Thursday, April 30, 2009

A long and sordid tale of Pickles

We have a pickle tray in my family. I’m not sure if this is a normal thing or just a wacky my-family thing, but we do. It’s glass or crystal, I’m not sure which because I’ve never examined it too closely. My mother had learned the hard way to keep me away from breakables. While she scurried about cooking and cleaning for holiday parties, the task of filling this tray inevitably fell to five-year-old me. Possibly because the task took me an absurdly long time and kept me from being underfoot or in backyard mud puddles.

The pickle tray has sections: one for black olives, one for green olives, one for gherkins – which I believed were the shrunken warty fingers of witches, and the last section for dill pickle spears.
I would fill it using a method I mastered in the pick-your-own strawberry patch: one olive in the tray, one dill pickle in my tummy. One nasty gherkin in the tray, one dill pickle in my tummy. This method may take a little longer and may require two jars of dill pickles, but I never complained.

Until a half-hour later -- usually right around the time the first guests showed up -- I would get sick.

My mother would frantically shepherd me to the upstairs bathroom while gathering coats, accepting appetizer trays, and dispensing hugs. I’d boot, rally, and run downstairs to be admired by aunts and uncles and scamper off with my cousins.

Then came THE DAY. The day when my mom informed me that I couldn’t do the pickle tray. “I don’t want you touching it.”

“But why?” I asked.

“Because you’re allergic to pickles,” she answered. “Go set the table – fold the napkins into animals if you want.”

So the Thanksgiving table featured an assortment of origami napkins and the pickle tray was filled by my sister and kept out of my reach.

Thus began a saga of pickle-avoidance: Is there relish in that tuna? I can’t eat it. I need my hamburger without pickles, please. At restaurants I’d push the pickle spear off my plate with my sister’s fork and tear off any part of a sandwich role that’d been touched by the juices.

I was allergic. That’s what allergic people do, right?

This continued for years: No relish on my hotdog, please. I’ll pass on the deviled eggs…

Until one day I was at a deli with my family. By this point I was in high school and had the drill down: “No pickles on my plate, please.”

Yet when my cucumber sandwich was delivered, there was an electric green spear right beside it. “Man! They messed up my order, does anyone want my pickle?” I began my ritual of tearing off the pickle-juiced portions of the bread.

“You really do hate pickles, don’t you?” My mother said with a shake of her head. “That’s so funny, you used to love them.”

I put the roll down, “What are you talking about? I’m allergic to pickles.”

My mom’s mouth twitched in the way it does when she’s trying not to laugh because even though she thinks she’s about to be funny, she knows her audience won’t feel the same way. “Um, Tiff….”

“Yeeeesss?”

“You’re not actually allergic to pickles.”

WHAT?

“You’re not actually allergic to pickles. That was just something I told you when you were little because you’d eat them until you got sick.” She shrugged. “So go ahead and enjoy.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell me this?” I was flabbergasted – all those pickle-free years and burgers.

“I guess I forgot. Oops.”

Oops? Oops? Was there any other part of my medical history she’d forgotten to tell me? I scowled like only a teenager can, ate my pickle, her pickle, and both my little brothers’ pickles. There was more than a ten-year pickle deficit in my diet, and I wanted to start fixing that immediately.

It is possible that I got sick afterward.

I still get like this. No, I don’t still gorge myself on pickles until I ralph. (Occasionally I overindulge in Swedish Fish and coffee, but that’s another story). I do, however, fixate on one task, item, whatever, until I’ve overdone it. With running this can result in over-training injuries. With reading I earn raccoon-like circles from too many late nights with books under the covers. With Twitter it becomes St. Matt threatening to hide Petunia. While writing I spend so much time IMH, that the line with reality becomes blurred.

And this April, it was BEDA. This post completes it; I’ve officially blogged each day this month. BEDA could not have come at a more chaotic time: there were roadtrips, crisis’s, parent-teacher conferences, and TBALMCSAP revisions, but not even the Easter bunny prevented me from posting.

I’m glad that April doesn’t have 31 days, and I’m glad BEDA’s over. It was fun and I’ve loved daily comments, but I’m starting to feel that ut-oh-I’ve-over-done-it feeling. It’s time to slowly back away from my blog and leave it be for a few days.

Except, back when I was a tiny-Tiffany, right after I booted, rallied, ran downstairs, and greeted the grown-ups, before I headed to the backyard to rumpus with my cousins– I’d make a stop at the pickle table to grab another spear or two.

In other words: I’ll see you soon.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Poets, yes. Spies, no.

Sixth graders are not stealthy. This isn’t news to me, but it was brought to my attention today –yet again – in a quite adorable way.

April is National Poetry Month. April is National Poetry Month and my kiddos have been writing poems. April is National Poetry Month, my kiddos have been writing poems, and one of this year’s dads was Poet Laureate of our town. I invited him in to talk to the class. Today.
This is where the not-so-stealthy part comes in.

Mr. Kiddo is in front of the class doing an excellent job of speaking about his writing process. He’s sharing some truly beautiful poems. I’m trying not to tear-up as he reads a poem about when his 12-year-old Buckaroo was just a baby. I glance around the classroom and notice something…

Most of the kiddos are entranced, chins in hands, leaning forward with rapt attention. But two… no, make that three. No, actually it’s four. Wait! FIVE! Five kiddos are futzing in their desks, or have put their head down, or are scribbling something in notebooks on their laps. WHAT? This is unacceptable. We are respectful in room 202!

I attempt some stealth of my own, trying to walk quietly across the room while my heels clack on the tile. One looks up with a sheepish grin as I approach. A second startles and slides what he’s writing into his desk. A third stays face down; her forehead pressed against the edge of the desk. I tap her shoulder, she jumps. I crouch and whisper: “Sweetpea, what are you doing? That’s not very polite.”

And then - I get it. I see the notebook in her lap and I get it. I peer across the table and spy another kiddo doing the same thing. I get it.

They’re writing.

They’ve been inspired by Mr. Kiddo, his talk, and his poems: they’re writing.

“Sorry, Mrs. Schmidt,” whispers the pink-cheeked Sweetpea.

I wink. “Promise I’ll give you writing time after,” I whisper before patting her shoulder, standing, and not-so-stealthily clacking back across the room with a proud smile stretched ear to ear.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I'm melting... melting...

The high temp for Doylestown today was 86°. The lowest temperature my classroom managed today was 86° - and that was at 7:30 in the morning before 26 preteens arrived to add their body heat to the mix.

The classroom worked its way above 90°, so we did most of our work outside, chasing shade around the school as it shifted with the hours. I mother-duckling’d the kiddos: “Bud, you need to get under that tree,” “Sweetpea, scoot back a few inches, your shoulders are in the sun.” They were sent home sweaty and flushed, but without sun damage.

Did I take similar care of my own precious skin? Not so much – although I didn’t realize this right away. I noticed my coworkers giving my sidelong glances after school. A couple made comments: “Spend some time outside today, Tiffany?” Being an idiot, I worried my class had been too loud and disturbed others – but no, they were unusually quiet, subdued by the child-melting heat of our classroom. It wasn’t until I arrived home and looked in the mirror that I figured out how my colleagues knew I’d had a courtyard-classroom today.

Do I match my powder pink polo shirt? No. I am burned darker, more like the color of a Macintosh apple. I’ve got reverse racoon eyes, white in the places my sunglasses covered. Guess I might have to add sunblock to my morning routine.

I’m too cranky and pink to do much more of a blog, so I’ll just leave you with this:



Ten Signs it’s too hot in your classroom


10) You can pick up a piece paper by pressing your warm palm to it. Sweat makes an excellent adhesive.

9) Each time you shift in your seat, it makes an embarrassing ~squeeelph~ noise. Each time it makes this noise, you feel the need to say: “It’s just the chair.” And everyone gives you a sure-sure look, even though they know it’s really just the seat.

8) The room starts to take on a funny odor that reminds you of childhood summers – you hunt for the source and realize that it’s the crayons melting in their bins.

7) The room starts to take on another odor – this one isn’t funny at all – the smell of 26 pre-teen bodies post recess-basketball.

6) Pens and pencils slip from sweaty hands while writing. This may occur spontaneously and accidentally once or twice. Then it becomes accidentally-on-purpose.

5) Snack time string cheese becomes snack time soup cheese.

4) Math class features problems like: If it’s 90° in Doylestown, snowing in Denver and 26° in Montana, where would we like to live right now?

3) Your projector overheats before morning announcements, rendering all of your PowerPoint, SmartNotebook files, and lessons unusable.

2) The kiddos ask you to play ♫Frosty the Snowman♫ and ♫The Nutcracker Suite♫so they can “visualize snow”

1) Despite being alarmingly under-caffeinated, you wait until your coffee is room temperature before drinking it.

Tomorrow’s supposed to be in the 50’s again – so we won’t have a repeat of today. What we may have, however, is students who come to school dressed for a repeat of today – and spend the hours between morning announcements and dismissal with chattering teeth and goosebumpy arms.

At least I won’t have to worry about sunburns.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Why I’m NOT a ballerina

I am NOT a ballerina – and not just because of a mid-recital-altercation that may have taken place when I was six (more on that below). I’m not a dancer. Not even a square dancer. I have mastered the bop-in-place. I can do the sluggishly-shifting-feet-in-a-circle slow dance too. That’s it. Oh, and the hokey pokey.

