The Gifts of NaNoWriMo: Part II (The BEST Part)

I know. I posted twice in a week. How’s that for erratic and unpredictable behavior? I’m not sure I know myself anymore. But last time I left with a cliffhanger, and I couldn’t leave you hanging. Nah, truthfully, I couldn’t wait to share.

Lots of people know that I am a zookeeper. Not as many know that in my second job, I am a computer teacher. I teach grades K-8, and I love it. I want my students to be prepared for the tech-driven world they live in, so we do all kinds of things. Tomorrow we’re jumping in on the Hour of Code event. We also look at digital citizenship and current tech events. This year we took our second foray into National Novel Writing Month. We go through the affiliated Young Writers Program because YWP allows the kids to set their own word goal. My class only meets once per week, so 50,000 words is way more than I would ever expect of them.

Dottie the Therapy Dog is so ready to write her book. It's a tail-wagging saga of a chicken biscuit.

Dottie the Therapy Dog is so ready to write her book. It’s a tail-wagging saga of a chicken biscuit.

The kids love writing as much as I do. We do lots of prep work with writing prompts, and most of them had their ideas in place before November began, but there are a few who are dyed-in-the-wool pantsers, and more power to them. Every kid in grades 2-8 participates. Their word goals are their own, based on their typing speed (that’s how I justify doing NaNo in computer class. They are learning Google docs and typing) and how many words they typically write following a word prompt. I give prizes for everyone who meets their word goal. Can I tell you a secret? EVERYBODY meets their goal. All of them. They also get an additional prize if the group as a whole writes more than I do in the class period. They always win. We have so much fun.

This year, I had six finishers. Six students who met the big word goal that I set for any student who wanted to get published. That meant a LOT of writing outside of class. They want to be writers, and they did what they had to do to make it happen. You can follow all of those adventures on the school’s Facebook page if you like. If you like a picture, you can even “like” that picture. It helps our algorithms. Those are some happy kids. But there’s more to NaNo than finishing. Finishing is incredible, don’t get me wrong. It’s great, but all of the wonder if it is not tied up in a mandatory word goal. Let me share some of the magic.

A child whose goal last year was to write 20 words per class period had to have the word goal changed this year. How many words? 200. This student set the goal for ten times higher than last year.  And blew past it every, single week. And not only that, this child who has avoided reading because large blocks of text are hard to decipher spent hours a week reading to parents, teachers, anyone who would listen. In the car on the way home, after dinner, whenever. Why? Because who doesn’t want to share something they wrote themselves? And now this child reads other things, too. Because a writer has to read, you know.

Another child who often every, single thing they write, be it spelling test, math assignment, or creative writing, because of fear of making a mistake? The first two weeks, the backspace button and delete keys were covered. Once this student figured out that there was no judgement,  I received pages of written work. It’s easy to write when you don’t have to wonder if you are good enough.

A student who despised writing assignments now loves writing SO much that it’s a bargaining chip that parents can use. “Want computer time to work on your blog? Do your homework without arguing.”

We’re seeing changes in so many students. Class journals used to be a chore for some of the kids. After NaNoing, they BEG their teacher for just a little more time to write. “Just a few more sentences, please? PLEASE?!” Because they love expressing themselves. They are excited to write. They cannot wait to sit down and create worlds of their own. And they’re good at it. Because they are writing for themselves, the kids have freedom to show who they are and what they love, and that always makes for a good story.

So this Spring Break, I’ll be spending my work time editing and formatting and getting some incredible students ready for publication. If anyone is interested in purchasing student writing, I’ll be happy to share the links. One of last year’s winners is still in awe of the $25 they made through NaNo novel sales. It’s heady stuff when you can publish your first book before high school.

So this is why I NaNo. Why do you NaNo?

Barefoot Re-Writes

There are benefits to having a blog as a pet. They are there when you need them, but they can go without feeding for weeks on end if necessary. While it hasn’t been exactly weeks, it has been a while. I’ve been volunteering at a school and setting up their computer lab. Three weeks, thirty computers, seventy separate accounts to set up. I’ve felt a little lot like this guy:

Photo credit:  I found this image when I searched "Jurassic park computer dude." I kid you not.

