Sunday, May 31, 2009

What Are You Talking About?

I enjoy blogging and get a lot out of it (the daily exercise, record of events, testing and development of my thoughts, conversation, letting family and friends know what's going on, etc.).

But there are some interesting side effects, too.

Like being recognized occasionally by local strangers who read the blog. And people I do know sometimes knowing me a lot better than I know them, which makes for an interesting dynamic.

There's also the balancing act of what to blog and what not to blog. My husband, my mother-in-law, my sister, and my husband's sister's husband all read this blog from time to time. (Hi, Paul, Carol, Grace, and Rob!) So I sure can't complain about them. (Just kidding! You're perfect!)

But, more seriously, I did lose a friend over this blog last summer. I wrote a did I handle this situation OK? post about the friend, without giving any identifying information, of course, but it really really really upset . . . her. So much so that s/he never talked to me again. Which was weird because I didn't know why my friend cut off all contact with me (and my husband, and my kids). This person was a great favorite and frequent babysitter of my children. They did stop asking after him eventually.

All this is build-up to say that I was at a wedding this weekend and someone said something really . . . wow, awful to me. And I kind of want to blog about it, but I'm also inclined to respect her privacy. Unlike with last year's debacle, this person is not really a friend, more a friend of a friend, but in my grand old age (ahem) I am less inclined to stir the pot.

So in lieu of all that, I will close with a public service announcement.

35 years ago, babies with Down syndrome were still routinely institutionalized. It was thought that they could not learn, and they were treated accordingly. It took quite a while for early intervention services and inclusive classrooms to catch on. In fact, I won't consider that process complete until kids raised in inclusive classrooms are the ones running the show, and we are not there yet. Until then, a lot of people with Down syndrome won't be living up to their full potential. Expectations, expectations.

Still, huge advances have been made.

Scientists think they might have treatments for the cognitive effects of Down syndrome in the next several years. For real! (Estimates might have adjusted since, but when I was pregnant with Ellie the projection was that treatment would be available by the time she was 9 years old.)

Aside from that, researchers have been learning a lot about what actually does happen in the brains of people with Down syndrome and have learned that most people with Trisomy 21 have higher IQs than we previously assumed. In fact, some have average or above average intelligence. And a lot of the cognitive issues kids with Down syndrome struggle with in school are more like significant learning disabilities than "mental retardation."

Kids with learning disabilities can and do learn, especially when they're taught in different and targeted ways. That's happening now. And it's working for lots of kids.

The other side of all this is physical health, and it's improving dramatically, too. Surgical interventions are improving all the time, and correspondingly life expectancy and quality of life for people with Down syndrome are rising. One of the most common and scary health complications for people with Trisomy 21 is heart defects. (Is heart defects? I hate that ugly sentence.) The biggest of these is Atrioventricular (AV) canal defect, which occurs somewhat less commonly in kids without an extra chromosome. But it's also harder to treat in kids without Down syndrome! For kids with T21, the surgery - performed in infancy - has a very high success rate. Ellie's not expected to have any long-term effects from her surgery, which was completed when she was 12 weeks old. I expect her to live a long and healthy life.

Having Down syndrome - or having a kid with Down syndrome - is not easy.

But neither is being or parenting any other kid.

Too often our opinions about people with Down syndrome are based on rumor, anecdote, and antiquated information. Today's realities are far different from those of 10 years ago . . . or 10 years from now.

And I'll leave it there for now.

Good night, and good luck.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend, in Pictures

This is the cheat sheet I created to help us decide what we wanted to do last weekend. The girls loved it, called it the "map," and happily used it in the car to navigate our daily trips to whichever picture they'd selected.

Picture Legends:Paul's birthday, girls looking out from the top of the arch, girls in front of the arch, girls watching World Bird Sanctuary presentation at the Renaissance Faire, girls in petting zoo at Renaissance Faire, petting sting rays at the zoo, Ada in the flight cage at the zoo, Ellie waiting for the carousel with one shoe off and one shoe on, wonderful balloon creations from Silly Jilly.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer Vacation Begins

My temptation is to run through the events of our Memorial Day weekend "staycation" chronologically, but I know that's not how to tell this story.

On Sunday evening, we went to the zoo. "What was your favorite part?" I asked both girls.

