has a violent video game makes up for the four years of love Shef got before he was born.  They're equal now in love time.  Okay, Mac.

The time I was pregnant and Dan wouldn't play DDR with me.

Three of my FAVORITE things about Dan.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Writerly Wednesday: White Space and Progress

Writerly Wednesday, West Wing, Mary Carroll Moore, Novels, Writing

Oh my god, I'm so relieved.  This week, I've actually been feeling creative and calm-ish instead of harried and half-crazed.  Shef was just here (in my studio!) a minute ago to give me a hug and tell me he wants to be a writer himself.  I mean, really.

Guess what I was doing when that sweet thing happened? 

I was writing a scene about Alice as an adult that might serve as a frame for the first #NovelSnip project.  Mostly, though, I've been working on another, lighter, breezier, and so-far easier project, which is a novel set in large suburban public high school.  The best news is that I'm taking an online novel-writing class to help me.  So far, it's tops.  For the reading this week, my teacher, Mary Carroll Moore, assigned a chapter of her own book.  In the excerpt, she discusses making space in your life to engage with your writing.  My friend Emily calls this "White Space." She recently quit one of her jobs in order to open up some of that to figure out what she wants to do next.  It's smart, and, as a bonus, I also get to make fun of her for saying "White Space." That's #greatfriendship.

Here are a couple of gems from Moore's work that resonated:
  • "If I have too much going on in my outer life, there's no internal space to dream." This seems obvious, right?  But, sometimes I just take on more things without truly considering my priorities as a writer.  If I really want to finish my books, I have to stop that.
  • On priorities, then: "If writing is a priority in your life, if you are truly committed to writing your book, you need to find enough inner stillness to capture original ideas."
A final thing I'm thinking about this week is Aaron Sorkin's theory on protagonists.  I was listening to The West Wing Weekly podcast that had a recording of a panel he was on.  He said that in The West Wing he had eight protagonists, and that protagonists are never victims.  I don't have anything to say about that right now.  I'm just chewing on it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Annals of Summer: Film Reviews

finding dory, now you see me 2, movie reviews

Mac and I have a lofty goal for summer, which is to see a movie on all or most Tuesdays.  Turns out that at our local theater on Tuesdays, you can get a five-dollar ticket with a free small popcorn.  For each person!  It feels like a miracle, and I'm calling it Movie Camp!  That's #greatparenting.

Last week we saw Now You See Me 2. We haven't seen Now You See Me 1, so we have nothing to compare it to.  The premise (or outer story, as my online novel-writing teacher calls it) is that a group of rogue magicians collaborate to take down two despicable corporate greed mongers, one of whom is played by Daniel Radcliffe, whom I adore.  The inner story is that we need to rely on each other and work together to accomplish great things.  You should aim to free yourself from competition and distrust.  

Mac says: "5 of 5 stars.  I recommend this for ages 8 and up because it has some swear words." 
Mom says: "Yeah, this was good. 3 of 5 stars because I like most movies.  It's like Ocean's Eleven, but without Damon, Clooney, and Pitt.  So, an inferior Ocean's Eleven."

This week we saw Finding Dory. Everyone knows what it's about.  The outer story is that Dory, who suffers from short-term (and long-term, IMO) memory loss, remembers her family and goes on a quest to find them.  The inner story is that everyone has gifts and talents. Just because you're not like everyone else, that doesn't mean you aren't fabulous, especially if you "just keep swimming."

Mac says: "5 out of 5, but it's really sad because she lost her family, and she couldn't find them. She kept saying, 'Sorry,' and Marlon said something really mean to her. I recommend for ages 5 and up."
Mom says: "4 of 5.  Not as good as Up or Cars or Inside Out, but better than Cars 2 and, obviously, Planes."

We really hope these reviews have been helpful to you and enjoyable to read. 

Mac's review of Paddington

Dan's and my reviews of Die Hard

Pronto and I do an epic review of Harry Potter 7.  ON VIDEO!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Annals of Summer: Time Suckers

Remember how I am going to be a professional writer this summer?  Well, it's now the third week of summer, and so far I've been a general contractor, party planner, hostess, and (obviously) minivan driver.  As long as I'm bragging, let's add "marginally effective dog trainer" and "full-time, mostly-not-exasperated parent."

