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Conversations Through Art

Today, I was supposed to be the host of a Conversation Cafe series put on by my campus’ Student Programs. I was going to talk about my cross-stitch hobby, and I was excited to show off my piece that won best in show at the local fair:

Obviously that isn’t happening, but just like in other times in my life, cross-stitching has been helping me cope with the changes going on in my life.

I found a cute little design from Heaven and Earth called Storykeep Storykeeper. It’s a cropped portion of Selina French’s artwork, and I loved it! I showed a daily update of my progress on Instagram, and it was a fun way to connect with people while everything felt so disordered.

When I started it, we were told that we’d only be out for a few weeks. I’m on day 34 of isolation and the project took me roughly 20 days with a few days of not working on it. (I’m not ashamed to admit that I hurt my pinky finger playing high stakes tetherball with the youngest…)

I love cross-stitch because beauty grows from small steps that don’t seem to be going anywhere until you back away from it. Then you can see that when you were in the blur of a section, you were really creating a meaningful part of a bigger picture, one that is often appreciated by those around you.

So today, I want to have a conversation about art! What have you created during the change in your daily routine, or what would you secretly like to attempt but have been too afraid to? What questions do you have about creating work?

When You Are Fired from Being Santa, but the Spirit Lives On

“I’ve been holding onto these,” my son said with a wink. “How much will you pay for them?”

I opened the tiny case, and inside were three baby teeth. His little sister was sitting right next to me at the coffee table. She looked down at them with as much disgust as I did.

Mind you, my son is fourteen. Neither of us have declared the non-existence of the mythical creatures in our lives, but we both knew how these schemes worked. I obviously had my motives: I didn’t want to ruin the magic of the events. I love being Santa, although to be honest, I was a crappy tooth fairy. My son didn’t want to ruin his cash cow, and to ensure that he kept getting gifts, he would help keep his cover by vehemently defending Santa and the Easter Bunny to his little sister. But he had kept these teeth for months, saving them for when he needed money. His need to get a Fortnite Battle Pass was outweighing his need to keep his cover. Given that it was July and Christmas was a long time away, I couldn’t blame him for choosing the immediate concern.

 “I’m pretty sure the tooth fairy only takes fresh teeth,” I replied. “And I paid the dentist to remove them, so why would I pay for them now?”

My youngest rolled her eyes and said, “Mom, we know.” But it wasn’t just a simple statement. There was major emphasis on the “know” that made it heavy with accusation and understanding. My cover as blown!

All kids come to a point when they know that Santa doesn’t exist. I realized it myself when I was eight. I had made custom bracelets for all the reindeer and later found them under the couch cushions. Like my son, I didn’t say anything. I just let the magic die.

 I didn’t want that for my kids, so I had been planning for this day:

I explained that when kids are younger, they have a hard time conceptualizing abstract ideas that lead to them to be good people, like generosity, kindness, and empathy. It’s easier to teach these constructs when they have concrete examples. Additionally, kids can understand at a young age that a person has a role that they play, for example, doctors heal and teachers provide us with the opportunity to learn. Having these constructs within a corporeal form gives parents the opportunity to show examples of what it means to be good and generous. As such, Santa exists to teach children goodness in the world. Now Santa is most certainly not the only way to teach these constructs; it’s better in my opinion that the adults in their lives be examples of these things, but it’s easy to have Santa be these examples because society by and large helps to promote him. Although, society’s reasons are largely capitalistic, and therefore actually selfish… but not the point!  

As kids get older, they realize that teachers don’t live at school and it’s impossible for one man to travel around the world delivering billions of presents. What a lot of people have trouble understanding is that when kids are old enough to understand the abstract ideas, they also learn another truth: the people they trust the most can and do lie to them. Thus, the good lessons that parents were attempting to teach are tainted, making it easy to sweep these lessons under the rug. I didn’t want that for them; I wanted them to focus on the good lessons, and if they could focus on “being the Santa” and understand the value of generosity, kindness, and empathy, they would be better people for it.  

That’s a heavy kind of conversation to have with kids, but they nodded in all the right places. My youngest, per usual, asked a million questions, but we came to a consensus that they would think of others, and more importantly to them, it wouldn’t affect their own gifts at Christmastime.

That was back in July when we faced our hardest summer, financially. They learned a lot of lessons this year, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if the lessons that I had tried to convey in our conversation had been forgotten.

But they weren’t.

