Sunday, May 29, 2011

Who Am I To Argue With Fate?

Do you believe in fate? Sometimes I get all cynical and think it's a bunch of crap, that karma does not in fact pay you back for living a life that focuses on bettering the world for others,doesn't bring down the people who bring so much pain and suffering into the world.

Then I have days like today where I realize that there has to be something ... call it God, call it fate, call it good luck, but man ...

So last night, my computer suddenly went psycho. I mean, we're talking crazy. I was pretty sure it was a lost cause (whatever it was swept through the virus protection like wildfire), and Addie confirmed that this morning.

Of course, I had a decision to make. Should I go to a computer specialty store to see if they can repair the earliest version of a Netbook, or should I just get a new computer (which has been on the radar for awhile ... Netbooks have good points, but they also have severe limitations).

Anyway, I'm typing this on my beautiful, brand new laptop :-)

Back to fate for a minute, though.

I got this urge yesterday to print my novel. I have a hard time editing on a computer screen (it's kind of like why I don't have a Kindle or a Nook, despite my insatiable appetite for reading), and I knew I had a lot of work to do.

To make matters even more interesting, my printer is special and prints one page at a time. My completed novel is lengthy. Quite lengthy. It made more sense to just go to Staples, so I put it on a USB and paid far too much money to it printed.

Yeah, do you see why the "one page at a time" approach was just not feasible?

Anyway, while I was putting the novel onto a USB, I figured I might as well print out my current WIP, too. After all, it's in need of some editing as well.

When my computer appeared to be possessed by the equivalent of Charles Manson on acid, I was momentarily hysterical. Other than Addie and Belle (and possibly my dogs), those two pieces of writing are the most important thing in the world to me.

They weren't backed up until yesterday. (Stupid, I know)

Thank you, whatever force made me take care of that business yesterday. I owe you one!

And, if you're interested in exploring my novel in terms of critique or style or abject curiosity or whatev, you can read some of it here, and/or weigh in on a recent struggle I've had with it right here.

And, just because I'm excited about it, here's the hard-to-read dedication page (no pseudonyms there, but I don't think the people on the page would be offended ... interesting that I've written about most of them here under assumed names, though).

Sunday Stealing: Last Part of "You Can't Be Missed" Meme

Here's this week's installment of Sunday Stealing, the final part of the "You Can't Be Missed" meme.  If you don't do it, you should because it's wicked fun (said in my New Hampshah accent).  If you do, please let me know in the comments so I can check it out :-)

46. Would you ever try to quit one of your addictions, or better said: Bad Habits?
Not at this point in time. I think I need my bad habits to maintain sanity, if that makes any sense. I went to the store once and bought a Coke and a Milky Way bar.
CLERK: Cokes are two for a dollar.
ME: I'm all set, I'm trying to quit caffeine.
CLERK: Candy bars are two for $1.50.
ME: No, thanks, I'm trying to quit candy bars, too.
CLERK: Maybe you should focus on one at a time.

Wise clerk ;-)

47. Could you ever kill yourself to save someone else?
For my children, I would do anything (even "that", Meat Loaf, whatever the heck "that is").

48. Does it matter if break up with someone or have them dump you?
I guess it would depend on how strong the feelings are. Personally, my M.O. has historically been to act like a jerk so I'll get dumped (because I hate breaking up with people ... I can't stand hurting other people). I realize that this isn't particularly healthy ;-)

49. Would you rather have a turtle or a frog for a pet?
A turtle. And I'd teach it to race :-)

50. Would you rather spend a day with Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus?
Um, GAGA! She's admittedly bizarre, but she's a Juilliard-trained musician with the skill to turn herself into a household name. Miley Cyrus? I'd, like, go off the, like, deep end in, like, thirty seconds, dude.

51. Would you rather learn to play piano or guitar?
Piano :-) Although guitar would be neat, also.

52. We're going back to the day. Where did you get your kicks?
Above the waistline, sunshine ;-) (Has anyone else ever even heard that song? I freaking love it!)

53. What Asian country would you like to visit the most? Why?
China ... my sister went there for a business trip (because my sister is a scientist and gets to go to cool places) and said it was really neat. A few months ago, I would have said Japan, but, uh ...

54. Have you ever thought that a passer-by was the one (think James Blunt, here)?
All right, maybe I'm stupid, but I totally don't understand this question.

55. Ever told someone that your fake jewelery was really real?
Nope, because the jewelry I wear IS real.

56. Where are the worst public restrooms?
The Port-a-Potties at fairs. There are a lot of fairs in New Hampshire. A lot of them are really cool. You have to time your latrinal needs well, though, or else you'll be stuck in a cube of stench that is absolutely vomit-worthy.

57. What song was the latest one that got overplayed really fast?
I don't really listen to the radio or get exposed to "overplayed music" these days because I take my iPod everywhere, but I think Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" seems to show up everywhere still, which is kind of annoying.

