Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Mandatory Minimums

I get up early each morning to write, and in the last few weeks, I've been writing grudgingly. The bare minimum of words seems to venture forth from my fingers.

That bare minimum has been 400 for years. I set this minimum arbitrarily once upon a time as some measure of success. It's a minimum that holds while I'm also working full-time at another job. When I'm being a full-time writer, the minimum increases to 800, 1500, or sometimes even higher depending on deadlines.

Part of me thinks that if I just upped the minimum in my mind for workdays, I would just write that new minimum. 500 or 600 or whatever. Maybe someday. The problem is, I already set the minimum at 400, so I'm used to it. I know that any new minimum might be fake.

In any case, today I've managed 403 words of marital strife between Leigh and Charlie, the main characters in OVERTIME, my third novel. They're arguing over money and division of labor. Typical stuff. We'll see if I can get some good details in there. Flip things a bit. In any case, every day that chapter gets 400 words longer.

In a little while, I'll go to school and teach the third graders about the election. I'm pretty excited about the lessons I planned, but as we know, even lessons that seem exciting can sometimes fail. I'll hope for the best. I've been doing a lot of that lately.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Lucky Day

I'm back in the classroom this fall for a stint until Thanksgiving. It's third grade. Here are the pros: 

  • I get to work with a fun and creative teacher whom I admire. 
  • I teach half of the kids each day, and having just ten kids is pretty easy in terms of management.
  •  Walking in the hallways was one of my least favorite parts of the job before, and now it's really not that hard because, for one thing, we don't go anywhere. And two, when we do go someplace (outside), there are only 10 of us and we have to walk very far apart. 
I've been taking the children out for an extra recess each day because it's the right thing to do and also because we don't have PE right now. The intricacies of the schedule are too much to explain, but basically, we have the same specials for three weeks and then we rotate. Right now it's Theater and Spanish. PE doesn't come until later.

Anyway, second recess came later than usual this week, and I told one little guy to cross his fingers as we walked out because I didn't know if another grade level was in the habit of using the playground at that particular time.

"We don't need to cross our fingers," he said, certain.

"But, I really want to use the playground!" I protested.

"It's okay." He seemed supremely confident and even strode a bit ahead of me, ready to confirm his prescience. 

"How do you know?" I asked.

"I'm really lucky," he told me. "I just am."

Sure enough, the playground was clear and has been at that time all week. I need that kid in my back pocket all the time.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

A New World Order

Up until this moment, I'm sorry to say we have endured a charger problem in this household. At one point, everyone had her or his own device charger. Said chargers had both power blocks and USB cords and were distributed equitably to the members of this family. Peace prevailed.

But, over time the situation has deteriorated. Here's the trouble: various members of our group have committed theft. They've taken other people's blocks or cords or both. Then, when confronted about this undesirable behavior, they've denied it and also perhaps hidden the evidence.

It was clear we needed a reset. 

Dan and I went to the Best Buy and purchased four new complete charging sets, blocks and cords. Everyone can have a new one. They will be marked with permanent marker. There will be no more theft, lying, or fraud.

This is my solemn vow, and I'll report back.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

It's Finally Time

I just posted my last regular blog entry on The Debutante Ball, so I'm officially out of excuses not to be here. Here's what's happening: The summer is winding down. I'm heading back to the classroom this fall to be a long-term substitute in third grade. It's the same position I vacated a year ago. I feel happy and excited to be going back for fourteen weeks.

Were you wondering about quarantine summer highlights?

  • Shef got his driver's license and tools around in a 2013 Rav4. He drives himself and Mac to cross country practice, which man... that's a game-changer.
  • I finished copy edits on my second novel, Are We There Yet?. It's out March 16th. I hope it's good. I think it might be. You can decide for yourself.
  • I am excited that my chin zits will be covered by masks for the foreseeable future. At the same time, I'm not excited about the pandemic. It's my least favorite thing ever, probably.
  • Our school is starting on a hybrid schedule. I will be teaching live and in person, but only 10 kids at a time. Each kid sits at their own table. The plus is there will be plenty of space for that child to spread out and work. The minuses are several, including trickiness in terms of collaboration, community, and fun. But, we're going to try our best, and my co-teacher and I decided there will be a lot of art projects.
  • My own kids go back to school on Mondays, Wednesdays, and every-other Fridays. They're on Green Team. Before the two teams were assigned, Shef really had a strong preference for Blue. Now, "all his homies rep green," and he seems fine with it. He's made memes to accompany his team selection.
  • Shef and Mac will continue to go to cross country practice every day, which is another good reason to have the driver's license and the Rav4.
  • I have been running a ton, and I think my work clothes still fit despite a Covid weight gain. I don't care about the Covid gain, really. There are more important things, and I like eating cookies and white bread. The running is good for clearing my head, which is fuzzy a lot of the time.
That's it for my first post back. I think we can all agree this is a good step.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Tell a Friend

Every so often, I get out of the habit of posting here on Word Savvy. It's a pattern I despise.

