Sunday, December 31, 2017

Best of 2017: Middle Grade and YA

I only read 11 middle grade and YA titles this year! I can't believe it. I think I was distracted by contemporary women's fiction. In any case, there were some great ones among those 11. I'm listing my favorite three in alphabetical order by author.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker
This became an all-class read for our sixth graders, and we love it. Peter's dad is off to fight in the war and makes Peter leave Pax, the pet fox who has been his only friend since his mother's death, on the edge of the woods. The pain of separation sears both the boy and his fox, whom we follow in alternating chapters. Peter quickly realizes he's made a mistake and runs away in search of Pax. Pax relies for the first time on instinct in his own quest for survival. This book has some emotional takeaways including, "People should tell the truth about what war costs." This could be enjoyed by readers in grade 5 and up. Fair warning: it's quite sad.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I'm sure everyone has this mega best-seller on their lists. In my opinion, it holds up to the hype.  Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is in the passenger seat when her childhood friend Khalil is pulled over by the police officer who murders him. Suddenly, Starr's life - already complicated by the code-switching required to fit in at her nearly all-white private high school AND in her nearly all-black neighborhood - becomes even more difficult to navigate. How loudly should she speak? To whom, when, and with what consequences? This one is for teens - 7th grade and up, I'd say. 

Level Up by Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham
Dennis Ouyang struggles to find himself amidst the expectations of his parents and friends. His exacting father wants him to be a doctor, a gastroenterologist. But after his dad dies and Dennis falters in school, he's unsure of what his path forward could be. Enter four angels come to life from a greeting card. The angels bully him back on track and away from the video games. Can his supportive study group and his angels help him find a trajectory that meets his own expectations? Can he marry his love of gaming with an academic future? This is a heartfelt graphic novel for teens. 

Here are the other eight titles! Need a different book list? Here's a link to all of them.

  • Lowriders in Space by Cathy Camper - A celebration of lowrider culture in graphic novel form, if a little light on plot details and character development.
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham - A realistic story about girl friendships.
  • Restart by Gordon Korman - Class-A bully Chase Ambrose gets a fresh start via amnesia. 
  • Listen, Slowly by Thanha Lai - The rich and layered story of an American middle schooler's trip with her grandmother to Viet Nam.
  • The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall - A moving story based on the real-life artist James Hampton and his piece, The Throne of the Third Heaven. 
  • Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan - An enjoyable read about Julia Marks, a girl who needs something in her life and accidentally finds Munchkinland.
  • Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier - I love Telgemeier, but this was my least favorite of hers.
  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon - Loved the characters, didn't buy the premise.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Best of 2017: Fiction

Well, I thought about not recapping the year's reading. After all, I've been thinking about almost nothing but my own novel for the last several months, and I can barely type other sentences. All of the synapses are clogged with novel parts. 

Nevertheless and regardless of compromised brain function, I did read 54 books this year. And by my official count, 28 of those books were works of adult fiction, many in my own genre of contemporary women's fiction. So I figured, let's just go for it. Here are my favorite five works of adult fiction in alphabetical order by author:

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
Alice Pearse, a 38-year-old part-time books editor and mother of three, finds herself in need of a higher paying job. Enter Scroll, a company with a vision of chic reading lounges stocked with e-book downloads and "carbon-based" first editions and "originals." Alice is recruited to curate the book selection - a dream job! - and promptly loses her hold on life, falling into swirling pit of corporate expectations mixed with family expectations, marital expectations, flagging friendships, and children morphing into their next stages without her noticing. 

I mean, this is my life, and it's nice to laugh at it a little bit. Well-done and emotionally en pointe.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
The story of two refugees, Nadia and Saeed, who escape their embattled homeland through magical doors. The portals deliver them to new dangers and obstacles, even as they escape the shellings and gunfire. Hamid intersperses vignettes of other displaced people, illustrating that "[w]e are all migrants through time." This is both ultimately of-the-moment and timeless. It's really something.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
30-year-old Ruth gets dumped in the worst way - her fiancé says they're packing to move to a new apartment, and then it turns out only Ruth is moving while he shacks up with someone else. At the same time, Ruth's mother summons her home to help care for her father whose Alzheimer's is progressing. Goodbye, Vitamin is told in the diary entries she writes during the year she's there, working with one of her dad's grad students to sweetly simulate his teaching career (it's been terminated) and reconnecting with her mom and brother. Everyone's memories of each other are faded and unreliable. But everyone cares about each other so much. This is quirky, fresh, and lovely.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I read Ng's sophomore effort in a single day. I love her. This novel chronicles the life of Mia Warren, an unconventional mother and brilliant artist who promises her daughter stability in Shaker Heights, OH, after a childhood on the road. Pearl, the daughter, settles into their new community, becoming enmeshed in the Richardson family, a seemingly perfect household helmed by Elena, a reporter for the local paper. When another Shaker Heights family engages in a court battle to adopt a Chinese-American baby, Mia and Elena come down on opposing sides, and Elena becomes determined to unearth the mysteries of Mia's past. This is a fabulous family drama.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
A fascinating, unconventional family portrait written in verse and starring a crow as a physical stand-in for grief. This belongs with Jenny Offill's Dept. of Speculation in the "like nothing I've ever read" category. The mother has died, and the boys and the father - they have to carry on, crow or no crow.