"Big shark!" answered Ada, and this was no surprise. Several times a day she talks about the huge model of a Great White shark that hangs from the ceiling at the North entrance to the zoo.

"Jaguar!" answered Ellie, and that was no surprise, either. Although Ellie has never mentioned the jaguar before, except in passing ("There he is!") apparently she liked him enough on this trip to throw her shoe right down into his enclosure from the bridge above.

Her 2-months-old Stride-Rite tennis shoe . . . with a $200 orthotic insert inside.

About 30 minutes after we arrived at the zoo.


We had a lot of fun this weekend, but we're worn out, too, and I'm a little worried that we've taught the girls to expect this much excitement every day, or at least every weekend. No way could I keep up with that pace. Nor could we afford it.

Friday night the girls got the best possible treat: their favorite babysitter and frozen pizza while mommy and daddy went to dinner and a movie. His birthday, so I had to see Star Trek. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it!

Saturday morning we went to downtown to go up to the top of the arch, then had lunch at Fitz's on The Loop. Ada's favorite part of the arch trip: inside! Ellie's favorite part: outside! Well, naturally. They are sisters. After naps at home, the girls and daddy wanted to stay in and watch a video (Toy Story 2 . . . again) so I went to Greek Fest alone and picked up an amazing dinner. The girls didn't eat it. More for meee!

Sunday morning we went west to the Renaissance Faire (favorite part for both girls: warhorse pony rides! "I do by myself!" and "I do with Mommy!") came home for naps, then traveled east to the zoo (see above). Big shark and black panther aside, I think the new Stingray Cove was awesome. (I was surprised that the rays didn't feel at all like sharks.)

Monday morning we went by the zoo to pick up Ellie's shoe, then proceeded to The Science Center to "see rocket ships!" and watch an omnimax movie. (Ada loved Fly Me to the Moon; Ellie didn't quite make it through.) We went home for lunch and naps (a daily occurrence, bless those girls) then had an impromptu BBQ with friends.

It had to be impromptu because these friends get sick whenever we invite them over so we had to sneak around ourselves without planning in advance. "Well, if we happen to meet up on Monday night . . ." I made a 4:00 grocery run, they arrived with a burst of rain, we grilled, we ate, the kids played, and we all went out for ice cream and balloon animals.

Fabulous weekend. I'm really looking forward to our next vacation, which involves a week with my family in a rented cottage near the beach in a small Michigan town where, I'm promised, there is nothing to do!

Stay tuned for pictures tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Master" Bath

Before . . .

Not pictured: tub/shower leaking into wall.
Not easy to see in pictures: the hideousness of the wall paper, the gunkiness of the fixtures, and the fact that the tiles (which cover two walls, floor to ceiling) are harvest gold, painted white.

Stay tuned for after.

Monday, May 25, 2009


The new version of Newsweek (both print and online) launched last week. Have you seen it?

I actually like Newsweek, so I kept an open mind about the relaunch, but I was hardly bouncing up and down with anticipation. I understand that traditional news outlets are hurting and struggling to find ways to remain "relevant" in tomorrow's world. But the current thing was working for me, so I don't feel the same pressing need for change that shareholders of The Washington Post Company (which owns Newsweek, as well as must be feeling.

The latest issue was delivered on Tuesday afternoon, and I haven't finished it yet. What? You think I'm twiddling my thumbs, here? I'll get to it!

I've already used a couple of pieces from the magazine, one to show Paul, one to share at a meeting. So there's still relevant (to me) information in Newsweek. But over all, I'm concerned about the redesign.

1) They strive to be "provocative without being partisan." I recently watched a very "provocative" video on Facebook about a 15-year-old girl who wants to get pregnant. I applaud the desire to avoid being partisan, and I like the way Newsweek goes about that. But the "provocative" stuff tends to annoy me. I mentioned earlier; I think they spend a lot of time being "provocative" . . . and not always in a constructive way. What, exactly, are we trying to provoke? Thought? Discussion? Emotion? Response? Sales?

Alas, I live in a world where screaming, sensationalist headlines sell. And if "news" companies want to make money, they have to get eyeballs where their advertisers can count 'em. So that means more screaming, sensationalist headlines. It means more opinion pieces by writers who also contribute to (like Dahlia Lithwick, e.g. Put Sarah Palin on the Supreme Court! That place needs a breast pump!) Provocative? You betcha. Adding to intelligent discourse in this country? Less so.

