Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reading and a reading

Last weekend, Jon did a poetry reading/book signing in Los Alamos. The Kid and I drove up with him but didn't actually go to the reading - because The Kid is still a little young, and it probably wouldn't look good if he kept asking when it would be over and if it was okay for him to play on his PSP during the reading. We knew that the longer the reading took, the better it was going. And happily, the reading took a very, very long time. Jon sold lots of books and stayed to answer questions afterwards. When The Kid and I went to pick him up, he was surrounded by a group of people who were talking excitedly about his work. So very awesome.

But while Jon was doing his reading, I took The Kid to the pond and watched as he played "Harry Potter" with a green straw from Starbucks (which served as a wand) and a paper cookie bag (which served as the Marauder's Map). My kid is playing Harry Potter games because he's reading the Harry Potter books. It's not something I could do at his age. Not even close.

I didn't learn to read until I was eight years old. It wasn't from lack of effort on anyone's part. My parents worked with me all the time, I had excellent teachers who tried everything, and I had a deep love of books which came from having them read to me by my older sisters.

But reading was something I couldn't do. Not until I was eight -- and somewhere in my brain something turned on and I read "Blue Bay Mystery" by Gertrude Chandler Warner all by myself (I still love that book). And within a year or two, I was reading everything I could get my hands on.

I was luckier than a lot of late readers. I had a grandmother who was an elementary school teacher -- and a very good elementary school teacher at that. Her solution to the issue was simple: Take no radical steps and let me grow into the ability. Her theory (which was the correct theory as far as I was concerned) was that labeling me as a poor reader, or putting me through a rigorous and humiliating "poor reader" program was going to make me hate reading forever. It was better to let me figure it out at my own pace. And eventually I did.

Which means I always have such pain when I see a parent or teacher freaking out when a kid doesn't read as well as his/her peers. Most often, I hear this kid described as lazy or stubborn -- as if the kid is choosing not to read just to thwart adults. I see parents who I normally adore become complete panicking lunatics who spend a ton of time and money on incompetent tutors and inflexible reading programs just to make sure that their kid gets up to speed. And I see schools purchase books that follow specific reading pedagogies at the expense of making stories that are actually interesting and might actually make a kid want to turn the page to see what happens next.

And none of this teaches kids that learning to read is a good thing. And that is a deep, dark shame.

Friday, August 13, 2010


We'd planned on staying up late last night to watch the meteor showers -- but just as it got dark, the sky clouded up and it started to rain. So after enjoying the rainstorm for a while, we went to bed.

Then at about 3 am, Big Dog came to wake me up. He often wakes me up in the morning because he really likes breakfast and thinks that early breakfast is even better than regular breakfast. So, as I was getting ready to explain to him (in a yelling sort of way) that 3 am was not an acceptable breakfast time, I suddenly realized that he wasn't asking for food. Something was making him nervous.

That something turned out to be a coyote that was yipping somewhere down in the arroyo behind our house. The coyote sounded close, but they often sound close when they aren't. I went out on the back porch where I could listen better. There was another coyote, much farther away, yipping back. The clouds had cleared, and the sky was full of stars -- some of them shooting.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

When You Reach Me

So I recently finished the book WHEN YOU REACH Me by Rebecca Stead. The fact that I loved it pales in comparison to the fact that it won a Newberry and totally deserved it. I could tell you about the book's cleverness, the fabulousness of its homage to the broccoli in A WRINKLE IN TIME, the details in the story (like the naked man) which seem like simple background material but which are actually important. Or I could talk about the ending, which is a happy one, but only just. The story is built around the prevention of one single event, which means we're left to speculate what would have happened if that event wasn't prevented.

My 11 year old niece adores this book. And she is not, in general, an adorer of books. I'm pretty sure I would have loved it too as a kid. But even if it had been available, I probably wouldn't have touched it.

When I was little, someone (maybe one of my sisters, or a neighbor kid, or perhaps an imaginary friend), explained to me to watch out for the Newberry Medal. It was a sure sign that a book was so terrible that only adults would like it. I wasn't the only kid in school who felt like this, either. No matter how hard the elementary school librarian pushed books like "Up a Road Slowly" or "Sounder" or "Summer of the Swans," we stayed away. So while I read lots and lots of books growing up, I have very little experience with Newberry prize winners.

