Sunday, February 28, 2010

Getting Published in Elkton

If paper scraps (or M&Ms) are flying, and fingers are sticky with glue (or Jelly Bellies), it has to be Stamp Camp.

For my second scrap-booking adventure in three (quick) years, I packed up my pictures, albums, and two of my best girls--ten year-old, Daney, and Auntie Jeannie--and we headed north on I-5 to a tiny agricultural town called Elkton.

Elkton has some of the mossiest pines, the cleanest air, and the most talented scrap-bookers in the west. My aunt, Mary, is one of the best of the best. And let me tell you, she can race a person across a gym like nobody's business.

Mary and her friends gather where the best punch-outs and dye-cuts are: in Elkton, in Portland, or even in Japan. They have sleek scrap-booking luggage with complicated tools inside, and some serious paper magic happens when these girls snip and slice and emboss and bling.

So it took me three hours to put together a page of Lego Land that turned out to be maybe a C-. These girls aren't there to judge.

They're there to talk about past conference and future conferences, and whether it will be a bumper-crop year for blueberries. They come to get in a good giggle, and to oogle over each other's door prizes, and to stuff themselves silly with Red Ropes. Oh, and they come to preserve a family memory or two.

Who wouldn't want an invitation to all that?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fun Food

My friend Kim and I went to our first cooking class last night. We're lucky to live in Ashland, where our Co-op has all kinds of classes, and where the shelves are filled with local beef, bread, dairy, and produce.

Joel Salatin from Polyface Farms in Virginia, who was featured in "Food, Inc." and in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, was just here, too!

The class Mary Shaw taught was insightful -- and delicious!

Kim and I feasted on carrot/parsley/poppy seed/sunflower salad, tamari almonds,and kale and French lentil salad.

Here are my favorite tips:

* The biggest sellers at the Co-op are consistently Fugi apples, bananas, avocados and almonds.

* The biggest frozen food seller? Blueberries, by far.

* Red wine vinegar is $5.50 a pound by the bottle, $.77 by bulk.

* To get more calcium from nuts, roast them lightly first.

* Lentils are high in fiber, iron, and folates (which regenerate tissue).

* Acid aids calcium availability in greens; Add lemon or vinegar as dressing.

* Federal stimulus money for creating poultry processing plants is available -- and Ashland is snatching it up!

* And my favorite? The best oatmeal raisin cookie recipe ever comes from The Joy of Cooking.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just One Word

I realize I've come up with some long and crazy blogs lately.

So for today, here's just one word.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Up and Cumming

It started with "Circle of Friends," the 1995 Irish movie of Maeve Binchy's novel. We all loved Benny, right? Minnie Driver's frumpy yet lovable character.

Even better than Benny was her vexxing suitor, Sean Walsh, played by (sigh) Alan Cumming.

I. Was. Smitten.

A couple years later, Dave told me he wanted to get me tickets to the Sacramento production of "Cabaret."

"There are all kinds of people dancing around in their underwear," he said. "I saw the commercial on TV. You'd love it."

I didn't think I would. So I declined. Besides, I hadn't left my newborn yet.

But when I saw the commercial for myself--with Alan Cumming kick-lining in a white tank top and suspenders--I speed-dialed Dave at work. "You have to get me those tickets!" I told him. (This wasn't the only time Dave has been right; he's nailed it with me and Alicia Keys, and CMT Crossroads' Def Leppard + Taylor Swift, and March Madness' "One Shining Moment.")

I didn't sleep the whole night after my sister, Erika, and I watched the three-hour production. I stayed awake thinking about the story, and the actors, and the costumes. I hummed the songs and contemplated the lyrics.

The next night, I went again. With Dave.

Alan Cumming, unfortunately, wasn't in either production.

But he had won the Tony for his Broadway performance. My first ever Amazon purchase was his cast recording of the musical. I had all his tracks memorized within the day.

The Great Scot has proven to be a better actor than he is writer. I lost a little love over him for penning Tommy's Tale, but Cumming redeemed himself with a powerful guest role on Showtime's "The L Word."

For Cumming at his androgynous best, check out this "L Word" clip. "Changes" refers to Pam Grier's menopause. You'll know (and love) Cumming when you see him.

Friday, February 19, 2010

One-Fourth of a Whole (Lot of Crazy)

It's not the best picture of us. But we're all there, almost, except for Amy, who was hiking.

In the background, you can see the hutch where Steven (in the light blue shirt) keeps his clay.


I've been revising this short little memoir about my dad. It's my first time in this genre, and my dad is such a fascinating character, I thought I'd try it with him at the center.

