Thursday, August 16, 2018

Back to School



My school is starting a week earlier than normal this year, which means summer was a week shorter. This seems like a hardship for many, including the people who like to get their work done without teachers in their faces all the time. I keep hearing, "As you know, we lost a week this year."

It might feel like we gain a week on the front side of next summer when we finish up in May. However, this fact doesn't help the people who are working their tails off to have things ready for next Tuesday when the children show up.

To kick things off, I bought a book called The Growth Mindset Coach, and we're going to focus on our first month's theme: Everyone can learn! I think we'll do a little writing about when we learned how to do something. I have an idea to write a little sample about learning how to teach. I'm learning all over again now, and I have to say it's pretty fun so far. I feel slightly sorry for my new teaching partner on whom I have to rely rather heavily. I'm trying to make up for that burden by exhibiting my sunny personality. I'm sure she appreciates it.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Summer Fail

Before I get into my fail, let's just put one major WIN on the table: I sent my massively revised novel back to my agent by my self-imposed deadline of today. There's hardly a scene that we haven't overhauled. I cut several characters and added one. I changed the sequence of events that leads to the ending. I gave one of the protagonists a family secret. I changed the genesis and substance of the conflict.

It's just a totally different book. I also think it's a better book. I really hope all of the stakeholders agree with this assessment.

So here's my funniest fail:

I arranged to meet a new friend at a coffee shop. It was my first time having coffee with this friend, and of course, I wanted her to find me charming and impressive. The coffee place was fancy, and I ordered a drink I'd never tried called "Golden Milk," which is high in turmeric and made with an oat-based dairy substitute.

Only someone evolved and sophisticated would order such a beverage.

When the barista called my name, I zipped right up to the counter and grabbed the nearest cup. I sipped it enthusiastically, certain the Golden Milk would be fantastic. But right away, I noticed the drink was an iced latte, not a Golden Milk. "No," I said, turning around. It was at that point I spotted a very sour-looking woman whose latte I'd just sampled.

"That was mine," she said, angry.

"I'm so sorry!" I said. "They called my name, and the drinks look the same!" She scowled at me as if I'd transgressed on purpose. I swear I did not! I babbled on about the mistake. The barista pointed out the drink that was actually mine and told the other woman she'd replace hers.

That latte lady was REALLY mad. Like, really. This coffee situation was a major setback for her.

At our table, my friend and I giggled. What else was there to do? We made jokes about how perhaps I thought the counter offered free samples, or that the Golden Milk came as part of a flight. The more we laughed, the angrier that latte lady became. I felt bad for her and definitely sorry, but my discomfort just made me laugh harder.

When she finally left with her non-contaminated drink, I waved and mouthed "I'm sorry," apologizing again. She did not reply. She rolled her eyes and scoffed. This made my friend and me laugh harder, which I'm sure annoyed her to no end.

I'm sorry, latte lady! I don't know what else to say.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Adventures in Word Count

I have nine days until I plan to hand in the full revision of my novel to my literary agency. I'm sure we'll go back and forth again at least one more time after that, as writers and editors are wont to do.
I'm hoping, however, that the changes going forward will be more minor in nature.

That's because this first guided revision is pretty much a rewrite. I've had ups and downs during the intense process, and I'll just be honest: I don't want to rewrite it again after this.

Still, overall, I'm going to give the last four months of work a positive review.

That's because I'm pretty happy with the manuscript in its newest iteration. That's not to say there haven't been some sad cuts. I'm sad to have cut, for instance, a classic line delivered to me by an actual parent in real life. It's the time someone told me her son "couldn't have cheated because he has too good a relationship with Jesus."

I liked that scene in the novel, but alas, the fictional person who says that iconic sentence is no longer a character in the book. The line will live forever in my memory instead of in fiction.

Another sad cut came down in the last 36 hours. It's Gratitude Buddies. This is something else from my real life. Remember that time I embarrassed myself at a meeting by laughing about gratitude buddies as a school-wide initiative?

I had some really funny gratitude texts flying around in the back half of the book. On careful inspection, however, I came to agree with my current editor that they don't really fit. They don't further the character development or the plot.

I cut them. But, it was kind of sad. I'm nearing the end of this rewrite/revision. I'm looking forward to the day it's done.


Monday, July 9, 2018

Montana Firsts

Maybe you already know about the Grand Prismatic Spring?

We're back from our Montana vacation. This is our third summer in a row venturing west. We did the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the Badlands and Black Hills, and now, the Rockies of Montana. These trips suit me. I like the hiking, the adventure, the ceaseless vistas.

