I’m still a WIP

1) My blog – I finally updated the “about me” page and changed the name of my blog. This is the third name, but that’s okay. It needs to grow with me. It’s now titled, “Speaking of Words, Quilts, and Life.” In reviewing the collection of posts I’ve made,  most of my posts somehow address creativity in my life through writing, quilting, or even parenting, so I decided to expand the title. My goal for this blog is to write, consistently, twice and week for an audience, whoever they may be. So far, I feel good about what I’ve done here, and I’m also okay with not having a laser focus on my “content.” If I was trying to monetize this, that might be a problem, but I’m not, so I feel perfectly comfortable writing about my writing, my creative process, my quilting, or even my kids if I feel like it.

2) My novel – My goal for the year was to finish my first draft by April 15. I figured that is a national deadline of sorts, so I’d just join the party. Alas, I didn’t make it. My word count goal was 90,000 words, and I’m happy to say I have met and surpassed that goal by several thousand words, but I’m still not done telling the dang story!  I think I have about six scenes left to write which could be anywhere from 6000-10,000 more words.  At this point, I have the end written and 90% of the middle, I just have to get the two tied together. I’m almost there, and I hope to have a first, really rough draft done in two or three weeks. I’ve decided not to beat myself up over this as I’d rather start my revisions knowing that I have to cut rather than feeling like I have a lot I need to add.  For me, cutting and tightening up language during revision is much easier than writing more.

3) My quilts – this part of my life has become a big zero. I haven’t touched a needle or thread in several months, other than to sew a button on a pair of pants last week, but that doesn’t really count. I wanted to sew this past weekend but ended up cranking out several thousand words on my novel, so my fabric continued its lonely existence. Summer vacation is coming, however. I just need to keep that in mind!

4) WhereTeensWrite – Another of my goals this year is to start a website for teen writers.  I am happy to say that this is in the works.  It will be a community for teen writers to share their writing, get feedback, and take online creative writing classes. I’ve had several students “consulting” with me on it, and we’re all pretty excited though it probably won’t be live for a couple of months.  When it is, you will be able to find it at whereteenswrite.com.  That whole summer vacation thing really needs to happen, so I have some time to dedicate to this project too!

5) This is not a goal, just proof that I’m still a “work in progress.” I’ve been blogging for a year and I just discovered that WordPress has a Handy Blog Scheduling Feature! I’m sure this tool has been available since I started blogging, but somehow it escaped my notice, so I’ll share for those of you who haven’t found it yet either. If, like me, you are busy and sometimes aren’t on the computer to post on your regular schedule, there is a solution.  The next time you finish a post, click the “edit” button next to “Publish Immediately” above the big blue “publish” button.  You can then schedule it to go out whenever you want it to and WordPress does the rest. How nice are they? This has made my life as a woman who works full time, has two teens, and tries to post regularly much easier, and I wish I had discovered it a year ago. Oh well, live and learn.

Image is Royalty Free clipart from Microsoft Office.

Shakespeare and Freshmen – Good Times

Think back to your freshman year in high school.  You lived through moments that defined your life . . . at the time at least.  Now, you probably can’t recall what they were.  Think back also to your English class.  Do you remember what you read? Do you remember your first introduction to Shakespeare? As a 9th grader in the USA, you probably read Romeo and Juliet.  It overwhelmed you. You had no idea what the characters were saying. Your teacher probably spent lots of time expounding upon Shakespeare’s mastery of language and all you were trying do was figure out what the hell was going on and why the nurse was so annoying.

I have vague memories of reading the play when I was 14, but now, as a Freshman English teacher, I’ve read it probably 30 or more times.  I just started my third reading so far this year.  I have to stagger them in my sections to avoid reading it with all my sections at one time.  That would be just too painful.  Not that I don’t like William, I do.  It’s just that his writing includes much more than plot and for many 9th graders, understanding the plot is difficult enough without even mentioning Will’s masterful use of language.

