Thursday, December 31, 2009

Roundup

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Closing the book on 2009--it's been a good year. Interesting. Weird. Frustrating. You know, the usual. I did manage to read 135 books (some re-reads, but mostly new titles). I'm finally unstuck with the current WIP, and even though it's moving more slowly than I'd like, it's moving. We took a family trip to Washington, DC (awesome!), rode/survived the train, built a jillion memories. Tonight, we're dropping the ball and watching fireworks at our friends' house and hoping to stay out of trouble, haha.

New decade tomorrow, fresh start, clean slate. Gotta love a new year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Romance is the Shizz, Y'all

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Check out this terrific blog about romances posted to DailyKos by Laura Clawson, a self-proclaimed romance lover who also happens to be an Ivy-League Ph.D. with, as she says, "nary a pink sweatsuit in sight." She does a great job deconstructing many myths about romance novels and their readers. You know, the "porn for housewives" and "rape fantasy" memes that are so tiresome. As an aside, why is it that voracious male readers of bulletproof superspy novels are never mocked for their inability to become either 1) bulletproof or 2) superspies?

Brava, Ms. Clawson!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Why Men Shouldn't Write Advice Columns

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My college roommate sent me this in an email, but the .jpg isn't enlarging well. Here's a transcript, and enjoy!

Dear John:
I hope you can help me here. The other day, I set off for work, leaving my husband in the house watching TV. My car stalled, and then it broke down about a mile down the road, and I had to walk back to get my husband's help. When I got home, I couldn't believe my eyes. He was in our bedroom with the neighbor's daughter!
I am 32, my husband is 34 and the neighbor's daughter is 19. We have been married for 10 years. When I confronted him, he broke down and admitted they had been having an affair for the past six months. He won't go to counseling, and I'm afraid I am a wreck and need advice urgently. Can you please help?
Sincerely, Sheila

---

Dear Sheila:
A car stalling after being driven a short distance can be caused by a variety of faults with the engine. Start by checking that there is no debris in the fuel line. If it is clear, check the vacuum pipes and hoses on the intake manifold and also check all grounding wires. If none of these approaches solves the problem, it could be that the fuel pump itself is faulty,
causing low delivery pressure to the injectors.
I hope this helps,
John

Walter

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

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It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

--Edmund Sears, 1849

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happiness is...

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"...two kinds of ice cream...finding your skate key...telling the time! Happiness is learning to whistle, tying your shoe for the very first tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime!"

Sorry! Got a little You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown there, but every time I hear someone say "happiness is," my brain starts singing. Turns out, according to the CDC, happiness is living in Florida. Or Louisiana, Hawaii, Tennessee, or Arizona, to round out the top five. The research apparently shows that states with a lot of sunshine and a laid-back lifestyle score high on happiness surveys.

The grumpiest? New York. I don't find that hard to believe. I've traveled to NYC several times, and although it's fascinating and wonderful, I can only take it for short bursts at a time. After a while, I want to see free-range trees instead of ones confined to a park, less traffic, fewer people, and nicer manners.

The thing that finally convinced me that NYC was a place to visit, and not to live, was a casual conversation I had with a group of writers and editors during RWA National several years ago. That week in July had apparently been uncomfortably warm for them (84 degrees and humidity in the high 40s), while I was loving every springlike minute of it (I'd flown up from temps in the mid-90s and a thunderstorm every afternoon, with accompanying humidity). I mentioned that I had been enjoying Central Park's grass, and how it felt so soft on my bare feet (St. Augustine sod looks nice, but isn't pleasant underfoot. Too stiff.). Ms. Editor Lady, a born-and-bred NYC girl, actually said, "I walked on grass once. I didn't like it." Once? You walked barefoot on grass ONCE??

I don't know about you, but a life where you have to wear shoes just isn't one I'm that interested in. Plus, those poor New Yorkers are socked in because of that storm. I'll be gallivanting about with my top down. Hate to rub it in, Northeasterners, but this truly is the life. And if your latest blizzard convinces you it's time to think about moving South, a few tips:
  1. Things move a bit more slowly down here. Don't be rude. Learn to relax and enjoy.
  2. We don't like living on top of each other, so ease up on all those building permits.
  3. There are bugs here. Large ones. Deal with it.
  4. It's hot. And humid. Deal with it.
  5. Proximity to lakes and woods does not give you a license to get your wild on. Don't feed the alligators, morons. Or the bears.
  6. Learn to wave at passing strangers in cars.
  7. Just because we talk more slowly, it doesn't mean we're dumb. Check out Faulkner, Welty, Williams, and O'Connor if you doubt me.
  8. Real Southern barbecue is the food of the gods, and soul food truly is food for the soul.
  9. Smile. It won't hurt anything, and you probably won't get as many headaches.
  10. Buy the convertible. You won't regret it.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Into the Wild

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I'm playing hooky today and tomorrow for one of my own personal children...Frack and the fifth grade class are having their class campout. This means mimi is in for a decidedly unglamorous overnight trip. No makeup, layers, and Lord knows what else. Of course, it's raining--Murphy's Law lurches into effect whenever a momentous occasion such as this one presents itself. Of course, it's expected to be cold tonight. Of course, I'll be in a cabin full of squealy girls.

I'll survive. Frack's worth it. Details when mimi drags her limp, soggy behind home tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Whither Work?

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Teachers tend to be of two models: vampires or early birds. I'm in camp II. I hauled myself out of bed this morning just after four a.m. to do some paper grading, and lo and behold, our web-based gradebooks are down. They were down yesterday at this time as well, according to another teacher. If regular server maintenance is scheduled between four and five in the morning, they're going to infuriate a bunch of us. Can't you back that up until, say, 2:30 or 3? That seems a happy medium for us teacher types.

This grading is going to take foreeeeeeever at this rate...

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Newbery Update: 1950s

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I'm at the halfway mark now, much later in the year than I'd planned. I need to get crackin' if I'm going to meet an end-of-the year deadline. Then again, this is the decade where things start to sound a bit more familiar. :

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli - Another de Angeli work of historical fiction, Thee, Hannah! was a childhood favorite, so I was looking forward to this one. Like her other works, The Door in the Wall is a blend of impeccable research, lovely writing, fine pencil illustrations by the author, and an engaging story. Young Robin, the son of a Lord, is trapped in London during the Plague. When he loses the full use of his legs, he must find "the door in the wall" of his life that will enable him to serve his father and his King, since he can no longer become the knight he once dreamt of being.