I know I saw all this terrain and natural beauty as a young person, but it's all seemed new to me on these recent sojourns. Of course, I distinctly remember refusing to look up from my book as we crested many a snow-capped mountaintop in our family van. My own children similarly fail to take it all in. I can tell by the way they slap at each other in the back seat and made countless off-topic jokes about balls. In any case, we accumulated many "first" experiences and, I'm quite certain, precious family memories on this Montana trip. I'll provide a list of these "firsts" now:

  • First multi-mile family hike. We did the famed Beehive Basin hike in Big Sky, often referred to as one of the forty most beautiful hikes in the world. It was six miles long and stunning. At the outset of the hike, I was very clear about my expectations. "I plan to complete this hike," I said. And everyone complied with very little complaining. In fact, the children ran the final three miles, leaving Dan and me in the dust.
  • First whirlwind national park tour. We spent eight hours in Yellowstone. Obviously, we barely scratched the surface of this American treasure. We were awed by the amazing geothermic marvels and tried not to think about the supervolcano under it all that might end the world someday. 
  • First time in a broken down taxi. On the way home, our cab driver's miniature van emitted terrible sounds and then started smoking copiously from the hood. He dropped us off in the parking lot of a gas station, and we called an Uber to make the final leg of the journey. Good problem solving to end the vacation.
We're thinking Banff or Utah for next summer. More vistas, por favor.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Not My Job

You can see the river guide here is responsible for ten lives, including his own.

I've been whitewater rafting a few times in my life, and although I really enjoy this activity, I've been thinking about it and have come to an important realization: there are, I'm convinced, few jobs I'm less suited for than "River Guide."

Although I'm pretty outdoorsy, which seems to be a trait the river guides have in common, the truth is I do not understand paddling and/or levers. Perhaps I could be trained, and yes, I was a marginally competent canoeist at one point in my life. River guiding, however, requires a level of technical precision I might find hard to achieve. There are boulders and sharp turns and also, as my crew demonstrated yesterday, the people in the boats don't always heed river guides' paddling direction with accuracy and/or alacrity.

Another issue with river guiding is that most professionals live a nomadic lifestyle, sojourning from river to river in search of both sustenance and adventure. Mike, our guide on the Gallatin River yesterday, currently lives in the back of his Toyota Tundra and will do so for the next eight weeks.

I like camping and all, but living in a truck at this point? I'm not sure I'm up to it. I already wake up sore most days, and I don't even sleep on aluminum.

A third reason I'm not suited for river guiding is that river guides must be immediately ready to handle life-threatening emergencies. The truth is, I'm rather skittish in the face of danger. And, although I once-upon-a-time became a certified lifeguard, I'm not sure my swimming and rescue skills can stand up to class IV rapids. Or class III or class II rapids. Let's not even imagine foot entrapment or whirlpools.

As you can see, I've given this a great deal of thought. Although I appreciate the opportunity, I'm going to have to say no to river guiding.

Monday, June 25, 2018

X is the Best Place to Fall in Love

Once again, we're watching The Bachelorette, and once again, I'm losing brain cells at an alarming rate. In the current season, a lovely Minnesotan woman named Becca dates twenty-five marginal suitors. We just watched a date on which Becca and Colton rode camels and then soaked in a hot tub in the full sun of the Vegas desert.

Why would one do that on a date for fun? I didn't even see either of them apply proper sun protection.

At the end of the date, Colton said it was one of his best days--not dates, but DAYS--ever in his life. I'm sorry, but that can't be true. It was a hot tub in the middle of nowhere with camels roaming in the vicinity.

In other news, the summer's been cruising. There's a lot to do on each of the days, and I'm a little worried about accomplishing all the things on all of my lists. Luckily, I totally mastered today's to-dos, including eating at a delicious vegan restaurant called J. Selby's. I had street tacos with soy chorizo, and Lee had a meatless hot dog that looked as if it were made of meat. Lee's visiting! Isn't that great?!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Summer Task Lists

Here I am finishing the hardest 5k I've ever run.

We're finishing the first week of summer vacation. Actually, I'm just thinking of it as "summer, "and not as "vacation." Last year, when I reframed the whole June-July-and August phenomenon as not time-off, but rather the start of my other jobs, I just felt much happier. I wasn't expecting to be luxuriating and feeling relaxed all the time.

Indeed, I'm not living a life of leisure over here. Instead, I'm being a novelist and a full-time parent and studying for my new job. All of these are time-consuming endeavors, but also a lovely change of pace from my normal 9-5. Or 6:30-5, as the case may be.

I've got a daily task list. It includes laundry and clutter clearing. And, most importantly, I've got butt-in-the-chair time to make progress on the book. The comprehensive revisions are due to my agent by August 6th. I'm excising two characters and adding one. I'm writing more internal thinking. I'm reworking the conflict. To be honest, it feels less like revision and more like re-writing, but so far, I think the changes are making the book more and better than it was before.

In addition, I've got running on the calendar. I joined a running team to celebrate my 40th birthday. I was lured by the possibility of scoring points for the team now that I'm old. Sure enough, I ran an extremely hard 5k last Wednesday. It was the slowest 5k I've ever run, and yet, I finished 2nd in the Women's Masters division. That's a point-scoring position! Yay for 40!

Let's do this, summer. I'm ready for you.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Countdown to Summer

We're here in the homestretch of school year 2017-18.

Here's the story: I have finished and proofed my report card comments. I have emptied my classroom. I have loaded a few belongings on a cart to take on a long drive (3 elevator rides and a trip through the courtyard) to Room 205, where I'll be teaching 3rd grade come fall.