About those opinion pieces:

2) There's a lot more opinion in the new Newsweek. Editor Jon Meacham, in his "Top of the Week" column (formerly "The Editor's Desk") introducing the relaunch, explains what we'll see more - and less - of in weeks to come:
"There will, for the most part, be two kinds of stories in the new NEWSWEEK. The first is the reported narrative—a piece, grounded in original observation and freshly discovered fact, that illuminates the important and the interesting. The second is the argued essay—a piece, grounded in reason and supported by evidence, that makes the case for something.

What is displaced by these categories? The chief casualty is the straightforward news piece and news written with a few (hard-won, to be sure) new details that does not move us significantly past what we already know."
What who already knows? Those of you in the news business who read the AP Wire as it streams in and devour hours of cable news programs a day? Or people like me, who see the biggest headlines on our iGoogle homepages, listen to NPR news when we happen to be in the car at the top of the hour, and carry Newsweek with us to catch up on the rest? The latter group - people like me - are getting screwed by this new version of the magazine.

Newsweek used to kick off with "Periscope," full of short reported pieces wherein I learned interesting (or not) things like who Obama might pick for the Supreme Court or what's going on with Israel's new Prime Minister.

There are still short pieces in the new "Scope" section of Newsweek, and they still have an international flare. But the piece on civil rights abuses in Egypt (fascinating!) ends in a critique of our current foreign policy toward that nation and a suggestion for what we should be doing. Opinion. The piece on the world economy, focusing on how spending isn't down nearly as much in France as it is here (interesting!) includes a suggestion that European attitudes on government spending are healthier than American attitudes on same. Opinion.

It's not that I necessarily disagree with the opinions or think they're poorly written. It's just that they're . . . not news.

I'll keep reading; I'll try to keep an open mind. But if I'm looking for news in a broad, in-depth, non-sensationalistic format that's more portable than the internet, something a little less pressing and ink-stainy than a daily newspaper, something that's more about covering the stories that matter and less about breaking the day's biggest headline, and if the place for that isn't Newsweek, then where is it?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day

Thank you.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Goats and Girls

I took lots of photos of Ellie this week. Ellie with each of her teachers and aides. Ellie with her therapists, Ellie with her bus drivers. (This all has to do with our end-of-the-year gift project.) I'll spare you those pictures, though my daughter is, of course, fabulous at all times and in all photos.

Last Sunday we had a Jerusalem Marketplace at church, complete with a petting zoo. There are some stunning pictures of Ada with the animals, despite the fact that I didn't take our camera.

Here's Ellie babysitting last Friday night:

Here's Ada at the picnic birthday party of one of Ellie's classmates Friday afternoon:

And here's Ellie's left eye at the same event:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." Matthew 5:9 (TNIV).

Sometimes I am not sure.

By which I mean: I think there's a downside as well as the (more obvious) upside to peacemaking.

Given a situation where people have diametrically opposed positions, where compromise is impossible, there's still great value in continuing the conversation. I believe this is the way to bring along as many people as possible as we move in a forward direction (even if that means proceeding more slowly). I think it's important not to demonize the "other side," not to polarize the debate.

In the new edition of Newsweek, there's an excerpt from Cass Sunstein's new book Going to Extremes:
"In 2005, Sunstein asked liberals and conservatives to write down their views on social issues (gay unions, climate change). Subjects were then split into like-minded groups for 15 minutes. Almost all became more dogmatic in their views. This is called "group polarization.""

There is serious danger in surrounding oneself with people and information that only reinforces one's opinions. So, yay for the peacemakers who bring everyone to the table, who make people see each other rather than dehumanizing each other.

But on issue where I do see a clear Right and Wrong, I think there's also danger in pretending that both sides are "equal." There really are such issues. Slavery. The holocaust. Women's suffrage. Let's keep going: civil rights (for all races, sexes, orientations, abilities), genocide, ignoring third world hunger and disease, human trafficking, lack of access to quality healthcare.

By not roundly condemning that which is wrong (and thereby shutting off discussion with those I've judged) I am disrespecting and hurting innocent people.