Now, I'm back, and I'll tell you about life in a two-dog household.

Back at the start of the quarantine here in March, we picked up Ripper from a lovely spot in Wisconsin. She was about 4 pounds at that point and very adorable at eight-weeks old. As a cockapoo, Ripper doesn't shed, and that's truly a blessing.

Teddy, our goldendoodle, was almost five at the time of Ripper's homecoming. I'll say he wasn't thrilled at her arrival. Having a younger sister was not something he asked for or seemed to particularly crave. But over days and weeks and now months, he seems to have adjusted to her presence. The two canines tussle multiple times per day in a way that I feel is mutually satisfying. Ripper, a quite small dog who seems to have settled in at about twelve pounds, jumps up on her older brother and snaps her jaws on his floppy ears. You'd think this might hurt him, but it doesn't seem to. Teddy either ignores her or engages in some rough-and-tumble playtime.

Only once did such playtime end in a trip to the vet, and now Ripper seems more adept at avoiding Teddy's Tigger-like bounces.

Overall, I'd rate having two dogs as 4.5 of 5 stars. It's everything I thought it would be, both more fun and more expensive. Worth it, as they say in economics.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

I Think We're Not in Quarantine Anymore

We're wearing masks and trying to stay away from one another, but we're also taking to the streets and demanding overdue justice and denouncing police brutality.

I've worn my mask to the protests, but I don't think we could call the protests "socially distanced," as we've been wont to call things lately. Sometimes, I guess if you're able, you need to take calculated risks to do greater good? At least that's what I'm telling myself.

In any case, this moment feels like a tipping point to me. I don't know anything, but that's what it feels like. The protests and outrage feel more urgent, more desperate, more widespread, and more obvious: lots of things have got to change and as fast as we can get them to change.

I'm in for the long haul. Olympian Marielle Hall wrote a really excellent piece for Runner's World this week, and she reminds us that "[f]ighting racial injustice in America is an endurance sport. It is going to take time, and sustained focus, to galvanize our communities. Being tired is not enough. The race can be won, but it requires dutiful action from all of us."

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Quarantine Diaries #8

It's kind of confusing because we're not technically on lockdown here anymore. In Minnesota, you're allowed to have gatherings of 10 people or less. But can you imagine? Inviting people to your home and perhaps killing them in the process by accident? I mean, no thank you.

In the meantime, here's a story I've been wanting to tell. There's no deeper meaning, but I find it amusing.

The other day, I was staring out the front window and happened to notice a plastic bag sitting in front of our door. I brought it in, and it was four items of frozen food from the frozen food delivery company, Schwan's.

When I was little, we used to get Schwan's, and I thought it was very exciting. There were personal pan pizzas and chicken kievs. But I personally have never made contact with the company called Schwan's. In short, I did not order this frozen food

I sent an email to the neighbors using a list I had stored from National Night Out. Hey, I told the neighbors, if this is your stuff, LMK and I'll drop it at your door. In the meantime, I'm keeping it in my freezer.

A couple of days went by, and no one replied, so one night after dinner, I helped myself to one of the Cookies and Cream Ice Cream Sandwiches from Schwan's. The kids did, too.

The next day, Shef wondered if he might bake up some of the Raspberry and White Chocolate Scones.

"Let's see how hard it is," I said. I pulled out the package of pre-scored dough, perfectly shaped into triangular pieces. The directions said to heat the oven, break them apart, and put the triangles in for thirty minutes. We did it, and the results were quite delicious. Later, Dan expressed concern over the healthiness of the scones.

"Are you worried about Shef's caloric intake?" I asked, eyebrow arched. I mean, that child is 6 feet, 2 inches tall, and a mere one hundred and thirty-nine pounds.

A few days after that, we had the frozen lasagne, and everyone was quite pleased. We have just one shrimp stir-fry dinner left. It seems the least appealing of the four things, but we'll probably give it a try.

How and why did this boon come our way? I think I might never know.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Quarantine Diaries #7

Here we are at another weekend. I generally remain prone on Saturdays in quarantine, except for when I do my exercise. I like to just read or fall asleep or generally let my mind wander on Saturdays.

Although, I'll admit the mind wandering hasn't really been all that pleasant of late. People keep getting and dying of COVID-19. Other people flout stay-at-home guidelines that would prevent thousands of deaths. All of us (me too) feel that lockdown is unsustainable in many ways. Ahmaud Arbery was murdered in Georgia. He was out for a run, something each person in my white family does multiple times per week with no fear of violence.

