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?

Pet Peeves Du Jour, Volume 743

I do not know why I am crabby today. It’s raining? I have a million things to do, but I’m completely uninspired? My Ricky Martin CD has a giant scratch on it? All my readers dumped me because I like “Living La Vida Loca?” Take your pick.

Preschoolers with squeakers in their shoes. When a baby begins to take those first wobbly steps, little squeaker-shoes are kind of cute. When the kid has the speed and coordination to train for the Boston Marathon, it’s time to give us all a break. Mom and Dad, you realize that the other people around you have ears, too, right?

Politicians who write off any concern for the environment as a strictly liberal agenda. The Lord gave man dominion over the animals in Genesis 1:26. Dominion is not equal to BDSM. Just because God put is in charge doesn’t mean we have the right to go all Christian Grey on the planet and screw it over every which way from Sunday, dumping poisons into the sky and water and killing our forests. Besides, I thought the notion of not pooping where we eat was more common sense than political.

Radio stations that play the same ten songs. Over and over and over. Hey, DJs! I have a secret to share! New music is released every Tuesday. And did you also know that each new album consists of more than one song? I know DJs gotta promote what they gotta promote, but those truncated playlists drive me to turn off the radio and put in a CD of my own choosing. That I will listen to over and over and over. So there.

Changes in website interface that interferes with functionality. WordPress, I’m looking at you, here. The old interface was easier for someone with my vision issues to read. The new stats page is an endless scroll in a predominately light-blue. I didn’t use my stats page a great deal before. I certainly use it less now. And let’s not even talk about the “new and improved” editor where some of the old options are either gone or so well-hidden I can’t find them. This peeve isn’t the least bit funny, actually. I spend many hours on WordPress. Functionality lost  = time wasted.

Labeling things as “artisanal.” Stop it right now! If you’ve carved a jewelry box out of a chunk of cherry wood, you’re an artisan. If you made a popsicle, you are not. Same goes for “handcrafted.”

Homophones. Why, Y, wye?!

What’s on your nerves today?


Recently I announced the winners of the Mixed Feelings giveaway. The grand prize winner never claimed her prize, so we went back to Rafflecopter to choose another e-book winner. Congrats to A. Burdick on winning the e-book. Of course, choosing a new grand prize winner meant turning once again to Pixel, who has the work ethic of, well, a cat. 2 bows, and a pound of catnip later, let’s see how she did.

Is Everything REALLY Awesome? A Lego Movie Review

I have mixed feelings about my kids’ addictions to Lego bricks. I do love their educational value. The Padawan saves his money to buy sets that he likes, the more complicated, the better. He learned the value of following directions, and also not to pour all thousand pieces out on the table at once. Those who accuse sets of stifling a child’s creativity have never seen a ten year old redesign a space ship to give it more playability and durability. We have loose bricks, too. Very loose, under foot, even. I don’t mind. The boys love them, and they’ll spend hours building and creating. And we’re all hooked on the Mystery Mini Figures.

I hate the rampant commercialism. We went to a Lego Discovery Center a couple of summers ago. We’ll never go back. I looked into purchasing the Minecraft sets at Christmas. 469 micro bricks for a mere $35. Micro bricks. For $35, I can purchase a Lego set that is all of 3x3x3. Inches. $35 and Squish could hold the whole thing in his hand. No. Thanks.

When the Lego Movie was first advertised, I knew I would be dragged to see it. It’s PG, and ever since “Horton Hears a Who” introduced Squish to some fabulous new words, I’ve had a strict policy of prescreening anything rated higher than G. Last Sunday, I got up a wild hair to treat the Padawan to a movie, sans little brother.

I didn’t tell him where we were going, just that we had an appointment at 1:30. My secret scheme was almost blown at lunch when he said “I want to go see the new Lego movie.” I played it off by asking him if the movie was even out yet. Clever me. He had no clue about our destination until we stepped up to the ticket window. Apparently, he thought I had found him a therapist (I don’t even…), or maybe we had an appointment for a massage. Yes, that sounds like me.

We went full works. Popcorn, sodas so big we’d be peeing Pepsi for a week, enough candy to guarantee illness. It was a perfect set up.

Long story short, I knew I would hate it. I was wrong. I left the theater thinking that Lego Group deserves every penny they make on this film. It was delightful. The cast is star-studded. George Takei, anyone? There’s action, there are celebrities bringing back beloved roles (no spoilers here, folks), there’s earworm that I am still singing.