It's a hard decision: do the "right" thing but hamper progress in a global sense, increase polarization, and deepen rifts between people-

Or continue on in discussions with people with whom I disagree, patiently listening and explaining, knowing all the while that by engaging and not condemning I'm lending a certain amount of legitimacy to a position that might be hateful and hurtful to people I love.

There are issues, like gay rights, where I find it easier to continue the discussion, be patient, allow time and tides to pull more people along on our ponderous slide forward. And there are issues that are perhaps more personal to me, like hatefulness toward the developmentally disabled (affecting, as it does, my child who cannot yet stand up for herself) and possibly even misogyny (affecting, as it does, me and millions of other women) where I am more comfortable taking the Judging role. Zero tolerance. You are wrong and this is why.

I understand those for whom gay rights is such an issue. I think there's need for people in both roles on each issue - the trailblazers and the peacemakers - as long as we continue moving forward.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Yesterday I briefly mentioned the AutoCrit Editing Software. Here's how that works. You upload a chunk of your manuscript, then run up to 14 reports on it. Reports include: Overused Words, Repeated Phrases, Sentence Length Variation, Repeated Words, Dialogue Tags, First Words, Names and Pronouns, Repeated Phrases Summary, Combination View of Overused & Repeated Words, Cliché Finder, Redundancy Finder, Homonym Highlighter, Readability Suite, and Pacing Monitor.

Here's what AutoCrit found in 4 random pages of manuscript, comparing my writing to word usage averages across "dozens of samples of published fiction":
feel/feeling/felt: 3, 0.1 %EXCEEDED
generic descriptions: 2, 0.1 %EXCEEDED
initial conjunction: 7, 0.5 %EXCEEDED
just/then: 8, 0.4 %EXCEEDED
maybe: 2, 0.1 %EXCEEDED
that: 15, 0.6 %EXCEEDED
was/were: 16, 1.4 %EXCEEDED

I have a little problem with "was." I'm a little too fond of the word, and AutoCrit points out instances for me, since my eyes skip over them. But sometimes it also points out things I've done intentionally, like repeated phrases for effect. Still, this program provides a good place to start looking.

[EDITED TO ADD: When I uploaded an entire chapter, most of these overages disappeared. I think the larger the sample size, the more accurate result.]

Sometimes the Wizard points out things I missed. Sometimes it just reassures me that I caught everything I should have. It's a fresh set of eyes when mine are tired, if nothing else. Perhaps I won't need this crutch after a few more years of practice. But for now? I'm loving it.


I am too tired to create original content tonight. (And my internal editor is fried too, even with the support of AutoCrit.)

So, a plug!
I love Brenda Novak's 5th Annual On-line Auction for Diabetes Research. Want a computer? Vacation? Stack of autographed books? Critique of your manuscript? Click on over!

Also, a quiz!
(or two)
I took What Kind of Blogger Are You? and What's Your Blogging Personality?
I got You Are a Pundit Blogger and Your Blogging Type Is Artistic and Passionate, respectively.
Yeah? Apparently not.

You Are a Pundit Blogger!

Your blog is smart, insightful, and always a quality read.

You're up on the latest news, and you have an interesting spin on things.

Of all the blogging types, you put the most thought and effort into your blog.

Truly appreciated by many, surpassed by only a few

Your Blogging Type is Artistic and Passionate

You see your blog as the ultimate personal expression - and work hard to make it great.

One moment you may be working on a new dramatic design for your blog...

And the next, you're passionately writing about your pet causes.

Your blog is very important - and you're careful about who you share it with.

How about you?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Astronomer Fairy

"My turn! I count 'em planets." Ada nods emphatically. "Muckewy, Venus, Earfh, Moon, Earth, Moon." My 2-year-old gets a little stuck at this point and smiles up at me, waiting for assistance.

She's really into astronomy right now. "Oh, das space! Das earth! Like dat one over der!" she points from the picture drawn by our neighbor's kindergarten grandson to our globe. We've been to The Science Center to "see rocket ships" about three times this spring. And we watch NASA videos (especially launch sequences) nearly daily. This morning, while I was listening to the news on NPR, Ada piped up from the back seat. You see, the reporter mentioned "Hubble" and Ada said, "The Space Telescope!"

