Friday, November 30, 2007

Things I've Learned from Nablopomo

It's been an interesting month. I set off at the beginning of November planning to add 50,000 words to my work-in-progress and to post here every day. With this post, I achieved my nablopomo goal, but I failed miserably at nanowrimo, which is weird, because I usually write about 1000 words on the wip/day. But not this month.

I mused about this, and I realized that part of it is that with the exception of a few days here and there, I really did have fun working up posts for the blog, and since there is immediate feedback (or feedcrack, as Luisa of Novembrance calls it) I was drawn to these posts.

This morning I sat down and did my novel first. Smart girl. Gotta go back to that.

I love nablopomo as a project, however. I loved seeing what my regular blogroll buddies would come up with on a daily basis. I learned that when desperate, Flower Child of Blooming Idiot will write about dryer lint, Gunfighter of The View from Here will start throwing up haikus right, left, and sideways, and Liz of Los Angelista's Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness will write about Rock Star Energy Drink. I was reduced to having a post about throwing up my hands on the whole deal, but I was rescued by a bunch of blog friends who cheered me on and gave me some ideas to write about. And for all of us, I laughed when I recognized that we were TIRED and had run out of ideas.

I learned that Luisa of Novembrance has got to be the most disciplined blogger in the universe. She sought out questions ahead of nablopomo and answered them in lucid, gorgeous posts from November 1st through today. I can't even imagine. She scares me, but I say this in a good way.

So, goodbye to nablopomo and hello to December, with its endless rounds of special this and that for "The Holidays".

And in keeping with my promise of yesterday, here's a little BOOK TALK in advance of Day to Read, January 10, 2008:

I guess I'm on a children's book jag, because Flower Child was running around talking about getting books for her nieces. I already told her about this series, but here it is for the rest of you:

I highly, highly recommend the Dealing with Dragons series by Patricia C. Wrede. Some of the books are better than others. The first one, Dealing with Dragons, is magnificent, however. It concerns Cimorene, a princess who runs away from home and begs a dragon to kidnap her, so that she can avoid marrying a sappy prince. When princes inevitably come to rescue her, she and her dragon friend, , just plain attack the princes back. Cimorene ROCKS. The character from the series that I love best, though, is Shiara, an always grumpy fire witch who shows up in book four. She's the kind of bad girl you just have to love. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Reading Day

DAY TO READ campaign

Soccer Mom in Denial, founder of Music Mondays, is trying to pull us on board for a very worthy cause.

Despite being a dedicated blogger herself, she is asking us to put away our blogs for a day on January 10, 2008. Why, you may ask? To read a book.

Anyone who blogs regularly reads every day. Here are some statistics, though, about reading in general (at least here in the U.S.):

* only 30% of 13-year-olds read almost every day
* the number of 17-year-olds who never read for
pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19
percent in 2004 - that is 1 in 5 kids doesn't read for
* Almost half of Americans between ages 18 and 24
never read books for pleasure
*The average person between ages 15 and 24 spends 2 to
2 1/2 hours a day watching TV and 7 minutes reading

And here is a direct quote from the article that got SMID thinking in the first place:

"The poorest Americans who read did twice as much
volunteering and charity work as the richest who did
not read" [a direct quote of Dana Gioia, NEA
Chairman] "The habit of regular reading awakens
something inside a person that makes him or her take
their own life more seriously and at the same time
develops the sense that other people's lives are

Books were my saviors during a very chaotic and difficult childhood. I still remember the day when my elementary school librarian took me over to the fiction section and set Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time in my hands. I'd never met a character like Meg before. I didn't know there were others out there who felt the way I did. Meg became my best friend, and sustained me through a year of cruelty at school and confusion and family tragedy at home.

To support Reading Day, I'm planning to blog a bit about a different book each time I post, as part of my general posts, between now and January 9th. I'd love to see what books have also been important to my blogging friends. But on January 10th, I'm shutting the old computer down and reading. And then we can all come back together on January 11th and report on what it was like and what we read.

So, wanna join? If so, please get the code for the button from me at jenshaines at gmail dot com and hang it in your side bar. It will go nicely where that Nablopomo button has been sitting all month. ;-)

Breaking News! Dana Gioia will actually be speaking on the report that was the basis for the article, and about the state of reading in the U.S. in general, on NPR's Talk of the Nation at 2:00 p.m. EST today. Catch it if you can!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Be an Ally and a Friend: Transgender Day of Remembrance

I think we've all been stuck in something that makes us uncomfortable - a job, a conversation, even a piece of furniture. In the big scheme of things, this is minor. We can move on, fairly easily, to something else. And in general, society won't condemn us for it. We have simply enormous freedom in that respect.

But imagine being stuck in something that's not right, that doesn't fit, that's supremely uncomfortable day after day after day after day. And imagine that the only way you could become unstuck was by doing something that would take enormous courage, medical interference, and possible condemnation from both people you love and people on the street.

I'm sure I came up with a poor analogy above, but not being transgendered, it was the closest thing I could think of to what it must be like to be in the wrong body. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around how painful that must be. And I can only admire the extraordinary, mind-boggling courage it must take to finally make the switch.

And when someone does something that requires enormous courage and will make their world a better place and does no harm to anyone else, then they deserve full support and appreciation and kindness and most especially, tolerance.

The kind of tolerance that Tina Hester was denied on November 28th, 1998, when like many others that night, she met a man at a bar and took him home. And was murdered when he found out she was transgendered. And to make it worse, the local press reported that she "deserved" it for "tricking" the guy. Or Brandon Teena, who was raped and murdered on December 31, 1993, simply for living the life that felt right to him. His story has been portrayed in both the documentary, The Brandon Teena Story , and in the Academy Award-winning Boys Don't Cry .

Transgender Day of Remembrance was actually on November 20th, and I was confused about the dates. It was started in honor of Tina Hester and others who have lost their lives tragically through hate crimes. I figure it's never too late to bring attention to important issues, so here I am posting on the anniversary of her death. I was alerted to this important Day of Remembrance through Jami Ward's blog, Not THAT Different, and yesterday's post by Soccer Mom in Denial. In both of their blogs, they posted a wonderful PSA put together by GLAAD - the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which is called "Be an Ally and a Friend" and which features reminding us to be just that - allies and friends to the transgendered community.

Since those PSAs have been posted through the other two blogs, I decided to provide some suggestions for action posted by the National Center for Transgender Equality:

Things You Can Do For Transgender Equality
be an ally & a friend resource guide > things you can do for transgender equality

Transgender men and women often face discrimination, bigotry and hatred from their families, friends and coworkers. These harsh reactions usually stem from fear and a basic misunderstanding of the transgender community. By being an ally and showing your support of transgender people, you are doing your part to help end ignorance surrounding transgender issues.

Here are some tips provided by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)on how you can increase transgender awareness:

1. Look at your favorite organization's policies and ensure that transgender people are welcome to join your country club, your work union or your book group.
2. Volunteer to help get a transgender-supportive candidate elected.
3. Ask your local film festival to include films inclusive of transgender issues.
4. Work to pass a non-discrimination policy in your workplace. Slightly less than one-third of Americans live in a jurisdiction with laws that ban employment discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
5. Submit an op-ed to your local paper about the transgender community. This is an effective way to express opinions and distribute information on transgender issues from a variety of voices.
6. Plan or attend a Day of Remembrance Event every November 20. This is a yearly opportunity to remember those lost to hate-motivated violence directed towards the transgender community, and also a time to encourage people to take action to make the world safer.
7. Start or attend a transgender support or education group in your neighborhood. These groups are often a vital way that transgender people connect with one another. To view a clip of a fictional transgender support group on ABC's All My Children.
8. Encourage fair, accurate and inclusive media coverage of transgender issues. Many people learn about transgender people from watching television or reading stories in the newspaper. GLAAD encourages journalists to use its Media Reference Guide when writing about transgender issues. If you see transgender people being misrepresented in the media, contact us at

To read all 52 of NCTE's "Things You Can Do for Transgender Equality," please click here.