58. What Friends (American TV show from the 90s) character are you most like?
Definitely not Monica. Somewhere between Rachel and Phoebe. And do you have any idea how old I feel that it was necessary to put the "American TV show from the '90s" disclaimer????)

59. When's the last time you had a Popsicle?
Probably when I had my tonsils out in eighth grade. I'm not a fan of popsicles.

60. What TV show from way back would you love to see reappear?
"Cold Case". I LOVED that show. Not that it's "way back", but I'm not a big fan of TV, so it's about all I've got. Oh, "Unsolved Mysteries" ... that was a pretty cool show.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Interesting Reading ...

I love to read blogs. Love, love, love it! I don't always have the time to leave comments and such (although I'm making more of an effort, because I know that I LOVE to read comments...not a hint or anything ;-)), but I do a lot of blog-reading.

Which is why I think Natalie from Mommy of a Monster and Twins is a genius for posting not just a list and descriptions of good blogs, but for specific noteworthy posts she's come across in the past week. Therefore, I'm stealing her idea (hopefully she doesn't mind).

The first one is kind of a cheat, since I wrote it. Still, I'd like to share with as many people as possible the story about the middle school girl who posted on Facebook that she wished Osama bin Laden had killed her math teacher. There's conversation going on over at Zelda Lily where it's posted, so feel free to discuss it there or here.

Do you find the word "moist" to be offensive to women? Evidently, some women do, and an exploration of why this is equated with ... womanly parts instead of, say, brownies, is extensively explored here. Very interesting read!

I suppose on some level I knew that dandelion wine actually existed. However, I never dreamed that I'd get to see what it looked like (in different stages of creation, even), and especially getting a recipe that I'm *gulp* contemplating giving a try.

For those of us that are writers, description is an area of concern. Do you want to be bare bones like Hemingway? Effusive? How much is too much? Now, thanks to this post, I'm thinking a lot about description in my own writing (and, by the way, my own approach is that I try to use dialogue to convey description).

The magic of childhood is explored extensively in this post. Taking the time to remember the good times and the bad (and the worst) is always a good thing to do, and the pictures here are priceless. I left a comment there that was pretty much a blog post in itself, just because I was so excited by the memories evoked.

I love to hear the parenting woes of others. Goodness knows my own children drive me to distraction at times (currently, Addie is still dragging her feet about getting her first job and Belle is being Belle--which, if you're a Boston Red Sox fan, is akin to "Manny Being Manny), so it's always nice to hear about the tribulations of others, particularly when they're presented in such an interesting and humorous way.

Even though I'm known for being a reader, I also love movies. I don't like TV, but I'm a huge fan of movies. Like, all movies (except ones adapted from books, which is a different conversation). This is a great reminder of some of the great RomComs out there :-) Netflix is going to love me this weekend!

There are, of course, a multitude of other great posts, but my mother is freaking out because the printer isn't working, so I have to go do my tech support thang.

What do y'all think of this idea? If you like it, I'll do it more often :-)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Wicked Cool: I've Gotten Over My Literary Snobbery (A Little)

At one point in my life, I was a ridiculously voracious reader. I'd read two or three books a day, often more, never less. When you suffer from insomnia beginning as a toddler, I guess you're bound to be either a hard-core reader or a television addict.

As I've gotten older and found that free time is at a premium between my daughters, my students, and the never-ending cycle of grading, planning, keeping on top of professional development and such, I just don't have the time to read that I once did.

It's kind of funny, though ... I always fancied myself something of a literary snob that took pride in avoiding the "book of the moment". I was late to the party in terms of excellent works including Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and even the dreaded Twilight books (which I couldn't stop reading until I was finished and realized how poorly written and unoriginal they were).

Perhaps the greatest proof of what an idiot I was? I received a copy of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird from my eighth grade English teacher as a prize for a writing contest. Totally refused to read it because it was "supposed to be so great and all the books that have that reputation totally SUCK." Well, it didn't suck (it is, in fact, my favorite book of all time)

I even eschewed Dan Brown for months even when everyone on the planet was reading The Da Vinci Code.

So I guess it's no surprise, really, that I somehow missed this one.

Published in 1995, Gregory Maguire's Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West tells the backstory of Elphaba (sound out the initials of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum for the pronunciation) ... including her run-ins with Dorothy, Toto, the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion.

Can I just say that this book is blowing my mind?

I'm a huge fan of Baum's Oz books, and this book is making me question motivations and points of view and bias and bottom lines and so on to the point where I'm probably going to be rereading Baum's canon as soon as possible (which will probably be next Christmas vacation at this point).

The intent of this post is not to be a scene spoiler (plus, I'm only halfway done the book ... I plan on finishing it tonight), but just to contemplate why I am so reluctant to read "popular" books despite the fact that I am almost never disappointed once I give in ... and to see if anyone else has this tendency.