At our assembly, my students reminisced about their favorite moments with me in middle school, which was very sweet. They remembered me leading them in dance moves from High School Musical and also commented that I'm quick with a sticker and a smile. 

I do love stickers.

Bring it on, Summer 2018! Only the Valleyfair trip, Shef's 8th-grade graduation, official high school graduation, and couple of faculty meetings to go.

I can do it, I'm pretty sure.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Big News. Big. Huge.

Here's something pretty cool: I applied for a new job. I went through all of the steps. I wrote a cover letter, updated my resume, did a fifteen-minute screening call and then a one-hour in-person committee interview. After that, I became a finalist, and I did a full-day candidate visit complete with two demo lessons with real kids. There were also six interviews with real adults.

Isn't that a lot?

I'm lucky because at the end of it all, I got picked for the job. I think you're supposed to play it cool on the offer call and say you need some time to think about it, but I didn't do that. I basically interrupted my new supervisor to yell, "I'M THRILLED, AND I'M TAKING IT!"

The whole thing was for an internal transfer position at my same fantastic independent school, and here's the deal:

Beginning next fall, instead of teaching sixth and seventh grades, I'm going to teach third grade. Third grade! In a self-contained classroom where I can work on empathy and community and global competence all day long while also thinking about all the core subjects plus social and emotional coaching! Further, I'm going to handle walking in lines and distributing snack!

Lucky for me, someone I know and love a lot has expertly taught third grade for years. I called Lee. She totally coached me, you guys. She made me feel like I could do it. When I got the job, she said, "Welcome to Thirdland," and I felt like I was 100% on the team.

I think it might be the best thing ever.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Listen to Your Mother Twin Cities 2018

Here's a picture of me practicing for tonight's show. My lip might be curling in an unattractive way.
Photo Credit: Ann Marie Photography The lip curl is obviously not her fault.
In a few hours, I'll be reading a story called "Labor and Reunion" in a show called Listen to Your Mother. I wrote the story myself. It's a true one about being an adopted person and having two mothers. It's also about giving birth and being a mother myself.

That sounds like a lot, but my part only runs 4 minutes and 45 seconds, so there's no need to panic about length. And, I included a few marginally funny jokes. If you go to the show, please laugh in the appropriate places. You'll be able to tell, I think, that I tried for humor.

Of course, I'm nervous. Here are some particular fears:

  • That I'll trip on the way to the stage, need to catch myself, and shove my butt toward the audience in an awkward way.
  • That I'll choke on my spit.
  • That my bra strap will fall down.
  • That I'll lose my spot on the page and need to tell the large audience to "hold please."
  • That the audience will be weirdly silent without any laughter or reaction at all. This has happened to me before at a Back-to-School Night, and it's unpleasant.
Those are the major ones. Here are some minors:
  • That I'll have to go to the bathroom a lot of times in advance of the show and struggle to remove my jumpsuit. 
  • That the sash part of the jumpsuit will fall in the toilet during one of these trips.
  • That the reddish-orange jumpsuit will remind listeners of prison.
  • That I'll mess up the group bow.
  • That I've forgotten to shave one of my two armpits. 
  • (Update: I just checked, and we're good to go on the armpit front.)
I think that's it. Remember, I signed up for this. I auditioned for it, in fact. It's happening. Go time.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Season of Psychosis

I've been super into this podcast called Happier in Hollywood. On it, two tv writers and life-long friends discuss their work, friendship, and "the war of attrition that's life in Los Angeles." I feel like these gals are basically my best friends.

I mean, not really, I have lots of amazing IRL friends who perform the role of stalwart pals and confidants. But, I also like these two podcast women -- my best friends for a half-hour on Thursdays. 

They've been giving lots of excellent advice about taking feedback (just take it--it doesn't mean that people don't like you or believe in your talent), owning your career (just because someone else can't do the job doesn't mean you can't), and the next big move (your job is what you do from 8-6, your career is what you do from 7-Midnight, or in my case from 4:45-6:10am plus summer).

Recently, the podcast gals helped me process the eleven-page editorial letter I received from my new literary agency. At first glance, the letter looks like, "Hey, thanks for choosing us to represent you! Now, here's how you suck! We'll detail for you, line-by-line and section-by-section, the many mistakes you've made in this manuscript! And, oh, by the way, it's terrible!"

Luckily, I already had a schema for this moment from Liz and Sarah of Happier in Hollywood. After a notes call on their first pilot script, they cried and told their agent they should probably quit the project because the development team must hate them. In fact, no. The "notes" phase is normal.

Feedback and a bizillion revisions are part of the process. Also, have you read Lee's book? She claims that pretty much every writer gets an editorial letter. She proves this assertion with evidence and examples. Every writer goes back to the drawing board with a book that's maybe above average and attempts to make it great. My one measly, eleven-page letter from my friendly agency is probably the first of several major guttings I and my poor book will endure.

So here's my plan: the two main characters are getting rewrites and extensions. There will be new stakes, maybe a new ending. The first chapter is going to start in a different place. Some minor characters, and maybe even some bigger ones, are getting cut. It might be hard to say goodbye, but the book may become better for it.