The National Center for Transgender Equality is a national social justice organization devoted to ending discrimination and violence against transgender people through education and advocacy on national issues of importance to transgender people.

For more information about the GLAAD PSA campaign, please click here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Roaring at Writing Game Buddies

Lovely Carol, of Northwest Ladybug, gave me this wonderful award, for which I'm very grateful! It comes at a particularly good time for a whole variety of reasons. Thank you, Carol!

So here are the rules:

List three things you believe are necessary for good, powerful writing and then pass the award on to the five bloggers you want to honor, who in turn should pass it on to five others, etc. Let's send a roar through the blogosphere! (The image above can be copied and pasted onto other blogs.)

Three qualities I believe are important for good, powerful writing:

1. Discipline. What I mean here is that you need the discipline to sit down with that manuscript over and over again until you get it just right. (This is the part I hate the most, and therefore I most admire writers who do this beautifully, like Charity of Writing Wrongs).

2. Honesty. Write what you know or research what you want to write. Be clear and honest with your characters, your voices and your settings. Don't be afraid to make your characters do something awful, if the story warrants it.

3. Write your passion. Write what gives you passion in life. When I say "passion" it might even be something you hate, but then know absolutely why you hate it. Passionate writing will trump anything that's anemic. Always. I don't care how much beautiful imagery you use, if you don't have passion you ain't got nuttin'.

Here are some bloggers I think deserve the "Roar for Powerful Words" award. It's actually a group, and it's actually a group of more than five. These are the brave souls who took me up on my Writing Game challenge at the end of October/beginning of November, along with their posts:

1. Anno of Anno's place. Anno was given ideas by Leslie of My Mommy's Place and she turned it into a wonderful story of love and betrayal, called "Storm".

2. Gunfighter of The View from Here. Gunfighter gave us a slamming start of a suspense series (while fighting off the flu no less!) with ideas generated by yours truly. His wonderful piece is called Gunfighter of "A Murder in Washington, DC".

3. Leslie of My Mommy's Place. Leslie took the ideas of SMID of Soccer Mom in Denial and turned them into an untitled Leslie of story of bittersweet internet intrigue.

4. SMID from Soccer Mom in Denial. SMID took Anno's ideas and turned them into a lovely story about an artist breaking away from a difficult mother in SMID from "Be True".

5. Veriano of Haikuku. I really want to encourage everyone to read this one for two reasons - 1. This entry came a little late and was missed on the Writing Game day itself (November 12th) and 2. This is the debut offering of my very own DH's blog! Veriano took Wholly Burble's rollicking ideas (I've had the pleasure of working with Wholly Burble in my online writers group for over five years now, and her ideas are always rollicking!) and turned them into a suburban mother's escape into her rock star wannabe past in "Strut at 40".

6. And finally, Ms. Wholly Burble herself, of Rocking Chair Ruminations. Gunfighter, who never does things halfway, gave WB a very specific group of historic characters to work with, and she did them proud with a Revolutionary War story that she now plans to lengthen into a novel: "The Road Home".

Monday, November 26, 2007

Music Monday - BNL

I wish I had a good story about The Bare Naked Ladies, but I don't.

I just really, really love them. They don't inspire me the way U2 does, but they make me laugh. A lot. And to laugh at myself, because I think I can relate more than a little bit to all of their insanity. And like Ed, I probably have more of a hair-trigger temper than I give myself credit for.

I love so many of their songs it was just really hard to choose. But I decided to go to my introduction to BNL - One Week. So enjoy, below.

And check in with Soccer Mom in Denial who started Music Monday and see who else is playing!

Barenaked Ladies - One Week - Live

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving Memories - final part

Here is part 1 and here is part 2 and here is part 3. Now for part 4:

So we were all awake by 5:30 or so. We didn't need alarm clocks, it was better than Christmas morning and you just wanted to be up.

Some of us had instructions to wake up our parents and some of us had instructions definitely not to wake them.

We'd pull on our warmest clothes and take an elevator or a staircase and make our way outside as quickly as possible. And in the street-lit darkness we'd find all of our old friends (Dino, Elsie, etc.), and new, blown to twenty feet high outside our doorways. And we'd shuffle around until some other members of the "gang" (no, not that kind of gang) would come out as well, and then we'd go as a pack across the stretch of the American Museum of Natural History, past the workers and the clown suits and smaller floats to 81st St. (the posh block I mentioned earlier) and we'd stare in rapt wonder at the beauty of the floats. The boys would be clustered by the inevitable pirate ship, and the girls would be lost in daydreams by the princess castle. Plus, another very important thing about 81st St.: we'd find out which celebrities would be part of the parade that year, as the signs for the floats were always prominently displayed in front of each float. So we'd oooh and aaaah over the thought that Carol Burnett; or the cast of the Partridge Family; or Marcia, from The Brady Bunch; would be there in mere hours. Standing, maybe, right where we were standing.

Exploring everything between 81st and 77th took a good couple of hours, because being New Yorkers, there was always a lot of need for commentary and debate. Was it as good as last year? Was the Cinderella float looking a little shabby? Would they retire it? Was Underdog gonna hang in there even though his TV show was off the air?

By 7 or 7:30, it was time to stake your place for the parade, if you were really dedicated parade-goers. And we were. And the parents would come streaming out of the buildings with step ladders and blankets and kids would perch on the rungs (unheard of today, but back then everyone understood that the little kids would get first priority), and we settled in with thermos cups of hot cocoa or coffee. And people were actually nice and in a good mood, so you could save spaces if your Mom had to run upstairs to baste the turkey, or your dad had to run with your kid brother because he had to go.

By 9:00 anticipation was running high - the Parade Leader on his big pedestal would be screaming orders into his bullhorn every couple of minutes, and we strained our ears to catch every word because these hints would let us know what fun was coming in which order. We played clapping games, jacks on the sidewalk, and talked to the policemen who were almost as excited as we were.

The only drag about 77th St. was that the bands, etc., wouldn't do their first routines until 62nd St. or so, but that was okay by us - we'd run upstairs the second that Santa had waved us off with his prerecorded, "HO! HO! HO!" and we'd run upstairs to turn the TV to channel 4, where we'd see all the band routines and acts by the Broadway and movie stars in front of Macy's downtown. Around the time the parade was leaving 77th, the beginning of parade would just hit Herald Square.

So we'd watch our parade, minus the acts, surrounded by the love and happiness of our entire neighborhood, excitement staving off the cold, and take in the best that New York had to offer.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Memories, pt. 3

Here is part 1 and here is part 2. Now for part 3:

We saw clusters of kids like ourselves, wrapped in the warmth of our moms, dads or siblings, walking in a sleepy haze with cups of hot chocolate supplied by the Block Association.

We saw Snoopy's nose, 5 feet high, and maybe the tip of his 15 foot snout. So that's how we knew where Snoopy was. Earlier in the evening, on the way home from Chinese or the pizzeria, or from a friend's party (and there were lots of them that night), we'd look at whatever balloons had been partially or completely unrolled on their tarps and we'd make guesses. We were often wrong, but those of us who were true, old-timers could usually make pretty good guesses at the regulars.

The regulars included Elsie the Cow, from Borden's Dairy Products, the Sinclair Oil Dino the Dinosaur, Underdog, and Mickey Mouse. Snoopy was newer, as were an ever-changing cast of the latest cartoon characters. In later years there were Muppets, Smurfs, etc.