There are many reasons for my lack of dance expertise. Here are some:

I do not know my left from my right. I realize this makes me pathetic and lame, but it’s true. I’ve tried to learn them. I wore a watch on my left wrist; I’ve tried bracelets on my right. It doesn’t help. I’ve tried marking shoes, and I did the left-hand-makes-an-L trick on the steering wheel so often while learning to drive, my dad threatened to take away my permit. So when my dance teacher told me to move left, I often bumbled right.

I also have no rhythm. Again this is pathetic and lame and also still true. I also tried to work on this, but I’ve accepted it’s never going to happen. Clap to a beat? I can do this for about eight claps, then I’m lost. Since I’d hate for the other clappers to think I’m trying to mess up their rhythm, whenever group clapping is required, I fake it. Yes, I’ll own up to being a fake-clapper.

Despite these two all-important facts, I wanted to be a ballerina and when I was four my parents enrolled me in a class. I was adorable. All smiles and curls in my little slippers and tutus. And a disaster. I careened into the row behind me; I caused domino falls when I spun left instead of right. I did the moves for the second chorus of ♫the kitty cat song♫ during the first refrain. And I executed all of these moves without even a sliver of grace or coordination. Worst of all, I was oblivious to my disaster-dancing. I performed for every willing audience – often for less-than-willing-but-unable-to-escape audiences too, like the cashier in every store or the other mothers at the bus stop.

Somehow I survived for two years at the dance studio, but during my six year old recital, my collision course with catastrophe came to a sudden, dramatic, and public conclusion.

It should be mentioned these recitals were not small affairs. The dance studio rented out the auditorium of the largest local high school and sold out the tickets for all the shows. There were a few thousand people in attendance – including my parents, grandparents and a few aunts I’d begged to come see my “most-special-performance-ever.”

My costume was a light blue leotard trimmed with white sequins my mother had stayed up late sewing. The tutu had white polka dots and more sparkly sequins. Unlike the previous year’s costume -- which featured a cat face I’d decorated with eye shadow and blush – this year I looked rather pristine as I stood in line with the rest of my class. We were waiting for the musical cue that indicated the curtains were opening and we should perform our swish step entrance as we skittered across the stage to the tape X’s designating our spots. We’d practiced this for a week. I had it down.

And then someone -- we’ll call her “Meggy” -- swished and skittered her way over to my tape X. What was I supposed to do? The music was about to start!

My tutu’d, six-year-old self knew how to handle this: I asked her, politely, to move to her own X.

She refused.

I asked again.

She STUCK OUT HER TONGUE.

It was on! The music was starting and I could barely handle the steps from my own X, a different location was out of the question. My relatives were in the audience waiting to watch ME and here was stupid Meggy standing on MY X and making me look silly. We couldn’t both stand there – clearly something had to be done.

So I pushed her. gently

She pushed back. Hard!

What’s a wannabe ballerina to do? I slugged her. HARD!

She shrieked as she slid across the stage on her tutu’d butt. I claimed my X and smiled brightly at the horrified audience.

I could hear my teacher saying ut-oh words as the curtains were hastily closed. An agitated and flustered and trying-to-keep-her-voice-down-so-audience-wouldn’t-hear-her-holler instructor came out and told us how disappointed she was.

We were each individually positioned on our X’s and the curtained opened again. Forget the swishy-skittering steps, they were not taking any chances.

After the recital, my mother was asked with taunt politeness not to re-enroll me for the following year.

Thus ended my career as a ballerina.

But I walked away with two things:

1) The knowledge I was right. When the adults positioned us on the tape X’s for the second attempt, it was Meggy who was moved.

2) A home video of 6-year-old indignation and the ability to watch Meggy’s tutu’d butt slide across the stage whenever I want. It’s the most interesting part of the recital.

Was it worth it? I think so!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fierce Wonderings

What was the headstone company thinking when they posted a sign reading: “Drive Safe. We Can Wait”? I obsess over this each time we drive past.

This would be an example of a FIERCE WONDERING. Something that puzzles you and sticks with you long after it should linger. It’s a Ralph Fletcher term and one I use in my classroom while encouraging the kiddos to record their own Fierce Wonderings in their writers’ notebooks.

I have Fierce Wonderings all the time. The book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg is a gigantic fierce wondering for me. I read to my class each year hoping that one of them will know the stories behind the illustrations – or that I finally find closure. Nope, but the kiddos do write great more stories that lead to more Fierce Wonderings.

Other Wonderings of the Fierce variety I’m plucking from my notebook:

Graffiti on a local building (I changed the names): Melanie Smith, I will love you forever. No matter what happens. Love, C. I find it odd that good old ‘C’ had no qualms about using his love’s first AND last name, but stuck with his own initial. So she can get in trouble for his vandalism, but he’s off the hook? Also, what does he expect to happen? Does 'what happens' matter to Melanie? Curious…

When I was in the local bookstore about a month ago, a 3-4 year old was wondering from his father to his older sister, to random customers repeating over and over, “I just want to find something to make mommy happy. I just want to get something that will make mommy happy. Can we find something to make mommy happy?” His dad was ignoring him, his sister brushed him off, and I wanted to scoop him up and hug him. What had happened to make him feel, at 4 years old, that his mother’s happiness was his responsibility? His words and desperate tone have echoed in my ears for weeks.

There’s an author I’m not quite sure actually exists. I like her first book a lot, so I googled her to find out if there’d be more. The only place I could find her online was listings on Amazon – where I discovered there’d be a sequel. Even the publisher’s website doesn’t have any more details than were listed in the bookflap bio. When the sequel came out I read it, didn’t like it as much, and went to the web address listed in the bookflap bio (this was the only change from the first bio). The website doesn’t exist. It’s now been six months since I read the book and the website still doesn’t exist. How is it possible for this author to have next to no presence online? I find this fascinating and the conspiracy theory part of me believes she’s not real.

I heard part of a tsunami-story during the media glut in December of 2004 where an American tourist mother was talking about being stuck in a hotel stairwell with her two children. The water was rising rapidly and she couldn’t hold on to both her infant and toddler and keep herself afloat. She chose to let go of the toddler because he had a chance of being able to swim, whereas the baby did not. Something interrupted the news and I never heard the end of the story. In my cupcakes-&-unicorns mind they all survived, but…


This is me – I’m a Fierce Wonderer. I’ll ask St.Matt’s opinion on something (like the tsunami story above) hours, days, weeks, years after it occurs. His response: “Tiffany, you’ve to let things go.”

Let things go? Has he MET me? I can no more let things go than I can stop eating jellybeans, reading, drinking coffee, or writing.

And I don’t really want to. I like fiercely wondering. It’s part of what makes me a writer – I wonder what happened to that mother, both in the stairwell and since then. There’s a story in that. I wonder what motivates a toddler to obsess over buying something to ‘fix’ this mother – and how his father could ignore him. There’s a story in that. The graffiti & missing author? Each could be a story.

And it’s not just sad things that keep me wondering. We just got home from ice cream and the muddy kneed pigtailed nine-year old in front of me in line was squealing, “Today’s the best day ever!” Normally I’d attribute this to winning a soccer game or just the beautiful weather, but her mother had a slightly dazed expression as she leaned down to her daughter and whispered, “Shhh, I know, but don’t tell anyone. Not yet- soon!”

I wonder…

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A Matter of Perspective

I volunteered at an Autism Awareness 5K this morning. I probably could’ve run it, but – since the tan lines from last summer’s ankle brace still haven’t faded --I’m babying my ankle this year.

St.Matt and my SIL were running, they had maps of the course in their race bag, along with sneaker chips, safety pins, number and Powerbars.

I had a bright yellow VOLUNTEER shirt that clashed with the khaki capris I’d tugged on at 6:45.

“I’ve got just the spot in mind for you,” said one of the directors, a very nice man I’d never met before.

“Not at the water station?” That’s where I’d been told I’d be situated during volunteer check-in.

“Nope, I need you somewhere else.” He smiled at me in a confident way that made me wonder if rumors of my cheering-prowess had made their way all the way from Boston to Buckingham, PA. Or perhaps he was just wowed by my post-massive-coffee confidence and energy.

Either way, I ended up mid-hill at an intersection were runners would pass me three times. As runners headed down the hill towards me, I pointed them down a side street. They would run a loop and come back towards me and I would point them behind me, down to the bottom of the hill, where they would run around a cone. Finally they’d run up the whole hill and disappear around the corner they’d come from. This was not a little hill.

For 30 minutes before the race I was alone on it. The 24 oz coffee I’d so quickly finished suddenly didn’t seem like such a good idea. I had to go and I was bored. I practiced my hand signals – 1st the cul de sac on the left, then down behind me, then up the hill – this was interesting for about 24 seconds.

I tweeted a bit, played some music on my phone, and bopped around in the middle of the street to entertain myself – looking up when I heard giggles and finding two kiddos watching me from a neighboring yard. Apparently I was entertaining them too.