There’s plot, there’s silliness, and best of all, the Padawan and I both loved it, but neither of us felt compelled to go out and purchase any of the affiliated items. The sets they’ve come out with to go with the movie tend to be a mish-mash of bricks with limited use, and even some pink Duplo style blocks. They’re in keeping with the plot of the movie, but they all look like something a kid could make themselves. We will collect some of the mini figures, but we do that anyway.

I recommend the movie for ages 7 and up. There’s (surprisingly) nothing inappropriate that I could see (and you’d better believe I was looking). There are no snarky kids, no graphic anything,although a few characters are mistreated, and an important plot point is the main character’s friendlessness. The one thing that would make me hesitant to show it to Squish is the plethora of “butt” jokes. I don’t like that word. But that was the only thing. The only thing.

The reason I don’t recommend the movie for younger children is because it is plot-driven, not so much action-driven. There is action, to be sure, but without understanding some intricacies of plot and dialog, there are not enough explosions and car chases to keep many younger children engaged. I know. The theater was full of them, and they got kind of wiggly. My suggestion for those whose little ones are dying to see it is to wait for the DVD. Then buy it. And watch it until your ears fall off. Because they will. Everything is awesome.

The Padawan hasn't had the best luck with Mystery figures. Most of the ones he got at Christmas were girls. But I covet that chihuahua, don't you?

The Padawan hasn’t had the best luck with Mystery figures. Most of the ones he got at Christmas were girls. But I covet that chihuahua, don’t you?

Attitude of Gratitude

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Life gets completely crazy busy, and I lose sight of what’s good in my world. I’ve been teaching middle school literature classes for the last couple of weeks. I love what I’m doing, but I’m so tired at night that I’m unconscious by 9pm. I’m treading water. Tears have been shed, most of them mine. But it will be okay. Today, I will be grateful.

Our pipes froze and burst, soaking a lot of stuff in our garage. But it was all good. The repair was in the most accessible place possible and took only 20 minutes for the plumber to fix, and the bill was very affordable. The really good part is that this incident alerted us to potential problems that we should be able to prevent going forward. And the boxes of ruined things I carted to the curb were things we really didn’t need anyway.

Squish has no ability to sleep in. I’m tired, my husband is tired. On weekends, we’d like nothing more than to just sleep until we can’t sleep any more. Currently, Squish’s feet hit the ground at 6am, school or no school. There is no rest for the weary. But the kid is a total morning person, and he really is a delight. He’s at his most entertaining before the sun comes up.

I can wake up to this face. Couldn't you?

I can wake up to this face. Couldn’t you?


I am too tired to write. But it’s times like this I know how much my husband loves and supports me. When my half-day at school turned into a full day, he took off work a little early to bring me lunch. And the next morning, he got up with Squish so I could sleep. After I took a shower, I came back to my room and found he had set up my writing station, complete with my cup of coffee. And he sent me out of the house to write today. Forget Valentine’s day. My whole life is Valentine’s Day right now.

I am frustrated at having no time to write. Which means I still enjoy it and need writing in my life. It would be sad if I didn’t care. I have so many opportunities that are presenting themselves. I’ve been invited to contribute to a site in my own city, which is exciting and may open some new doors, and I’m trying my hand at short stories for the first time since this one. Go ahead and click over, if not for my story then for the Severus Snape gif that makes me a little teary-eyed. Snape loves me, he really loves me. I’m going to have this new story whipped into shape by February 15.

I’m ready for winter to be over. I hate driving in the snow. My road is off-the-beaten path and is oft neglected by snowplow and salt truck. When school was dismissed early a couple of weeks ago due to unexpected snow, we almost didn’t make it home. Our neighborhood is hilly any way I go. I chose the most likely path, and it was the wrong one. I couldn’t get up the hill, and when I tried to back up, I lost control of my van on a narrow road with deep drop-offs on either side. I prayed harder than I’ve prayed in a long time. When I finally let up on the steering wheel, the skid righted itself and I eased in to a driveway so I could turn around. I felt God telling me “You’re holding on too tight.” And He was right. My whole life of late has consisted of fighting to control things that just aren’t meant for me. I’m letting go of the things I’m not the boss of. The Serenity Prayer is my mantra. And I feel free.

Besides, if Squish slept late, and if it were summer, would I have ever seen this?

Besides, if Squish slept late, and if it were summer, would I have ever seen this?

What are you grateful for this day?



Snow Day

After two weeks of Christmas vacation and some unexpected snow days, today we are finally returning to school. Conversation in my house this morning:

“I think I’m sick.”

“You’re fine.”

“My throat is really sore.”

“Uh-huh. You’re going.”

