Sunday, October 16, 2011

Brain Food

video
They say that food aides in learning... Well, we OBVIOUSLY have a genius on our hands. :)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Amanda Knox


I watched the Lifetime Movie about the Amanda Knox case several months ago, so obviously I'm an expert on the subject. Will she be found guilty? It sounds like it could go either way, which is one of the reasons why this is so fascinating. Other reasons that it's fascinating include:
  • A pretty, innocent-looking girl has been accused of murder. Is she guilty, or is she a victim? Not knowing the answer to this question creates a real-life cliffhanger.
  • It happened in Italy, where the justice system is completely different from ours. That sort of makes you feel like this could happen to you. One day you're travelling abroad, the next day - boom! You're in prison for life.
  • Nothing is as it seems. For every "fact" about this case there is a question, and appearances are obviously deceptive. Nobody knows what to believe.
I am a pretty honest person; I'm actually a little too honest. I have a hard time concealing my emotions or pretending to think something that I don't. This can be a hinderence, and it also tends to make me believe other people are honest as well. I have a lot of students who look as innocent Amanda Knox does, and when they tell me stories about why their paper isn't finished, or why they need a pass down to the office, or why this assignment that they KNOW they turned in isn't in my gradebook, I'm probably a little too quick to believe them.

I guess I want to believe them.

And I want to believe Amanda Knox. It's sad that a girl got murdered. But it's also sad to think that somebody who is innocent is being punished for it, possibly for the rest of her life.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Book Review - More Than You Know


More Than You Know, by Beth Gutcheon, is both a love story and a ghost story. The novel starts with this simple statement: "Somebody said, 'True love is like ghosts, which everybody talks about and few have seen.' I've seen both, and I don't know how to tell you which is worse."

This book has been out for quite a while. I discovered it last week at the library on a "staff favortites" shelf. I had never read anything by Beth Gutcheon, but I will definitely read more by her now! Her book was haunting, sweet and sad, riveting, and profound. It's pretty rare to find a novel you can assign all of those qualities to, but this one definitely qualifies.

The story switches back and forth. Most of the novel is told in the first person by narrarator Hanah, an old woman who is remembering her days as a young girl. She recalls the summer she turned eighteen. This summer has shaped all the rest of her days, because during this time she was both haunted by a ghost, and she fell in love with the town badboy, Conary Crocker. The two events become extremely intertwined, and they eventually lead to shocking and tragic consequences.

Part of the novel is also told in the third person, and it relays a story about Claris, a woman who marries a loner and comes to deeply regret it. Claris' life is extremely unhappy, and through the chapters that focus on her, the reader slowly comes to understand why a ghost is haunting Hannah so many years after Claris has died.

Beth Gutcheon doesn't shy away from describing the horrific, nor does she hesitate to include truly sad events in this novel. Sometimes it can be hard to get through for that reason, but there is also a lot of beauty to this book. It will leave you a lot to think about as well. Most of all, it's very hard to put down! The switching back and forth between subplots creates a lot of suspense, and Hannah is a very likeable character who I couldn't help but root for. Claris isn't so likeable, but I wound up feeling sorry for her nonetheless.

If you're looking for a creepy yet touching love story give this a try. It's perfect for this time of year!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Final Caterpillar Countdown

The story I'm about to relay actually happened last Tuesday, but I'm only getting around to telling it now. It's not the ending to the caterpillar saga that I would have preferred, but it's what happened. And it's very bittersweet.

On Tuesday afternoon Eli went over to check on the caterpillar and said, "Hey Mom, he's turned into a butterfly!"

I went to go see, and was horrified to find the caterpillar/butterfly half-outside of its chrysalis, lying on the bottom of the jar. I told Eli that it looked dead.

Eli instantly burst into tears. "Why?!" he yelled. "What did I do wrong? Why did he have to die?"

I held him and tried to console him, but he was not to be consoled. Soon Rich was home, and we gave Eli a banana, turned on Phineas and Ferb,  and Eli and Rich sat down to watch and cuddle on the couch. I took out the caterpillar to bury him in the backyard.

Except, when I dumped him out he started wiggling around. I immediately scooped him back into the jar and ran back inside.

 "He's still alive!" I yelled.

Eli jumped off the couch and immediately came over to inspect the caterpillar/butterfly, which was still wiggling. His mood instantly changed. "Dad, he's moving. He's alive!!"

Rich checked too, and came to the conclusion that the caterpillar/butterfly was struggling to get out of its chrysalis. "I'm going to take him outside Eli, and give him some fresh air. You go back to your show."

Moments later Rich came back inside and found me in the kitchen. "I tried to get it out of its chrysalis, but I couldn't help it," he said. "And I don't want Eli to watch it die a slow death. So I dumped it where he won't see it."

Then he went back into the living room and spoke to Eli. "I'm hoping the fresh air will help him," Rich told Eli. "I left the jar off the lid so he can get lots of air. He might fly away, but at least we'll know he's okay."

After Phineas and Ferb was over Eli went outside to check. He came running back in, yelling in excitement. "He's gone! He flew away! Isn't that great?"

We agreed with Eli that it really was great. And in a way, it is. Because Rich and I have a wonderful boy with such a generous spirit that he didn't care at all that he didn't ever get the see the butterfly emerge from its cocoon. He just wanted it to be okay.

The next day Eli drew this picture of himself and the butterfly. I think it' s beautiful.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Caterpillar Countdown day 5

Not much happened the last few days. The one caterpillar has been in chrsyalis, and the other was taking his time. Then last night, unfortunately, the other caterpillar just stopped moving around. We had to break it to Eli that he had died. Eli's response was, "Awhh..."

So it wasn't too dramatic. But when Rich opened up the container to get the dead caterpillar out, the other caterpillar started shaking in his chrysalis. We're hoping he's okay. Also, it looks like he (the caterpillar, not Rich) ripped his own head off, because a black, head-like blob is sitting by the chrysalis. Eli said that what's supposed to happen. He's usually right about this stuff.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back to School / At Your Inservice


I'm a teacher, and if you gave me an hour I could totally fill it with complaints about how the public education system is broken. But there's one thing I can't complain about:

Getting the summer off is AWESOME!

 Every middle of June through the end of August I get time with my kids, time to write, and  time to stay up in the evening with my husband because I don't have to worry about going to bed early enough to face a classroom full of surly teenagers the next day... it's so, so, wonderful.

But then the summer ends and my life returns to normal. Is normal so bad? No, not really. But returning to normal can be. Before school starts most teachers have a week of "inservice." In theory this is a great idea, because teachers receive the chance to prepare for the coming semester and to talk amongst each other and refine their craft. But it doesn't always work out that way...

Monday:
I had already been to school twice the prior week to get my classroom ready and prepare. So I wasn't too bothered by the idea of being in a workshop all day to learn about Avid teaching techniques, which is the latest attempt by my school district to improve student performance.
The techniques themselves are pretty cool, our instructor was great, and it was fun to catch up with all the friends I hadn't seen since June. All in all, not a bad day. Plus, we had a whole hour for lunch, which never happens during a normal school day.

Tuesday:
Another full day of Avid training, only now the adreniline rush of being back was gone, and I was anxious to start working on lesson plans, make copies, and talk with the principal about our new hires for the year. Being stuck in a classroom all day felt frustrating (probably how my students often feel.)

