Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dressing the Room

Let's say you've got a lovely thing. A stamped concrete patio, perhaps, or a hand knit afghan, or a wall painted with an attractive faux finish. It looks nice all by itself, but maybe it could be better. Maybe it's even lovelier if it's got a border around it in a complimentary color. And maybe the whole takes on layers of added interest when that same color is repeated in a simple pattern across the piece.

I've got this book. I've been "almost finished" with Seek Ye First for months. All I had left were the Tying it All Together and In Which All Is Revealed bits. The hardest bits (surprisingly, since I knew all that I needed to reveal and tie together). Work was proceeding at a glacial pace. This week I worked hard, very hard, and FINISHED the doggone thing.

I'll pause for your wild cheers.

And now it's revisions time. I'm looking forward to de-adverbing and getting rid of passive tense and other awkward constructions. I'm looking forward to adding tension and cleaning up language. I'm really looking forward to rereading to see if it's any good.

But first I have a decision to make, about the frame, the border, the pattern. Seek Ye First involves a group of friends, some of whom are geeks, as they run around town on a scavenger hunt. One of the friends is a computer game designer, and her game is referenced throughout the novel as a significant part of the story, providing a potential motive for a crime.

Before the first chapter, after the last chapter, and between chapters throughout the book are insets from within the game. I originally envisioned these as fantasies, role-playing by two pseudo-anonymous characters from the main story arc. Two characters flirting and coming together within the game as a prelude to doing so in real life: modern geek love.

But after talking to agents about the book, I'm wondering if I shouldn't take these insets in a different direction. Instead of using the gaming scenes as escapism from the plot, maybe they should fuel the main plot. Maybe the suspense of the mystery should carry over into the game world, heightening the tension rather than serving as an escape from it.

The agents to whom I pitched the story liked the idea of the mystery bleeding over into the game. But the early readers who workshopped the first 8000 words or so of the novel loved the escapism bits as they were originally written. Neither group has the whole picture.

I just don't know. I've been trying to decide for months. And it's not like you can tell me; you haven't read the thing!

This is one of the hardest parts of writing, for me. This could happen, or this could happen, or this. But at some point, I have to choose a direction, go with it, and quit second-guessing.

(A friend who read the early chapters as they were first written concurs with the agents: add tension, not release with the insets. So that's the direction I'm headed as I revise. We'll see how it goes!)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Still Love the Zoo

I'm Friday photoblogging one day early this week, because I'm hoping against hope that I have something else to post tomorrow. Stay turned.

In the meantime . . .

I can't remember the last time I skipped church. Even on vacation, we often attend services somewhere. But last Sunday, beautiful Sunday, we bailed and went to the zoo. It was lovely. *

And the girls got some ink.

* (Technically, these pictures are from when the girls and I went to the zoo by ourselves last Friday. Ellie had a teacher development day, so no school. It was so much fun, and Daddy was so jealous, that we went back all together on Sunday. But we forgot the camera for the second trip. So the only new zoo photos I have are from my vantage point as one parent with two kids, and I mostly see the tops/backs of their heads. Still cute.)

Note the walking children? Using patience and a careful combination of train rides, bribery, and sympathy/cajoling, we managed to limit stroller-riding to entering and leaving the zoo. Woohoo!!!! (Walking long distances is still very hard for Ellie.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oink Oink Sneeze Cough

Ada had a low-grade fever for a few days a week and a half ago. It went away. Then she developed a chesty cough. That's improving, but now she's got a runny nose. So do I, actually, and I feel a little off, like I have a fever (but I don't; I keep checking). Ellie, meanwhile, looks like she feels bad, and her appetite is way down, but she's not complaining of anything and indeed keeps denying that she's sick.

Paul is fine. (Except for his bad back. About which I am relatively unsympathetic because he doesn't follow the stretching regimen prescribed by the PT. When he does the exercises, he says that they help, but he just can't commit to doing them regularly enough to actually cure the problem.)

Anyway, it's a lousy time to be sick. Not because we have so much going on this week - it's a regular-sized week for us - but because the anxious lady inside of me is half-convinced that we all have the swine flu. Except for Paul, of course. He just has a bad back. Regardless of the cause, we're all a little irritable.

The anxious lady inside of me is all panicked about cancer again, too. It's just . . . everywhere. I've even woken up panicking in the middle of the night a time or two. Which wouldn't be so bad except that it's exactly what happened when I was pregnant with Ellie and just had this feeling that all was not well. (It wasn't.)

Go away, little colds, go away. And leave us happy, healthy, well, and ready for summer.

Monday, April 27, 2009

She's a Problem-Solver

A couple of weeks ago, we had dinner at Bar Louie in downtown Kirkwood. The girls each had a strand of Mardi Gras beads to occupy their hands during the down times, which works wonderfully when beads can be anything from dolls to decorations. It was a lovely evening, and after dinner we hung around Station Plaza and tossed coins into the fountain. Eventually, Ellie decided to contribute her beads to the cause at the bottom of the pool.

"Alas," I said. "The beads are gone. No more beads."