Let's hope that the book becomes better and that I can actually do what the agency's asking. I mean, I might as well try.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Here we are in NOLA



By some miracle, KK and I escaped the winter hellscape of Minneapolis and landed in New Orleans where we're participating in a Global Symposium for independent school professionals.

I have to say, it was sort of surreal taxiing down the ice-encrusted runway on Sunday in Minneapolis. I kept thinking we'd turn back toward the terminal. The snow kept falling. The previous day's flights had been widely canceled. We'd have to bag our talk about global competence and trot it out another time in another venue.

But no! Miraculously we de-iced, we took off, and we landed. We made our way to the French Quarter and checked into the Sheraton. Truth be told, we had a heck of a lot of work to do on our talk, so we haven't seen as many sites as we might have liked. But here's what we have done:

  • Had a Pimm's cup in a corner café.
  • Walked into the smallest bookstore I've ever seen.
  • Enjoyed some street performers, including some sweet electric violinists.
  • Strolled down Royal and Chartres and Decatur
  • Ate blue crab rolls, barbequed shrimp, pralines, red beans and rice, sweet potato gnocchi, praline bread pudding, and beignets.
Also, did you know that Starbucks now has matcha lattés? We had some in the hotel before we finished writing and practicing our talk. Later, we practiced and edited the talk some more. Some nice Catholic school teachers from Memphis told us about how they went dancing while drinking hurricanes. That sounded nice, but we've been in bed watching pay-per-view movies (Molly's Game and I, Tonya) by 8 both nights. We've had to get up early to write and practice the talk.

As I've mentioned before, people have different ways of having fun. I'm happy we made it here to NOLA. It's been worth it for sure, and tomorrow we'll do the talk. I'm pretty sure it'll be good enough.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Drop Me Off Down the Block

Not too long ago, the kids and I went to watch a friend of Shef's play in a high-level, high-stakes hockey game. It was really fun, and I especially liked how they blasted clips of classic songs like 1989's "Move This" by Technotronic before face-offs.

I got to thinking, I should take the kids to more school sporting events. We could wear our colors and root for the teams! Sounds wholesome and screen-free! I shared my epiphany with Shef, who is now fourteen years old.

"Hey," I said, "wouldn't it be fun to go to more school sporting events?"

"No," he said. The answer came swiftly and with zero hesitation.

"No?" I asked, surprised. "You don't want to watch your friends play lacrosse and stuff?"

"No," he clarified, "I just don't want to be seen with you in public."

Just like that! All matter-of-fact!

I think the inclination is probably exacerbated because I'm a teacher at the school, in addition to also being a regularly ignominious parent. Having a teacher mom is literally the worst thing ever for an eighth-grader, Shef says. I can't help that it's my job, though, and I also can't help that I'm so embarrassing. I feel I could be even more embarrassing if I didn't already put so much effort into my behavior. Shef doesn't know how lucky he is. One little slip and he could be the laughing stock of the entire school.

Friday, March 30, 2018

It's Over

This is Mac, the only snowboarder in the family.

We're at the end of our vacation. It's certainly been eventful. Our family has skied here in Vail, Colorado, ten of the last eleven spring breaks. So far, no one in our foursome has needed any type of medical attention on this annual trek. 

This year, Shef brought a pal to keep him company on the treacherous and adventurous runs none of the rest of us will do. Well, his poor friend and bosom companion first developed altitude sickness and then broke his wrist. Can you even believe that?! To make matters worse, the wrist required surgery. Really bad luck for our treasured visitor! His parents must wonder what the heck we're up to out here, but I swear, it's not a regular thing.

In other news unrelated to traumatic injury, I signed with a literary agent. It feels rather surreal just typing that. In case you don't know, if you want to have a book traditionally (rather than self-) published, you need to have a literary agent who sells your manuscript to an editor at a publishing house. 

You get a literary agent by writing and sending a query letter. The goal of the letter is to inspire agents to request more pages of your book to read. If an agent reads your book and loves it, she might offer to represent you. In case you're interested in the data, here it is: I sent twelve queries in the past three months, tweaking the letter and the first pages of my book a little over time. Of those twelve, four agents requested more pages. And two of those offered to represent me. I picked one dream agent, Joanna MacKenzie at Nelson Literary, last Friday on my 40th birthday.

So, I guess in relation to my post title today, it's over, but it's really just beginning. Except for Shef's friend's wrist situation. I hope his pain and suffering are indeed reaching a natural, peaceful conclusion.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Vacation Status Report



Skiing:

I love the free feeling of whizzing down the mountain, stopping frequently for breaks and 100% controlling my speed. I'd say my ski level is stagnant compared to other years. Why try to get better at a dangerous sport at 40? Seems like not such a great idea, especially when I can just, like, have fun and look sort of like I know what I'm doing. Or at least look like I'm not a danger to others.

