Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Greetings From the Polar Vortex

I just had that familiar feeling that comes near February 1st in teaching, the feeling that you're not sure how you'll ever make it through the dark and dismal winter with its indoor recesses and increased crankiness. And then this year we got an extra shot: dark, dismal, and colder than it's been in decades! The windchills are supposed to get down to -50 or -60 degrees Fahrenheit; the actual air temps are supposed to be as low as -25.

So, the miserable, triple-threat winter actually offered us a reprieve: we can't go to school for a few days. We'll rest and recharge and not suffer frostbite within five minutes of being outside. That's what the weather service said, btw. Frostbite will begin within five minutes of exposing any skin to the elements. Can't do bus stops in those conditions.

I'm using the time on these three days to make some strides on my second book. In fact, yesterday, I wrote more than 2,000 words! Today, I'm planning to set a more reasonable, and yet still impressive, goal of 1,000 words. Who knows? Maybe I'll surpass it.

I'll also do my hand exercises. And, I'll read.

There are other people for whom these days won't be so pleasant--people with jobs that can't be canceled, people with toddlers who morph into living terrors outside of routine, people who don't have a warm place to be that's all their own. I wish I could make this vortex more enjoyable for these folks. I wish I could get them a warm cup of coffee.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Tub

At long last, we're gutting the master bathroom in our home. It'll be nice to have an update also nice not to have a dark and leaky shower.

Still, we face some challenges. One of them is that I have very little design sense. I don't know what the options are, what looks good together, and sometimes even what I like. So, that makes remodeling hard. Remodeling seems to go better when people have confidence in their decision-making.

It also seems to go better when the HGTV vans come in and just fix everything in 48 hours or so for half of what I'm going to have to pay. I asked the woman at the plumbing fixture showroom why it seems so cheap when Chip and Joanna Gaines do it, and she said it's because they don't include labor costs--just, like, wholesale prices for the materials.

So, the lesson here is that HGTV is a big fat lie. Just FYI.

In any case, one component we needed to choose for our new bathroom was the tub. We selected one, a nice clawfoot job, but then it turned out that according to codes, we needed one with the drain on the right side, not in the center. If you want a clawfoot with a drain like that, it's got to be an oblong shape or a slipper style, neither of which we thought would look nice in the space.

Not that we know anything. But who needs a lifetime of doubt surrounding a seldom-used bathtub?

So the plumbing showroom gal gave us the option of a rectangular tub with some detailing in the toe kick area. This choice will also save us some cash because we won't need the fancy faucet that comes out of the floor and loops the edge of the clawfoot. When it came time to choose the faucet we will actually have, I deferred almost completely to the plumbing showroom professional. The faucet looked a-ok to me, and I just couldn't think about it anymore.

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Change

A while ago, something big happened to change my writing life. Writing used to be my hobby. I worked on it diligently, and I didn't know if I'd ever be published. When I'd talk to my students about my book, they'd inevitably ask about the ultimate step, and my answer was always, "I hope so, but that part isn't in my control."

But the other parts -- learning, improving, risk-taking, putting my butt in the chair -- those parts I can control, and I do. Most weekdays, I write from 4:45-6:15am. I take classes. On weekdays, I make myself write at least 400 words. In the summer and on breaks it's usually 800, and sometimes for a random month during the school year, I raise the quota to reach an arbitrary goal. Like, I'll decide I'm writing 20,000 words in November or whatever.

But, if I failed in those word-count endeavors, it didn't matter to anyone, mostly not even to me. And, when things were extra crazy at school or home, I'd just take a little break. "I won't work on my book this week because I'm doing report cards," I might decide. Or, when school started, "I'm not going to worry about opening my manuscript until September 28th." And that was fine, obviously, because writing was my hobby.

This November, though, I accepted an offer from Berkley, an imprint at Penguin Random House, to publish my existing novel and the next one I write.

It's amazing! I feel as if I've won the lottery!

