Monday, June 28, 2010

Quick Nerdy Update for the Nerds Who Love Us

It's so hard to write up a blog post without giving ample details and photos. I'm always afraid that if I just mention something -- instead of going full-force in detailing it -- I won't return to it and it'll be underrepresented down the line when the family reads it.

Such a sad, sad life for a little blog post.

Nonetheless, I'll drop this quickie in the blog and hope I come back with juicy posts later this week:

*We went to Crater Lake and Bend with Mike and Jan and the fabulous Mimi (Mick's grandmother from Delaware) when they were visiting a couple weeks ago.

*Mick and I took the kids to a Mariners game in Seattle last Thursday. Mema joined us. The M's played the Cubs, who only come to Seattle once every four years. The M's may have lost, but it was an exciting game on a sunny day -- and the kids insisted on staying for all 13 innings. (Yes, it went into extra innings, tied 2-2 in the 9th.)

*We stayed with my parents for the long weekend, visited friends like Jordan West, Dave Lane, and Karen Urlie; we also saw family like Gigi (my mom's mom), Vi and Gran (Don's parents) and Aunt Laurie and Uncle John.

*We went to Mick's 25th High School Reunion at Cheers West.(Curtis '85) and Mick didn't even break out in a cold sweat.

*I started teaching Sticky Slippery Messy Mix-y Texture Camp at ScienceWorks this week, with Dane and Aubs as my helpers. Today we did puffy paint on aprons and then sculpted with shaving cream. Tomorrow it's Ooblek and Homemade Bouncy Balls.

*Wednesday night, my writer pal Maya Creedman Ho (from Mill Valley) and her husband and two kids will stop over on their way home to Marin.

*Friday night Mick and I will go to the Black Crowes at Britt Fest with our friends Marigny and Goody.

That's all for now.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Someone's a Hot Shot

For eight months, Aubrey's been asking the gymnastics coordinator at the 'Y' what she needs to do to move up a level in class.

She's been taking gymnastics off and on for over a year (taking breaks for ski season and baseball season) and she's always been told that she needs to improve something. (I never told Aubs this, but she was always told to work on some random skill she'd already had checked off -- it almost felt like the coordinator had too much on her hands and didn't want to think about at the time. But that's okay! I kept that to myself and encouraged a good go-getter attitude.)

And, bless her heart, Aubrey's always said, "Okay!" Sometimes she'd tell me she thought she'd already done that skill well for them, but she'd keep practicing.

So this girl practices gymnastics ALL the time -- even in ski boots on the ski slope when her skis are off. She does hand stands on the living room floor all afternoon and evening, practicing push-ups from the hand stand position against the door. She also does back bends with these crazy high arches where her hands are touching her feet and her ribs look like a table top -- and then she does a kickover.

Let's just say she has some serious skills and persistence that I look at with great admiration.

Now her hard work and persistence and passion have paid off -- and she's a Hot Shot! (a.k.a. Intermediate gymnast.) Her classes will go from one hour once a week to 1-1/2 hours twice a week. And we're up for it.

Way to go, Aubrey!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Last Day of School

Aubrey made this card for her teacher, Inge.
Inge's very stylish and pretty.

Dane made this card for his teacher.
Debi's very natural and outdoorsy -- and loves birds.

Throughout the year, I continually evaluate whether I think Dane and Aubrey are being pushed hard enough in school. I often wonder whether they're up to speed with what children their ages in other schools or states are learning -- in terms of spelling, math, and science.

But one thing I always notice is that they love their teachers, they love their peers, and they love going to Walker. For that reason, I'll continue to gauge their academic skills, and supplement a lot from home, but I'll keep sending them into that happy, healthy learning environment -- and remind myself that a child's developmental growth isn't only measured by academics.

Bye-bye, 2nd and 3rd grades! Hello 3rd and 4th!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

She Sings AND She Reads! Guest Blogger Soprano Karen Urlie weighs in on her favorite first lines

I was kind of excited that Anjie (hope she wasn't joking…) suggested that I guest blog about some of my favorite books' first lines. I'm definitely not a writer, but I've always been an avid reader.