Amos Fortune, Free Man by Elizabeth Yates - This biography celebrates the long life and journey of Amos Fortune, a free black whose life is commemorated in his adopted hometown of Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Captured by slavers in West Africa, prince At-Mun traverses the Middle Passage, is bought by a Quaker (!), and eventually buys his freedom. Not the most PC of retellings (Amos is kinda complacent in an Uncle Remus sort of way), but plenty of interesting detail.

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes - The Pye family is just adorable. Bird expert dad ("Call in Mister Pye!"), youngest and prettiest mom in town, and a couple of scrappy kids who adopt a puppy they name Ginger. Of course, Ginger's the perfect adorable dog--until he disappears! Or was he stolen? A bit of mystery and a lot of preciousness.

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark - I swear, the folks who animated The Emporer's New Groove totally read this book. Llamas. Gold earplugs. Chicha. Mountain passages. Quests. This is the serious version, with no Yzma or
Kronk for comic relief. Nice writing, though. And a lot of folks chewing on coca leaves. Don't forget the panpipes!

...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold - Coming of age in New Mexico. Miguel is the middle brother in a family of sheep herders. I learned a lot about sheep. Surprisingly, it was kinda fun. Miguel is the classic middle child, so reading this was a lot like reliving life with my sister (mimi is the oldest).

The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong - A small group of children try to figure out why no storks nest on the roofs of their small Dutch village. "Why are there no storks in Shora?" leads them to discover lots about themselves and their neighbors, especially older adults they'd formerly known only through (incorrect) town gossip. Delightful, actually.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham - Bootstraps kind of story of a young man, Nathaniel Bowditch, who is brilliant at math but unable to pursue a formal education because of his family's fall into debt. He ends up educating himself and authoring a pioneering work of navigation. Seafaring and fun, with a strong "learning is great!" message.

Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorenson - In postwar Pennsylvania, Marly's family moves to her grandmother's farmhouse on Maple Hill in the hopes that her father, a former POW, will recover from what we now know is PTSD. Good neighbors and maple syrup work miracles!

Rifles for Watie by Harold Keith - Jeff Bussey, a Kansas farm boy, joins the Union Army to defend his family against Missouri bushwhackers and Cherokee patrols led by Chief Stand Watie. This Union soldier discovers that battle lines aren't always as clear as they seem and that friends may be made where you least expect them.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare - This is the only book from this decade I read as a child. Kit Tyler, an orphan from Barbados, makes an impulsive decision to live with her aunt in Puritan Connecticut. Will she fit in and marry William Ashby, or will her differences group her with Hannah Tupper, the "witch" of the title?

And my favorite is..

The Wheel on the School!

I have to admit this was a surprise choice. I liked several of the books from the 1950s, but none was a standout favorite. The thing that put The Wheel on the School over the top was the novelty factor. Shora, the little Dutch town of the setting, was a fully-developed community, with the younger children learning a lot about themselves and about their older neighbors in their quest to attract lucky storks back on the roofs of the town. You might have heard of the illustrator, too, someone named Maurice Sendak? Perhaps he got his sailing ideas for Where the Wild Things Are from Shora.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Logjams

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mimi has finally had a breakthrough of sorts. I had to go all low-tech, printing out a calendar, but I can see holes in ye troublesome mauscript and now have some inkling of what to do with them!

See, this is the trouble with a NaNo book. You get so busy lunging from beginning to end, you don't see the pitfalls because you skip right over them. I've set a book in the fall and given my heroine an October birthday, and yet her birthday doesn't get a single mention aside from the sentence where she mentions that she was born during the World Series. And since this is a book about a woman recovering her identity, she'd probably have issues with being alone and divorced on her birthday. Hmm. There's a scene or two right there.

Cardboard foil character needs some work as well. She's basically a cutout evil blonde right this minute. Hero's impossibly heroic, too. Need to bang him up a bit as well. Good. Torture I can manage. Finally, finally I get some movement.

Too bad the novel squirrels are playing hell with my sleep schedule. Can't sleep, so I'm not waking up when I'm most productive. Waking later, so my morning is rushed and crazy. Oy. At least I have some direction now. That's gotta mean something.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Redesign in Progress!

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As you can see, we're undergoing a revamping here at the dish. A new look always takes some tinkering, so be looking for expanded book and blog lists as the days pass. Let me know what you think about the new look!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Not. Going. Shopping. Today.

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Period.

If I'm smart, I won't even get out of my pajamas.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Overflowing With Blessings

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Cornucopia
Etymology: Late Latin, from Latin 
cornu copiae "horn of plenty"

This year, like every year, I have so much to be thankful for. This year, like every year, I get so busy worrying about what's wrong, I forget to be truly grateful for all that's right. Here are some things I'm thankful for today:
  • A family who sticks together, even when we get on each other's nerves.
  • A house that's a mess, which reminds me of the abundance in our lives.
  • Friends who cheer your triumphs and comfort you in times of need.
  • Neighbors with friendly smiles and a cup of flour when you're in a pinch.
  • A table overflowing with good food.
  • Children who understand true giving, like Frick, who helped cook and serve a meal for those less fortunate and learned how friendship really isn't about income, and Frack, whose giggle is enough to make anyone's life better.
  • A husband who puts up with a lot and still smiles whenever I come in the door.
  • So many more gifts I can't even count. That is the meaning of true blessing!
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Queen, Meet the Muppets

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Freddie Mercury would be proud, methinks. Check out this CLASSIC version of "Bohemian Rhapsody," featuring all of our favorite muppets:


Sunday, November 22, 2009

New Beginnings

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Today, our new senior pastor preached his first sermon. I had a feeling, since he's from SC originally, he'd remind me of my father. He did! Listening to that voice wasn't a stretch. He's a good speaker, avuncular, I think he'll make some people happy.

Of course, since it was his first day, we had a pretty full house at the services. That's good...and yet, I was a bit cranky. You see, a chunk of those folks filling the pews were returnees--members who bailed when things got tough, when the interim stretched longer than we thought, who basically took their toys and went home until things suited them.

I'm torn. On the one hand, I know I should probably be all "prodigal son" and kill the fatted calf and celebrate their return, but on the other hand, I want to ask them in a really loud voice WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? The church still needed people. The missions the church supports could have used their hands. The work goes on whether you're having a hissy fit or not. DH and I could really have stalked off with a clear conscience, considering that we were good friends with our former pastor and his wife (who some of the returnees treated horribly), but we stuck it out. We were invested in the church, you see, not worshiping the pastor.