Some of them do get it, and that makes it worth it.  Others struggle through and ask, “Why do I need to know this?  My life dream is to be a diesel mechanic.  Will I use this?”

My answer? “Um . . . ya . . . Open to Act II.”  I wish I could say that I have some profound answer that changes my students’ lives and their attitudes toward Shakespeare, but I don’t.  The ones that get it, get it.  They borrow my complete works of Shakespeare and read several plays on their own.  I have some of these every year.  The ones that don’t get it, muddle through.  I am sure that they will live perfectly successful lives as mechanics or engineers, and they will not feel a gaping Shakespearian hole in their lives.

In any case, I shared the following video with my students this year.  They loved it, totally got the story and began to understand the differences in language between the Elizabethan era and their Texting world.  It ended up being a pretty good introduction to the play.  It made me laugh and reminded me what it might feel like to read the play for the first time, rather than the fortieth. Even “The Three Little Pigs” in Elizabethan verbage would be tough to understand without knowing the story first. Enjoy.

Five Reasons why State Proficiency Exams Suck

1)      The terrified looks on the seniors’ faces as they walk into the room to try to pass the math portion for the 8th time.  I am always shocked at some of the kids that come in because some of them are excellent students.  One came in yesterday who I had as a freshman.  She can write beautifully and often shared her short stories, poetry, and drawings with me.  She wrote for fun, loving the creative process, and earned solid A’s in English.  Is this a student who should be denied a diploma? She’s passed her math classes but higher level algebra (yes, it’s on the “proficiency” test) is incredibly difficult for her. I’m not sure that’s right.  Does she truly lack “proficiency”?    If the point of these tests is to strike terror into the hearts of students, our legislature who mandates these tests have been wildly successful.

2)      The cookie cutter approach – similar to the above comment, the test requires that we all have the same strengths.  Who decided that math, science, reading, and essay writing are the four areas that an educated person must excel in in order to be considered educated?  What about music? Creative Writing? Poetry? Drawing? Drama? We all have different strengths, and I think one of the most basic and frustrating aspects of working in the public school system is that the entire system does not get this. I get that basic skills are important, but the tests go above and beyond that.  They are also required for a diploma.

3)      The level of difficulty – I doubt that many adults, even those with college degrees, could pass it, especially the math portion.  I think it would actually be fun to give it to the legislature one day, score it, and see how they do.  I can guarantee there would not be a 100% pass rate, though I’m sure they consider themselves quite proficient.  Yesterday at lunch, one teacher, who had to read the math test aloud to students with special needs (who are also required to take the test), was shocked at the level of difficulty and commented that the language is not language that is used in the everyday workplace.  Why integers and not numbers?  I know there is a difference but is it crucial to know that to be proficient in math?  Maybe it is but I’ve earned a master’s degree, a good job, and a passing grade in college calculus, and I couldn’t tell you. What exactly is “proficient” and who decides?  I would like the legislators who think these tests are the answer to be the ones who have to read it aloud to a student, one who is trying not to cry, when he asks, “can you please just read the question one more time?”

4)      Scoring makes no sense.  Last year, the state lowered the requirements to pass the math and raised reading.  My high school had an 85- 90% pass rate on the reading test on the first time the kids took it until they lowered the scores.  Last year it dropped to about 65%.  Why did they do that? Were too many kids successful? Nobody was able to answer that question.  Now, I not only have my kids read great literature and free choice novels but also boring articles, just to practice.  Most of them say the reading is not that hard, it’s staying awake and focused for the two hours it takes to read random, boring passages about fascinating things like pyramids and deep sea ocean creatures that is the most difficult part.

5)      Lost Instructional Time – we have to test for four days, two hours a day.  Only the 10th graders and those who haven’t yet passed take this test.  Those who have passed, sleep in.  Lucky them.  They also aren’t in school, learning anything.  It’s over six hours of lost time, not including all of the class time we spend discussing test taking strategies to try to calm and prep the kids.