Altitude Sickness:

It appears that one person in our party might have some mild to moderate altitude sickness. It's better not to google this, but instead to consult a mountain medical professional. That's on the docket for today. Luckily, in the limited medical research I did do, professionals say that altitude sickness generally resolves in short order. We should be on the other side of this in no time.

Reading:

I've got two perfect vacation titles on the go. One is The Widow by Fiona Barton. I love a good psychological thriller, especially on vacay. In this one, there's this feeble woman named Jean who married a veritable asshole who may also be a criminal. The blurbs all tell me I'm in it with an unreliable narrator, so things could turn any second.

The second book is America's Next Reality Star by Laura Heffernan. It's about Jen. She's suddenly jobless, boyfriendless, and broke. Why not go on a reality television show about puzzles and problem-solving? As you can imagine, the pages are flying by here. Reality television has long been my kryptonite.

That's about it. I'm hoping the second of these three items resolves today. Don't you?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Reality

I'm sad to say I haven't made too much headway on my lengthy spring-break to-do list.

Alas.

But to tell the truth -- and I'm being 100% honest here -- I don't much care. I did other really exciting things. My 40th birthday was the most memorable and frankly the best birthday I can remember.

As I was writing that, I scanned back over other birthdays, and it's true that I do have lasting memories of 23. I had a fancy dinner at a sushi restaurant with Dan, several of my friends, and my mom. At the table, Dan said fondly, "And now you're 24."

"No, I'm not," I said. "I'm 23."

He insisted I was 24, but I knew for a fact that wasn't the case. I knew it especially because we were celebrating my golden birthday. Also, I was sure my birthday was March 23rd, as it has been every other year.

"Are you serious?!" Dan finally exclaimed. Everyone laughed pretty hard, and then the sushi was excellent.

In any case, all of the things on my aforementioned to-do list will still be there when I'm finished vacationing.

In the meantime, I plan to be goal-oriented about downhill skiing. I'm going to take lots of runs and not get hurt. I'm going to write on my blog a few times. I'm going to be pleasant and cheerful in interactions with my family members. I might think about other writing, too. Anything is possible.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Spring Break To-Do

There's a lot happening over here, but most important, it's Spring Break. I've got a to-do list as long as my arm, including an eye appointment and painting the trim in the upstairs hallway. And, obviously, other stuff because that little list is only as long as my fingernail.

Among the items, there's also this blog that I've been neglecting. I'm really wanting to get back to it with charming anecdotes and musings on the writing life.

Here are three potentially entertaining tidbits:

  • I was once again a dance captain in the middle school teacher talent show act. A student emailed me afterward to tell me what a good dancer I am. I'm pretty sure, but not positive, the email was written without irony.
  • In the Mac zone, we've traded hockey parenting for lacrosse parenting. It's time for box lacrosse. Lacrosse is, I think, the most violent sport known to humankind. During the games, I find myself yelling things like, "WHACK HIM!" and there's sometimes blood.
  • I'm working out a synopsis for my next book. Before I get to the whole thing--even the whole synopsis-- I'm pretty sure there's an impending round of new edits on the old book. Isn't it funny that it seems old even though it still hasn't seen the light of day? Here's what I think to myself: the more rounds of edits I do, the fewer there still are to go. I think that's true no matter what. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Psoriasis Update. It's been awhile.

It hasn't seemed so hard to get through this particular Minnesota winter. It's been cold and snowy, yes. I felt typically overwhelmed by work, certainly.

But even in February, I wasn't too cranky with students.  I never took to my bed in exhaustion and despair. Well, except once last Friday night after parent-teacher conferences, I was slightly weepy. The conferences themselves went well, but I just got too tired.

One of the hardest moments of the whole season came this week when, after a five-day stretch of temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s, the weather forecasters doomed and gloomed over a potential 8-inch snow dump. I felt bummed about the news, but then the schools got all hyped up before a single flake fell and called a snow day. After all that, we only got about five inches.

Also, and this part helps a lot, I started a new medication for my psoriasis. It's a shot that I have to give myself--a needle to the stomach. I'm not totally psyched about this, but I can do it. And the results?

It's been about five weeks since I started the medicine, and I have almost no spots on any place. The only thing is that if I drink alcohol or eat anything with food dye, I'll get some streaky things on my cheek and specks under my eyes. But even if that happens, the spots everywhere else keep fading. 

It's a miracle like the ones you've seen on the television commercials. Instead of the spots intensifying all through these dark months, they're going away. I won't spend all summer on the strictest diet known to humankind and exposing my skin to sunlight on a meticulous timetable. I won't have to explain to strangers that I haven't been chewed by rabid mosquitos or preemptively tell new friends, "It's not contagious."

They should probably sign me up for the promotional drug commercial. I'm ready to give my testimonial and share my before-and-after calf photos.

And I'm ready for the snow to melt now and spring to start. Probably only a month to go.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The February Blues

I usually write at least one blog post about teaching in February. Here we are in the last week of the month, however, and I've neglected to write about the perils of schools at this time of year.

It's a brutal combo, the lack of light, the ongoing winter, the crankiness of everyone in the building. Add in a mass school shooting and the president's asisnine suggestion that I pack heat while kneeling next to students during writing conferences, and it's enough to make us weep.