Let's hope the new guy gets a better deal than the old guy. The way we treated him wouldn't meet many good definitions of "Christian."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Revision Blues

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I used to be so positive about revising. I loved printing out copies of a draft on the backs of old paper, whipping out a favored pen--in purple, turquoise, hot pink, or some other fun color--and having at it. Revised pages had notations, additions, scribbles up the margins and on the back, arrows pointing hither and yon as I moved around sentences and paragraphs. With my first book, my key revision tools were a pair of scissors and a roll of Scotch tape. I literally cut-and-pasted the opening to that book to cure a bad case of backstory dump.

Now I'm in the doldrums, to borrow an image from one of my favorite children's books. I can't seem to move forward or back. My tools have upgraded since the scissors and paste days (all hail Scrivener!), but now the process is bogging down. I'm not sure exactly why, but I suspect the culprit is (gulp) NaNoWriMo.

A peek at the sidebar lists three books, all in the revision stage. These three books were all birthed during the frenzy that is NaNoWriMo. None is complete. Their stories are--I did manage to get to "The End" on all of them, but they're in varying states of crazy. Read long enough, and you'll find plenty of all-caps notations like SOMETHING NEEDS TO HAPPEN HERE or NEEDS A BETTER TRANSITION or something like that. My mind knew where to go, but NaNo doesn't provide you with enough time to mull over things, and let me say, my natural writing process involves lots of mulling. I spend twice, even three times as much time thinking over a chapter as I do committing it to paper.

I think the problem lies in the discovery. I am a seat-of-the-pants style writer. I have a general idea of where I'm going (usually a very clear opening scene and an equally clear closing scene, with a lot of mist in the middle), so I've found it easy to write a general synopsis of the book. As I go along, ideas will pop up that I incorporate into that bare skeleton. I used to cut up the synopsis, too--I'd tape pieces onto separate sheets of paper representing future chapters, then when inspiration struck, I'd scribble that dialogue snippet or piece of business on the appropriate chapter and go on my merry way. In that way, Scrivener works as an electronic replacement of my battered red clipboard. I can jot ideas on a new card and rearrange at will as the book takes shape. I'd keep at this, chapter by chapter, as surprises revealed themselves, characters did unexpected things, and odd bits of business found their homes. Writing that way, every book built momentum toward the conclusion I'd already envisioned, and first drafts were darned close to finished length. Then, out came the pens.

Now, I have three "finished" plots, thanks to NaNoWriMo, and the revision has been painful. I think my brain thinks those books are complete and doesn't really want to fool much with them. Of course, when you reread you find all kinds of wrong that need fixing, but it takes so much longer than it used to (or seems, anyway). It's not fun. And I used to be the "Revision is FUN!" poster girl. Hmm.

So, do I abandon NaNo and the rush of getting something completed, or go back to my old, slow ways? Anyone else out there have the same issues? mimi could use some help.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Noted

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Sometimes low tech is the way to go. I keep a little notepad by my sink--the last place I look before I leave the house--to remind me of stuff. This is the notepad I grab when one of those late-night squirrels runs through my brain right when I'm trying to go to sleep. It's an interesting collection of random...here are a few of the entries (in no particular order):
-----
Jury?
citi
tix/hotel DC
Gator grad?
-----
K--cancel in evening!
birthday present
Einstein?
stuff off table
Sam Flax
-----
Visor out of car
badge to D
-----
Pack for Jax
DRYER
lasagna throwdown Sun.
-----
tetrazzini
softball when?
baseball when?
piano 7:30
-----
CFRW
Frack--art
hotel folio
email proposal
-----
Zumba
-----
youth potluck food
G testimony
Mama-pickups
M/T--when to Clemson?
-----
laundry
dogs--vet?
pack for Thurs.
paper/mail
-----
Call M
Mama
dogs
Costco!
-----
pack camp
Moo--lunch
MA
Tue--N?
Wed--stuff 2 Dream Agent
C!
*AMP
-----
So, totally weird brain, or what?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tallahasses

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Today, the vampire bats of education flapped down our hallways and invaded our classrooms. Yep, it's visitation day. We've been at Defcon 2 for a couple of weeks now. It apparently isn't enough to give Florida schools a letter grade based on one set of test scores; now we have a "level" to go with. Our level means that we get bat teams a couple of times a year to make sure we're teaching right or something. Honestly, it feels like we're living through the education version of Dean Wormer's "double secret probation."

I am SO SICK of bureaucrats who think they have the magic answer to our education problems. There's no telling how long it's been since they've been in a classroom, if ever. But man, do they have some crazy ideas about how learning's supposed to happen. Case in point: write the state benchmark, complete with its arcane numbering system, on the board in one particular place. Guess the magic key to reluctant teen readers is to slap an "LA.A.910.9.blah.yada" up front, and the clouds part, the angels sing, and hood rats suddenly develop a craving for John Irving. The kids in my room know what we're doing. Benchmarks? They don't need no stinkin' benchmarks!

Given our abysmal state grades, I think the bat brigade was expecting a scene out of Lean on Me, complete with graffiti and freshman getting trapped in lockers. Surprise, surprise...we have a close community that's working hard, kids who respond to their teachers, homework. You know, school. Here's your clue, folks: generational poverty. When you find it, you find academic issues, pure and simple. Doesn't mean our kids can't learn or aren't intelligent, it means they don't have backup. These kids aren't going to museums and computer camps in the summer. They don't have laptops and Internet access and books on the shelves. If they're lucky, they got Sesame Street when they were little instead of Jerry Springer and inattentive babysitters. Many of them aren't. Hence, our issues.

*sigh* One more adventure in our high stakes environment. Are we ready to have a substantive talk about testing pressure, please??

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cookie Cookie Cookie Starts with "C"

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In honor of Sesame Street's 40th anniversary, Google has created custom logos of the classic Muppet characters. Here's today's...my favorite guy:

Yesterday featured Big Bird. Wonder who else is showing up? I'm betting on Elmo, but I sure hope Oscar the Grouch and The Count get some props. And Mr. Snuffleupagus. Then again, how would we know he's there, since only Big Bird's supposed to see him? Dang, I love revisiting my childhood!!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Emo Vampires

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My thoughts exactly. Sort of. "I'll be back when the world grows a pair...of fangs." *snerk*

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pumpkinheads

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You can tell it's fall (even though it's 90 degrees here) because suddenly, everything in the world is pumpkin-flavored. Lattes. Bagels. Cream cheese. Cheesecakes. Beer. Pancakes. Coffee. Breakfast breads. You name it, it's pumpkin.

All I can say is "blech."

Not a fan of pumpkin. Never have been. Can't understand why people get all fangirl-squee over the pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving when there's a perfectly good pecan pie right next to it on the sideboard. Give me a sweet potato pie any day over pumpkin.

