Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Dear Dominic,

I'm sorry I'm not that mom at the basketball court, the one on the sidelines, wearing your team colors and clanging a cowbell, the one who yells out your name, who yells at the ref, who scribbles out efficient plays on my clipboard.

I'll go to some games, I promise.

But I won't love you because you like sports. I'll love you in spite of it.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Is it possible that the things which separate classes of kids is as simple as braces, the ability to play a musical instrument, and what they do with their spring break?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Chance at Free Books!

Shannon O'Donnell over at Book Dreaming came up with this crafty contest.

Check out to enter.

Good luck!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Not So Silent Night

It was a typical Englund Christmas. 33 people at my dad's house in California. We played a Rock Band tournament of "Don't Stop Believin'." Ryan brought his famous eggplant parmesan. Someone tracked deodorant down the whole hallway. A light fell on Pregnant Rachel. The kids opened Nerf swords, Lego pirate ships, and the 2009 version of inchworm. Elf salt-and-pepper shakers on the table were very inappropriate. And Wayne and Garth (Daniel and Steven) delivered their top 10 Christmas Hotties list, with God's baby mama at the top.

Monday, December 21, 2009


"Can you make 100 copies of this?" Dominic asked me. He thrust a paper into my hands on his way to school.

I scanned it. It was an invitation to a new monthly Lego club. At our house.

"Hold on!" I called, as he was halfway down the driveway. "What are you going to do with all these?"

When Dominic said he was planning on posting them around the middle school, I tweaked the plan. I told him I'd make 10 copies, and he could invite that many kids one time.

Ten kids turned into 22 today. The best friends weren't even invited to this one. This one was all about Lego fanatics. If you were a kid, and you spoke Lego, you were in. There were girls and boys, between two and twelve, from eight different schools. And they were all hunched over the World's Biggest Lego pile, constructing castles, inventing airplanes, building bridges.

It was magical.

The kids were teachers. Today was a welcome reminder to be accepting, to be encouraging, to be creative and cooperative, to just get together and have a great time.

The Answers

Tartt claims that man's desire is to live forever, and that the attempt of doing so proves his innate evil.

Maslow would say that man's basic needs for survival -- breath, food, water, and sex (this last one is what "Community" was getting at -- define him.

My friend Wendi tells me that people are good, that it comes down to the choices they make, most of which are right.

My husband, the criminologist, is matter-of-fact: People are good. Statistically, there are less bad people, maybe 2 out of a hundred, he guesses.

Me, I see a lot of greed. But there's also a fair share of hope.

I like to trust the other people on the planet. I'm hoping I'm raising kind kids.

It's the perfect time of year to believe in humanity's goodness.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Essence of Everything

"'Are people born wicked?'" wonders Glinda The Good of the North in the opening song from Wicked. "'Or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?'"

Thus begins a fantastical exploration of an age-old debate:

Are humans inherently good or evil? Is personality created through nature or nurture?

From Paradise Lost to Star Wars, art has attempted to provoke answers.

Wicked claims that people are evil, but that it's no doing of their own. To assuage her guilt at being a mean roommate, Glinda befriends the unattractive, hence unpopular, Ephalba. She tries to convince the green girl that the circumstances of her birth were not her fault.

And here's a thought-provoking excerpt from NBC's sitcom, "Community":

Are we really driven by sex? If so, does that make us more evil than good?

Then, there's Donna Tartt's murder mystery, The Secret History, in which the reader considers the true nature of man; a group of elite college students plots a homicide against one of their own. When the group unravels, the question becomes whether the absence of reason is insanity, and if evil breeds evil.

Is the essence of humanity defined by what we want? Or to the extent we'll go to achieve it?

"'...What is desire?'" Tartt writes. "'We think we have many desires, but in fact we have only one. What is it?'"

What is it? And how does it clarify whether man is good or evil?

Do you know?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Invigorated by God's Growing Tired

The latest in a long list of documentaries I've Netflixed this month included a treat called "God Grew Tired of Us." Three Sudanese Lost Boys were profiled as they immigrated to New York and Philadelphia.

The young men's naivety was refreshing. Here they were, the age of most of my students, but with no Play Stations or iPods or even running water. They were infatuated with electricity, were taught not to throw garbage out the window, and ate butter straight, asking if it was cheese or maybe meat?

All were dedicated to working one, two, even three jobs in factories and fast-food restaurants.

They wanted an education, but taught more to the Americans than they could've ever possibly learned themselves. There was no sense of entitlement. Of victimization.

To our afluenzic culture, this is anthropologically fascinating. And also spiritually.

"I feel sorrow for them," one boy said about his community of brothers left behind in the refugee camp. His sending money did not assuage his guilt at having a "nice place" (an apartment in Pittsburgh).

Over and over, each boy empathized with the refugees stuck in Africa.

It made me think about living here. In America, in Ashland. Where folks pull their hybrid Hylanders to screeching stops at Bikram yoga studios and sweat it out in mountain pose, their hands at their hearts.


Here we have everything--running water, electricity, butter--and we have to learn, to practice, to achieve the basic principles of kindness, of understanding, of love.

These boys didn't have much, but they did have that. In terms of everything, that is a lot.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Blue-Collar Day

I began my Thursday at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. It was 17 degrees, and some of the sixth graders (the girls) were holding their noses and zipping their jackets over their faces, while other students (the boys) were crawling all over the rails around the pools of poop.

Bill came out and showed us where the waste comes in, and how it's mixed with "good bugs" before being blasted by a UV light, then spit into Bear Creek. Bill had on a baseball hat and a Carhardt coat. His beard froze as he talked about detritus feeders, and the diapers that come through the system. He was a good guy, Bill was, anyone could see it: the kind of guy who worked hard all week and appreciated a 20-ounce Budweiser on a Friday night.

After I had almost thawed out from the field trip, The Husband dragged me halfway up Highway 62 to slap some drywall mud around a woodworking shop. (Yes, Dave had quit. There was a little relapse here. Any drywaller could tell you the craft is a disease.)

My man's Wolverine boots clunked across the floor, as I sat outside with my face to the sun, and gave gratitude for clean water and warmth from walls, and all these workers who keep the world going. I'm telling you, there's nothing like a few hours with freezing BM and drywall dust to take you down a notch from being a college professor.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Big Piece of the Pie

My girl may have been struggling with long division, but she is nailing this unit on fractions!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Fallacies (Fantasies)

Before I read a single book on writing, attended my first conference, or crafted a query, I believed--believed--the following:

That if you wrote a book, it got published.

That when it was published, you earned at least a six-digit figure for it.

That after you remodeled the house, you traveled the world, talking about your novel, in places like Bhutan.

That your chances on getting on Oprah with your book was maybe one in three.

That when that book then became an instant bestseller and award-winner, you spit out another masterpiece in no time, then another four or five.

For a while there, I must've confused myself with John Grisham.

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Boot in the Door

To community college students, writing persuasively often includes a big, clunky push toward the reader's assention. The Rogerian argument, however, attempts for only a certain degree of agreement, and this is something that's hard to understand. After struggling all term with teaching this concept, I found the perfect vessel the other night.

I had tucked Rees in bed, and threatened him with closing the door all the way if he got out for any reason (long story short, bedtime around here had become a total joke). Of course, he tested me--for a "drink of water"--and I had to shut his door.

When I checked on him later, there was a crack in his doorway; wedged between the door and the frame was a Playmobil cowboy's little brown boot. The crack it made was just enough to assure Reesie that monsters wouldn't get him in the darkness, but not too much to make me realize the door was open.