Wednesday:
I got to school early so I could make copies. Miracle of miracles, the machine actually worked and there wasn't a line! Making copies at the beginning of the school year is quite the task, especially if you have over 150 students, and several packets or worksheets to copy for each class. Add to that the frustration of a long line or the machine breaking down, which happens more often than not, and making copies can take well over an hour. I was out of the copy room in thirty minutes. Triumph!

After checking in with one of our new teachers and making some phone calls I went down to the district convocation, where we spent two hours hearing about all the wonderful accomplishments our district is achieving. After that was lunch. In the afternoon I had to attend a two hour meeting about tenured teacher evaluations. Don't ask me what was said because I've honestly blocked it all out. Then I met with the principal, because I was desperate to get some answers about staffing and scheduling.

At the end of the day I still hadn't had any time to work in my classroom.

Thursday:
We started the day with a three hour staff meeting, where subjects like the new student handbook, hall pass systems, food in the classroom, state test scores, and parent communication were discussed.
Then we had lunch.
Then - gasp! - we had time to work in our classrooms!
I put together some cardboard shelves (bought with my own money) and I was working on a homework agenda system when my phone range. It was the school secretary, telling me that our second new English teacher's background check had cleared, and she was on her way to start working. So I put aside what I was doing so I could show her around.
After getting her acclimated and introducing her to the other English teachers (all of whom helped get her set up) I returned to my classroom to find that the curriculum for the new ACT Prep class had arrived. This is a class I've never taught, and being faced with mountains of reading felt like a mixed blessing.

Friday:
We had all day to work in our classrooms! I spent a large part of the morning trying to find information about the logistics of a college level writing class that one of our new teachers is teaching and..blah, blah, blah. Let me just say that everything took longer than it should have.

But by 3:00 my syllabi were typed, printed and ready, my seating charts were done, and my first day power points were reviewed. All that needed to be done was to check my ceiling proxima - which is like a projector - and I'd be all set.
Only my proxima didn't work. That meant that I couldn't show my powerpoints, and if I want to show movies in my film studies class, I'd be out of luck.
I put in a work order, called down to the tech department, but I heard nothing.
So I said something to the vice principal, and he said, "Oh, don't worry. All the proximas will be fixed between September 19th and October 4th."
After a stunned moment of silence I replied, "I teach film studies. I can't wait that long."
He said he'd do something about it, walked out, and I made alternative plans using an overhead projector for the first couple of days.


I checked one more time that everything was ready, grabbed my ACT Prep materials, including a practice test that I'm planning to take over the weekend, and headed home.

So yes, returning to school can be rough. Every year there are obstacles to overcome, and some years there are more than others. The next time your child has a day off from school because of a teachers' inservice day, and you find yourself wondering what the teachers do with that time, just remember - the teachers are probably wondering the same thing!

Epilogue -
School started on the 6th, and my classes went well. Also, my friend/fellow English teacher Jill fixed my proxima. Film Studies lives on!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Caterpillar Countdown day 2

This morning Eli got out of bed without being woken up by Rich or me, which is rare on a school day. Bleary eyed and still half-asleep, his first words were, "Can I see the caterpillars?"

(Usually his first request is to watch television. Arthur is on.)

Anyway, we checked out the caterpillars. One was still up on the roof of the jar. The other was  crawling around the jar. This afternoon when we got home from school we checked them right away, and the one on the roof is now dangling and looking very blob-like. The other is still crawling around. My pictures don't really capture it, but I tried.

That's the blog-like one on the roof.

And this is the one who is crawling around.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Caterpillar Countdown - Day 1

Yesterday Eli and I went to the state fair and of course we stopped at the butterfly house. So we bought one of those containers with two caterpillars that are soon to turn into a chrysalis. They ate all night (and pooped all night too) and now it looks like they're getting ready. I'm going to try and capture their progress.

It's not a great photo, but the little guy has been crawling around, and it seems like he's attempting to join his buddy on the top, where most likely they'll hang out while they're in chrysalis

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Review - Divergent, by Veronica Roth

In Divergent, by Veronica Roth, Chicago has been overrun by war and conflict, and five factions have been formed: Amity (the peaceful), Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), and Dauntless (the brave). When you're sixteeen you are given a test to see which faction you belong in. Still, if you want, you can choose whichever faction you prefer. The choice is yours.

But there's a catch: Once you choose, that's it. If your family is in a different faction, too bad. You can see them on visiting day, but your life is now about the faction you live in. And first you have to train and take some really awful tests to be accepted by this faction. If you fail you wind up factionless, which is a fate worse than death.

The main character, Beatrice, picks Dauntless rather than sticking with Abnegation, which is what her parents belong to and where she's been raised. But a whole host of other problems present themselves, including the knowledge that Beatrice is "divergent" - meaning she doesn't just belong in one faction. I won't tell you why that's a problem (it would ruin the story) - but believe me, it's a really big problem.

So, I loved this book. It had great suspense, and it was original and fun. If you liked The Hunger Games then you will like this too. I did spend a lot of time trying to figure out which faction I would be in. Where's the faction for sarcasm and love of fiction? I thought maybe I'd go for Amity, because that's the only faction that seems to value art and creativity, but what if it's full of perky, Trader Joe's type people who judge you for your cynicism? That would suck.

Anway, I picked this up because as an English teacher, I wanted something new to read to my 10th graders at the top of each hour. This seemed like a good choice because the chapters are short, the suspense is high, and it will appeal to both males and females. I wasn't disappointed, and I can't wait to read it to my students. There are tons of discussions we can have about society, personal repsonsibility, and identity, which are all themes in this book. I highly reccomend it for any age. It's just that good.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Book Review - The Summer of Skinny Dipping by Amanda Howells


I think I'm too old for this book.
I loved it most of the way through. I thought Howells did an excellent job of creating a story that centers around summer life in the Hamptons. Mia, the main character, is an outsider, and we see the enviroment through her her eyes. Mia has to navigate a world where the kids are already jaded and way too experienced, while her family is hiding secrets and nothing is as it seems.

Then she meets Simon, and her summer starts to go a lot better.

What I loved about this book is it couldn't have taken place anywhere else. The Hamptons was as big a character in the story as Mia was, and reading it made me feel, and wish, that I was there. I also loved all the allusions to The Great Gatsby. That was neat.

But the ending was a little to dramatic for me. However, if I had read the book as a teen I probably would have loved it, because part of being a teenager is having everything feel heightened. And teens are the intended audience, after all.

One thing did surprise me... there were several typos and errors in formatting. I mention this only because it's not a indie book; this book benefitted from a professional editor. I feel like indie books are constantly being criticized for this type of thing, yet it can happen with big-time publisher books too. It wasn't a big deal, though.

Anyway, I recommend this if you're looking for a satifying, end-of-summer read. But if you're not a teenager, you might feel pretty old by the time you finish it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I'm not friends with Tim Pawlenty or Michele Bachmann, and I'm from Minnesota

The summer has gone by so fast. Pretty soon school will start back up, and it will be time for Eli to start first grade, me to resume teaching high school, and Pauline to go back to daycare. Life is tough.

If you don't believe me, just ask Tim Pawlenty.

Poor Tim. He really thought he had a shot, until Michele Bachmann came in and stole his thunder. I guess two presidential candidates from Minnesota is one too many. (It's actually two too many if you ask me, but nobody has...)