About 20 minutes prior to the race, a runner on a warm-up loop approached me: “So when I reach the first time, how far into the race am I? How far is that loop? When I pass you coming up the hill, how far to the finish?”

I realized I didn’t know. I’d gotten in the truck with the director, been deposited in the middle of the course and I knew nothing but my own immediate intersection.

It’s all a matter of perspective and until I flagged down a bike cop doing a pre-race lap of the route, I didn’t have any. The cop rattled off the stats quickly: “They’re about two miles in when they reach you. It’s about point-4 miles down that loop,” he pointed left. “Then point-4 for them to come back out, and about two-tenths to the bottom of the hill, from there it’s about a half mile back up the hill and to the finish line.”

I nodded and absorbed his facts: 2 miles, 4/10ths, 2/10ths, one-half. “Thanks. And is the rest of the course flat?”

He grinned as he positioned his feet back on his pedals, “Nope, this course was designed by someone with a sense of humor. But you’re smack dab in the middle of the biggest hill.”

Perspective.

While I didn’t move throughout the race course -- I pranced around my intersection and cheered, pointed, encouraged, clapped, and pointed some more -- I needed the officer’s knowledge to give me perspective. It helped me to know where the runners had been, where I was sending them, and where they were going after they passed by. I was asked for these facts by more than a few ready-to-be-done runners, especially when I pointed them up the hill.

Perspective

Writing’s like this too. It’s not enough to concentrate on a single scene. No matter how critical a plot juncture, the writer needs perspective. I can’t – for a moment, paragraph or page – forget where the characters are coming from, or where the plot is headed. Each scene and chapter should be crafted with a purpose: to propel the characters towards the end. When I lose sight of this – lose my perspective – I may craft scenes that are fun or witty or tell interesting background, but it’d be like asking the runners to do the hokey pokey around the traffic cone at the bottom of the hill. It interrupts the stride and slows down the pacing. More than that, it’s distracting.

I don’t always draft in order – sometimes I drop myself off at a plot intersection where things are happening from many different angles – but as long as I keep my attention focused on where characters and plot lines have been and where they’re headed to, I can keep cheering, pointing, encouraging clapping, and pointing some more.

Luckily, while writing I don’t need to wear day-glo yellow, I can usually dance without inspiring giggles, and I have bathroom access.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What-will-I-do-this-summer? Suggestions welcome.

Whatever temperature today was, it’s my favorite. I needed to apply sunblock before post-school lounging in the backyard with a book. There was more than spring in the air, there was a touch of summer as well.

There’s only 37 days of school left as well – less than Lent.

Clearly it’s time to start making my summer list.

Last June-July I participated in the National Writing Project. Between that and four months of thrice-weekly 2-hour long physical therapy sessions, my summer wasn’t my own.

2009 hasn’t been gentle with me so far, but I’m claiming this summer as my own. No classes, no commitments. Time to read, write, recharge, relax, and re-learn how to sleep.

But apart from those lofty goals and the typical kayaking, tennis, ice-cream making, badminton playing, I need some other things to fill my day.

In no particular order, here’s my work-in-progress list:

 Watch Dr. Who (and figure out what all the fuss is about)
 Go to P.E.I. with the family (& re-read all of the Anne books before/during)
 Vacation with J-bean and Drew (Albuquerque? Vancouver? Denver? … tbd)
 Jack’s Mannequin & the Fray concert
 Read
 Write
 Throw the Austen party I’ve been promising for years
 Complete a 5-mile race (check out my self-restraint, it says 5-mile, not marathon)
 Catch up on the entire season of Gossip Girl
 Read
 Write
 Learn Italian
 Take a pottery class
 Re-read House of Leaves and book club it with Dad
 Host a Harry Potter movie-marathon before HP6 comes out
 Quality puggle-hammock snuggle time
 Read
 Write
 Go to the drive-in (oooo, possibly for Harry Potter 6!)

It’s not a very long list so far. Luckily we have 37 more school days to add to it. Suggestions?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

AFTER Happily Ever After

“And they all lived happily ever after.” My dad would close the book cover and lean down to give me goodnight kiss.
“And then what?”

This was a common conversation when I was a teensy-Tiffany. Happily Ever After wasn’t enough – I wasn’t trying to get a stay of execution from bedtime – I wanted to know what happened next.

“Well, Tiffers, they lived happily ever after. So they were, er, happy.”
“But then what happened?”

I wanted to know if Prince Stephan woke up every morning and told Aurora how beautiful she was. Did he get mad when she kept pricking her fingers on spinning wheels and calling out: BAND AID! I need a Band Aid! (In my version of Sleeping Beauty Aurora passes out from seeing the blood – there’s no need for any enchantment on the spindle). Does Prince Charming ever get annoyed that Cinderella allows so many mice in the house? Were there kids: princesses and princelings? I wanted proof of these happy endings – I didn’t want to relinquish characters I loved.

I always thought I’d be happy to read a whole book full of the happy part of the happily ever after. Who needs the conflict and tension? I’d be thrilled to see the other Prince Charming pick wildflowers for Snow White, or hear Darcy speak sweet, proud, nothings to Lizzie.

Or would I? Jo’s Boys and Little Men aren’t as interesting as Little Women (this could be because I’ve never forgiven rotten Jo for breaking Laurie’s heart). The kiss exchanged by Clary and Jace at the end of City of Glass doesn’t have a tenth of the passion of the forbidden one they share in fairy court in City of Ashes. And Breaking Dawn? Everything I wanted for Edward and Bella happened in the first hundred pages, the next 600+ pages weren’t all happy, but the seemed to go on forever and continue long after the plot had dissolved.

Would I want to hear Darcy complain to Lizzie about drainage and tenants at Pemberley or know the details of Rochester’s lifelong struggles to cope with the loss of a hand and vision in one eye? Not so much.

If I want to hear a Prince Charming talk about laundry, dishes, or other day-to-day aspects of what’s next? , I’ll just turn to my St. Matt.

As much as I hate when characters I love are hurting, as much as I agonize over adding tension and terror to the lives of my own characters, a story isn’t a story without suspense and conflict. The happily ever after isn’t special if the characters didn’t struggle or overcome an obstacle to achieve it.

Maybe I don’t need to know what happens, after the Happily Ever After, after all.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I've been EVERMORE'd

There’s a scene in Alice in Wonderland where the White Rabbit oversees the playing cards as they frantically paint tulips. Yes, paint them. Because they’re supposed to be RED, not white, and the Queen of Hearts will holler: “off with their heads” if any white flowers besmirch her garden.

It’s possible the White Rabbit has visited my garden lately.

My other theory is that I’ve been Evermore’d, because when I arrived home from my weekend in Boston, this is what I saw:


What is that RED tulip doing there? I don’t remember much from high school biology, but according to Gregor Mendal’s genetic experiments with pea plants, can the recessive alleles of PINK tulips produce red ones? Okay, I guess I remembered more than I thought – but I still don’t think it’s possible.

I’m quite positive that I only planted PINK. There’s no reason I’d plant any other color – pink tulips are my favorite flowers. They were only one I’d consider for my wedding five years ago, and when every florist I consulted turned me down (“They’ll wilt in Pennsylvanian July heat”) I had 800 flown in from the Netherlands. Sidenote: They didn’t wilt.

So how did these interlopers get in my garden? If it were just one tulip, I’d blame it on a rogue bulb planted by a squirrel, but check this out:

This is the view around the side of my house. I counted, there are 11 garden-crashing tulips. St. Matt didn’t plant them; he’s not the type to plant surprise flowers and certainly not red ones. This is our fourth spring in the house, so I doubt they’ve been lying dormant this long.

The only explanation I can come up with is Damen read how Jace had recently replaced him as my Distraction Fairy. Clearly, Damen stopped by and decided to assert his dominance by planting red tulips in my garden.

Sorry, Damen & Jace – I picked up my copy of Fragile Eternity today; now you’ve both got to compete with Seth for the title.

As for the rogue rouge tulips…. Anyone have any pink paint?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Boston Marathon by the numbers (with some pictures interspersed for the visual learners)


26.2 miles = length of a marathon (42.195 kilometers)

113 = Yesterday – April 20th, 2009 – was the 113th Boston Marathon.

25,000 + = the number of marathoners in yesterday’s race.

500,000 = approximate number of cheerers along the course route.

8 = cheerers in my group

389 = sweaty high-fives exchanged with runners (estimated)

5 = cough drops consumed post-cheering to soothe my throat



13477 = my father’s marathon number

3:45 = the time he needed to qualify for next year’s race

3:36:25 = his finish time

8:16 = his pace per mile

2:37 = his Boston Marathon P.R. (in 1984)


2:08:42 = Deriba Merga’s winning time yesterday

8 seconds = the difference between first & third place in the women’s race.

$806,000 = total prize money awarded yesterday

$1,000,000 = how I felt watching my dad! (pride-splosion!)



363 = days until the 114th Boston Marathon. Start training. NOW!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Marathon Monday

Today is Marathon Monday in Boston, the first day of Massachusetts’s spring break, and also Patriots’ Day. It’s Marathon Monday that drew me home this weekend – away from my non-vacationing classroom in Pennsylvania. My father’s running his 14th – or possibly 15th or 16th, he hasn’t kept track – Boston Marathon and if he runs, I cheer.