Over the past year, I've been trying to assemble my lifetime reading list, but it's nowhere near comprehensive. I truly wish that I had, like Anj, kept a lifelong list of books I've read. I'll admit that this is most likely because I seem to only ever recall stories (yes, and people) that, at some point, I actually liked. Reading is absolutely an escape for me, an oasis for my busy mind and fully scheduled day to day existence.

Generally I choose my books this way: first, if recommended to me by a trusted reader friend; second, I prefer my books to be FAT, with small print - I read fast, so I want big bang for my buck and the fatter the better; and third, I want to be captured in the first page, so I always read it before I buy or borrow.

What I notice from the list below, though not a complete surprise, is that I want a strong and vivid description to carry me instantly away from my real world and into the story. This list of first lines from a few favorite books (that span my reading life) has been a great reminder of what were some incredibly good stories, which I recommend you read, if you haven't already.

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.

-The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton

Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, Lady of Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the headland.

-The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

“When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets," Papa would say, "she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing."

-Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.

-Ahab's Wife, Sena Jeter Naslund

In the shade of the house, in the sunshine of the riverbank near the boats, in the shade of the Sal-wood forest, in the shade of the fig tree is where Siddhartha grew up, the handsome son of the Brahman, the young falcon, together with his friend Govinda, son of a Brahman.

-Siddhartha, Herman Hesse

The wind being fierce and the tides unobliging, the ship from Harwich has a slow time of it.

-Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Gregory Maguire

She woke at midnight.

-Palace Walk (book one in the Cairo Triology), Naguib Mahfouz

In a broad valley, at the foot of a sloping hillside, beside a clear bubbling stream, Tom was building a house.

-The Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett

For the first fifteen years of our lives, Danny and I lived within five blocks of each other and neither of us knew of the other's existence.

-The Chosen, Chaim Potok

Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs.

-Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder

There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

-Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

In 1972 I was sixteen – young, my father said, to be traveling with him on his diplomatic missions.

-The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova

I could hear a roll of muffled drums.

-The Other Boleyn Girl, Philipa Gregory


Now you know Karen can read! Listen to Karen sing here.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Quick! Another Lovely!

(Now I don't feel so lame about the post below.) The Writer's Workshop Review just notified me that they've accepted "Tree," one of my favorite short-shorts, for publication in their next issue. I'm so glad it found a home in the Pacific Northwest, which is where its heart is.

I'll be sure to post when it's published -- and, yes, this makes me six for six in my year of publishing monthly!

The Lame, The Lazy and the Lovely

Alright, I'll start with the lame:

Two love letters this week. One from Skirt! rejecting an essay I wrote for their F-Word issue (Feminist/Fashionista/etc.) about facial hair, and another from Brevity, rejecting "Write in the Attic," a short nonfiction piece I hoped they'd love.

For the record, my work has been rejected by both of these publications on more than one occasion. I'll keep submitting to them, though -- maybe someday I'll get it right. I'll also keep submitting those pieces to other publications, because I think they're really good, and maybe someone else might think I got it right.

On to the lazy:

This one's mortifying: I submitted a flash fiction piece to SmokeLong Quarterly this morning - and I forgot I'd taken out a word to replace it with something amazing later! So yes, I didn't proofread well enough - until after I sent it - to put the amazing word in! Yeah, I'm mortified. I'll be expecting an immediate rejection from SmokeLong - and won't be submitting to that mag for a while. (They limit one submission per quarter, I think.)

Time for the lovely:

I finally got the hard copy of (and payment for!) my essay in Underwired's April issue - and it's gorgeous. The layout, the ads, the font -- it's all spectacular and I'm so happy about that publication. I'm going to frame the cover for my home.