Thinking about the situation we're in right now is overwhelming and sad. And where is Joe Biden? In his basement doing a bad job of using technology while prominent democrats attempt to goad him into the public consciousness?

Come on, people.

I've been quelling my panic by reminding myself that literally, every smart person is working on coronavirus right now. Like, all of the best epidemiologists and public health experts and economists and educators--they're all trying to fix things. But, I fear their fixes will be buried and dismantled by incompetent politicians. Someone please tell me I'm wrong.


Monday, April 27, 2020

Quarantine Diaries #6

First, I'm a snaggle tooth now. The other night I was eating a delicious chicken tinga taquito, one of many I lovingly prepared for my family, and a filling in my front tooth came out. My children noticed first. The filling is missing, and now I look worse than usual. I probably swallowed that little bit of fake tooth with the taquito, and all I can do is feel the jagged edge with the tip of my tongue.

Something else: it was supposed to be a rainy day, but instead, it just rained in the morning and now it's sunny and 70. Glorious, if you will.

A third thing: I sent some chapters of my next project to my writers' group. I hope they like them. They probably will, and they'll probably have some good ideas about how to make them better. Making them better is a primary aim of mine.

Finally, the time has come to limit caloric consumption. At first, the quarantine seemed like a weird, no-man's land free-for-all. Whatever! We're in quarantine! Eat all the carbs and drink all the wine! Now, it's been like years in here. My stomach hurts a little and some of my clothes feel not the greatest. Maybe some better choices are in order. I run, but as I learned on The Biggest Loser, you can eat your way through any amount of exercise.

I guess that's it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Quarantine Diaries #5

We've all been here in the house like everyone else has been in their houses. Mostly, I feel we're doing okay except for the crushing collective grief.

I mean, right?

Last night, over our delicious dinner of mushroom, sausage, and spinach fricassee, Dan randomly started calling me Momar. He says it sounds similar to Mama. He says he thinks it's a nice name for me. The children, especially Shef, have adopted it immediately.

Look: I hate being called Momar. Who would want to be called that?

To me, it sounds quite similar to Muammar, as in Muammar Gaddafi, the dead dictator of Libya. I'm sorry, but who would like their at-home term of endearment to signal an authoritarian regime?

Not me. But, in this case, it doesn't seem to matter what I think.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Quaratine Diaries #4

What's happened now is that I've handed in the next version of my book. It turns out my editor had brilliant suggestions that I truly enjoyed implementing. Together, we made the book considerably better on this round, and I felt a little embarrassed that I'd handed it in as it was before.

Now, we hold our breath to see whether my editor likes the changes I've made in response to her reactions.

My guess is that she'll like most of them and then have a few more suggestions. She'll write her suggestions as comments in the Word document. Sometimes they'll be framed as questions. For example, she might write, "Would Alice really react this way? Or might she instead yell at so-and-so and text such-and-such?" That won't really be a question, and I'll know I'm supposed to fix that part.

My editor might also say something like, "This resolution isn't working for me. Maybe it could be X, Y, or Z? Do those ideas spark anything for you?" And, I'll either choose one of her suggestions or come up with something different that also does the trick.

This is how it works with an editor. If you need more information about this all-important relationship for a writer, may I suggest one of my favorite books of all time, Back and Forth: Using an Editor's Mindset to Improve Student Writing by the one and only Lee Heffernan.

In the meantime, I'm catching up on things like chores and making to-do lists. Later I'll even comb my hair, but only because I'm Zooming with a book club. These are strange times. My editor's name is Kerry, and I believe she's quite excellent at her job.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Quarantine Diaries #3

Starting this very day, there will be structure and order in our lives.

Well, that's my intention, but let's be honest: we'll probably end the day in a big pile of steaming failure.

But, wait!

Optimism, hope, and incremental progress!

Here's the plan: the children's online learning begins. For this first week, their learning is all asynchronous, but I've decided everyone will work from nine until noon. OR, they can work from ten until one. It's their choice. Either way, a snack break can occur at the 90-minute mark of the work period. If there is no work to be done, they can read or do Khan Academy or study for the ACTs, or, let's face it, they could just pretend to work, and I'd never know.

Dan said while making his latte, "I can't wait to see how today goes."

I said, "I notice you let me be the one to tell them about the routines."

Dan laughed in a guilty little way he does when he has, in fact, shifted responsibility in my direction. "Well, you're a teacher."

I raised an eyebrow. "You have to help enforce."

"I will!" Dan seemed sure about this, but I felt suspicious.

"You can't say, 'Your mother says.'"

He promises he won't. I'll report back. Optimism, hope, and incremental progress. Eye roll.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Quarantine Diaries #2: Status Report


My stomach: It's slightly on the upset side, I think because I've been eating too much dairy. Dairy doesn't, in general, agree with me; and many times in my life, I've cut it out altogether.