Because there are eight of us kids, though, that's way too many secondary characters, especially for a short piece. Out of the eight, then, I picked two.

One of the siblings I'm including is Amy, my sister who comes right after me (I'm the first). She is strong yet vulnerable, and I've always been interested in her explosive interactions with our dad. At seven, Amy went through a phase of dumping her dinner milk on my dad's head every night. And he took it from her! He laughed over it -- all one hundred times!

Amy is absolutely gorgeous, and dresses impeccably. Her interior design skills are topped only by her culinary wonders. In some ways, she is my dad's opposite. And yet, the two share the same fundamentals; both work for the same county in law enforcement, they've both kept their faith, they are both ambitious.

In this memoir is Amy's engagement party on a dock on Lake Tahoe. It was Greek-style, and we were all wearing white. Except for our dad, in his orange and brown Hawaiian shirt.

Through Amy, I could show that my dad likes to keep his kitchen complete. He never lets up about the mixer dough-hook that went missing a decade ago. Like the San Francisco Fire House Cookbook. Like my mom's best recipes.

Through Amy, I could show my dad's frustration and compassion. And his acceptance.

On the other hand, Dad has been trying to straighten out Steven for 26 years.

Steven is like the family cat, or Sea Monkey. We never know what he's going to do, but it's always fun to watch. Steven lives in Portland with his girlfriend two deaf cats, and sells insurance, and crafts papier mache skeletons in skeleton costumes in his spare time. My boys love Steven for his elaborate Lego creations. And over the years, he's filled my dad's kitchen hutch with all kinds of clay people: a businessman, a skeleton, Darth Vader.

When I left for college in San Francisco, Steven was heading to kindergarten. He and I stood on the front porch, crying, and he told me he was worried about his big step. Because he didn't "know how to know things."

When he could barely talk, Steven asked how ants can eat, if they don't have fingers.

On his second grade homework of fill-in-the-blank adages, he wrote "A rolling stone gathers no .... FANS."

If a tool is missing at my dad's house, it's because Steven took it. If the house is loud, it's because his friends are playing "Rock Band" tournaments.

Steven has pushed and continues to push our dad's patience to the limit.

I use him in the memoir, not only because anyone who knows him (and everyone knows him), could see how much color he adds, but because of what he brings out in my dad. Through Steven, I can show my dad's blood boil, but also his tender side that comes from Steven's purity, love, and hilarity.

There are five other characters, and I mean characters, that I wish I could use in this piece. It seems untrue to me without them.

But they are for another chapter: their tattoos and straight As, their obsession with the 49ers, their love of justice, their slovenliness and cleaning compulsions, their husbands and wives and daughters,their time in jail or law school.

We are all really different, but we all love our dad, and we all love each other, and when we're together, it's magic.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Critical Writing

My generous and talented writing partner, Anjie, made me borrow a nice thick textbook the other day. It's called The Fourth Genre, by Robert Root, Jr. and Michael Steinberg, and defines and presents creative nonfiction.

Because the book has a boring cover and 473 pages, it took me a while to crack it.

But when I did, I blew through almost the whole thing in one night.

This new market I've been trying out, adult memoir, is tricky; adult readers seem to demand better construction, unpredictable organization, deeper content.

"The Masked Marvel's Last Toe Hold," by Doctor Richard Selzer, is a stunning example of parallelism, of metaphor, of finding mature meaning from a childhood event. This essay reminds me of "The Wrestler," in which Mickey Rourke plays a veteran athlete who struggles with identity as he ages.

Then there's Pico Iyer's "Where Worlds Collide," an analysis of LAX.

Richard Rodriguez's "Late Victorians" is also about a place: San Francisco, where the social agenda is transformed, but where physicality stays the same.

If you don't have time to read these short short stories, here are the best tips I gleamed from reading the book.

1) Overall, it appears that pure essayists are a dying breed; most essayists now hail from other media (journalism, fiction).

2) Make a list of all the topics you'd never write about. Then write about one of those topics.

3) Time change can be accomplished through changes in landscape, biography, and commentary.

4) A memoir is a quilt of one's favorite memories. It is the writer's perspective on history, and when written, it changes the past and sets it in stone.

5) Writing critically communicates with the reader, challenges her to consider plural perspectives, while being courted.

5) "The true rewards [of writing] are internal--the satisfaction of asking your own questions and finding your own answers" (Root and Steinberg, 1985, p. 357).