When December rolled around, they didn’t have a million things on their list that they wanted; they actually had a bigger interest in getting things for the family and not themselves, essentially adopting the Santa role for the people they care about. I could see they were getting the idea of being generous, but I wanted them to branch their Santa spirit outward beyond the family, so we set out to donate toys to charities. That seemed easy enough, but then I learned of a child whose mother was conflicted. Her son had never asked Santa for anything, and now that he was, she couldn’t make it happen. I knew this was a key opportunity to help a child that they knew by helping his Santa, the very concrete thing that would cement the giving spirit that I wanted them to emulate. They were on board, in fact, they were excited! They pooled what money they had left, hustled me and my mom for more money, and thus helped to continue the spirit of giving during the Christmas season.

It’s times like these when I think that maybe I am worthy of parenting two amazing kids.

Now I recognize that there is more to Christmas than gifts, but that is not the focus of this blog post. I’m providing my own story to help parents transition children from believing in Santa into being kind and generous members within society, although I suppose as time passes, we’ll know if these lessons truly stick or not.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Here’s to all becoming more generous and kind people in the upcoming year.

How I do NaNoWriMo: One woman’s reflection of the process.

This morning, I was like, hey! When is National Novel READING Month, but I was informed by my kids that NaNoReMO is a year long affair. However, NationalToday.com states that in 2003, the National Book Foundation recognized October as National Book Month. We missed it this year, readers. Mark your calendars though, because we will be doing it to the extreme next year!

We are on day seven of celebrating the month designated in the writing world as National Novel Writing Month.

I wanted to address three things that my excitement in the previous post didn’t allow.

  1. I am not a National Novel Writing Month Master. In the past, I avoided it because I was not in a position to put myself into a 50k surplus of words. The first time that I entered NaNoWriMo was last year, and I was successful only because I trained.

I have spent years writing, building my literary muscles, and learning strategies that have made me relatively successful in meeting goals that I set in place. I also have a work environment that promotes writing, and I have amazing coworkers and mentors who are continually checking in on me. I have a relaxed home life with no expectations that consume all of my time. I am one of the blessed.

I also have a kickass kitty editor:

2. I was asked the other day, if your main objective is to just get 50,000 words in a month, aren’t they going to be really crappy? For example, you could just blather on about the blue sky, or well maybe it was more gray but at either rate something that made your character think it was about too to rain, which thus altered their mood and made the whole day seem pretty blahworthy? <~ in other words, wouldn’t you just be putting words on a page, and not really have accomplished much if you’re going to revise them out?

I agree that sounds like a waste, and I’m not going to claim that people don’t do that. However, I would say to give me more credit than that. I am as equally likely to put an excess amount of words into my drafts even when I’m not tracking them, not because I’m a bad writer, but because I know that my main goal in creating a draft is getting words on a page. My focus is on my ideas, or what I’m visualizing, which can change as I gain more clarity through the act of writing. I embrace the sloppiness and redundancy of my drafts no matter what time of year.

Despite my bravado in the previous paragraph, I was curious, so I looked back at a rough draft of a piece that I had started in September. It was a short story, still kind of crappy and needing a lot of revision. In this piece, I did what I’d like to call a very skeletal telling of the situation. The plot was moving on, but there was no real description of anything. There was also a lot of dialogue that felt awkward (Do people still say Greetings?). Then, I looked at what I had written on the first day of Nano. My first day of NaNo work was superior to the short story. But it wasn’t because I was focused on getting words out and spending more of my time writing, I credit the fact that I did more prep work for my NaNo project. For the NaNo project, I had spent October detailing things so I had a clearer picture, and because I had a clearer picture, it was easier to bring the words out. I don’t really know the characters in my September short story yet, so sometimes they became stiff as I was writing about them. As such, I would say that NaNo is not affecting my ability to write efficiently, plotting is. And it’s not to say that my September piece won’t eventually be on the same level, it just means I took a different approach to get there.

3. My biggest secret to the NaNoWriMo experience is that I don’t write all day, nor do I write in large spans of time. Never have, even as an academic writer, and to me, an hour is too long. During NaNo, there has not been a day so far that I haven’t been able to sit down and do some level of ninja writing sprints. In these sprints, I don’t look at 50k, I look at 500 words. I’m just going to commit to sitting wherever I am at, watching my characters, and seeing how they interact with each other… for 500 words. Sometimes it takes ten minutes, others 20-40 minutes, but after that, I am off to do something else.