And here are the rest of this year's titles:

  • You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott - An unputdownable psychological thriller centered on an elite gymnast, her parents, her coaches, and their collective ambition.
  • Rich and Pretty by Ruman Alam - The writing intrigues
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Chrichton - Our pick for our family road trip. Excellent for this purpose.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi - A hugely ambitious exploration of the legacy of slavery and perceptions of blackness.
  • The One that Got Away by Leigh Himes - It took me awhile to care about the characters, but then I did.
  • Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson - Highly enjoyable with a great premise.
  • I Found You by Lisa Jewell - A missing husband, a man with no memory, and a mystery buried for 20 years. Page-turning goodness.
  • Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella - So delightfully frothy, I couldn't stop. 
  • Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz - I got invested in Portia, an admissions officer at Princeton with stunted relationship skills, but the book was just too long. 
  • Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - Impressive in scope. Everyone loves it but me.
  • I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh - A satisfying thriller with an especially malevolent villian. After a major twist in the middle, I couldn't put it down.
  • The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty - A quirky family, their secrets, and finding peace.
  • Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty - Triplets in their early thirties come to terms with themselves, their mistakes, and each other.
  • Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh - The writing is superb; the sentiment is exhausting
  • The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny - These mysteries have so much heart. I love the series.
  • Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel - A delightful story about a young woman's accidental foray into private school admissions. 
  • The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid - An addicting old-Hollywood tale. Perfect vacation reading.
  • Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid - I loved this Sliding Doors-style dual love story in which we're left to ponder whether life is "meant to be" or "what we make it."
  • One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid - So light and lovely that the improbable premise didn't bug me.
  • Startup by Doree Shafrir - Men, women, drinking, smoking, and the crazy culture at tech startups. I didn't like any of the characters, but I was invested in the story.
  • The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney - It's about the "black sheep," the legacy of sibling rivalries and loyalties, and the destructive potency of unearned money. 
  • The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware - Classic locked-room mystery aboard an elegant yacht in the Norwegian fjords. 
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin - An utterly readable, funny, warm-hearted story about identity and redemption.

Okay, I'm glad I did that. Past book lists are HERE. I'm going to list my favorites in other genres in the coming days! 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Fit the Box, Fit the Mold

Usually, there are three weeks of school between Thanksgiving and Winter Break. I think this is a true fact.

This year, there are four weeks between those two temporal landmarks.

So, it's not the end of the world, obviously, but it's different and harder, and I'm going to need some kind of mantra to get through. Maybe something like, "Calmly swimming along."

That's just my first draft.

To keep things interesting, it's Secret Gingerbread Person time at school. Gingerbread Person is just Secret Santa without the Christianity.

Some of my work pals are like, "I don't need the stress of Secret Gingerbread Person," and they're not participating. I'm usually bah-humbug, so I totally get the impulse.

But me?

I need the distraction of Secret Gingerbread Person. Little moments of delight in these dreary December days? I think, yes. We had to write a little note with suggestions for our assigned Gingerbread, and I told mine that I like stickers and pens and pencils.

It's true that's what I like, but I don't really care what I get. I'll take anything.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Swim Parent 101

I'm not really qualified to write Swim Parenting 101 because I just started being a swim parent this past summer. However, I am a fast and engaged learner, and I'm really only planning to share one tip.

The tip is to purchase a stadium chair with a nice pad for the seat. You know what I'm talking about? It's this:

When you're a swim parent, you sit for hours in bleacher seats with no lumbar support. After just one hour, your whole body starts to hurt; and if you're at an especially sophisticated (interminable) meet, you're going to be there for five or six hours more, and then maybe again the next day for the same amount of time. Not only is it nice to support your back, but it's also nice to keep your bum cushioned.

I actually ordered the chair pictured above while sitting at one such meet. It's glorious, and now I bring mine to other events like hockey games, and pretty soon, to track meets. It's true I'm the only parent at hockey games with a cushioned stadium seat, but I get lots of compliments from the grandparents in attendance. It reminds me of my old lady swim suit, which also drew compliments from those thirty or forty years my senior.

But, anyway, the chair at the hockey games. In addition to providing back support, your butt doesn't get cold because you've provided a nice foam barrier between it and the icy metal.


Friday, November 24, 2017

Attitdue of Gratitude

Other years we've had 16 or 18 or 21 for Thanksgiving, but this year we were just six.

Did that stop us from making all the delicious items, including my first cracks at stuffing and gravy? No, it did not.

Did that stop us from being incredibly festive, listing at least one item each for which we are grateful? No, it did not.

Did that stop us from setting a gorgeous tablescape with the traditional handmade hand turkeys from when Mac and Shef were little? For sure not.

Also, by the way, and not to brag, but the stuffing and the gravy totally turned out. The stuffing tasted like sage, and the gravy was rich and salty.