Also, I've got another conundrum ... I have very strong feelings about movie adaptations of books I've enjoyed. Since Wicked has been made into a very popular musical, should I make an effort to see it, or would it be the same kind of limiting, unsatisfactory experience movie adaptations usually are?

If you've ever turned up your nose at a book, eventually changed your mind, and ultimately loved it, please share titles in the comments (and of course any other thoughts this post might inspire ;-))

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An Attempt to Teach My Students a Concept I'm Not Sure I Agree With ...

I'm trying desperately to convince my students that virtually every story fits into a basic motif that we call, in middle school-ese, the "hero's quest".

As a writer, I find the idea that every story is essentially the same kind of cynical and almost bitter, but as a teacher, I have to sing in a different choir at times.

Anyway, in one of my many and varied attempts to convince them of this, I wrote the following exemplar paper.

I think it might have gone a little over their heads ;-)
"The Little Mermaid’s Underwater Quest"
by KL

Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” is very different from the Disney version. However, it remains the story of a young mermaid who desires the love of a human man and her quest to marry him. Although its ending is not happy, there is no question that “The Little Mermaid” fits into the hero’s quest motif.

The very fact that the little mermaid lives underwater gives her birth unique qualities. She is the youngest daughter of the Sea King, and her under the sea world is a microcosm of our own. She watches each of her older sisters grow up and yearns to do the things that they can do.

This is especially true of the visit each young mermaid princess takes above water when they reach the age of fifteen. It is the little mermaid’s destiny to visit the human world—from the safety of the ocean, of course—and take from it what she will. As soon as she falls in love with the prince, though, he becomes the focus of her quest, and therefore part of her destiny.

The little mermaid is guided by two old women in her quest. First, her grandmother illustrates to her how a mermaid princess should act and gives her words of wisdom regarding her trip to the ocean’s surface. The sea witch also serves as her guide, giving her the potion that will turn her into a human at great cost. It’s also noteworthy that the sea witch advises her against becoming human, encouraging her instead to be happy with her existence.

The little mermaid has no direct foe, so to speak. However, the prince’s fiancĂ©e ultimately serves as the “enemy” in that the prince is in love with her and not the little mermaid. Still, the little mermaid does not blame the princess for her beauty or for the prince’s love of her; rather, she recognizes that she is a victim of circumstance.

Romance is at the heart of the little mermaid’s quest. She falls in love with the prince and takes on tremendous pain and risk for the chance to get him to reciprocate with his own love. The fact that she must witness the prince falling in love with another woman make the little mermaid’s own romantic wishes especially painful, even more so than the knives she feels with each step she takes.

There is no “final battle” in this story in the traditional sense. However, the wedding between the prince and the neighboring princess surely felt that way to the little mermaid. It is also with this marriage that any hope for a lifetime of romantic happiness with the prince is dashed, a fact that she clearly recognizes as she chooses not to murder the prince with the knife her sisters gave to her.

The little mermaid’s journey home, so to speak, is somewhat unusual. Among the sacrifices that she made in giving up her fish’s tail was the possibility of returning to her mermaid life as usual. However, she becomes a “daughter of the air” through her good deeds instead of the usual mermaid’s fate of becoming sea foam on the ocean.

When the little mermaid becomes a daughter of the air and as such as the hope of someday achieving immortality, her quest is completed. While the intent of her quest was to marry the prince and become a human forever, fate had something else in store for her. What she found through her quest was ultimately more than what she had hoped for, something that is often true of hero’s quest stories … and why “The Little Mermaid” is such an effective example of the hero’s quest motif.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Migraine Musings

I have struggled with migraine headaches for most of my life. You know the ones I mean, the kind where the only treatment is extended time in a dark, silent room.

Real life does not provide for a whole lot of dark, silent rooms.

I have a migraine right now, a real killer. The light from my laptop is, in fact, bugging it a little bit, but I'm not tired enough to sleep and any light I'd put on to help me to read would be even more of an aggravation.

This is the first really unbearable one I've had for a long time, and I figured that I'd share the treatment that has completely changed a life peppered with headache hells into one where I'll occasionally get a headache but it's not unspeakable (until today, at least, but this is the first real wowser I've had in over a year).

Bear in mind that I've tried any number of migraine therapies over the years, ranging from Coca-cola to Imitrex to aspirin, and this totally straightened things out.

I went to my physical last year and got talking with my doctor about migraines (where we were at in terms of treatment at the time was Percocet for pain--my migraines are ridiculously painful--and Valium for the accompanying neck-aches that go along with them). I was telling my doctor how unthrilled I was to be taking potentially addictive drugs for freaking headaches (I prefer to save the Percocet for when the pancreas is acting up), and she started telling me about a recent breakthrough in migraine treatment.

When my doctor first mentioned that a very low daily dose of the anti-depressant amitriptyline has shown to have very solid palliative effects on migraine sufferers, I got all self-righteous.