I don’t make it a habit to be consumed with writing so that I become burned out. You will never catch me trying to sit down for more than 40 minutes to write, and this is a model that I celebrate throughout the year. The only thing that has changed during NaNo is how many times that will I sit down and sprint throughout the day. It also doesn’t mean that I won’t go over 500 words; I have on several occasions, if I am in the zone. I just don’t expect it.

I also don’t do any writing after 7 p.m. unless I am at work on Thursdays.  I embrace the me time during these hours, but again, I have a schedule and support network that allows me to do this. Not everyone has that luxury.

I am really curious to see what every one else’s tricks to NaNoWriMo are. What tricks do you find successful that I can add to my toolbox?

Or what are your reasons for not attempting NaNo? It’s not for every writer, and these reasons are just valuable.  

National Novel Writing 2019 Edition

Forget Halloween and dressing up for candy, it’s time to talk about my favorite time of year:

National Novel Writing Month! NaNoWriMo is an organization that collaborates with writers and helps them receive resources, thus allowing them to reach success within their projects. I’m a long time fan, and have blogged about it numerous times in the past.

This year’s project is a bit tricky:

My mother asked me to write a romance Navy-Sealesque type story for her birthday. She’s big into these type of books, which have quite a huge range to choose from. I got about one chapter done before scrapping it. Commission writing is hard, especially when you’re not getting paid for it, but the idea I had in mind stuck with me. Then, I had a genius idea to synthesize it with a previous story that I also scrapped. Throw in another romantic duo and BAM, an idea is ready to spring forth into fruition!  It’s unlike anything that I have written before, and definitely not like the romance books my mom reads, but I’m excited to see how it all comes together.

This is the first time that I have done some serious prepping for my upcoming project. I created an index: character profiles, histories of each country involved, and all the socio-political issues being faced. I’m quite proud of myself!

I also created a log to accompany me around, which was great in helping me strategize when I can write. In theory, 1667 a day seems doable, until you run into a day where you have only 3 hours free. As a result, my daily count ranges from 500-3,000 a day to make sure that I can maximize my free days and not stress about the days that aren’t. If I keep on track, I will have no trouble reaching the hefty 50,000 goal.

However, there lies the one catch to this whole process. To get to 50,000 words in a 30 day window, I have to be really focused, especially since I am a turtle writer. One missed 3,000 day will instantly derail me. And I have a lot of distractions to contend with. I have a new writing buddy, who is only seven weeks and eager to have my attention at all times. I have work, which often exhausts me because it comes with a huge mental load. I have a family and their numerous activities. NaNoWriMo is a serious test of perseverance.

And if that were not enough, I like to take NaNoWriMo to the extreme. On top of writing, I will be reading The Right to Write by Julia Cameron. When I saw this for sale in a scholarship bookfair event on campus, I knew that it would be perfect for November.

For audio pleasure this month, I will be listening to You Do You by Sarah Knight. It’s not about writing, which I try to stick to each year, but I felt like this had the right energy to keep things in perspective. Plus, her Tedx Talk puts me in the right mood to be reminded of how valuable my time is, and to spend it wisely. There’s no extra f*cks during National Novel Writing Month!

Anyone else doing NaNoWriMo?

Grandma to Turtles?

In class, my daughter was dubbed “Clumsy Turtle,” which has led to a near obsession the past few months of all things turtle related:

A collection of turtle trinkets is forming. This is one we found at the local coffee shop.

Naturally, she wants a pet turtle.

I really REALLY don’t want another pet. I mean I want them in the fact that having a new pet is exciting. But a turtle? They don’t look the snuggly type. And does she want a turtle because she loves the creatures, or is she infatuated with her nickname connection to them?

To figure that question out, I bought some time and told her that she needed to do some serious research on turtle care and wait awhile to see if this was still what she wanted. That same day, my daughter blew through my room, her laptop in hand. She had compiled a list of detailed care instructions for the three most common varieties of pet turtles. (I say compiled because she straight up no shame in her game copy and pasted things without citing references. Have I taught her nothing?!) At the bottom, she had itemized a cost of all the supplies. The only thing she couldn’t find was how much the turtle themselves cost, otherwise, it was incredibly thorough.  