I never liked watching Mickey Mouse being blown up. His ears weren't solid like the rest of the balloons. They had thick rims but thin membranes for the middle. And I was sure those membranes were going to burst in the wind. Underdog's ears were similar, but they didn't have anything holding them still, like the rims of Mickey's ears, so I figured if they blew off, no one would get hurt.

I was scared of that Mickey Mouse.

Usually two balloons would be going at a time, and we were only allowed to stay up for one balloon to be completed, which usually took around an hour. We always hoped that one of our favorites would be going at the time we were awakened. Sometimes you got to stay later if your mom was part of the hot chocolate crew, because, let's face it, the dads wanted to be out there as much as you did, and they'd let you stay out later.

The balloons would be blown up in sections. It isn't like you send in the helium tanks and it starts at one end and is a smooth progression - a hand would be blown up, then maybe a tail, a snout or a head, and finally, the torso would generally be last. Then the weighted nets would be placed over the finished products, because these babies were huge, and would take several folks with them if they took it into their rubber heads to blow away.

If you were a teen, you might stay later. But probably not. You would have been up, and after your pizza you would have drifted from one apartment to another, with an occasional wake up run through part of Central Park. You would have stayed up straight through balloon time. But you'd be out there, along with everyone else. And you probably weren't too grown up to accept a cup of hot cocoa from Mrs. Mendez down the street.

But all fun comes to an end, and young or older, you wanted to be in bed by 1:00 or so - early for a holiday night for the teens, but you knew you'd be up at 5:30 and out by 6:00 the next morning, when the streets would belong to just the neighborhood for the last time.

Tune in tomorrow for the last part of this neighborhood tale...

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Memories, pt. 2

So here's what it was like:

The longest three hours of the year were from 8:30 to noon when we had school that day. The entire city had school until noon, always ended by a Thanksgiving concert or production of some sort, and then everyone ran from their prisons institutions of learning with hysterical relief. It was the first "real" vacation of the year - a four and a half day weekend. And everyone was more than ready. Especially on 77th street.

The street was closed down by about 1 pm or so. From 1 until 5, we kids had free reign of that wonderful, smooth pavement. No cracks, no textured cement, just smooth sailing for our skates, roller hockey, bikes, etc. We ran and played like spirits possessed - we never knew how long we'd have, so we had to take advantage of every possible second.

Around five or so, folks from Macy's would start arriving and shoo us back to our apartments. They'd spend the next five plus hours laying out the tarps and the flattened balloons.

Upon returning to our apartments, TV dinner or spaghetti smells would hit us like warm breath. We were ravenous, starving after four to five hours of serious outdoor play, but our mothers always admonished us not to eat too much - "save room for the turkey tomorrow."

As I got older and our neighborhood got more varied and safer, the TV dinners and the pots of spaghetti generally went by the wayside. More business appeared around the corner on Columbus, and as a junior high kid, I could usually be counted on to join friends for a slice of pizza a coke at the pizzeria around the corner, or sometimes my parents decided to go out for Chinese on 72nd St. One particularly memorable Thanksgiving Eve, we went to dinner and my brand new boyfriend was invited along. I remember taking his arm and feeling very sophisticated on our five block walk downtown.

As a younger child, though, I'd inhale my plate of spaghetti and be pushed into an early bedtime, for the fun was still to come. Around 11:00 p.m. a mysterious phone chain was started after some telltale sounds from the street, and mothers throughout the entire neighborhood would wake their sleeping children - children in footies, children in flannels, children in Cinderella or Raggedy Anne nightgowns, and we'd put on our slippers and a coat and we'd trundle down to see what was there... and for what we saw, tune in tomorrow!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Memories

New York City in the 60s and 70s was truly a great place to be a kid.

There were no worries about September 11, poisoned water or subway systems. The tallest building in the world, for most of that time, was the Empire State Building.

Museums were free.

I rode the bus alone, from age 7 on, to my rounds of ballet lessons or in going back and forth to school. I had a "bus card" and kids could ride anywhere just by showing that magic piece of colored paper.

Yeah, there were problems. I was mugged several times by the time I was 11. There was a time in my life when I became scared to go outside alone. My old neighborhood is "oh-so-posh" now, but it certainly wasn't that way when I was growing up. There used to be a pretty rough bar on the corner and a welfare hotel down the street that housed junkies and former (or current - we weren't sure which) prostitutes, who would comment on our outfits as we passed by, or give us advice that we were too young to understand. Kids I knew from the neighborhood spent time in juvie. The "smoke shop" guy around the corner dealt drugs, and we all knew it. There were teen pregnancies, overdoses, kids who were beaten by drunken dads or moms.

But all of those events were stuck away in the corner of my mind, where I tried not to touch them. I was lucky enough to go to a private school, so my days were orderly and I learned well; my apartment was clean; my building was safe; my parents were educated and caring and had dreams for me beyond the neighborhood.

One time of the year, however, all of us - kids of all stripes, backgrounds and sizes, moms of all ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds, dads who worked in factories, dads who owned factories, and dads who couldn't find work - all came together for the best night of the year: Thanksgiving Eve.

Now, there was no actual holiday called Thanksgiving Eve, but there was if you grew up in our neighborhood. Because my block was the block where they blew up the balloons for the Thanksgiving parade. My block was the block where the parade started, where the bands were lined up and stretched down Central Park West for what seemed like miles, where the parade leader would shout over the megaphone: "Odessa High School, step lively behind Goofy, please!" "Rockettes, take your positions!" "Diana Ross - Miss Ross, are you on your float?" And my friend Kate's block, the truly nice block on the other side of the museum, well, that was where the floats were assembled, creating fairy castles and Santa's workshop, giant turkeys and Gingerbread Houses overnight.

But in the interests of getting my turkey done, and not creating a long post when many of us have too much to do today to read long posts, I will return tomorrow to how this all played out each year...

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wordless Wednesday: Reunited

C and S on Halloween as a vampire hunter and a lederhosen girl - the latter was a joke, because S hates the stereotype that Germans would run around wearing either lederhosen or a dirndl. And now her boyfriend has to have lederhosen for some of his gigs, so she borrowed them for Halloween here (and, of course, the traditional Bavarian costume would be a dirndl for her, not lederhose). And yes, that wasn't so wordless.

For those that don't know what lederhose or dirndls are click here and scroll down a bit.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I may be done...

with Nablopomo. I've gotten to the point today where all I can come up with is another pointless meme, so I'm going to give you all a break from my ramblings.

(But this counts, right)?

See you tomorrow with a picture. 'Cause it doesn't involve words.

Now does that mean I can split it in two and post half tomorrow and half Thursday because a picture is worth a thousand words?

Maybe I should have posted that meme instead...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Music Monday - Walk On

Since I'm joining Music Monday for the first time, I had to start with U2. It's hard for me to explain just what U2 means to me. Bono and the lads are my "go to" guys for any hard day, exhilarating day, boring day, exciting day, and well, you probably get the point by now. I absolutely would not have gotten through grad. school without them. Or probably motherhood for that matter. Their music absolutely leaves me on a high, as do most of their politics (or maybe all of their politics - I just don't know all of their politics). I just love them in every, possible way.

I chose "Walk On" because of all my favorites, it's the song I have most often in my head when I'm writing. It's the song that just lifts me like wings.

And my nephew is just plain wrong - U2 knocks the pants off of Red Hot Chili Peppers in terms of influence over the past 20 years. Any. Day. You wanna argue with that? The gloves are ON!