The next day when I told my students about the boot, they understood the analogy completely. Their essays were strong but respectful.

During the break, I'm planning on rummaging through the Playmobil bin, curious to other teaching tools that might be in there, and wondering how I can use the mummified skeleton.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Role Reversal

It was a Wednesday morning, and I was sitting with Dominic's middle school class, when, seven minutes into the presentation on watersheds, I was overcome with hunger. The clock on the wall showed three hours until lunch. How was I going to wait that long?

My mind began to wander. While the speaker power-pointed feeder streams, I studied everything on the walls: taxonomic charts, quotes by John Muir, lists of prepositions. And after it was all committed to memory, I crossed my feet under the table and tried to listen about groundwater absorption.

I wondered how much longer until we could go outside and actually do something with watersheds.

And when we finally did go out into the morning fog, my hands froze, and my ankles bled from slogging through blackberry bushes, and I wished we could go back inside.

The shovels were heavy. The dirt was dirty. And I thought how lucky the kids in Manhattan were to never have to think about watersheds.

Hungry and hurt, tired and cold, I swept up a pile of ivy leaves. Dominic and his friends yanked vines from the earth with gusto and cheer, as I slunk off toward The Beanery.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Long Live The King of Pop

Surprisingly, since Michael Jackson's recent death, not much has been blogged about him as a literary figure.

It's a classic fairy tale, the rise of the youngest brother in the group of five, dedicated to overcoming the abuse he suffered as a child, and how that dedication ultimately led to his demise. The fortune and fame of being a world superstar were no consolation to Jackson's invisible demons. He may have transformed physically. He may have had everything in that dark, cluttered mansion, but he struggled with basic human needs: love, acceptance, identity.

He could change his face. He could change the entertainment industry. He could impact world poverty. But Jackson couldn't fix the damage done to him by his own father.

Only through drugs could the Man in the Mirror escape his past, and his future of having to grow up. He tried desperately to create a family and a home. Although the world was at his feet, the icon ironically died empty and alone.

I was never a fan. True, Jackson was the emblem of my generation, but the moonwalking/ crotch-grabbing/teeth-clenching, the falsetto interjections, even the epic music videos were just not that appealing to a California girl who just wanted to have fun with a certain rainbow-haired vocalist from Queens.

Like all great artists, however, once the King of Pop proved his mortality, he became significant
--even to me.

I suddenly saw the innovation and expression of his work. I listened, really listened, to his lyrics: "You Are Not Alone," "Scream," "Cry," "Unbreakable"; and I began to understand his suffering. We may have all grown up with the boy, but no one ever knew him.

The tragedy does not lay in this effigy's death. It was in his life.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


So, I'm all about trauma (not really), and am absolutely prepared for and calm during any calamity involving people, pain, and body fluids (no way).

When my EMT husband is around, I go ahead and let him deal with the accidents and injuries. Since it's his hobby, and everything.

I watch his craft, and listen to his stories about blood, guts, spit, snot, vomit, and liquids of the bathroom nature.

I'll even watch "Trauma," NBC's troubled drama (hence the portmanteau).

But something about the show really irks me, and it's definitely not the setting (San Francisco).

All the male characters have this need to take care of Nancy, an otherwise capable and experienced paramedic. And I'm talking all the males: the ER doctor, Nancy's current riding partner, Nancy's ex-partner, the helicopter pilot, her dad.

I can deal with her low-cut uniform shirt and her low-rise pants. But I can't deal with the premise that although Nancy can take care of the most critical patients, she can't take care of herself.

Maybe if the show had been a little more feminist (okay, I'd settle for a little less sexist), it wouldn't have flatlined.

Maybe if NBC had stuck to the blood and guts (and the Castro episode), even viewers like me would've given it a better chance.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Where College is Going

Last week, the California University system proposed a 32% fee increase.

Possible Effects:

More students will go to private universities, where tuition is higher, but so is aid?

Greater population in community colleges?

The eventual privatization of higher ed?

Greater number of "gap years," when students work after high school instead of going straight to college?

Probable Effect:

Wider national chasm between rich and poor.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sick of Sick

"Where did all these wipes go?" my husband asked, holding up the empty Clorox container.

"I used them up," I told him.

"You?" he said, "The one who is opposed to all disinfectant? Why?"

I said I was sick of sick. Until yesterday, for the last two and a half straight weeks, I'd had at least one kid home with something.

Since May, there's been a double round of strep throat. There've been ear infections, sinus infections, and That Flu.

The crazy part is that we've had more sickness since May than in all 12 years we've had kids.

I was convinced it was mold. Even though I couldn't see it. Or smell it.

The only way to know for sure was to tear apart the bathroom drywall. Which I did.

And although Dave, a career drywaller, tried to tell me pre-crowbar, there was not a single spore.

Then I wiped and sprayed and squirted and scrubbed. Everything.

Now there are about 25 empty cleaning agent containers. Our eyes might be burning a little, our stomachs kind of churning from all the chemicals. But no one has said they have a scratchy throat or a runny nose, and I can totally live with that.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Love and David Levithan

David Levithan strolled into A Children's Place bookshop in Portland with a blue backpack strapped to his back, and shoes that were nice, but which had pounded a lot of pavement.

He talked mostly about the World Trade Center memorial lights: how he had first seen them while driving back from the airport after flying in from London, how they illuminate the city during the anniversary of 9/11.

He said that Claire's pilgrimage mirrors his own, that she was the character hit hardest by the tragedy. The passage Levithan chose to read was "The Lights," narrated by Claire.

He explained the reason his climatic scene starts in the first chapter.

There were no books to buy; the store had run out before the visit began. But Levithan, in his well-ironed shirt, was unruffled; he crammed wisdom and his autograph onto skinny strips of stickers.

And he gave me a CD of songs he had made. I listened to it all the way home, partial to tracks 4, 6, and 10.

Before I left, though, I had asked Levithan about the conclusion. I teach my college students there are only so many kinds, I said, and I've tried and I've tried, but I can't figure this one out.

That's because there is no real end, he told me, It's like the tragedy itself; it's just not all wrapped up.

Then he put his arm around my daughter for a picture, and I thought, this man is love. He writes about love and he talks about love and he walks love, walks it right in those nice but well-worn shoes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Doing the David Levithan Dance

It took some serious finagling, that's for sure.

To get to see my new fave, David Levithan, author of the deep and redeeming Love Is The Higher Law, I've had to cover two boys overnight, plus an entire class of writers.

But I did it.

I had to.

This guy has blown me away. I used this novella in my community college class, to show the integration of fiction into research, to prove that fiction is worthy of critical thought.

And speaking of "critical," Levithan's timeliness is. The novella debuted two weeks before the eight-year anniversary of the World Trade Center's collapse. It packs three teens' self-searches in a destroyed New York into a slim 163 pages, narrated by three voices.

I know. Crazy.

How does Levithan do it? Along with being clean and tight, the plot is simple: under 9/11 rubble, these kids struggle before finding community. And humanity. And hope.

Every word is chosen meticulously. Here's Claire: "I want to have faith in strangers. I want to have faith in what we're all going to do next. But I'm worried... Wouldn't it be wonderful if we really came together, if we found a common humanity? The hitch is that you can't find a common humanity just because you have a common enemy. You have to have a common humanity because you believe that it's true."

Who could not love the honesty, the wisdom there?

Oh, I hope Levithan reads that part in Portland tomorrow. That, and pages 105 and 106. And of course page 153.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What Comes Around...

I lend out a lot of books. It brings me super satisfaction to hook up a reader with the perfect read.

