Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Feature: The Month of Budgets and Celebrations

May is a particularly busy month in education. Semesters end. Children graduate from preschool, kindergarten, sixth grade, eighth grade and high school, depending on their school's configuration. A stroll down Facebook Lane reveals smiling faces and successes that contradict Education Secretary DeVos' statement that Washington has been in the driver’s seat for over 50 years with very little to show for its efforts.” 

Although there is always room to grow (and Washington's money deserves only part of the credit for these successes), there is, indeed, much to show. These posts make me smile and hit "like" and "love" in celebration of the hard work of all of these children, their families and their teachers. 

Ah, their teachers. Pushing through exhaustion to celebrate this time of year with enthusiasm that rivals that of their charges. Limping toward a summer "break" that both starts and ends earlier each year so there's enough time in the school day to teach to the test, fully cognizant of the fact that much of it will be spent planning for the next school year, which, in my neck of the woods, starts in mid-August.

But I digress.

I don't want this to be a political post. Rather, I want it to be a "both sides" post. If I weren't an educator, I would be reading only the headlines about the current education budget proposal, but, since I am an educator -- both retired and active, because teachers are just crazy enough to do that -- I want to know more.

And I think you should know more, too. 

During the confirmation process for Betsy DeVos, a well-intentioned friend expressed her confusion over the rabid opposition to a woman who had no background in the schools that currently make up the backbone of our education system. "Is it just about the vouchers?" she asked.

She wasn't being snarky -- she wanted to understand. I think a lot of people do.

So, in honor of this hectic month in education, I want to share a bit about the teachers and a bit about the budget. I hope you'll take a look.

Because it's not about the vouchers. And it's not really about the teachers.

It's about the kids.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Summer Writing, Gonna Have Me a Blast

Photo: ulleo via Pixabay
When I first started writing, it was easy to focus. I'd have one piece in progress -- first articles, then, later, books -- and when I had time to write, that was where I'd focus my attention.

Over time, things became more complicated. It seemed that the less time I had to write, the more ideas I had to put on the page. And, when I sat down to work one thing, another one would pop up.

It's a good problem to have. Still, it can be a challenge to corral all these characters and ideas, and give each his or her due. You've heard the phrase, "it's like herding cats"?

Yeah. That.

And that is just where I find myself right now. The summer is just beginning and I have time to devote to my cats, er, characters, each of whom is clamoring for attention.

So, I did what any parent would do. I chose a favorite.

Just kidding.

I did what any writer would do. I prioritized.

And now I'm going public, because I hope that will keep me honest.

  • Project #1 is a novel with a new cast of characters. Over the past year, with the help of my critique group, I've been tightening and revising and I am within twelve chapters of finishing this stage of the project, which gives it front burner status.
  • Project #3 is the third Marita/Angel/Charli book, for which I just might have come up with a title when I couldn't sleep last Friday night. We'll have to see if it sounds as good in the light of day as it did at 3 am. I promise new twists and developments...which is why it's taking me so long.
There's other stuff, too, but three major projects sounds like a full summer, so I'm going to let the others duke it out in the background. 

Meanwhile, if you have ideas about Marita, Angel and Charli (besides killing off Jim), please share them. One innocent reader comment sparked a plot twist that surprised even me. The characters are really taking over in this one, and Bets isn't the only one who's opinionated. 

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some writing to do. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

How Many Placemats in a Year?
Last Friday night, I bought place mats. Nothing fancy, and not a big deal, really, except that they're cloth placemats.

It's not as though we've never had cloth placemats -- in fact, I have several sets in the dining room drawer. These new placemats, however, were purchased specifically to replace the succession of plastic kiddie placemats we had while my daughter was growing up. You know the ones I mean -- the wipeable variety, able to repel the inevitable stains from grape jelly, fruit punch and chocolate ice cream. Fun, festive and usually cheap, they were adorned with jack-o-lanterns, bunny rabbits and reindeer, marking the passage of each year in their own quiet, brightly colored, stain resistant way.

They haven't seen much action in the past few years, but I never quite got around to throwing them away. But lately, inspired as much by my daughter's calculated purge of her own bedroom as my own desire to do a little refreshing around the house, I decided that the time to move on to more adult table settings had arrived.

The passage of time is a funny thing. We don't really notice it while it's happening, unless it suddenly seems to  move much too slowly or much too quickly. Instead, we suddenly notice the small accumulation of changes over time. Arms long enough to reach the top shelf. Legs long enough to reach the gas pedal. Diploma signifying the end of an era.

This week, the little girl who helped me pick out pumpkin placemats leaves for London. I'm excited for her, but, as a mother, I can't quite get over the notion that she'll be so far out of reach. No matter how long my arms are, I can't reach "across the pond" to give her a hug if she needs one -- or if I do.  I've just barely gotten used to seeing her sleeping in "her own" bed again, and it's already time for her to take off on a new adventure. The house will be quiet once again -- perhaps too quiet -- for a little while, yet
I will be counting down the days until she returns.