ME: I don't think I need an anti-depressant.
DOCTOR: It's an off-label use of it.
ME: But I'm not depressed.
DOCTOR: You're pretty damn depressed when you have a migraine. (I love my doctor)

Anyway, I decided to try it and, along with the occasional Max-Alt (which knocks them down before they can really get roaring), my migraine problem has ceased to be an issue.

I'm not sure what's going on today, other than a certain time of the month combining with a huge degree of stress to create the perfect migraine storm, but I'm just glad that I now feel this way so infrequently.

New Location for a Soap Opera

I've always wondered why the soap opera production companies never thought to set a soap at a school. I mean, seriously, it is the ideal location!

I'm not basing this purely on my current job, by the way. I've just been talking with my mother (we spend many evenings commiserating over long days after dinner), and the stuff that goes on in educational institutions is just completely wild.

If I worked at one of my pre-professional jobs (Chuck E. Cheese, Wal-Mart, Water Country, and so on), I'd be sharing thought-provoking adventures experienced at work on this blog. Like, all the time. There's kind of a vow of silence necessary when you assume the proverbial white color, though, and it's even more pronounced when you're dealing with children, who are more than entitled to confidentiality.

The thing is, kids are also entitled to drama. Surviving the backbiting and clumsy attempts at fights and ratting out the kid you hate for having beer at a party and stuff ... that's vintage kid stuff.

It's expected.

Adults? You'd think they could be held to a higher standard ...

I once worked at a school--and just to be crystal clear, this is not my current place of employment--where an entire department got together at least once a week to toke up. If I hadn't been there myself, I wouldn't have believed it. I mean, how hypocritical is it to say, "Don't do drugs" and then relish in showing off your water bong skills? And we're talking people you'd never imagine that are the biggest potheads ... crazy.

I know I'm kind of talking in circles here, but since I can't elaborate, just think about the possibilities of a legitimate soap opera (hell, a prime-time soap opera) that took place at a public school. All the dirt, all the drama, all the gossiping and rumors, all the substance abuse ... and I'm talking about the adults.

General Hospital, eat your heart out!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Defining Normalcy: Thank You, Frayer Model

I've been trying to figure out my definition of the word "normal" all afternoon, and I'm having a really hard time with it. I'm saying to myself, "Come on, stupid, you have advanced degrees in English ... it's not that difficult" ... except it is.

Of course, it's very easy to find a dictionary definition of normal (average; conforming to the standard; not abnormal). It's all about the context.

For which I blame WTIT's Bud.

When I did this week's Sunday Stealing meme, I made a couple of references to looking for a nice, normal guy ... to which Bud asked me in the comments to define "normal".

And I couldn't, which has of course been driving me nuts all day.

Then that self-flagellation in the form of berating myself for not being able to define what isn't exactly a fifty-cent word despite my impressive college transcripts drove me to the point where I decided to use a concept that I learned in one of those university courses ... the Frayer Model.

If you're not familiar with the Frayer Model, it's basically a concept map based around one word that allows you to gain a complete understanding of it through four quadrants--a definition in your own words, facts/characteristics, examples, and non-examples.

Here's a picture, for you visual types:

And here is my understanding of "normal" as used in the context of "a nice, normal guy" with the assistance of Frayer Model terminology.

Normal (adjective)


Moderate in basic temperament, slow to fly off the handle, what you see is what you get

* Someone who is what he appears to be
* Someone who is happy (or at least comfortable) with who and what he is
* Someone who is willing to straddle the "pushing the envelope" line without totally crossing it.
* Someone who finds humor in everyday life as well as more intentionally crazy adventures
* Someone who is smart enough to have intelligent conversations on a variety of subjects ranging from why black labs eat poop to politics to why the sky is blue (and what shape various clouds take ;-))
* Someone that works hard (and not necessarily at his place of employment--you can work hard in the yard, for example, or on a piece of art of writing, or at entertaining people, or ... just not doing anything half-assed, because anything you take the time to do should be done well)

* Anyone who abuses people emotionally or physically (and especially someone incapable of realizing that he abuses people emotionally or physically)
* Anyone who pretends to be something he's not
* Anyone whose idea of adventure is either totally crazy (say, skydiving in Iran) or totally boring (wearing argyle socks)
* Anyone incapable of understanding that humor is present everywhere ... and being unwilling to relax long enough to see it.
* Anyone who is dishonest about things that it's sleazy to be dishonest about (I think I've mentioned this before, but I know this guy who runs a food cart, "buys" the food for it with food stamps, doesn't report the earnings since it's all cash ... I find that just deplorable)

Kind of more complicated than I meant it to be, but I think that the Frayer Model approach actually allowed me to articulate what a "normal guy" means to me :-)

Sunday Stealing: "You Can't Be Missed" (Part 3)

Here's the third part to "You Can't Be Missed" Meme. Go, Sunday Stealing :-)

Sunday Stealing: The "You Can't Be Missed" Meme, Part 3

31. What is your absolute favorite dessert?
I love cupcakes (which is a little strange since I don't like cake at all ...) and my mother's apple pie (commence with the jokes, but let me tell you, that stuff is amazing!)