The winning pairs have been an old family friend and The Future Housewives of America, my cousin and The Alchemist, my daughter and Mandy, my aunt and Patty Jane's House of Curl. There was also my son's teacher and Possessing the Secret of Joy. And my college roommate and Like Water for Chocolate.

For some reason, it's easier for me to match literature to females, but successful relationships have been formed between my brother and Godless, an acquaintance and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and a doctor and Freakonomics.

On rare occasion, someone will give me a book that fits perfectly, like a pair of shoe orthotics that are between being nicely broken in and too worn thin. These have included Pobby and Dingan from my sister, Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You from Christy, and, though I hate admitting it, Four Blondes from my husband. Because I read a lot/teach English/write, I guess, well-meaning people are always loaning me literature they think I'll love.

But as you know by now, I'm a tough critic.

When someone asks to borrow one of my books, I am both eager to lend it and doubtful; I want to be sure it comes back. After writing my name prominently on the front cover, I stress that the book is one of my favorites, to please return it. I know: anal. I always remember who has my book, when I gave it to them, and whether or not it's returned.

You know where this blog is going.

Yep. Someone jacked my beloved The Shadow of the Wind.

Here's how it happened: in June 2007, my kids were in swimming lessons at the park. I had just gotten back the Gothic novel from my friend, when a colleague noticed it laying on the lawn, and took interest in it. Said Colleague is a professor of literature, from Europe, with a fetish for all things foreign. I couldn't believe he hadn't heard of the book. It was such a fit! I handed it over with much enthusiasm.

And have waited a year and a half to get it back.

I've missed that $14 book. Since I gave it away, I could've lent it to other readers a hundred times over.

I've hinted at needing the book back, even flat-out demanding. No luck. Though I'd like to, I can't imagine forgetting that Said Colleague has my book stashed away on some shelf, buried by dust. Excuse me while I grab a tissue.

Recently, a funny thing happened. I was (early) Christmas shopping at a big gift store, when Said Colleague sauntered over, wearing the store name tag. He explained that he was moonlighting during the holidays, earning extra cash for some hefty wish lists. He'd be happy to give me his employee discount card, he said. I could save 30 %.

Of course I took him up on his offer. He had my cherished book hostage, remember?

With the employee discount, I pocketed a $14 savings.

Guess what I did with it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Best. Papers. Ever.

While my kids sorted and traded their Halloween candy on Sunday, I finished grading my community college students' papers. This is the last writing class most of them will ever take. It's critical thinking/persuasion.

Our topic was a tough one: terrorism. And the readings were even tougher: essays from the American Spectator, from National Commissioners, university
professors, politicians.

This was the question: How have the events of 9/11 shaped the American perspective on terrorism.

Now, give that a second or two. How have the events of 9/11 shaped the American perspective on terrorism?

There is fear. There is stereotyping. There is public policy. But there is no more invincibility.

It took my class three weeks to find that out. By picking apart tomes on "terror," we could define it, identify it, analyze it.

We read. We talked. We asked a lot of questions. In fact, we came up with more questions, harder questions, than the one we were given.

Then we wrote.

My paper began with the last lines of the Broadway musical "Cabaret": "It was the end of the world. And I was dancing with Sally Bowles. And we were both fast asleep."

My conclusion was what one of the authors coined "a wake-up call": how the United States' oblivion collapsed with the Twin Towers.

"Terror" is not a pleasant topic. But these papers were an absolute joy.

Every student took a stand and supported it--well.

Titles were carefully chosen, and transitional phrases were used. There were accusations, projections, calls-to-action, not to mention miraculous editing.

Every several terms, a class emerges from out of nowhere with wisdom, effort, and intelligence.

It just makes the job so worth doing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Life and Death in the Center of the Universe

Another reason I love living in Ashland is its celebration of everything, particularly, The Days of the Dead.

Dominic's middle school Spanish class decorated sugar skulls.

Reesie's class made calaveras puppets.

These Catrinas cheered from Main Street on Halloween:

And here's our annual display by the check-out desk of the library:

Viva la vida (and los muertos) in Ashland!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Random Craziness: Domma Style

In the spirit of his favorite holiday, Halloween, here's some wacky Dominic stuff:

Drinking the 30 year-old soda his poppa gave him (flavor: anti-freeze?)

"Portrait of My Dad on Etch-A-Sketch."


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"One..." Singular Sensation

I have a new hero and his name is David Levithan. He wrote this little sliver of a YA novel that I haven't been able to get out of my head: Love is the Higher Law. It's about three New York City teens whose lives are changed by the collapse of the World Trade Center.

Like all teens, Jasper, Claire, and Peter had been searching for their selves. But after what Jasper calls "the tragedy," that search becomes critical; the emptiness needs fulfilling. Purpose needs to be realized.

These are wise kids, yes, but they're also just kids. They live for music, and they hang out and talk, and they have heaps of hope.

I particularly love Peter's early chapter, "The Date"--one, ten-page paragraph. One stream of consciousness, one string of events.

I also love that the novella begins and ends with Claire.

While gobbling up this morsel, I had no doubt that Levithan knows kids, that he knows gay kids, that he knows New York. That he understands suffering and the search to end it.

This book makes me want more out of my own life: more meaning, more depth, more substance.

It is one of those fiction pieces that makes you want to tell all the nonfiction believers in the world, "Hah! Take that! This book made me think! I mean, really think. So, it wasn't true, exactly. But try to get all that out of an encyclopedia."

Love is the higher law. And Levithan is the Supreme Justice.

Friday, October 23, 2009

That's My Boy

Rees can pull off the serious drag.
For sure.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Day (in Numbers)

7 -- cups of coffee my 2 girlfriends and I polished off this morning between us at Morning Glory

5 -- kids who came over to play this afternoon, besides my own 3

23 -- graded 2-page papers

36 -- minutes I could put up with watching "Transformers 2" before getting distracted by Megan Fox's permanent lip gloss

64 -- times I Googled the cause of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict until I began to kind of understand it

101 -- thoughts I had of exercising instead of doing all of the above

Monday, October 19, 2009


I was exhausted, post Flu, after driving three kids to California during the weekend, when my two youngest and my niece begged for a bedtime story.

Slowly in the dark, I began to spin a tale, a non-fiction piece, actually, knowing it was easier to borrow than to have to create.

Halfway in and gathering steam, I was hearing all these pops and clicks. "What IS that?" I asked (not very nicely).

"A gun," said Rees, eight.

Honestly, I was too tired to get up and turn on the light and see what he was talking about. So I yelled, "Mac!" and my seventeen-year-old brother busted down the bedroom door, to see what I was panicking over.

"Please," I mumbled into my pillow. "Take. The gun. Away. From Rees."

Mac flicked on the light and Rees handed over the busted pellet gun. Then the paint gun. The dart guns. A BB gun. And three toy rifles.

I laughed myself wide awake seeing Mac in the doorway with guns under his arms, pinned to his sides, between his knees.

"What is this?" he said. "An arsenal?"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Day In The Life

Over the weekend, I had the flu. Bad. I'm not going to say which flu, because even saying a certain word stirs up all kinds of panic, so I'll just say I had The Flu.

I had picked up Daney from school early because she had a migraine and leg seizures. When we got home, I fell in bed, and she ended up taking care of me.

Dominic had his twelfth birthday party. We couldn't have it here (Flu and all), so Dave moved the party to the park.

Within a couple of hours there, two kids (out of eight) had broken their noses. Rees was one of them; he was Parkouring from picnic table to picnic table, and missed.