Would that I could go back in time and leave a note for myself explaining that I'd been misinformed about the Newberry. Also, I could tell myself to stay home sick during the week in 5th grade when Mrs. Evans read the end of "Where the Red Fern Grows" to the class, because the last part of that book is a trauma that I have never recovered from. And if I'm going to go to the trouble of time-traveling to leave myself a note about the Newberrys, I might as well leave myself a copy of "When You Reach Me" too -- so maybe it did exist when I was a kid and I did read it after all.

And if you want to know why I'm suddenly going on and on about time travel, you're gonna have to read "When You Reach Me" for yourself.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What I write with

Fountain pens are archaic and messy and expensive and kind of a pain, which is maybe why I love them.

Christmas before last, I received my first fountain pen as a gift from a writer friend. It was a disposable one that came with a lovely notebook - and I promptly threw it in a drawer and forgot about it. At the time, I was really into gel pens. But, for whatever reason, me and gel pens don't play well together -- unless gel pens are supposed to explode/break/leak/stop writing after they've been used twice. And while gel pens are not expensive, the price for them adds up when you have to replace them all the d@mn time.

So when the last gel pen in a pack of gel pens self-destructed, and I was forced to fish the disposable fountain pen out of its drawer. And I loved it. It wrote such a beautiful, clear, legible line. And it did not smear. I decided that I needed to buy a non-disposable one. So I went online and that's where the trouble started...

You can spend a lot for a fountain pen -- and by a lot I mean more than I would spend on a car. I went a different direction. I bought a few really cheap ones. They wrote beautifully. Then it seemed silly not to get a few more -- until somehow I found myself with two mugs worth of fountain pens of all different shapes and styles. And once I had that many fountain pens, it was absolutely necessary that I start buying lots of different colors of bottled ink with names like Dragon's Napalm, Baystate Blue, Vert Empire, Squeteague, Fuyu-Gaki, and Dark Matter. And my fountain pens need to be cleaned and maintained and positioned correctly so they start well. I love it. It's just so much more fun than gel pens.

And I get to walk around with ink all over my hands, which makes me feel all clever and writerly.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Three Dog Life

So, I have three dogs. They are all three years old. The first one is Small Dog. She is mine. I picked her out on PetFinder.com and then tricked my husband Jon into letting me adopt her. By "tricked," I mean I said "I'm going to get a puppy" and he said "Oh cool." We went up to meet her at her foster mom's and it was love at first sight. On my part. She was much more in love with her foster mom and her foster mom's dog.

Big Dog came next. We got him because Small Dog was bored. This time I tricked Jon by saying "Hey, I'm just running down to the animal shelter to look around, okay?" He said "You're planning on getting another dog, aren't you?" and I said "No. Of course not. But you should come with me and bring Small Dog too because the people at the shelter want to introduce Small Dog to the dog I picked out. Also, you have to co-sign the forms." And he said "Oh cool." So we took Small Dog to the shelter and introduced her to the dog I picked out. Small Dog and the dog I picked out hated each others' guts. The shelter said taking the dog I picked out home would be a bad idea and promised to find her a different home with no Small Dogs that hated her. Then the kid, who has inherited some of my fine dog-getting skills, announced he'd gone and picked out a different dog for us to take home. This was Big Dog. But then, Big Dog was a teeny, tiny dog. Small Dog loved him. We took the little tiny dog home with us. Then he grew. And grew. And grew into a huge, sweet, clumsy Big Dog. Big Dog is Jon's.

Medium Dog showed up in the front yard. Me and the kid were out gardening. The kid suddenly said "Hey Mom, look at me!" I looked. He had his arms around Medium Dog. "Can we keep him?" he said. "Huh, can we? Can we?" "Ummm," I answered.