I can never get my youtube clips to work into an actual post, so please look below for the clip.

SMID, over at Soccer Mom in Denial started Music Monday in this post in this , reflecting on her sons' learning history lessons from "Prof." Cash. Please join her, and others, for Music Monday.

U2 - Walk On [US Version]

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Good Book

As some of you figured out from my Singular Saturday word, I needed some time to myself this weekend. And I'm one of those folks for whom "time to myself" usually involves reading a good book.

This time, I got to finish a fantastic book that I started long, long ago and only this weekend was able to return to. It's not that the book didn't grab me initially; it's more that I've had to read the classics that I teach, as well as many other books for my novel research.

One of the best things about this fantastic book that I read, Nightswimming, is that it was written by one of our fellow bloggers - Rebecca James.

I had the great good fortune to spend the last day and a half with Sarah, Brett and Josh and become completely immersed in their story. The synopsis can be found here , but I guess I'd add that the reason that I enjoyed the book so much was because the characters were so easy to relate to, the settings so familiar, and I was absolutely engrossed. It doesn't matter that the settings were in Australia; anyone who has had children and seen their romantic relationship change as a result will understand both Sarah's and Brett's feelings and actions. It was just absolutely marvelous writing and I enjoyed every minute of my escape.

As an appetizer, I was able to read the work of another talented, fellow blogger, Marianne Arkins. Last week was the release of her new story, "The Christmas Curse," and it is a humorous, light-hearted romp. I call this an appetizer because it's a short story, rather than a novel, but it brought me a very different kind of escape - one of laughter and lighter moments.

I'd happily and heartily recommend both books, and you can buy Rebecca's Nightswimming here, and Marianne's "The Christmas Curse" here.

I thank both of them for my wonderful weekend "getaway".

Saturday, November 17, 2007

After Spinning Plates


Singular Saturday was started by Jenn in Holland (for which legions of Nablopomo participants are grateful to her). Go check her out and look for other Singular Saturday participants in the blogosphere!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Spinning plates

There are times when life is just a bowl of cherries, and there are other times when life is just a mass of spinning plates.

You know those plates - the kind that someone in a circus or at a fair sets spinning on the ends of impossibly long wands, that are balanced on various parts of his/her body, and more and more plates are added, each one spinning, until they all crash down.

This morning I sit here in my office with a to do list longer than my arm. My sweet, wonderful German daughter has safely landed back in Germany, and the house is empty. I've given up on Nano, realizing that I need to do a plot overhaul on the novel (but all of this is good news - on the days I can write, I'm averaging 2,000 - 3,000 words). I need to do final prep on my send to the Golden Heart and continue to query the paranormal and I still need to do some research for the mystery. But I'm still IN for Nablopomo. To quote a lovely little boy named Andrew: "Boo-yah!"

And then there are the normalcies of life: basics like cleaning and balancing the books, both of which have been neglected for too long. And spending some time with D and C is always a good thing.

Finishing the semester for my students would also be useful. ;-)

And then there's the fun stuff - blogging and reading blogging and corresponding with bloggers and reading and cooking.

And I really should exercise.

And while I'm at it, there are several political causes that certainly demand my attention.

Now, while this might seem whiny, I'm actually in a glorious mood today. I'm determined to keep those plates spinning. All of them. And it's all good. I feel incredibly lucky to have all those plates. And to keep 'em spinning.

But I do miss my German daughter, S.

P.S. And no worries about those who asked for interview questions - they're almost all done and I had a BLAST doing them!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

An Interview with... Moi!

Carol, over at Northwest Ladybug, had this really fun activity a few weeks ago. Another blogging friend of hers prepared individual interview questions for regular readers and then sent it out to those bloggers to respond to on their blogs.

And Carol issued the same invitation. And knowing Nablopomo was coming up, I took her up on it! So here are her questions and my answers:

1.) What have you found to be the biggest joys and challenges regarding your writing?

Nothing like starting me off with a bang! The biggest joy is probably those rare times when everything comes together at once. You're "in your zone" with your fiction and your characters and plot are just zinging along. And I'll also be honest here - another big joy is when someone reads your stuff and clearly just loves it. So that brings the challenge thing - getting published. Keeping up with the ins and outs of getting published, the queries, the rejections, the political stuff, etc. Another challenge I have with the writing itself is that second draft. The first one usually flows, but getting the second one down, which is really major revising, rather than editing, is my bugaboo. I do tend to revise as I go along with the first draft, but the second is the BIG PICTURE revising draft, and as I am a very impatient person, I just stink at this.

2.) Can you name an experience in your past that had an immediate and significant impact on your character? Forming it, strengthening it, challenging it, etc.

This was a totally easy one. There are two: living in Soviet Russia and teaching school there for a semester and having my DS and becoming a mom. Hands down, those are the two most character-forming experiences of my life.

3.) Tell me about something that makes you laugh.

My DH. He makes tons of puns and is great at silly jokes. Sometimes they aren't funny, but he's charming about that, too. I've never laughed so hard in my life at some of the things he's come up with.

4.) Tell me about your favorite job. What about your least favorite?

Favorite job is a hard one, because I've really been lucky to love many of them. I'm really enjoying the teaching I'm doing right now. I have two groups of AMAZING high school students whom I really enjoy. I also love (almost) any job that involves writing. I'm really a writing whore. Give me something to write and pay me for it and I'm happy. ;-) My least favorite job - EASY - selling encyclopedias door-to-door to businesses. As much as this job would stink going to homes door-to-door, it was that much worse going business-to-business, because, I mean, aren't merchants all about stopping their work days and leaving paying customers standing there because they totally NEED encyclopedias at their auto mechanic shops, grocery stores, clothing stores, etc.? The Limited, Too staff is so completely in need of encyclopedias to get through their day, for example. (Not meaning to put down or single out those salespeople, I'm just saying the whole enterprise was ridiculous).

So... wanna play? Just let me know via a comment here and make sure I can reach you via e-mail and I will send you some interview questions tailored just for you!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Best Bumper Sticker I've Seen in a Long Time:

My Child is an Honor Student. My President is a Moron.

'Nuff said.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Spice girls wannababes

In honor of renaming the guinea pigs in my current mystery to Ginger Spice, Posh Spice, Sporty Spice and Scary... and because you can never have too much spice in your life.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Writing Game - It's HERE!

This story came from the ideas of Veriano from Haikuku:

Story Ideas:
- Unambitious, unsatisfied thirty something wondering if this is all there is to life.
- A sharp private detective who is ambitious and wants to work for progressive causes and who also needs to pay the bills.
- A seven year old who wants to go home. Now.
- Someone who now has enough money to retire and who has just given up their prior job.
- An old girlfriend / boyfriend happens by unexpectedly and asks a question.

Spide, Sam Spide

I was sitting at my desk on a Tuesday night. I had closed up shop for the day and was reviewing the material for the DiGregorio case. The pictures were clear. Yeah, she was right. He was cheating. The same story among thousands, in this town of Hollyweird.

I was sick of this crap. When was Erin Brockovich gonna knock on my door? Greenpeace? Even the American Civil Liberties Union for Chrissake. Was it so wrong of me to want a little morality in my future? A little chance to mean something in this way-too-short life we’re given?

Sure, I had enough dough to take me to Brentwood and back. Yeah, I had enough of a rep now among the starlets and the agents and the producers. Star backing out of a contract for “exhaustion”? Trophy wife maybe not being such a trophy after all? Questionable investors on a big name film?

I’m your man. Sam Spide. Yeah, Spide, not that other “Sam.” And believe me, this name sucks, when you’re a private dick. And I am. A private dick, that is.

One of the best dicks you’ll ever know.