My first memory is of cheering in the crowds – only really able to see a smear of legs at they passed my toddler eyes and my mother’s too-close, over-smiley face as she bent down and asked excitedly, “Tiff, did you see him? Did you see Daddy?”

I’m sure I lied and nodded. Then she plopped me in a stroller, grabbed my older sister’s hand and pushed me through the crowd to our next cheering vantage point.

I loved it.

I love it. The energy of the runners. The names block-printed in sharpie down arms & thighs. The runners in costumes. The runners on teams. The serious runners. The runners who worry they can’t make it up the next hill. Or the one after that. Or the next one. The course is not flat.

I’m a great cheerer too! If you’ve got your name somewhere on your body, I will yell it out. I will clap, smile and tell you that you are the fastest, bestest, enduring-est runner, and I’ll ask you when you’re going to start sweating, because you’re just making it look too easy. Or I’ll tell you how proud I am of how far you’ve made it, and I just know you can keep going.

The runners LOVE me. My mom and St. Matt tend to slowly edge away, which suits me fine because then I have more room to wave my arms while cheering.

Now that I’m taller than kneecaps, I love being able to look into that sea of runners and pick out my father. There’s a my-heart-might-pop-with-pride feeling that comes from spotting him and knowing all the adverse weather, business travel, and injuries he’s overcome in order to prepare for 26.2 miles on one of the most grueling courses.

Last year he finished in 3:33: approximately 8-minute-miles: 26.2 of them. His best time was 2:37: approximately sub 6-minute miles: still 26.2 of them. Want to join me in a pride-splosion?

I have a post-marathon tendency to think, perhaps, next year, I could join him out there. Maybe I should start training for a marathon. Look how great this is! There are older people, heavier people, runners with so many braces they’re practically bionic. I could do that.

And then I get injured.

So, I’m putting this in writing. Do. Not. Let. Me. Start. Training. For. A. Marathon.

5K’s? Sure. Easy. 5-miler? That’s okay. Any distance longer than that and I might as well start asking for the physical therapy referral now.

I repeat: Do. Not. Let. Me. Start. Training. For. A. Marathon.

And start brewing the post-race tea & honey now. My father will need it for lungs that sawed 26.2 miles. I’ll need its voice-restorative powers because post-race, post-pride-splosion hugs, I’m back in the car and making the reverse of Friday’s journey so I can be back in the classroom tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow after school, no matter how inspired I feel, no matter how beautiful the weather is, or how loudly the trails by my house call my name: Do. Not. Let. Me. Start. Training. For. A. Marathon.

St. Matt may need to hide my running shoes.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Brick

There’s a brick tied with pink ribbon that sits on the floor beside the bureau in my childhood bedroom. It was a gift from four of my best friends in high school. The same ones I met for lunch today and girls’ night in Boston yesterday.


As we settled into our chairs and rattled off our drink orders, the restaurant’s speakers began to play I Who Will Save Your Soul by Jewel, a song that came out in 1996, our sophomore year.

“It feels like I come back to Massachusetts and I’m back in high school,” I observed.

Except it’s not like that at all. When I came home last night the door was unlocked and the lights were on, but it was my husband waiting up for me, not my parents. And he wasn’t sitting there to smell my breath and make sure I hadn’t broken curfew, he was waiting up to hear my stories and give me a good night kiss.

Today at lunch we didn’t talk teachers and tests, Friday night plans and boys. We talked bosses and jobs, wedding plans and babies. But when the check arrives, we still pass it to the same person to compute the math, and we know who to ask to if we need chapstick. Fourteen years after we banded together as na├»ve freshman, we still know our places within the group – we’ve grown and matured, but haven’t outgrown each other.


The back of my bedroom door is now naked. Bare of everything except a small oval tile painted with a red rose and the words: Tiffany’s room. This tile used to be surrounded by collages made by friends, posters of Scott Wolf, Jonathan Brandis and Leonardo DiCaprio. Photos from dances, beach trips, and goof-around days used to paper my walls and frame my mirror. My bureau used to be buried below Bath and Body Works body splashes, tubs and tubes of Lip Smackers and the tiny paper triangles of intricately folded notes. The antique sewing desk where I pretended to study for bio and chem tests has been replaced by a massive table where my father stacks papers and tax files. My antique twin-sized sleigh bed has been upgraded for a you’re-now-married queen.

But the mural I painted the summer before I turned 16 is still on the wall. My ceiling still sparkles with the glitter thrown upon the painted clouds. The pink hoop-skirted, parasol holding doll lamp my father brought back from Paris when I was eight, still illuminates my bureau (and still sports the electric blue eyeshadow I painted on her at nine).


And there’s still a pink ribbon-tied brick on the floor directly inside the door. A brick from my high school, collected by my friends when our school was torn down and before the replacement structure was built. A brick tied with pink ribbon to remind me no matter how far I go from home, how much things change, and how long I’m gone, I still belong here.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

#Coffeefail

There are a few things I can depend upon in this world. The emphasis here is in things, not people. There are lots of people I can depend upon. This blog is about things. Well, about one thing in particular.

Coffee.

But lately I’ve experienced a new and rather scary phenomenon: #coffeefail. It has happened three times. **

Coffeefail –1: The time last week where I nearly feel asleep during the five minute drive home from the coffee shop. I should have been in caffeinated bliss, but I was uber-dozy and St. Matt had to poke me to get me out of the car.

Coffeefail –2: The day a few weeks back when it became all too apparent why I don’t make the coffee in our household. While driving home after work, I’d decided a post-school pot would be necessary if I wanted to stay awake until St. Matt arrived home around 7. How tricky could it possibly be? I’d seen St. Matt do it enough times.

After I opened the package with a little too much anticipation – creating coffee-confetti that Puggle #2 was more than happy to start licking up – I figured I’d make up for the missing grounds by adding hot cocoa powder.

Apparently this is a no-no. And apparently I’m the only one in the world who didn’t know this. If you were also excluded from this crucial piece of information, learn from my mistake. Don’t do it. Ever.

Coffeefail – 3: This morning I stumbled downstairs around six. I was in bleary post-roadtrip disorientation. I should know my childhood home with my eyes closed, but my mom keeps moving stuff. And buying new stuff.

Like a new coffeemaker.

It’s pretty. Red. Metal. Shiny. It has lots of buttons and display screens. I was flummoxed. St. Matt was baffled. There are multiple filters & compartments – where does the coffee go? How do I make it come out? Crisis.

I stared at it with my best puppy-dog-lip-quivering face – hoping it would take pity and magically begin brewing. It’s pretty fancy, I thought it might have a sensor that detected critical-caffeine-deprivation. Instead it just blinked from three different LED lights.

St. Matt must have sensed how close I was to haphazardly pressing buttons and pouring grounds in all orifices. “Back away, Tiffany. We’ll ask your parents.”

I sat on the floor until they woke up. Saved!

But, wait. They don’t know how to use it either! They don’t drink coffee. Mom bought it for our visit, but couldn’t remember where she put the directions. And she thought it might need filters, but she’d forgotten to buy any.

I might have been quietly rocking and moaning by this point. Puggle #2 might have come to sit in my lap to offer puppy kisses.

I turned to Twitter for solace while St. Matt and Dad hunted down the directions and determined filters were needed. Dad fiddled with buttons and programmed the clock. St. Matt grabbed car keys and pulled me off the floor.

“Let’s go get filters.”

“Coffee FIRST.”

So Dunkin Donuts for coffee, then Stop ‘n Shop for filters, then home for more coffee. Crisis averted.

I still, however, do not understand the logic of a coffee maker that’s smarter than its owners. Why would the designers needlessly complicate something users will be handling before they are properly caffeinated?

Coffee makers need exactly one button. I can read: Coffee, Go!, or Don’t-worry-buddy-caffeine’s-on-it’s-way. Even better, coffee makers should have a sensor: when eyelids part, percolating commences.

That would be #coffeewin


**I realize examples two and three are not actually the fault of coffee, but they still resulted in my failing to maintain the appropriate level of caffeine in my bloodstream, so I include them in #coffeefail.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Watch out Boston, Here I come!

There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway

And conveniently that is a line from my song; the song that I sing when we prepare to make the six hour trek from Doylestown to my childhood home in Massachusetts.

We’ll be making that drive today as soon as I hit "publish post" - I can't wait!

I LOVE roadtrips. I always have. When we were younger, we drove 11 hours each way to get to our beach home in P.E.I.. The drive was always one of my favorite parts of the vacation. I also enjoyed lobster cookouts on the beach, seeing the Anne of Green Gables musical over and over, chocolate-chip pancakes at the Morell Diner, dune races… but the car trip would have made my top 10 list.

Well, I should clarify: the first eight hours were enjoyable. By hour nine my sister would have gotten carsick, the boys would have run out of Gameboy batteries and resorted to he’s-looking-at-me, no-I’m-not, he’s-breathing-on-my-side, and the dogs would be panting and drooling down my neck. The 10th hour was the most awful; we’d all have to pee, but my parents would pull their we’re-almost-there, not-much-farther, can’t-you-hold-it? Occasionally Nick couldn’t.