As an added bonus, clean-up for six is quicker than clean-up for 20, so we had time to see Wonder at the local stadium-seating movie theater. It was lovely, and I cried through pretty much the whole thing.

All this, and I haven't even mentioned the turkey trot. Shef smoked me, per usual, but this time, I paced Mac to a 22:08 finish in his first ever 5k. The spectators were amazed that a little person ran so fast and gave him a lot of love. He inspired me to really kick it in, as well, for a solid 22:10.

Dan didn't go to the trot, but he did take this picture of us as we headed out the door:

And now, still an extra day off. Yay hooray.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Balls to the Head

This week has been a little nutty. For instance, right now I'm sitting at home with Mac who had a little fever and a massive headache. I worked the morning, and then I traded with Dan at lunch. The whole tradeoff was a little hairy, and I was reminded that I hate missing class. I hate getting subs. I feel responsible for my students and my colleagues, even though everyone needs a sick day now and then. I wish I could just submit an out-of-office thing that said I was working at home, guilt free.

Anyway, I'm just feeling rather out of sorts, a little headachey myself. Of course, my headache might be the residual effect of yesterday's recess duty.

There I was, watching kids play basketball and frisbee and stuff in the gym. Indoor recess - we have it all winter because middle schoolers don't wear coats - seems a little precarious. I supervise it once per week.

Midway through yesterday's session, a kid landed a soccer ball on top of the folded-up bleachers. Kids aren't allowed to go up there to get the balls themselves, so I walked over to retrieve it. On the way, a different soccer ball hit me in the back of the head. My glasses flew off my face. I had an instant ache behind my right eye. Plus, I was super embarrassed. Getting whomped in the head with a soccer ball in front of thirty seventh-grade boys - it's just not dignified.

I wasn't very gracious about the kicker's apology. "Watch where you're kicking!" I admonished, unsmiling. I could tell he was actually sorry, but come on - look ahead before you let loose!

I'm hoping things seem a little more normal starting tomorrow. No sick children, no dull headaches, no projectiles, no nothing. Teaching and learning. That's it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

You know what's fun?

Halloween is fun for most people, but as you might remember, I hate fun. At my school, you get to wear costumes. I wore a t-shirt that I wrote on with a permanent marker. It says, "Grammar Police" and "Special Pronoun Force." Also other stuff like, "Your apostrophe won't make it plural," and "Ask me about who and whom!"

This was the second year in a row I've worn it, which I think makes it a classic.

"What are you?" the kids asked as they arrived from recess.

"The grammar police," I said, to minimal reaction. "This is as fun as I get."

They looked a little sad for me. After all, their costumes were super fun. Especially the blow-up t-rex and sumo wrestler. "Can you two deflate?" I asked. I hated to wreck their vibe, but the t-rex couldn't really see out of his costume. Also, the whirring of the electric motors required to keep the both of them puffed up was loud.

"Sure," they said.

And then, about ten minutes into my lesson, my boss showed up to do an impromptu observation. On Halloween. After recess. With the t-rex and sumo wrestler, the gorilla suit, a bunch of football players, and a Thor.

"Can I take my costume off?" the gorilla asked while I was giving directions. "I'm getting really sweaty."

"Yes," I said. "But, wait. Do you have clothes on underneath?"

He did, but it's always good to check.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Plans, etc.

I'd thought that I'd settle into a reasonable, once-per-week blog posting routine. You know, just to keep things alive over here while I'm finishing the book. Then, what happened was that I had parent-teacher conferences last week, and I've been recovering ever since.

Also, after the conferences, we had our accreditation visit at school.

And, whatever, it was life.

In any case, I am planning on writing once a week to keep things alive over here while I'm finishing the book. The only things I can think about are finishing the book, writing a query letter about the book, and what I might write for the next book.

Every day, I work feverishly on getting closer to a finalized version that I can give to readers.

Last night, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with all of the other things I'm supposed to be doing besides finishing the book, things like taking care of the children and doing my full-time job. The level of anxiety was sort of extreme, so much so that Dan thought to text me during the day to check in.

"Anything else I can do to assist you?" he asked.

"I'd really like to finish and sell the book," I said.

This is, in fact, the case, but I might need to be a little less intense about it, at least from time to time.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Your Grandma Ain't My Grandma

I've realized that I need an additional hour per day to write. Yes, I now have a completed novel project, but the revisions (we're on draft 15 or 17 or 25, but who's counting) are taking a long time.

This is a problematic, but I hope not insurmountable fact.

Everyone knows I already write from 5 to 6am. Turns out there is a whole community of people who do this, and we all tweet at each other in the wee hours. We choose funny GIFs, including pictures of donuts on Fridays. I'm pretty sure #5amwritersclub is like the cool kids' lunch table, only not so much.


I'm thinking about when I could add an additional 60 minutes. I could maybe scrape out 20 minutes over lunch at my desk? Maybe 30 minutes after school on the days I don't have meetings or Mac's guitar lessons or the kids' sports practices? Maybe while I'm sitting at said sports practices?