Ellie was OK with that. Daddy went to get the car and the girls and I headed up the street; we made arrangements to meet at Coldstone for an after-dinner treat. As we walked, enjoying the warm, breezy evening, we chatted about the week, the weather, the scenery. Ellie lagged behind a little bit, as she is wont to do.

Suddenly, Ada stopped. She had a solution to the problem I'd nearly forgotten.

"We need a duck! To gedda necklace! From fountain!"

I concurred that a duck would be helpful in retrieving the beads, and we strolled along.

A few steps later, Ada had another idea. "Nemo get 'em beads. Dori help."

Well, that solves that! Ada still talks about the missing necklace nearly every day, but she hasn't yet come up with a better retrieval scheme than those she concocted on the spot. And I have to admit that the ideas were pretty clever.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ellie's Kindergarten IEP

On Thursday we had Ellie's transition-to-Kindergarten Individualized Education Plan meeting. I was up until 3:00 the night before, but I was ready. I'd talked to my mom, a school psychologist (and former diagnostician and learning disabilities resource room teacher) who attends IEPs regularly. I'd talked to Ellie. I'd met recently with her whole team to discuss Ellie's progress and Present Level.

I reviewed my notes from the how-to meeting on IEPs I attended last year. I went over Ellie's previous IEPs. I updated the sheets Paul and I put together describing our Family Concerns. And I created a sheet listing some fun facts about Ellie (she loves playing with beads!) and lots of cute pictures, so that she'd be a real person to the people in the meeting, the people deciding her kindergarten placement and services, not just a diagnosis and score.

Speaking of scores, I also refused IQ testing for Ellie this year after our LAST horrible experience. When this came up in our meeting, one particular team member - who shall remain anonymous as we have to work with ... her - got this really pinched look about her mouth, but they all accepted our decision. So at least Ellie was more than just a "score" to them. Especially because she was present.

And she did great, for an hour an a half of really boring meeting talk. She sat with us for a while, played with her beads on the floor for a bit, came back to the table for a snack, read some books quietly in the corner, went to the potty with me, then was ready to go. Fortunately, it was time to pick up Ada from school by this time so Paul and Ellie left while I stayed to finish up with the team.

Overall, the meeting went very well (though there were a couple of tense moments with the pinch-faced ... administrator, who seemed kind of mean but was very helpful and knew what she was doing). Present were Ellie's current teacher, speech therapist, and physical therapist. Her OT couldn't make it but sent detailed notes and talked both to me and to the Elementary School OT in advance. Paul, Ellie, and I were there. And, from the Elementary School/school district, two service coordinators (one for early childhood, one for elementary), the principal, the OT, PT, and speech therapists, the resource room teacher, and the classroom teacher attended. It was a packed room!

The verdict: Ellie will be fully included in full-day Kindergarten this fall. She will progress throughout the day with her class, with occasional push-in and pull-out therapies. She will spend at least 80% of her day fully included in the classroom. (During math time she'll be pulled out for help, and during "play centers" time she'll also have a pull-out session. She'll be receiving PT, OT, Speech Therapy, and Special Education.)

She will not have a paraprofessional assigned to her, with two exceptions. There will be someone to assist Ellie at potty time, until she's shown that she can handle the whole process completely independently. And there will be an extra set of eyes on her on the playground, since it's bordered by lovely woodland areas but not fenced. She'll ride the special needs bus, because I still want her in the safety harness. (I love the short bus.)

I'm a little giddy, from happiness, excitement, and worry. I loved school so much, and I want Ellie to love it, too. I want her to have enough support to allow her to learn all she can without getting overly frustrated and giving up, but I don't want her to become too dependent on a paraprofessional or allow a full-time hands-on aide to add to a sense of distance and isolation between Ellie and her peers.

Curbside drop-off. Independent transitions between activities. True academics. PE, art, music (two of these per day). Lunch in the cafeteria. Recess. School!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Loaves and Fishes

Easter Sunday was nearly two weeks ago, but one of my daughters is still celebrating by wearing her Easter hat. Clearly, she understands that the season of Easter lasts 7 weeks, until Pentecost. (For the near-nudity, I have no liturgical justification.)

What can I say? My child clearly has her own fashion-sense.

AJ, the 6-months-old son of good friends, was baptized last Sunday. For no good reason, I decided to knit him a stuffed fish to mark the occasion. This monstrosity turned out to be ridiculously time-consuming and surprisingly large. I spent a few nearly sleepless nights before finally finishing the blasted thing . . . during the service. I've never knitted through a sermon before and probably won't do so again, but I sure enjoyed it. It was nice for my hands to have something (more fun and productive than the children's activity sheet) to do while I was listening. I wanted to have the gift ready before brunch, and I made it. Sadly, I failed to take any pictures of the dubious achievement before handing it over.

I was distracted by other things, like this cuteness. Ellie loves AJ. She got to hold him at the hospital on the day he was born, and she still asks to hold him at every opportunity, which everyone thinks is precious.

Possibly frustrating my friend, however, other people (read: her family members and in-laws) kept feeding her baby non-approved foods. Like cake.