Photo credit: I found this image when I searched “Jurassic park computer dude.” I love the internet.

Not in the super-smart, intimidating kind of way. In the talking-to-himself, never-leaves-the-computer kind of way. And minus the killer dinosaurs and the candy (there will be NO eating around the new computers! Any questions? *insert psychotic death stare here*). By the time I got home at the end of the day, the last thing I wanted to do was sit at my own computer to do anything at all.

On Friday, except for a couple of minor adjustments, I finished my project. To celebrate, my family and I went to the mountains to hike. Let’s just say it was a treat to be free of error codes and captchas.

We were about twenty minutes in when Girl-child decided your garden-variety trail hike was too easy. She challenged me to take the rest of it barefoot. I’m pretty sure it was a double-or-triple-dog dare, and the honor of my entire family was at stake.  Or maybe she just said “Hey, wanna go barefoot?” I can’t remember. I ate a lot of paint as a kid. On a dare. There might be a lesson there somewhere. Anyway, the next thing I know, I’m stumbling over rock and bramble, my shoes swinging cheerfully from my husband’s backpack a mile ahead of me down the trail.

Alone in the woods with nothing but the sounds of my own cursing the birds and kamikaze gnats, I had a little time to think. It came to me that barefoot hiking has a lot in common with the process of rewriting.

I can’t cover as much ground as I am used to. Chacos securely on feet, I can trot down the trail at a respectable clip. The hike we did would take an hour, plus any time we spent playing in the stream.I can’t do that barefoot. Each step matters.  Writing that first draft, I don’t watch where I put my proverbial feet. I just go, laying down the pages as fast as my imagination will let me. Rewriting means slowing down, carefully picking out that next step.

I will see things I may have otherwise missed. A slower pace has its advantages. By checking out the scenery around me on the trail, I may discover things.

This critter was about 1/2 inch long.

This caterpillar was about 1/2 inch long. The guys missed it because they were moving too fast. I don’t know what species it is. A Google image search tells me it’s sushi or a quiche. Oh, well. Win some, lose some.

Rewrites force me to slow down and look at the details. Is that bit of dialogue lame? Was that scene in keeping with my characters personality? Are my descriptions adequate without going overboard?

I get the opportunity to pull back and look at the big picture, too.


Sometimes it’s good to look at the plot as a whole. Is the path clear? Is it taking my reader where I want them to go, or is it leading them straight off a cliff? Are there too many side trails where they’re going to get lost?

Sometimes I find hidden treasures. 

It's a pile of leaves, right? Of course not. Do you see it?

It’s a pile of leaves, right? Of course not. Do you see it?

Look again. It took about 5 minutes for me to find it, even though I KNEW it was there.

See him now? Or her.

See him now? Or her.

Another view.

I'm pretty sure this is a juvenile American toad.

I’m pretty sure this is a juvenile American toad.

There’s no better feeling than re-reading something I have written and coming across a passage that makes me so proud that I can’t even believe I wrote it. Those little gems make the effort worthwhile.

And finally, it hurts a whole lot more. I ended my barefoot stint aching in muscles I don’t ordinarily use, feet filthy and bruised. Rewrites can bruise my heart. That precious scene in the diner that made me laugh out loud as I wrote it? Yeah, it was superfluous. It’s gone. Sometimes a whole character that I fell in love with the moment I birthed them has to go, or at least has to be stripped down to the bones and rebuilt into someone different, someone that better fits with what I’m trying to say.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m not in a hurry to repeat Saturday’s hike. To quote Patrick Henry, “Give me shoes, or give me a piggyback ride and a foot massage.” Rewrites aren’t my favorite thing, either, but I’ll buckle down and do them.They’re necessary to get to the next step. By January, I want to have the manuscript whipped into good enough shape to begin querying agents. Go ahead. Double-dog dare me. See what happens.

Catching You Up

In case you’ve been following my computer saga (and who hasn’t? It’s riveting!), I am now on my third computer in two weeks. The color on the first two was bad. After returning the first two and opting for a different brand entirely, I brought the newest one home with much trepidation.