Now that I'm closely examining the situation, I actually don't think I can find another whole hour per day, but maybe if I try really hard, I can up my weekly writing time from 6 hours or so to 8? That would speed along the process by a certain percentage. Like, it'll be 33% more time in which to revise.

My goal is to be #DoneByDecember, like all done. I think I can do that, but I'm talking about December 31st. All the days of December are mine to excavate for those few extra minutes.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Big Bucks

In the sixth-grade writers workshop, we're deep into narrative writing. Kids have accumulated lots of small moment story seeds. They've chosen a favorite one, flash-drafted it, and now we're making sure we know not just what happens, but what the stories are REALLY about.

Did you know that writers plant the seeds of those deeper meanings throughout the piece, using tools like dialogue, symbols, precise actions, and internal thinking?

Anyway, it's true.

One young man has struggled a bit with his deeper meaning in recent days. In the story he likes best, he makes an amazing play on the football field.

"So, what about football is important to you?" I prompted in a whispered conference.

"It's fun," Brian said.

"Okay, but you've written in so much detail about setting up for the game, being with your teammates, the moment you really need to leave it all on the field - why does this all mean so much to you?"

It took a little back and forth, but eventually, we teased out some deeper meanings. It turns out, it's the feeling of camaraderie that gets to Brian. It's the constancy of football in his life, the tradition of it and the values of the game.

That was yesterday, and I was feeling good about Brian's progress. Today, I encouraged him to imagine a few different story arcs and get back to it, revealing that deeper meaning every step of the way.

But Brian wasn't into it. "My story doesn't have a deeper meaning," he said, loudly, so everyone could hear.

"You have a deeper meaning," I told him, quieter, modeling the appropriate volume. "We worked it out yesterday."

"All it is is that I had a huge sack." Loud and clear.

Giggles from Brian. Giggles from the audience he'd created.

"I had a huge sack," he repeated. "I mean, I had just a major sack."

We get it with the sacks, Brian! We all know you're not talking about felling the quarterback on the snap! We know you're not engaged in a rigorous exploration of themes!

"Look, Brian," I said pointing toward the spot I was hoping he'd settle into with his Chromebook and cutting to the chase. "We talked yesterday about the love of the game. I don't want to hear anymore about your scrotum and testicles."

There. But, that was a lot for the sixth graders in my room. One kid buried his whole head behind his screen, just losing it. I ignored all of them and played it straight.

"I want you to get back to your writing," I continued, turning away from Brian and hoping for the best. "You've got this."

Monday, September 25, 2017

How It's Done

My sister Mary was in town this weekend, and she agreed to drive with us to one of Shef's cross country meets. It was far - like an hour and a half - and because it's billed as "The World's Biggest Cross Country Meet," you have to park literally miles from the start of the race.

All of this is to say, coming to the meet was a major time suck for her, and she did it anyway. Thanks, Mary!

On the way home, she got to witness a strategy I use to keep the peace in the miniature van. The kids get to alternate song choices on Spotify. As the selections began, I gave a pronouncement, a necessity now that Shef's in eighth grade and listens to the vilest music I've ever heard.

"Okay," I said, "let's keep it clean. No n-words and not too many f-words."

I didn't think anything of this decree, but Mary started laughing so hard she choked on her water.

"What?" I said.

"High standards!" she coughed.

"Yes," I laughed, "A+ parenting over here. Take notes on how it's done! If you need parenting advice, you know whom to call!"

We howled.

It was funny, but the message was clear; and I stand by it: Some f-words are okay, but NOT TOO MANY.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Raging Ever Forward

We're in the groove now, this school year. Stacking up the five-day weeks, quizzes and homework, important - yet, controlled - discussions about pressing global issues. I'm just cruising along, doing my thing.

Tonight's a rarity on our calendar. We don't have evening obligations. We'll make some dinner, force the children to talk to us, maybe watch something on television before Dan and I each retreat into our work until we go to bed.

I'll try to read a few pages of the novel I've been picking away at forever, but my eyelids will get far too heavy, and I'll fall asleep before I've finished another chapter.

This weekend, I'll write my professional goals for the year. Each year, I articulate two or three, try really hard to get the sentences just right and sounding smart, and then I accomplish the goals. Or, at the very least, I make significant progress toward them. That's my way. Charging ahead.

Also, this weekend, I'll run a 10-mile race. After that, I'll do some weeks where I'll try to attend fitness classes. Then later, I'll start running again. I'm going to run a marathon during my year of 40. I'm also going to finish my book. It's going to be a big and important year.

Just like all the other years.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Three Good Pieces of Book News

Thing One: I'm reading another book of poetry. It's my third of the year. This one is by Layli Long Soldier, and its called Whereas. There was a rave in the NYT Book Review, and now I'm reading it. I'm not worrying about not getting every meaning and metaphor, but rather enjoying the words and their sounds in my head.

Thing Two: I got an email notification from Heinemann that my very own copy of Back and Forth is on its way right this very second. By the time I get home tonight, it should be here. You know the deal with this, right? It's Lee Heffernan's book? My friend and mentor and erstwhile Twin Tuesday collaborator? I can't wait to read this. I'll probably live-tweet the reading.