Overly exuberant fish, friends, food - hopefully, he'll survive. And thrive. And continue to be blessed.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"How Could I?"

I just finished reading Jonathon Darmon's account of "The Confessions of Eliot Spitzer" in this week's issue of Newsweek, called Spitzer in Exile.

It's an interesting look at the former governor's life one year after the scandal that brought down a powerful politician, a man who might have expected to become (the first Jewish) president one day. And he says a lot of the right things: focusing on his family, making self-deprecating jokes, admitting that even at the time he knew what he was doing was wrong, that there's no excuse, no one to blame other than himself.

But as true contrition it falls short in several places.

For one thing, he never explicitly says that what he did was morally reprehensible, just that it's perceived as such in this neighborhood. Darmon asked Spitzer whether or not Americans ought to care about their leaders' sex lives. Spitzer replied, "I could makes a persuasive case that, no, it isn't fair. But ... you should be smart enough to know that those are the rules, whether or not it's fair ... There are other countries that have a very different set of parameters on these things. But you know when you get in public life here that you live in a fishbowl. So you've got to be smart enough to act accordingly." (P.27)

Is he suggesting that there shouldn't have been political ramifications for him breaking the law? That there isn't an objective measure of right and wrong, just a verdict handed down by the court of public opinion?

And Spitzer talks about "human nature" as if it is this weird, inexplicable, uncontrollable force. "The human mind does and permits people to do things that they rationally know are wrong, outrageous ... We succumb to temptations that we know are wrong and foolish when we do it and then in hindsight we say, 'How could I have?'" (P.23)

Not only does that absolve the individual from responsibility, it specifically takes the pressure off Spitzer when he says "we succumb," "we know," "we do it," and "we say." He's making himself part of a group, not taking personal responsibility for his specific actions in this specific circumstance.

When talking about the support and positive responses he still gets from strangers on the street, Spitzer says, "They respect this notion of, yes, we all absorb the media and read the stories of other people's lives. But when we see them, we think, hey, there but for the grace of God go I. Show the guy some decency." (P.27)

But that's a little silly, isn't it? It's not just "the grace of God" or luck or fate that's kept me from hiring prostitutes. I make CHOICES and I own those choices. I don't see making "dates" and having sex with prostitutes as just one of those things that might happen to me despite my best intentions, like getting cancer or being run over by a garbage truck.

I am happy for Spitzer that he's managed to keep his marriage and family intact. But I think that he has a distance to go before he fully takes responsibility for what he did. And I actually don't think it's wrong for us to consider some issues of character when judging our politicians. Matters of breaking the law, it goes without saying, should definitely be part of that calculus.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kids Eat Free

We eat out a lot. We eat a lot; it's one of our favorite hobbies. Alas. Anyway, I thought I'd throw together a list of places around St. Louis where kids eat free with purchase of an adult meal. If you're familiar with a restaurant I haven't listed, please let me know!

Kids Eat Free - places we've had success recently:
O'Charley's (Everyday!)
Kreiger's (Tuesdays)
Dickey's BBQ Pit (Wednesdays and Sundays, free ice cream everyday)

I was only about 12 seconds into this endeavor when I realized that someone else has already done a much better job than I could ever do:

Very useful page (includes CHEAP as well as free options).

(Lots of places offer a few options, but that KidsinStL list is pretty exhaustive.)


Monday, April 20, 2009

Making Friends / Benefits

We have these friends we always meant to get together with more often. But somehow we just didn't make it happen often enough for my liking. (Perhaps we like them more than they like us but they're too polite to say it. Or perhaps we're all just really busy people with young children.) Whatever the reason, we didn't get quite as close to them as I'd have liked to have done. And then they moved away.

We got to spend an evening together when they were back in town for a visit last month, and I was reminded of how awesome they are and how much I wish we could spend more time together. And not just for me.

They have a daughter, T, who's a year and a half younger than Ellie, very smart, unbelievably precocious. Also absolutely adorable. They have an adorable son just a year younger than Ada, too, but this is about the daughter.

T plays with Ellie. And Ellie loves her. But this little girl, T, really seems to like Ellie, too. In my experience, a lot of typically developing kids treat Ellie one of two ways: they aren't very interesting in playing with her, or they treat her like a pet, a doll, a baby. They talk to her with the same sing-songy voice that adults use to talk to very small children, they try to "help" Ellie do simple things like hanging up her coat when she arrives at school, they might fawn over her but not in the way of equals, of two little kids just playing.

T is a little younger than Ellie, but it's more than that. She just seems comfortable around Ellie. And Ellie comes alive around her. She plays with T for hours and doesn't get overwhelmed and want to go off by herself after a few minutes. She's engaged and happy and fully participatory.

It makes me feel so good and so bad at the same time, seeing the two of them together. I love watching Ellie play so collaboratively and naturally, but it also highlights the contrast between this relationship and the others Ellie has with typically developing peers.