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Monster

The first time I saw the effects of methamphetamine was in the middle school where I taught Language Arts. A parent struggled to sit still in a desk as I went over the state writing benchmarks. Clearly, her twitching showed that something was wrong. It went beyond multiple sclerosis: it was too spastic, and in addition the woman's sunken jaw, there was a wild helplessness in her wide eyes.

That was 1998.

Since then, I have seen this look over and over. In my classroom, at gas stations, on the street.

I've had students who have used the stimulant, abused it, and sold it. They've been in jail. Their parents have been in jail. They've been taken away by the court. They've had their children taken from them.

Meth is easy to get, they tell me. It's easy to make.

It's also easy to get hooked on.

After one use, the overwhelming majority them have become hopelessly addicted.

Meth brings its users' dopamine levels down to near-zero; the brain craves more of the chemical to be brought (artificially) back up.

The high makes the users feel powerful, productive, invincible. Though they'll never get back the intensity of that first high, they'll spend a chunk of their futures chasing it.

Medford is so saturated with the drug, it's called Meth-ford. And I teach right in the heart of it. Given all the evils of meth, it's no wonder I hate it.

What kills me even more than the tweakers (users who've been high for days without sleeping) are my students who can't get off it. Even if they really want to. Even if they've been clean for five years.

Meth's physical effects--sallow skin, lesions, dental problems, weight loss, thinning hair--are nothing compared to the neurological, social, and economic ravaging.

Ellen Hopkins crafted a courageous YA bestseller, Crank, capturing the insidiousness of the monster. Ellen's honesty about her daughter's struggle is shocking but real.

Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff, is meth heartbreak from a father's perspective. Nick, his son, retaliates with his harrowing own version, Tweak.

National Geographic has documented an excellent video "The World's Most Dangerous Drug."

I've tried to educate myself on meth because it's so scary and, unfortunately, increasingly prevalent.

I can't guess how much of my community college population is on meth. But it's a lot.

I'm inspired by the ones who face their monster, who talk about it, who write about it. Female, male, in their teens or fifties, in college for their first or fifteenth time, they all have one thing in common.

They wish they'd never done it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Passing Some Sugar

Thank you, Shannon O'Donnell at Book Dreams, for giving me this delicious award! I told Shannon I loved dolls when I was a girl, and I still love sugar, so this is perfect!

In the tradition of passing on the award, I give it (back) to Shannon, who is inspiring, and impossibly funny to imagine sitting at her desk in her class room!

Next, I pass on some sugar to my writing partner, Anjie Reynolds, who is clever, insightful, and wise, and who is writing a really exciting novel.

Third, here's to Kjersten Hayes at Collage Clips, whose artwork makes my heart sing.

Of course I have to give some love to my brother, Steven, at Sell Me. Check it out to see exactly how big a sucker he is for advertising.

My brother-in-law, Ryan, makes The World's Best Eggplant Parmigiana. It's so good, he's rightfully named his blog after it. I'm hoping he and my sister conceive soon, and name their daughter EggParm, too.

Then there's Christy at Juvenescence. Her book, Prophecy of Days will be released next month!

Finally, the Sugar Doll award goes to my dad, who has yet to begin a blog. Everyone is waiting for it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Greatest Love

This is a post from 12/2008, but it's as true as ever today:

The first time I saw my husband, he was freckled and angular, with awkward elbows and twiggy legs, definitely not the hottest eight year-old on the swim team. There was something about him, though, so I asked him to join my friends and me in a water-balloon fight. He declined, coming up with some excuse about basketball practice.

Ten years later, on the pool deck, Dave asked me out. Most of his freckles had disappeared, his jaw had become even more strong and square, and his elbows seemed a lot less pointy. When he picked me up at my parents' house, his hair was plastered to the side of his forehead, and he smelled like Irish Spring soap. Clean.

That date--some crime-comedy, then French fries at Denny's--was maybe the worst I had ever been on. But when Dave drove back home really slowly, and kissed my cheek, that's when I fell for him. He was quiet, but sincere, and he had great hands.

We married young. It was a magical evening in September at a B&B in the mountains. People came and ate and danced, but they didn't think we were going to make it: I was in college, Dave was killing himself in construction during a recession, and we lived off dehydrated potatoes.

It was enough for us, though. After we both got through school, we moved to Oregon.

Last spring, we had a romantic little dinner at Cucina Biazzi. We had been only once, eleven years before. If our server had told us then that the next time we returned, we would have traveled the continent with our three kids, would have lost both of our moms to cancer, and would be a firefighter and college instructor, we never would have believed it.

Ours is a life built on nothing but love. It shouldn't have worked, really. Dave and I are different political parties, different spiritualities, and have different interests.