Thing Three: We're starting our first all-class read today in the 6th grade. It's called It Ain't So Awful, Falafel. I love it because it's funny, and it's about empathy and global competence. Perfect. Thank you, Firoozeh Dumas! And thank you, sixth graders, for reading it and practicing making inferences.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Calendar Master

I was actually feeling like back-to-school was pretty in hand for year 19. I wasn't even really working past 7pm. I hadn't messed up anything major. The kids (my own) were getting to their activities. I felt confident and competent - a true pro. Super Mom, if you will.

You see where this is going, right?

On Thursday, I was walking out of lunch with KK, and she said, "Oh, I got a dinner reservation for 6:00 at Spoon River on Saturday."

"What?" I said. "We have plans on Saturday?"

Turns out, we'd agreed a month ago to accompany our bosom friends to a fundraiser this very night. Oh yeah! Right! Of course! And I'd already made plans for that night with another friend on whom I'd recently canceled. And Mac has a hockey game and no alternative transportation.

I'll fix it, I told myself. And I totally did fix it! Success! Until a kid piped up at the end of A period on Friday, "Hey, weren't we supposed to go take pictures?" Yep! Yes, we were! 30 minutes before she reminded me!

And, this weekend there are several lessons to rehash, one of which is going to take some serious time. Don't worry! I'll get it done between Shef's CC meet, the fundraiser, a family reunion of sorts, and the dinner with that friend that I've now canceled on twice. Whee! I've totally got this.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Oops! It's Been too Long

We're cruising into the routine with the last of the special introductory schedules on tap for today. That's good because my students are getting sick of these precious anomalies.

Let's just do the regular, predictable thing without random assemblies and advisory meetings, ok?!

I myself have had to make a couple of schedule changes that I'm on the fence about. Maybe you know I usually work on my upmarket contemporary fiction book from 5-6am? At least on school days?

Well, by the time I got out of bed at 5:03, put socks on, whipped up some breakfast, and tweeted to #5amWritersClub, it was like 5:17. Then, I had to take a break at 5:40 to make tea, and before you know it was 6 and I had written for only 35 minutes.

If I'm going to be #DoneByDecember with the whole book, that kind of schedule just isn't going to work. So anyway, the solution was clear. The alarm had to be set for 4:43. Now, I'm all ensconced by 5 and get a full 50 minutes or so for this round of revisions.

Yes, it's a little early in the AM, but the characters are getting signature objects. The locations are getting arcs. A minor character is becoming appropriately fleshed out. It's happening.

In the worry column, I'm starting to get a little stressed about copy editing. I'm not good at copy editing my own work, but hiring a professional is pretty expensive for a hobby book that doesn't yet have an audience. Especially when I've already had two go-rounds with a structural professional. But,  let's just think about this later.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

First Day of School

I like the first day of school okay, but mostly I like to have it finished. The best parts of school are when we're well-oiled and hanging tough. That's not how we were this morning at our house. Mac, for one, was having trouble adjusting to the reality of the weekday morning.  Shef then discovered while we were en route to the school site that he'd forgotten his math packet. Alas, we had to turn around.

Never mind all that. In the end, we made it to school and cruised on through to recess. While I was supervising the field and sport court, some sixth-grade boys approached me, clearly distressed. The problem stemmed from football usage. It seemed a pair of kids were hogging the only football, just playing catch, while 20 or so other guys wanted to play a real game.

"Where are the kids playing catch?" I asked.

"They went down to the other field," the boys told me.

"Hmm," I said. "Well, I see a soccer ball over there," I pointed. "You could get a game of World Cup going; or I see some extra basketballs, so you could play that." The boys seemed unimpressed. "A tag game is another possibility," I suggested.

"Ma'am," said a ring leader, butting in, "thanks for laying out the options, but we have our hearts set on football."

As I didn't have a football, I couldn't make this dream a reality. The recess teacher helped eventually. I hope this conflict doesn't recur. This Ma'am wasn't super effective in resolution.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Were You Wondering about Back to School Workshops?

We've been working pretty hard, preparing for the students to arrive next week. Before that happens, my fellow teachers and I have a million meetings. There have been six meetings so far.

During the meetings, I add to my to-do list. The list is filled with items that I cannot complete during meetings. The list has gotten to be about a full page at this point.

At the end of the day full of meetings, I changed into my running clothes, the clothes I remembered to bring with me to work for the purpose of exercising at the end of the day.

After I ran and while I waited to drive cross country carpool, I crossed three things off the long list. The tasks were all related to classroom decor. It'll feel good to have the classroom looking great. It'll get finished over the weekend, I'm pretty sure. That's when the magic will happen.

That's all I've got.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

That's a Wrap

Summer's coming to an end. There are messages in my inbox about meetings next week. Agendas, to-dos, class lists, and all the rest.

This weekend, I'm going to just prepare myself with some hard core relaxation and writing and of course, driving the children hither and yon. I've got two books I want to finish. I'm behind on my book review tweets. I need to buy some name small name tags from the teacher store. Oh, and my driver's side headlight is out.