(It's worth noting that she also really likes fairies. And dinosaurs. Carousels. And Go, Diego, Go.)

A couple of weeks ago I was bragging on Ellie for her teachers' belief that she can handle kindergarten without an aide. Now it's Ada's turn.

Ada attends a Kids Day Out program at a center that also hosts a preschool. The cut-off for preschool is the end of the year, rather than August like it is for local school districts. So with her January birthday, Ada misses the cut-off for preschool by a few weeks; no big deal. We're not in a rush and she clearly gets academic stimulation . . . everywhere she goes.

The school's director stopped me in the hallway today before I picked Ada up from class. "Have you ever had her tested?" she asked.

"Um, no," I replied, wondering what she suspected was wrong with my daughter. Hearing? Vision? Socialization?

"Because she just seems sort of bright." The director was tentatively feeling me out, hoping I wouldn't be offended. As if.

Turns out, the teachers in Ada's classroom think she'd be bored spending another year in the Kids Day Out program and think she'd love starting preschool early. So that's something to think about! (Preschool is different from kindergarten; she won't start kindergarten early. She might just do 3 years of preschool, probably at two different schools for experience.)

I was wrong before. This is the best age yet! (What's better than curiosity? "I don't know, let's look it up" is already becoming a very common response on my part.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Feminist Romance

Part I

I've complained about romance novels before, so today I thought I'd backpedal a little.

I'll start by picking on another genre and mentioning something that drives me crazy about mysteries. I love mysteries, especially clever ones that I have a hard time figuring out then have this big, wonderful "click" moment at the end where it all falls into place and I see how it was set up from page 1. But I hate it when someone dies in a book and everyone around them gasps, then either goes on like it's no big deal or treats it as a purely intellectual puzzle. In my experience, most people - and communities - are emotionally stricken by such events, and the residual effects don't wear off in a day or two.

Back to romance. I've already clarified that I don't hate all romance novels, though there are common genre tropes that annoy and frustrate me. Now I'll go a step further.

In a romance novel, the main story arc is usually . . . the romance. You know, the guy and the girl getting together. I am resistant to any story when I feel like I know how it ends. I didn't see Titanic until it had been on DVD for a couple of years, and then only under duress. (I liked it OK, but didn't wish I'd made it to the theater.) I went to see Apollo 13 at my husband's request and enjoyed it very much, though I was reluctant to see it because it was a true story and I knew how it turned out. And I get annoyed when shows give away too much in the previews, so I spend the whole episode waiting for a scene that turns out to be a big deal at the end. (Looking at you, season finale of Private Practice!)

I'm also resistant to seeing musicals, though I might enjoy them when I finally concede. I still haven't seen Chicago or Moulin Rouge, which I understand is akin to blasphemy.

What about you? What drives you crazy in fiction - be it written, acted, or sung? And what blind prejudices do you have?

Part II

The Eroticization of Equality and Social Justice (Hillary Retig)

This article is a very interesting read, but I'm not sure I am seduced by the premise. (joke credit: Retig)

1) "What do conservatives . . . have against romance?"
Just because conservatives are against something doesn't make it progressive. (And it's hard to argue that conservatives are against romance, anyway, just certain aspects of what broadly falls into that category.)

2) "[R]omance itself is a fundamentally progressive activity."
Not necessarily. For example, there are genre publishers, imprints, etc. that commonly require women to be like X and men to by like Y (e.g. "alpha"). In other words, romance fiction might very well codify and reinforce tired gender stereotypes.

3) I'm also not convinced that the idea of progressiveness = love for humankind is best exemplified by romance fiction, in which one character is seemingly destined for one other character, usually to the exclusion of all others. It's very individually focused and not typically spun outwards into a community experience.

4) "it's also commonly acknowledged in the field that if you were ever to meet one of those Byronic alpha-male romance heroes in real life, he would likely be a real jerk."
I'm not so quick to excuse perpetuating the romanticization of this type of character. In fact, doing so consciously might be worse.

5) "egalitarian partnerships tend to be the happiest, but also tend to lack sexual spark."