And worst of all, I’d have run out of books. Not all my books for the trip – my mom knew better than to give me access to all of them at once. But I’d have finished the 3-4 she’d parsed out to me for the drive.

That was the whole joy of the car ride – I’d willingly accept the seat in the back row on the non-door-side of the caravan because I didn’t want to be bothered. Who cares about the extra leg room? I didn’t have to let people climb over me to get out. I didn’t have to reach for things in the cooler or pass out napkins and juice boxes. I didn’t have to hold the dogs’ leashes when the sliding door was opened.

I could slip on my foam padded walkman headphones, turn up the volume on Belinda Carlisle or New Kids on the Block, and flip open a book.

I’d spend a few hours with the Sweet Valley Twins, totally enamored with Jessica and her Unicorn Club, but accepting that I was much more of an Elizabeth.

My sister would poke me when we stopped for gas or food and hand me a leash.

Somethings never change.

Have you figured out my road trip song? Here’s another hint:

Now the first of December was covered with snow
And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go

I have to give St. Matt some credit. He won’t let me get away with tuning him out for the whole ride, which is only fair since I make him do all the driving. When we were first dating I would read book aloud to him. This worked. Sorta. Except, when he got out to pump gas, I would stealthily read ahead and then try and get away with just summarizing when he got back in.

Now we do audiobooks. He’s okay with me tuning him out – as long as he has something to tune into. There are strict pause-button policies that go into affect during any bathroom breaks, gas refilling, puggle pit stops, or if I think of something I need to write down thisveryminutesoIdon’tforget.

Today– we’ve got Airhead by Meg Cabot, Feed by M.T. Anderson, and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E.Lockhart.

And of course we also have music too – it may not be Circle in the Sand or Hanging Tough, but I’ll be singing just as loudly and just as off-key.

And of course I’ll also be singing…

Goodnight, you moonlight ladies
Rockabye, sweet baby James
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose
Won’t you let me go down in my dreams?
And rockabye, sweet baby James

Not a James Taylor fan? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered:

How about a true Boston band? Guster:

The sooner you leave, the sooner you're home
Back in Massachusetts
Or Augustana:

♫I think I’ll go to Boston…

Yes, I think I will. Now.

….Pity poor St. Matt, writing this has put me in a singing mood and he’ll have six hours in the car to listen to ALL of my road trip songs. (Suggestions welcome!)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tiaras + Books + Friday Eve = Smiles

I’m not naturally an unhappy person. Naturally I’m a please-keep-her-away-from-sugar-because-she’s-already-overly-effusive person. But I don’t compartmentalize well and I wear my heart on my sleeve (even when I’m wearing strapless). My puh-puh-puh-poker face? It’s a mythical creature more elusive than the unicorn. If something exciting happens, I radiate; if something scary happens, I tremble; if something upsetting happens, I bawl. And when something devastating happens, I shut down.

Luckily, while I may not compartmentalize, I am very easily distracted.
I needed something to distract me right now. (Distraction Fairy, where art thou?!) There is no better way to distract myself than doing something good for others – especially when it involves books!


Enter Operation Teen Book Drop! (See http://www.readergirlz.com/ for more information). As soon as I hit ‘post’ on this blog, St. Matt and I are off to purchase and drop books. I’ve got my bookplates and glue sticks ready to go and a list of potential drop sites color-coded and annotated. I’m so excited to buy books for others and have spent far too much time thinking about which titles I want to share.

I’ve already got tomorrow’s Distraction Fairy lined up too. TIARA DAY! This is a Susan Adrian suggestion that I may have taken a little too literally. I know people will post tiara’d avatars on Twitter, but do other people actually wear their tiaras? Because I am. Not only will I be wearing a tiara, but my kiddos will be as well.



It has been decreed, tomorrow will be Tiara Day in room 202! We voted, and even the boys decided ‘Tiara Day’ sounds far better than any gender-neutral version. Royal Headwear Day? Please. Besides, many of my boys plan on borrowing their sisters’ tiaras and rockin’ some rhinestones. This may have been influenced by my (male) vice-principal’s announcement that he would join us in our tiara endeavors. We will also listen to ♫Punk Rock Princess♫ a frightening number of times. Can’t wait!

Know this now, when I tweet, blog, or otherwise visit the cyber-world tomorrow, I will be doing it bejeweled, with a magnanimous royal wave, and while keeping my chin up and my Distraction Fairy occupied.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hubris & Bitter Irony

Today’s been a day to survive and endure so that it can become tomorrow. I have to keep shrugging off the guilt-cloak that accompanies getting what you indiscriminately, casually wish for. I didn’t cause this – it’s just an awful coincidence. Why do I assume responsibility for things I can’t control?

Three years ago when we decided to get a second puggle, the breeder sent us eight photos and told us to choose the future-Bruschi-Schmidt.

St. Matt and I agonized over the pictures. I wanted them ALL; he wanted #512 or #514. I wanted a boy to balance Biscotti’s pink-collar’edness. He pointed to #’s 512 & 514.
In the end we chose 514 to become our Bru-pup, but what if 512 had become Bruschi Schmidt instead? We wouldn’t have ended up with a dog whose tail wags in his sleep, who Hoovers his dinner without chewing, and whose extreme underbite causes ‘Elvis lip;’ those characteristics are unique to 514.

And #514, what would’ve happened to him? I like to think he has the best possible life as a Schmidt puggle: full of tormenting Biscotti, Doggie Day Care, a garden to snitch green beans from, and two humans to snuggle each night.

But maybe that’s not true. Maybe 514 would’ve been better off named Otis Magee, living with a retired librarian in Wyoming or equally happy as Zeus Foster with a California family of four.
I shouldn’t fool myself into thinking 514’s happiness depended on me choosing him over 512, or assume that 512 is miserable because we didn’t pick him.

My hubris continues into teaching; I manage to convince myself that I’m the best one to teach ‘my’ kiddos – and I’ll come to school sick because I hate turning my kiddos over to a substitute.

I lose the perspective: I only get to borrow these little ones for nine months – same as the teachers before me, same as the ones they’ll have next year. They’re aren’t mine at all. If any of the ‘Schmidties’ had been placed in room 201 or 203 instead of my room, they would’ve been just fine. The fact that this group of kiddos is on my roster means I’ll love them and I’ll teach them to the best of my ability – but it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have succeeded without me.


And as a writer, the things I scrawl on paper can’t cause things to happen – so amid all the other emotions I’m processing today, I shouldn’t add guilt.

But I have, because the irony’s too bitter not to leave me guilty.

In TBALMCSAP the protagonist deals with something awful, something I’ve luckily never had to experience, and that has required much research. Yet, even in my gratitude, I’ve often thought: God, it’s hard to put myself in that position and I have so many questions, if only...

Today I was handed a cursed opportunity to find answers because someone I love was dealt the same situation as my MC.

It’d be hubris to think I caused this, but the guilt lingers. I wish I’d never wanted a clearer ability to empathize and I half-wish I’d never written the MS. My first instinct on hearing the news was to barter: I’d scrap the writing project indefinitely if everything would work out fine in real life.

But life doesn’t work like that – my writing neither caused this, nor can it affect the outcome. I can tell myself this, I can write it, I can call it hubris, but there’s guilt nonetheless.

There’s also wisdom; in this case not mine. It came from a wise friend, who reminded me that my research for the book prepares me for what’s to come and equips me to be a support system. Rather than abandon TBALMCSAP, she pointed out that it’ll be richer for this experience and may someday be a resource for someone learning what I learned today and going through this terrible experience.

I know she’s right, and I’m tugging at the strings, but right now my guilt-cloak is terror-tightened and laden with research notes.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Conferences aren't all they're CRACKED UP TO BE

Today’s blog isn’t going to be all hyped up with jellybean-inspired hyperness or toilet-tweezers antics. On the whole, it’ll be more serious than my usual hijinx.

Last night I read Courtney Summer’s Cracked Up to Be. I planned on starting it while I worked out and made it all the way to the basement before I cracked the cover while tying my sneakers. I was absorbed instantly and stumbled my way over the elliptical with my eyes glued to the pages and my hand groping for the buttons on the display. I punched a few of these to set it for hill intervals and turned my total attention to the book.

I didn’t lift my eyes from the words until St.Matt came clomping down the stairs wearing a sleepy but less-than-saintly expression and carrying all our bedding.
"What’s wrong?"
"Bruschi peed on me!"
"He did what? Why?"
"I don’t know – I was sleeping!"
"Did you take him out?"
"Well there’s really no reason to now, is there?"
I nodded solemnly and managed to wait until he walked into the laundry room before giggling.

After starting the washer, St.Matt came to stand by the elliptical.
"Good book?" He was really asking: Are you going to going to bed anytime soon?
"Excellent." which is Tiffany-speak for: I'll be finishing this book before I even begin thinking about sleep.
"How’s your workout going?"
"Good, it seems really easy today. I’ve been on for –"
I lifted the book to check the display and saw it flashing 00:00. I hadn’t hit start. This is why I need wait until after I get on the elliptical to crack the cover a book.
"I’ve been on for 31 pages," I answered him as I pressed the start button.