But despite this, despite the fame and the fortune and the cash, despite the romps in the hay with girls half my age who can’t spell their own names, I can’t attract the cases I really want. No one wants Sam Spide to dig up the dirt on the Governator. No one wants Sam Spide to dig deep into the latest pork project. No one wants Sam Spide to find out why the Anaheim City Council won’t give the green light to an appropriately green project.

Oh, no. I’m just Hollywood’s lackey.

And as I was about to reach into my desk drawer for my little silver canister of something good, there was a knock on the door. Could it be? Was this finally my call to what I wanted - my chance to be a real name for liberal causes? Could this be my ticket to an interview on The Daily Show? A chance for a mention on The Huffington Report? Or (drool) a chance to meet… (gasp) Samantha Bee? She may be married, but what dame isn’t these days?

But no. I got up to answer the door. And there she was. Walking into my life just like she walked out nine years ago.

“Hello, Sam,” she said in that voice that sounded of honey dripping through liquid smoke.

She was a cool drink of water, alright. All 5’8” 120 lbs. of her packed into a mauve pencil suit, that showed off all the right curves in all the right places.

“Jasmine,” I was speechless for once. “It’s been a long time.”

“Um, yeah. Can I come in? This won’t take long.”

I took her in, my eyes taking a snapshot of every pore. “Yeah. Sure.”

But she didn’t move. She looked to her left, out the door and out of my vision. “I said it won’t take long.” And she put her hand out to whoever was on the other side.

And taking her hand was a much smaller hand, followed by an arm attached to a little redhead, the spitting image of her Mom, and dressed in an array of colors that reminded me of jello shots on a Saturday night.

“But Mommy. I. Want. To. Go. Home. Now.” The little lady pulled on Jasmine’s arm, and she meant business.

I went behind my desk and sat down, pulled out my little canister of something good and took a long swig. Jumping Jehosovat. Jasmine had a Mini Me.

Jasmine came in, despite her daughter’s protests to the contrary, and sat herself down in one of the two chairs on the other side of my desk. “Sam, Jasmina – “ Jasmine waved to the little girl. “Jasmina, Sam. Sam’s an old friend of mine, Baby.”

“Tough shit,” the little angel whined. “I want to go hoooooommmmmmeeeeeee.”

“Now, Darling, you know we don’t use language like that.” Jasmine drew herself up, her posture as stiff as an ice sculpture in February.

“But Daddy does. All the time.” Jasmina squatted down in a corner of my office and started to pull tiny dolls from a tiny Prada bag. And I think it was a real Prada. She began playing, and I felt like Jasmine and I might be off the hook.

“So, you walk out nine years ago and you walk back in married with children.”

“Yeah, that about sums it up.” Jasmine examined her long, perfect, fuchsia nails. “So, you getting any, Sam?” Jasmine looked up at me, her emerald eyes sparkling in the LA smog reflected in my windows. “You getting any good cases?”

“Nah, same old, same old. Britney one week, Lindsay the next.”

“Sorry,” the honey-drenched voice purred. “I was hoping Greenpeace had called by now.”

“No such luck.” I took another swig of my something good. I offered it to Jasmine, but she shook her head with the delicacy of a rose petal blowing in a Madrid breeze.

“So what brings you here? You miss me?” Yeah, sure, and horses dined at Nobu.

“Well, I had a question for you, Sam. A job, maybe.”


“I’ve seen it all, done it all, had it all. I’m married to,” and here she coughed the name into her silk-covered wrist, so that his identity wouldn’t be compromised. “I have enough money, married or divorced, to last me several life times. So, last month, I took the plunge. I quit my job as a librarian.”

I almost dropped my canister mid-swig. “No!”

“Yes.” Tears welled up at the corners of those amethyst eyes, which had seemed emerald only moments before.


“Yes!” She pulled a patterned Pucci handkerchief from her identical (though larger) Prada purse and dabbed at the corner of those aquamarine eyes.

“Mommy, I want to go home! Now!” Jasmina had stood up again and was crossing to her mother’s chair. She started to climb onto Jasmine’s lap, but Jasmine gently, but firmly redirected her to the chair next to her, saying:

“You know we mustn’t mar Mummy’s suit.”

Jasmina took the chair next to her mother and folded her little arms and pouted her little lips.

Jasmine folded her arms and crossed her legs and pouted a bit like her daughter. Oh, Boys, let me tell you. It was a glorious sight.

“Yes,” Jasmine repeated softly. “So, I have no idea where to go. What to do. There’s only so many stores in the world. So many spas…” she trailed off. “I mean, is this… is this all there is?”

I nodded sympathetically, and remembered, a searing pain in my left ventrical, just why I’d loved this woman so many years ago.

“So, what do I do, Sam? Where do I go?”

“HOME, MOM, NOW!” Jasmina jumped up and bashed her mother over the head with the little Prada purse.

“Now, now, Darling,” Jasmine shushed her. “We mustn’t muss Mummy’s hair.”

Jasmina kicked my desk and went back to her corner, dumping her dolls out on the floor again.

I thought about the dame’s predicament. It was a tough one, alright.

And then, as the last light of day caught her ale-brown eyes, it came to me. Brilliant. Even if I do say so myself.

“I’ve got it! And it’s brilliant. Even if I do say so myself.” I sat back in my chair and had some more of something good.

Jasmine leaned forward in her chair, her pink tongue licking her lips in anticipation. Jasmina started gathering up her dolls again and looked at me expectantly as if to say, “Does this mean I can get the hell home now?”

I was going to make both ladies very happy. “Here’s the thing, Jazz.” I loved calling her Jazz. That word hadn’t left my lips in nine, long years. “There’s this thing you can get. As a civilian, now. It’s called a library card. You can visit the library any. Time. You. Want.”

“Oh my God! Really? I can go back to the library? Just by using a card?!” She clasped her hands in supplication and a quick prayer escaped her lips. Then she jumped from her chair, ran around my desk and gave my shoulders a quick hug and my cheek a quick peck. “I knew if anyone could solve this, you could.”

Tears streamed down her face, leaving her mascara running in rivulets. “Jasmina! We can go HOME now!” she cried joyfully, and Jasmina ran behind my desk, gave my shoulders a quick hug and my cheek a quick peck.

And before I knew it, I was alone again. Just me, the LA sun setting in the west, and a little swig of something good.

Maybe Greenpeace would call tomorrow, but for today, I had done my little bit for service in this world. And life was good.

For other stories in The Writing Game, just click below!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Singular Saturday on a Sunday


For more words today, join Jenn in Holland and the Soap Opera Sunday crew for some soapy goodness!

For more words tomorrow, join us here for The Writing Game!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My Bank Account versus My Penis

No, I don't have a penis.

Never have and never will.

Didn't even have penis envy, other than one time when I was about four years old and arguing with my best male friend, T, about which, um, gender (? - no, it was more about anatomy) was best, and we ran into my bathroom and he showed me how far away from the toilet he could be and aim. And yes, that was pretty cool and impressed me for about five minutes. (My argument that I could sit down and be comfortable didn't hold the same amount of weight. Darn.)

But I have two e-mail addresses, and one thinks I'm in terrible shape financially and the other thinks I need to build up my penis.

And it's hysterical, because it's not like I get a mixture of these spams between the two accounts: AOL spammers DEFINITELY believe I need financial help. Gmail spammers DEFINITELY believe my penis is too small.

Now, some folks could argue that it all boils down to the same thing. I could get very Freudian here, but some might argue that I'd need a LARGE bank account to account for a SMALL penis, or that if I was sufficiently not the man I should be that my SMALL bank account would match my SMALL penis. And then there's been all that research about the fact that TALL men do better in life then SHORT men, but we're not going to go there, because, after all, this post is all about bank accounts and penises.