I was raised in an educational environment where kids with disabilities were strictly kept apart from the rest of us - those of us without diagnoses, the temporarily abled - and it's no surprise that I grew up somewhat uncomfortable around people with different types of disabilities. I wonder how the world will change, as children raised in inclusive learning environments increasingly grow up to become managers and leaders. How will Ada be different from me, simply by virtue of having Ellie as her sister and earliest playmate?

If I recall correctly, T's mom was raised by parents who worked in halfway houses for adults with developmental disabilities. She was raised around adults with Down syndrome. And there's something in her personality that's just so . . . comfortable and nonjudgmental. Clearly, her daughter has absorbed some of this.

It's beautiful.

T and her parents are a special case. But being comfortable around people with developmental disabilities is a gift typically developing kids get from being in classes at school with my daughter. She might slow down the pace sometimes, but this insures that everyone learns the material more thoroughly. (Nothing helps a student master the material better than explaining it to someone else.) Having to come up with new ways to teach and describe add to a teacher's toolbox, which helps them with other kids. And when today's inclusion-taught kids graduate and join the workforce, they'll be better equipped to work with people who are different from them in lots of different ways.

But when it comes time to sum all this up with a resonant closing thought about the value of inclusive education, I'm left with nothing but a mother's hopes and fears and pain for her daughter.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Slow parenting, that is. A friend sent me this link about the movement, alone with the comment, "I think I like's almost like, if we give a name to it, that gives us permission to create (or NOT create, but allow to happen) a way of parenting that is good for parents and kids all at the same time!"

I replied: I love this. Of course, I also feel an extreme amount of tension and pressure. And, with Ellie's diagnoses, I have to do things differently than I intended to. But not that differently. A good reminder! (And also the way I was raised once upon a time.)

"It seems to me that today we are speeding up children too much in some ways (academic hot-housing, for example) while slowing them down too much in other ways (not letting them walk to school alone until they’re, um, 23)."

But with Ellie, I've found that I do a lot of things differently than I expected to do, as a parent. I wanted to allow my kids a lot of independence . . . yet Ellie still can't do a lot of the tasks that many toddlers can do for themselves, like dressing, or walking all the way around the block. I've had to adapt.

I wanted to let my children choose their own passions, regardless of whether or not they were "cool." But kids like Ellie have such a hard time fitting in anyway; parents of kids with disabilities talk about the importance of figuring out what other kids the same age are listening to, watching, wearing, doing, and exposing our children to those same things so that they have a common frame of reference with their peers, so that they don't stick out . . . unnecessarily? In avoidable ways?

It's fabulous to encourage individuality in children. But most children are influenced by - or at least aware of - subtle societal pressures. Some children . . . are not. They just notice when they're excluded, left out, different. And they feel the hurt. So if a parent can help ease a little of that, shouldn't I?

There's a recent post on the Power of Slow blog called Planning the Space in Between that suggests another interesting way of looking at how we schedule our lives.

I love the idea of slow. I feel suffocated by our current schedule, in which Ellie has preschool 5 mornings a week, then both girls have gymnastics on Saturday morning, and we have church on Sundays. Both girls still take afternoon naps. This leaves us . . . basically no unstructured time at all, other than the little pieces before and after dinner. (Except on Wednesday, when there's music class, and so forth.) I hate that.

But-but-but. Ellie needs more physical activity in her life, and we're having a hard time getting her to enjoy and engage in exercise. Might not the special needs soccer association be a good idea? Or the Kids Enjoying Exercise Now program? Or a special needs tae kwan do program? And what about foreign language classes?

How will my children be able to compete with children whose parents are giving them every class, lesson, sports experience imaginable, practically from birth? Perhaps they won't. And perhaps that's OK.

Thinking of slowing down . . . Ada's sick. "I'm not sick! I'm happy!" she insisted with a weak but adorable grin at dinnertime, despite her fever. Her first real illness, less than 2 weeks after weaning. Coincidence? Regardless, we'll be taking things more slowly for a couple of days. I, for one, am looking forward to it!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Easter in Wyoming

Ada is such a fabulous crib sleeper; I have no desire to mess with that. In other words, she has little real bed experience and this wasn't as good an idea as it looks. (My girls really like their lambs. Especially Ada, who calls her favorite, pictured here, "Yellow Baa.")

We all loved going up on the "Big Mountain!"

But the backyard swings were also a great hit.

Seeing family was fabulous, but for Ada, Easter was a huge deal. Not so much the Risen Lord as the gorgeous dress, awesome hat, sparkly shoes, paper butterflies (at church), and nifty plastic eggs. She could not get enough of any of that stuff and never wanted to take off any of her apparel for any reason. It's hard to nap in an Easter hat, though. ("I boootiful! Yee-haw!") Ellie was less into it, but was still a good sport.

And we all like roadtripping.
(Note how little room for Daddy in Ellie's hotel bed. He'd have been better off in the armchair. I'd have been better off in the other bed if Ada had been in a crib, but that was not going to happen.)