But the article is very smart and thought-provoking, and I loved chunks of it. For example:
"More and more, romance fiction is incorporating the ideals and values of progressivism, not just by becoming more diverse in its characterizations and relationship constructions, but by replacing a one-up, competitive model of power, in which I derive my power from your relative weakness, with a between-equals, cooperative model in which power is shared and distributed to the benefit of all. The more it does this, the closer it will come to providing models of ecstatic, loving, romantic, sexual relationships that work in real life - a huge public benefit and radical act."

Why do I spend so much time writing and thinking about romance novels? Because of statistics like this:
"More than a quarter of all books sold in the U.S. are romance fiction, and more than 64 million Americans read at least one romance novel each year (source: Romance Writers of America, RWA). Romance fiction is an enormous part of American culture, and an important transmitter of values."
Romance fiction is obviously hugely popular, and I think it only makes sense to pay attention to something so influential.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I. Am. Not. Pregnant.

I figure that I've got two choices, if I want people to stop asking me if I'm pregnant/when I'm due all the time.
  1. Lose weight, or
  2. Stop wearing such loose-fitting shirts.
But you know what? I think my weight is my own business, unless I'm physically taking up some of your space (I'm not, by the way). And I like my loose-fitting shirts, no matter what size I am!

So that leaves me with one "choice."
  1. Get over it.
It's not like I run into a corner and sob when this happens. If I did, I'd spend time crying in corners a few times a week. But I do still find it mildly annoying, surprising, and invasive every time it happens.

Except when that waiter spontaneously brought me a refreshing glass of lemonade last week. That was OK.

Monday, May 11, 2009

It Just Gets Harder? Really?

Does parenting get "easier" as kids grow up?

My friend Moreena over at Falling Down Is also a Gift said:

You can always recognize parents of elementary school kids because they look so pitifully grateful, as if they're hearing Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World" all the time inside their heads. But not in a crazy way. Or rather not in an entirely crazy way.

And why do those parents look so gosh darn grateful? It's because their kids are finally wiping themselves (if not always completely successfully and don't ask more about that la-la-la)! And their kids are capable of having conversations that are both amusing and enlightening and often even concern a topic based loosely in reality! And they are so very well-mannered (no food has been inserted in a nose for at least a few months)! And their kids are keeping regular bedtime hours!

The school-age years are like spring after the long, weird, sleepless winter of baby-toddlerdom.

I really do love the way she writes. And in this case, I love what she's saying even more. You know why? Because no one else says that!

In fact, every single other parent of older-than-mine children I've ever met insists that "it just gets harder" when I answer a question about one of the challenges of infancy/toddlerhood/potty-training/whatever.

Why do they do this?

Have they forgotten what it's like to parent a wee one? Or are they just heartless? Don't they realize that sometimes we're we're just barely hanging on, and the thought that it will get a little better, that our children will one day entertain themselves for more than 30 seconds and not have to be carried (screaming) through grocery stores is what helps us get through our days?

I get that it's never easy. I get that the work is never done. But it changes. It doesn't necessarily get harder. I'm not looking forward to enforcing curfew or dealing with Mean Girls and crushed spirits. I'm not looking forward to spending my entire week running from one scheduled activity to the next like I'm one step ahead of a fire.

But is that really harder than being completely and totally everything to another human being 24 hours a day?

Sure, if you've completely romanticized how hard the first few years can be.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weekend Update

I have had a lovely Mother's Day. I have a bit of a cold, which is annoying, so I took some Tylenol Cold PM after my pre-Mother's Day treat last night and passed out. I completely missed the morning rush (that stuff is effective) and didn't wake up until Paul and the girls brought me breakfast in bed. After snuggle time, Paul got the girls ready for church.

Today was our last Sunday School class before summer break, and our friends surprised us with a nice thank you gift for leading the group this year. After church we had sandwiches at home (my special request was NO MOTHER'S DAY BRUNCH - too crowded, too stressful). Then naptimes, a video for the girls, family dinner, and Paul took the girls to the park while I talked to my sister and did a few things around the house. We had storytime together as a family, put the girls down to sleep, and the rest of the evening will be free time once Ellie deigns to stay abed.

In fact, the whole weekend has been lovely. Paul and I had a date night on Friday (we enjoyed the X-Men movie and a seafood dinner), I had lunch with a friend on Saturday, and we went out to dinner and Ted Drewes with other friends Saturday night. Terribly indulgent, totally fun weekend.