Now that I’ve had my rant, I will admit I do not know the answer.  I don’t know how to fix the educational system, but I do know that it must start with the individual students.  We MUST figure out a way to offer students choices and recognize that all of them have different strengths and interests.  I am not saying that students shouldn’t be able to read, write, or perform basic math functions.  They should.  I am saying that we need to have a variety of paths to achieve success, not just the one size fits all approach we have now.  It clearly doesn’t fit.

What’s the story behind this trailer trash?

Last weekend, on yet another road trip across the lovely state of Nevada, we saw one of the more interesting sites I’ve seen in the desert.  It was a fence (maybe), but not just any fence, a fence made out of old single wide trailers and dying RV’s, literal trailer trash.  There is a story behind this fence, though I’m not sure what it is.

If fences are built to either keep unwanted people or animals out, or if they’re built to keep wanted animals or people in, what, exactly, is the purpose of this one?

Or is it not a fence at all? Did somebody just decide to line up their old trailers to keep their trailer trash orderly?  It’s not really surrounding anything, functioning as a fence might, so is it even a fence? I’m not sure.

When we first saw it, my husband and I started laughing and I asked him stop to photograph it.  He kept saying, “What? Stop? Why?” By the time he understood that I wasn’t kidding, we were too far past it to photograph, so we had to stop on our way home.

I’ve been thinking about this fence all week.  Generally a fence is built serve some sort of purpose. If you’d like to read a funny tale about gates and fences, check out the short fable titled “The Vigilant Rabbit” in David Sedaris’ compilation of modern tales, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.  The entire book is funny and entertaining, but in this particular tale, the gate represents power and the gate keeper’s ability to control the movements of the other forest animals.  The problem occurs when the power hungry rabbit forgets to build the fence around the gate, and the gate does nothing to keep out the riff-raff.  This trailer fence reminded me of the gate in the David Sedaris story, a valiant attempt to serve some sort of purpose but one that doesn’t make it, by a long shot.

Visually, this fence is fascinating too as it sort of meanders across the mountain’s base.  Perhaps its actually a giant sculpture.  I’ve been considering what this would look like in a quilt.  But I’d have to figure out the story behind the fence for that quilt.  I wonder how could I tell it through fabric?

One happy, or possibly annoying, result of writing or any creative endeavor for that matter is continually thinking about stories and possibilities. What is the story here? Any ideas?

And the winner is . . . NOT YOU! Deal with it

I’ve spent this weekend like I spend a majority of my weekends, watching kids compete. This weekend I watched my Speech & Debate team competing Friday night and all day Saturday, and then on Sunday, I watched my own son compete in the final day of a hockey tournament.

When I got to the hockey tournament, all the other parents asked me how my debaters did.  Did we win? How many trophies?  That’s all anybody cared about.

Late Sunday afternoon as we drove home while the rest of the country watched two football teams compete, I listened to my husband ask for at least the hundredth time, “who the hell did the hockey schedule this year? Why was there a tournament TODAY?  It’s the SUPERBOWL!”  He banned all radio or access to anything that might give away clues as to the game’s outcome as he and my son had  recorded it and wanted to pretend to watch it in real time when we got home.  Despite the fact that he’s a devoted Cowboys fan, he wanted to watch the game, to see who won the season.

I did cheat on my husband’s rules a little bit as it is a five hour drive home, and I checked my twitter feed.  I found out that the commercials are great and some people found Madonna’s half time show tasteful and well done while others found it boring and lacking in Madonna swag. My verdict?   After finally watching halftime at ten o’clock last night, it was a little dull.  I also found out that I follow people on Twitter who cared about the game about as much as did . . . not much.

More than anything, I find it fascinating how obsessed our entire culture is with competition.  For many, winning really is everything. Even if you’re not into sports, the nation is currently obsessed with who is going to win the republican nomination.  Competition is virtually impossible to escape.