I haven't exactly made a boatload of progress on the writing, but - and this is the important part- I haven't given up.  Further, I recommitted to my well-being.  In the wake of the weekend's bachelorette party in honor of my lovely, 30 year-old sister (I accidentally told another mom at Mac's swimming practice that I "chaperoned" the party, rather than "hosted" it), I'm recommitting to fitness.  
My friend Ali took a look at my outfit this morning and asked, "You going for a run?"

"Yes," I said, vehemently.  "I'm fat, bloated, and old."

"I hear you," she said, laughing.  "And one run will fix that."

It didn't fix it, but it's a start.  And now, I'm drinking a green smoothie and typing words on my computer.  Things are looking up.

The time I tried to get back into shape and fell off the treadmill

The pros and cons of participating in a workplace-based fitness challenge

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Writerly Wednesday: The Benefits of "Not for Me" Reading

life-long learning, writing, self-help, reading

Kind of by accident, I've read quite a few books lately that aren't really for me.  If we're thinking about the Auden adult reading scale, I'd rate these either "I can see this is good, but I don't like it" or "I can see this is good, and though at present I don't like it, I believe with perseverance I shall come to like it."  I'm happy I read these not-for-me selections, as I'll explain below, but I felt such a huge sense of relief this morning, as I turned the pages of a book that is just so 100% in my wheelhouse.

eligible, curtis sittenfeld

I like all of Sittenfeld's stuff, and her latest is a Pride and Prejudice retelling that features a reality television show akin to The Bachelor.  Flipping irresistible.  

The not-for-mes, then, are American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell, and Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey.  And so, what are the benefits of slogging through an imperfect fit?  I'll tell you right now:
  • It's easier to concentrate on craft - careful research, dynamite word choice, and creative plotting, in the case of the three titles I listed above - when you're not swept up by the story.  All of these writers are seriously skilled, and I could see what they were doing, even on the first pass.
  • I can connect with more readers, readers who might not like literary thrillers, contemporary fiction, and memoir.  Some of these readers are also my students, and obviously, it's super important to connect with them.  
  • I like to know things and be smart. Even if a book isn't for me, I find that after I read it, I generally have learned something, either from the reading itself or from obsessively googling the subject, the author, the reviews, and/or the creative process employed in writing it.  Then (and, ok, I'm not so proud of  this next part) I flaunt this new knowledge.  It's one of the joys and pitfalls of being a life-long learner.
So, if a book is "good" on the Auden scale, I'll finish it even if it's not for me.  If a book sucks, and it's not for me, I won't read it.  That seems reasonable.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Hit the Quan. Or, My Stride.

focus, reading and writing, to-do list

Things are going to start happening with a regular rhythm and a productive routine. That's just how it's going to go.  Today, I'm stuck here in my house while some nice dudes replace my air conditioner.  During that time, I'm going to read and write, just like I want to. I'm going to stop slogging through items on the to-do list and start enjoying the ride.

To be fair, I started having fun yesterday at coffee with famed blogger, mm.  She graciously shared teaching materials with me, and we gabbed about the good, bad, and ugly about spending days on end in the middle school.  Mostly it's good.  Otherwise, we'd probably find something better to do, right?  I mean, it takes a specialized skill set to run a classroom.  The skills are probably transferrable, so it's not like we're stuck.  We're in the middle school by choice.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Summer Status Report

black fly in Chardonnay

Last night, I was delicately sipping my white wine when I felt little fly wings and tentacles tickling my lips.  

Oh, nasty.  

It was a giant black fly right there in the Chardonnay.  And while this would only be ironic if the Chardonnay I purchased were specifically designed to repel flies, it was totally par for the course.  Here's what I mean: so far this summer, we have replaced our furnace, repaired our refrigerator, convinced our insurance company to fix some wind damage on our roof, gotten a pricey quote from the roofing company to eliminate the rotting wood around the built-in, too-shallow gutter system, AND made an appointment to repair the stove.  Also, the A/V people came to diagnose our remote control issues and our inability to install a new cable box.

After all of that, which represents a lot of time and even more money, the air conditioner broke.  

The air conditioner broke!! 

The tech was all, "It's too bad, but it had a nice life, and now you need a new unit to the tune of many thousands of dollars."