I stayed on until I hit page 97, then I had to get off because it was too hard to breathe. Not because I was tired (although I bet I was by that point – I just wasn’t paying attention). I couldn’t breathe because I was crying, because all the air had been sucked out of the room.

Before I go any further, I want to say I think this book should be required reading for all high schoolers and all high school parents. It’s only fair to warn you, you won’t all like what you read, but it’s realistic and honest.

I wandered upstairs to the couch to finish the book – stopping periodically to take some deep breaths and unclench my tension tightened hands. I wanted/ want to save Parker – to save every child like her. And Summer’s honest writing doesn’t allow the reader to keep a safe emotional distance from Parker’s pain.

When I finished reading my chest was tight and my abs hurt from sobs. I had to focus on the inhales and exhales and tell myself: it’s just a story, it’s not real.

Except, for a lot teens – it is. Maybe not Parker’s exact story, but the sense of identity tied to perfection is an overwhelming and impossible reality.

Cracked Up to Be was both the ideal and an awful book to read the night before portfolio conferences with my class. In my district, students attend their spring parent-teacher conference, which focuses on identifying their strengths and weaknesses and setting a few, specific academic goals for them work on in the final semester.

Can you imagine an experience more anxiety-inspiring than walking into a room where your parents and teacher are going to discuss your strengths and weakness – and expect you to participate?

With Parker fresh in my mind, all I wanted to do was give each of my kiddos a hug, say: "You’re amazing, you’re loved, and I’m so proud of you."

While the actual conferences did comprise of more than those sentiments -- I did, after all, have twenty minutes with each kiddo -- I hope they all left knowing those three things. Because they are, every one of them, amazing, loved, and impressive. I hope that if they ever enter into a Parker-type-period, they remember this and remember no matter how flawed they feel or what mistakes they’ve made, they’re still amazing, loved, and I’m still proud of them.

There’s a reason I have the following Emerson quote hanging on the door of classroom so it’s the last thing the kiddos see before leaving each day:

Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities
no doubt have crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely
and with too high a spirit
to be cumbered withyour old nonsense.

No matter what happens on any given day, I truly expect the kiddos to come back the next one and impress me again.

Because they are so amazing, so loved, and I’m so proud of them.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dust of 100 Dogs & Heat of 1000 Blushes

I wanted to be a vet for a whole week when I was little. This career path followed right after my I’m-going-to-be-an-astronaut phase, which was curtailed after I tried to dress my infant brother in my Astronaut Cabbage Patch’s outfit: helmet and all.

The vet phase was also short lived. Lasting exactly as long as it took for me to discover that vets don’t just play with puppies all day: they also have to treat sick dogs, put dogs to sleep, and deal with blood. Also, my mother pointed out to me, vets don’t just treat dogs. They treat all sorts of animals. Including snakes.

I decided I wanted to be a Sea World trainer instead. It’s a good thing I changed my mind about this too, because that career path would ultimately not have worked out for me; as evidenced by the fact I hyperventilated at 19 while at Stingray City in the Caymen Islands.

I’ve outgrown my eight-year-old career indecision, but I haven’t outgrown my phobias about blood or snakes. I also haven’t outgrown my sensitivity to all-sad-dog-things. Twenty years later, Stonefox still makes me teary. Winning the race was NOT worth it!

So I was a big wimp – a bigger drama queen – and made a fuss about reading Dust of 100 Dogs. I bought it, I looked at it, I built all sorts of scary theories in my head….
And then I finally read it.

That’s when I realized: I’M AN IDIOT. The book is not about a pirate who kills 100 dogs. (Yes, that is one of the plotlines I invented).

A.S.King’s book is unlike anything I’ve read before. It’s a beautiful mix of historical, with current, with fantastic. I loved the structure of the book – the past, the present, the dog training facts – each facet worked together to tell a story that transcended the parts. (And I’ll freely admit that for each Dog Fact, I did a mental inventory of the puggles. They pass.)

Sidenote: the characters’ names are awesome too! Saffron and Emer have made their way onto the list of potential names for the distant-future-residents of the NTB.

Sure there were intense scenes – but I handled them. Part of me thinks I should get a merit badge for bravery, but a bigger part feels ridiculous for being such a wuss. Imagine what I’d have missed out on if I had talked myself out of reading this. It’s like brussels sprouts – how long did I resist those? Now I love them!

I was so inspired by my outstanding bravery and King’s equally outstanding prose, that today at the bookstore I picked up another book with a scary cover: Bliss by Lauren Myracle.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll start talking myself into reading it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My Miraculous Anti-Aging Treatment & Jellybeans

Tonight’s blog is brought to you courtesy of Starburst Jellybeans.

I’m reverse-aging. Really I am. Every time St. Matt and I step through the doors of my in-law’s house, we lose a couple of years. If I spent a week there, I might resume sucking my thumb and carrying around a bedraggled Pound Puppy (Cuddles, I miss you!).

The effects are not always immediately noticeable, but by 8:30 last night, I was already college-aged again. Partially to blame for this transformation is St. Matt’s best friend since 4th grade, college roommate, and the best man from our wedding. A.K.A. – the man who knows enough to blackmail St. Matt for all he’s worth. In the interest of his privacy (and so you don’t contact him for incriminating stories), let’s call him Speedbump. Yes, there is a story behind that nickname and YES I will gladly tell it if anyone asks. (Sorry, Speedbump, I’m easily influenced).

With Speedbump’s arrival we were all of a sudden back in senior year: St. Matt’s playing Super Mario 3 – albeit on Speedbump’s iPhone and the boys are talking jobs and job opportunities. Junior year, us finally old enough to drink: the boys comparing designer beers and getting me ‘Rita’s to go with the jellybeans I’m pre-Easter nibbling. Sophomore year, Speedbump and I sharing our current favorite songs and bands and laughing that there is still NO overlap in our Venn Diagram of musical taste. Freshman year – the boys swapping stories about who could run farther/faster and demonstrating 18 year old machismo.

I woke up this Easter morning even younger, sneakily eating jellybeans along with my breakfast and adding so much flavored creamer to my coffee it couldn’t possibly be tolerated by anyone over the age of 13. It was a 10-year-old version of myself that hunted for an Easter basket and oooh’d over lip glosses, flip flops, and MORE JELLYBEANS.

Consuming these jellybeans pre-church was a big mistake.

The biggest mistake of the day, however, was seating ME in the pew between St. Matt and my sister-in-law. I always forget, until presented with the auditory experience, exactly how bad a singer the pastor at my in-law’s church is – comically bad. The first time I heard him, I looked around for the cameras, thinking it was an episode of Punk’d. I do appreciate his desire to celebrate God through song. I do. But seriously, could they at least turn his mic off during songs?

Well, St. Matt’s lips started twitching on my left, my sister-in-law hid a smile on the right. Me? I giggled my way through He is Risen, and set the Schmidts on either side of me tittering too. When, before the next song, St. Matt suggested I "Try and keep it together," I stuck my tongue out at him and resumed the game of peek a boo I was playing with the toddler in the pew in front of us. Like he laughs quieter than I do? I think not!

By the time we left the church, we were respectively aged 8, 8, and 6.

And by the time we sat down to Easter Dinner, I was clearly not old enough for wine (and clearly too full of jellybeans to eat much supper). So I asked for Coke. It was served to me in a fancy glass so I wouldn’t feel left out…. Just like when I was 5.

But I’m home now and back to doing adult things like grocery shopping and looking over the week’s schedule. As soon as the jellybeans leave my system and I can stop bouncing in place, I’m sure I’ll start feeling like a grown up again.

Now’s where’s my sippee cup? I want some chocolate milk.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Hijacking the NTB

We had an addition put on our house this fall. They took the roof off our Victorian and turned our not-quite-walk-up attic into a third floor master suite. We did some rearranging of the second floor bedrooms during the process too. My one request during the whole ordeal (okay, I had more than one request, but the one thing I was truly adamant about) was that I get built-in bookshelves and a writing space.

 
Up until that point I wrote in our living room which, since there are people and puggles ‘living’ in it, is not a convenient place to write. I would also occasionally take Huey-the-Laptop and write in the dining room, or if it was nice out, write on the patio. Since most of my writing time occurs while other living things are sleeping, the living room was not the worst place to write – but it’s far from ideal.

So, bookshelves and a writing area. St. Matt agreed. The floor plans cooperated too; the front of the new bedroom has a dormer that’s 10 feet wide by 5 feet deep. It’s all windows and has an amazing view. If the blueprints were treasure maps (which St. Matt told me repeatedly they were not, despite all the X’s and dotted lines) then this would be the area pirates would be fighting over. St. Matt gave it to me. I set to work designing my desk – six feet long with room for a window seat on the end. He said sure. I added drawers and bins to my drawings. He said sure. I asked if we could make the surface out of one of the antique doors that had been removed during the process. He said sure. I asked if he was capable of building all this. He said sure. I got excited.

The contractors left and we moved into the addition on 12/23. St. Matt has been busy. I still have no desk. My bookshelves are framed and exciting, but the shelves aren’t in yet. (This has not, however, stopped me from piling books in them and having endless conversations about which books I’m going to select to come upstairs).

Have I been nag-y, pest-y, or whiney about this? Nope. I know, shocking isn’t it? Before you decide I’m lying, here’s why.