We drove to three pet stores the next day. One was nearby. No turtles. The second one we went to was larger, but even they had no turtles. My daughter asked a clerk why. He said that they had received an order of turtles, but they couldn’t sell them. Not until Saturday, which also happened to be their annual Reptile Rally. The turtles would be 50% off then. Finally, we went to a smaller pet store. And they actually had a turtle!

Which is where I saw some information that my daughter conveniently left off of her list of information. Turtles can live up to 25 years! Say what now?!

That’s a long shelf life!

The next step was to call our vet and see if they cover turtles. I assume they do. Their logo has a bunch of animals, turtles included, so it would be a major case of false advertisement if they didn’t. However, I expect full and complete leg work of my child if she expects to bring a new life into this home.

Meanwhile, I started some research of my own. I learned that the reason that the second shop couldn’t sell their turtles to us was because they were red eared sliders, which are considered an invasive species in my state. I know that I should be concerned by that, but I’m not going to lie: When I heard that, I thought why can’t I just go and find some in the wild then and save $40? I kid…

My next set of research was to see if there were any turtles in the local shelters. There weren’t, but there is an organization a state away called Turtle Rescue League. On their page, they state that red-eared sliders are the most abandoned pet in the country- which if I’m being honest makes me very sympathetic to the idea of getting one now. You poor, abandoned creatures!

On the other hand, if that sucker lives 25 years, it IS like bringing another child into the home. In fact, we talked about how our dog and cats are like children to me, in that their needs will sometimes have to supersede my own. On our way to day camp today, I stressed that this turtle will not be her sibling. It will be her first “child,” and I expect her to give it that level of care. I said I’d treat it like a grandchild, spoiling it and watching it when she needed me to, but at the end of the day, that turtle is going home with its momma…

Photo curtesy of Cheezeburger.com

There is a knowledge digestion period that we’re now in. We must let all the information we’ve learned sink in before making a decision, which kids have a hard time doing. Everything must be NOW! Let’s face it, that’s probably why so many turtles are abandoned.

I have a feeling though that before the summer is out, I’ll be a grandma to a reptile.

New York City and the Allaires

This weekend we celebrated the eldest’ birthday in New York City!

We went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two.

The kids and I had read the screenplay, each responsible for a bunch of parts. I have to say; my son did an impersonation of Draco Malfoy that was unforgettable! Of all the parts I played, I feel that I really resonated with Professor Mcgonagall. It’s good to see that she’s still super sassy and not about to put up with nobody’s hot mess… even if you are the Minister for Magic.

Suffice to say, the shows were amazing, certainly well worth the mortgage payment price.

On the second part, we splurged on the lounge option where we got to have dinner, desert, and drinks before and during intermission.

I’m disappointed that some people were too celebratory during Voldemort Day, but what can you expect from a Slytherin?

My kids also went to Central Park for the first time. I don’t think they were as impressed about it as I was. I love how energized the park is. There are musicians and artists all around. You can catch a bride walking along a bride to her groom on the other side. It’s a beautiful place to be in spring.

We also checked out the American Museum of Natural History. I was brazen, I wanted to DO ALL THE THINGS, so our day was spent doing all the special features of the museum, but not really getting to see any of the key elements. <~ which to me means another museum trip in the future!

 We got to play with butterflies.

We learned about the ocean:

We got pretty intimate with notorious T-Rex:

We watched this epic IMAX movie about backyard creatures. My youngest was really fascinated, so we may end up installing a critter cam in our wooded area to see what calls that area home.

Finally, we visited their planetarium to see Dark Universe. And all of this was fruitful because I made a cosmicoceanological connection that has revolutionized the way my the science of my Children of the Planes novel pans out.

After the museum, we visited Laughing Man Coffee. This was the only thing on my husband’s list, being a fan of Hugh Jackman.

I had it in my head that this was a coffee shoppe, but I’d call it more like a coffee stop, which was a tad bit disappointing given that we paid over $27 to take a cab from the museum to this location to make sure that we got there on time. Turns out there are two locations and we went to the Duane Street option. The other one looks more of what I envisioned in my head. We sat outside, which to me was the perk of the place. People with their pups were sitting, and there was cute dog that I swear looked like the Lorax.

Finally, I don’t think it’s that surprising that I monopolized on our journey to Pokehunt. Living in a rural area, I was in Pokestop overload. And all our walking, despite the constant groaning of the kids, was worth it:

We are headed back to New York City again in two weeks. Any places that you have to visit when you’re in the city?

In Memory of William Goldman

21787I am a child of The Princess Bride movie. The witty banter, the belief in true love… the passion for adventure.