It would have made a great family portrait: Rees, with his huge purple nose; me, with raccoon eyes and yellow skin; Daney, pale, post-migraine; and Dominic and Dave, healthy and whole as ever.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


What Ten-Year-Old Daughter guessed was the antonym of singular.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

College Collage

I've been reading a lot about college admissions.

Save yourself hours of reading with these highlights:

The September 2009 issue of US News & World Report claims that a third of college freshmen will drop out after that year, and another 20% before graduation.

In America, women make up the majority of co-ed student bodies.

Florida State University declares a black graduation rate of 72%, higher than that of whites.

In Britain, most high school graduates take a "gap year," before college, during which they travel, work, or volunteer.

While colleges struggle to accommodate students with dwindling funding, some consider privatization.

Admissions essays to Ivy League schools earn big points for proving why the college is a match. Standardized test scores (like the SAT) are under scrutiny.

If money's an object, as it is for the vast majority of the nation, the ends of the spectrum are suggested. Try community college, which enroll 6 million students in the U.S, and which are emerging in the academic recession as financially and curricularly savvy. Or aim high--for Harvard, Princeton, or Stanford, the top 1, 2, and 4 financial-friendly schools.


Noises in the garage the other night were coming from this:

The next morning, this was scratching at the skylight:

It's Animal Farm all over again.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

This Week in Writing

Tuesday and Thursday were the first classes of RCC's fall term. With enrollment up a whopping 30%, classrooms (and parking lots) were packed.

Because of state furlough days, our instructional time is cut; I'll only see my students for about two months.

On the first day, we learned how to strengthen our writing by what not to put in it:
cliches, irrelevancy, redundancy, overuse of modifiers, a generic hook and a general title, "you." And then we came up with stuff with boosting power: strong verbs, transitional phrases, stylistic devices like imagery, a satisfying conclusion.

The critical piece is the proof. The who/what/where/when/why/how. The specific details. Thesis support.

It's a lot, I realize.

And when I told the students--all ba-zillion of them--that revision was to be the most important part of their process, that it should take the longest and be the most challenging, they looked at me at blinked. I've seen that look before. At the beginning of every term, actually.

They believe they won't survive it.

They don't think so, but they'll get there. I know it enough for all of them.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Key to "Fame"

Dave dragged us to "Fame."

I had my hestitations. I mean, we'd memorized the football team's moves to "All the Single Ladies" in the last "Glee" episode. What could stack up to that?

Ten minutes into the remake, my boys were suffering badly; nothing on the screen was transforming into destructive robots, or firing space lasers at rebel alliances.

Hang in there, I told them.

But I was barely holding on, myself.

Where was the humor? There was room there for some. Any. A little, at least.

Where were the homosexuals? This was a school. An arts school. In New York. Yet the only gay student was alone and suicidal. Unfair representation.

Where were the interracial romances? Why did the whites hook up with whites, the African Americans with African Americans? Real kids don't care about that. Why did these kids?

And along the lines of stereotyping, why were the characters and plot predictable? The Italian kid's family owned a restaurant. Malik came from the Hood.

"Fame" was really insightful for me. I craved a big twist, an unlikely character, and more than anything, for the cast to bust out in Pat Benatar's "We Are Young."

That would have made the movie.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


In the market the other day, my girlfriend asked if I'd ever had a Red Bull.

I haven't, I told her, nor a Monster.

And I've never texted while driving, either. Or bungee jumped, or sky dived, or had any kind of heights-related "fun."

I've never swallowed black licorice or owned a shiny leather jacket or a big, fluffy bathrobe.

But I've never not dressed up for Halloween. And I've never not struggled with math. And I'm never going to get to sleep if I don't post this blog. And I might need one of them there Red Bulls in the morning.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Haven't Been / Have Been

I know. I haven't been blogging. I haven't been writing much of anything. I haven't been revising, either. Or creating the syllabi for the classes I'll start teaching next week.

What I've been doing is... a lot of school stuff with my kids. Because when school starts for me, I can't do much else. So I've been walking to the pond on field trips. And to the farm. I've been driving around forgotten lunches. And having "goal-setting" conferences.

I've done drywall.

And yesterday, Dave took me up to the point of origin for the 160-acre Deer Creek Fire.

I've been gathering up medical receipts for reimbursement.

And taking pictures of the lack of posted speed limits where I got a ticket a couple of weeks ago.

I've watched the "Don't Stop Believin'" part of Glee with Daney about 25 times.

I've read with Rees, and helped Dominic with the Challenge Problems of his math.

I've had breakfast and lunch and dinner with girlfriends. Then walking and running and doing yoga to burn off at least some of it.

So, see, I've been working. Just not on writing stuff.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Don't Stop Believin'

On Fridays, Dominic has a late school start. Today, while Daney and Rees scribbled away in their little desks, Dominic and I cozied up on the couch and watched Journey music videos. After seeing Steve Perry sway his hair around a while, we had a nice, long chat about '80s music, and just to put the miracle of it into perspective, we then looked up some '90s stuff.

Halfway through a Nirvana track, Dominic rightfully claimed that the prior decade was musically much superior. In the '90s, he went on, talent must have been optional.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Glory of "Inglourious"

If revenge trumps love, and a bumbling Southern idiot pulls one over on villainous masterminds; if humor is injected into an interpretation of one of the darkest times in human history, and if all predictions are pointless; if you've left the end of the movie feeling confused but satisfied, with more questions than answers, it has to be Quentin Tarantino.

No master of brevity, Tarantino whittled "Inglourious Basterds" to over two and a half hours, with serious devotion to dialogue.

There are chapters, obscure actors, interwoven stories, and a (distracting)comic infuse.

There is action.

My favorite part of going to the film was not only admiring the movie itself, but watching viewers leave the theater with looks of sheer shock and perplexity. Tarantino delivers big concepts to small towns.

This is not a documentary, though, which is important to remember. "Inglourious Basterds" is entertainment. And art. And an exercise of the "What if..."

Friday, September 11, 2009


The kids went back to school this week: to middle school, fifth grade, and second. It was funny, the way they adjusted to the bulkiness of their backpacks; with super tweaked senses of space, they bumped into each other like those colorful balls in the Fisher Price popper.

While my three bouncing babies learned class rules and met a few friends and tried to accommodate their new dimensions, I was intending to fill my empty hours with household duties that had backed up over the last, oh, since June 7.

Instead, I listened to my own kind of music and read my own kind of stuff and ate my own kind of food. I opened my course syllabus file with a serious shot at rewriting it, but closed it immediately. Then I went to breakfast.

I should have cleaned. I should have queried. I should have written, or revised, or something.

But it was delicious, this freedom: an open abyss of time and possibility. Which I did absolutely nothing with. And am so looking forward to doing again all of next week.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

All I Want To Do Is Have Some Fun

I have no idea which was the best song at the Sheryl Crow concert the other night. I mean, I was dancing. In the Skybox. After the catered dinner. With Dave and Linda and a whole bunch of great people.

There were truffles.

And magic lemonade. Spiderman's mom brought it to me in mass quantities.

The lead singer from the opening band, "16 Frames" ditched his backstage party to whoop it up with us.

Oh yeah, and there was music.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


It had been just over two years of Rees' self-imposed vegetarianism when he stood in the kitchen last night, watching me cut up a roasted Cornish game hen.

"That looks so good!" he said, wiping the drool from his chin. "I want some of it so bad!"

"Would you like a bite?" I asked him.

"A drumstick," he said.

And two years ended, just like that.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Fire, Water, Paper, and People

This weekend, my brother Steven came through on his way from Portland to a houseboat on Lake Shastsa. Steven is the family hero. All the brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles love him. My kids love him. So do I.