I'm just curious if his lack of success has more to do with his personality than with his message. I know the Tea Pary is a big deal right now, and I get that's why Michele Bachmann is gaining popularity. But that's not the only reason. Obviously. It's also about personality. Think about what sort of friend Michele Bachmann would be.

 I believe there are three types of friends. There are the compelling, fun kind who are sort of undpredictable and a little unstable. They are fun to be around because you never know what will happen next. This is the Michele Bachmann type of friend. Even though she might lie to your face about her plans for the weekend (the party she didn't invite you to or the guy she's stealing from under your nose), when she's fun she's a lot of fun, so you put up with her.

Then there's the stable, nice guy type of friend. He's the guy who will mow your lawn when you're out of town, but you sort of don't want him because then you'll be obligated to invite him over for a beer, and what will talk about? Tim Pawlenty is obviously this type of friend - heck, he offered to come over and mow the lawns of anyone who could find flaws with his budget plan, or something like that. But nobody wants to have a beer with Tim Pawlenty. Poor Tim Pawlenty.

The third type of friend, which is much more rare, is the type who is both compelling and reliable, fun and sane all at once. These people are hard to find, especially when they're political candidates. But we know this already.

I guess in the political arena, Minnesota nice is a handicap.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Review/Bargain Ebook - Annie Begins

I'll admit it; I found Annie Begins, by Michelle Toth, when I was checking my own sales rankings on Amazon. I guess customers who bought my books also bought hers. (Only, as her sales rankings would suggest, more people have bought her book.) I thought the cover was eye-catching. I thought the description sounded intriguing, it got great reviews, but most of all, I was excited to read some intelligent women's fiction by an independent author.
Annie Begins takes place in the mid-nineties during the dawn of the internet age. Annie and her best friend/boss, Stephen, are starting up a business called GoodMatch.com, a pioneer in the internet dating scene. However, Annie is no expert on dating. Her biggest source of action is from her newly divorced crush, Paul, who doesn't seem interested in being much more than friends. As Annie pines away for Paul, her young cousin April, who is gravely ill with cancer, decides that a family friend named Eddie is her perfect match. Annie has to decide how to follow her heart and follow her instincts, and ask for what she needs.

I thought this book was very well done. Annie is a truly likeable, yet flawed character who I rooted for the entire way through. Michelle Toth has a great handle on both dialogue and description, which I think is rare. Usually it seems authors are good at one or the other. In addition, she's either from an internet background or she's incredibly well-researched. The matchmaking internet business subplot was really interesting.

I also thought Toth was rather brave in her writing. There were some heart-breaking scenes, both with Annie's sick cousin April and with the awkward mistakes Annie makes with Paul. She didn't shy away from these scenes, and they were quite powerful.

The one criticism I have is there was a lot of explanation about Annie's emotions - a little too much, I thought. There was enough action and dialogue that I felt I could have inferred Annie's emotions without all that.

But overall, it was a great read and I recommend it. And it's only $2.99 on Amazon!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Survivors by Amanda Howard - Bargain Ebook

The Survivors
This is another one to add to my ever-expanding to-be-read pile. It sounds like it has hints of the Hunger Games combined with some paranormal elements as well, but in a very unique way. Plus, it's based off of the Salem Witch Trials, which is a subject I find fascinating!
It has several five star reviews on Amazon, and right now it's only $2.99! The link is up top, in blue.


Product Description:

In 1692, when witch trials gripped the community of Salem, Massachusetts, twenty-six children were accused as witches, exiled, and left for dead. Fourteen of them survived.




The Survivors is the first installment of the tantalizing tales of the fourteen ill-fated Survivors and their descendants, who have been content in hiding for over three centuries. Isolated on a Montana mountainside, only Sadie, the rogue daughter, dares to abandon the family’s sacred hiding place. But no matter how far Sadie runs, something always pulls her back.



On a muggy summer night in Tennessee, she witnesses a shocking scene that will change her life forever. It is the first in a sequence of events that will drag her from the human world she’s sought to belong to for over a century and send her back to her Puritanical family and into an uncertain future filled with cunning witches, mysterious nosferatu shape-shifters, dangerous eretica and vieczy vampires, millennia-old mythology, and the search for her own mortality. After all…



HOW DO YOU KILL A SURVIVOR?



The Survivors will steal your heart and invade your mind. Fall into the pages of Sadie’s life, a world so frighteningly similar to your own, you’ll find yourself wanting to go to the Montana mountains to find the Survivors for yourself.



And it is only the beginning.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Department of Lost and Found



I just found this bargain kindle book for only $1.99. What a deal! I've been wanting to read Allison Winn Scotch for a while, and this book looks great. It's about a senator's aide (I love politics as a subplot) who discovers she has breast cancer. That prompts her to go back and interview past boyfriends so she can figure out mistakes she's made and get her life on track.

The inexpensive price may not last, so I'd buy it now if you're interested!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Eli Potter and the Dragonfly Dog

This weekend we drove to my dad and step-mom's house on Plum Lake, in Wisconsin. There was no television nor internet, so one thing we did to entertain him was read him the first Harry Potter book.
He LOVED it. So much, that he immediately decided that he's no longer an alien, but a wizard instead. This is a big deal, because he's been an alien for well over a year now.
Anyway, when we weren't reading to him, Rich took Eli into the woods for a walk, and Eli wanted to gather sticks and leaves to make some potions. Rich told him that if he found some dragonfly wings that those are super magical. Rich didn't think there was any danger of Eli actually finding dragonfly wings. But he was wrong.

That evening Eli found a dead dragonfly and plucked off his wings. Immediately he put together a potion and cast a spell to produce what he's always wanted: a dog.
He told us the dog would arrive within the next twenty-four hours.
We all laughed it off.
So the next evening we're going for a walk, and a guy drives up in a truck and says, "Did you guys lose a dog? There's one walking around in the campground over there."

Eli was convinced it was his dog. We had to explain about a million different ways why we couldn't take it home with us.

When he finally accepted our answer, he started campaigning for a hamster instead.

If he's as good at magic as he seems to be, he just might get one.


Eli at the 4th of July Parade, holding out his candy bag

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Black Widow and Mean Girls in Fiction

Blog Gang - Spiders



There are so many types of spiders, and people  have such strong reactions to them. But I can think of only one type of spider that has served as inspiration for countless female fictional characters... the black widow.

I did a little reading on Wickipedia about the black widow spider. Turns out she's bigger, stronger, and lives longer than her male counterpart. Oh, and sometimes after mating she'll bite off his head and eat him. (But this is the exception, not the rule.)

Why is this such a popular model for female characters in movies, books, and television? Here's my theory: People like role reversals. The excepted, accepted modus operandi is that in any couple, the man is the strong, stoic one who is isn't quite as sensitive or emotional as the woman. The idea of a woman who can not only take or leave her man, but bite his head off if she so desires, is appealing because it breaks the norm. Keep in mind, I'm deliberately talking in stereotypes here, because in fiction stereotypes are sometimes necessary.