As a coach one of the most difficult skills I’ve had to coach kids on is not how to improve their speaking skills, but rather how to lose.  When they lose in real life, they don’t just get “another life” to start the game again like they do in their favorite video games.  They don’t have any idea how to lose despite living in a society which values competition almost more than anything else.  In some ways it’s unfair.  In many youth sports, the motto is “everyone plays” and a score is not kept.  I get that little guys should just play for the fun of it, but then we send them into a world where they compete, they lose, and they are expected to know how to deal with appropriately.

My team has come a long way on this front as have my own kids.  They know that if they need to pitch a fit after losing, they better do it off by themselves where nobody else sees it.    They know to congratulate the winner, hold their heads up, know they did their best, and no matter how painful, paste a smile on their face.  They need to show some class: no showboating if they win, no hysterics if they lose.

As a coach who hates losing as much as my team, I’ve had to learn to do this too.  It’s really hard.  Winning is much more fun, and it’s also what keeps us going.  We hear about businesses that fail or writers who got hundreds of rejections, but then we hear about that one business that some kid developed in his dorm room and is now worth billions or that one story that a woman wrote in a café with her infant son in a stroller and we think, “if they can do it, maybe I can just achieve a half of one percent of their success,” and we keep going.  Competition does that for us.  It drives us. Even though somebody has to lose, somebody also has to win.

While I’m not sure that turning everything into a competition is the best approach to life, I still want to win in the publishing game and the business game, and I’ll keep trying, holding my head up and pasting a smile on my face if I need to until I do achieve the levels of success I want.  I’ll get there someday, even if I lose a few times along the way.

And in case you’re wondering, my speech and debate team won eight trophies (six in speech and two in debate), and the hockey team went 2-2, placing third overall.  I’m guessing you know how the superbowl ended up.

Scissor Slut

Yes, they actually come in a velvet lined box. Diamonds do too.

I’m a little bit crazy about my good fabric scissors. In fact, I guard them kind of like how Rumpelstiltskin guarded his name, and like good old Rump, I get a little crazy when somebody steals my scissors and potentially ruins their magic.

There are paper scissors all over the house, but for some reason, occasionally one of my kids will grab a pair of my good fabric scissors to cut wrapping paper or some chunk of cardboard they need to decorate their science fair board.  They don’t quite understand the ensuing meltdown.  “Geez mom, they’re scissors,” they’ll say as I snatch my prized scissors from their hands while screeching, “Oh my God!  You didn’t actually cut paper with these did you?”  I clutch them to my breast as if I have just rescued a child from an oncoming semi-truck or a princess has just guessed my name, while they stare at me like I’ve completely lost my mind.

What they don’t understand is that my quilting scissors are sacred.  They really are just scissors, but there’s something about cutting fabric with a really sharp pair of shears that just . . . satisfies.  It has a certain sound and feel that dull paper scissors could never hope to replicate.

I have all kinds of fabric scissors, probably far more than are actually necessary, but I love all of them.  There are the little scissors that look like a bird with a long beak for snipping threads, rag quilt pruning shears, small ones, pinking shears, and classic fabric scissors.  This doesn’t even begin to touch the variety of rotary cutters sitting in a basket on my cutting table. I have every size available, and in some sizes I have a choice between regular and ergonomic handles.  I need every single pair. Really, I do.

Delicate applique pieces require my super sharp small pair that easily cut around tiny flower petals.  This task cannot, under any circumstances, be completed with a rotary cutter or , God forbid, regular, dull paper scissors.  Well, maybe it can, but I’m not trying it.

I choose which rotary cutter to use depending on a variety of factors.  If the fabric is thick, I need the big ones.  If I’m going around a curve, the little tiny one is absolutely necessary.

My shiny silver Gingher scissors are a must have for larger applique shapes.  I also need them just in case I ever decide to sew an actual piece of clothing ever again.  They are absolutely required for cutting out patterns.