He brought his girlfriend Marie, and we all hit up Yogurt Hut, for our least expensive purchase ever there at $12 for 6 people. I don't know how that happened. Usually, the five of us go and it's over 20 bucks.

Then I left everyone here and zipped up to Eugene where my aunt was at a scrapbooking conference with her friends. There were stickers and papers and serious chocolates. While the women worked their craft, I watched a show in my room on scorpion infestation. Then I went down and watched the girls cut and glue and laugh. They are a wonderful group of women: wise and funny, open and kind.

When I got in my clean, fresh hotel bed that night, it smelled and felt so good, I cried.

The next day, I came home to a fancy dinner the kids had arranged. They'd picked flowers and made placecards.

They went through all the fun things my generous aunt had bought them for school, opening up everything and unzipping and showing me and their daddy and each other.

Yesterday, Dave and I went on a date. We had lunch out and saw "Inglourious Basterds." (Which I'll post about next). It was five relaxing hours of hand-holding and no one asking if they could have a Popsicle.

Steven and Marie came back through last night. The kids sat in silence at their feet, listening to the houseboat tales. Like how their pillows fell into the lake, and how a baby on another boat toppled over on the floor and rolled around a bit.

My dad had evacuated his house near Sacramento, because of a raging fire that had destroyed about 60 homes and structures. He was staying at my sister's, but seemed more concerned about the cat getting into the salsa when we talked to him on the phone.

Yes, it's been a struggle here lately. It seems like it's been a struggle many places for many folks. But the human resource is a valuable one; there's nothing like being surrounded by just good people to give you a huge boost.

That's why I'm having over a billion kids today. To give it all back.

Friday, August 28, 2009


This morning I woke up thinking about chocolate. How good it is. But how flat. How what we need is a new shape of the gooey sweet stuff.

Like, what if chocolate was poured into mini muffin tins.

And then another kind of delicious other flavor was dropped inside. Cherry? No. Mint? Not quite. But maybe...Skippy or something.

Like Reese's peanut butter cups. Invented by a former Hershey's employee. Almost a hundred years ago.

At 6 AM today, I'm already a little behind.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Girls

"Sometimes I'm sad I'm a man. We're just so far behind," Dominic told me the other day.

I told him that even at almost twelve, at least he knows that, so he has somewhat of a leg up.

I love men.

There are oodles of amazing ones in my life: my husband, my two sons, my dad, my four brothers, all kinds of firefighters. I'd take a bullet for any of them.

But when the $#!+ hits the fan and the cards are down, it's the girls who save me.

I was tired. Worn out. It's August, right, you know what I mean: we've had the kids around all summer. Every day. All day long. The kids are restless. And bored. It's hot.

This is where empathy only from other moms comes in.

I found it when I snapped. Well, almost snapped. But snapped enough.

And while my man was out rescuing victims of smoke inahlation, and motor vehicle accidents, and cardiac arrests, my girls were rescuing me.

I'll tell you: I've never gotten such great support. From my best friend since kindergarten, who lives in Davis and offered to come up if I wanted to take off for the weekend with some of my other girls. From my friend since second grade who lives in the Bay Area and took one look at me and really saw me. From my three sisters who took my side and straightened my hair and sent me back into the world. From my aunts who have shared their struggles and successes, and my daughter who made my bed and picked me sunflowers. From my girlfriends here in Oregon who have made me go swimming, and walking, and to Costco. Who have made me laugh. And have let me cry.

And then there's my doctor. A woman. Who listened for an hour and a half to the tragedy I've put up with for the last eleven years, since my mom died, through six surgeries and the death of Dave's mom, and Reesie's quirky birth, and Dave's knee blowout and year out of work, to how I've been unable to get a good grip after Daney's seizures last winter. To how I'd had enough.

Things are changing, getting better. I'm working on it.

This is an honest blog. A place you might not always find a deep belly laugh, but a place where you will find reality, however that exists in cyberspace. And there's someone here to tell it like it is, the good and the bad, and to spill it all with a woman's heart.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Doctors and B.A.s

It seems like it'd be a crazy thing, my addiction to "Inked," A&E's reality show based on Hart and Huntington Tattoo Company, the first tattoo shop to open in a Las Vegas casino.

I mean, the "body artists" and the "receptionists" are fooling around with squirt bottles one minute, and at each other's inked throats the next.

There are catfights and hook ups and a lot of drinking...out of coffee cups. Oh, and there's some tattooing.

This show makes me sentimental. It reminds me of my (short lived) PhD program at Northern Arizona University, where the bottom line was totally the same. Where both are the centers of their universes. The people involved are the most important people, as is the dialogue, and the day-to-day goings on, not to mention the mission.

Both worlds take themselves very seriously.

They have no idea the other, or any other, exists.

When I watch "Inked," I relive my doctoral days, relieved to have left them behind. And speaking of "behind," thanks to the show, I'm thinking about getting a little monarch butterfly...

Thursday, August 20, 2009


burst along the path where I used to push my babies. The three would stick out their chubby little fists and pick the blackest berries, staining themselves silly.

It's a new season, now. A new crop. I run the path alone, while my big kids sleep in.

But just to remember, I pluck off a berry and it rolls on my tongue for a second, and I close my eyes and taste those sweet days of yesterday.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Divided Attention

This summer, I've realized that:

One of our kids is "watch me! watch me!"

Another is the one we have to be watching.

And the third is the one we want to watch, but can't, because we're watching the other two.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

First Place Winner!

It's the day after the day I decided to retire from writing, when I hear from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association that my adult short story, Bakersfield Baptism, won first place in the 2009 Literary Contest.

I thought it didn't have a chance.

It's the only adult piece I've ever written. And I didn't make it to the awards ceremony two weeks ago; instead, I went to my cousin's beautiful wedding, where she invited me to read a piece of magic from The Alchemist, and where two of my three kids threw up on me.

But Bakersfield Baptism had power. I knew it. It's a camouflaged personal story: How could a woman ever live with the loss of her child, if there were anything she could do to prevent it? What would be her vessel for forgiveness?

The two critiquers raved about the 14-page story. One was really, truly, deeply affected.

Before I had sent it in, I read it aloud one more time. To Dominic. Who cried. This writing stuff is tricky. Not the writing exactly, but all the other stuff.

Look for a sign, I told myself in bed last night.

And here it is.

Now I need to think about what it means, and what to do with it.

Thank you, PNWA, for the hope. For giving Gracie Mae a living chance. I love you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The End of the California Dream

So I'm driving near Sacramento with my dad last night and we're getting all kinds of honked at and flipped off for going slow or not gunning it right as the stop light turns green, when I tell my dad that California has completely lost its sense of humor.

I mean, when did the surfers and skiers start taking themselves so seriously here?

All these folks in their designer sunglasses and their mammoth SUVs are scuttling along frantically to get to their tanning appointments and personal trainers and their kids' Kumon classes. They're checking their watches and furrowing their brows and tapping their horns, with one foot on the break and the other on the accelerator.

They are definitely not smiling.

It has to be the recession.

Sure, these former affluenzics have had to trade in their boats to make the mortgage. And due to furloughs, their summer vacations are drearily extended. Retail is almost non-existent. Plus, the construction industry has all but died, minimizing the good times at PF Changs and all but extinguishing trips to Puerto Vallerta.

But the folks here are still alive. Their kids are healthy. And the plastic surgeons' doors are wide open.