But quarantine doesn't seem like the time for restriction, and in fact, I've met social isolation with cheddar and mozzarella and marble jack. I don't regret it one bit except for the stomachache.

Media: I've been reading some, but I'd like to read more.

Meanwhile, I've been watching some excellent television. Dan and I are three episodes from the finale of The Americans. We're highly invested. Please don't tell us any spoilers for that show. The writers are brilliant and they hit almost every required note from a storytelling standpoint. I can't wait to see how they draw it to a close. Further, my friend Nicole introduced me to American Vandal on Netflix. She and I watched the first episode using Netflix Party where you watch the show and have a sidebar chat (Quarantine Fun!), and I laughed so hard that I made Shef come down and I rewatched it with him. He also laughed.

Apparently, I only want to watch shows with America in the title. Because, patriotism?

Book Work: I'm in revisions. I'm getting there. Someday, people will get to read my second book, and that someday will be next spring.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Quarantine Diaries #1

I haven't written here in a while. Did you know I've been blogging once a week over at The Debutante Ball?

That's all fine and good, but it's not the same as writing here as I have for the last sixteen years. Maybe now's the time, since I can't leave my house really. And none of us can.

The times are strange and scary. Here's what I haven't been doing:

  • Brushing my hair.
  • Wearing tops other than sweatshirts.
  • Curling my eyelashes or applying mascara.
  • Cleaning the basement.
  • Cutting back on carbs.
  • Culling the Beanie Baby collection.
Here's what I have been doing:
  • Working on my second book. The revisions are due April 13th, and I'll be done before that. As part of this process, I've been thinking about mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, junior high, graffiti, adoption, SnapChat, therapy, and interior design. I've been thinking about these topics among other things, like repeating images and clever connections between storylines.
  • Cooking and supervising food preparation. Constantly. All day, basically, someone wants to eat.
  • Running.
  • Playing cards.
  • Counting coins.
  • Petting the dog. 
  • Walking the dog.
  • Speaking to the dog as if he's my best friend.
  • Preparing for the new dog. Yes, we're getting a new dog, a helper sibling for Teddy. It was supposed to be in May, but since we're all here on lockdown, we're getting her on Monday, which is my birthday. The cuteness is going to be on overload, and I'll probably write about it right here. Of course, there's always the possibility that I'll regret the puppy, but probably not. I hope there's not the possibility that I won't write about it, but I haven't exactly been consistent, and I don't feel like promising I'll try harder.
But I might. There's always hope.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Gratitude #2: The New Car

You might know I've driven a minivan for going on 10 years now. Because I like to copy everything Lee does, I started calling it the miniature van. This gave the vehicle an aura of importance, if you will, despite its many dings and scratches.

You almost could just overlook the dents on all four corners, which I incurred when I ran into various things. It's hard, as it turns out, to drive without hitting stuff.

But, I'll tell you what: I won't be hitting anything in my new-to-me car.

It's sporty. It's sleek. It's life-changing, zippy, and mind-blowing. I love it so much I've been dancing around in celebration of this marvelous piece of machinery.

I mean, the seats warm up, and the interior is black leather. I'm a new woman with a new, non-minivan identity. Next phase, baby!

When I picked up Mac in the carpool line the other day, he didn't look as thrilled as I felt to be in the new car.

"How was your day?" I asked.

"I almost got into five different white Audis," he said, shaking his head.

Apparently, a lot of the middle school moms are also in their next phase and also feeling as cool as I do.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Gratitude #1: A Memoir by an American Champion

Some of my friends are writing about gratitude this month. I'm also grateful, and I'd like to write about it.

Right this moment, I'm grateful for a book I recently read entitled, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking Your Way to Victory by Deena Kastor. Kastor is the American Record holder in the marathon, so that's pretty cool right off the bat.

But, the thing I'm grateful for right this moment is this little approach she describes in the book about optimism and positive thinking. Here's a summary:

Everyone has negative thoughts sometimes. It doesn't do much good to fight against these. They're going to occur to you. The important thing is to hurry them along. Deena says, "Find a thought that serves you better."

Here's what she means: When you have a negative thought about something that you dread or that isn't going super well, acknowledge that thought, but then replace it with something that's going to help you move forward.

Here's an example negative thought that might occur to me when I'm running: "This pace is too fast. I don't know if I can hold it."
Here's the thought that might serve me better: "Take it one step at a time."

And here's a negative thought that might occur to me while I'm writing: "Wow, this chapter really sucks and makes zero sense."
And here's the thought that might serve me better: "Just write the bad stuff. It'll be so much easier to fix it later."

The bottom line here is, try to transform your thinking with gratitude and optimism. I in. Why not?