32. What can someone do to make you smile, no matter what?
I was going to put, "I'm pretty easy" but then thought better of it. Regarding smiles, it's true, though. I laugh very easily, and smiling is just a precursor to laughter, right?

33. What do the hip people think of you?
I can't answer a question that uses the word "hip", one of the many reasons being that I now have a certain Huey Lewis song stuck in my head ...

34. What was the last gift you bought someone?
Well, I bought my kids take-out from Applebee's for dinner last night and candy bars the night before (they really are well-nourished ... it's just been one of those lazy weekends), but the last, like, legit gift I bought someone was my mommy for Mother's Day.

35. What was your favorite class in high school?
English is the obvious answer, but actually the best class I took was the second part of American History and Government. The teacher was amazing, plus he was on to me. He was the first person to ever say, "You can't write your way out of this one." He refused to accept one of my research papers because it wasn't "good enough". I pointed out that it was better than a couple of others I'd read, and he agreed ... then said, "It isn't good enough for you." That was a lesson that stayed with me.

36. How many spouses would be about right?
I'd be happy with one, as long as he was normal.

37. What would you say was the most embarrassing moment of your life?
You know, this is a hard one to answer. I'm extremely accident-prone, so walking out of the bathroom with my dress tucked into my underwear or tripping while getting from Point A to Point B is pretty much a daily occurrence. I guess the one that comes to mind is when I fell down the stairs at a friend's wedding. Yes, I had a dress on. Yes, it went flying up. The worst part was that it was right before the ceremony started, so everybody was there, and I couldn't even blame it on alcohol.

38. Have you ever donated money to charity?
Yes, most often in the form of lunch money given to kids who need it or paying for a student to go on a field trip or for them to have a yearbook or something like that.

39. Has porn ever had a positive place in a current or recent relationship?
I am completely ambivalent about porn. It doesn't do much for me, but I don't have a problem with people who are into it.

40. Would you ever dump the one you're with for someone who makes an obvious play and is MUCH hotter?
Not at this stage of my life. Right now, "hot" has ceased to be a deciding factor ... I'd settle for nice and normal ... anybody have any nice single friends ;-)?

41. Have you ever disowned one of your relatives?
Not officially ;-) Seriously, I've gone through times when it was healthier not to talk with certain family members because I've been afraid of what I would say. It's always worked out eventually.

42. Would you think it's OK to cheat on someone if they've already cheated on you?
Cheating is never okay. EVER. If you're a swinger or a polygamist or something, that's a different conversation, but the idea of betraying someone's trust by cheating? Not cool.

43. Did you ever consider becoming a teacher?
Nope, never :-) Actually, I've always wanted to be a writer ... teaching kind of came up when I realized that majoring in English isn't good for much else.

44. Would you ever give a hitch-hiker a ride somewhere?
It's so funny that this question is here since I was just telling someone this story recently. Okay, so I was with my friend Chuck and we were on our way back to college (about an hour and a half on the highway) when the car died. This was before the days of everyone having a cell phone, and we weren't able to reach anybody via pay phone, so ... we started walking.

After a couple of hours, we started walking with our thumbs out. After another hour or so, we made a pact that, if we got picked up, we would thereafter always pick up any hitchhiker we saw. Eventually, someone gave us a ride, and life went on.

A few weeks later, Chuck and I were going somewhere (in my car this time), and we started approaching a hitchhiker. I felt an obligation to fulfill my pact (plus, Chuck was a really big guy), so I pulled over. The guy looked pretty sketchy, and I muttered to Chuck that he looked like he'd just gotten out of jail.

The guy gets in closes the door, tells us where he wants to go, and then says, "Just got out of county," gesturing to the county jail we'd just driven past.

I was torn between trying not to laugh and being scared to death.

Well, it worked out fine and we gave him a ride to the next main road, but Chuck and I agreed to dissolve our pact.

45. Would you ever try fasting for a whole week?
Well, only if there was a very compelling reason. I wouldn't try it just to try it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Quilt

My mother is spending the weekend with friends up north, and she is bringing the aforementioned quilt to show it off. It's not quite done, but I thought I'd share a the picture I took this morning.

My mom is amazingly talented in this area (the needlepoint of the fisherman above the mantle was done by her), so I figured I'd show off on her behalf :-)

Also, I neglected to mention that this quilt is for Addie, a "labor of love" that will remind Addie of Mimi's care always.

Why does that matter? Well, beyond the obvious, it gives a context for why I felt simultaneous pleasure and a knot in my stomach when Belle asked her grandmother if she'd make a quilt for her when Addie's is finished ... and my mom said yes ;-)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Lessons Learned Today

Every once in awhile, I like to stop and think about everything I've learned over the course of a day ... and the manner of how it came about. It's thought-provoking and almost always either a real "pat yourself on the back" moment or a "How could I have handled this differently?"