It’s crazy that my literary week has been consumed with William Goldman only to hear that he passed away.

It wasn’t easy explaining that to the kids. I had them fall in love with an author only to have him pass away.

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Last night we got to the part where the man in black is climbing up the cliff.. and the rope is cut! But dang if that doesn’t stop him! Up he climbs, the true spirit of perseverance. But who is he?

Princess-Bride-Quotes-And-Sayings-2 (1)And being 10, she kept saying “Inconsiderate” instead of inconceivable. My constant corrections were driving her crazy, but this is something you have to get right! It’s these small details that stay with you forever.

Of course, I corrected her by saying “You keep saying that word! I don’t think it means what you think it does.” Which cracked me up immensely, but irritated my little young reader. And when she got to the part were Inigo says it, the look on her face was worth it…

Not knowing how the tale unfolds, my daughter mourns the death of Westley. She was upset that he died because Buttercup loved him. Westley will be reborn… he will live on and will continue both his own legacy but Goldman’s as well. As writers, isn’t that one of the finer ironies in life? Your characters will live again and again within the minds of the reader long after you’re gone.

Thank you William Goldman for helping to shape my childhood, but helping me pass on memorable moments to my children.

You Are Weird, but That’s Why We Love You.

I would like to personally thank Felicia Day for her memoir, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). I know her from her internet show, The Guild, but my mom, and most everyone else, know her as Charlie from Supernatural.

I’ve always loved her because she outwardly owns how I feel on the inside – an awkwardly adorable nerd. I could tell right away that she was a kindred spirit.

When I saw her memoir was on audible, it became my summer jam. Audible books are great, especially memoirs being read by the person themselves, because it feels like you are having a conversation with them.

I finished Day’s book while recovering from eye surgery. The memoir felt like she was saying “Yeah, you crying tears of blood is a bit weird, but have you heard about how I was homeschooled?” <~ It was the perfect distraction to help me re-coop.

I thought my right eye was literally going to pop out of my socket. I essentially laid on the ground thanking gravity for its existence, because I felt it was the only thing keeping my eyeball on the inside of my head. It wasn’t paranoia; it was science!

I really identified with her needing to get that 4.0 in college. Sadly, in both community college and in my four year institution, I did not maintain it. And you know what, I’m still bitter. The classes that took me down were supposed to be easy and fun ~> Looking at you Digital Photography and Introduction to Mythology!  Felicia’s ability to keep her 4.0 is proof that she deserves to be put on a pedestal that I will forever worship.

 

 

Comic from FowlLanguageComics.com

There were other gems found in that memoir, specifically the issue involving GamerGate. I admired Day’s incredible strength in defending all gamer women. I’ve been accosted myself a few times playing games, and as one who has taken numerous sociological classes with a focus on gender, I can attest that these conversations are not only vital but well over due.

I am, however, disappointed because she mentioned that a PDF should have been included with the audio book, yet I never received it. I missed out on glorious visual elements that would have fully engaged my experience with this memoir.

Also, never mind, a quick google search can save embarrassing whiney moments such as this…

Being partially blind for an entire week made me a bit crazy, but since the whole point of the novel is to own what makes you a weirdo, I feel comfortable sharing this with you all. Crazy and weird are practically synonyms right?

At the Beach with the Written World

Dear Beach,

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Unfortunately, we need to temporarily break up. Fall is here, and our summer of slacktitude, although brief, will forever be on my mind when the leaves drown my grass, and I get diabetes from drinking too many Pumpking Spiced Lattes.

My last visit to you will be remembered fondly, even though there were nasty seaweed bits which got stuck in my daughter’s hair and had to be combed out. Your parting gift of sand in every nook and cranny of the car cannot be undone.

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The book I began to read, and with a fanatical dedication will refuse to read further until I am in your embrace again, will be stored safely until the warm rays of the sun once again beat steadily  upon the surface, causing seventy or higher weather. And if this doesn’t show my love for you, beach, nothing ever could. This book is amazing! It is the holy grail for anyone who loves to read, or like me has a passion for reading AND being nerdy.

 

 

42287184_2166513143607709_3343940354163343360_nI will dream of you when the frost coats the ground, especially of getting to see the wives of a submarine flock your piers to watch the first glimpse of their sailors’ return.

 

And lastly, I will wonder how our mutual friends the sea gulls are and what they eat when the concession stand is closed.

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