Thanks for the wonderful vacation, Nana and Grandpa!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Caledonia

We made a pit stop at a rest area in Cheyenne County Nebraska, just west of Sidney. Not quite soon enough, as it turned out. But while Paul and Ellie were using the facilities, Ada and I were exploring the place. We tossed sand in the sand pit, examined the painted cement turtle, and stuck our heads through the curved peek-a-boo wall. Then we wandered over to check out a "big rock" memorial and talk about it for a while. After that, I wanted to read the sign at the observation overlook so we started up that path. We didn't quite make it, because I was unnerved by the loud rattling noises I was hearing from the tall grass not far from the walkway, especially given the numerous signs warning of local rattlesnakes. It was probably just insects, but . . .

Anyway, while traveling out west, we ran into a few places that weren't quite where I expected them to be. Like Cheyenne County in NEBRASKA (not far from Cheyenne, Wyoming). And Sidney, Nebraska, rather than Sydney, in Australia.

We also saw Lusk, Wyoming, which is very different from the village of Luss, which we visited in Scotland two years ago.

And Glendo reservoir, which is far in every way from Glencoe.

We also found Caledonia where I did not expect it.

I love traveling.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What Now?

With child-led weaning, you never really know when it's your last time. You might not even really remember it, afterward. You might not have known that it was especially significant, at the time.

With Ellie, we were traveling. We got in late one night, Paul distracted her the next morning, and she never asked again. She was 25 months old.

With Ada, we left for vacation mid-day last Wednesday. That night, in the hotel, though she and I shared a bed, she didn't ask to nurse. Nor did she the next morning. Paul put her to bed at his parents' house, and she didn't complain. She asked me to nurse once while we were away, but was easily diverted. Today, back home, she asked twice but was relatively easily diverted. She is 26 months old.

I wanted this. Yet . . . I feel conflicted. Did I force it? Should I redirect or allow her to nurse when she asks?

I am not pregnant, nor trying to become pregnant. The last time I fed someone with my breasts was a week ago. My body is . . . mine. For the first time in . . . more than 6 years. Wow. (But I am a little uncomfortable.)

Holy Cow, We're Home

My apologies for the unexcused absence. I'm just a wee bit paranoid and don't like to announce it before we go out of town, and didn't get quite enough posts scheduled in advance for the week we were gone.

We spent Easter in Wyoming!

We drove over 2000 miles!

Regularly scheduled posts will resume tonight..

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

I'm Adverb Happy

I'm a writer. So of course I think about language. I think about it a lot. I have my little quirks and idiosyncrasies, little stylistic flourishes that I like to (over)use. I think about how to say it, not just what to say. Or, at least I do that sometimes.

With all this daily blogging, I also get a little lazy. And not just in my blogging. I get focused on story, on what I want to say, and don't always pay quite enough attention to exactly how I'm saying it. I might agonize over a word or a phrase here and there, but probably not every word, every phrase, or even every sentence.

I met with a new critique group for the first time, today, and it was a humbling experience. I am most definitely the junior member of the group, in terms of age, experience, and publication history.

They liked my story, which is a good thing, and had some very nice things to say about my dialogue, descriptions, and ending. But they really smacked me on my weak spots: adverbs, unnecessary words, passive constructions, overlong sentences, "was," "that," and so on. The sorts of things that get manuscripts rejected for being, "not quite polished enough." (See above. And below.)

I know better, I really do. And not all of my sentences are bad. But the really bad part is that even knowing what needs to be fixed, I have a hard time seeing incidences of the mistakes I know I'm prone to making until someone points them out to me. This makes revision a challenge. I write very much by ear, by what "sounds right" to me.

I hope that someday I manage to break my bad writing habits. I hope that I can develop a style that "sounds right" to my ear without losing what makes my voice . . . my voice.

It's not all bad news for me. At least this story wasn't cluttered with cliches. I can learn! And I was pleased that I was able to listen to all the criticism and take a lot of it to heart without feeling hurt or defensive, or letting the "constructive comments" completely bury the praise.

I didn't accept all of the suggestions - like the ones that involved ditching my main characters and making a minor character into a pedophile; that's just not the story I'm writing - but I saw the wisdom in all of them, I saw the reason why the reviewers were making the suggestions they made, even if I didn't agree with the way they suggested I solve the underlying problems.

(Now isn't that a fabulous sentence.)

I have a lot to improve. But I feel motivated, not defeated. I know that I will get to a place where I'm more practiced at storytelling, so that parts of this work come more easily and naturally, allowing me to focus more closely on finesse. (easily, naturally, closely)

On that note, I'll head off to bed. But not hurriedly.


For the past few years I've led an adult Sunday School class. We're a pretty informal, discussion-based group for the most part. And I started slowly, adopting some books a previous leader had chosen and doing a minimal amount of preparation for each class. The amount of effort I put into the endeavor has increased over time.

This year has been very different from all previous years. I chose a very different type of curriculum and have been leading a very different - and significantly larger - class. Even the subject matter has been different. In the past, we've discussed Power, Money, Community, Prayer, Mystery, and Love. This year, we're working on our marriages. The class has always involved sharing of personal stories and experiences but this is a whole new level of intimacy.

I mean that in a very non-Victoria's Secret kind of way.