So who are some of the best, or most famous black widow-like characters? Here's a partial list:
  • Scarlet O'hara - Her husbands have a habit of dying, although that's not (necessarily) her fault. But to paraphrase Rhett Butler, the most macho guy ever, she can only bring misery to any man.
  • Hedda Gabler - If you aren't a theater buff you might not have heard of her, but she is the creation of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Hedda marries for money, but she's in love with her husband's academic rival. However, jealousy and greediness propel Hedda to literally destroy this man, making her a very unsympathetic character. Is it her fault, or is she a victim of society?
  • Lady Macbeth - Although it's her husband who actually does the killing, many people feel Lady Macbeth is the more evil of the two. "I've given suck, and know How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me ; I would, whilst it was smiling in my face, Have pluckt my nipple from his from his boneless gums, and dashed the brains out, had I so resolved, As you have done for this." That's hard core! 
  • Lolita - Honestly, I've never read it, but the original work sounds like it's actually about a girl who is the victim of pedophilia rather than about a man who is tempted and seduced by a soulless twelve year old. I include Lolita however, because I believe she served as inspiration for lots of other characters who do fit the black widow prototype. Alicia Silverstone in The Crush, Julia Stiles in Wicked, and Kerri Russel in The Babysitter's Seduction. Okay, I watch Lifetime Movies for Women a little too much.
But that leads me to another point. The examples I gave are obviously from many years ago. I'd love to hear people's opinions on some more modern black widow characters!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Book Review - Her Last Letter - By Nancy Johnson


I downloaded Her Last Letter onto my kindle for several reasons:
  1. It was only 99 cents.
  2. It's by an indie author. Being an indie author myself, I was curious.
  3. It had a lot of good Amazon reviews, and the story sounded interesting.
  4. It has a great sales ranking. I would love to have a great sales ranking, so that also made me curious.                                                                                                                                                I read it on the plane to Seattle, and in the evenings back at our hotel. It held my interest, and Johnson's ability to describe a scene and set a mood are commendable. The plot is like this: Gwyn finds an old letter from her now-dead sister implicating either Gwyn's husband, or their other sister's husband, in her murder. Gwyn also suspects her husband of having an affair, but she can't confront him until she investigates the murder on her own. Eventually she hires a private detective, and all sorts of family issues come to light.

I started out really enjoying the book. Johnson created a great, suspenseful mood, and since I've spent a lot of time in Colorado I enjoyed the references to skiing and mountains. But about half way through I started wishing for more character development, and that never really came. I also was disappointed with the ending. I'd describe why, but I don't want to give the ending away.

All in all, it wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. It is interesting to read books by indie authors, and I plan to keep on doing that. What baffles me though, is there seems to be no rhyme or reason for who is making a lot of sales and who is not. That could just be the jealous writer in me speaking, though.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Little Green Man

We have great neighbors, and several of them have kids. So next door one of them put out a little green man with a flag, warning drivers to take it slow as they drive down our alley. It was a great gesture, but of course, one day soon after the little green man's appearance his flag was stolen. It was there to be taken, so obviously someone was going to take it.

There he stood, impotent (or should I say useless?) His only function was to alert people, to caution them, but he couldn't do it without his flag. Then our neighbors across the alley looked in their garage and found a replacement. It's not a flag; it's more like a huge wand with a reflective bicycle light at the end. Not as good as a flag, but close.

Our neighbors started taking bets on how long it would be before that was stolen. Meanwhile, my son Eli made friends with the little green man. Whenever we went out for walks Eli would strike up a conversation with him. This arrangement worked out well, since the little green man is sort of quiet, and Eli talks enough for at least two people.

One night when Eli was at his grandparents, my husband Rich was standing in the kitchen when he happened to notice out the window that one of the neighborhood boys was skulking around the little green man. We'll call this boy Joe, in order to protect the not-so-innocent. Joe looked over his shoulder once or twice, then went and grabbed the little green man's wand.

Rich wondered, should he say something? He decided yes, he should.

"Joe," he called out. "I saw you buddy. You have to put that back."
Joe answered, "I was going to put it back."
Rich watched him meander around, then slowly, self-consciously, give back the little green man his wand. It's remained there ever since. However, Eli has lost interest in talking to the little green man. I guess the poor fellow wasn't contributing enough to the conversation after all.

Last week Rich and I were on vacation in Seattle, and we saw another little green man outside of a children's store. It was the highlight of the recount of our trip to our neighbors (of the recount, mind you, not of the trip itself.) I guess Dorothy is right about never having to look further than your own back door.
This is me posing with the little green man in Port Angelos, Washington.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Quilting


I’m not much of a seamstress. Actually, I think I’m missing the domestic arts gene in general. I don’t like to clean (who does?) and I’ve never kept a garden. The other day some friends were talking about flowers they want to plant this summer, and I felt like they were speaking a foreign language. I said, “Wow. I’m so out of it when it comes to this stuff.”
And my friend Jill said, “You’re a writer. You don’t have time to garden.”
She had a point, although it’s all about choices. When I’m not working or spending time with my children, I most likely want to be writing, and keeping a garden would distract me from that. While some people gain huge satisfaction from being outside, working with the earth, planting seeds, nurturing them and watching them grow; I get my fulfillment from typing away on a keyboard.
Which leads to today’s subject. When I found out this week’s blog gang was on quilting, I felt just even more lost than I would had it been on gardening. The last time I made a quilt was when I was in Girl Scouts, and that was with the pre-cut square, simple pattern formula.
But last spring my dear friend Christina made a quilt for my baby Pauline. It just might be my favorite baby gift because it’s beautifully done, but more importantly, it was made with love especially for Pauline. I asked Christina to share with me her thoughts about quilting.
 “It seemed like a tradition moms pass down to their children,” Christina said. “I wanted to make a quilt for Justine (her daughter)… she’d always have it and know her mom made it for her.”
“It’s an accomplishment that lasts,” she continued. “When you cook a good meal, at the end it’s gone. But a quilt is a physical reminder of how much you care. Nowadays time is more valuable than money. Putting time into something shows how much you care.”
When Pauline is old enough to understand, I’ll tell her the story behind her quilt. I’ll let her know how happy Christina was for me when I told her I was pregnant, and how invaluable her friendship has been over the years. I didn’t make quilt to pass down to Pauline, but the one made by Christina means just as much.



Sunday, May 29, 2011

Gratitude/ Blog Tour De Troops


Hello! I hope you’re enjoying the blog tour de troops. You were probably just on Judy Gaine’s blog Writing After Dark where you learned about her fast-paced thriller Perfect Copy. After you’re done please visit author of young adult lit, Jeremy Rodden, at his site, Toonopolis.

Both of their books look great, and personally I can't wait to read them!

Today if you comment on my post you will automatically win a free electronic copy of Starring in the Movie of My Life. Read a review of it on Susie Kline’s wonderful motherhood blog, here: motherhoot.com
She is also rewarding anyone who comments on her review today a free copy of my novel, so tell all your friends! 

I am very proud of this book; it was recently honored in the International Book Awards for two categories: Women’s Fiction and Young Adult Literature. It was also honored in the Indie Excellence Book Awards in the category of Chick Lit. That means a lot to me, because I know just how many FANTASTIC indie authors there are out there, so I’m sure the competition was fierce. I’m also very grateful to be working with the wonderful indie authors who are also involved in the tour de troops this weekend.

Gratitude is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Last weekend our neighborhood in North Minneapolis experienced a tornado. It happened at around the same time as the one in Joplin, but luckily here there was only one fatality. However, people’s homes were destroyed and streets were literally ravaged. 

The above picture doesn't really do the storm justice. Trees were down everywhere, and pavement was torn up. Lots of people are now homeless. It's very sad.

