Saturday, July 30, 2016

Annals of Summer: It's Over, Pretty Much

summer, back to school, novel writing, mothering, dogs

I know.  It wasn't that long ago that I was counting down to summer. But, now August is beginning and I'm going back to work in 12 days.  It's okay because I like work pretty well.  Let's evaluate the summer thus far:

Professional Writing: I'm giving myself 3.5 of 5 stars.  First, I took my online novel-writing class and learned about gathering and structuring.  I have a path forward.  After multiplying the length of the project by 2.5 times in 8 weeks, the moment has come to put the book on the shelf until the end of September when I'm into the school routine and I begin part two of my online novel-writing class.  My goal is to finish a complete draft of the book by the end of next summer.  I'm pretty sure I can do it.  We'll see.  Second, I blogged some.  Turns out summer isn't great for the newsletter, but that's okay.  It'll be back on a Weekly(ish) schedule soon enough. Third, I have a freelancing gig that actually pays money.  So, turns out I'm pretty much actually professional. Let's bump that up to 4.5 of 5 stars, shall we?

Full-Time Mothering: Yep, I've been doing it.  Yesterday in a moment of exasperation while behind the wheel of the miniature van, I blurted out, "Geez! It's just Mom's Taxi and Food Supply Service right here!"  "Where? Mac asked, scouring the road.  "Here," I said, "It's me.  Right here."  "Where?" he asked again. So, it's nice to know my efforts are appreciated. 5 of 5 stars.  I'm the only mother they've got.

Marginally-Effective Dog Training: I feel like the report is embedded in the section heading.  Teddy has had marginal success at my mediocre hand. 3 of 5 stars for solid effort.




Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Writerly Wednesday: Feel-Goods

writerly wednesday, rebecca skloot, novel writing, louise penny

It's time once again to share some tidbits from my reading life.

First, I'm reading a sweet and engaging mystery by Louise Penny. It's the first in a series about a kindly and observant guy with impeccable manners named Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. I'm not quite done with Still Life, although I'm almost there. I think the deeper meaning of this story is that you don't always know the people in your life. You might think you do, and you might have a pretty good idea. But, we're all different than the portraits of ourselves that we perform in the world.  The author herself writes on her website about the "inner story" at work in this now 12-book series.  Here's what she says:
"My books are about terror. That brooding terror curled deep down inside us. But more than that, more than murder, more than all the rancid emotions and actions, my books are about goodness. And kindness. About choices. About friendship and belonging. And love. Enduring love.f you take only one thing away from any of my books I'd like it to be this: Goodness exists." 

I haven't gotten all of that out of the first installment, but I bet if I read all twelve, I would see these themes develop quite nicely. And if you like a Murder, She Wrote type mystery, this series is probably for you.

And now, second: As part of my online novel-writing class, I'm reading about structure.  Structure is both freeing and scary.  It requires post-its and/or notecards.  Sometimes structure is described as a braid, which freaks me out a bit.  Rebecca Skloot has a crazy cool structure in a book you may have read called, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.  In the interview we read this week for class, Skloot talks about the structure of this impressive work, including her decision to include herself as a character in her nonfiction, journalistic project.  I liked what she said about that, and maybe you will too.  Here you go:
"There are times when I think writers should be in stories. You may be an actual character in the story, or you might be essential as a bridge between the reader and the story - there are some cases where stories are so foreign to readers that having a first person writer in the middle that fully understands the story can help readers relate to it."

Lucky for me, I'm always a character on this blog.  Otherwise, I might not be able to write about myself incessantly for 12 years the way I have.  Phew.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Movie Review: Ghostbusters 2016

ghostbusters, movie review, mac

Today, Mac and Shef and I went to see Ghostbusters, the 2016 version.  Before we went to the show, I'd heard a segment about it on a podcast called Pop Culture Happy Hour. I was kind of bummed that the discussants on Pop Culture were kind of "meh" on the film.  They were like, yeah, the women in the cast are funny, but the script is messy and the whole thing just doesn't jive. 