Ok, fine, I said. At which point, I poured the fly-infested Chardonnay.

Then, today, the guys came to install the new unit (I said "unit"), only to discover that we actually need a new motor, coil, AND a new compressor, which will be several more thousands of dollars and can't be functional until Tuesday.

I think next week might run more smoothly.  We'll see.  Probably it won't cost me many thousand more dollars.  I mean, I hope not.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Writerly Wednesday: Creativity and Routine

Writerly Wednesday, novel writing, Richard Atchity, Mason Currey

Guess what?  Today is the very first day of my online novel-writing class!  Sadly, I was super busy with very important chores and quality time with my superlative children, and I haven't logged in to do the lesson.  Never fear! The beauty of an online class is that I don't have to log on today - I can do it tomorrow or the next day!  Also, I started the optional reading list already, and I'm love with the first book.  It's called Write Time: Guide to the Creative Process from Vision through Revision - and Beyond by Kenneth Atchity. There are a lot of gems in the book. Here are some of my faves so far:
  • "[I]n order to become productive and professional, your philosophy must be optimism. Unwavering optimism, or at least optimism with a built-in swerve override."
  • "The longer an idea 'percolates' in the mind, the greater its chances of being expressed clearly and powerfully when the time is right."
  • "If you want to be a writer, don't hope to displace your anxiety.  Instead, find ways of coping with it, tricking it, transforming it."
I feel like as a generally optimistic procrastinator who remains intimately familiar with anxiety, this book is basically written for me. That feels so good.  Also, so far the author has not recommended drugs and/or alcohol as writing aids.  I've been getting kind of nervous while reading Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey.  In it, Currey catalogs the working habits of many a genius.  Many a genius who rely on a steady diet of amphetamines and barbiturates to put the pen to the page.  I'm hoping to get my novel written without requiring a stint in rehab, but maybe that's just me.

The other Writerly Wednesdays

A Talk on Creativity from TEDx Stanford

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

How Artists Work

home repair, mice, summer, writing

It's the second day, and I'm trying to figure out how to work things.  Yesterday and today, we've got lots of repair and life-enhancement professionals visiting our house to take care of a bazillion things we've put off forever.  I mentioned the furnace and the roof.  There's also the refrigerator, the gas range, the internet and and the complicated a/v remote controls that we can't program ourselves.  I try to be self-sufficient, but there's a limit to my skill set.

Yesterday, one of the furnace replacers told me there were a couple of dead mice in my gas turn-off valve closet.  Awesome, I said.  I planned to remove the mice immediately, but then I didn't know exactly where the gas turn-off valve closet was located, and looking for mice in the crannies of the 100 year-old basement was giving me the willies.  

Before the replacer's arrival this morning, I set out paper towels and plastic bag to scoop and discard the carcasses. "I've got my mouse removal supplies ready," I told the guy.  "Can you just show me where the dead mice are?"

"Oh yeah," he said, smiling.  "Actually, I can just get 'em for you."  I followed him down the stairs, handed him the paper towels and plastic bag, and he had them enclosed in plastic in about five seconds.

"You're so brave," I said.

"Yeah," he said, laughing.

And now I have the itchy feeling of sitting here waiting for the other handy guys to arrive. While waiting, I read about W.H. Auden's work habits in the book pictured above.  He took a stimulant each morning and a sedative each night.  Also, he consumed alcohol heavily, smoked tobacco, and drank pots of coffee.  I've considered these rituals carefully, weighed their pros and cons, and decided that the only one I can adopt is coffee.  Coffee, and also punctuality, which was also a compulsion of Auden's.

#NovelSnip: Norah Gets a C

Funk and Fusion: Bragging About Productivity

Monday, June 6, 2016

Day One

summer vacation, summer, OMG

Here we are on Day 1.  So far, I've made a delicious salad, written a post for Literary Quicksand, worked with roofing and furnace contractors, played swing ball with Mac, logged on to the get-to-know-you thread for my online novel-writing class, and changed the laundry.  Also, my mom called.

"When's the crash going to happen?" she asked.

"I don't know," I said. "Maybe it's not happening this year."

"Hmm," she said.  "Well, that's interesting."