I was at the library with my six-year-old, Eli, when the tornado struck.

We were told to go into a windowless meeting room to wait out the storm. After about half an hour it was safe to leave. We checked out our books, and I held Eli’s hand in the parking lot to make sure he wouldn’t run in front of a car. On our drive home we talked about ice cream and the books we checked out. Emergency vehicles sped by us, but I still had no idea just how lucky I was to be driving home with my son, safe and happy.

Our house is fine, and my husband Rich and our baby Pauline are also okay.


Of course I’m grateful, because had we lived half a mile down from where we do, or had one of us been stuck outside or in our car when the storm hit, it might be a different story. Life is so random, and part of the unique joy of living is in the knowledge that at any moment our luck can change on a dime.

This weekend I focus my thoughts on the people who are struggling from the aftermath of the storm. I donated to the Red Cross relief effort, which is an excellent cause, and if you’re interested in helping the victims in Joplin or here in North Minneapolis you can find out more on their website.

Of course, another great cause is supporting our troops! For more information on how to help go here:blogtourdetroops.com 

Please comment, and LEAVE YOUR E-MAIL ADDRESS so I can send you the code for the free e-book. Then continue on with the tour, or even go back to the beginning at Amber Scott's site so as many troops as possible can receive e-books and kindles. Each time you comment you are entering to win a free kindle for yourself, and you're also winning another e-book for another troop! Stay safe, and count your blessings!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Bumped Review


I loved Megan McCafferty’s Jessica Darling series, so I was excited to hear she had begun a new series, Bumped. Then I went on Amazon and read some advance reviews. Although some liked it, people were disappointed; they had trouble connecting to the characters and the slang. A lot of reviewers compared it to Handmaid’s Tale.
Since I had never read Handmaid’s Tale I decided to tackle it first. And I can now say there are definitely some similarities. Both novels are about young women who must reproduce soon or risk being shunned by society. These women are in situations where they can’t be with the man they love, and were they to have a baby it would immediately be taken away to be parented by someone else. Both novels question both the nature of motherhood and freedom itself.
But that’s where the similarity ends. Bumped is marketed as a young adult novel, and rightly so. There are no adult characters for the reader to relate to; all the adult characters are superficial baby-snatchers who encourage teens to procreate at an early age, without regard for their safety or emotional well-being. The story takes places some time after 2025, and a virus has spread which has made anyone over the age of eighteen unable to have kids.
Because of this teenagers must shoulder the burden of propagating the human race and everything from their slang to their clothing is designed to put them in this mindset. One thing I had trouble with is how completely the teens in the novel had bought into this. Sure, the future of the human race is dependent upon them, but most teenagers are naturally rebellious. If adults wanted them to have sex and babies, wouldn’t they just naturally be against doing so? Also, I’m not sure what sort of statement this book is making about adoptive parents; it almost seems to imply that the bond isn’t as strong if the parents aren’t a blood relative.
Whatever. These are picky and perhaps unfair points. Overall, I liked the book and I thought the Amazon reviews were a little harsh. McCafferty created an intricate new society in this book and I marvel at her creativity. The action snowballs towards the end, and I was definitely kept guessing. Yet I thought the two main characters, Harmony and Melody, stayed true to how established them to be while still giving them the ability to grow. I wish the perspective of people who were trying to adopt had been represented in the book as well, but that’s not where the author decided to go with the story.

Be sure to stop back tomorrow, when I participate in the blog tour de troops. You'll win a free  electronic copy of Starring in the Movie of My Life just by commenting on my post, and you'll also win a free e-book for a troop. For more information, visit blogtourdetroops.com


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Blog Tour De Troops

This Sunday I will be participating in the blog tour de troops, along with many other indie authors. It actually starts on Friday; we'll be linking to each other blogs, and posting about gratitude. If you visit my blog on Sunday and comment on my post, you'll automatically win a free electronic version of Starring in the Movie of My Life (format of your choice). You'll also be winning an e-book for a troop! Plus, you can visit other author's blogs, comment, win their e-books, and more e-books for more troops. It's a win/win for everyone. The bloggers are sponsoring it, and the money will go to giving free kindles to the troops as well. So be sure to stop back on Sunday.! For more information, go to http://www.blogtourdetroops.com/Blog_Tour_de_Troops/Home.html

In addition to that, a new review of Starring in the Movie of My Life will be posted over at www.motherhoot.com.


But if you can't wait that long, check out my latest review at A Tale of Many Reviews, http://ataleofmanyreviews.blogspot.com/2011/05/starring-in-movie-of-my-life-by-laurel.html .

Greek vs. Friday Night Lights



Two shows I’ve been watching recently are Friday Night Lights and Greek. I’ve seen every episode of each of them. I started watching Friday Night Lights back in 2008, during the writer’s strike. Since none of my usual shows were on, I ordered the discs off of Netflix because Entertainment Weekly so highly recommended it. Even though I don’t like football, I quickly became hooked on the stylistic filming, raw acting, subtle yet dramatic storylines, and the music that would accompany each episode.

Greek is another show I Netflixed based off of high praise from Entertainment Weekly. I figured it would be a good show to have on in the mornings while I worked out, because it would be entertaining and easy to follow. Since it was produced by ABC Family I assumed it would be okay for Eli to see should he get up and join me while I exercised. Well, I was wrong about that last part, but it is cleverly done and funny, the characters’ lives are involving, and even though I disparaged sororities while in college, I got into the show. Now that I work out down in the basement (so I don’t accidentally wake Eli up), I’ve been streaming episode after episode, and I watch while I’m chugging away on my elliptical machine.

So yeah, both shows are most likely written with a demographic in mind that is younger than the one I belong to, especially Greek. But it’s actually Friday Night Lights that has been alienating me lately. I really dislike Tami’s storyline this year. She’s the coach’s wife, and she’s the new guidance counselor in this tough, poor high school that isn’t unlike where I work. Her whole thing is you don’t need funding to help these kids, and let’s create homework centers after school and have the teachers volunteer their time, and we shouldn’t be suspending kids for fighting because they’re the ones who need to be at school the most.

I won’t go into why I disagree with all that (you can see other, past blog posts on similar subjects if you’re interested). But I will say this; while the show isn’t exactly vilifying the teachers who don’t see eye to eye with Tami, they’re not really representing their point of view either, at least not in a way I feel is equal. Nevertheless, at the end of a long day, watching this show does not help me unwind. But I’ll still watch it; I’m too involved in the characters to stop this close to the end. Besides, it’s a quality show. My personal feelings/biases aside, there is no denying that it is well done.

Greek I’ve been enjoying more and more. I’m getting close to being done with it; there’s one more season after the one I’m on, and that’s it. Some characters have already graduated, and others are facing graduation. I love how the characters have been allowed to grow, and most of them have grown a lot. The show’s central theme has become how hard it is to become an adult and figure out who you are and what you want to be. They’re all afraid in some way of letting go of the freedoms attached to being young. Who isn’t? When I watch it I don’t feel like it was so long ago that I was facing those dilemmas, even though it’s been a very long time. Nevertheless, watching it while I work out is a great way to start my day.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Are Men Really Like That?