So, while my expectations weren't super high, I felt like Ghostbusters was totally worth a Tuesday bargain movie trip. I lobbied for it over Mac's first choice, Ice Age: Collision Course, which has a 12% on Rotten Tomatoes. I already watched the Angry Birds movie this summer, after all.  That got a 43% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I thought it was pretty sucky.  And, I just checked - the worst movie I've ever seen in a theater, Free Birds, got a whopping 17%.  So, we can just imagine exactly how bad Ice Age is.

So, Ghostbusters (73%): I'm just going to be honest and say that while I love Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy and Leslie Jones and especially in this particular movie, Kate McKinnon, the script wasn't quite tight enough and the whole thing felt a little half-assed.

Mac, Mr. 5 Stars on basically all movies even the dumb ones, thought Kristin Wiig's backstory was creepy.  I'm frankly surprised he fell asleep, as he was probably thinking about how Wiig's character saw a ghost at the end of her bed for many years.  

In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have taken Mac to Ghostbusters. It was PG-13, after all, and he's 8.  But, sometimes that turns out okay, so it's hard to know. 

Saturday, July 23, 2016

End-of-Vacation Googles: Vacation Report, Part III

rodeo, rodeo queens, colorado, vacation


Women in Rodeo: The Eagle County Rodeo was less neutral than I expected.  First of all, the comedy routine between the announcer and the rodeo clown featured several problematic "jokes" about gender and Asian languages.  Further, we were asked to subscribe to American Exceptionalism, as we gazed at "the greatest flag in the world: (the stars and stripes), sang "the best song ever written" (The Star Spangled Banner), and practiced "religious freedom" by joining in a group prayer to the Christian God.

I also noticed that in the first hour of the event, the only women I saw were the rodeo royalty (pictured above) and the trick riders, who wore skin-tight sparkly onesies.  On our way out, I asked the Rodeo Queen and Rodeo Princess how they got their titles.  "It's basically a pageant, but also with horse stuff," said Maddy, the queen on the right.  Back at our rental, I googled "Women in Rodeo" and discovered that prior to 1929, there were actually many women competing in rodeo events like saddle bronc and steer wrestling. Now, they're pretty much only in barrel racing. Barrel racing is also cool, obviously, but not the marquee event. What happened was that a bronc rider named Bonnie McCarroll died during an event in 1929. Gene Autry then became the head of rodeo and started banning women from the main events.  That sucks, but I'll be honest and say that rodeo doesn't seem safe for people of any gender.

Hot Springs and Psoriasis: My one trip to the Glenwood Hot Springs has made an incredible difference in my psoriasis.  I'm not even kidding.  I have partial clearance in the tricky areas and pretty much full clearance on my limbs. As we don't have a hot springs in Minnesota, I spent a lot of time googling substitutes that I could use at home in my own bathtub.  Here's what you need to know: sufferers of psoriasis flock to the Dead Sea, which is like a hot springs with super high salination.  I knew this, but a trip to Israel isn't currently in the cards for me.  Here's what I didn't know: I can order Dead Sea salts from Amazon and reap the benefits at home.   I had tried Epsom salt baths, but never mineral baths with salts from the actual Dead Sea.  My friend Tracy is worried that I'll accidentally purchase inauthentic salts, but I'm going to trust the companies when they promise they're real.

How Long Will it Take for AC to Cool My House: I'm happy to have missed most of the brutal heatwave my Minneapolis neighbors have been experiencing.  When we walked in the door, the temperature in our family room was a very stuffy 85 degrees. We switched it right on, but our brand new air conditioner is having trouble getting its legs under it, and it's still 76 in here. Hopefully, it'll keep trucking things down to a chilly 68.  I have faith in you, air conditioner. Let's do this.

Desperate Googles from 2009

Googling poems and reading them with high schoolers.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Fire in His Heart, Light in His Eyes: Vacation Report, Part II


We shot the Class III rapids like champs and in the car on the way back to our rental, we sang along to John Denver.  At home, Dan made me a gin and tonic after I returned from a walk along a picturesque Colorado creek.  Tomorrow we're headed to the hot springs pool where I'm convinced my calm and optimistic mindset coupled with the healing sulfur waters will alleviate my psoriasis.