I have hijacked the room-that-will-be-a-nursery-if-we-ever-have-kids. Since that’s a long title, I’m just going to call it Nursery-to-be or NTB. Why this room? Because I had a brilliant idea while painting it post-construction.

Like most of my brilliant ideas, this one has an aspect of fortuitous accident. We were in Lowe’s (Home Depot?) AGAIN and St. Matt was doing something boring. So I did what I always do when I’m bored in a hardware store: go visit the paint guys. And that day someone was asking the paint guy about blackboard paint. I decided to eavesdrop. Having purchased his blackboard paint, the other customer left and I chimed in: "That’s pretty cool. If I didn’t hate blackboards with an unnatural degree of loathing, I’d get that."

Paint Guy: "You hate blackboards?"
Me: "Yup, and I’m a teacher, go figure."
PG: "So what do you use in your classroom?"
Me: "I have blackboards, I just won’t use them. I have the kiddos write the date and we stick stuff to them with magnets. I also have a Smartboard."
PG: "Do you hate whiteboards too?"
Me: "Nope. Those I like."
PG: "Well, they make Expo whiteboard paint too, you know."
Me: mouth open.

We left with four containers of it.

St. Matt: What are you going to do with that?
Me: Paint, duh.
St. Matt: What are you going to paint?
Me: Don’t worry, I have a plan. (It should be pointed out these are the same words I used to reassure St.Matt when I dropped tweezers in the toilet, when I also did NOT actually have a plan. I wonder if he realizes when I say: Don’t worry, I have a plan, he should actually immediately become very, very worried).

Back to the NTB… In typical my typical insomnia productiveness, I painted it while St. Matt slept. Boy was he surprised in the morning! It has light green walls, a mini-mural in the closet, a blue clouded ceiling, and yes: the clouds climb down off the ceiling and become white boards on the walls. This is my childhood dream come true: walls I can write on without getting sent to the naughty chair.




These walls are where I storyboarded TBALMCSAP and this is now where I like to write, curled up on the bed in the NTB and facing my color-coded-by-character walls of awesomeness.
If we ever have a reason to use the NTB as an actual nursery, I’m in big trouble. Maybe we could put the not-yet-an-issue-baby in another bedroom. Or maybe, just maybe, St. Matt could finish my writing desk…

… And the still-in-the-distant-future-baby could sleep under that while I continue to hijack its room.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Headphones?

As I drove to work on Monday I slipped a new CD in the dashboard stereo – the car speakers haven’t played anything else since. For four days of commutes to and from the school, I listened to the song "Sunrise" from the In The Heights soundtrack. If St. Matt reads this he’s going to roll his eyes, and offer a prayer of thanks that we do NOT carpool.

I do this frequently. Find a song that embodies an aspect of my WIP and play it exhaustively until that scene is finished. The first time I listened to this song I wanted to pull over and shout: "Eureka!" The issue I’d been having with my ending – resolved by a show tunes duet.

Only, I couldn’t resolve it because I’ve been in my self-imposed WIP separation period. So instead of opening my writer’s notebook and scrawling or opening a computer file and going tappity-tappity-tappity, I’ve listened and listened and listened.

By the time I allowed my fingers to fly across the computer keys this morning, the scene was mentally written, revised and fairly polished. I listened to the song on loop as the words bled onto the screen, and then another five times for good measure once my fingers stilled. (Thank God I remembered to get the CD from my car, St. Matt took it today ‘cause I was out of gas). Now "Sunrise" can be retired until I reach that scene on my next sweep through TBALMCSAP.

Musically I’ve already moved on to my next TBALMCSAP theme: Thriving Ivory’s "Angels on the Moon." This one doesn’t go with a particular scene; it embodies a relationship between two characters. As of right now, its play count on iTunes is 37 – and I only downloaded it Wednesday night.

Does this surprise me? A little. It probably shouldn’t since St. Matt turned to me with near frenzied eyes last night and begged: "Headphones, please, headphones. Or a new song." And that was probably after only repetition 18 or so. (Wimp). It surprises me only because I stop noticing what’s playing around me. I’d notice if the music stopped or changed, but I don’t tire of or flinch away from monotony of my choosing. I love it.

Even better? Twenty days, weeks, or years from now, if I hear "Sunrise" or "Angels on the Moon," I’ll be brought right back to that scene and how much I enjoyed writing it.

Do you care, about all the little things or anything at all?
I wanna feel, all the chemicals inside, I wanna feel
I wanna sunburn, just to know that I'm alive
To know I'm alive
Don't tell me if I'm dying, cause I don't wanna know…

Play count: 43

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maybe we shouldn't talk to each other for a few days...

Were you good at maintaining a post-break-up cooling off period? If you had a spat with a friend and she hung up on you, did you wait for her to calm down and call you back?

I failed at both of those things: over-anxious to go from kissers to companions, I’d want to call and hang out while battle-scarred heart tissue was still exposed; I’ve never handled tension well either, I want things resolved and reassured before the fight’s begun.

Mostly, when I love someone, I want him/her near me.

Granted TBALMCSAP is not a best friend, boyfriend, or even human – but the two weeks of self-imposed separation have been hard on me.

I’ve missed my WIP; missed the characters, had songs I wanted to share with Gyver (we’ve got similar taste in music), and comfort I wanted to offer to my conflicted MC. My finger’s twitched on the mouse, itching to click the ‘open’ icon; I’ve wandered into the spare bedroom and stared longingly at my storyboards, written in color-coded marker on whiteboard walls. In a show of impressive self-restraint, I’ve steered my mouse away and refrained from paging through print-outs.

It’s not permanent, I’ve told myself. It’s better in the long run. I need distance to gain perspective and clarity. I’m not ready. Strangely enough, these words would apply to post-break-up scenarios as well – is that why they’re familiar?

Two weeks – they’ve passed in a blur of insomnia, Jace-flavored Distraction Fairy’ness, caffeinated mornings, midnight workouts, and catching up on grading.

I’ve got big plans for tomorrow. Plans that include not changing out of my pajamas or eating anything that requires cooking. Plans that include turning the ringer off on my cell phone and selectively answering e-mail (so if you’re curious about if I really love you, tomorrow’s a good day to drop me an e-mail).

Before you write this off as a self-indulgent waste-away day, let me correct you; It’s a self-indulgent day of all-consuming revisions.

It’s rare that I can find a whole day without commitments, interruptions, or company – and this one’s timing is fortuitous. It’s been two weeks since I finished the first draft of TBALMCSAP, I’ve suffered through my forced separation from the MS, and now I’m ready and able to belly flop in – purple pen at ready.

My first revisions are brutal – they’re comprised of amputations, reconstructions, and -dectomys of all sorts. There’s a reason I don’t use red pen – I can feel my WIP’s non-anesthetized pain – I don’t need a bloody visual.

So while St. Matt’s at work, while the puggles are snuggled in sunbeams (*please, please, puggles – feel like sunbeam snuggling tomorrow*), I’ll be pajama’d and purple-pen-prepared to tear down and build up.

Let me at TBALMCSAP – I’m ready. I’ve missed you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

My So-Called "Real" Life

On Twitter today I noticed this acronym: IRL. At first I thought it was a typo for URL, and then using my best teacherly context clues, I decoded it: In Real Life.

But as writers, don’t we have a different definition of real life than others do?

It’s not always my house in Pennsylvania, my mischievous puggles, or my saintly husband that seem the most real to me. I’ll go for a writing-run and come home not knowing which Doylestown roads I paced down, but with images of fictitious East Lake blurring past my footsteps.

There are days I’ll shave the same leg twice and emerge from the shower with my head still sudsy but full of conversation between my protagonist and her love.

Yesterday I looked up from writing – and just a blog, not even TBALMCSAP – and turned to St.Matt and said, "Hey, if you want to go for a run, you should go before it gets dark and then we’ll do dinner."

"Tiffany, it is dark. I already ran and I cooked dinner. I ate sitting right next to you, don’t you remember?"

I didn’t. But should I admit that?

Should I confess that sometimes the settings, people, and stories in my head seem more realistic than the ones playing around me in 3-dimensions? That chasing Distraction-Fairy-Jace to Idris taints my dreams and re-directs my thoughts until I find myself surprised not to find runes carved on my own skin? Or that my kiddos’ discussions about the characters in Angie Sage’s Magyk infiltrates their math class, recess talk, and casual conversation until we’re all wishing for a cat/duck or a messenger rat? That I broke my heart and sobbed early morning tears for my main character but rolled my eyes at the co-worker drama that unfolded a few hours later?

I’ve always struggled with this – the real versus the envisioned. My imaginary friends required places at the dinner table and had an alarming habit of ducking out of the way so my dad had to make at least three attempts before he could nail them with goodnight kisses. I caused a minor scandal at the grocery store when my five-year-old self started bawling and screaming at the shopper who’d hit Harvey with her cart.

The bewildered woman looked around, "But I didn’t feel anything. Where is he?"

"He’s around the corner crying and bleeding," I bawled and the woman went wide-eyed and white faced.

My mother, frantic at the sound of my howls, then embarrassed as she tried to reassure the terrified, apologetic shopper she hadn’t run-over my younger brother, lashed out: "Tiffany Allison, Harvey is NOT REAL. He’s imaginary. You MADE HIM UP."