Just in case you're still wondering whether it's a good idea for teachers to carry weapons, I'll tell you definitively, it's not. Smart people who know about these things are documenting the reasons why, reasons like even the NYPD has only an 18% hit rate in active shooter situations.

Another reason that's inordinately clear to me personally is my responsibility to create warm, productive, and predictable relationships with kids. I can't do that with a constant threat of violence on my hip. Plus, where would I put it when I'm sitting on the floor, huddled together with an eleven year-old over his new poem?

No, no, and no.

I'm hoping the light gets better. Put some sunshine on the situation. Get a clue.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Annals of Medicine: Oregano Oil to the Resuce



I skipped #5amWritersClub today for the first time in a long, long time because I feel I'm battling an epic illness. I'm calling it epic because I've seen kids go down with it at school, and it looks ugly. To be fair, there are several strains of epicness going around. They all seem dire, and I keep getting emails from people that say things like, "Maybe I'll be back tomorrow, but maybe not."

So, yesterday when I came home with a bad headache and pains in my legs, I quickly rolled oregano oil all over the soles of my feet and took a power nap. I doused my feet again before bed, and again this morning when I woke up.

You might be feeling skeptical about the healing powers of oregano oil, and I used to be with you. But, no longer. Now, I'm totally convinced that if you rub diluted oregano oil on your feet every four hours while suffering from symptoms, those symptoms will be shorter lived and less severe. 

My family doesn't quite believe me, but they don't protest all that much when I ask them to take off their socks. I think we all know deep down that if you do the oregano thing, you won't become as sick as you might have. There are scientific reasons, but do we really care? I mean, in case you do, it's because oregano is high in phenols or something, which are anti-bacterial. It also has thymol and anti-oxidants. 

But, regardless of all of that, you can actually get a little roller bottle of diluted oregano oil at your local co-op for less than ten dollars, which is better than missing work and feeling awful.

Oregano oil to the feet! I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Always Be Prepared

On Tuesday morning, I took Mac to the orthodontist's office. This is where we all smile politely at each other, the staff inflicts pain on my children, and I pay eleven-thousand dollars for them to do it.

Despite the nature of our relationship with the orthodontist, Mac and I were pretty content in the waiting room, just playing a game on my phone called Yazy. It's Yahtzee without the copyright, and I was winning.

Anyway, a kid came out of the torture chamber and tapped his dad, sitting across from us, on the shoulder.

"All done?" said the dad.

"Yep," said the kid. He grimaced a little bit, teeth flashing metal.

The dad stood up and something clattered to the floor. Neither he nor the kid noticed.

"Sir," I said, without looking, "you've dropped something." I stood up to grab it for him, planning to hand it up. But when I lunged toward it, I realized it was a huge knife.

A long, sharp knife! Like a hunting knife!

I paused.

"Oh," said the dad, and then realizing, "oh, geez!" He grabbed the knife and collapsed it and shoved it back into his pocket. I looked at his shoes. He didn't thank me for pointing out that he'd dropped a dangerous weapon in the lobby of the orthodontist's office.

I glanced over at him a few more times as we walked back toward the work stations. He seemed both sheepish and angry, like I might report to the over-friendly receptionist that he was packing. I didn't tattle, but I thought about it. Doesn't the orthodontist's office ban weapons? Why would that guy need the very sharp knife? Perhaps he was planning on negotiating a new payment plan?

It's not that I don't understand the impulse. But, violence is never the way.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

A (Short!) Break in My Characteristic Sunny Optimism.

Forget the new project for a moment, I'm in agony here over the old one.

Before I tell about the agony, I just want to say that regardless of whatever happens, I already did the thing I've always wanted to do. Which is, I wrote a book. I've got a whole story. And, if I feel like it, I can leave the whole thing there. Done and check. Bucket-list item totally kicked.

It helped me the other day to remind myself of this reality. "I actually finished this, and I don't have to do anything with it ever again to make that more true."

But, of course, that's not me. I'll revise it and perfect it and take more feeback and get it as close to 100% right and perfect as it can be. Nothing's ever just finished. I both like and despise this enduring personal quality.

But anyway, I'm starting to understand why some writers refuse to let anyone they know IRL get eyes on their manuscripts. I've had some readers - my freelance editor and my critique group, and then some friends and family.

Here's what's happening: Everyone has different ideas about how to make it better. There's no consensus in the existing feedback from people who've read it front to back. Other people haven't finished it, and I just want to say: "Ok, you don't like it. That's awkard, but it's fine. Just stop reading, and let's move forward. Maybe my next book will be better!"

I sometimes do say this, and the friend is like, "Oh no, no! I like it! I mean, you did it! You wrote a book! I'm sorry, I'm totally going to finish it!" And that just makes me feel worse. Like forcing their way through the pages is a chore they have to complete out of loyalty to me. It's like the slow clap you might muster for the last-place finisher in a fun run. The ol', "Isn't is wonderful that she's out here?"