I’ve never been a big Schwarzenegger fan, but even I couldn’t ignore the headlines from last week. How does a guy in the public spotlight hide an illegitimate child from his wife for ten years? Maria Shriver seems reasonably intelligent – perhaps more intelligent than he is – so I don’t get it. I’d like to think, were I in her position, that I’d have figured it out. Hopefully I’ll never know the answer to that question.
So this morning I read an article in the New York Times about how there is a certain type of man who is attracted to power, and who also starts to believe the typical “risk-reward ratio” doesn’t apply to him. In other words, they start to believe that they’re superior to everyone else, so it’s okay to take whatever they want without repercussions.
The good news? Not all men are like this! Whew. What a relief.
Because earlier this morning I was accused by an Amazon reviewer of not understanding men well enough to write about them in first person. When I told Rich, he laughed. “That’s probably true.”
I do believe there are fundamental differences between males and females; for instance, guys don’t hold grudges the way girls do. I’ve learned this from eleven years teaching experience. However, guys also don’t remember personal interactions in as vivid detail as girls do, if they even remember them at all. This I’ve learned from nine years of being married.
Oh well. This is a topic for more personal introspection.
Now for some shameless self promotion:
Last week I got some great news; Starring in the Movie of My Life was made an award winning finalist in two categories in the International Book Awards (women’s fiction and young adult literature) and it was honored in the Indie Excellence Awards for Chick Lit.
One other thing… over Memorial Day Weekend I will be participating in the Blog Tour de Troops to raise money for Kindles and free e-books for the men and women fighting overseas. Please stop back this weekend to read my post about gratitude, and to link to Susie Kline’s (at motherhoot.com) review of Starring in the Movie of My Life. You’ll be able to win free e-books just for commenting!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Blog Gang - Kids

I was thrilled to be invited by Susie Kline at MotherHoot blog

www.motherhoot.com

to be a part of her blog gang. This week's topic was kids, and below is my entry on the tooth fairy. If you are here because of that, I apologize for my ineptness... I couldn't figure out how to add the code in a way that actually WORKED. So please leave a link to your blog in the comment section... I promise to visit and comment as well!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Gotta Love the Tooth Fairy



Eli lost a front tooth this week. It had been a LONG time coming. For quite a while this tooth had been literally hanging by a thread, bouncing around in his mouth like a weeble wobble (it just wouldn’t fall out). Several times he bumped his mouth and blood would flow from his gums, threatening to stain our living room furniture. I’d try to convince him to yank that tooth out, or twist it out like the stem of an apple. He never would. Eli is far more patient than I when it comes to anything that might cause physical pain. I’m more of a “get it over with” type, but he was adamant about letting it fall out on its own.

He also has supreme confidence in the tooth fairy. At one point it looked like his tooth might fall out during a sleep-over with his grandparents. But he wasn’t worried about the tooth fairy finding him, because as he put it, “The tooth fairy can just use her GPS.”

He also wasn’t worried about his new bunk bed. “Eli,” I said, “are you sure the tooth fairy is going to want to climb all the way up to your bed? It’s pretty high up there.”
“Are you kidding?” he responded, with a hint of disbelief at my naiveté, “The tooth fair has wings! She’ll fly up there.”

He was also confident the tooth fairy would come through with a little something extra, because Max, who lives next door, told him you get two dollars (as opposed to just one) when you lose one of your two front teeth. Rich and I kept warning him that probably wouldn’t happen, but in the end she left him a dollar and a quarter.
I sometimes wish I could adopt Eli’s patience and confidence, especially in my work life. No need to rush, good things will come, we can avoid pain yet still benefit from rewards, and people who promise to come through for us, ultimately will. Maybe it’s wrong of me, but I hope to preserve that attitude in him for as long as possible. Eli believes in the tooth fairy, but he’s in no rush to lose all his teeth. He knows it will happen, and when it does, the tooth fairy will find him and she won’t let him down.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Belated Blog Post about Mother's Day



I hope everyone had a nice mother’s day. I did; I was able to celebrate both with my mother and with my children. However, as much as I love my mom and my children, that's not what this post is about. I feel more comfortable expressing my love in a less-public way. Instead, I just wanted to share a three-bullet point ramble about my thoughts on motherhood.

• A week after Eli was born we had his bris. Our family and friends were all gathered, and it was time for the ceremony. So my innocent baby was about to be introduced to the concept of pain. I had trouble handing him over, but my mom came up to me and suggested we stand out in the hallway. That way I wouldn’t have to watch him get cut. While we were waiting she said, “That’s the thing about motherhood. There will always be someone whose well-being you value over your own.”

I had only been a mother for a week, but I knew without a doubt she was right.

• Below is a passage from Starring in the Movie of My Life – forgive me if it’s pretentious to quote myself. But when I wrote this I tried to capture how I felt when I heard Eli’s cry for the first time. It’s my best shot, even if technically it’s fiction.

Have I ever given anything, everything I’ve got? “Everything” is one of those concepts that is beyond the human imagination, like the endlessness of outer space or the finality of death. I don’t even begin to know what everything is. But now is the moment to find out. Now is the time to push ahead because going back is impossible or at the very least, ill-advised. So I push and in an explosion she’s here, crying and suddenly, her cry is the best sound I have ever heard. It means she’s real, she’s complete; she’s alive. And now I know what everything is.

• One of my favorite parts of the Harry Potter series is Rowling's understated focus on the love between mother and child, how a mother will sacrifice herself for her son, and love him even in death. This passage moved me to tears the first time I read it:

Lily’s smile was widest of all. She pushed her long hair back as she drew close to him, and her green eyes, so like his, searched his face hungrily, as though she would never be able to look at him enough.
“You’ve been so brave.”
He could not speak. His eyes feasted on her, and he thought that he would like to stand there and look at her forever, and that would be enough.”

-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by JK Rowling - page 699

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How I Celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week



Did you know that this is National Teacher Appreciation Week? Don’t feel bad if the answer is no. I’m a teacher, and it wasn’t even on my radar. I still celebrated though. Here’s how:

Monday: In the afternoon there was an e-mail message from my principal, wishing the entire staff a good week, and telling us to celebrate by eating some complimentary pizza before we all work late into the evening for parent/teacher conferences. That was when I first realized it was my week to feel appreciated.

Tuesday: Early in the morning another e-mail in my inbox; this one was sent to the entire district staff from the wellness committee to let us know we’re all getting a free bottle of water on Wednesday. Well, that spurred a huge chain reaction. Some people thought this was a bad gift because it’s not environmentally conscious, others thought it was petty to dismiss any sort of gift. Then there were the people who commended other people for standing up for what they believe in, and finally there were those who sent sarcastic e-mails making fun of the entire issue (something about organic hemp hankies to wipe away the tears spilled by mother earth.) It was all very entertaining, and turned out to be a far better gift than the bottle of water I drank as I wrote this.

Wednesday: I ran into a newly hired teacher in the copy room. I asked her how it was going.
“Oh my God!” she said, with a laugh. “I worked for years in the private sector. I had no idea how hard this would be. Nothing can prepare you for this job.”
I told her to hang in there, and as I walked back to my classroom to prepare for the final hour of the day I was reminded of my early days teaching, and how far I’ve come.

Thursday: My Creative Writing students had their final short story due today. They were to get ten points extra credit if they read it aloud. I also brought bakery cookies to encourage them to read. Still, only a handful read. They’re a particularly shy class. Expecting to have a lot of free time at the end of the hour, I printed up the last chapter of a book I’ve been working on, but haven’t touched since Pauline was born eleven months ago. I read it aloud to them, and asked for their suggestions on how to proceed. I got a lot of really great feedback! Now I’m excited to write the next chapter, and I have them to thank for it.