Last summer I began to participate with the PC(USA) blog, and a lot of my work there has been administrative. I check the ring surf queue for new member applicants, add them to the blog roll, and write little welcome posts. I help with the schedule and filling in where needed.

Today, I've written a Lenten Devotion. It is, after all, Holy Week for those of us celebrating a western-style Easter. (I intend to celebrate a very Western-style Easter this year.)

Anyway, I don't usually mind doubling up on posts, but I've got another writing deadline tomorrow and since today I was there, I cannot be here. And talking about that here is yet another new level of intimacy!

Until tomorrow, then.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Card, Moralizing, and Retconning

I disagree passionately with Orson Scott Card on politics, and his religion makes me really uncomfortable (feel free to Google away).

But I love a good story, and there's no denying that Card is a great story teller. I've also heard that he's a fabulous teacher of writing, which I also appreciate.

Unfortunately, I disagree that all of his stories are great, or even good. I loved ENDER'S GAME as a child and still later when I was older. I also lost myself in SONGMASTER, WYRMS, and other stories. I've read a lot of Orson Scott Card's work, and I hope to read more.

I am not a purist who thinks Card should never have dipped into Ender's world again after the first novel; I really enjoyed XENOCIDE and the Shadow series.

But as the original Ender series progressed, I felt that the novels increasingly were little bits of story disrupted my long sermons (CHILDREN OF THE MIND). And ENDER IN EXILE was definitely more of the same.

More simply, what he said. Or even these folks.

Card writes an interesting Afterward to ENDER IN EXILE, addressing discrepancies between various stories set in Ender's universe (including between the new novel and ENDER'S GAME itself, whose timelines overlap) but I am not a scholar of The "Enderverse," nor have I reread any of its novels recently. I was, however, annoyed by discrepancies within Exile itself, like the one in which readers get a long explanation of the procedure by which starship crew members can join the colonies of any world to which they travel, then a few chapters later we are treated to two attempts to create just the system we have been told already exists!

Several things are explained repeatedly. Though I get that we Americans are lazy and like to be told things very, very clearly, I still got a little bored with the repetition.

But I've written a few . . . let's call them novel-length manuscripts for now; I know that these things happen and am much more sympathetic than I used to be. As a reader, repetition and minor inconsistencies don't make me close the cover.

What bothers me more are the lengthy sermons when nothing's really happening: not plot development, not significant character development (we know many of these characters and have been taught that they do not change. we are who we are from birth or even before, since we are - basically - our biological parents!).

I get that the Wiggins family are very very smart. I just wish there were some way to show us this without spending paragraph after paragraph explaining exactly why they said each thing they said, what factored into their decisions, how they expected to be heard, predicted a response, and . . . so forth and so on. That really tends to slow down a scene.

I also get that Card himself is smart - and knows it. For example, check out this blurb he wrote for Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy, which reads as much like a praise of Card as of Sanderson. "It's rare for a fiction writer to have much understanding of how leadership works and how love really takes root in the human heart. Sanderson is astonishingly wise." (Note: I enjoy Sanderson's blog/essays as well as his fiction, and appreciate the way he insists on putting story first, rather than moralizing/teaching.)

I was going to say something next about all the heavy-handed moralizing in ENDER IN EXILE, but if I do that I'll never finish this post. Instead I recommend the 1-star reviews on (linked above) for the interested. (OK, one example. In a conversation with his assistant, a biologist says, "Monogamy has been proven, over and over, to be the optimum social arrangement." P. 104. There's a lot of that.)

And then there's the thing with idealizing children. Children can be excellent at seeing through people. I was much better at that as a child than I am now, and I still remember the power of that feeling, and my frustration that others didn't seem to see what was - to me - obvious. But children are not built like adults; their brains are still developing. Particularly the frontal lobe and all that nifty executive processing stuff. One effect of this is the way that children tend NOT to think as many steps into the future, tend not to consider all the possible ramifications of their actions, tend to react frequently. But not Card's kids.

Card's kids spend pages and pages and pages anticipating any possible results from their conceived actions. An ordinary (read: not "Battle School material") girl walking up a gangway might take a couple of pages of thinking to come to some conclusions that readers reached, oh, several chapters ago. So I'm reading along as fast as I can, considering pulling out my eyelashes as I go in order to distract myself until something new happens.

Children can be smarter than adults, and it's often a great benefit for them to be so in young adult fiction. Or whenever they're main characters. But there's a line beyond which I don't buy it. Adults can be dismissive and blind. Kids can be insightful. But kids rarely sound like little philosophers. Scenes like those I describe above take me out of the story and make me feel like I'm hearing the author's voice, not the character's.

And there's also the early marriage/sex thing. Looking over his body of work, Card definitely seems to like to get his characters together very early. Have you read the Homecoming books? Two main characters, the most idealized couple, Luet and Nafai, are 13 and 14 when they agree to marry, if I recall correctly. (The guy is almost always older.)

After they marry, characters tend to become immediately happy and surprisingly mature, which is lovely but hard to believe. (As I've frequently remarked, this sort of thinking - that marriage and/or sex is something of a panacea - is one of my least favorite things about lots of romance novels.)