To be honest, I just want to cry a little. Put the book down. Go back to playing violin at a 7th-grade level. Remember my hobby before was playing violin? Although, at this point, it would take me a year or so to catch back up to the 7th-graders. It'd be me and the 4th graders in group lessons, and that might feel worse than being a mediocre wannabe novelist.

At least - at least! - I'm pretty good at my day job. We've always got middle school teaching to fall back on.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Writerly Wednesday: New Project Jitters



Well, I'm in an awkward stage with my own writing. I've "finished" my book. I'm calling it DETENTION these days, and "finished" really just means that I'm waiting for feedback and inspiration on how to change it for the zillionth time. I've have done some finagling in the first chapter in the last couple of weeks, and I think I'm finally moving in the right direction with those critical first pages. 

Of course, I sent the first draft of that new chapter to my sister and my mom before I'd really polished it. My sister said it was "choppy," and my mom wrote back with an entirely different idea for the opening. They were both right, so I tried it again. 

I'm pretty sure it's better now, but really, it could also be that I'm making the whole thing worse. No one actually knows at this point.

So, anyway, in times of limbo, it seems the only real thing to do let the first chapter in DETENTION rest and begin a new project. Everyone says this is the way to go. While you're waiting for critiques or querying agents or, if all goes well with those first two steps, out on submission to editors, you should write a new story.

Lucky for me, I have a new idea. I think I'm ready to outline it. Remember what I said about not retro-fitting a villain this time? I'm serious about that. The outline is coming first. I'm going to re-listen to a fabulous podcast called How Story Works and make sure Alice (remember Alice from #novelsnip? She's coming back, but she's becoming funny) hits all the marks. I think this'll make the whole process smoother - the drafting, the work with a developmental editor, the exchanging with the critique group, the copious revisions after all of that.

Maybe I can shrink the process from just over two years to just under? I'm excited to see.



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Suffering in Silence

You might not have realized that I've been really working on my coping skills these last few weeks. It's been hard, and I've been soldiering on with very little sympathy.

Here's the story: two (TWO) of my closest pals at work have been out on leave. Robin has been gone for nine weeks already. First, she was waiting for her baby to be born, and now she's taking care of said baby. You know Robin and I actually teach a class together. We're co-teachers. So, now she's not here, and I'm still here. Plus, she's funny and nice, and she's my friend.

And not only that, Chadd, my neighbor down the hall and frequent hallway duty companion, also had a baby and went on paternity leave. He was gone for six (SIX) whole weeks. No hallway jokes, no talking about our novels in progress, no stealing each other's door stops and tape dispensers. Once again, he was gone, and I was still here.

Here's the deal, I totally support family leave. In fact, I wish we had more paid time available for workers to take care of their babies.

But (BUT) what about my loneliness and isolation?

Overall, I'm pretty proud of how I've handled this. I haven't even cried one time. However, today when Chadd came waltzing back into the building, I felt very happy. Fulfilled. Like things were once again right.

There might have been a group hug. They'll be an even bigger one when Robin gets back in two weeks. All together.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Status Update

What's happening now is I'm trying to write a synopsis of the novel. It's a 500-word description of everything that happens, focusing on the seven anchor scenes or the Hero's Journey or whatever.

Let me just say that next time I try to write a novel (I hope I'm going to do it again), I'll write this dastardly little document first. There will be one main character (not two, like I have now), and that main character will zip through her story, hitting every blasted one of these seven anchor scenes. It will be completely satisfying, and the whole thing will work.

There will be high stakes that I plot ahead of time. I won't find myself, for instance, standing in the gym with a colleague during recess duty trying to identify the villain after I've already written a hundred pages.

Because retro-fitting that villain was hard.

Writing the synopsis is also hard, okay?
The little paragraphs are dis-jointy.
It feels like I should have two different synopses.
I found another template that I think would work better for multiple characters.
Maybe I should start the synopsis over?
The doubt is creeping in while I write, like, one sentence per hour.
But doubtLESS, I'll have to re-write that one sentence a million times.

Luckily, this situation led me to the comfort of my blog. Maybe the blog will revive now that the novel is mostly done? That would please me. I hope that's what happens.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Best of 2017: Audio


This is it for book lists of 2017! The other book lists from this year and previous years are HERE. I listened to 14 audiobooks this year, fewer than I typically hear. I think the reason for that is my increasing interest in podcasts. In any case, I'm picking three audiobooks that shine in that format. Here they are in alphabetical order by author.


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, narrated by Dominic Hoffman.
This is a collection of interconnected stories beginning with two half-sisters in 18th-century Ghana, unknown to one another and with vastly different fates. Each story moves a generation ahead from the boarding of the slave ships on the Gold Coast to present-day America. It's a hugely ambitious exploration of the legacy of slavery and perceptions of blackness. I'll be thinking about this for a long, long time. And, I'm amazed that the author was 26 years old. I'm having a few qualms about recommending the audiobook because it is hard to track the characters through these stories; however, I did like Hoffman's matter-of-fact delivery and the richness of his voice. There's a family tree on Wikipedia that would solve the character problem.