I have pretty much never been happier.  I'm already planning next summer's out-west vacation.  I haven't gotten 100% buy-in yet for Mount Rushmore, but I'm pretty sure that once I set an itinerary filled with adventure and family bonding, everyone will be totally pumped.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Vacation Report, Part I

vail, vacation, colorado, rocky mountains

We're in Vail, Colorado. This is Dan's dream, as we've been here many times in the winter, but never in the summer, and he's indeed dreamt of seeing it  in the summer.  I'm out-of-this-world happy because I was raised on out-west mountain vacations.  Of course, in my time, we got in the Dodge Ram Conversion and drove 12 hours at a time, my brother Kevin and I sprawling on the floor without seatbelts.

That's not the way Dan rolls.  We flew into Denver yesterday and rented a Ford Expedition, which is huge and requires safety.

We're in a fab VRBO with our bosom pals, Adam and Tracy and their three kids. Today we spent the whole day at a mountain-top adventure park with zip lines, ropes courses, and alpine slides. We're all tired and tan and ready for a chill evening of Netflix and hot-tubbing and of course, the card game that Adam and I generally lose but pretend to win.  Things could be so, so much worse.

Penguins of Madagascar Movie Review

The Benefits of Knowing the World's Best Librarian, JW

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Self Examination: And How Are YOU Crazy?

are you crazy? this american life, marriage

On a recent This American Life, which I obviously love, Ira Glass interviewed famed author Alain de Botton about how often people choose the wrong people to marry.  It's all the time, as it turns out.  Most of us who are married are, in fact, committed to the wrong people at this very second.  The reasons, de Botton says, are that we don't know ourselves and we idealize our partners and we have inflated ideas of what marriage is supposed to be.

If we're miserable only half-to-most of the time, it turns out that's actually a successful marriage.

I myself am miserable in my marriage only rarely, which is good because I have an exceptionally low tolerance for misery.  It's a character flaw, maybe.  To ward off unhappiness in marriage, de Botton suggests that you ask your partner on an early dinner date, "And how are YOU crazy?"  That way, it's all on the table. Maybe the reason Pronto tolerates me so well is that my crazy is highly visible.  I have no secrets.  I'm a heart-on-sleeve type with a revealing face.  Here are some obvious flaws that Dan discovered in the first month of so of dating:
  • I can't make even the simplest of decisions sometimes.  "Do you want Mexican or Japanese?" Dan might ask. "I don't know, you decide," I'll say.  "Just tell me what you want," he says. "But I don't KNOW what I want," I insist.  "What do you feel like?" he asks kindly.  "I don't know!  SHUT UP! SHUT UP! I need to THINK!  Just leave me alone!" And then the crying.
  • I eat random stuff.  I wish I were kidding.  Sometimes, I'll take something off the ground and think, I wonder what this would taste like. Once on an early date, Dan watched me notice a piece of scotch tape on my sock, peel it off, and bring it to my lips.  "No, no!" he said.  "We do not eat the tape from our feet."  I wish I were making this up.
  • I have mild OCD. I'm not being insensitive to those with this condition.  It's actually true.  I am one of you! I just discussed it yesterday regarding the cyst. This has its benefits - I learn all kinds of things all the time.  When I say I will do something, I most often do it. I will find us the most energy efficient washer and dryer after days of frenzied research.  Sadly, I will also try to sneak a look in your ear canal to check out your wax situation.  I will try to do it surreptitiously, but you might notice.  I'm sorry, but I've been obsessed with ear wax for a couple of years now.
What about you?  How are YOU crazy?  I'm really feeling obsessed with knowing. Seriously. Write a comment. Do it. Do it. SHUT UP!


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Summer Status Report II


Horn Removal: That photo above depicts a cyst that I've had in my head for a couple of years now.  It started pretty small, and whatever, I ignored it.  Then, it started to grow and had reached the size of one and-a-half centimeters.  For your reference, that's about the size of a fingertip. It became a compulsion to rub it and wiggle it, which I would do several times per day.  I made my friends and kids feel it occasionally, regardless of their desires to do so.  Obviously, the cyst, presumably pilar in nature, was impacting my mental health and my relationships.  It had to go.  The doctors exclaimed about the cyst's beauty and perfection as it cleared my scalp.  I asked for a photo, and they obliged. I think we can all enjoy it more now that it's no longer embedded in my scalp.

