Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ten This Tuesday

Ten years ago today, at precisely 6:13 am, Miss Frack arrived in the world. That means today, at precisely 6:13 am, I became the mother of two children who are now in the double digits.

She's gorgeous, and I'm not just being a proud mama. She's really objectively gorgeous--willowy, long legs, shining hair, bright smile. I wonder how many of us were gorgeous when we were ten and somehow forgot (or never believed), those of us who have been the walking wounded on the inside for years and years because we just weren't...enough. Or thought we weren't.

Women are funny creatures. We can run the world and still doubt ourselves. I know so many capable, strong, amazing women who are just as insecure about their abilities and certainly their looks (adolescence can be an evil thing) as the least strong, least capable person on earth. We raise families and think we can't manage ourselves. We raise daughters and have understanding to our mothers. We pick up our children, dust off their scrapes and kiss their boo-boos so they can recover and play while ignoring our own wounds. Let's face it. We have issues.

My wish for my daughter today is that she doesn't have those days (or as many of them) as I seem to have had. Let her long-legged, bright-smiling self be the one she counts on as she turns eleven and eighteen and forty-'leven. For today, let me love my little girl for exactly who she is, and in the process, love the little girl inside me, too.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reading Lists: 100 Greatest?

Every once in a while, something pops up that just demands to be blogged. I ran across this listing of Time magazine's 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. Lists like this are always up for debate, but I thought it would be interesting to see how I fared. Of their 100 choices, I've read these:
All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren
Animal Farm - George Orwell
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret - Judy Blume
Beloved - Toni Morrison
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
Deliverance - James Dickey
Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers
Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
Light in August - William Faulkner
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
Native Son - Richard Wright
1984 - George Orwell
Ragtime - E.L. Doctorow
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold - John le Carre
The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Watchmen - Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
I don't know what it says about me that I've read Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret but no Virginia Woolf. I get some cool points for Watchmen, but I should probably be ashamed that I've never read William Burroughs. Or Styron, Pynchon, or Roth, for that matter. In my defense, I started Catch-22 and The French Lieutenant's Woman but just couldn't make myself finish them. I've also read titles by Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Thornton Wilder, Graham Greene, Robert Stone, James Baldwin, and Zadie Smith, just not the ones selected for this list. I have to say it does my heart good to see two of Faulkner's novels on the list, but only one Hemingway (his short stories are better). Twenty-eight titles out of 100 is an okay showing (technically thirty, since The Lord of the Rings is one work in three volumes), but I guess I have some grownup reading to do once I finish all those Newbery books!

Check out the list for yourself here. How many titles have you read?

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Bed List/The Dinner List


Shemar Moore first caught my attention as the intense profiler with the sentimental streak in Criminal Minds, but he's been swoon-worthy for a while. Check out his strong turn in the Tyler Perry film Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Girlfriend was crazy to hold out so long! Dayum!


Speaking of Tyler Perry...this man is a brilliant businessman and an absolutely fearless comic. His multiple successes with the Madea franchise show his intimate knowledge of his Atlanta hometown and his target market. That, and he's not afraid to dress in drag and go for the laugh. Tyler Perry is a mogul, folks.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I guess today I can officially close the book on my youth. First Ed McMahon (how many years have I heard that voice?), then Farrah Fawcett (all the girls wanted her hair, all the boys just wanted her), then Michael Jackson ("'cause this is THRILLER...thriller night!"). Michael Jackson's taking the most effort to process, though. He's not that much older than me! Of course, we all watched him grow up, from being the high sweet voice of the Jackson Five, to the disco phenomenon of Off the Wall, to the self-styled King of Pop. Is there anyone my age who didn't adore the "Thriller" scene in 13 Going on 30 because we'd all practiced that routine over and over and over?

Strange how passages make us think more about our realities. Tonight, though, let's celebrate the talent of three people who made us laugh, dance, and dream.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

IB Pissed

I don't know about you, but sometimes professional conferences are a pain in my considerable behind. Today's is no exception. I'm at a gorgeous beach resort--no complaints there--with nice food and a room that's about a hundred feet from the Gulf of Mexico. Fine. Dandy.