Now, according to AOL spammers, I have bank accounts at most of the major world banks. And my security has been breached at all of them. (Note: for those who don't know this is phishing). And if this weren't enough, apparently my investment strategies aren't too robust, either, because I immediately need to invest in a half a dozen "sure" things. But my financial smarts can't be too bad, because I'm also invited to be the representative for any number of international "businesses," where all I have to do is give them my bank account numbers and they'll wire money into my account for "safe keeping." And yes, I do report these spammers, and in a couple of cases, I've called the police and alerted them. But be that as it may, on a bad day, I could definitely be worried about my security, identity, and financial state if I were looking at AOL spamming trends.

In terms of my gmail spammers, I really have nothing to say. Perhaps the name Jen is too confusing. I could really be Jan... or maybe I'm Jens... that could work. But then that is assuming that everyone with the name Jan or Jens needs penis work. I certainly hope not. To condemn an entire category of names worldwide to penis reconstruction, creams or the like would be an awful fate. Talk about predetermination! I just do my daily dump of spam in terms of the gmail - really, these spammers just don't have my number. And I must say, even if I were male, I'm so medicine/surgery phobic (unless those things are REALLY necessary) that the likelihood that I would change a part of my anatomy with anything would be pretty slim to none.

Okay... way too long for a post on penises and faulty financial security. But what about you? What do your spammers target YOU for? Come on... don't be shy... they can't be any worse than mine.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Writing Game - It's Coming Monday!

Quite some time ago I posted an idea for a bit of writing fun. I had nine brave respondents, who've now dwindled to seven, and on Monday we're going to post our stories.

I'm going to add the links to this post later, as I am pressed for time right now, but here are the list of victims brave participants:

Anno of Anno's place
Gunfighter of The View from Here
Wholly Burble from Rocking Chair Ruminations
SMID from Soccer Mom in Denial
yours truly
My DH of his soon-to-be blog - Haikuku
The lovely Leslie from My Mommy's Place

So be there, or be square!

And for other writing fun, Jenn in Holland is hosting Soap Opera Sunday this week, so don't skip that, either!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Update on Pookie Girl

UPDATE: Firelight is JUST fine - she made it through the surgery like a trooper, is happily bossing us all around and the tumor was completely benign

Thanks so much for all the kind comments! And now, have fun with the video below:

the guinea pig way

Piggies in all their charm!

Pookie Girl

Yeah, I know. It's embarrassing. But I really do call my guinea pigs "pookies". I never used baby talk with DS or any other human baby or small child, but for some reason I do smear the dignity of Sunshine, Moonbeam, Starlight and Firelight.

Each piggy has his or her own personality, and I'm not planning to go into all of them today, but I do want to focus on Pookie Girl, otherwise (and properly) known as Firelight.

Sunshine is the mom to Starlight and Firelight, and the two young 'uns ended up with the monikers of Pookie Boy and Pookie Girl. At least by me. I believe my DH and I know my DS rolls his eyes in disgust when I use these terms of affection.

Pookie Girl is by far our smartest guinea pig. In fact, she may be one of the smartest anywhere, according to her behavior and according to our vet. Even though she is not the Alpha (a very important role in guinea pig society), she can manipulate the others, even Pookie Boy (who is the alpha) to let her do whatever she wants - eat in the food dish she wants, wrestle the pigloo away from one of the others, get the warmest spot on the pillows when they're roaming outside, get groomed when she wants it and be left alone when she wants that.

She is also sleek, healthy, curious and a good eater - all those signs you want to see in happy guinea pigs.

So it was with no concern that I brought her to the vet this morning for her annual physical. And then it was with great shock when our lovely vet found a very palpable mass along her mammary track. And now it's two hours later and she's still at the vet for emergency surgery, which will be performed at 3:00.

Well, I'm sure that some of you are saying - crazy person - she's having surgery done, on a guinea pig?!

Well, yes. They are our little, furry companions and they've been good friends, and any creature who is under my roof (except many of the 6-legged kinds) will be treated with kindness, care and medical care.

So, I'm distracted, edgy and just waiting for the call from the vet. And even after today we won't know if she's going to make it - whether this is a benign tumor, a lymph situation or the guinea pig equivalent of breast cancer.

I'm just hoping she makes it okay. And that it's nothing. And that we get to keep her around for the next 3 - 5 years that would be her normal life span.

She's a good pook. And here she is:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Not So Wordless Wednesday - Punk Angel

Last spring, my family and I had the great good fortune to be able to travel to San Francisco. We came out of a very popular breakfast spot one morning and found this angel smiling down at us. We were all intrigued by the spikes, and realized they were pigeon deterrents.

This is my DH's photo. He's a wonderful photographer and haiku master, and I'm hoping he'll get his own blog up and running soon, and then you can see his photos there!

For those familiar with SF, can you guess where this was taken?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tempting Tuesday - Apple Puff Pancake

Back when my sister was alive, when we used to visit my sister, BIL and nephew, we'd often make a stop at Bibler's Pancake House, in South Bend, where they lived. Bibler's was the ultimate breakfast place - it was like a dream IHOP - a huge variety of pancakes and breakfasts, but they were all actually good. (No offense to those who love IHOP). The breakfasts at Bibler's tasted completely homemade, and each order was cooked to perfection. This also meant that breakfast at Bibler's was a leisurely meal and a special treat.

We each had our favorites. I'm not sure what my BIL's was - I don't think he went with us very often. Usually, we either went on Sundays and took my nephew and my sister and BIL had some alone time, or my sister and I went out together for breakfast, if I was visiting during the week. My nephew's favorite was the strawberry crepes with whipped cream. My sister loved the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries. For my little family, we had two favorites, depending on how splurge-y we were feeling - the Dutch baby pancake or the Apple Pancake.

The Apple Pancake was an enormous, souffle-like concoction with caramelized apples, crispy edges and delicious, eggy puffy goodness within and a caramel glaze everywhere. It also took about 25 minutes to prepare and probably included a million calories and a gazillion fat grams.

Bibler's is no more. It's now taken over by one of their former employees and called The Original Pancake House, and while they still have many of the Bibler's favorites, it just isn't the same (probably because my sister can't come with us), and we just don't stop there when we visit my BIL and his lovely and wonderful wife, my SIL.

But we really, really enjoyed that pancake. And since I'm all about re-creating healthier versions of recipes, I decided to search. I tried a variety of adapted recipes and finally found something that meets with kid/parent approval and it's become the breakfast we have most Sundays. It's simple to make and absolutely delicious. It's still not exactly healthy, but it's a much more reasonable version than the original. And now, here's the recipe - Enjoy!

Apple Puff Pancake

Serves 4:

Preheat oven to 400.


2 TBS salted butter
3 medium apples, cored, peeled and thinly sliced and halved
6 TBS sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
4 eggs
2/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all purpose flour (DON'T substitute regular whole wheat flour here)
2/3 cup skim milk
1 HEAPING TBS reduced fat sour cream
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Prep apples. Melt the butter, sugar and cinnamon in an oven-proof skillet. The mixture won't really get melted until you add the apples. Add the apples and mix to coat thoroughly in the pan. Cook 3 - 5 minutes until the apples are *just* tender. Take them off the burner.

Whisk the 4 eggs until foamy. Add the milk, flour, sour cream, salt and vanilla and whisk together until there are no lumps. Pour the batter over the apples in the skillet.

Put the skillet in the oven and let bake for 25 minutes. Ovens vary, so this is ready when you see it puff up. It won't look like the picture because we don't dump heaps of caramel sauce over it in the oven.