Over the past several days, I have also been reading my draft of Seek Ye First whenever I have a few minutes to spare. Paul printed it out in book format for me, which is rather fun. Now that I'm done with the first read-through, I'm pleased with the second half but think the first chapters need more tension. I need to go through the ms once to make the changes I noted when I was reading, run the Auto-Crit software to get rid of remaining annoyances, then expand the story inserts and drop them in.

The first 2 chapters should be ready to go out to my critique group for next month's meeting! I also need to put together a list of questions and prepare to send the ms off to early readers. It's fun to be in a new stage. Now that the solid draft is completed, things are moving much more quickly and I crave feedback. Maybe it sucks. Maybe it's good. Who knows? Either way, it's a completed novel and I learned from it. The next one will be even better.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Friday Photo Blogging

I've noticed that Picasa's face recognition software doesn't always recognize Ellie's profile as a face. Perhaps this is because of the relatively flat planes of her bone structure. It reminds me a little bit of the "Racial Sensitivity" episode of Better Off Ted, where Veridian Dynamics's new automatic sensors (doors, water fountains, lights, elevators) don't recognize black people.

Evening storytime:

One moment a princess, the next an astronomer:

It's not just me; my girls put themselves in boxes!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Book Review Club - May

This month I'm reviewing Angie Fox's paranormal romance The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers for Barrie Summy's Book Review Club.

Have you heard of the sophomore slump? For writers, this is what happens when you spend years working on your first novel: learning, preparing, plotting, drafting, revising, and workshopping. You submit it, it sells, and wham! you have a two book contract. Now what? You have to write the second novel in a matter of months. You've never done anything like that before; you've poured everything you had into that first, wonderful novel.

Yeah, Angie Fox did not suffer from the dreaded sophomore slump with The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, which published last week, only nine months after Angie's debut novel (and New York Times best-seller) The Accidental Demon Slayer.

Everything that was good in The Accidental Demon Slayer was still good in The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers, and the rest was even better.

Fox is just so creative and original. Her voice is fresh, and, hey - geriatric biker witches, roadkill magic, a straight-laced preschool teacher turned demon slayer - what's not to love?

Maybe just two small things. Like the first novel in the series, this one is tight and fast. Sometimes it's so tight and fast that it feels a bit rushed and I wonder - hey, what just happened? How did we get here? I think I missed something. But certainly tight and fast is better than sloppy and dragging, so I'll take it.

My other little complaint is with the romance angle. Don't get me wrong, I'm all about sexy Greek griffins. But Lizzie was a preschool teacher just a couple of weeks ago. She'd never heard of demons or magic, she'd never met her Grandma or smokin' hot Dimitri. Since then, life has been a whirlwind of trying to get up to speed . . . and stay alive.

I get that Lizzie and Dimitri have shared some intense experiences (read the first book to explore that understatement!) but Lizzie's transition to acceptance - and love - was awfully fast. She kept talking about "the old Dimitri," "this new man," and "the real Dimitri" (P. 106). But after only knowing a guy for a couple of weeks, how could she really be sure what the "old Dimitri" was like all of the time?

I'm thinking she couldn't, since Dimitri behaves very unreliably in this novel: disappearing, lying, keeping huge secrets, being undependable . . . and feeding on her without asking for permission. Lizzie sleeps with him anyway, and thinks about love when they mostly seem to connect through sex throughout the beginning and middle of this story. It gets a lot better at the end, don't worry. That's good, because for a while I was thinking that this seemed like a very unhealthy relationship and I was rooting for Lizzie to dump the griffin!

But mostly The Dangerous Book for Demon Slayers is great: a clever, funny, creative, surprising, fast read. So let's wrap up with a few more positives, shall we?

Fox did a really nice job of catching up new readers - no easy task in a paranormal - without boring return customers like me. And she has some wonderful turns of phrase throughout this book. I'll close with a wee little quote from the first scene.

"Pardon," I mumbled as I braced one hand on a rust-flecked cigarette machine and eased a black boot up and over the very hairy man who seemed to be using the selection knobs for a pillow. His mouth slacked open and a snore rumbled in his throat. Of course he wouldn't have noticed if I'd tap-danced across his whatnots, but I was raised as a good Southern girl and, well, old habits die hard.