I think of adolescence as a time when kids are growing up, separating from their parents and figuring out who they are apart from their families, crystallizing into the adults they'll become. But are not yet. I know that I'm not alone in thinking this way. I've been a teenager, I've known lots of teenagers, sure. But I've also read some biology, psychology, and child development books. I've also seen the statistics for the survival of teen marriages and the health of babies born to teen mothers.

I think adult writing about kids is best when kids are reflected honestly and well - without infantilizing or condescending to them, but without making the children themselves unnaturally aware of their own development. And, most of all, when SHOWING the reader all of this, rather than TELLING us.

Given Card's predilection for marrying off his fictional creations so early, it's not a huge stretch to suppose that one of his teenage characters - happily married and pregnant a few months after saying the following - was speaking for Card when she said:
"Back on Earth, people married later and later. And had sex earlier and earlier. It was wrong to divide them, I know, but who can say which direction was wrong? Maybe the biology of our bodies is wiser than all the reasons for waiting to marry. Maybe our bodies want to raise children when we're still young enough to keep up with them." (P. 211)
I am so glad I didn't marry the guy I was dating at 14. The idea makes me a little sick to my stomach. For that matter, I'm glad I didn't marry the guy I was dating at 19. I am not unintelligent. I have great parents, a very supportive family of origin. But I was still not fully mature and ready to make life partnership decisions as a teenager! Moreover, I was not ready to be a parent. Shockingly enough, at an ancient 34, I am still able to keep up with my children. Again, I'm hardly unique.

The role of women is another interesting thing. There are self-sacrificing male characters, to be sure. And a few women who are successful soldiers. But MOST of the characters are male, including most of the military and civilian leadership, most of the soldiers, most of the students at Battle School.

And women . . . sacrifice a lot. Ender's sister, Valentine, decided as a young teenager to leave her entire life behind and follow her little brother, supporting him in his travels. In teenage Ender's words, "Valentine is a paragon of selflessness and love." (P. 302)

Or they're Eves, succumbing to temptation and leading others to do likewise, like Afraima the non-brilliant Jewish exobiologist with designs on her brilliant boss on planet Shakespeare. Or like Virlomi, the Battle School graduate who returned to India and became a great leader of her people . . . until she began to think herself a goddess and got a lot of them massacred. Sometimes women are both self-sacrificing and temptresses, in turns. In suggesting an affair with her boss, the biologist says:
"Don't be stupid. As soon as I'm having babies, I'll get fat and unattractive and way too busy to come here to help. Child production is everything, right?" (P. 105)
Women do need to marry and have babies, and probably give up their careers to raise the children. (And not just on colony worlds with too few women, like Shakespeare.)


Card's a great storyteller. But I prefer it when he sticks to the stories, rather than the moralizing and sermonizing. And I'll always be uncomfortable with the roles of women (and marriage) in many of his stories, especially in the Ender universe.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Family Entertainment Out of the Box

Ada's a wreck until she gets her morning coffee:

She sure woke up for the CIRCUS, though. Predictably, both girls' favorite parts were when - after buying rather decent admissions tickets - we paid $40 for a 45 second elephant ride followed by a 1 minute pony ride. Ridiculously over-priced for such short rides, but totally worthwhile in the end. Here we are on the elephant: Mommy, Ada, and Ellie clinging to a random Sith warrior and her daughter.

And here are the ponies:

This week we also spent some time NOT in a box and as Paper Bag Princesses.

It was a good week.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

No Foolin'

Ada (2) updates: her favorite color is BLUE, by which she specifically means a sort of aqua color. Let's call it "robin egg blue," for spring. She loves dinosaurs, butterflies, the letter A, and ROCKET SHIPS. (Many thanks to Lisa for the tip to bring out our globe. Ada is all about the "blue water-ocean" on the "circle map.")

Ellie (5) updates: She likes pink, but she likes lots of colors. She is growing out of Dora the Explorer (apparently, this is a very 2-3 year-old obsession) but hasn't figured out what to replace it with. Apparently, this is the part where I'm supposed to introduce Hannah Montana or High School Musical, and that's just simply not going to happen. Anyway, Ellie loves letters and letter sounds, Spanish, everything that rhymes, and, as always, BEADS. I am going to have to keep her far from Mardi Gras when she's a teenager. She lives for beads and spends hours a day playing with them. I encourage her free-form play, but cringe inwardly because I know that toy jewelry like that is chock-full of lead. Fortunately, she was just tested last month and her lead levels are normal.

Both of my beautiful, amazing, little girls are peacefully sleeping, as they should be at 10:00 pm, and I've made good use of my evening by bawling my eyes out.

I keep meaning to mention this, and put some pretty linkage up on this site, but I'm a Wellsphere community blogger. (That link might change; I'm having some little profile issues.) I get periodic emails from the Wellsphere people updating me on community stuff, and I got a sad one today, letting me know that another Wellsphere Health blogger died. Unfortunately, I don't read all the other blogs and as I'm in the Down syndrome community and she was in the cancer community, I didn't know her.