When apple is puffed, take it out and serve. Serve with a drizzle of maple syrup (if you like) and a bit of sour cream or yogurt on the side, to cut the sweetness.

Nutrition info:

Fat: 12.2 g
Carbs: 53.1 g
Calories: 354.4 g
Protein: 10.8 g

Nutrition info provided by with the recipe calculator application.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Wordly Wise

I've been reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.

For those who haven't read Carol's post or Anno's, Eat, Pray, Love is about one woman's year long journey through Italy (eat), India (pray), and Indonesia (love). During her time in Italy, a friend of hers in Rome explains that every city has its word. In Rome the word is SEX. In Stockholm, claims Liz's Swedish friend, Sophie, the word is CONFORM.

Ann Arbor's word is OPINIONATED.

You walk through our streets, sit in our cafes and restaurants, surf the internet in our public libraries, whisper before our movies start and what you'll hear are OPINIONS. Not opinions, but OPINIONS.

We go through life trying to slam our policies, theology and politics into the unwitting brain patterns of others.

This was a day when I was filled by OPINIONS, and tried to balance the OPINIONS of one family with the OPINIONS of another. And during my lunch hour at school, I listened to the OPINIONS of parents who had heard about the OPINIONS expressed on all sorts of schooling on this blog.

Opinions are good. Being able to express your opinions is very important. It's one of our most important rights here in the United States. It is one of the pillars of our culture and our society.

But sometimes... it would just be nice... if everyone... would...

Have a restful, peaceful evening!

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Last night I had a meal that I had no business eating.

I had no business eating it because it was completely over-the-top in terms of fat and calories, and the fat count was high enough that anyone my age just. shouldn't. eat. it.

But this is the thing of kids growing up. My German "daughter" is visiting us right now for two and a half weeks. I can't express the joy we're all feeling in having her under our roof again. S is happy, upbeat, flexible and centered. The world is her oyster. We can't help but be infected with her good cheer.

When S lived with us six years ago for her exchange year, she had come to us with few domestic skills. She's part of a lovely family where both parents are involved in running the family business and they'd had a housekeeper/cook since S was a small child. This woman, M, was really part of the family and a superb cook, to boot, so S just hadn't need to, or wanted to, learn cooking.

There was an infamous story during S's exchange year when her Art teacher said, jokingly, that S could bring her cousin to class (S's cousin was also on an exchange year and was visiting us from Virginia at the time) if S made German cookies for the class. S, always being game for anything, wrote M and asked for the recipe for favorite German cookies. M wrote back.

The short version is that S created what were sort of oatmeal cookies, but each probably weighed a quarter pound and could have been used as a blunt weapon. We all had much merriment about S and her cookies during the year.

But now S is 23, she is part of a grueling program where she goes to school six days a week for many hours per day for 10 weeks and then she works, for the same firm but in rotating positions for 12 weeks. She has an apartment that she shares with her sister, who has just started law school; she has a long-term boyfriend and a car. She gets her own salary for working for the firm, and she now has her own benefits and paid vacation, etc. In short, she is an adult.

And a cook, extraordinaire.

So yesterday, she was going to make us dinner. She wanted to make us schnitzel, mashed potatoes, broccoli and panne cotta for dessert.

The schnitzel was perfect in every way - thin wisps of pork were covered in a coating of flour, egg mixed with salt and pepper, and finally a nice layer of bread crumbs. The pork was then cooked about two minutes on each side and the taste and texture were indescribably delicious. We had two small pieces each, and both D and C were very sad there wasn't more. I've rarely had meat that I enjoyed as well. The potatoes were lovely and had the addition of nutmeg - a taste we weren't used to and all enjoyed. The broccoli was broccoli, but I basically steamed that, so this isn't part of my review.

And then there was the panne cotta: 1/2 cup of cream, .5 oz sugar and a 1/4 vanilla bean in each serving - what's not to like? This was also astonishingly easy to make - S showed me while she made it. To serve it, we melted some strawberry jam and drizzled it on top. If anyone wants either recipe, just drop me a comment or an e-mail. They're both extremely easy.

Sadly, I have no photos... we were too busy eating.

You know, there are some real advantages when kids grow up.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

A Nice Day!

Carol, over at Northwest Ladybug, was nice enough to bestow this lovely badge on me yesterday. It really made my day, especially as I was worrying that I was managing to offend all my regular readers with my schooling views! She'd had it bestowed on her, and she certainly deserves it, so I was glad she'd gotten some cheer, as well.

There are so many, many lovely people in this blogosphere, that it's hard for me to tag them all, but here are a very few that I would love to pass this on to:

First off, my dear friend from "real" life: Anno. Anno sees me through thick and thin, happy and sad and all of my writing and teaching and parenting issues. She has cheerfully allowed me to pull her into new adventures and she has shown me some wonderful paths in life. I get energized every time we can sneak coffee together and every time I read her blog. So, Anno, this one's for you!

To Fourier Analyst for her comforting words and loving demeanor and her use of "Darling" in her comments! And also for her courage in sharing difficult times with us through her blog and showing us that there are many routes in live and we can overcome adversity.

To Goofball for her ever-present cheer and warmth and genuine interest in cross-cultural issues and facts. I can't visit Goofball's blog without smiling, as well as learning something new.

To Jenn in Holland for her warm vision of life and for answering every. single. comment on her blog! I bow down to you, Jenn!

To Michelle from Bleeding Espresso for her recipes, her tours of Calabria, her reflections - I truly believe she is a national treasure for both Italy and the U.S.

You know, I really could pass this on to pretty much every one of my readers, but this is what I come up with on half a cup of coffee, so just consider yourself tagged! I can't tell you how grateful I am for the new perspectives and worlds I enter through my blog reading, and for the friendships I've developed over time!

Happy Saturday!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Friday Fifteen: Fifteen Observations about Home Schooling and Traditional Schooling

Friday Fifteen

After receiving some comments yesterday and writing some e-mails, especially to some blog friends that I SO like and respect, I decided to use the Friday Fifteen to address some possible misconceptions about homeschooling and traditional schooling. I feel I have some things to say on this having been a professional teacher for more than 25 years. I've worked in public school, private school and home school settings. I've taught children in the former Soviet Union. I've been on several national education policy projects. I've participated in countless national e-mail lists of teachers and of home school teachers/parents. I've been an active member of several national education organizations. I have two advanced degrees in education. Despite all this, what I'm writing below is just one teacher's observations. These are MY experiences. I hope I don't offend anyone - this is a post that is simply in the spirit of information:

1. The first home schoolers I knew were my cousins. They lived in a geodesic dome that they built themselves, ate mostly from their own garden, conducted a family business out of their home and integrated all of their learning experiences within their day. Their children learned to cook, balance books, do carpentry, write well, compute, and do artwork. They were all allowed to go to public school when they wanted to. Two opted for starting in high school. One started school in 4th grade, and one started in middle school. As adults one has four children and runs her own business as a single mom, one is a professional chef, one is a dance instructor at a community college and the youngest is still in college. Their parents wanted home schooling because they didn't feel that their rural community would provide the kind of rich education they envisioned for their children.

2. We chose to home school for six years because my ds had some serious learning issues, was traumatized by certain situations that came up in school, had a grade of students in the school with many, many difficulties and many students in that grade were suffering due to the needs of a few, and he wasn't learning (second grade he brought ALL his work home every day, and we generally spent three hours doing work together after his exhausting day in school. He couldn't work with the noise and chaos in his classroom, and no, he's not now, nor has he ever been, ADD). Additionally, a very young and inexperienced principal was brought in the year we decided to pull him out. I was a teacher, I abhorred the idea of home schooling and this was an incredibly hard decision for both my family and for me.