So, while she's here, I'll do the mom things. Call the bank. Make sure her suitcase is up to the challenge. Cook her pancakes.

And maybe, when I slide the new placemats into the dining room drawer, I'll leave one plastic placemat there to keep them company.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Friday Feature: Would You Like Fries with that Book?

The burgeoning field of developmental neuroscience fascinates me. It seems as though every day we learn something new about what the brain can do and when it can do it.

One thing we've known for a long time is that reading is good for the brain. When caregivers read to kids, this simple activity fosters not only brain connection, but human connection as well. Programs like Reach Out and Read strive to put books into the hands of families who might not otherwise have them, while local libraries foster positive connections among children and caregivers, books and brains with programs designed for even the smallest pre-readers among us.

In Canada, even McDonald's is jumping on the bandwagon, offering books with their Happy Meals. Although McDonald's restaurants in the U.S. aren't currently doing the same, they have, in the past, partnered with Reading is Fundamental to give away books with their kids' meals.

As an adult, I'd have no trouble choosing between a book and a colorful hunk of plastic, but it's a much bigger decision for a five-year-old.

Here's an idea kids. Take the toy, but convince your parents to take you to the library after lunch.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Quizzing My Characters

On days when I sit down to write my blog post nearly twelve hours late, I'm grateful for little things that provide prompts (and for Sarah Reinhard, who taught me to use things in the environment when I get stuck). Today's questions came from my Happiness Project calendar, and here to answer them are Angel and Marita (Casting the First Stone, Chasing a Second Chance) along with the protagonist from my work-in-progress, Kelsey Stevens.

Okay, ladies. When in doubt, do you bring an umbrella or leave it at home?

Marita: Bring the umbrella to preserve the hair and the outfit.
Angel: Bring the umbrella, but I also have one in my car. Just in case.
Kelsey: Me too! I usually have one in my work bag as well.

As a child, did you have a special toy, blanket or doll? If so, do you still have it now?

Marita: I had a teddy bear that my grandparents got for me when I was born, or so I'm told. I don't know what happened to it. I think my mom threw it away. It was pretty raggedy.
Angel: I had a fuzzy pink blanket with silky edging that I used to rub against my cheek to fall asleep. It's on a shelf in the nursery closet so I can give it to Spencer.
Kelsey: I don't remember any special toys, but I always loved books, so I guess it's not surprising that I married an author! A lot of my books got handed down to my sister, Lindsay, but I saved some of my favorite series. They're in a box in my attic.

If you want to learn about something new, would you rather take in the information through reading, listening or watching?

Marita: Reading.
Angel: Listening--that way, I can get visual information too.
Kelsey: Watching. Or, better, yet, doing.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Scaffolding the Summer

My daughter is home.

All of my exams and papers are graded and final grades have been turned in.

It must be summer vacation!

Let the list-making commence!

Truth be told, I start making summer lists long before the last paper is graded. Last Saturday, I sat down with the various incarnations of notes to myself that I've been tucking into notebooks and calendars and began organizing them.

  • My Big 3 for Saturday. (Okay, it was more of a Big 5 because I couldn't decide).
  • My list for the weekend/week ahead, to be broken into smaller pieces as the week wears on.
  • My summer lists: overall goals, books to read, movies to watch. Projects. 

These lists hold a different kind of promise than my standard to-do lists. Biased more toward what I want to do than what I have to to, they're the scaffolding for not only my summer, but the second half of my year. As such, they provide a flexible structure suited to the season, but still leave room for opportunity. A day (or weekend) trip. An evening out. Some fun event that I don't even know about yet.


So, why make lists at all?

Because they hold a combination of promises made, things I've been longing to do and opportunities to explore -- all the things I don't get the chance to do during the year while I am teaching and life is busy and scheduled. As such, they are the counterbalance to the school year, the other side of the coin, the "what I want to be when I grow up" activities.

Just writing them down is both useful and enticing. For me, making lists sets things in motion; once I've written something down, it lingers in the back of my mind, keeping me alert for opportunities that are relevant to the things I want to accomplish.

This week, there will be a lot of loose ends to tie up -- tasks that got put off, awaiting unscheduled days. I'll start chipping away at the housekeeping items on the list, trimming away the short-term to-dos and revealing the items that can't be checked off with less than an hour's work. From there, my lists will diverge, sending me into my semi-annual goals review, otherwise known as an excuse to blow the dust off my leather-bound planner.

But that's another post.

How about you? What do your summer lists look like?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Friday Freebie: Wasting Time

I'm a firm believer in taking down time.

I'm just not so good at actually doing it.

From time to time, I stumble onto an article like this one from Quartz that is so perfect that I have only one thing left to say.

I can identify.

Now to translate that identification into action.