Am I just weird, or is anyone else baffled by pumpkinmania?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

No, No, NaNo

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Alas, mimi has come to the devastating decision that she will not be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. This is where mimi's latent OCD rears its ugly head because now her three-year streak has been broken. Plus, this year's icon has fun colors instead of last year's barf brown, alas.

However, it's still a barrel of fun, so if you've been pondering, hie on over to the WriMo website, sign in, and dive in. It's fun, you get tons of writing done, and you get a cool web badge like this one to display when you "win."

But not mimi, not this year. She has to stop listening to the siren call of the new hot idea
and finish the dang rewrite already. Pray for her. The siren at Chez mimi is awful loud.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Slackerville

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mimi has been a very naughty monkey about keeping up with her blog lately. At least twice a week, she has a brilliant idea for a blog topic, and then whammo! Craziness at home or school and it flies out the ol' ear nary to return. Now that the pile of grading is no longer casting a shadow so long she believes she lives in permanent shade, mimi should be better about updates. But you know what they say about "should."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Divided by Five

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Big doin's today. Tonight at exactly 9:08 pm (CST), mimi hits the 4-5. I am officially in my mid-forties. Amazingly, it feels not unlike mid-thirties, except I spend a lot more time in the car driving Frick and Frack to music lessons and baseball and softball and what have you. I could stand to lose a few and have ridiculous snow on the roof for a Florida gal, but the wrinkles on my face are earned and basically tell the story of someone who smiles a lot. Not bad for this point, huh?

Monday, October 05, 2009

Cripes, Tallahassee!

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Today was the first day I attempted to foist the new state-mandated testing on my students, and let me just say that there are military terms that aren't for mixed company that perfectly capture the essence of today's fun. Terms beginning with the word "cluster" or expressed with the acronym FUBAR.

Needless to say, when the wizards in Tally tell the entire state to hold off on testing until later, then open the floodgates to a small window of completion, they're asking for trouble. They're asking for more trouble when they--knowing that the opening sequence will be accessed hundreds of thousands of times--advise the districts to purchase and maintain cache servers to make things run more smoothly. Um, clue. These are the same districts that have been laying people off right and left, but they have money to blow on purchasing, installing, and maintaining special servers just for your new brainstorm of a test?? Let the people say DUH.

I got my kids almost through second period, roughly 9 am, when things started to bog down (the Panhandle's awake!). By third period, the entire network crashed and didn't come back up until close to the end of the day. Brilliant planning, idjits.

So we're not done, and now the teaching part is equally FUBAR. Testing is, yet again, holding learning hostage. Data-driven my...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Hugging a Porcupine

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DH brought a book home from the library about being the parents of an adolescent the other day. It had a perfect title: How to Hug a Porcupine. And since, more often than not, I'm getting a faceful of quills when trying to deal with Frick these days, it's proven to be sound advice, more often than not.

I always thought I'd be a better parent of a teenager than a young child since I have so many years of experience with teenagers at school. I love younger kids, but some of their habits (especially the whining) drive. me. up. the. wall. I was suuuuuure I'd be so much more effective once they started to creep up in the double digits, age-wise.

What's that old proverb about wanting to make God laugh? Yeah.

Anyhoo, Mr. Frick is becoming, more and more, Mr. Prickly. Everything's cool until I suddenly cross some unseen border, then WHAM! Quillface. Case in point, last night's homework. I'm trying to deal calmly with him, and he gets nearly apoplectic. And doesn't finish. So now I need to wake him up early so he can finish. Never mind that he asked me to wake him early; I'm sure to get zapped for trying it. Open House was last night, and I can see clearly what needs to be done, but he's not hearing it. He knows better (even though he's trying to make algebra do things that are mathematically impossible). He's offloading all his issues on a different issue that even he admits isn't the issue. It's maddening.

And then he turns around and is the most generous, hilarious, wonderful tween in the universe. It's enough to drive you crazy.

Someone who's survived these years, please let me know my face isn't going to be permanently perforated. I'm all for patience and forbearance, but let's face it, they don't sell those qualities at Targét. At some point, the tank'll be dry, and I'll still be in a faceoff with a bristling little rodent. Help!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bringin' the Heat

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'Scuse the baseball analogy, but I'm fixin' to make it do double duty in a sec. Today was opening day of fall ball for both Frick and Frack, since Frack's softball opener was rained out Thursday night. So it's been a loooooooooooong day at the ballpark. BallparkS, that is. Up early to take Frack to her away game, then 1-1/2 hours in the growing heat. By 10:30 we'd already reached the high 80s. Thankfully, the girls won, 9-2, so those hours of sweating it out in her polyester triple-knit uniform--with pants, no less--were worth it. Took her sweaty self home for some lunch, then off to our home field for Frick's baseball opener at 1. By then it was 92 degrees in the shade, with humidity of 63% or more, so the heat index was 101. Since Frick's now in junior baseball, we're talking seven innings of slow poaching. Thankfully, we had hitters and they had weak pitching, so we got called after the third batter in the sixth because of the ten-run rule. Yay!

Back home to find--instead of blessed air conditioning--a HOT house. The fan's blowing, but nothing's cooling. This happened the other day, too. Yegods. Flipped the breaker back and forth, praying that it'll start blowing cool, and hightailed it out of there for a Panera Bread. Free Wi-Fi and unlimited iced tea refills. And they've brought back blondies! Thanks to the Lord for tiny mercies. I may survive until bedtime after all...assuming the air kicks on.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Band Geek WIN

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Tonight was middle school band night at the high school where the denizens of Chez mimi are zoned to attend. Since I'm a proud graduate of that same school, I was especially interested in having young Frick, my aspiring tubist, attend. You see, he plays in a wonderful middle school band. The problem is, most of the kids at his middle school go to a nearly lily-white suburban marquee high school--let's call it FooFoo High School, just for funzies--with a small slice going to Frick's future alma mater, which has a much more diverse population. As a result, his band director is all over whatever happens at FooFoo High and totally neglects OUR high school. Or so it seems (mimi does admit to a bit of touchiness and snobbery when it comes to OUR school vs. FooFoo High, which is populated with teens who drive far nicer cars than the teachers and have the attitude to match*). So Frick has been hearing all about how WONDERFUL and FABULOUS FooFoo High is and bubkes about his own school.

Until last night. I bring him to the band room--which was the library when I attended--sign him in, and he disappears into the tuba section. They bond immediately over his cool mouthpiece and he turns on the Parental Ignoring Beam and I leave. I know when I'm superfluous. Still, I worry. He's only in seventh grade. He's very very small compared to those big high school kids and their humongous Sousaphones. So an hour later I text him: Having fun? Glad you went? Do you want one of us to be there while you're at the game? He texts back:

Yes, yes, and no.