What's not fine, or even approaching dandy, is the veritable avalanche of paper I got this morning, all badly organized and comb-bound, which makes it impossible to reorganize. Top that all off with a room full of people from rank beginners (moi) to twenty-year-plus veterans, and you have a recipe for a very confused room. Especially in my seat.

The situation: I'll be teaching the first year of an IB course this fall. I come to get teaching strategies and make sure I'm on the right path to help my students do well. Within the first half hour, I'm unsure I'm in the right place, thanks to the aforementioned mix in the room, and then I discover that the syllabus I submitted, which I thought had been vetted and approved, was wrong. As in "violates the rules and would disqualify my students' scores" wrong. How the hell did it pass muster, then??

Let's just say I'm never--never--the dumbest girl in the room. This morning, though, I sure felt like it. And I was. Not. Happy. At. All. Pitch a fit not happy and embarrass myself in front of everyone, which made me even less happy. This is the kind of thing that gives teachers chronic headaches. Good thing I have the beach to stare at.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Bed List/The Dinner List


Simon Baker's Australian, though you'd never know it from his best-known role, Patrick Jane in The Mentalist. Those eyes! That grin! Those dimples! Don't know about you, but he's welcome to observe me up close anytime.


Behold our new Secretary of Education. I'm sure you can guess why I'd want to have dinner with him. Somebody with some sense needs to talk with the Washington policy wonks!! He's kinda cute, too, so it wouldn't be a hardship.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Off to the Races

The reworked idea for The Five Step Plan and the proposal for Life After Little League are now on their way to Dream Agent. Let's hope she's happier with the rework--if she is, I can salvage some main story elements. If not, we're talking total rebuild (which I'm not wanting to do, but...). Now I'm back to the YA ideas. Who knew designing an entire fictional high school would be so complicated! That "write what you know" advice sure can throw a wrench in the works when you're not looking.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another

Adding to the insult of no money coming in all summer (two teacher household, remember?), today I hear this weird griiiiinnnddd-CLUNK sound from one of my back windows. Yep, now it's stuck down. All the way down. And this is Florida, where we have a thunderstorm every day at 4:00 p.m.

Great. Lacking the several hundred bucks it will take to fix the window (stupid VW window regulators are pieces of plastic trash that are cheap but take like three hours to fix because you have to disassemble the back seat to get to them), and since it's thundering, now I have to spend two hours cleaning out the garage (it's been mid-project for a while now) so I can get my car in. OMG the leaves. OMG the nuts and bolts and screws. OMG the papers that go from school to car to garage and possibly the house. This would be so much more fun if there were a ceiling fan. Scratch that. It wouldn't be fun.

Let me just say, the shower afterward was water straight from Mount Olympus.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Bed List/The Dinner List


Who'da thunk the limpid-eyed Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, furry goat butt and all, would have ended up becoming a prime-grade Scottish leading man? Not me, but then I saw Penelope. And Atonement. And Becoming Jane. James McAvoy is a seriously cute bundle of simmering Glaswegian rawr.


The new U.S. Representative from the 8th District of Florida is a kook, but maybe in a good way. He campaigned on a platform of transparency in government spending, which is way more nutritious than what his predecessor, the former Rep. Ric Keller gave us during his years in Congress (Cheeseburger Bill, anyone?). Rep. Grayson's a sideshow, but he's an entertaining sideshow.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Newbery Update: 1930s

Finally finished reading the second decade's worth of Newbery titles. Note to self: ambitious reading projects are probably not best to embark upon during a become-an-IB-school year. Alas. However, I blazed through the last few quickly now that summer is upon us, so I'm hoping the next few months will be far more productive, reading-wise.

On to the titles:

Hitty, Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field - Hitty is a doll, carved from "mountain ash wood" for the daughter of a Maine sea captain. When we meet her, she is on display in a New York antiques store. How she gets there and the adventures she has along the way are charmingly told in her own voice. Adorable, I have to say.

The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth - The shortest read of all the books so far, this is a quick introduction to Japanese culture and Buddhism, revealed as an artist paints a commission for the local Buddhist temple.

Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer - Beautifully illustrated by the author, this book is slower-paced than others I've read, but the growing character of a young Navajo, Younger Brother, into a medicine man is fascinating stuff.

Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze by Elizabeth Lewis - Again with the "teach kids about other cultures," I thought, but it's an engaging story of a boy who struggles to become an artisan so he can pull himself and his widowed mother out of poverty. Not nearly as depressing as it sounds.

Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs - The first biography to win a Newbery, this one is all about Louisa May Alcott. Those Alcotts knew everybody--look for cameos from Emerson, Thoreau, and a bunch of other 19th century thinkers. Good, but I'd probably get more out of it if I were a big Little Women fan. Which I'm not.

Dobry by Monica Shannon - This is the third novel in a row about a child who's growing up into something his parents don't really understand. Younger Brother and Young Fu, meet Dobry, a young Bulgarian farmer wants to become an artist. For a book about a brilliant young artist, the illustrations are oddly simplistic--and not in a good way.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink - Plucky, headstrong young girl and her adventures on her family's Wisconsin farm. What is it with Wisconsin farms? Was 1800s Wisconsin considered very edge of civilization by writers in the 1930s? The mind boggles. At any rate, Caddie's a hoot and a scamp. But she's no Laura Ingalls.

Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer - Kind of like Eloise at the Plaza, except Lucinda gets to toodle around 1890s New York City on her roller skates, since her parents are on an extended trip. Interesting and amusing, if not totally realistic. What Victorian child would be given this kind of freedom, especially with an overbearing aunt at the ready? That's probably the appeal, though.

The White Stag by Kate Seredy - This is a mythic retelling of how the Magyar peoples settled in their homeland (modern day Hungary). And you know what that means. Tonight's hero: Attila the Hun!! What's amazing is how Seredy pulls it off. Not that we'll all suddenly form Attila fan clubs (he's pretty barbaric and bloodthirsty here), but she crafts the myth in a way that helps you at least understand where all that thirst and barbarism came from.

Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright - This is the other book about a plucky young farm girl from Wisconsin and all her shenanigans. (Can you believe Laura Ingalls Wilder never won a Newbery?? Shame!) This heroine, Garnet Linden, has an idyllic summer bookended by the discovery of a silver thimble in a dry river bed and a blue ribbon at the fair. Cute, but Garnet's no Laura. Or Caddie, even.

And my favorite is...

The White Stag! 

Looks like the historical fiction bug bit me again. This book was a beautiful blend of fantastic pencil illustrations and gorgeous, lyrical writing. It's epic, it's poetic, it's magical. As Seredy says in her forward, "Those who want to hear the voice of pagan gods in wind and thunder, who want to see the fairies dance in the moonlight, who can believe that faith can move mountains, can follow the thread on the pages of this book. It is a fragile thread; it cannot bear the weight of facts and dates." And she makes Attila the Hun semi-heroic. Now that's writing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Boys of Summer

It's a been a while, but I figure it's time for a reboot. For your summer viewing pleasure, it's the return of The Bed List/The Dinner List. (Pause for squealing fangirl noises) Each Friday, I'll choose one man for his manly charms (The Bed List), and another for his winning ways (The Dinner List). Check out the archives for previous choices and send me your suggestions for men I've overlooked. The first boys of summer debut this Friday!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Ten Favorite Things to Do During "Me" Time

  1. Browse a bookstore.
  2. Read.
  3. Infosnack.
  4. Write.
  5. Stay in my pajamas all day.
  6. Watch girly movies and cry.
  7. Listen to college music and reminisce.
  8. Daydream.
  9. Talk to friends I haven't seen in a while.
  10. Fix something yummy that's on the naughty side.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

My Spicy Sweet Chili Self

Dream Agent, bless her heart. After a few rounds of email tag (how did I manage this before BlackBerry?), we finally manage a business call. And it's a doozy.

She looooooooooves the high concept hook of my proposal she has in house. The execution, not so much. As in, not crazy about the inciting incident, not completely wowed by some other story elements, not really feeling the narrative/dialogue balance. Just not. But looooooooooooooves the high concept hook. What can I come up with to re-vamp the story and make it fly?

You ask so little. But I am a professional (even though I must get this obligatory whining off my chest), so I will dive in and try something different. I already have a couple of possibilities, courtesy of Kel and middle sis, and I'll probably pick up a couple more before I actually start writing. That, I'll manage. Why? Because I'm Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos.