The one great thing about California, I told my dad in the middle of 7 PM traffic, used to be its ability to laugh at itself. Hollywood had shown the world that we were silly and we knew it. We were anything but hypocritical.

Before my dad could say anything back, though, a big black Escalade with a "Greenpeace" bumper sticker laid on its horn , then cut us off.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gatsby-ing It

Lizards and manzanita and red dirt mean only one thing: desert!

And everyone here in California has a pool. So the kids and I have been pool-hopping!

We're having a good time. And we're getting tired and tan.

Reunion's tonight. Am hoping for more of a glamor than troll look.

Watch me do a triple flip off this diving board!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Second Best

All the fun people are packing for L.A.

I'm not going, because it's my 20th high school reunion (shout out to all Falcons!).

But when Dave laid out his fire and contracting schedules the other day, I crammed the kids in the car and we headed for Sacramento.

First stop: the Lego exhibit at Turtle Bay aquarium and museum in Redding. I'll tell you, that Nathan Sawaya is a real artist of The Brick!

Since we were the only ones there, (everyone else must've been in the Sue dinosaur exhibit we'd seen in Portland), the guide gave us a personal tour. He showed us the optical illusions: an eye in the middle of some Lego people, and the word "Tomorrow" written sideways into a computer screen.

After that, we hit up the Lego-building classroom. For two hours. Dominic left behind his signature pirate skeleton skull, Daney made a chair, Rees had a space craft going on, and I put together a frog face.

Then we checked out the butterfly room. Instead of celebrating the thousands of winged creatures around us, my two littles were inconsolable over one dying moth.

So we drove to Auburn, where we checked out the limit--50 library books (hee hee, I've kept my card all these years!) And after belting out a few rounds of Rock Band with my brother, Mac, my sister, Amy, and her daughter, we hit the hay, Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" playing for eight straight hours through my dreams...

All this, not quite as fun as mixing with the YA heroes in L.A. But way better than scrambling up eggs for three starving kids all day. For sure.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Over the weekend, I had the chance to see the world through the eyes of a 17 year-old boy.

My brother was here for a wedding, and he and I hung out a lot. We took walks, got coffee, and spent a half-day lounging around, discussing the meaning of life.

This is a boy who, like his friends, snowboards and mountain bikes and watches "The Office" and has four more months before deciding where to apply to college.

But unlike his friends, this boy has no mom. He hasn't since the week before his sixth birthday.

And yet, he is wise beyond belief. Inquisitive. Deep.

He's wondering if he and his girlfriend will stay together when he moves south in a year. He's worrying about finding purpose.

He's comparing himself to his older brothers, and asking himself if he stacks up.

It was refreshing to see that after this young person was unplugged--from satellite TV, from his X-box, from his cell phone and his iPod--there was a soul-searching, free-thinking human with a calling for compassion.

He wants to be happy, and to live his most meaningful life.

And he's doing just that. A novel in the making.

Friday, July 31, 2009


I can thank my aunt for the serious interest my second manuscript, Drain, is generating. She'd been telling me, Write What You Know.

My first book was about everything I didn't really know: boys, Division I recruiting, crime. It was interesting to write, and I had a focused macroperspective, but I had to talk to a lot of boys, especially athletes, and coaches, and judges, and probation officers, and criminals to be able to deliver it.

Afterwards, I wrote Drain during the hardest three months of my life. Of Daney's life.

Newly diagnosed with epilepsy, the nine-year-old had launched into a long serious of daily grand-mal seizures. She was ambulanced and hospitalized and tested and treated. And even with the medicine, she's had two more seizures.

Now, Dave and I are not strangers to tragedy. Since we were 18, we've pulled each other through deaths and sickness and surgeries and other things that will wait for another post.

But this one killed me; I couldn't get past seeing Daney shake and stop breathing.

My writing group let me take two weeks off. And when I came back, crying, with Daney all loaded up with books and sketch pads and Calico Critters because I couldn't let her out of my sight, they gave me seven days to return with something.

I told them there was no way.

But the next Wednesday, I brought Daney again. And the first few pages of Drain.

I didn't really know what I was writing: the story of a Seer. Her voice was hollow. She was all alone, despite all the people around her. She suffered over not being able to change things.

It was starting to sound pretty familiar.

I didn't know what I was writing, but I was Writing What I Knew.

Next time, I would love to write a quirky book: lighthearted and funny.

It's not in me right now.

But it will be.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Informational Impairment

Technology is failing me.
It's not that I was ever tech-savvy, but lately, my media world is seriously crumbling, and I don't know why, or what to do about it.

The first sign of my e-pocolypse came from the keyboard Christy lent me. We used it once, and it worked beautifully. After that, crickets.

Then there was our printer/scanner/fax machine. Okay, so I was watering the lawn with the window open when a few sprinkles hit it. A few! And now, nothing. Not a single blip or blurp or even a glow.

When I can find it and when it's charged, my cell phone is all staticky and doesn't hang up. Could have something to do with my driving down our long driveway with it on the top of the car, then its launching itself onto the pavement at the bottom.

What else? Oh, yes, my iPod's been freezing up when I try to recharge it. And a hundred of the same windows pop up sometimes on my computer. Plus, the other day I thought I was going 100 MPH on I-5, until my man figured out I'd accidentally flipped the spedometer to measuring in kilometers.

Everyone, everyone I know knows I'm way better off without plugs and batteries.

But I have to live with it, right?

So please, help me with this: What's the feng shui element to balance out bad technology?

I can tell you one thing. It isn't water.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Forty-five Thousandth Reason I'm Glad to be Married to an EMT

I'm still sweating buckets, and it's been over an hour now.

Dave had come off a busy shift and had taken me to Morning Glory for a mocha and famous oatmeal pancakes, before catching a few winks. I loaded up the kids on their bikes and hit the sunny Bear Creek trail. Yes, it was almost noon. Yes, it was a million degrees. But we had the whole trail to ourselves!

Three miles in, though, I started to get a little hot. Okay, really hot. Like, burning up. Baked.

Now, I can usually seriously tolerate heat. I mean, it can be ninety degrees in the kitchen, and I can be whipping up a sour cream chocolate cake, no problem. Once, I stayed in a day spa sauna so long, the front desk girl came in to check on me. Plus, I put Texas Pete and pepperoncinis on everything. Except sour cream chocolate cake.

Anyway, I was running and roasting, and by the time I got home, my whole cooling system had somehow blown. I was red and panting and ready to hurl. Or die. Ponds of perspiration were forming in places I never knew could sweat. Even my gums were steaming.

Dave was up. He took one look at me before laying me down with my feet up and a package of frozen peas behind my neck.

He took my pulse and fed me gallons of water, and my kids covered me with organic otter pops. And ponds of perspiration were forming in places I never knew sweat.

Now that I'm finally cooling off, I completely understand why the trail was deserted. Everyone around here is way smarter than me.

Including the people who buy regular Otter Pops. They're so much better than these fruit juice things.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bored on a 100 Degree Friday Afternoon

Me: Let's talk about...the kind of girl you want to marry.

Rees: Hmmm?

Me: You know, what she might be like.

Rees: Oh! Well, she has to like cats. That's obvious.

Me: What else?

Rees: I don't know. Do you have any recommendations?

Me: Sure. Do you want her to be smart?

Rees: Duh.

Me: And do you want her to be funny?

Rees: Uh, yeah.

Me: And will she be pretty?

Rees: Hey! I have an idea! You're smart and funny and pretty. I'll marry you!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mid-Review: Honolulu

I'm halfway through reading Alan Brennert's Honolulu, which Daney had picked for me in Tahoe, based, I'm guessing, on its lush cover.