“I bet the buses still aren’t fixed.”

“They’re running. You’re going to school.”

“Water pipes have probably burst.”

“No one has called to cancel school. You’re going.”

“I just threw up on the couch.”

“You didn’t throw up.That’s just spit.You’re just- what?! Why did you spit on the couch?”

“I’m too tired!”

“Serves you right. You stayed up much later than you should.”

“What if the kids are mean?”

“They won’t be.”

“I don’t wanna gooooo! You can’t make meeee!”

“You have to go. You’re the teacher.”


Fine. I’m here. Hope my husband is happy.

Happy “You’re Finally Back At School” Day, everyone.



Christmas Wishes

Christmas magic makes wishes come true.

I wished for some pillows. Husband and I like to prop up in bed to read, write, study. We each have a propping pillow,  giant, king-sized cuddly monsters that make life so cozy. When I was away for the weekend, husband discovered that two pillows are better than one. He was right. And life became a competition to see who could hit the hay first. The first one in bed got them both. You snooze, you lose, right? In order to maintain marital harmony, I wished for pillows, and I got them.

They are glorious. A new one for each of us. Now we both have two. Of course, when my husband went away for the weekend, I discovered the ideal number of propping pillows is four. Don’t tell him. He’ll find out soon enough.

And do you know what big pillows arrive in? Big boxes!


But the best Christmas wish?


My girl. She turned 18 back in June.

I wished that Piper would still be with me at Christmas. We had a scare at Halloween, and I wasn’t sure she would make it, but she did. We celebrated our 19th Christmas with her this year.

There’s a thing about wishes, though. Sometimes you get what you ask for and no more. I did it all wrong. I should have asked for another birthday, another Valentine’s, another Spring. We let her go on New Year’s Eve.

Logically, we’ve known the time was coming to say goodbye. No one lives forever; even that ninth life will run its course. But the heart isn’t logical. It felt like she’d always be here. I couldn’t imagine life without her. couldn’t picture a day when she wouldn’t be here laying on my feet while I wrote. I’ve lost my muse.

I want a do-over on my wish. I’d do it better this time.


Take That, Pinterest!

You may remember that I’m not on Pinterest. I have my reasons, and the rest of civilized society has theirs for not wanting me there. I’m about to give you another one.

Recently, I flew the friendly skies. “Friendly” is a bit of a stretch; more like a-little-TOO-friendly-and-with-very-poor-personal-boundaries skies. Other than a quick pat-down and an agent freak-out over the rice sock I brought to soothe my sore knee, my travels were uneventful. I even managed to fit a souvenir for the kids into my carry-on.

Imagine their delight when they were each presented with their very own airsickness bag. The Padawan was so overcome with emotion that he had to leave the room. Or maybe he went to play the Wii. He was gone for a long time. I’m pretty sure it was emotion, though.

Motion discomfort bags (or as Squish calls them, “barf bags”) are the perfect gift for any child, prompting hours of dramatic play. Squish walked around all afternoon pretending to throw up in his. Think of how well-prepared he will be for a life of travel, and as an added bonus, when he moves to the top bunk, I can just hand him a bag and he’ll already have his aim down pat. Or he could learn to pack his own lunch. Barf bags are waxed on the inside to prevent spillage. So many possibilities in one small bag.

Our favorite use, though, is for craft time. There’s something for everyone. Look what one small motion-discomfort bag can do for you and your family.  Click to embiggenate.

How do you put a price on creativity?

Airline ticket: $400

Barf bag: free

Quality time with family: $400 + $100 food costs + $20 gas to airport + $36 long-term parking

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Choosing a Surgeon

Managed care has made it difficult to find specialists when you need them. Sometimes insurance limits your options to just a handful of practitioners, so how do you choose a good one?

Look for a surgeon with good focus. The ability to concentrate is essential.

It takes a very steady hand.

It takes a very steady hand.

They get bonus points if they’re ambidextrous.

Gloves are encouraged but not required

Gloves are encouraged but not required

A willingness to really get in there and dig around is a plus. Operate big or go home, I say. Surgery ain’t for sissies.

Ignore the red light on the dude's nose. That's just a spleen. Or a liver. Or something non-essential.

Ignore the red light on the dude’s nose. That’s just a spleen. Or a liver. Or something non-essential.

This scalpel jockey is for hire.


You could do worse.

With a bit of luck, you won’t hear what I heard at the end of this particular operation.

“This poor fellow’s dead.”

Sorry about that, little buddy. I’m pretty sure it’s not because you yanked out his heart with both hands.