Movie Camp: Probably my most successful summer endeavor. We've seen movies on most of the Tuesdays.  Of all the movies I've seen so far, I'm going to say that The Secret Life of Pets is my favorite. I read some reviews on Rotten Tomatoes about this fine film, and some of the critics are complaining that there isn't enough serious meaning and subtext in the story.  Critics, get over yourselves.  That angry fluffy rabbit cutie pie made me laugh so flipping hard.

Professional Writing: I'm totally making progress.  The book has expanded by 10,000 words since I began my class.  I'd like to pick up the pace a bit here, but there are some barriers like full-time parenting, parent-teacher committee chairing, curriculum planning, and marginally-effective dog training.  Also, now, Pok√©mon Go. Still, let's celebrate my success.  I'm loving the book, and the storyboard is growing.  Win.



Annals of Medicine: Skinny Poop

When Shef was obsessed with the vacuum cleaner.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Annals of Summer: Bad Parenting

texting, parenting, good parenting

Our kids are so big these days that it turns out it's easy to lose track of them.  For instance, I texted Dan asking how Mac was doing at the hockey store.  Dan, as you can see above, texted back that Mac was actually home with me.  Oops!

I checked, and sure enough, he was indeed in the house, locked away in the attic playing Plants vs. Zombies. Phew.  A minute or so later, Dan wanted to know how he actually was.  Maybe he was worried that I wasn't taking adequate care of our precious child.

plants vs. zombies, attic, parenting

I was just kidding about him being a pain.  He's totally not a pain, and we would never call him Captain Surlypants.  Dan was just kidding about that, too.

Whether or not to assign chores

When Shef was obsessed with NASCAR (and Budweiser)

Friday, July 8, 2016

Annals of Summer: Racial Violence


Everyone's probably noticed that things with race-related shootings are really terrible right now. This particular flare-up hits home: Philando Castile was shot and killed by a police officer here in the Twin Cities. The confrontation began as a routine traffic stop.

As much as we wish they would, shootings like this one are not going to stop happening.  All of our systems in the United States privilege white citizens over brown and black ones, and our long history of racial segregation and oppression leads to trauma and fear and continued violence.

Because the problem is so big, it's hard to figure out what to do.  My reaction in times like this is to focus on my professional training, which is as a teacher. I try to engage my students and my own children, pictured above, in frequent conversations about race, racial violence, and privilege.  "I know this stuff," my oldest said this morning when I talked again about whiteness, blackness, and fear.

"I know," I said, "but it's just that as a white boy, you have a very big responsibility to work for change."

We all do, really. What are my next steps?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

#NovelSnip: Elizabeth Abbott!

novelsnip, novel, writing, excerpt

Here's a little bit of my latest fiction writing project!  Kenneth Atchity says I'm supposed to have a pithy 10-word sentence to tell you everything you need to know about my story, but I don't have it yet.  The closest I have is "Who says all the drama in high school happens among the teenagers?"  There are two main characters, Isobel Johnson and Elizabeth.  Here's Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Abbott ran a hand down the front of her trunk, feeling for the bones of her ribs and the point of her hip through her yoga tank and capris.  Her trainer would be ringing the bell in five minutes. Time enough to pop a can of Diet Mountain Dew and finish it before he breezed in, bearing handheld weights and a devilish outline for the next hour.
As she took her first gulp, she absent-mindedly paged through the debris of Tracy’s homework from the previous night.  Her ninth grader was incorrigibly forgetful. Elizabeth wondered if there was anything in the crooked pile of papers and books that Tracy actually needed for today.  
The pile held mostly graded work, as it turned out.  Tracy had gotten 18 of 20 on a recent geometry quiz. Elizabeth had successfully argued a space for Tracy in that class, after the dolt registrar had placed her in Algebra 2.
“Check your files,” Elizabeth had hissed triumphantly, leaning across the counter, toward the clerk.  “This girl has been a member of the Cirrus program since second grade.”
“I’ll verify with her counselor and get back to you,” the flushed fifty-something had mumbled.
“Call my cell,” Elizabeth admonished, as she walked out of the office flipping her brown ponytail and firing a text to Helen, who’s daughter had been rightfully placed from the start.  “Handled,” she’d tapped.  
Elizabeth took another slug of her soda and flipped past Mandarin character practice and a half-finished study guide on geology.  She paused on an assignment from English 9, a paper reflecting on Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and comparing it to The Hunger Games.
Tracy’s teacher, a bubbly and slightly round woman around Elizabeth’s own age, had written at the bottom of the page,  “Good start, Tracy!  Now, I bet you can go deeper.  What about “unfairness” is important here? Also, be sure to check for run-ons.”  And then the grade scrawled in pink pen: B.
B?  When Elizabeth was in 9th grade she’d been summarizing the plot of The Odyssey via Cliff Notes, and here was her fourteen year-old, analyzing and comparing themes of texts written fifty years apart. And for a B?  Elizabeth put down the paper and grabbed her cell.  “What do you think of this Johnson woman?” she tapped to Helen.  Probably, she mused, everyone was having problems with her.
Just then, as she tipped her Diet Dew nearly vertical to empty it, Ron rang the doorbell.  Elizabeth burped quietly, stretched her neck from side to side, and went to open it.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Movie Camp