These are the kinds of tasks that are foremost in my mind on this fine Saturday. Also, there's the annual motto hunt. I love mottos. I've been listening to a new podcast called Happier in Hollywood, and the writing-partner hosts have one that I'm certainly adopting: "It's a good job, and I enjoy it."

A helpful reminder that is also true.

I'm also having a motto about being a great team player and not making too many waves. It's, "Get on the bus." When I say this to myself, I'm going to also sing the iconic ditty from a very odd children's television show that Shef liked. "Do do-do-do, Get on the Bus!" Very cheerful.

And finally in the motto department, of course, I'll continue to Be a Bright Light. It's just hard not to since that's just coded into my very nature.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I Don't Feel Good About Bachelor in Paradise

Part One:
You know, there are really important things going on in the world. I'm thinking and reading about the things nonstop, and yet, I watched Bachelor in Paradise for 2 hours last night.

And, to make things even worse, it's only because my DVR was not properly programmed that I won't be watching two more hours tonight. And darn it, I'm kind of disappointed to miss Carly and Evan's wedding! They met on Paradise another time, made out a lot on national television, and have now wed in front of this year's Paradise contestants, who've undoubtedly wished them well.

I might actually watch the episode when it pops up on-demand at some point. It's a terrible decision and a horrible waste of time.

And yet.

Part Two:
I'm thinking about lowering my book reading quota for next year. My problem is that if I say I'm going to do something, I have to do it. For each of the last four years, I've said I would read 52 books, and now there's no way around it. It's fine because I'm currently six books ahead of schedule, a situation I engineered to account for the coming storm of back-to-school.

So, things are good in the book department, but what about the New Yorkers that I keep recycling before reading them? What about the many, many news articles I have to read to keep up with the doings of our completely insane and Nazi-apologist president? What about the New York Times Book Review?

What about Bachelor in Paradise?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fall is Coming

In a week, I'll be back to work. That's fine because I do love my work. Sometimes, however, I wish I could be less consumed by work; or, alternatively, slightly more satisfied by a consistent, solid effort instead of regularly requiring of myself a Herculean one.

It's the preemptive school-year exhaustion that has me fantasizing about other career paths. For instance, I recently learned that I could probably make a decent living at Trader Joe's. I ran into Dan's cousin at our local store. He's a Mate, which is like Assistant Manager. He has a retirement account, a salary comparable to mine, and he spends his downtime in his rented art studio making stuff.

I also have downtime where I write stuff, but it's between 5 and 6am, and I don't have a studio so much as a stool at the kitchen counter.

Barnes and Noble also seems like a nice job, as does shelving books at the local branch of our Hennepin County Library.

Of course, none of these new career paths would have the significant benefit of working with America's youth in such close capacity, which I do quite enjoy. Also, I've trained hard to be good at my job, and it would be sad to put all of that education and experience out to pasture.

In the end, I'm probably not going to have to break the news to Dan that I'm starting all over as a Crew member at the Woodbury Trader Joe's. But, I did notice that they have a part-time opening.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Victorious Moment

Well, the tire pressure light went on in my car. Annoying! But did I cower and give up? No, I did not.

Rather, right after a delightful coffee with Mary, during which we talked excitedly about our upcoming school years, I proceeded to the gas station and parked by the "Free Air" sign.

I went inside and asked the clerk for a tire pressure gauge, which she cheerfully handed over. On the way in, I saw another self-sufficient woman checking her own tire pressure with her own gauge. "I should get one of those and keep it in the glove box," I thought. But for today, I just used the one from Holiday.

I pretended I had successfully done this a million times before because, fake it till you make it. I scanned the tire for the appropriate max PSI. I revealed the little valve and measured. All the tires were low. I experimented with how long to hold on the air hose to make the pressure rise sufficiently.

A couple of people who also seemed to want Free Air gave me side-eye. Maybe I was taking a long time? I ignored them because, back off.

When I got back in the car, I was initially disappointed because the pressure light remained illuminated, but then, guess what? After I drove for a few blocks, it went off. I'd done it. Success!

It was a small step for womankind, especially because I personally witnessed other women practicing preventative car maintenance this very day. But, it was a large step for me. In the words of someone who must have said it for the first time some time, "If you believe it, you can achieve it."

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Right Clothes for the Job

I have a thing this summer where if I'm not feeling like doing something like painting or running, I just put on the appropriate attire. I have to get dressed anyway, so I might as well put on the clothes for the item on the to-do list.

Then, maybe an hour later after I've had my matcha latte, I'll be like, "Well, I guess I'll just do the thing since I'm already dressed for it."

It's working. Right now for instance, I don't feel like working on my Refresh the Family Room painting project. I did, however, feel like getting out of my pajamas, so I put on my painting leggings and t-shirt. When I'm done writing this, I'll probably just put a little paint in the tray. My other trick with painting is I put a moderate amount of paint in the tray. When it's gone, I'm done painting for the day. It's less of a grind that way.