After Squish went to sleep, I unpacked it all. With bated breath, I booted it up. I was so angry at the distorted appearance on the monitor that I was ready to throw the whole thing out of my second story window. My blood boiled as I thought about having to trek back to the store AGAIN to return a faulty laptop.

Yes, the hands are disproportionately large. Thanks for noticing. We'll call those my "angry hands" and call it a a day, 'kay?


About 10 seconds later, I remembered to remove the thin black foam used to protect the screen during shipping.


And we can call these "stupid hands."


Then I carefully packed everything back into the box to return it. Because I am maybe too stupid to own a computer.


In case you’re wondering, that was not the issue with the first two computers. I swear!

Technical Difficulties

From the day I opened the box, I thought the color on my new computer looked weird. And not just a little. Every page I visit appears as though it has been bleached by the sun. I have tinkered with the color saturation and brightness. And that’s the most annoying part. Every single time I reboot the computer, I have to adjust the color again. I’m ready to scream. I am working on a book about the tortoises at my zoo, and being able to sort through my blue-million photographs and see which ones are good is kind of important. I am not above thinking that this issue my fault, but I decided to contact the company for tech support.

The moment I went to their site, I was invited to register my purchase. So I did. My dog is registered, so why not the computer? The first thing they requested however, requested the model number. Which happens to be on the bottom of the computer and contains more digits than the profit sheet of an oil company. The process would have been a wee bit simpler if I could have typed the digits in myself, but computers are not here to make our lives easier. Instead, I was presented with a drop down menu and asked to select my model number. From a list of 75 nearly identical numbers, all in tiny, cross-your-eyes pale blue font. It took several minutes of scrolling, turning the machine over to double check, scrolling some more, before I located what I was looking for. Wait. Does that have an extra digit? It does. Where is mine? Where is mine? Just as I was about to quit altogether, my model number appeared as if by magic. A few more clicks, and the process was complete. On to the help center.

The first request in the help center was, of course, my model number. Again. I scrolled, I studied the bottom of the computer, scrolled some more. Clicked it, moved on. I discovered that the page was a dead end for me, so I clicked to go back to the help center. And I was asked to select my model number. Scroll, turn, scroll, swear, scroll. Click. Another dead end, and back to the help center. To select my model number, which now is suddenly no longer visible. I may not know Squish’s social security number yet, but by golly, I can rattle my model number in my sleep. And I did.  For kicks, I had it tattooed on my bum-bum.

After about eight tries Finally, I found the right page and was able to send off an email requesting help. When I woke up this morning, I had this response:


If you need me, I will be drinking.

Am I a Cool Kid Now?

I’m typing this post on my brand new computer. Don’t get all excited and try to locate the GPS coordinates to my house in the hopes of stealing a valuable piece of machinery. It’s never safe to assume that “new” means “top-of-the-line-Mac-daddy.” Especially when it comes to me. I haven’t used a Mac since I was 14, and I’m not wealthy in the mood to relearn a system. It’s a  PC. And I feel like a filthy cheater.

For the first time since the old lap-top’s battery bit the dust two (or three?) years ago, I am not tied to a wall when I write.The cord for the old Dell has been replaced once already, and if the cord is breathed on wrong bumped by kid or dog, the computer dies an instant death. I should be delighted that I charged this bad boy yesterday, and it’s happily ticking along. But I’m not. It feels somewhat indecent to be sitting and typing away in Panera with my new toy while Old Faithful languishes at home.

Yes, I said Panera. Isn’t that what the cool kids do? Drag their machines to Panera for the magic cup of coffee that buys them six free hours of wi-fi and blog? Does this make me a hipster now? As you answer, please ignore the Gryffindor messenger bag I used to tote the thing in here. And the bag of bagels sitting on the table waiting for me to take them to the church brunch tomorrow. And the fact that it’s not a Mac.  I’m totally cool, right? Maybe it’s safer not to answer.

This new computer has lots of fancy features, a gajillion times the memory of the old one, plants vs zombies (which I definitely think I should try), and it even has a built in time-travel feature. It must, because it allows WordPress to save my drafts two full minutes before my computer’s clock says I’ve even written them. Time travel rocks. But what it doesn’t have is my enormous collection of photographs. So for awhile, the only pictures you see of me will look like this:

I know. Dead ringer. Adidas track suit and everything. Yes, I drew this myself. I even put five fingers on each hand. I was going to stop at four, but I go the extra mile for my readers.