And a final note:

I read recently that I should have at least a dozen, if not two dozen, items "out there," submitted at any given time. I'm sitting at seven out there right now, so my goal today is to submit to another four (woops, five, bad math) publications by afternoon.

Then I have to squeeze in house cleaning, grocery shopping, and caring for a little guy at home (for the third day in a row!) who in all likelihood has Fifth Disease, which has been running rampant through our school. (This sounds scarier than it is. Look up Fifth Disease here.)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

First Lines of the Morning

In Writing Life Stories, by Bill Roorbach, I'm studying how to make memories into memoirs, ideas into essays, and life into literature. That's the book's subtitle, by the way.

These were my first assignments:
1. Clear a writing space for yourself. (Still working on that one.)
2. Set aside an hour a day to read something challenging - something that's been on your list, but you know it'll take extra effort to get through. For me, that's something like a novel by James Joyce or a book of nature writing by Edward Abbey or a book of science writing like The Moral Animal.
3. Form a writing circle to meet a couple times a month. (Done.)
4. Set aside scheduled time to write daily. (Done, but will be even more intentional.)
5. Find 10-20 "first lines" that work.

I was going to skip that last one, but then I decided I'd better play this game full out - and let me just say, it fed my soul to search through my book shelves to find my favorite books and essays, and then to type up their first lines.

Some of them, like Cormac McCarthy's The Road made me cry just to type them up. McCarthy nails the theme of love between his two main characters in that very first line, and that fierce desire the father holds to do whatever it takes to see his son to safety in a dangerous post-apocalypic world.

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night, he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy

Others, like Richard Selzer's "The Masked Marvel's Last Toe-Hold" and Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face surprised me to start with such simplicity. When you finish their stories, though, you understand that Selzer's giving you another day at work - which is not just another day at work, and Grealy's giving you the shock of what it is to survive face cancer and be subject to the standards of beauty our society holds.

Morning rounds.

-"The Masked Marvel's Last Toe-Hold," Richard Selzer


-Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy

And I got to re-visit Cannery Row and how that first line is pure poetry about the contradictions of the simple but complex life on Cannery Row. I remember stopping at the end of that first sentence the first time I read the story, and re-reading it for what it felt like.

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck

And here are the others, including the ones above. I'll let them all speak for themselves now:

lake level: 4206.00'
Mimi passed away this morning at 5:10 A.M., June 27, 1989.
-"Screech Owls," Terry Tempest Williams

By nightfall the headlines would be reporting devastation.
-The Transit of Venus, Shirley Hazzard

Nine months Landsman's been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered.
-The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Michael Chabon

My desert-island, all time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order:
1. Alison Ashworth
2. Penny Hardwick
3. Jackie Allen
4. Charlie Nicholson
5. Sarah Kendrew
-High Fidelity, Nick Hornby

Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, "That afternoon when I met so-and-so... was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon."
-Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden

When I teach a beginning class, it is good.
-Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, Natalie Goldberg

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.
-The Road, Cormac McCarthy

Morning rounds.
-"The Masked Marvel's Last Toehold," Richard Selzer

Not dead, yet: We found him where he had tried to die in his car -- a huge old Mercedes pulled to the side of Reservoir Road, a washed-out dirt track encircling, what else, a reservoir.
-"The Dead Man," Justin Cronin

At daybreak Billy Buck emerged from the bunkhouse and stood for a moment on the porch looking up at the sky.
-The Red Pony, John Steinbeck

-Autobiography of a Face, Lucy Grealy

He came after Homer and before Gertrude Stein, a difficult interval for a poet.
-Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse, Anne Carson

Look, I didn't want to be a half-blood.
-The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan

The line gets drawn, and the line gets drawn again.
-"The Line Is White, and It Is Narrow," Beth Kephart

My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born.
-Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt

In the town there were two mutes, and they were always together.
-The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

That last one just kills me. McCullers nailed it there, too. What the two mutes mean to each other is just going to explode as that story unfolds.

If you've read this far, do you have a favorite book with an opening that nails it? Add to my list...