So, my lessons learned for today ...

1. Rushing to charge your iPod on speakers twenty minutes before you leave for work is worse than just leaving it at home.
If you are my Facebook friend (and some of you are ... feel free to add me if you'd like, I suspect it's an entertaining feed at times), you might have noticed that my status yesterday involved lamenting how long the drive to work is without my iPod since I'd forgotten it.

I was determined not to make the same mistake again today, but of course I forgot to plug it into my computer, so I figured I'd do a quickie charge on the speakers in my bathroom while I got ready for work this morning.

I'll say this, I managed to have music for the ride to work. On the way home, though, the raw power of The Clash was silenced mid-casbah (which I was singing in full force). I was so in the mood for music, and losing it so abruptly was even worse than not having it at all.

2. There is a circle of life to middle school students.
Me in September: The eighth graders are the bane of my existence! They are so mean to each other, they are ridiculously disrespectful, and they won't stop talking loud enough for me to get any teaching done. Thank God for the seventh graders ... they are so sweet and willing to learn and kind to each other. Mornings are the bright spot of my day!

Me in May: Thank God for the eighth graders, who have become mature enough to handle class discussions that include virtually everybody. They're really starting to look out for each other and will rise to challenges that they wouldn't even have bothered attempting in September. Afternoons are the bright spot of my day! Why? Because the seventh graders are the bane of my existence! They are so mean to each other, they are ridiculously disrespectful, and they won't stop talking loud enough for me to get any teaching done.

3. Addie is far more resilient than I thought she was.
Addie had a dentist appointment this morning.

Now, she got her license in November but has been ... shall we say, reluctant ... to drive anywhere but from home to school and back again. I say all the time, "Isn't one of the payoffs of your kid getting a license (and a car) supposed to be that they can get a dozen eggs for you?" because this is very much not true of Addie.

She is a very timid driver, although she's come a long way. Well, she had quite a challenge put before her today when she was told that she would have to drive herself to the dentist and then to school. Now, her dentist is not exactly easy to get to, so I was kind of a wreck myself.

She made it, though, and with no problems (other than the news that she has to get her wisdom teeth removed ... blah :-()

4. Belle is incredibly bright ... and I think she has her father's brain.
Belle and I have a wonderful bonding experience every night when it's story time. She reads a book to me, and then I read a chapter or so of whatever "real" book we're reading together.

Our current venture are Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain (The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain Book 1), The Black Cauldron (The Chronicles of Prydain), The Castle of Llyr - Book 3 in the Chronicle of Prydain, Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain), and The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain)), a series absolutely beloved to me when I was a child.

Belle realized when we started reading the second one that each book has twenty chapters (only the child of an English teacher is forced to "pre-read" text structures ;-)). Tonight, as we began the first chapter of The Castle of Llyr, Belle said, "Mommy, I just noticed something."

She went on to inform me that we were no officially halfway through the book, which was cool of course, but she'd made the same statement while reading The Black Cauldron. No, she kept on talking, that child of mine.

"We're halfway through the third book, so that means we're halfway through the series, too!"

While I was still kind of gawping, she noted how cool it was that this triumphant event transpired on a Wednesday, which is halfway through the week.

That kid is a trip, I tell you.

5. I get my self-destructive streak from my mother.
My mother is making a quilt. Wow, you might be thinking, that's pretty cool. Not everyone can make a quilt.

My mother is a heck of a seamstress, actually--her specialty is needlepoint, but she can quilt, cross stitch, knit, and all the other things you can do if you're crafty (and she's also hemmed every pair of pants I've ever owned, I think ... it sort of stinks being not quite 5'2"). The house is replete with beautiful works--everything from framed cross stitched pictures to pillows to quilts--that she has made with her own hands, and my siblings and I were dressed in gorgeous handmade clothes when we were little.

How she managed to raise a daughter who got an F in junior high home ec because she sewed her finger to the cloth (more than once) is beyond me ;-)

But anyway, the best way for my mom to clear the house has always been to say, "I'm going to make some curtains", or "There's a dress I have to hem", or "I started taking a basket-weaving class." I mean, the end result is always gorgeous, but when my mom is in "CREATE" mode ... beware.

Yelling, screaming, swearing, crying, long tirades berating herself for even trying to undertake some project or another, and snapping--sometimes inexcusably--at anyone who happens to be in her way ... yup, I think a huge part of my internal make-up was molded by Mommy's craft projects.

When she started taking a quilting class with one of her co-workers a month ago, Addie and I exchanged a nervous glance (Addie has experienced enough of Mimi's sewing spells to know to keep a low profile).