I am sure that over time, I will fall totally in love with my new computer. But I will never learn to love Panera and the horrible, horrible jazz they play on their muzak. I think I have to leave now. Before I kill someone.

Update: I’m Being Thwarted

I'm onto you, woman. Stay out of my bed. Stay far, far away.


***I do apologize to those who got the first draft in their inbox with its questionable title. Big shout-out to WordPress for including Urban Dictionary trash words in their spell check.


So yesterday I shared my list of Resolutions. Yes, it’s a capital letter. Because they’re that important. And I expected to run into a few roadblocks along the way, but not right out of the starting gate. The universe is conspiring against me.

#2 is becoming a bigger challenge than I thought, as the cats have taken to sleeping on the couch in the family room. I know better that to wee where I Wii, so I must wait.

#4 is a little dicey, as well. The moment I hit “publish” and announced to the world that I plan to blog five days a week, my computer began making strange noises, as though is were filled with African killer bees. I should have known. In the middle of editing the post, it gave me the blue-screen of death and for 15 minutes, I thought I had lost everything. My computer is roughly 143 in laptop years, so I should be realistic.If you don’t hear from me for awhile, it’s because I had to take it out in a field and shoot it.

#6 is not as much fun as I wanted it to be. The temperature here dropped well below freezing, so the thought of outdoor exercise of any kind is unpleasant. My husband decided yesterday that I should go to a mall to get some walking in. I put on my polyester stretch pants and went for it, and what a mistake that was! I barely got out of there alive. Between the choking fumes pumped into the corridor by that hot clothing retailer Armpit & Stench and the cute little train that was someone’s genius idea to make holiday shopping in a crowded mall more death-defying than ever, I decided that indoor exercise is not worth it. Does it matter if I lose 15lbs if I meet my end under the wheels of a mall-train?

#8 reared its ugly head, as well. I know I am not to compare my progress to others’, but how can I not? There’s a fitness center in my area that has been posting billboards with esoteric close-ups of bare skin. I’m not even sure what body-part I am looking at. Is it a thigh? Abs? An armpit? I don’t know, but I get the very strong feeling that my whatever-it-is should look like that, too. And I am sad. There’s a new one where the model looks more like challah bread than an actual person. I KNOW I am sorely lacking in braided-bread-body-parts. And I am dissatisfied. There is someone shinier and lumpier than I, and it is not fair.

On the up-side, my husband returned to work this morning, and I have not yet let my dog Phoebe drink out of his coffee mug. Though she is looking pretty comfortable on his side of the bed and has asked to try on his racing shoes later this morning. Hey, a girl can’t change overnight.

What We Really Need

Yesterday, I complained about Facebook’s new feed. I hate it and have since it was first unveiled for me. The top stories business has driven me insane. If I was willing to read what someone else thought was important, I’d have actually read Bartleby the Scrivener when it was assigned in high school. But I would prefer not to.

I am magic. Today I suddenly have the ability to sort my feed the way I want to. I can opt to have posts appear in order rather than by what Facebook thinks should be important to me. How exciting! A new feature to make things look like the old Facebook. I am sure they only messed with the feeds at all because the developers are too young to remember that fiasco known as New Coke. Too bad. Could have saved some time and money.

In an attempt to keep Facebook from making another mistake and annoying their users, I thought I would post a list of features that would actually be useful. And since I have the ear of Zuckerberg…Zuckerman? No, Zuckerman had the famous pig. Zuckerberg is leading us all to the slaughter enlightenment. Anyway, since he obviously listens to me, I’ll just go ahead and say “You’re welcome.” Soon you may have these shiny new features:

Age Progression/Face Recognition Software: Lost touch with someone you used to hang out with? In preschool? Don’t know their last name? Or any name because they never actually spoke to you in this lifetime, but your eyes met across a crowded playground and they may be your soul mate? Not a problem. New technology would take an uploaded photo and age it for you, giving you an idea of what they may look like now and then match it to the bazillions of photos posted on Facebook. Don’t have a photo? No worries. Scan in that drawing you did in art class. Face Recognition Book will find them.