"Regret"-turned-"Jin," a picture bride from Korea, is sent to Hawaii to marry a sugar cane worker in the 1920s.

The narration is stilted with short sentences and common beginnings, and too often, I am reminded that a man is writing Jin's life, that he doesn't nail the emotions and reactions of women, particularly Jin, who is drawn much too simply, especially after she leaves her home, and when she loses her child during a domestic dispute.

The plot moves forward, though. The reader wonders whether Jin will find a home, or work, or the love she deserves and seems to crave, and whether her young sister-in-law, Blossom, will join her in the islands.

What is striking is that Jin's joys and struggles haven't strayed much from the modern woman's; she works hard for her family, both in the fields and at home, and her work is never done. She plans out good, healthy meals, stretching her grocery budget and worrying about money.

On her "lunch break," Jin mingles with other women, who have come from all over the world, and between the canes, they share stories and ethnic foods. When Jin isn't working or cooking or washing her husband's clothes, she cherishes her time with friends. She carries the burden of being a wife, a sister, a daughter.
It's always interesting to me to see whether a man can write a woman's story. While the thread of Jin's physical and emotional sacrifice is evident, the depth of it is not. At this point, I'm just unsure what Jin is doing in Honolulu, and why. But I'm hoping it all comes together by the end.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Night Out In Ashland

The other night, Daney and I went to the fabulous 25th Annual summer ballet in Lithia Park.

The costumes were more beautiful than ever. So was the dancing.

And Daney was her usual cute self.

After the show, we took pictures in the amazing park.

And the boys called us three times to see when we were coming
home. With ice cream.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This Little Piggy

People's appendages seem to be in serious jeopardy lately.

Maybe it's because I ripped off my own toenail (getting into the car) last month, but I seem to be seeing and hearing a lot of toe and finger tragedies.

There's the guy at Dave's fire department who severed his pinky at the knuckle when it got caught in a ladder.

Another brother sliced his finger a few days later.

My little friend Riley tore off her big toenail.

And my friend Linda was run over by a grocery cart, then stepped on by a coffee shop customer.

What's interesting about these stories is not so much the plot of it all, but the characters' reactions to it.

Honestly, it's quite telling, the way one responds to driving a hammer into one's thumb.

Though I'm sorry for these folks' suffering, I am, admittedly and sickly, except for the lost finger, amused by the effects. There's been some crying, some swearing, some shrieking, some grace.

I guess there are two things to learn from all this: to study people in appendage crises, and to be extra careful right now when walking barefoot or shutting doors or using electric knives.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Free Time

Now that my manuscripts are circling the universe, I have time, free time! I feel like a second grader again, like I've finished my math and can choose something to do until the rest of the class finishes.

Okay, math might be a bad example. Because unlike math, I love writing. It's weird, though, not thinking about writing the next scene, or revising the conclusion, and although my kids have begged me not to write any more (and although I really am considering that), a few tiny ideas are swirling around my head.

For now, though, I'm just letting them swirl. While I:

* walk/run/hike/swim
* do yoga
* read to the kids
* listen to the kids read to me
* sip Noble coffee at early morning swim lessons
* pick blueberries
* pet-sit
* cook complicated, delicious vegetarian meals for Rees and Daney, who often get the food shaft because of the high-profile carnivores around here
* hang out with the girls
* go to plays
* go to the dentist
* go to the movies

Wow! When there's no writing, there sure is a lot of living!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Proud Mom-ent

My favorite little girl in the whole
world, with Cabaret's Emcee.

Friday, July 10, 2009

New Hobby: Continuity

At writing group the other night, Christy talked about the edits her continuity editor had suggested.

Since I'm so new to the bizz, I had no idea what that was.

So I Googled it.

And, wow! Continuity is cool!

I found out that "The Wizard of Oz" movie had over 170 continuity mistakes. But still, much less than I'll probably have. If I make it that far.

And NPR has a fascinating interview with a Harry Potter continuity editor, who admits to a mistake involving toilets.

It's funny, though, my man has been quite the unofficial continuity editor for some time. He was the one who showed me the huge then diminutive plate of nachos in "Napolean Dynamite," among other fun things.

My eyes are open now. I'm going to be watching...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Back from Bandon

Bandon was beautiful, and super fun!

We stayed in a yurt-- with bunk beds, and a heater, and everything!

Rees explored an underwater cave at negative tide. He found oodles of starfish and crabs and sculpins, and even ghost shrimp and a chiton!

There were no cell phones, no computer, just a lot of salt water and a happy little family. A great last hoo-rah. Before diving into the next revision.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Ashland Tradition

Ashland's crazy little Fourth of July was a little tamer than usual this year (there was no Naked Lady and no giant George Bush puppet).
There was, though, plenty of heat.
And a little of this:
And some of this:

And even some of this:

Of course, I am all over the parade with "Cabaret" in it:

Best ever? The cast of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," with Dominic, who was part of the show two weeks ago. Check out the monster on Coneybear's finger. Hi-larious!!!

Now, we're packing up and heading out for some camping in Bandon. Yippee!!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I'll Know I've Made It When

I get more Google hits than the Swedish bikini model with my same name.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Reform Reform

Like all other community colleges in Oregon, the one at which I teach is reorganizing its writing program. The State decided to roll three three-unit courses into two four-unit classes. Which is fine. Whatever. I'm happy to have a job in a place where the unemployment rate is 14 percent.


We have been directed to teach MLA and ALA formatting. In eleven weeks.

I'm worried that this is where at least two of 22 class meetings (10%) of my instructional time is going to go. Instead of learning how to string together a cohesive sentence, a solid paragraph, a fluid paper, our students will be learning to underline that this way, but not that way, and to use a comma this time, but not next.

MLA is dying.

I love MLA. But all those psychology journals are winning in the style department. So if MLA is on its way out, I'll be the first one to wave good-bye.

Only I can't. I have to keep it on the respirator as it draws its last breath. While no one cares.

This is educational reform at its purest: do the most you can with what little you have, and do it quickly and well.

I should know.

In sixteen years of teaching, I've already survived three reforms: the first, in Sacramento, where credentialing was changing, ESL was at the forefront, and portfolios were assessment tools; the next, in Medford, where reading and math pushed out science, and history, and where Harry Wong was king; and years later, again in Medford, where double-language arts blocks replaced developing students' electives, and textbook companies were at war over the next contract.

It's all been very different from my own education: a Catholic elementary school at which we took timed multiplication tests and had spelling bees.

This year, my kids finished with outstanding report cards. Coming out of fifth, fourth, and first grade, they can now sculpt a clay cow, identify the red-winged blackbird, and sing "Baby You Can Drive My Car."

They can't add 120 and 120, however, especially without a page-long process involving estimation and subtraction.

Multiplication is tragic, too. When Daney uses flashcards (that are actually different shapes and grid squares), she can't spit out what is 9 times 9. Instead, she rounds up, then subtracts. It takes about five minutes.

So. I'm taking it upon myself to teach these kids the basics this summer. Daney is writing out her times tables, just as I did almost three decades ago.

Dominic is doing old-school long division, the one without a huge sidebar of estimation and rounding and whatever else.

And Reesie is using phonics.

They're picking up everything! It seems easy for them, these common sense basics that have become as obsolete as MLA.

Which all makes me wonder: Why are we making things so tough these days?

Maybe we need to reform reform. Stick to the fundamentals. Give kids skills they'll need in life, for jobs, at college. There's just something to be said for quick mental math.

And I'm waiting for the pendulum to swing back around. Any minute now.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

PNWA Award Finalist!