At lunch my good friend Jarren was sick and needed to leave school to get antibiotics. She worried that she shouldn’t neglect her after school responsibility of keeping score for the Lacrosse team. I encouraged her to take care of her health and not worry about her job. She hung her head in despair, and talked about how she wants to dig in her back yard in hopes of finding abandoned money, because her full-time teaching job, part-time tutoring and score keeping gigs just don’t pay the bills.

Friday: I plan to go to Eli’s school carnival in the evening, and tell his teachers how much we appreciate them.

I didn’t go into teaching expecting constant praise, or huge perks (like pizza on a night when I’m required to work late or a free bottle of water), but I also didn’t anticipate the national climate we are now in. I can’t remember a time when teachers have been more under attack.
But if I left the profession I would miss it. Every day it seems there is at least one moment when a student makes me laugh. Sometimes I see a kid’s face light up with new knowledge, and occasionally one will contribute an insight into a class discussion that is truly brilliant. And a handful of times, I have had students thank me for being their teacher. Those are the moments I will always carry with me.
So if you want to celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week, contact a favorite teacher, and thank them. Believe me, it will mean a lot.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Wickedly Good - A Chicklit Version of Macbeth

Chick Lit author Sibel Hodge will be celebrating "International Chick Lit" month throughout the month of May on her blog, and she's hosting a bunch of giveaways. You should check it out! Following My Toes is one of many digital downloads you can enter to win.

Visit her blog here:
http://www.sibelhodge.com/my-blog/may-is...

So, in honor of "International Chick Lit Month" (who knew there was a month for that?) I'm posting a short story I wrote years ago, combing two of my favorite genres: chick lit, and the Shakespearean tragedy - namely, Macbeth. Enjoy!



           
Wickedly Good
A Chick lit Version of MACBETH



It’s Monday morning and I’m feeling the effect from one too many Cosmos last night. My philosophy has always been that Sunday night is still part of the weekend and should be treated as such. I’m beginning to rethink that idea now, seeing as how I’m nearly thirty, I can’t get into lower than a size twelve dress, my mom and I don’t get along, and I’m still single! Oh! I almost forgot. I also have a crappy job working at a major NYC publishing house (I’m in the HR department). Lately I’ve been thinking that it’s time to grow up, form some goals, and achieve them. It’s time to get serious.
            “Wendy! Snap to! I’ve never seen you looking so foul.” Helga, my direct superior, screams across the room at me, compounding my headache and rotten mood. There’s something about the martyred nasal quality of her voice that really sets me off.
            My co-worker Sabrina answers back with a chirp. “Helga, be fair. She’s not capable of much”. She shakes her blond head and tugs on her size two jeans as she speaks. I suppress the urge to clobber her.  Fair and foul, foul and fair – I hate them both so much.
            Helga, Sabrina, and Wendy – together we’re the weird sisters of HR. Not just because we’re all weird, but because coincidentally, we’re named after famous – or infamous witches.  Helga lives up to her name by being hideous in both looks and personality. Sabrina could be Melissa Joan Hart’s evil twin. And me, well, I’m Wendy the good little witch. Except I’m not so good, and I’m definitely not little.
            And how are we weird?
            You’d be surprised at what working in an office with fluorescent lighting, no windows, and only the same two people to talk to, all day long, can do to you. Sometimes when a new person strolls in we tend to overwhelm him with our enthusiasm. And so what if we practice a little black magic from time to time? You would too if your job was as tedious as ours is.
             Our office door opens, and in strolls Mr. Mac. Mr. Mac is really high up here at Cawdor publishing. The only person above him is his best buddy Banquo, and Duncan Dunsinane, the president of the company. But Duncan is old and worn out, and there have been rumors about his retirement. Mr. Mac would be the natural successor. And what a yummy boss he would be! Brown wavy hair, piercing blue eyes, and a body that just won’t quit. Combine that with a sexy Scottish accent and witty personality, well, he’s the dream of every single urban girl who drinks too much and loves shoe shopping. Hooking him in would be the perfect start to improving my life.
            “Good day ladies. I’m in a bit of a fix, and I need you to lend me a hand.”
            Helga pipes in first. “All hail Mr. Mac, Publicity Director of Cawdor!”
            Next chimes Sabrina. “All hail Mr. Mac, Vice President of publishing!”
            Then I add in the final punch. “All hail Mr. Mac, you’ll be CEO pretty soon!”
            Mr. Mac raises one eyebrow and gives us a crooked smile. “Right. I was just wondering if you could find our entry-level interview questions. I’ve somebody coming in at noon, and nobody seems to have a copy.”
            The door opens again and in comes Mr. Mac’s good friend, Banquo. Banquo is short, round, and bald. Supposedly he’s wickedly good at publishing, but I just don’t have the urge to pour a frapachino all over his body and lick it up the way I do with Mr. Mac.
            “All hail Banquo, shorter than Mr. Mac, yet much taller!” cries Helga.
            “All hail Banquo, not so successful as Mr. Mac, yet much more successful!” wails Sabrina.
            “You will have sex, although nobody actually thinks you’re sexy.” I proclaim.
            There’s an awkward pause as everybody looks at each other but nobody wants to speak. Darnit! Why do I open my mouth and say such silly things? I could probably lose my job for that last comment and I can’t afford to. The new Jimmy Choos I have on made my credit card bill sky rocket.
            Banquo breaks the silence. “Um, thank you?” Then he turns to Mr. Mac. “Mac, did you hear? Duncan is in the hospital. He had a massive stroke this morning. The doctors say he probably won’t last the night.”
            “You’re… you’re joking, right?”
            “Mac,” says Banquo, “I wouldn’t joke about something like that.”
            Mr. Mac turns to Helga, Sabrina and me and gives us a suspicious look. “What are you ladies up to?” he asks.
            Helga grabs her industrial sized bottle of whiteout and waves it around.
“Out, out damn spot,” she cries. Then a fog emerges from the bottle, and out of that fog came an apparition. It’s of a novel with a pink cover, and on that cover is a stiletto and a martini glass.
            “Open the book and see!” yells Helga.
            “See!” cries Sabrina.
            “Read the dang book!” I howl.
            Banquo and Mr. Mac each look a little green, but Banquo steps forward first.
            “What the heck,” he says, as he opens the book-like thing that is floating in front of him.
            “What does it say?” Mr. Mac asks him.
            “I think you’d better see for yourself,” Banquo responds.
            Mr. Mac steps forward to inspect the book. As he does Helga, Sabrina and I dance in a circle around him, chanting.
            “Double, double, flirt and fumble. Money earn, and humor be humble!”
            We stop chanting as Mr. Mac speaks. “It says that no chick of chicken born shall ever harm me. I must say, I have no idea what that could possibly mean.  Banquo, what do you think it means?”
            But Banquo hasn’t been paying attention. He has turned his focus to me.
            “You’re Wendy, right?”
            “Yeah,” I respond with a smile and a wink. Perhaps there is something about him after all.
            “So you think I’m going to have sex?”
            “No.” I say, deadpan. “I know you are going to have sex.”
            He laughs. “You maybe want to get a drink sometime?”
            “Sure. I’m busy tonight, but how about tomorrow?”
            “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…” Mr. Mac says that, but his voice trails off as the apparition disappears.