3. The result of that choice is that I now have a happy, mostly straight A, friendly DS, who has a variety of incredibly nice friends, both home schooled and from public school, and he is happy and thriving in his new public school setting. He learned to work, he was able to get over his learning difficulties (he still has them, but has clear coping mechanisms now and can succeed in most settings). He was happy, a good student, and had a variety of teachers and friends in his former home school co-op, and he is happy, a good student, and has a variety of teachers and friends in his public school this year. By last year, even though he was "home schooled" all his teachers were outside our home.

4. In our area, there are three different types of home schoolers, for the most part. Yes, there are the home schoolers whom people tend to think are the norm - families who make the choice to home school so that they can keep their children from outside influences with which they are not comfortable. And while those are usually for religious reasons, in our area that includes Christian, Jewish and Muslim families, although mostly Christian. The second group, and an equally large group, are folks like us, for whom school settings weren't working. This group tends to have many kids who are either learning disabled, gifted (we have no programs for gifted students in our school system) and sadly, many children of teachers and University of Michigan professors. I say sadly, only because it means that many of our most educated parents feel our schools are failing. The third group I'm going to lump together, probably unfairly - these are parents of "unschoolers" folks who feel that children learn best when they are completely in control of their own learning setting and parents who feel that learning within the family unit is the most natural learning environment. This last group is the minority.

5. In our area, the majority of our home schooled students are out in the community much of the time. Our kids have home school service clubs, sports teams, co-ops, social clubs, academic teams, etc., etc. Many of our high school students take on unique challenges - one of my former students, who's now pre-law, ran a business (and managed to take challenging high school classes while earning good grades) importing and training special Czech police dogs that were then sent to police departments all over the U.S. One of my current students is assisting a naturalist at a community wilderness site tracking benthic populations in a local river to test the river's health. Another young woman we know spends many of her hours volunteering and mentoring at a local zoo. One of our home school 4-H chapters focuses on veterinary medicine, and their strong, dedicated group has volunteered with vets, taken trips and worked with professors at MSU and observed surgeries, etc.

6. There are now special recruitment policies at many top universities, including Princeton and MIT, that are set up directly to attract home schooled students, because they have found that these students are more mature, more responsible, have better social skills and have a better chance at succeeding than their average freshman.

7. Most of the home schooling families don't have the "luxury" to do this. I know many moms who work evening shifts, parents that tag team, families that never go out to dinner, go on traditional vacations, wear clothes bought new or have their kids play with brand new toys. They have stepped out of the cycle of consumerism to get what they feel is the best education for their children. In low income areas, single moms and others have banded together to co-op so their kids can be schooled in safe, caring environments. Even given that, it is very, very difficult to home school if you are without any kind of financial resources.

8. People who don't have enough education to school their children shouldn't do it. Nor should certified teachers who don't have enough education in their subject area to teach their subject (a far more common practice than districts admit to).

9. There are tons of low-cost programs available with very rich curricula that are set up to support home schoolers and traditional schoolers alike. Both MIT and the Annenberg foundation provide wonderful, free course materials. Places like PA Homeschoolers provide online, real time AP courses for home schoolers. Both Stanford and Johns Hopkins provide higher cost programs for gifted students, both home schooled and not.

10. There are a wide variety of accountability laws regarding home schooling. Most of these laws make those who are home schooling far more accountable for their children's education than they do for their own school districts or teachers.

11. I am teaching two courses for home schooled high school students this year. Some of them are getting credit for this through a public school "bridge" program that is run by my son's public school. I am required to supply a weekly syllabus, grading rubric, materials list, etc., prior to the class start. My son's teachers have not been required to provide any of those things. We have no idea, as parents, what the weights of his projects are in terms of grades, and only one of his teachers has provided any type of syllabus, and her syllabus is accompanied by a weekly assignment list. Should I also mention that I think she's his best teacher?

12. I strongly believe that all public schools in the country should provide a strong education to our students. I don't feel that a weak education is acceptable. I feel professional standards should exist for ALL teachers - public school teachers, private or parochial school teachers and home schooled teachers.

13. Parents HAVE to be partners in education. It's hard to get a child to buy into doing home work, working hard in school, attending on a regular basis, etc., if parents don't hold this as a value. I think this, more than any other single factor, determines student success. Good teachers and great schools still can't save children from completely dysfunctional families (although they can help - bad schools on top of the rest can make things worse, though).

14. I have not seen an environment yet, in 25+ years of teaching, in any traditional schooling environment, where parents are TRULY welcomed in the classroom - as volunteers or in any way, shape or form. This is also true for many PTO situations. Parents can bring food, but not usually ideas. I have taught in Michigan and Massachusetts and have many colleagues in New York, Kentucky and Arizona. There seems to be universal agreement on this.

15. The No Child Left Behind Act, and the renewed emphasis on testing, has done more to disenfranchise children who are "outside the lines" than any single educational act in this country's history. The soaring numbers of home schoolers have just as much to do with that as they do with the conservative Christian movement.

Okay, I'm off the soapbox! Also, I DID post my first, November post for Nablopomo - I'm not sure why yesterday's blog exchange post was listed at October 31st because I did WRITE it on the 31st, but I POSTED it around 6 a.m. on the 1st. Does anyone know why this would be?

P.S. - Tomorrow, just fun stuff - I promise!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

School Choices

This is part of The Blog Exchange. My Blog Exchange partner is Jerri Ann and she can be found here. Please visit The Blog Exchange for other participants/issues and visit Jerri Ann to see "the other side" of this topic.

I'm supposed to take the "con" side of public schools. This is hard for me in a variety of ways. I'm a teacher by profession. I love education. I love my students. I see very dedicated teachers working at my son's PUBLIC school every day. Many of my friends are teachers. I am excitedly watching one of my favorite former students becoming a teacher this year (for her wonderful insights and reflections, please visit Geetha here).

Despite my background and affection for public schools, I don't see them as a be all and end all. I don't see them, as they are supposed to be, as "Great Equalizers." In fact, when they are used as a tool to wedge us all into equal parcels in society, I think they fail miserably.

The more they push towards fitting us all into the same mold, the more they fail. You can not have schools that promote complete equality and promote excellence at the same time.


Because we are all different.

Yeah, basic but also true. Every time I hear that a new reading method will teach everyone to read, I laugh. The fact is that we have all kinds of learners and there is no "one fits all" method. And just as pedagogy does not fit all, learning environments don't, either.

There are children who are traumatized by crowds and noise. They will not necessarily be desensitized by being in a school building each day; they may simply give up on learning. There are children who don't read well and who never will. It will not be easy for them. But maybe they have a genius for carpentry. They will not be nurtured in our public schools. They may have "accommodations" and they may have a "learning plan," but they will still probably feel both different and a failure, because kids are smart, and if they really are a square peg in a round hole, they know it. There are children who become traumatized by bullies; contrary to popular opinion, social skills are NOT taught in schools, they are taught by PARENTS. And if the parent isn't in the game, the child will NOT learn appropriate social skills, and it is much more difficult to control bullying in schools than anyone from within a school system will admit.

And because public schools have to be everything to everyone, they are not as well equipped to handle many of these issues as many smaller, private schools, home school settings, etc.

If your child is thriving in public school, more power to you. But our ultimate responsibility as parents is to make sure that our children are emotionally, mentally and physically healthy, and if a school environment is causing damage in any of those areas, then it's time to come up with a new learning environment for that child. And it is one of our strengths, here in the U.S., that we do have a right to choose for our children.

Then, of course, you have to be able to afford those other choices.

But that would be the subject of yet another blog exchange.