Since I'm sharing, one of my best tricks for running is to choose a podcast episode that's the length of time you want to make myself run. Then, just run till it's done. Stop wherever you are the moment the hosts say, "That's it for this week," or whatever. Then, you get a nice walking cool down.

I'm into these little hacks. Making things just a little easier. Feeling proud about checking things off.

Monday, August 7, 2017

4 Things That Are Making Me Happy This Week

New Supplies: I go back to work two weeks from today. It's totally fine, and I'm pretty ready. Plus - yay! - it's time for school supplies. New pens, new notebooks, new Dixon Ticonderoga Black pencils. I bought some awesome Stabilo pens this morning at Dick Blick. Also, a Rhodia notebook specifically designed for tracking meetings. I go to a lot of those, and this tool will increase my happiness in several ways. First, my meeting notes will be uniform in style and easy to find. Second, there's a column just for action items, and I can check these off to be sure I've followed through. And finally, I can number the meetings like page numbers at the bottom. I feel like I go to meetings all the flipping time, and this will allow me to quantify and report back on the truth of that. I might also categorize the type and usefulness of each meeting with an exclusive rating scale. Buckle up!

Peanut Butter on Rice Cakes: Plus a drizzle of honey. I love this snack. I also love beef sticks. And no one's here at lunch time to judge my choices, so I'll eat those things as much as I want to.

Podcasts: In the last couple of days, I've listened to some great episodes of Happier with Gretchen Rubin, This American Life, The Daily with Michael Barbaro, and The Turnaround with Jesse Thorn. I think I myself would be an excellent podcast host. In my other new notebook (the one not for meetings), I plan to brainstorm some possible podcasting angles. I mean, it's really time for my media empire to really take off.

The Goodwill Closet: I have a closet where I keep items for the Goodwill. When it's more or less full, I go to the donation drive-through and gleefully chuck of all the things into the appropriate bins. Guess what? The closet's pretty full! I might stop by this very afternoon and unload. Such a wonderful feeling. Am I right?

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Alone Report

It's so weird when the children are gone. It feels like a ton of headspace just opens up magically in the places where I'm not worrying about what they're doing now or next. I seem to have a longer attention span, and at the same time, I'm prone to feeling sort of heavy and tired, always on the verge of a nap.

I also feel, as I usually do during any stretch of down time, an intense obligation to "use it wisely." In this case, though, taking long baths in Dead Sea salts and catching up on Game of Thrones (I'm five seasons behind) are wise uses of my time. I'm pretty sure.

Today so far, I wrote my daily word count quota, rather more easily than normal. I'm planning to do a little structural work on the novel now, finding places for missing scenes and maybe doing a little freewriting on the connection between the two leads. I also went to my exercise class and to Costco. I forgot to get toilet paper and the pharmacy was closed, but that's okay because I can just go back there in the vast expanses of free time I'll have this week, maybe tomorrow or the next day.

I took a Dead Sea Salt bath, during which I meditated and read a chapter of the Crazy Horse biography I'm struggling through.

I made myself deal with a dead bird in the back yard. I have a strong aversion to dead animals like bats, mice, and birds. It's almost even more paralyzing than the aversion I have to the live varieties of these species.

Anyway, it's just after noon and I have all day still. Amazing.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Here's What's Going On: Camp Prep

It's time to get ready to ship the children off to camp where they'll stay for two weeks.

I hate to say this, but let's all give a cheer. It's time for the kids to go off for two weeks and commune with other young people in a youth-centric environment run by awesome and dirty college kids who are not their parents.

And, it's time for the parents to do whatever it is we want to do without feeding, coordinating, driving, cajoling, and refereeing their every activity.

Now - and I hate to be greedy - but wouldn't it be nice if their duffels could be packed by someone other than me? I've already washed all the clothes and determined that neither child has sufficient underwear for the duration (it's on the Target list along with travel-sized shampoo and more socks). The least some other mysterious person could do is actually go to the Target, purchase the items on the list, and then put all the stuff in the bags, making sure that they zip.

Mac also wants his hair dyed blue for departure. It's not that hard. Just go to the Walgreens, buy the kit, and follow the directions. I'll be watching tv downstairs in case you have any questions.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Reading Report

I'm really relieved to note that July has been a big reading month. Before I posted the big number (7 finished so far), I was mildly concerned that I wouldn't meet my 52-book quota.

As you know, I prefer to accomplish all my goals, leaving no to-do list item unchecked. I did remind myself, however, that I'm just doing 52 books this year, and not 57 or 64 or 75; so being "on track," or one or two books ahead of schedule according to Goodreads is totally fine and not behind.

Even if I'm not in danger of failing to hit the magic number, I did discover, however, that I'm woefully behind in certain categories. For instance, I've only finished 8 works on nonfiction. Similarly, it's go-time on children's and YA. I've only finished 5! That's totally unlike me, and I feel a little deficient, a little less-than, a little inferior at being a literacy educator for young people. Plus, I can hardly recommend a top five come year-end without reading at least 15 of a given genre.