Ooooookay then. We leave him to his fun. DH goes to pick him up at the end of a very long night, and he arrives home brandishing a sheaf of tuba arrangements for things they played in the stands, a grin wider than a bass drum, and total excitement about AlmaMater Band. Yay!!

The moral of the story? NEVER underestimate the power of music.

*DISCLAIMER: One of mimi's partners in crime, the Bed Bandit herself, has a daughter attending FooFoo High. Mr. and Mrs. Comic Book's son goes there as well. I personally adore these two children and their younger siblings who will be attending FooFoo High because they live on the other side of our lovely hometown. But that's all the love FooFoo's getting from me. So there.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Is It With These People??

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I don't know what they're drinking in Tallahassee, but apparently now there's yet ANOTHER test we have to administer our kids to find out what's up with their godforsaken reading scores. This one's computer-based, though, and will take up two day's worth of class time that I now can't spend instructing them. Yeah, that makes sense.

You see, apparently the right TEST is going to be the key to unlock why teen readers don't score well on standardized reading exams. Get the right test and the right spreadsheet numbers and presto!! Scores miraculously soar. Right? I mean, it's not like my professional judgment can do anything to pinpoint what they have issues with. You know, by assigning reading and asking them to write things that reveal what they comprehend. It's the almighty SPREADSHEET that will cure all. I'm sorry; I didn't know that you needed a minor in statistics to be a competent English teacher, but whatever. I can play along. But it won't stop me from wondering whether the people drinking that funky Tallahassee Kool-Aid have ever been in a classroom with actual children. Because, after all, children respond so well to more tests when they're having issues with a test. You try convincing a teenager who's figured out that the only scores that matter are the ones that tell you you get a diploma when you graduate (FCAT) or get you into the college of your choice (SAT/ACT) or college credit (AP) that he or she needs to buckle down and work on additional test number 5,297
because THIS IS IMPORTANT and YOU SHOULD TAKE IT SERIOUSLY. Those benchmark tests and Edusoft assessments and yes, our new silver bullet, FAIR (Is there a job in the Florida DOE just for making up acronyms?) are the keys to data-driven instruction. Which soon will be all data and no instruction unless they knock some of that testing crap back down to a manageable, sane size.

Plus, to add insult to injury, the mandatory training sessions were held on the day before and the day progress reports were due to be submitted. Into a new online-based system, no less, so it's the first time we'd ever used it to post grades. The same day the increased server activity crashed the server. The same day some brain trust at the county office wiped out the student/parent database, so none of the kids could check grades online and were freaking out because why worry about your grade until the day it's going in?? Sheesh!

If I were in charge (and that would never happen, because although I have lovely party manners, I do not suck up well), I would put a cadre of really smart teachers in charge of all these new state mandates. Anything the legislature suddenly believes is a good idea would be required of them before they can require it of Florida's students. Plus, legislators would be required by law to work for a minimum of one week per year as a substitute teacher before they would be permitted to introduce legislation which governs how I do my job. You know, the one I've trained for (two degrees!) and have twenty years' experience doing. With an army of successful college graduates to back me up, thankyouverymuch. Otherwise, shut your piehole. And take your freakin' test with you.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

10 Things You Think Are Cool

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  1. Facebook. Amazingly, it erases years and awkward social boundaries.
  2. iPhones. Totally want one, but will wait patiently for T-Mobile to get its act together.
  3. My kids. They are wonderfully talented and funny, and sometimes I wonder how it's possible that I'm their mom.
  4. Convertibles. Once I owned my first (a 1991 Mercury Capri), I was hooked for life.
  5. British humor. The world is a better because of Monty Python, Blackadder, and Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
  6. Jugglers. 'Cause I can't do it.
  7. The Big Bang Theory. The TV show, that is, for making geekdom cool. And hilarious.
  8. Baseball. It's a thinking fan's sport. If you think it's boring, you probably just don't get it.
  9. Thomas Jefferson. Because every country needs a founding genius, and we got him. Go visit his personal library at the Library of Congress or his home, Monticello, and you'll see what I mean.
  10. Marriage. Despite all the day-to-day frustration and responsibility and all, it's absolutely awesome to come home to your best friend every day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Carb Coma

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Today we had the second annual "Lasagna Throwdown" to benefit the music department at the church, and we're all comatose from the great food! Mexican lasagnas, traditional lasagnas, seafood lasagnas, sauces, more pasta, desserts...the South Beach people would be appalled. But we were happy!

Even more fun, some of us performed the Silent Monks' version of the Hallelujah Chorus. I was the "of" in "King of Kings," DH was "lu," and Frick was the short monk. Check out this version, performed by one of our local high schools, and you'll see what I mean. Fun stuff! Yummy stuff! Time for a nap!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

10 Bad Habits You Can't Break

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  1. Procrastinating
  2. Chewing my cuticles
  3. Relying on deadline adrenaline
  4. Avoiding financial issues
  5. Not carrying cash
  6. Facebooking too much
  7. Ditto with infosnacking
  8. Letting the laundry pile up
  9. Avoidance behaviors
  10. Not exercising

Much Ado About Nothing: Presidential Speech Edition

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Just in case you've been camping on the moon for the past couple of weeks, today President Obama delivered his socialist agenda brainwashing speech to innocent children, better known to those of us who actually use our brains to think as a Presidential Back-to-School address. Seems President Obama, who knows from both his and the First Lady's backgrounds that a solid education is the key to success, wanted to remind the kids that their futures were in their own hands, and their job is to work hard in school, persevere, and watch all that work bear fruit.

How very pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps of him. Just the kind of hard work, self-reliant, achieve your American Dream kind of thing the conservatives have been harping on for years. Unfortunately, there are some truly loose screws shouting from the right side of the aisle these days. Even more unfortunately, a sizable chunk of the populace is listening to them without thinking much about what they're actually saying.

These are the same folks who got all bent out of shape when people criticized President G.W. Bush. As in, "How dare you criticize the President? How un-Patriotic! How un-American!" Now that their guy's not in the Oval Office, it's open season on Obama--and that's being patriotic and American.

Look, folks. Dissent is an American value. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution don't guarantee that we're all going to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya." You don't have to agree with President Obama. You don't have to like him. But, to be fair, if you demand that the office of the President deserves respect (as I heard so many preaching during the W years), then put your money where your flappin' gums are and respect the man. It's possible to disagree without being disagreeable--and I'm not just talking about the conservatives. There are some lefties who've abandoned their good manners and foam at the mouth as rabidly and unattractively as the freaked-out tea party crowd. Extremism of any stripe is annoying and dangerous. And, most of the time, downright wrong.