But the fundamentals are there: Dave provides stability, and I provide what he calls "the entertainment."

After slinging drywall mud all over town, putting out fires, and resuscitating stroke victims, Dave comes home to rescue me from the kids, from the cooking, from myself.

And when, like last night at his annual firefighting Christmas dinner, when he looks so good, with his sparkly eyes and his smooth head and the pink shirt he's not afraid to wear, when he stays by my side as I flutter around the room, when he whispers to me at the table, I fall in love all over again.

His station brothers ask me to spill the secrets they're sure he has. They tell me how much they respect him. He is the kind of man that men want to be, and the kind of man that women want to be with.

At this point, I can almost totally forgive Dave for leaving me standing in my green and gold bathing suit in the park thirty years ago, my arms filled with water balloons.

He holds my hand, and I'm the luckiest girl in the world.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Just Baby

"How is Rees going to survive when I go to middle school next year?" Daney asked me the other day. "He can't even tie his shoes."

Before Dave and I got married, his mom gave me a book. It was about birth order, by Kevin Leman.

As I read it, I understood why she had given it to me. It was basically her way of telling me that Dave was the baby of the family, that he had inherent flaws because of it, that it wasn't his fault, and how to handle him.

Because I was a firstborn (of 8!), Dave and I were destined to be a perfect match.
Firstborns and firstborns was deadly, babies and babies: disaster.

That book has made a huge impact on me. I've been able to tell when my students-- from first grade through seventh, and even in community college--are, especially, babies.

Since I'm a firstborn, I'm fascinated by the baby: carefree, disorganized, social, and funny. My dad is a baby, as is my brother, Mackie, and my aunt, Jeanne.

My friend, Karlee, and I frequently dismiss the folly and flops of our youngests as excusable. Since Reesie and Derek are babies, and all.

The thing about babies is that they will always be babies.

They never have to grow up.

This is the exact opposite of firstborns; we came into the world with rules and lists and stop watches.

In my boy book, my character is a firstborn. He has to be. Not only is there external pressure for him to succeed, but there's internal pressure, too.

That wouldn't happen with the baby of a family.

But, in Carolyn Mackler's The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, the narrator, Virginia, couldn't be anything but the baby.

The baby is always competing. For attention, for love, for the last of the fresh-pressed apple juice.

In essence, the baby will never learn, because he doesn't have to--someone else will do it for him--how to tie his shoes.

What is the birth order of your character?

How does this define and motivate him?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Adolescent Boy: A Case (Study)

We're coming into a new era, Dave and I, with Dominic, who's taller than me now, at 12. He's beginning to play Red Hot Chili Peppers' songs on his electric guitar maybe more than he plays Legoes. He has a size ten shoe, follows up his second dinner with a box of cereal and some potato chips, and is really hard to rouse in the mornings.

His two new pairs of 32x32 jeans already have holes in the knees. If tackle football does that to his pants, I cringe at what it's doing to his bones.

Instead of the ways I used to support him: helping his first grade class with reading groups, taking him to the bike jumps, I'm finding myself washing his bedding more frequently, opening his curtains and window. Lysol has become a staple on the shopping list.

A few weeks ago, around 11, the house was silent and mostly dark, when Dave noticed the light on in Dominic's room. "Dom! What are you doing?" Dave called down the hallway.

"BOOK!" Dominic called back.

Dave and I cracked up. "Oh," Dave said. "You mean, you're reading?"

We get a lot of monosyllabic answers and demands. It reminds me of Dominic's toddlerhood, when he'd point his chubby finger at something.

Still, the delayed response can get a bit frustrating. We know he's trying, though.

"Dominic, do you have any whites in your room?" I had asked.

Five minutes later, my boy replied cheerfully, "Sorry, Mommy. Sorry for the delayed response. Yes, I am kind of hungry."

The whole family is finding great humor in Dominic's new personality. He laughs even more at himself than we laugh at him, and I really love that about my boy.

A few days ago, he and I were laying side by side, when he told me he got in trouble with his teacher.

This was new.

It seems that his class was supposed to be getting in line, when, for no apparent reason Dominic suddenly shimmied up the goal post.

When I asked why he thought that might have happened, he told me that he was trying to impress a girl in his class.

"Well, was she?" I asked. "Impressed?"

After he told me he didn't even know, I advised him that this wasn't the first time a boy had done something a little dumb to impress a girl. "The thing is," I said. "Girls mostly like boys who don't act like monkeys and climb all over stuff."

"I think we're less evolved," Dominic said then.

"That might be true," I told him. "But that you know it at least puts you ahead of the rest."

We had a good giggle, my boy and me.