And now I have fewer choices about altering my writing schedule. I have to turn things in when I said I would. It goes beyond that, even. I don't get to say when I'll turn something in. So, it doesn't matter about report cards or a new math unit or a hockey tournament for Mac in an out-of-town locale. Writing is my job, too. It's thrilling!

The inflexibility provides an extra layer of challenge, but I'm not someone who shies away from that kind of thing. Historically, I've been more of a "bring it on" person. That's lucky, don't you think?

Sunday, January 6, 2019

This Is Not My Fave

On New Year's Day, I broke my wrist by slipping on some ice while walking into the ski chalet. I was wearing ski boots at the time, but was not skiing. I have the classic slip-and-fall break, the Colles' Fracture, which happens when you brace your fall with your arm.

I'll be honest and tell you, this highly common injury hurts to high heaven. I kept exclaiming to my very nice ER nurse how much it hurt. She nodded and said, "Well, look at it."

I think she was referring to the way the joint made an s-shape, a shape wrists are not supposed to take. After a little while in traction and some nerve blocking agent, the doctor attempted to set the bone, which couldn't be done because the fracture was of the comminuted variety. I've learned this means the bones were in a lot of pieces.

Later that night on January 1st, after my fingers swelled up and became numb, I had to take an Uber back to the ER. The doctors tried again to get it into alignment. More traction, more manipulation, and -- blessedly-- more nerve blocker. I was relieved when they achieved a better position, and I could once again feel my fingers.

Now, I've had surgery, and I have a new plate in my wrist, holding everything together. You can see the plate in the picture above. I can move all my fingers, and I can even almost type. Almost.

I'll be back to work, writing and teaching in no time. Although this broken wrist is a massive pain in more ways than one, I'm hoping in the long term, we'll think of it as a blip.

Let's repeat it together: BLIP.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Best of 2018: Favorite 10

I lowered my book quota this year from 52 books to 36. I did it because I felt very busy writing my novel. It was a good decision, but next year I'm headed back to 52 Books Plus, as I promise in my Twitter handle, @52BooksPlus.

As it turns out, I read 41 books in 2018. The majority of these (26) were works of fiction for adults, lots of them within my own genre of contemporary women's fiction. I added another 7 middle grade or young adult novels, and then I read 6 works of nonfiction. I usually read more evenly across genres, in part so I can provide reviews in several categories.

This year I just read the books without thinking too much. So instead of my usual series of best books posts, I'm just doing this one. 10 books I loved in 2018, in alphabetical order by author. I hope you'll tell me what you think of these books and/or whether you give them a try in 2019.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
In this installment of the Cormoran Strike series written under a pseudonym by J.K. Rowling, our heroes investigate the maybe-murder of a child in the countryside. They follow the tip of mentally ill and deeply sincere Billy Knight, who thinks he witnessed the killing when he himself was a child. Billy leads the detectives to a group of leftist activists who aim to take down the government Minister for Sport amidst the 2012 London Olympics. Robin and Strike handle the intersecting conflicts as well as their own personal lives, which appear particularly messy one year after Robin's ill-advised wedding to Matthew Cunliffe, whom we all hate. I love these books and read them immediately upon release. I've written about the echoes of Harry Potter before.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Oprah loved this book, President Obama loved this book, my friend Alison loved this book, and I also loved this book. It's the story of Roy and Celestial who embark on an imperfect, but loving marriage. Roy is falsely accused and wrongfully convicted of a violent crime, and suddenly what was once sure is now exceedingly fragile. Jones's novel works on the micro and macro levels--it's the story of Roy and Celestial, and it's also the story of mass incarceration and systemic racism.  