If I’d been the recipient of the cart collision, it couldn’t have hurt more than those words.

But it didn’t stop me from making things up – from creating, imagining, and living dual lives: one corporal, one mental.

It’s possible I’m alone in this. Doubtful, but possible. Even if I were,, however, I wouldn’t feel lonely. How could I? There are stories to live and create, both IRL and IMH.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

He's definitely NOT wearing a tutu

When I pictured the Distraction Fairy – which I frequently do while being distracted – I always pictured a her. And she had a pointy chin and ears, blonde hair, wings, wand, the whole sparkly shebang. Come to think of it, she looked remarkably similar to Tinkerbell, only she wore pink instead of green and obviously she has a tiara.

That’s not how I picture the fairy anymore. If you read yesterday’s blog you know that my Distraction Fairy is currently named Jace. And even though he is a blond, Jace would not don pink ruffled chiffon or a tiara for anyone. He’ll sulk, he’ll pout, he’ll be all-around angsty, but he’s not putting on a skirt.

At least he didn’t in Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones

I don’t know about City of Ashes or Glass yet because I don’t have them YET! Despite having finished book one in The Mortal Instruments Trilogy before going to bed, I don’t yet have numbers two and three.

Frustrating, I know! I turned the last page, looked around and noticed that it was dark out. I looked at the clock: 2:30 AM. Was my first thought: ‘oh geez, it’s really late and I should get to bed’? Nope. It was: ‘aw man, it’s hours before the bookstores open and I can call around to see who has the second and third books in stock.’

It’s quite possible that at this point I became a Distraction Fairy and peppered poor Emily Hainsworth with endless questions, predictions, and what-if’s about the rest of The Mortal Instruments Trilogy.

I take this to be evidence for why I need a Kindle or Sony e-book reader. With a few simple buttons I could have been blissfully re-engaged in Distraction Fairy indulgence.

I presented this argument to St.Matt when I woke him up at 3:30 AM. He disagreed. He thinks this is evidence for why I shouldn’t get a Kindle or Sony e-book reader. Let’s quote him, shall we? "You don’t need anything that’s going to make you sleep even less than you do now."

Point taken.

But doesn’t he realize the Distraction Fairy flew away as soon as I ran out of pages to read? And then what was left? An overwhelming, itching desire to dig into TBALMCSAP revisions and not emerge for days, which isn’t an option right now.

I can do this.

It’s only an hour ‘til I go pick up doses two and three of the Jace-version of the Distraction Fairy and only two days ‘til I can bleed purple ink on TBALMCSAP.

As for St. Matt’s suggestion that Distraction Fairy take the form of culinary masterpieces or a spring cleaning binge, doesn’t he know the fairy can’t hold a wand and cook/clean at the same time? (And I seriously can’t picture Jace in a French maid’s uniform… guess I’ll have to wait and read).

Monday, April 6, 2009

Book of Wonder signing and Wonderful Liner-Uppers

I’m strict about few teacher-ly things. One of these is an orderly line in the hallways. In fact, I’m very particular about my lines – they’re to be quiet, non-running, and the students should greet any adult they pass with a "Good morning."

Creativity and spontaneity reign in my classroom, so my regimented outlook on lining up may be puzzling– unless you happen to know that when I was in 5th grade, my arm was broken by a classmate exhibiting unruly hallway behavior. But that story is in no way related to what happened in Books of Wonder on Sunday, so we’ll save it for another time.

The lining-up thing, however, is relevant to my Books of Wonder signing experience...


Shortly after arriving at the bookstore –to remove myself from the temptation of buying more books -- I wandered into the back area where the signing would be held and began checking out the artwork. I challenged the-other-Tiffany to an identifying contest, then picked out prints I’d like to have in my house and explained where I’d hang them. Basically, I prattled on while St. Matt and the-other-Tiffany nodded tolerantly and watched the store clerks set up tables and name cards.

St. Matt poked me: "Do you know there’s a line forming behind you?"

"What?" I turned. There was, in fact, a line that began behind me and reached back almost to the bookshelves. "Weird."

I informed the girls behind us that we weren’t in-line for anything and continued to amuse myself by blathering and checking Twitter on Petunia, commenting on how – since the authors were sequestered in a room closed off by velvet drapes – they were quite literally the (wo)men behind the curtain.

The-other-Tiffany poked me: "It’s really a long line now."

I turned again – the line was past the bookshelves and snaking back through the store. It was a good line. A great line really. Mostly single file, not too loud, people were respectful of each other’s space, no shoving, shouting or other tomfoolery was occurring. It was a line that would make any teacher proud.

Still… there wasn’t a need for a line and I hadn’t meant to start one. "Um, we’re not in line," I said, then repeated it a little louder.

No one moved. Apparently my teacher line-up superpower overwhelmed them. The line now reached through the store and to the door. It was causing problems, blocking traffic. I was being capital-T-is-for-Tiffany-and-Trouble without meaning to. (Not that I ever really mean to cause trouble, but I have a talent for it just happening).

As I stood there alternating between being amused, anxious, and really wanting to start singing the song from Peter Pan "We’re following the leader, the leader, the leader, we’re following the leader, wherever he may go…" an announcement came on over the store’s PA system: Ladies and Gentleman, there is no reason to be in line right now. Please make yourselves comfortable, the authors will be out shortly and will be starting with a question and answer session. If you haven’t received a number for the signing that will take place after their presentation, please make your way to the front of the store to get one. There is no need for a line.

The line begrudgingly melted into a crowd-shaped blob and did the other thing I spend half my teaching day doing – sitting criss-cross-apple-sauce on the floor.

So when the authors emerged from behind their curtain, we were all ready for a class-meeting, or read aloud, or… er, a question and answer period with authors. The-other-Tiffany and I -- since we’d been the front of the accidental-line -- were now front row in the seated squad, which enabled us to get great pictures.

Including:

Lisa telling her Miss Spoobin story



Cassandra's robot shoes


After each author had done her introduction, they opened the floor to audience questions. They promised a Hershey Kiss to each brave asker, but I’m sorry to say that they frequently forgot to toss them. (I think this was due to a woeful lack of accurate throwing ability). Not that the askers minded – it wasn’t the smidgen of chocolate that motivated any asking.

Some memorable questions: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Lisa: 4th grade
Beth: After 40
Elizabeth & Cassandra: I fell into writing after trying everything else

Elizabeth Scott & Cassandra Clare

Do you write or read fan fiction or read reviews?
Universally, the authors distance themselves from fan fiction (although, Lisa did allude to some mysterious, pseudonymous Survivor play-by-plays). They also agreed reading reviews ends up being more confusing than helpful for them as writers - they're more for other readers.



Lisa McMann & Beth Fantaskey


Lisa told a sweet story about meeting Madeline L’Engle when she worked in a bookstore. Cassie talked about how her interest in history influenced her writing and also mentioned possible graphic novel/side stories that may be forthcoming. Elizabeth spoke about how Living Dead Girl was inspired by a dream she’d had four nights in a row and Beth shared how adopting her daughters motivated her to write Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. They were all charming and engaging; I could’ve sat and listened for at least another 30 minutes before my whole bottom half fell asleep. Alas/ at last, it was time to move on to the signing portion.

An announcement was made:
Those of you with numbers 1-15 please line up for signatures. Everyone else, please make yourselves comfortable, we’ll call you up in groups by your numbers.

And what did the crowd do? Did they go mingle and chat while waiting? No. They lined up. They lined up to get in line. There was the line of numbers 1-15… and then the line of people waiting to get in line when their numbers were called. I was tempted to ask the bookstore crowd if they’d like to come back to my school and do a demonstration of advanced-hallway-behavior.

Seeing that I was older than most of the audience, I tried to keep my impatient I’m-waiting-in-line-to-meet-Lisa-McMann dancing to a subtle shuffle-in-place. I must’ve been successful because no one asked me if I needed to use the restroom.

Finally it was MY turn. (I might have cut the-other-Tiffany and seen Cassandra Clare first). I hadn’t read her books before meeting her, but yesterday’s fan enthusiasm pushed City of Bones to the top of my towering tower of TBR and I’m now almost done. (The next two are on order at the bookstore – Distraction Fairy, thy new name is Jace).


Then Lisa…

She is lovely! She was kind, gracious, and willing to chat about spoons, Twitter, Cappy the kitten, touring, school… I forgot about the line toe-tapping behind me. It was like slipping into a conversation with an old acquaintance, and even though I AM a major fan, I didn’t walk away feeling like I’d been a blathering incoherent fangirl. I walked away feeling like I’d met a kindred spirit and thinking another perk of fulfilling my author-dreams would be meeting more people like her.


P.S. There were some superstars in the audience too. Among them: Justine Larbalestier, Scott Westerfeld and BEDA-Queen, Maureen Johnson. I was quite tempted to go ask Maureen how it felt to control the free time of 400+ fans for the month of April…but decided she might not want to spend her non-computer hours discussing interwebby things. The fact that I am now mentioning this in my blog, however, is absolutely acceptable. And is in no way, shape, or form a shameless bid to have my site chosen as BEDA blog of the day…