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, read by the author.
These are engaging and sobering stories of The Daily Show host's growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid. Topics range from petty larceny to church-going to Noah's complicated relationship with his white father. Noah's mother becomes the throughline here, with the book beginning and ending with tributes to her strength.  I always love a book read by the author, and Noah's narration is excellent - funny, heartfelt, and brisk. It's also helpful to hear the stories, as so many words appear in various languages of South Africa - Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans - all of which he speaks. 




The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, narrated by Mia Barron
Several of my friends have told me they didn't like this book, but I found it to be rather addicting. I had to know what happened to each of the characters, minor and major, as soon as possible. I'm really curious about how Sweeney put this together. There's so much backstory and "telling," but still the plot really moves. All loose ends resolved at the end in surprising ways. Barron's narration felt non-judgemental and curious in its own right. 

Here are the other audiobooks I listened to this year:
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, narrated by Scott Brick. An excellent choice for a family road trip.
  • A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan, narrated by Julia Whelan. This was on my list of favorite fiction this year, and Julia Whelan has narrated several books I've enjoyed.
  • I Found You by Lisa Jewell, narrated by Helen Duff. I loved this mystery, but there was something off about the recording. Read it on paper.
  • Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz, narrated by Colleen Werthmann. I like the premise, but it's just too long.
  • Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall. I had to listen on 1.5 speed to get through it. There's just too much going on.
  • The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty, narrated by Heather Wilds. I love listening to Moriarty's books. This one centers on a quirky family, their secrets, and finding personal peace.
  • Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel, narrated by Carly Robins. A delightful story about a young woman's accidental foray into private school admissions. Funny, poignant, filled with (sadly) realistic portrayals of top-tier parents.
  • Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid, narrated by Julia Whelan. 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."
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin. On my favorite YA list. A really impressive novel of activism and coming-of-age.
  • The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware, narrated by Imogen Church. A total trip. The audio kept me sublimely entertained while I painted my son's bedroom.
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin, narrated by Karen White. The narration enhances the humor, especially of Rachel, one of four protagonists.
And that's it for book lists of 2017! I'm planning another post about my reading goals for 2018. I've got them, that's for sure!





Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Best of 2017: Nonfiction


I read 16 works of nonfiction this year. I'm pretty picky about nonfiction, so they were all pretty darn good. I do have five favorites, listed here in alphabetical order.


Back and Forth: Using an Editor's Mindset to Improve Student Writing by Lee Heffernan
I usually don't include professional texts for teachers in my list, but this year I can't help it because this book is a fave for sure. It's a book about how to position yourself as a teacher in writer's workshop for maximum engagement, revision, success, and pride in writing. Along the way, there are relatable tips for forging an excellent classroom community and a sense of authenticity. I love this book. If you're a literacy educator at any level, you will too.


You'll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein
Hilarious and on-the-nose essays from the writer and producer of The Amy Schumer Show. Topics range from the questionable fashion choices of middle school to the curious phenomenon of never feeling quite good enough. I felt like Klein was my pal, just another 40-something (Okay, I'm ALMOST 40) who wants to both do their best and also be cool.




What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami
I loved this funny, charming, and true meditation on running and writing. Murakami captures how I feel about these two pursuits and also about most of the other things I do: it's a mix of compulsion and curiosity. There's always the next thing, and it's both a pleasure and responsibility to carry on. Shef read this one, too, and he also liked it.



Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
This is a collection of deeply affecting poetry, so yes, I'm cheating in the genre department. Rankine writes short poems depicting everyday moments in the speaker's life as a black woman. The aggression she bears piles up and each page feels heavier. Longer poems had my white jaw dropping, but they shouldn't have. I should be more aware and active.



Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
I loved this examination of habits - formation, motivation, keeping, breaking, catching, encouraging, enjoying. The conversational style appealed to me, and I also learned a lot about myself. Most stunning and obvious: not everyone is like me. In fact, most people aren't.

And here are the other ten titles! Need a different book list? HERE you go!


  • Blind Spot: The Hidden Biases of Good People - by Mahzarin Benaji and Anthony Greenwald
  • Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher - Carrie Fisher's fast, funny memoir about living a crazy life while trying her best. 
  • On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting by Thomas Guskey - It turns out I'm not doing everything right when it comes to assigning grades. Lots to think about.
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham - A middle-grade graphic novel about girl friendships.
  • Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear - I loved this inside look at a successful college running team, its iconic coach, and a deserving national champ.
  • Whereas by Layli Long Soldier - Long Soldier morphs clauses of treaties and conveys through wordplay, syntax, and metaphor her own experiences of displacement.
  • The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota History by Joseph Marshall This is a wonderful compilation of stories and collective memories about the Oglala Lakota leader and legend.
  • Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall - I liked parts of this book quite a lot, but overall, there was just too much going on.
  • Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton - Sometimes, I felt annoyed because it seemed manipulative, and sometimes I cried because I found it so honest and moving.
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah - Engaging and sobering stories of The Daily Show Host's growing up in South Africa during and after apartheid.
  • The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin - I tore through this detailed guide to her Four Tendencies framework - a study of how people respond to expectations.