The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey
I adored this historical mystery set in the 1920s and starring Perveen Mistry, Bombay's first woman solicitor. She's a winning heroine with a penchant for women's rights, and I plan to read every installment of this new series. In this first novel, Massey toggles between the predicament of the Widows, a group of Muslim women living in purdah whose husband has been murdered, and Perveen's own problematic past. The one person who can both threaten her career and her personal safety has reappeared in Bombay.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Braideigh Godfrey raved about this one, which is how I knew to pick it up. Sure enough, I lay on my bed to finish the audiobook without distraction and wept. This is a deeply moving family portrait infused with empathy, forgiveness, and hope. A story told in memories, the novel has a dreamy quality, and yet each vignette crystalizes, the characters and settings heartbreakingly real. Mirza also manages a loving depiction of estrangement, as does Tara Westover, whose book I blurb below. I'm not sure I've ever read more touching and real descriptions of losing family.

Calypso by David Sedaris.
I've admired in the past the way Sedaris merges heartbreak and humor, and I think he might be at his best in this volume of essays. He explores the deaths of his mother and sister, and also discusses silly and harebrained plans like feeding tumors to turtles and reaching new FitBit heights. Plus, there's diarrhea, and no one who's taught middle school for a total of 12 years can resist a poop joke.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Stradal's narrative strings through intersecting stories centered on Eva Thorvold and her "once-in-a-generation" palate. I finished it nine months ago, and yet I can still feel the heat of Eva's chocolate habaneros, the sting of her mother's abandonment, the sweet and earnest cast of characters who love her, support her, or come under her unassuming spell. With bonus points for the novel's Minnesota setting, this one went straight to my favorites shelf, a slim selection I reserve for those books I find to be "life-changing." (I'm putting A Place for Us there, as well, just so you know.)

The Collaborative Habit: Life Lessons for Working Together by Twyla Tharp
I read this book last January, in the final months of a five-years-long collaboration with two exceptionally gifted teachers. I learned a lot during this tenure. I wasn't always an ideal collaborator, although I think I improved year-by-year. The truth is, I can be bossy, overbearing, and hyper-critical. Twyla Tharp is not these things, and I relished her stories of both synergetic and challenging collaborations. Overall, I came away impressed by Tharp's acceptance of others and tireless professionalism. Not only does she explain how she managed these relationships, she suggests ways in which we might all do the same.

Chemistry by Weike Wang
This is the story of a Ph.D. student in crisis, torn between her boyfriend, her parents, and her own flagging sense of self. In snippets of prose and efficient, surprising scenes, Wang reveals the genesis of the struggle and catalogs a bit-by-bit resolution. I loved the book's inventivess in form and style, the story infused with facts--scientific truths and concepts that both unmoor and ground the unnamed main character. It fits with other slim, unconventional novels I've loved in the past, including Grief Is a Thing With Feathers and Goodbye, Vitamin, which I listed as favorites last year.

The Book of Essie by Meghan McClean Weir
I was 100% addicted to this book about Esther-Ann Hicks, the youngest daughter in a fundamentalist Christian family. The Hicks star in the inordinately popular Six for Hicks reality television show. When Essie, age 16, announces her pregnancy, she occupies a strange and powerful position in the family, as suddenly their veracity depends on her dual machinations and cooperations. The author employs two additional narrators, in addition to Essie, both of whom feel real and compelling and, like Essie, face seemingly impossible problems.

Educated by Tara Westover
You can't find a 2018 best-of list without this book on it, and it absolutely deserves its many raves. In this memoir, Westover recounts her growing up in rural Idaho. Her parents distrust the government and all of its programs, including education and medicine. Tara doesn't start formal schooling until age 17. The Westover family's many farm and machinery accidents are treated with oils and herbalism. Tara's dad's mental illness rules the family, and the fear and desperation she feels in her relationship with him, alongside her love and devotion for all of her family, breaks my heart. This joins The Glass Castle and the Color of Water and Just Kids on my list of favorite memoirs.  I'll soon be adding Michelle Obama's Becoming to that list too, FYI, so watch for that one on next year's list.

And that's it for reading in 2018! You can see all the books I read here. If I finished the book, I liked it a lot.