Thinking Americans of all stripes can find much to praise in today's message. They can also find much to discuss. DISCUSS being the key word. Thou canst not discuss when thou art shouting.

I think President Obama's words were on the mark. He, at least, seems to understand that the work of education is spread among a large group of people. Today, he addressed the group that's often left out of the "let's improve our schools" debates--the ones actually doing the work in the desks. He tells the kids,
"By the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world — and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities."
Preach on, Mr. President. If you're lucky, maybe some of their parents were paying attention.

Friday, August 28, 2009

R.I.P. Reading Rainbow

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Book lovers, get out your black armbands. Today was the last broadcast of PBS's wonderful children's series Reading Rainbow.

For those of us weaned on The Electric Company and Sesame Street, the advent of Reading Rainbow occurred after we'd progressed from picture books to chapters. Even so, it was easy to get sucked in when a younger sibling or eventually a child of our own sat, rapt, listening to LeVar "Geordi LaForge" Burton (or even Kunta Kinte, for those of us old enough to remember watching all seven nights of Roots on broadcast TV) read aloud.

Reading Rainbow's approach was simple: pick a book, read it, make connections to people and places in the real world, encourage kids to hit the library. Those of us lucky enough to have parents who made library trips a priority don't realize how vital the show was for kids who never went. Now that I'm a teacher, I can tell the difference. Man, can I tell the difference.

There's a theory floating out there that a shift in the Federal Department of Education's priorities--from whole works of literature to phonics-based instruction--helped kill off a show that exulted in books in their entirety. I'd hate to think that's true, but the current slavering over "data-driven instruction" kicks holistic anything in the teaching world to the curb in favor of spreadsheets. Or things easily measured on spreadsheets. Read: standardized tests.

Of course, there's nothing standardized about learning to read. Or loving to read. I fell in love with words early, thanks to a steady diet of Hop on Pop, Go, Dog! Go!, Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book, and other childhood classics (I could hear my father's voice in my head when I read them to my own children). Too many kids with busy or absent parents never did. And now they no longer have LeVar's voice, either. That's a shame. Too bad for us that we're so obsessed with numbers that we overlook the magic of words. Too bad for the kids that they're paying the price.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Whooooaaaah...Back on the Chain Gang!!

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Not really, but today is the first day of school! Kids are in and excited, and my feet are *killing* me!! That's what I get for wearing cute shoes with my Day 1 outfit, though. It's all my fault. I'll be back in Crocs tomorrow (the ladylike ones, not the clown shoes).

So far, pretty good, if you don't count the network crashing halfway through the day so we couldn't do attendance or anything. The kids were nice, I eased through the "wah wah wah wah" Charlie Brown's teacher monologues about the Code of Conduct and gave everybody homework. Yep, mimi means business right out of the box when she's in TeacherLady mode. It won't be hard...unless they think I'm kidding about the summer reading that's due next Friday. The phrase "world of hurt" will never mean so much!!

If you can judge the school year by the first day, this will be a good one. I'm looking forward to it. Probably not as forward as I'm looking to getting in my jammies, but you know what I mean. Happy 2009-2010 school year, everyone!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dumbass, Party of One

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Ever have one of those days? Today was mine. I'm ferrying Frick and Frack and a friend to a skating party on an end of town I try never to explore, if I can help it. Then, while trying to get turned back around in the second most badly-designed parking lot in the world, I get distracted and WHAM! I hit a curb, Inga lurches unbecomingly, scrape, curse, I manage to cut a hole in the sidewall of my tire. Hole in the sidewall means I have to buy a new tire. Let me remind you, August is ramen month for teachers. I don't have $136 and change for a new tire. Even if I did, I wouldn't want to spend it correcting an act of dumbassitude like hitting a freakin' curb--despite the fact that it was one of those stupid curbs in the middle of an ocean of asphalt. You know, the ones they put there for pretty, or something. Like the big white lines aren't enough to alert people to PARK THE CAR HERE.

And of course, it's a special order tire, so I can't get it put on until Monday. Poor Inga has to creep around town at fewer than 50 mph (her Fast is sooooo not liking that idea) with the full-size spare and its yellow Look! I have a FLAT! sticker. Gah. If I go back to bed, can I wake up to a re-do?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Blowout, Schmowout

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Got my fresh back to school haircut today (yay!) and decided to let Ms. M, my hilarious Sicilian/Greek (how's that for a nice, quiet house to grow up in?) give me a blowout. mimi is usually all about the curls, but today, why not something different?

Know what? Me no likey. It feels fun, but MAN, is straight hair annoying. It's In. My. Face. In my eyelashes. In my mouth. Hanging over my eyes. And, since this is Florida and there's about as much water in the air outside as there is in your normal shower, it's already starting to curl back up. To which I say, cool.

It's taken years, but I've made peace with my curls. I know how to take care of them so I'm not tripping the hair frizztastic every day. They reflect my personality--I'm far more bouncy than sleek. The only qualm I've had with them is the whole curls + grey hair = frumpy (check out the thinking about letting your hair be the color it wants here and here). Now, not so sure. The blowout looks okay, but it is so not me.

So I have to wonder, what is it about the blowout that makes it the Holy Grail of Hair? I have curly friends who would kill rather than part with thier flatirons. One even got a blowout in a foreign country rather than go wavy/curly in front of a bunch of foreigners she'll never see again. I've already fought the haircolor war. Why are so many women willing to enslave themselves to gallons of product and a blowdryer every morning? My life's crazy enough without having to fight this hair--which fights back a couple of classifications above me, thank you very much--in the humidity which is my natural swamp. Or have I just, in one of the phrases I hate so much from women's magazines and the like, "let myself go"? Thoughts?

UPDATE: By suppertime, my hair resembled Marlo Thomas's in That Girl. We're talking full late '60s flip. By the 11:00 news, curl city. DNA WIN.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Newbery Update: 1940s

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I'm noticing a shift in the kinds of books being selected for the Newbery Medal. Perhaps because WWII dominated the early forties, the books are much shorter than some of the ones I've already read. Also, there seems to have been a nudge (deliberate or not) to balance the list toward more "boy" books than the slew of girl-focused titles chosen in the 1930s, like Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, Invincible Louisa, Caddie Woodlawn, and Thimble Summer. That said, here's what bubbled up in the '40s:

Daniel Boone by James Daugherty - Non-PC biography of the renowned explorer and surveyor. The Native American tribes featured here are pretty darned bloodthirsty and stereotypical, and our intrepid hero quite intrepid. And unlucky. Great explorer, not the best follow-through.

Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry - I saw this book once; it was called Cast Away and starred Tom Hanks! Not really--in this, Mafatu, the son of a Polynesian chief, is afraid of the sea that claimed his mother's life and nearly his. His journey to self-confidence and his becoming the promise of his name--Stout Heart--provides a peek at a lesser-known, yet fascinating culture.

The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds - This one's suprisingly short and liberally illustrated. Basically, a retelling of a family story that's been handed down since the early years of the French and Indian war. At the center, a young Dutch-German boy, his mother and sister, and a Spanish-made matchlock gun. On the outside, the Indian war party his father's gone off to fight as part of the militia in New York's upper Hudson valley. You can guess the ending.

Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Gray Vining - Adam is the son of Roger, a traveling minstrel in medieval England. Adam wants to become as respected a minstrel as his father, but he's stuck in school. Worse, Adam and his father get separated, and a rival minstrel steals Adam's dog. Adam's journey provides a window into all levels of medieval life.

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes - I can't believe I got to be this old without reading this, especially since I experienced the American Bicentennial in all its red, white, and blue glory as a child. Tons of historical information, well-written, and pretty engaging. Just not enough to make Johnny one of my favorites.

Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson - Written and illustrated by Robert Lawson (who also did the illustrations for Adam of the Road and DH's favorite book ever, Ferdinand), Rabbit Hill tells the story of the New Folks who come to the Big House and how the different animals react to their arrival. Watch for a cameo by St. Francis of Assisi. Written for the younger Newbery readers, but charming all the same.

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski - My kids beat me to this one since they started elementary school in Florida. Birdie Boyer and her family move from North Carolina to the Florida hammock, where they try to raise strawberries despite interference from them mean ol' Slaters down the road. An interesting peek at Florida Cracker culture that sounded really, really familiar!!

Miss Hickory by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey - Miss Hickory, a twig woman with a hard, hard hickory nut head, is forced to adapt through a long winter when her neat little corncob house is taken over by a chipmunk family. Fanciful descriptions of New England woodland life, and a surprising ending.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois - Steampunk's origins, maybe? Professor William Sherman takes off from San Francisco in a balloon and is rescued a month later in the wreckage of twenty balloons...in the Atlantic Ocean! Inventions, ballooning, diamonds, and Krakatoa. Very, very fun.

King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry - I adored this book as a child (still haven't outgrown my horse phase, actually), so it was a treat to "have" to revisit it. This is the fictionalized story of the Godolphin Arabian, one of the three foundation sires of all Thoroughbred racehorses, and Agba, the "slim brown horseboy" who accompanies him on his journey from Sultan Mulai Ismael's stables in the Kingdom of Morocco.

And my favorite is...

King of the Wind!

Maybe it's because I never really got over my horse phase, maybe it's because this was a beloved childhood book already, but I still think King of the Wind is the best of the bunch. Wesley Dennis's gorgeous illustrations bring to life the cultures of 18th century Morocco, France, and England, Henry's lyrical writing is a joy to read and packs in so much historical detail so beautifully, you don't realize how much you've learned until you find yourself nodding at unrelated books long, long after you've closed the cover of this one.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Best Seller ≠ Best Writer

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mimi is obsessive when it comes to her reading. If I pick up a book, I generally finish it. Of course, that takes some vetting. I'll browse an opening chapter or back cover copy before I commit (mimi is not a reading ho). Once I commit, though, I'm in 'til the end. Normally, this is a good thing. Unfortunately, not so much with the book I finished last night.

The book in question was a paperback original by a New York Times bestselling author. I've read books by her in the past and enjoyed them. I actually got to meet her this past summer at a publisher-sponsored booksigning, and I'm sorry to say that her personality didn't match her work. One of the most humorless women I've ever met, and that's saying something. But I like books and I like reading and my sister likes her, too, so I went away generally happily with her books. Happily until last night.

The book in question featured a plotline I like, so that was fun. Interesting opening. Then I hit the swamp. Research dumped in, paragraph after paragraph. Brand names sprinkled hither and yon for no discernable effect except to have brand names. Clunky sentences. And I mean clunky. I read one out loud, and my ten-year-old daughter recast it better. An alpha hero who's really an asshat. Bitchy women wearing their "Spunky!" T-shirts who weren't fooling anyone. But I struggled on, and when I got to the end, I didn't get the sigh. Usually I get a sigh. Often, tears. But a sigh, at least, that everything worked out the way it should. This time, not so much. Our heroine wasn't a Mary Sue (although she was close, with all that "My life is so screwed up!!" flailing about), but he was still an asshat at the time he suddenly realized He Loved Her, and she took him anyway. Blech.

The lesson? "NYT Bestseller" on the spine of a book doesn't guarantee a great read, even if it's the type of book you usually adore. Some authors are mean. Having an author brand is no substitute for clean writing and characters who aren't asshats. Sorry, Ms. Author, but you've lost a reader. And mimi's learned some things to apply to her own writing career that she needs to go apply right now.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I <3 School Supplies!

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I don't know about you, but I've always been way more excited in the Office Depot or the Staples than I have ever been in the shoe department. Yes, I'm warped. But still, there's something about fresh, new Dixon Ticonderoga pencils, Pink Pearl erasers, and riffly sheets of notebook paper that just gives me the shivers. New school supplies mark the beginning of an unblemished school year, where I can teach everything perfectly and all my students soak up the learnin' like baby sponges. One week in, and it's all screwed to hell (so much for perfectionism), but right now, it's still perfect. And that makes me very happy indeed.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Ten Favorite Characters from Television

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  1. Gil Grissom, CSI. He's brilliant but has issues dealing with people. Endlessly surprising.
  2. Sheriff Andy Taylor, The Andy Griffith Show. Just the kind of smart Southern gentleman we could use more of.
  3. The "It's..." Man (Michael Palin), Monty Python's Flying Circus. He's a favorite not for himself, but for what comes right after we see him.
  4. Julia Sugarbaker, Designing Women. Who wouldn't love to be able to tell off a jackass who so richly deserves it, and in that droll Dixie Carter voice, to boot?
  5. Oscar the Grouch. Classic.
  6. Peggy Hill, King of the Hill. She's the Texas State Boggle Champion and one heckuva substitute teacher.
  7. Betty Suarez, Ugly Betty. Cheering for Betty in that snake pit of an office is like rooting for the insecure seventh grade girl inside us all.
  8. President Jed Bartlett, The West Wing. Too bad real politics doesn't work out this well.
  9. Pee Wee Herman, Pee Wee's Playhouse. Because at Chez mimi, we never get enough of screaming when someone says the secret word.
  10. Blossom, The Powerpuff Girls. For obvious reasons. Obvious, at least, to my partners in crime. Hey, bossiness and ice breath come in handy.
I had to work to come up with this list, so I guess that's good. TV hasn't quite rotted my brain. Yet.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Gobi Desert

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About 150 pages into her last novel, The Buccaneers, Edith Wharton wrote in her diary,
What is writing a novel like?
1. The beginning: A ride through a spring wood
2. The middle: the Gobi desert
3. The end: A night with a lover
I am now in the Gobi desert.
Honey, I'm camped there with you, and I think the camel ran off.