Check out the other reviews this month over at Barrie Summy's!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Two New Languages

Ellie had a little tickle in her throat last week and was having a some trouble with it as she and Paul were walking at the park on Friday night. "Give a big cough, just like this," Paul directed, demonstrating. "Is that better?"

"Si, un poco," Ellie replied. (Yes, a little.) Like it was nothing! Just . . . Spanish! For fun! Bless her heart.

But that impressive display was the lesser of Ellie's two big accomplishments in expression for last week. When it's time to color, she scribbles in the middle of the page for a while and then is "all done." Her OT believes that this is because of Ellie's fine motor weakness; holding a pen or crayon properly and carefully drawing lines or coloring in entire pictures is hard work for her. But during their session on Wednesday, Carmen asked Ellie to draw a picture of herself. As usual, Ellie started to scribble.

Carmen gave her a new sheet of paper and said, "You need to start with a circle for the head."

For some reason, that really "clicked" with Ellie. She drew a head, hair, eyes, nose, arms, and legs, explaining each piece as she drew it. Amazing!

Sunday, May 03, 2009


Yesterday we took the girls to the movie theater to see the DisneyNature film earth. Wow, was it good. I loved the 11 episode BBC/Discovery Channel Planet Earth from 2007, and wasn't sure how it could be improved.

But Disney went through all the BBC/Discovery Channel footage, recut and edited it, hired James Earl Jones to narrate, and stuck it on the big screen, complete with an introduction to DisneyNature by Walt himself! I like the whole DisneyNature concept, and I also liked how they turned the iconic Cinderella's Castle image into a snowy mountain for the credits. The movie was good.

But it was a gamble, taking the girls. Ellie still prefers animation to live action kids shows, and this is a 90 minute nature documentary. Ada is . . . two. So I wasn't sure they'd be able to sit through the whole thing.

Also, I'd read the Newsweek article "Where the Wild Things Die," about "why the new movie Earth might terrify your kids." The goal of the film, according to co-director Mark Linfield, "was to portray the wild kingdom honestly without having to "Disney-ify" the film." There was death in the movie, certainly, though nothing explicit and no blood. We saw a polar bear fail in hunt after hunt, then lie down in the snow while the narrator explains that he's too exhausted to continue and can't survive without food. We see a seal tail disappearing into a shark's mouth. We see a cheetah catch and embrace her prey.

But I decided that I'm OK with that. I don't want my kids to see blood, guts, gore, and unnecessary violence. But I also don't see the benefit in pretending that death doesn't happen, that predators don't eat . . . prey. After all, my kids know that chicken nuggets are made from chickens. I also figured that I could convince Ada that, "It's OK, the mommy will find the baby" where necessary, like when the baby elephant wandered blindly away from the herd after a sandstorm.

Ada loved the movie. And she really got it, too. She was most anxious when baby animals were in danger (adult victims she was less concerned about) but she didn't cry and was easily reassured. She narrated the whole film to me, right along with James Earl Jones. And she LOVED the fun parts, like the ducklings learning to fly ("They're bouncing!") and the camera flying dizzyingly over waterfalls. I say that she "got" it all, even the disturbing parts, without much additional help from me. But she did ask about dinosaurs during the rain forest part. I'm wondering when she saw Jurassic Park without me knowing about it?

Ellie was OK for the first half, but the second 45 minutes were a a bit more of a chore for all of us. (Except for Ada who was engrossed in the film.) Ellie wanted to talk, walk around, leave, anything but stay in her seat. Eventually even food bribery failed. But we made it through to the end without being shushed by our (not near) neighbors. Hey, rated G matinee on a weekend? You have to expect some child activity in the theater, right?

We talked about the movie afterward, and the girls shared their most memorable moments. I don't think either of them are scarred. Though Ada was up inexplicably between 3:30 and 4:30 this morning. She wasn't crying or anxious, just . . . awake. Perhaps she was still processing.

Leaving First Watch after brunch today, Ada was lagging a bit behind. "What are you doing?" I asked her. Then I watched more carefully. She held her arms stiff by her sides, and was doing an odd little prance. "I penguin!" she explained. She was a penguin all the way to the car. Too cute.

I'm so glad we went! (Paul would have enjoyed a stiff drink afterward, as he was very involved with Ellie throughout.)