I have no pride, so I'll tell you the truth. I tried to talk her out of it. Tried hard. "Why would you do that to yourself, Mom?" I asked. "You'll procrastinate until the last possible second, then you'll be a psycho-bitch the night before the last class because you'll be up all night sewing." She said the work would all be done at the class, that it was just for fun, and that she's mellowed in her old age.

But I suddenly realized that my mother's needle endeavors are pretty much akin to me living life hard at times to be able to find both the material and the passion to write. We're adrenaline junkies, both of us, that are able to pull off veritable miracles by waiting until the last possible second, by pushing the envelope as long and as far as we can.

And ultimately, I am proud to know that my mother has lived her life daring to eat the proverbial peach, to part her hair behind, to listen to the mermaids singing knowing that somewhere they are singing for her. She has raised daughters who will never be women who "come and go, speaking of Michelangelo".

She has raised daughters that make a positive difference in the world every day in their own way.

My mother and I had an extremely rocky relationship until I was an adult (and even then sometimes), but I'm so glad that I've gotten the chance to understand her, to appreciate her, and to see the gifts that she has passed on ... even the ones that don't seem so bright and sparkly on the surface.

So what about you? What lessons have you learned today?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Balance: 1/3 + 1/3 + 1/3 = Me

I had an epiphany at a teacher retreat I went to last weekend. It's easy to dismiss it as kind of "touchy feely" (the candle in the center of a circle doesn't help the argument), but it's been a great opportunity for me.

I feel like I've finally gotten to know myself, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Simple. Mathematical, even. I've tried counseling before, both for attempting to get over a major trauma and in an ultimately fruitless effort to save my marriage. Counseling didn't help one iota ... but the teacher retreat just *wham* did it for me.

Suddenly, I realized who I am.

1/3 Mother
This is, of course, the most important part of my life. Addie and Belle are absolutely the joy of my existence, and I strive to always be the best mother I can be for them. I'd say that I do a pretty good job here, and my children get the very best of me.

1/3 Teacher
The part of me that is a teacher is also pretty impressive. I convey knowledge about reading, writing, and thinking to my students. I care about my students, and they know this. I strive to present lessons in interesting, memorable ways that students will remember and carry with them as they (hopefully) become lifelong learners. My goal is that no student will leave my class unarmed in terms of that "lifelong learner" thing, and I think I'm pretty successful there.

And then, of course, there is that final third, the piece of me that allows the other 2/3rds to be so fine and noble.

I have a self-destructive, impulsive, daredevil, utterly ridiculous streak a mile wide accompanied by a devil-may-care attitude that does not show up in my life as a mother or a teacher. I hate these things about myself, absolutely hate them, and for a long time I wanted to destroy this part of me.

But then, in the midst of the "circle of trust", I realized that I would not be the mother I am, would not be the teacher I am, if I was good and calm and so on and so forth in that third part of my life.

When it's just me, myself, and I, I court trouble. I totally do. I flirt with danger. I push the envelope. I'm not proud of it, nor am I happy about it. And I've actually gotten infinitely better over the years, believe it or not.

Oh yeah, one other thing ... that final third of me? That is the writer.

And I'm not sure how I feel about that ...

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Stealing: The "You Can't Be Missed" Meme (Part 2)

I love Sunday Stealing ... lots of fun, lots of opportunity to find out interesting stuff about others, and ... uh, did I mention fun ;-)?

The "You Can't Be Missed" Meme (Part 2)

16. What was the last thing you did that was totally selfish, yet you feel no guilt?
You know, I can't think of anything selfish I've done in recent memory for which I feel no guilt. That's not to say that I'm unselfish ... I'm just also carrying around quite a guilty conscience, I guess ;-) Actually, I kicked Belle off of the good TV so I could watch last week's NCIS episode on XFinity this afternoon. Now that I think about it, I don't even feel that badly about it ... Hmm, maybe not as guilty a conscience as I thought.

17. Tell us about a film fave of yours that we probably have not seen.
The Legend of Billie Jean. I LOVED that movie when I was a kid ... I kept track of how many times I'd seen it (ended up being over 200), could recite the whole thing, it was just oddball obsession. It's not even that good a film ...

18. When was the last time you kissed someone that you shouldn't have on the lips?
Hmmm...January or February, whenever I went to Burlington.

19. When was the last time you cooked something for someone not in your family?
The Sunshine Committee at my work (yes, of course I'm a member of the Sunshine Committee :-)) had a "pre-vacay buffet" the Friday before April vacation. My mom made a breakfast casserole for it, and I helped a little ... I cracked the eggs, did the stirring, put on the bacon, and I think she did everything else.

20. When was the last time you danced like a crazy person?
Friday night. I think. I don't remember much about Friday night. I do know I did karaoke (badly) because one of my friends took a video of the event on my Droid. Anyway, karaoke usually goes hand in hand with dancing like a crazy person in my world.

21. When was the last time you just wanted to be invisible?
Saturday morning. I couldn't stop throwing up and I had to go to a meeting and every time I ate or drank anything (including coffee) I had to go running for the bathroom. It was pretty horrible.