Let me 'splain, Roocy. After breaking the bad (but not unrecoverable) news, Dream Agent and I launch into a conversation about authors and markets and so on, and we agree on a mutual sense of "meh" for the currently white-hot paranormal/urban fantasy/sex with things that sprout fangs or claws and also that one wildly popular author of much more regular women's fiction doesn't do it for either one of us. I can read and enjoy her, but she's just not my cup of tea. Not an auto-buy. I'm trying to figure out why, exactly, when I glom onto a metaphor and say, "It's like she's Lay's Potato Chips, and I'm Spicy Sweet Chili Doritos." DA busts out laughing and says "Exactly!! You are Spicy Doritos!!" We agreed, Lay's are awesome, and I said I had no problem eating Lay's if there were no other choices, but if it came down to Lay's and the Doritos, I'm all over the Doritos.

And that's a good thing, DA reassures me. Better to be me than another chip, even if that chip is wildly popular and a fixture on BookScan. Too bad the book she has isn't showing off enough of my spicy, my sweet, or my chili self. Guess I got some work to go. Good thing school's out--I have a deadline in two weeks for a proposed revamp, another proposal sent, and a general outline and character sketch for the YA series. Nothing like relaxing all summer, huh?

Oh, and Doritos are buy one, get one free at Publix this week, starting today. Omen? I think so. I'm stocking up on purple bags.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Last Day!!

Today is the last day of school...and am I ready!! One more exam to give, then it's grade grade grade, then clean clean clean, then pack pack pack stuff to work on over the summer because, contrary to popular belief, teachers do not get three months off. Let me repeat that:


The "three months off" canard is one commonly tossed at folks like moi, who happily toil amongst other people's children in the public schools, from people who like to snipe at the "failing" public school system. Public school teachers, apparently, are just slightly higher on the evolutionary scale from "welfare queens" and those who enrich themselves on the government's dime without doing any work. Amazing how corporate crooks like Blackwater and Halliburton are never mentioned in these conversations, although they've siphoned off billions more tax dollars than my puny salary ever will, even after I've put in 30+ years and start collecting retirement.

Just so you know, here's what my summer is shaping up like. The last day of post-planning is this Friday. We're back in school for pre-planning the third week of August. That's ten weeks, not three months. In that ten weeks, I if I am professional and want to have a great 2009-2010 school year (I am, and I do), I must complete the following:
  • Four day IB training seminar in St. Pete in June, travel expenses to be borne by moi and then reimbursed at the standard rate (which means part of it's coming out of my pocket)
  • Five day AP training seminar in St. Pete in late July, all travel expenses to be borne by moi and then reimbursed at the standard rate (which means part of it's coming out of my pocket)
  • Redesigning my current AP course so it includes IB standards so my students will be prepared for both, since our school's program isn't large enough to support separate courses
  • Re-reading all of the books I assigned for summer reading (that's for AP, IB, and honors English, about 15 books total) so that I can discuss them intelligently and answer questions on the Google Group I set up for my students so they walk in on Day 1 ready to work
  • Four or five days of curricular planning for various groups at school so the teachers walk in on Day 1 ready to do amazing things in the classroom
  • Resting. I'm exhausted. Like most teachers, I "leave it all on the court" by the end of the year. Trust me, you're getting a full year's worth of work in the 38 weeks I'm actively at school. The stuff I do in the summer is bonus.
Of course, none of this work is compensated. It's my time and my dime. And that's not counting what I have to do to accommodate DH's summer schedule for his teacher training, which doesn't happen at any of the same times as mine. That would be, as they say at my favorite high school, "too much like right."

Did I mention that teachers don't get paid over the summer? Right. That's another misconception. We're paid when we're in school. No kids in the seats, no money in the wallet. That's why you see so many of us delivering pizzas and wandering the aisles of Home Depot in orange aprons all summer.

For now, though, I'll be glad for the break. I've had a headache for four days now (a common exam week malady). Then I'll be back at it, because all those kids who aren't mine deserve the best I can give them. And frankly, the best I can give them is pretty damn awesome.

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