I actually saved money from my food budget in college to buy these scissors.  I needed a dress for some event that I can no longer recall.  The only way to afford the dress was to sew it, so I borrowed a sewing machine and saved for the fabric and pattern, only to realize that I had no way to cut it all out.  I vividly remember riding my bike to the fabric shop and investing in my still favorite pair of scissors.  I think they cost $35, which was roughly half my food budget for the month and a significant investment at the time, but since I still have and love them, I feel like I’ve gotten money’s worth.

As I think about my scissors, I wonder if it’s not the scissors that I love so much, but the beginning stages of a project that the scissors represent.  The cutting stage of a quilt is the beginning, creative part, the playful part, my favorite part.

Funny that I also “cut” when I write, but that kind of cutting comes at the end of the process.  Sadly, the delete button on my keyboard doesn’t quite give me the same excited feeling as when I’m cutting fabric for a project. In fact, I kind of hate cutting my writing, but I think that’s another post.

Reflections on 2011

In 2010, I spent the last day, December 31, 2010, journaling and creating a mandala that I posted in my writing area.  I’ve spent this entire year, looking at it everyday.  I’d never actually set goals for the year in such a concrete and specific manner, and as I’ve spent time during the last two weeks of 2011 reviewing and reflecting before looking ahead to 2012, I have to say that I’m happy with what has transpired over the last year.

My happiest accomplishments during 2011:

  • I started this blog in March, posted twice a week with great regularity until late this fall when my job and mom duties made life crazy.  I also got brave enough and after a few months and some encouragement from a new writer friend (thanks Susan) to link my blog to Facebook where people that I know (other than immediate family) would read it.  That was a scary day for me – not sure why it was so scary, but I overcame it and now I’m okay with whoever reads it, or not.
  • I wrote 70,000 words in a novel with the working title, The Overlander’s Daughter.  Just writing that title makes me happy.
  • I applied for and received a new passport which will help me fulfill travel dreams.  I haven’t needed a passport since I was fifteen, and hopefully, after a 17 year hiatus from international travel, I will need one in the near future.
  • I made it to almost all of my kids’ soccer and hockey games.  I love watching them play.
  • I visited the Redwoods which I’ve always wanted to do.
  • I started and completed three full quilts – Megan’s fairy quilt, my Man quilt, and Haley’s denim nightmare quilt.  I also finished six Christmas table runners and started a scrappy block quilt. I have it all designed, but it’s currently in my WIP pile along with my hand quilt, a beach themed quilt, and a block exchange quilt.
  • I participated in the Willamette Writer’s Conference and learned a TON about writing, the writing industry, and publishing.
  • I ran a 5K.  I wanted to also run a 10K but was unable to find one that I could get to on a free weekend.  Having my own kids in sports as well as my own coaching responsibilities tends to keep my weekends full.  In fact, I had to miss the first quarter of one of Haley’s games to finish my run.  I’ll keep the 10k for next year I think.
  • I read Writing Down your Soul by Janet Connor.  It was a great book that inspired me to write three to six times a week in my “Soul Journal.”  This has helped me to clarify what I want and who I am.  It also helped me to feel much calmer and more grounded each day.

One thing I haven’t included on the above list is the awards my Speech and Debate team won which we’ve definitely earned or those accomplishments with students in my classroom.  Those aren’t accomplishments that ring true to me right now, maybe because I’ve been so focused this year on writing and moving forward in other areas.  I am ready to move on to adventures that excite and inspire me.

As I look over this list, I’m pleased, and I think its okay to celebrate what I have accomplished.  So often we focus on what we didn’t do or fail to accomplish.  In fact, its been surprising to me how many people have blogged about how ready they are for 2011 to end as its been such a bad year.  One lesson I’ve learned and been able to appreciate as I’ve gotten older is to take time to celebrate what we do accomplish and achieve, even if they’re small or seemingly insignificant.  Taken altogether, as I look at my list, I can say “I’m a writer,” and overall, 2011 has been a good year.  I’m excited to see what 2012 will bring.