22. When was the last time you got a gift you absolutely hated?
I don't get a lot of gifts, actually, in large part because my family opines that I'm hard to buy gifts for. Anyway, I would never hate a gift that someone went out of their way to get for me ... that would just be in bad taste. Dislike, maybe ... okay, my mother got me a leather journal the last time she went to Italy. I'm not a leather journal person. I'm not a journal person period. I'm not a longhand person. And I feel tremendous guilt every time I see that journal that I'm never going to use yet cannot throw away or give away because I know my mom's heart was in the right place ... gaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

23. When was the last time you got into a physical fight? (If NEVER, let us know about a time that you got close to a fight.)
Does "physical fight" means either getting beaten up on by your ex-husband or getting in between two brawling teenagers? If not, I haven't been in a physical fight since high school.

24. When was the last time you had to sleep with a light on?
Well, since Belle sleeps in my room most of the time and she needs the light on to sleep, it's pretty much a constant thing.

25. When was the last time you were under some serious stress?
April vacation. I'm going to choose not to elaborate.

26. When was the last time you watched your favorite movie?
I don't really have a favorite movie, so to speak, just a large body of films that I adore. I don't watch movies anywhere near as much as I used to ... I need to work on that : )

27. What song did you most recently download?
"Alejandro" by Lady Gaga. Please don't judge.

28. What would you say is your favorite hobby?

29. What is your favorite thing to do when you hang out with friends?
Laugh, talk, go to interesting places and do interesting things.

30. What would you rather do: shower or bathe with that celebrity that you are crushing on?
Shower, of course ;-)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Five Events From the Past Month (A Cheap and Easy Update to Ease Myself Back Into Blogging ;-))

When trying to figure out what to write about for my first post "back" after a rather extensive absence from the blogosphere, I got a really bad case of writer's block. Consequently, I'm going to relate five things from that time period, just to get the ball rolling again.

1. I won a cooking contest.

Okay, I have to be completely honest with you: I don't cook. Like, I ruin macaroni and cheese out of a box. That's part of why the whole blue-ribbon thing (and for what was pretty much just chicken salad, although to be fair it is quite delicious) was so exciting.

My brother-in-law's family holds an annual themed cooking contest to go along with their Easter weekend get-together. Since Easter is one of those holidays that has become all chocolate rabbits and marshmallow Peeps for those who aren't particularly religious, it's kind of a neat way to spend time with loved ones.
My blue ribbon:
The various chicken dishes:

Belle sitting at the judges' table (yup, the non-eating kid served as a judge)

2. Prom night has come and gone.
In what can only be described as the ultimate Murphy's Law moment, Addie's prom was scheduled for the same night as the school at my prom. As a junior class advisor (in other words, the class hosting the prom), I had to go to my school's prom. I think Addie was just as happy, though, since I would have been one of the lame crying mothers.

Addie bought her prom dress online, by the way, for, like, a hundred bucks. My mom and her best friend from high school did the alterations, and I think it worked out well all around (except that Addie had a pretty lousy attitude leading up to the prom).
Addie being a twit at the fitting/alteration marathon:

Right before leaving for her prom:
I got my hair cut for the prom (well, it was a good motivator), but you can't really tell in this picture ;-)
I had to wear a dress.  I don't wear dresses : )
This is the only picture from my school's prom without kids in it.  Yes, we had a chocolate fountain :-)

3. My school had an Earth Day Clean-Up.
The Student Council planned a town beautification day, and each Advisory was assigned a certain part of town to clean up. It was incredibly fun and a very eye-opening and rewarding experience for the kiddos. (There are a ton of amazing pictures, but these are a couple that don't show faces)

4. I enjoy taking random pictures of things that make me laugh ... here are some recent offerings.
Sometimes I think I'm even less mature than my middle schoolers ;-)
In a very serious, very important meeting where we were doing a role clarity exercise for aspects of school.  I know it's supposed to be "standardized testing", but couldn't someone have come up with a better abbreviation than STD????  (I got the giggles said very serious, very important meeting)
There was a yard sale going on with this sign out in front.  I have no idea what it meant (it says, "HO TRAINS"), but it just cracked me up.

5.   Exciting stuff is happening at school.
My school is going through an intense redesign process, so I've gotten to go on a lot of workshops and site visits to other schools to observe and bring back best practices. I've come to the conclusion that the education system is changing, and those of us in the field might as well embrace it, because it's coming anyway. It's an exciting, terrifying time to be in education ;-)

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Just wanted to post and share my status as has been getting in the way of life, if that makes any sense. Things have been bad, but they're better now.

I'll do a real post very soon (hopefully tonight :-))


Are Minorities Discouraged from Taking Upper-Level Classes?: The Elephant in the Room

As a public school teacher for sixteen years, I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen Standards come and go (and despite the brou...