the BFG, review, movies

Once again, Mac and I saw a movie.  This week, it was The BFG directed by Steven Spielberg.  I wish I could give the movie a rave review because, obviously, I love the book.  Who doesn't love Roald Dahl?  Mac was especially excited to see the film because his amazing second grade teacher read the novel out loud to the class this year.  "I won't be too scared because I'll know what's coming," he said bravely as we walked in.

To be honest, I was more concerned that we were seeing the picture in 3D.  When we saw Star Wars in 3D, Mac threw up all over the movie theater, and we had to leave while hanging our heads in shame.  I'm serious: he puked like seven times all over the row and down the stairs on the way out. I'm sure they had to stop the film and turn on the lights to clean up the chunks.  I don't know that for certain, of course, because right after I reported the biohazard, I beat it to the parking lot.

But anyway, I thought The BFG was just fine.  Here are our reviews:

Mac says: 5 of 5 stars.  It was funny. I liked when the Fleshlumpeater got pelted with the snozzcumbers.
Mom says: 3 of 5 stars. The Dahl whimsy seemed diluted in the dialogue and the overwrought soundtrack drowned out the story. But, still, I'm happy to have seen it.

There you have it.  And, neither of us threw up on the other patrons, so I'm calling it a lovely Tuesday afternoon.


  
Shef's first stomach flu.  Why would you want to read this?

The time Mac puked at tae kwon do.  Again, why click?

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Cabin Report

mac, waterskiing, cabin, july 4

As true patriots, the 4th of July weekend is a favorite in our family.  We kicked off the celebration of our nation's independence with a two-night trip to the family cabin with Dan's parents, his sister, and her family.  A rolicking time was had by all.  Highlights included Mac's first time up on water skis (pictured above) and Shef's unique approach to fishing.

Here's how the fishing goes:  First, the kid taunts the fish loudly.  "Come on, Fish!  I'm gonna get you this time!"  Just to be clear: this part is yelling.  The idea of not startling the fish doesn't resonate with Shef.  When tiny sunfish go for the bait, Shef celebrates heartily.  "OH YEAH!" and "LET'S GO!" are two of the cheers I heard. After he reels the one-, two-, or three-inch-long fish in, the problems present themselves.

Here's the biggest problem: Shef is apparently terrified of fish.  He emits high-pitched and ridiculous screams when a fish twitches, as fish are wont to do when out of water.  "Take it off the hook," we told him.  He struggled mightily with this task, even when I calmly demonstrated and coached from close proximity.  I'd say he screamed like a little girl, except that's sexist and in fact, a little girl (his cousin) was serenely fishing next to him, removing fish from the hook without any hoopla or to-do.

Shef himself could see the humor in the fishing and documented it in a small moment piece that he composed on his Chrome Book at the conclusion of the angling session.  Isn't that great? An outdoorsman who is also a writer?  He's every parent's dream.  And here's a video documenting what I've just described.  LOL, for realz.



Shef kayaking at the cabin at age 2. That's great parenting.

The time I bought a swim suit for an eighty year-old. I don't still wear that swimsuit, FYI.