Medium Dog was skinny. He was limping. He was hungry. He had skin problems. Medium Dog had apparently been running loose in the neighborhood for awhile. Jon wasn't home, so I brought Medium Dog inside and tried to figure out how to convince Jon that we'd always had three dogs. So, Jon comes home and finds Medium Dog in the kitchen. He's not fooled by my attempts to pass Medium Dog off as a heretofore undiscovered feature of our house -- like the cans and cans of tomatoes we'd found hidden in the storage shed (or the liquor in the secret hiding place in the closet, but that's a story for another day). "The kid found him," I said finally, cleverly trying to share the blame. "Oh cool," Jon said. And so Medium Dog became the kid's dog.

Dreams and Other Round and Fragile Things

So I officially have an agent now for the middle grade novel that I've been working on. I can't really explain how excited I am (and how excited I am to be with this particular agent), so I'm not going to try.

Instead, I will tell you about my dreams. They've been about chickens. Specifically the next door neighbor's chickens.

The next door neighbors, who are absolutely divine, got chickens earlier this year. We don't notice them much, but the dogs do. Big Dog is pretty sure they are evil chickens. Don't get me wrong, Big Dog is 75 lbs worth of tough (ha!). He eats McNuggets for breakfast (whenever it is an option). But the living, breathing, moving McNuggets next door have left him feeling a bit upset. When they cackle, he howls and asks if he can come inside.

So anyway, the divine neighbors brought us a bunch of eggs. And we put them in the fridge. And every time I go to sleep, I dream that the eggs hatch and I suddenly have half a dozen chickens of my own to raise. Even in the dream, this isn't easy. We have lots and lots of coyotes in these parts, and lots of other things that would happily eat chickens (including, probably, Medium Dog and Small Dog). And then there is the fact that I don't cook much, so I use about two eggs a year. And in my dream, the eggs keep coming and keep hatching. And finally, I am forced to build a chicken coop fortress out of cinderblocks and cement to keep the chickens safe from the coyotes, and also to keep Big Dog safe from the chickens.

I should probably mention that the divine neighbors don't have a rooster, so realistically these eggs aren't going to hatch. Unless the rumors about parthenogenetic chickens are true....

But all of this is my roundabout way of saying that I have an agent for my middle-grade novel. And sometimes my dreams do come true, just hopefully not the one about the chickens.


I try to be a good mom, I do. But every once in a while, my best efforts backfire. So, the kid had been kind of interested in the multiplication tables this summer -- and I, never being one to miss one of those "teachable moments" I've heard so much about in the parenting magazines, rushed out to buy him a set of flash cards.

Only I appear to have accidentally purchased the FLASHCARDS OF DOOM. These flashcards are so dangerous that they will not only teach your kid math, but they will also risk his life and limb in ways previously unimagined!

These flashcards are so bada$$ that they came with their own "CAUTION MESSAGE". I kid you not. The message reads, in part:


(You might wonder why, as I did. Well, it's because...)



The flashcards also came with the world's most dangerous pen. A pen so dangerous that its


I should take a moment to point out that there are no other small parts in this flashcard set, so I assume they mean small parts in general. Also, the pen cap is tiny. You could totally swallow it without choking.

It also suggests that supervising parents should

PLEASE USE SPECIAL CAUTION WITH LEFT-HANDED CHILDREN. I don't know what kind of special caution here, but being left-handed myself -- and knowing that we lefties are rare-and-thus-valuable, I applaud this.

Anyway, I'm off to contact the appropriate authorities to get statistics on flashcard-related emergency room visits.

And people say math is boring.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Neglected Blog

I love to write, but I don't seem to like to writing blogs much. To say I've been neglecting this blog is understating things. I first had the bright idea of starting a blog in 2008. I reserved this blog with my name on it with the full intention of doing something with it. And then I didn't. And I didn't for so long that I completely forgotten I had it.

So, last week I had the bright idea to start a blog. So I went to blogspot and tried to reserve a blog with my name on it. BUT SOMEONE HAD ALREADY TAKEN IT!!!!! How could this be? The world is a big place, but not so big that someone else should have already taken MY BLOG.

And then, yeah, I figured it all out. It was me all along.