One plus to meeting tête-a-tête with Dream Agent at RWA National is the immediate feedback on the current projects. One minus is the conversation in all its nonverbal communicative glory...the facial expressions that disabuse you of any hopeful notion you might have concocted from an email exchange or even a phone call. That, alas, was the result. Instead of WIP 1, we're shifting to WIP 2...the one that's stranded in the Gobi sans camel. Urk.

WIP 2, aka "the baseball book," died the death before the end of my second go-round with NaNoWriMo. Great premise, not enough steam. Rereading said WIP during the train ride home, I realized that it suffered from several flaws: the backstory dump. The excessive navel gazing (all women's fiction has a degree of navel gazing, but...). The trips to nowhere. The pointless scenes.

Thankfully, the idea engine is slowly cranking to life. The endless construction project next door to Daddy's house gave me an idea for my foil character. I was able to extend a surprise metaphor and make it work better. The characters are becoming rounder and less cardboard. Okay, so I have to rewrite the whole thing. It can't get sold if I don't, right?

Sadly, Wharton never finished The Buccaneers--she died when she was about 3/5 of the way through. Let's hope the same won't be true for me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ten Favorite Sounds

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  1. The wind in tall North Carolina pines
  2. Rain on a tin roof
  3. Dixieland jazz
  4. Bagpipes. Seriously. Best if you're actually in the Scottish Highlands.
  5. "I'm home."
  6. Night sounds: tree frogs, cicadas, owls
  7. Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring and Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy"
  8. That groany-snuffly sound your dog makes when you scratch him just so under the ear
  9. My children's laughter
  10. My husband's giggle when he's really tickled about something

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reading Lists: Another 100 Greatest?

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Not to be outdone by their rivals at Time (see my post on their list here), the good folks at Newsweek have compiled what they call their "meta-list" of the Top 100 Books, using rankings from lists as diverse as the New York Public Library System, the Modern Library, and Oprah to determine their choices. This list was interesting because it included nonfiction, poetry, and drama in addition to novels. There are some quirks: all the Shakespeare selections are grouped together, they seem to love ancient history (Thucydides, Herodotus, Homer, etc.) but not Greek drama (Oedipus? The Orestia Trilogy? Hello??), and some children's books pop up as well. It's also startling for its omissions: No Dickens? I'm not a fan, but what's up with that?? Moby Dick didn't make the list (no big loss, IMHO), but what's puzzling is the two Toni Morrisons and an Alice Walker, but no Their Eyes Were Watching God--the novel that paved the way for them both. Plus, there are a couple of titles I've never even heard of, so clearly I'm not swimming in rarefied Ivy League circles. Whatever. Faulkner's the top-rated American writer, so I'm happy. Here's the list. I've boldfaced the titles I've read.
  1. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
  2. 1984 - George Orwell
  3. Ulysses - James Joyce
  4. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
  5. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
  6. Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
  7. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
  8. The Iliad and The Odyssey - Homer
  9. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  10. Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri
  11. The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer (most of them)
  12. Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
  13. Middlemarch - George Eliot
  14. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
  15. The Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger
  16. Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
  17. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  18. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
  19. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller (I've tried, but I cannot finish this book)
  20. Beloved - Toni Morrison
  21. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
  22. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
  23. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
  24. Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
  25. Native Son - Richard Wright
  26. Democracy in America - Alexis de Tocqueville
  27. On the Origin of Species - Charles Darwin
  28. The Histories - Herodotus
  29. The Social Contract - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  30. Das Kapital - Karl Marx
  31. The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli
  32. Confessions - St. Augustine
  33. Leviathan - Thomas Hobbes
  34. The History of the Peloponnesian War - Thucydides
  35. The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien
  36. Winnie-the-Pooh - A. A. Milne
  37. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C. S. Lewis
  38. A Passage to India - E. M. Forster
  39. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
  40. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  41. The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version (most of it)
  42. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
  43. Light in August - William Faulkner
  44. The Souls of Black Folk - W. E. B. Du Bois
  45. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys
  46. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
  47. Paradise Lost - John Milton (portions)
  48. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
  49. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
  50. King Lear - William Shakespeare
  51. Othello - William Shakespeare
  52. Sonnets - William Shakespeare
  53. Leaves of Grass - Walt Whitman
  54. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
  55. Kim - Rudyard Kipling
  56. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
  57. Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
  58. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
  59. For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway
  60. Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
  61. Animal Farm - George Orwell
  62. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
  63. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
  64. The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
  65. Remembrance of Things Past - Marcel Proust
  66. The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
  67. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
  68. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
  69. I, Claudius - Robert Graves
  70. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers
  71. Sons and Lovers - D. H. Lawrence
  72. All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren
  73. Go Tell It on the Mountain - James Baldwin
  74. Charlotte's Web - E. B. White
  75. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
  76. Night - Elie Wiesel
  77. Rabbit, Run - John Updike
  78. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
  79. Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth
  80. An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser
  81. The Day of the Locust - Nathanael West
  82. Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
  83. The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett
  84. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (Sort of. I read The Golden Compass, but didn't get excited enough to read the other two.)
  85. Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
  86. The Interpretation of Dreams - Sigmund Freud
  87. The Education of Henry Adams - Henry Adams
  88. Quotations from Chairman Mao - Mao Zedong
  89. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature - William James
  90. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
  91. Silent Spring - Rachel Carson
  92. The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money - John Maynard Keynes
  93. Lord Jim - Joseph Conrad
  94. Goodbye to All That - Robert Graves
  95. The Affluent Society - John Kenneth Galbraith
  96. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
  97. The Autobiography of Malcolm X - Alex Haley and Malcolm
  98. Eminent Victorians - Lytton Strachey
  99. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
  100. The Second World War (The Gathering Storm; Their Finest Hour; The Grand Alliance; The Hinge of Fate) - Winston Churchill
Forty-five out of a hundred. Not bad for a list that includes so much nonfiction! It's weird, but it'll get people talking. About books, better yet. Check out the list and comments here.
 

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