The 2.0 version will allow you to indicate said person’s likes and dislikes in an effort to make aging more accurate. Loved animals? Software will focus on pictures of people holding dogs in costumes. Liked eating paste? That stuff has a ton of carbs. Software will add 20 pounds. Enjoyed programming their Commodore Vic 20? Sorry. Those folks are most likely too smart to be on Facebook in the first place.

Elizabeth with the beautiful hair in my kindergarten class, I will find you. And see if you got fat and shaved your head. Drawing from wikimedia. I can't draw that well.

Potty-Mouth Censor: Personally, I don’t enjoy seeing posts with a lot of swearing in my news feed. A word or two here or there I can handle, but a stream of profanity is rather boring. With the new potty-mouth censor, there is no longer a need to hide offensive posts. When someone’s status update consists of a paragraph of naughty words, hands will simply reach through the screen and wash their mouths out with soap. And call their mom.

Cautionary Tale Feed: Kids are on Facebook in ever greater numbers these days. Parents are growing more and more concerned with what their children may stumble across. Rather that installing filters, which can be easily bypassed by even a second-grader, why not subscribe your kids to the Cautionary Tale feed? This little gem will sort all the millions of photos of drunk  or otherwise impaired individuals that have been uploaded and post to your child’s feed those that most graphically demonstrate just how stupid drinking can make you.

Dress a Dweeb Technology: Tired of those half-naked photos of your friends appearing in your feed? Dress-a-Dweeb will take care of that for you. When someone is stupid enough to post a pic with their worldly goods hanging out, a file will automatically open offering a selection of outfits with which you may then cover them. For kicks and giggles, hit “post”. They say that living well is the best revenge. That’s wrong. The best revenge is posting pics of your pal wearing a kilt and an “I’m With Stupid” sweatshirt.

Frenemy feed:  The Frenemy feed will post to your feed any picture that makes them look fat, and any status update that makes them look shallow and stupid, allowing you to feel much better about the fact that they just landed a job making six figures while you’re still a struggling sandwich artist.

Again, you’re welcome. And now back to NaNoWriMo. 6000 words and counting.

I Got Dumped

photo courtesy of Because I don't take pictures of my trash

I don’t know what happened. Yesterday you were a part of my life, pretty as you please. And today, poof, you are gone. Vanished from my life completely like a thief in the night. And it hurts. Is it me? I’ll never know. Because you dumped me, severed our tenuous connection. That’s right. You quit following me on Twitter.

I’ve been learning all about social media recently as an effort to promote the things that I am doing. I avoided Twitter for a long time, mostly because of the lingo. Hashtags don’t sound like something a Christian should be involved with. I gathered my courage and jumped in this week, and this is the thanks I get. I was so proud of building some followers, and then I got up this morning and discovered you were gone. I am devastated. I wish I knew which one you were.

Were you the girl who added me under my old user name (cheapthrills03) thinking that I might enjoy reading about your drunken, drug-addled romp with your married boss? Actually, such a parting might not be bad for either of us, as we obviously have different interests. But what if it wasn’t you? And what if you actually read this. Should I just go ahead and say goodbye now? Do I send a card?

Were you the guy who tweets about the fabulous software that you have created. That no one has ever heard of? Or the girl who was looking for a good time? I am a fun person. We could play Monopoly, or even watch Harry Potter! Or are you the one who wants to sell me penis enlargement pills? Don’t let my lack of such an appendage come between us. We can work it out!

Or are you the lady that I was following myself. The one who found me in the bushes outside her house? I am so very, very sorry about that. I am really new to Twitter, and I got a little confused. I now know the difference between “following” and “stalking.” My bad. Please accept my apologies and a new azalea to replace the one I squashed. And the private investigator will no longer be parked outside your place of business. Restraining orders are handy little things, no?

Anyway. If you are out there, my long, lost cyber-soul mate, please look me up. I miss you. And I’ve got a telemarketer friend you might really like, too. She’ll be calling in a couple of hours. We can all hang out and go get our nails done or something. Follow me!