Thank you, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, for choosing my adult short story, "Bakersfield Baptism" as a finalist in the 2009 Literary Contest.

I love the character of that story, Gracie Mae.

When I read the work to Dominic, he cried and said, "Do you have to make it that sad?"

I do, I told him: Gracie Mae is suffering badly; the readers need to feel that.

Ironically, because of Gracie Mae's suffering, today felt really good.

What I Love About Not Having Cable Anymore

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What I Miss About Not Having Cable Anymore

* The whole Bravo channel
* "Intervention"
* Watching "Deadliest Catch" and "Rescue Me" with my man
* CMT's "Top Twenty Countdown"
* Disney, for the kids, so I could get a little break

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

Here's me and the Best Poppa In The World in Tahoe last week:

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Lovely

We're back!

Tahoe was fantastic... well, most of it, anyway. The kids had a great time with different cousins at different beaches, and Dave and I did this thing we never do: relax.

Here we are at Sugar Pine Point State Park. Ahhh...

I'm not sure how many more years of jumping off the rocks at DL Bliss Dave and I have, but we managed to do it this time!

Yep, there's nothing to take one's mind of a revision like a plunge into 58 degree water.

The kids caught crawdads, counted pine cones, dug in the sand, and swam.

Now. The not-so-good? The FOOD! Terrible eats, and even worse service.

We experienced everything from menus thrown at us to forgotten toast to a long black hair in our steamed clams.

What the heck?

At El Toro Bravo in Truckee our last night, though, things finally turned around. Thank God. And Poppa.

Next year: same people, same place. We'll just bring our own food.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day Four

Is anywhere--anywhere--as amazing as Lake Tahoe?

Yesterday, Dave and I sat on the patio of Gar Woods grill, overlooking the glassy lake, and decided that this wins first place in the natural beauty category.

It doesn't matter that the weather's not perfect. This, plus the state of the economy, has seriously dwindled the number of tourists. We're all alone on sandy beaches and at resort restaurants.

There's no cell phone reception at our cabin. No Internet, either. But we're not at the withdrawl stage yet.

For two nights, we traded in Dominic and Rees for a fourteen year-old niece, and today we're getting two high school juniors.

What can we do with all these crazy teenagers? Just pack up a huge cooler and hit Sand Harbor, of course!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Off to Tahoe

School's out, the bags are packed, and we're off to Tahoe for a week!

As a kid, I spent all my summers in the Blue World, have seen its people turn from flocks of

feather-ed haired skiiers to second-homed San Jose tekkies.

Two years ago, a chunk of the south part burned. My husband and I visited that area, and I wrote a newspaper article about it.

Even with its cultural and biological changes, the Lake itself is still as lovely as ever.

Our favorite places: jumping off the granite at DL Bliss State Park, combing the white beach at Sand Harbor, and hiking to the Crown Jewel--Emerald Bay. Two other nearby lakes we like visiting are Angora and Donner.

We hike, bike, boat, and swim. We eat Lakehouse pizza in Tahoe City, and gather up groceries at Obexer's Market. Every so often, we'll go to Circus Circus in Reno for monorail rides and buffet cream puffs. We check out all the fire stations.

Sometimes we fish, but we never shop. Or see Shakespeare.

There are too many other fun things to do.

Clean air, crawdads, pine trees, and the Queen Mary: Tahoe is more than vacation for us. It's a tradition.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How Important Are Parents?

Every literary character has or has had a mom and a dad.

They can be cool and supportive like in Looking for Alaska. Or they can be negligent and mean, like in Matilda. They may even be absent, as they are in Harry Potter.

Whether absent or present, parents add depth to the central character. It would be tough to write a book about an extraordinary kid with ordinary parents. On the flip side, Matilda and Mr. Potter included, it's easier to write about an ordinary kid with extraordinary parents.

In the first draft of my MS, I didn't flush out the folks. They were one-dimensional, predictable, flat.

Now that I've added their intentions and motivation, my main character has grown. What he says and does is more understandable and believable. His actions are justified. He is deep.

How important are parents in books? As important, or even more, than they are in reality.

The End

This is it.

Right after I post this, I'm hitting the MS one more time. To clean things up, make sure it all makes sense. Triple sure.

It's funny. I had gotten hung up on conclusion. The thing I hit really hard with my writing students. And I couldn't come up with squat.

But a couple of weeks ago, I remembered the list of the only 8 or 9 kinds of conclusions in the world. And I tied a few of them together, and came up with a string of three words. A question.

And I've tried it out on a few readers, and the answer can go either way.

Even though I know the truth.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Summer "Vacation"

While signing up the kids for the Summer Reading Program at the library today, I asked Reesie (almost 8), who this was on the cover of Time. (It's a huge close-up of Michelle Obama.)

"Um, I don't know. Who?" he asked.

To get some perspective, I then pointed to People. "Do you know who they are?"

"Yeah! The Jonas Brothers!" Rees said. "Kevin, Nick, and Joe."

Oh lord.

We've got some serious work to do over the next ten weeks.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Faith, Hope, and Blueberries

I'm a day or two away from sending my revision back to an editor. I love the suggestions he had given me, even if they were pretty tough to pull off.
Here's what got me through shrinking 55,000 words down to 40K, while flushing out characters and motivation, backstory and arc:

* faith. That what he told me to do was brilliant.
* hope. That I did what I was supposed to do. That he'll like it.
* blueberries.
* long walks.
* yoga.
* days when I didn't work but when the kids were in school.
* a serious love of my character.
* a planned week in Tahoe, following re-submission.

All that. Plus some serious caffeine.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The OOMA of the Hour

The current Object Of My Affection is a woman. Her name is Kristen Wiig, and she's the best thing to happen to Saturday Night Live since the Blue Oyster Cult skit.

In this little clip, she's paired up with Tim McGraw. My Other OOMA.

Short break while I swoon for a second...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Good things about a Bad Economy

While I really feel for folks who have lost hours or jobs in this recession, I have to think there are some good things about it.

Wait, look:

Do you find yourself rinsing out baggies and water bottles so you don't have to buy new ones? Your frugality is actually helping the environment.

The same goes for turning down/off your air conditioner.

Are you buying local produce to get fresh food that doesn't use pesticides or require transportation?

Have you signed up the kids for fewer activities? While you're saving money and gas, you're also spending more family time together.

This is true, too, if you've cut cable or movie memberships.

In that vein, are your kids aware of the economic crisis? Could spur some great family discussions, and their sense of thriftiness.

So instead of the kids playing on team sports and watching TV, they're thinking and talking. And reading and finding bugs in the yard. The kinds of things kids did before...well, okay, that's a different blog.

Plus, how's your work ethic? If you were lucky enough to keep your job, you're probably working pretty darn hard. And if you're at home, it's definitely the same.

Travel's cheap, and summer's here. Maybe you've planned a trip you never could've afforded. I offer this at the risk of being hypocritcal about the gas thing. Maybe the offset is family time, education, and appreciation for other cultures.

Speaking of that compassion, do you realize that while we are in this crisis, we are still living far above the conditions of most of the rest of the world? We are lucky, yes, lucky. Is there anything we can do for the less fortunate, even when we have less ourselves?

And education, incredible! The country is going back to school. My community college's predicted enrollment for fall? 150 percent increase!!!

I know times are tough. Believe me. This family hasn't been untouched by the recession.

But while money's been tight, there's been an opportunity to re-evaluate priorities, right?

We can choose to be worried and frustrated and anxious and angry. Or we can make the most of what we can for our families, the environment, and the world.