I could tell she thought my hypothesis was incorrect. Ready or not, she said without saying, the crash looms.  I did take a nap yesterday.  Maybe I'll doze on the couch while I read a book.  Mini-crash?  I'm kind of hoping so.  In the meantime, I'm going to organize my bathroom drawers.

You might also like:

Games of Parenting Chicken

Beginning of Summer 2013

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Annals of Parenting: The Birthday Deal

birthday party, buy-out, plan a birthday party

As I'm typing, I'm recovering from Mac's first ever "sleep" over. This was an 8th birthday perk, expertly negotiated by that wonder kid.  Here's the deal with birthdays in our house: Each kid gets to have a friend party every-other year on alternating years.  On your year, then, you can choose to actually have the party or take the buy-out. The buy-out is $150 cold hard cash that I will pay you to NOT have a birthday party.  It's totally worth it and almost always cheaper than having the party.

The kids discuss the pros and cons of the buy-out for months before the birthday, making lists and discussing what they'd do with one hundred and fifty buckaroos.  "But I still get a family party, right?" they'll ask as they scour Amazon for expensive sneakers and violent video games.  "Yes," I assure them, "you still get a family party."  Sorry, family - it's not about seeing you; it's about what you'll bring to the table that really matters. The kids will be happy to provide a list of helpful suggestions.

In any case, Mac wanted the buy-out this year, but he also wanted to have his very first sleepover with just one kid.  A nice kid, whose mom I like.  Deal, I said.  The evening went mostly well.  We went to The Angry Birds Movie, which was fine and, frankly, I didn't understand the white supremacy metaphor at all.  We turned the lights out at ten and then tried five different sleeping arrangements before I finally settled on the floor with Mac in his bedroom while his pal dozed on his bed.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Annals of Teaching: Decompression

drone, graduation, summer vacation

I'm down to the final moments of the school year. Yesterday was the good-bye lunch for our three retirees, our boss, who is headed to a school in NYC, and a couple of other teachers who are doing different and cool things from now on.

On our small middle school staff, we're having a pretty big turnover, actually, and the farewells were more emotional than I expected.  I've worked with a lot of first-rate teachers in my seventeen-year career, and this current group of mover-ons had a big impact on me and, of course, their thousands of students. Last night was graduation, and for the first time at my "new" school, I knew the graduates!  My 2011-12 8th grade advisory marched across the stage, and one of my no-longer littles gave a fabulous speech. Several moments were captured from above with the drone pictured at the top of this post.  The hovering drone was a little surreal. Today, we'll have a meeting at which we will honor the long tenure of some other people.  I like these people, and I'll enjoy applauding their accomplishments at our great school.  

Afterward, I'm planning to capitalize on my end-of-year, pre-crash energy boost by dropping off a carload of stuff at Goodwill.  And then, I might organize the junk drawer. Then I might fall asleep.  I'm sort of hoping I fall asleep, actually.  If I don't, I might end up manically organizing my new office or washing sheets.  The fervor is productive, but also unnerving, and I'd sort of like to head straight for the crash. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

It's Time

whip and nae nae, summer dance

Super news! I have finished the bulk of my school work, and I'm gearing up an epic summer.  First item on the agenda: prep for a fabulous bachelorette weekend for my sister, Mary.  Guess what?  I sent out an email with deets for all of the attendees, two and half whole weeks in advance.  I had a meeting with my sister in-law, Steph, to build in tons of awesomeness.  She had wicked good ideas.  That was a relief because I have no ideas.

Case in point: Yesterday, I took Mac to ValleyFair amusement park with the middle schoolers.  On the way home, I let him sit in the back of the bus with one of my cute advisees.  By the time we got back to school, I forgot entirely that he was even with me and got out of the parking lot and most of the way back to my classroom before I realized he might need a chaperone.  Similarly, today, I got up, dressed up for the 8th grade closing ceremony, and left the house with Mac, who was attending faculty kid childcare (can we say, Work Perk?!).  It wasn't until I got to school that it dawned on me that, of course, I meant to bring Shef with me, as well.  He's supposed to actually attend the closing ceremony, and I just let him sleep and left without him.  Thank goodness, KK hadn't yet sojourned, and she zipped by to get him on her way.

It's clear I need to get it together, but I think I'm getting it together starting tomorrow.  Phew.