The email linked to this woman's blog, so I clicked over. Shawndra Turner was 32 and had a 3-year-old daughter. She was happily married for less than two years, with a six-month-old baby, when she started having some constipation. Her doctors didn't think it was anything to worry about at first but she's a nurse and pushed for more tests . . . two years later, she died. And she blogged the whole time, from early in her first chemotherapy regimen until just a couple of weeks before her death, with posts interspersed throughout by her husband and other family members. There are also pictures. I read and cried, read and cried. A friend of mine died of a similar cancer a few years ago. She was in her mid-20's and married for only 2 years.

Cancer just . . . scares me to death. Especially the thought of dying and leaving my babies behind.

But I finally quit crying and don't want to start again, so I'll cut that off right there.

And I'll end with a hint of humor. Paul works for a Catholic organization, which has weekly noontime devotional services during Lent. Management is encouraged to lead these sessions, and Paul's turn was today. I told him to stand quietly in front of the group for a while, then say:

"I am Presbyterian and we do things a little differently. Today I'm going to share the devotional with you via liturgical dance. [Long Pause.] April Fool!"

He didn't think they'd think it was funny. Alas.

The Debs - Barrie Summy's The Book Review Club

Welcome to Barrie Summy's The Book Review Club, April edition. This month, I want to talk about THE DEBS by Susan McBride.

Technically, Susan McBride isn't a new author. Actually, she's the author of the successful Debutante Dropout mysteries (which I enjoyed). But THE DEBS is her first Young Adult novel, so it's a change of direction and I was interested to see how it turned out. McBride is also launching a new "women's fiction" series next year called The Cougar Club, about 40-something women dating younger men. I'm anxiously awaiting that one, too, because McBride is a (barely) 40-something woman married to a (slightly) younger man . . . who just happens to be a guy with whom I went to college and played hockey.

I have met Susan. We're BFFs, so I can use her first name like that. (Not really. I've met her, like, twice. But she's really really nice and has this way of making you feel like you really ARE her friend, even if you just met her in a crowded public place.) So I want her to succeed. But I wasn't sure what to expect from The Debs . . .

And I was even less sure when I started reading. The brand names were dropping so thick and fast, I couldn't find the story. Oh, wait, there it is. Holy cow, what's up with this girl?! She's our first main POV character and she's blowing off her friends to go have sex with a guy who all her friends know is a complete jerk who treats her terribly. Niiiice.

I had a hard time relating to the extreme wealth and privilege of the characters. All of the characters, especially with the current world economic situation. And I had a hard time relating to their big dramas and problems, too. I really wasn't connecting to the story.

Or so I thought. And then I realized that I'd finished the book in one sitting. And I was looking around for the next one, LOVE, LIES AND TEXAS DIPS, which I know doesn't come out until June. For the next several days, I kept drifting back to the characters in my mind and thinking about their situations, their challenges, their goals.

The girls had become real to me, and the guys had too. I have a theory about what's really going on with Avery, but I'm still trying to figure out Dillon's story. Even The Debs themselves grew on me. And I have hopes that college will help them figure out their priorities . . . especially Mac (the brain) and Ginger (the environmentalist) who I found most sympathetic.

Though I also found myself caring about Laura (the one who ditched her friends for a guy). And even "The Queen of Mean, Jo Lynn [who] is so easy to hate" (according to one review). I thought Jo Lynn was going to be a textbook Mean Girl, but she isn't. She's mean, yes, but she's sympathetic, too. And it's not like Laura, Mac, and Ginger are perfectly nice. They call Jo Lynn and her friends The Bimbo Squad.

I think my favorite thing about THE DEBS was how real the characters seemed. The boys' behavior was completely mysterious and confusing to the girls, and not easily deciphered by readers, either. The girls themselves were a mixture of child and woman, sometimes seeming so young and sometimes seeming far too old. In short, they were teenagers.

They were all older and more sophisticated than I was at that age, for sure. But given their lifestyles, I found that completely realistic. I saw those kids from afar, when I was in high school. They didn't go to my school, necessarily, and we didn't often attend the same parties, but occasionally we'd cross paths at a golf tournament. Even public schools can have golf teams.

Shortly after finishing THE DEBS I read Orson Scott Card's new direct sequel to ENDER'S GAME, ENDER IN EXILE. After reading that, I was even more impressed with Susan McBride's grasp of teenage life.

McBride's teenagers aren't stupid. They're intelligent and passionate. But they're not all philosophers, either. They're not exactly the same as they were at 6 and will be at 60. They're kids. They have different interests and priorities than they had last year or they'll have next year. They make dumb choices and lack foresight. They care passionately about things. They're . . . interesting.

It depresses me that this is what t(w)eenage girls want to read, though. Brand-name dropping novels about ultra-rich, snobby, classist kids casually having sex, drinking, doing drugs, and being otherwise unpleasant.

It seems that this is what girls (and women) want to read, though, and McBride serves it up nicely. But she slips a little bit of perspective into the story throughout. She creates the world in which the characters live, and she doesn't ridicule it, but she neither does she condone it or its excesses.

Well done, deftly handled. Thanks for the fun read!