            Banquo and I hit it off like a bored housewife on bowling night. And lucky for me, he was promoted after Duncun’s death. You see, Banquo recognized my talents right away and put me in a job in where I’d have some real input. Mr. Mac did make CEO, but he didn’t last long. Seems he fought me every step of the way as I tried to get Cawdor publishing to market books which spoke to me – and all the other single urban women out there. Sure, dismiss my books as chick lit, I don’t mind. I may be a chick, but I’m not a chicken. And when I replaced Mr. Mac as CEO, he realized just how wickedly good I am!




Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Barefoot Book of Princesses


We’ve been hearing about princesses a lot lately; since the world is about to get a new one. However, whether or not there’s an upcoming royal wedding, princesses are a cultural staple. Little girls love a princess, and Disney is only too happy to supply lots of princess role models. Some people think this is dangerous, that it sets up a false ideal of femininity that’s connected to beauty and finding a man. I don’t know. Recently the Disney princesses have been pretty self-sufficient. Yes, they’re always beautiful, but at least they’re a little more varied now, and hooking in a prince isn’t always their only priority.
Still, I’m sure Rich and I will want to be careful when, in a few years, our baby girl Pauline is likely to get hooked into the princess hype. I plan to let her watch the Disney movies if that’s what she wants to do, but I also plan to show her The Barefoot Book of Princesses.
I bought it years ago, when I was teaching a fantasy literature class, and we were discussing fairy tales. I haven’t taught the class recently, but I held onto the book because I think it’s great and I’m excited to read it to Pauline when she’s old enough. It truly is multi-cultural, with all sorts or nationalities represented.  The Princess and the Pea is Danish; The Beggar Princess is Chinese; The Mountain Princess is Persian; The Princess who Lost her Hair is from Akamba; The Sleeping Beauty is German, The Birdcage Husband is a Kalmuck story; and The Horned Snake's Wife is Iroquois.
Author Caitlin Matthews does a good job in the retelling of all these stories. In each one she depicts a princess who is strong-willed, unique, and special. The illustrations are beautiful, but the princesses on these pages don’t always fit into the traditional ideals of American beauty. That is one of the book’s biggest strengths.
I don’t think there is any point in trying to steer Pauline away from the Disney princess. The harder I try, the more she’ll want to be one. However, it is possible to present some other options of what it means to be a princess, and The Barefoot Book of Princesses is a wonderful place to start.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Kennedys vs. The Royal Family

This morning I was looking at the paper and I saw an article about the upcoming royal wedding, which I'm only aware of because I don't live in a cave. I said to Rich, my husband, "I don't get why people are so caught up in this wedding."
"Because they're pathetic," he replied.
Rich has never shied away from strong opinions, and he's been known to be particularly "strong minded" in the morning, before his first cup of coffee. However, as this is not a subject I care much about, I declined to comment back.
The same wasn't true two days ago, when I found to my delight, that the entire Kennedy miniseries that the History Channel decided not to show is now be offered for free on Demand. Yay! I love stuff about the Kennedys, I always have. I'm particularly fond of Bobby Kennedy. If there's a book, movie, or mini-series made about him, then I've read or watched it. Rich concedes Bobby might actually have had a soul, and I agree. I'd like to think there was truth behind all his convictions.
So I don't know why Rich was surprised when I told him how happy I was about the Kennedy miniseries. After he mimed throwing up, he told me it had gotten terrible reviews and I couldn't be serious about watching it.
"I'm not as governed by other people's opinions as you are," I said. He laughed and admitted I won that round.
I'm enjoying watching it. Tom Wikinson as Joe Sr. is excellent, and I'm enjoying Greg Kinnear as Jack and Barry Pepper as Bobby. Katie Holmes as Jackie is entertaining. Part of the time I think she's doing a great job, and then I recognize some mannerism of Joey's from Dawson's Creek, and I'm sort of brought out of the story a little.
Whatever. Everyone has their fascinations. Why do I care so much about the Kennedys and not at all about the Royal Family? They're so similar in so many ways: glamor, corruption hidden under a shiny surface, ideals that got lost in ambition, mysterious deaths...
Hmm. Maybe I've been missing out. It might be time to find a new fascination.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Queen Bee of Bridgeton/ some views on public education

The Queen Bee of Bridgeton, by Leslie DuBois, is about Sonya, a fifteen year-old African American girl who lives in dangerous Venton Heights. She and her sister have received scholarships to attend Bridgeton, an exclusive private school. However, Sonya is more concerned with becoming a professional dancer than anything else. It’s not until she attracts the eye of the school’s star basketball player that she becomes involved in the high school social scene. Yet her involvement comes at a price; the school’s “bitch brigade” suddenly has it out for her, and Sonya now has to battle against an anonymous force of lies, rumors, and sabotage.
We know at the beginning of the book that Sonya will eventually have to face the school’s honor council, which is a jury of her peers. They will decide whether or not she is guilty of cheating. We know she’s been framed, but if she is found guilty she will be expelled, and forced back into her dead-end life in Venton Heights.
I loved this book. It was immediately intriguing, and Sonya was a character I really rooted for. The stakes were high in every area of her life, and there were no easy situations. Even her relationships with her boyfriend and her sister were complex when they should have been simple, and the reader was left wondering who the bad guy is. Yet throughout the novel Sonya tries to rise above her situation, and tries to make good choices despite all the obstacles in her way.
It was refreshing to read a young-adult book that did not in any way include a paranormal subject matter. Instead, it dealt with very real issues, like poverty, abuse, alcoholism, bullying, and loyalty. I strongly recommend it.
One reason it hit a chord with me is because many of my students deal with such issues on a daily basis. However, the school where I teach is nothing like Bridgeton Academy; no public school is. At my school you need to really be a threat in order to get expelled, and even then you get lots of second chances before that happens.
I’ve been serving on my school’s rules and handbook committee, where we have been trying to come up with consequences that are better than suspension or expulsion. Neither has been shown to positively affect the behavior of the student in question.
What would you do if a student came into class looking for a fight? Some of them do; they are angry at you before they’ve even met you, and if you ask them to do something simple, like sit in their assigned seat, or put away their cell phone, or quiet down and get to work, they’ll ask you who are you to tell them what to do, mind your own business, get out of their face.
Getting of that kid out your class, either temporarily or permanently, may not benefit him/her, but it will benefit the rest of the students who are trying to learn. Keeping that kid will only show all the other students that your hands are tied when it comes to enforcing consequences; it will teach other students that you can be treated with disrespect and nothing will happen.
I’m going on about this because I’ve learned that there’s a big focus now on eliminating suspensions and expulsions for minority and disadvantaged kids, because they are leaving school in disproportionate rates.  Arne Duncan, the education secretary, seems to imply that schools are being racist when they suspend or expel more black kids than white kids. If you look at the figures, I can understand his inference. But anyone who has spent time in a class with difficult kids knows how hard it is to simply survive with your dignity and sanity in place. I rarely send kids out of my class, and when I do I am usually happy to have them back if they are willing to be respectful and follow the rules. A few times in the eleven years I’ve been teaching a kid has been so outrageously bad that I needed him/her out for a day or more, and I’d like to think that this will still be an option in the years to come.
But this much is true: whether it’s fictional stories about private education, or real-life stories about public schools, there are no easy answers.