I'm glad I stopped to assess. My priorities are now clear. Children's and YA and nonfiction. And, let's be honest, some adult fiction because I can't help it.

Now we know.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Feminism Problems

I have a really hard time coordinating and scheduling home repairs and maintenance, and after 16 years of suffering, I've decided to blame sexism.

I call the people, I inquire, I make the appointments, I greet them with my usual charm and goodwill. I request the estimates and suggest the dates.

And then?


Many vendors just sort of ignore me after that. "I'll send you the estimate," the roofer said. And yet, I did not receive the estimate. "We'll start the work the week of July 17th," said the handyman. The handyman has presumably disappeared from the face of the earth.

I think the only home repair/improvement provider I've successfully dealt with is the landscaper, who is a woman. And maybe, now that I'm thinking about it, I've had some success with the rodent removal technicians and the one plumber who gave me helpful advice.

In my current situation with the roofer and the handyman, I just had to give up and forward the contact information to my husband. Maybe they'll recognize his manliness and actually communicate with him. Maybe they'll want to do the work if they know that there's testosterone on the premises.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Be Who You Are, And Be That Well

I went to a religious high school with two exceedingly quotable founders. One of founder Saint Jane de Chantal's best directives is, "Be you who are, and be that well." Like, don't try to go and massively change in order to gain favor from anyone, including yourself. Instead, hone in on your best, most authentic version, and let that goodness shine through.

That's kind of what Gretchen Rubin is saying in this book that I've become obsessed by, Better Than Before. In it, she talks about knowing yourself as the key to habit acquisition. 

And who cares about habits? Everybody probably should. Rubin's premise is that habits are "the invisible architecture of our everyday lives," so your habits determine what you accomplish and, more importantly, how you feel.

I'm only a little more than halfway through the book, but it's already inspired me to try a few new things (or return to some tried and true routines) to invigorate the habits that I know make me feel happier and more successful. In the book, Rubin offers various strategies you can use to implement and maintain habits. Some of the most appealing to me as an Upholder (that's my tendency, according to Rubin's framework - what's yours?) are Monitoring and Scheduling.

Here's what I'm going to monitor this week:
  • I've known for awhile that I probably missed a food when I stuck with some of the eliminations from the diet last fall that helped me lessen my symptoms of psoriasis. After several experiments, I'm pretty sure it's corn. So, this week, I'm going to monitor my food choices and make sure I'm not eating processed corn. I'm going to have a "no corn" item in my habits tracker in my little to-do list book that I carry with me.
  • I'm going to make a list of the things I want to do multiple times per week - write my book (there are almost no new scenes left to write, FYI), exercise, and blog. I'm going to put a number of check-boxes next to each of these. When I fill the check boxes (four for blogging, for example), I can stop worrying about the tasks until next week. This is a combo of monitoring and scheduling.
  • Finally, I'm going to monitor my supplement taking. I'm supposed to take a digestive enzyme thing and also probiotics, but sometimes I forget. If I put those things on my to-do list and check off the box, I do it.
And now, as a bonus, I've used the strategy of Accountability to ensure that I'll do these things by writing them here. Win-win-win.

The time that Gretchen Rubin helped me reconceptualize failure

Habits and attitudes to help writers.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

It's Finally Feeling a Little Like Summer

summer discoveries, summer, matcha tea

I'm finally sleeping in a little, my feet hitting the floor in the 6 o'clock hour instead of my school wake-up time of 5:15. I'm drinking my tea while looking at Facebook and the New York Times. I'm writing new pages in the mid-afternoon while kids are doing whatever.

Most recently, in case you're curious, Mac is throwing playing cards, which is apparently a thing.

Also, I'm listening to the new music by my brother, Noah Engh, which he recorded in his home studio while his baby napped. And, I'm trying to catch up with every single friend and family member I have.

It's good! I'm looking forward to the two weeks that the children will be at camp, as those will really feel like vacation (no driving them, no playdates, no haggling with them over book completion). Those two weeks are coming right before I go back to school on August 21st. A great reprieve.

So. Onward. Today, I'm sharing three amazing summer discoveries:

  1. The Happier in Hollywood podcast. My friend Susan told me about this. It's Sarah Fain and Liz Craft, lifelong friends and creative partners, talking about their work as tv writers and producers. It's about creativity and strategy and life hacks, and I love it. I've listened to almost all of the episodes now in the last couple of days, and if you're thinking of trying it out, I recommend this one with Marcia Clark. She seems totally badass. 
  2. Ben and Jerry's is making almond milk ice cream in really good flavors. I have a pretty limited diet to help with inflammation (psoriasis), and dairy is a definite no-no, so this Ben and Jerry's invention is fabulous for me. I'm still not supposed to eat the other things in the pints like sugar and chocolate, but every once in awhile, this is really good.
  3. A daily matcha latte. I'm a total convert. Matcha, ground up green tea powder, is supposedly really good for you with tons of antioxidants. I have a kind from Whole Foods I like that also has turmeric and ginger and cinnamon in it. I don't prepare it according to the tea box directions, but rather according to the Instagram directions I linked first.
This summer is not bad, not bad at all.