Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Old Age and Toddlers

I sometimes wonder how quickly my two-year-old, Rayden, is aging me. Since his birth, this weird, stern line has snuck in over my eyebrows when I frown, and I know my laugh lines have tripled in this kid’s presence. He’s frickin’ hilarious.

The other day Eli and I came across a picture of me from my freshmen year of college.

            “I looked so much younger!” I whined (I'll admit to the whine).

            My husband, always the logical one, pointed out, “Well, it was 10 years ago.”

            “Yeah, but I’m not supposed to look ten years older!” When we’re bombarded daily with photo-shopped faces without creases and eyes without bags, I guess it’s easy to forget that people age, and that lifestyles (and children!) affect that process.

            Rayden impacts all aspects of my life. He’s sort of sneaky in that way, like a ninja. A ninja octopus on roller skates who never sits still—even in his sleep. I recently got my hair cut, and I laughed with the stylist over the need for something short and simple with a toddler running wild in the house. “I basically just want to mess up my hair with some leave-in conditioner and call it good,” I told her.

            “Your son must be about two,” was her reply.

            These days, my daily schedule looks quite different, and even a trip to the mall becomes an adventure—in both good and bad ways. I think the strangest thing I’ve noticed about parenting, however, is something I call the “judgement factor”.
Yep, feels kinda like that.

            I guess people make snap judgements about everyone they meet on a daily basis. It’s what keeps us from being ourselves, makes us weary of reaching out to new people. Maybe it’s the clothes you wear, your accent, or your facial expressions. When you have a child, though, I feel the bar raises to a whole new level. When I visit “kid-friendly” places, there is the impression that you (and your child, of course) have to behave a certain way or receive raised eyebrows and shame-inducing glares from both the childless and the child-rearing.  

Yesterday, we were at a mall, and I wanted to visit a boutique shop that is usually a bit fancy for my taste, especially with Ray in tow, but we were Christmas shopping. Pulling up with Rayden in his stroller, seated neatly with some Cheeze-Its and his water bottle, I thought we were good to go.

            At first, one of the sales clerks smiled at Rayden and said he looked “sleepy”. Ugh. Thanks, no thanks.
Tangent: My automatic feeling when you tell me my child looks “sleepy” is that you’re telling me I shouldn’t be out in public and should instead immediately go home and get him some proper rest. I’m not sure if that’s the intention of people who say that, but people should stop saying that to parents immediately. It might just be me overreacting because Rayden has never slept well in two years, has slept through the night approximately nine times in 858 days, but if he sleeps in the mall in a stroller and gives me a few sweet moments to get my work done in peace, that is between me and him, in my humble opinion. #sorrynotsorry 
            I quickly located the items I was looking for, but, as any parents of toddlers know, five minutes is more than enough time to kick it into beast mode. Rayden managed to pull himself up out of his supposedly “sleepy” demeanor, smash all of the Cheeze-Its into bits, sneeze Cheeze-Its in an Exorcist-style spray across the shop, and undo the strap around his waist, allowing him to climb freely all over his stroller in acrobatic positions that made the old ladies around me squirm. The smiles on the sales clerks tightened, people began muttering and moving to the other side of the store, the couples around us frowned.  We purchased our items and left, but I felt like the bad vibes followed us through the mall like a lingering stench.
            Now, other days are better, and some are surprisingly wonderful. Occasionally, Rayden is a little angel in public and our adventures go off without a scratch. On one of those days I might see another toddler throwing a full-out, arms-flailing tantrum in the grocery store because his mother wouldn’t let him eat the fuzz-covered cracker lying in the corner of the aisle. I know that I won’t frown or move awkwardly away, or, heaven forbid, say “he looks sleepy”. I’ll smile, say “toddlers”, and move on. I think we can all handle that because anyone who has toddlers knows they’re part human, part totally psycho. It would be great to see more of that understanding on a daily basis.
Toddlers: only part human

            On Sunday we were at my favorite church in the La Crosse area. I like it because there is a separate area where kids and families can sit/stand/roam if they like and still watch the service. Plus, the priest rocks. A woman with a three-year-old sat near us and her daughter upended an entire container of Cheerios during the second reading. Eli and another father began to clean up the mess, and soon the entire room joined in. The woman sunk her head into her shoulders, apologizing, “Sorry, everybody, so sorry.” We all assured her that there was no need to apologize. None at all.
            “We’ve all been there,” one man said, on his hands and knees, picking Cheerios out of the carpet in his Sunday best.
            I know I’ve been there, and many others have, too. Maybe some people are blessed with little miracle toddlers who smile on cue and never raise their voice. That would be cool, and those parents should consider sharing their magical spells with the world. For us non-magicians, though, it would be sweet to see a little more support in the world at large.
Yes, toddlers age us, impact our everyday lives, and make Christmas shopping miserable, but they are also some of the brightest lights in this crazy world. Too young to understand time, they live fully and in the moment. Sure, they stress us out, but, at this age, they don’t yet judge us. We’ve all been there. Maybe we should follow their lead on that one.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Inspiration to Teach: Reflection on Northern Shores Writing Project

I've been meaning to write a bit about my experience with NSWP from back in June, but, due to dividing my summer time between preparing for the next school year (both NMU and CAVE), having a ton of adventures with my almost-two-year-old, traveling, writing, and, occasionally, basking in a moment of tranquility, I haven't had the chance until today. The NSWP was an incredibly valuable experience in many ways, so, as in times when I feel a bit overwhelmed, I'll limit it to a list.

1. Interacting with other teachers. I cannot stress how valuable this is. As a virtual teacher, I simply do not get enough time with my peers. Last week, my virtual school had an inservice, and together we shared how desperate we are for more time together. Other teachers are and will always be my inspiration.

2. New Ideas. The teachers I joined at NSWP were brilliant writers and genius teachers. They gave me so many ideas and shared creative and fun lesson plans and stories. Enough said.

3. Feeling invigorated to re-enter the classroom. My first teaching job did not end the way I envisioned it. If we're being truthful, it didn't begin the way I imagined it either. I had so much passion but I was woefully unprepared and didn't know 1/10 of what I know today about effective teaching. (I wholeheartedly offer an apology to my first students, if any of them are reading.) Spending the past year in my Master's program -- and getting to know other people passionate about teaching, both on and off campus -- has been like a lightning bolt to my chest. I feel inspired to become a highly effective teacher and to get back into the classroom whenever possible.

In two weeks, I teach my first college-level class: English 111. This feels both like an incredibly exciting opportunity and a reason to enter into panic mode. Though I can't completely neglect the twisting feeling in the pit of my stomach, I'm viewing this as the exciting opportunity it is, thanks in part to NSWP.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Publishing Adventures, Take 2

As friends, family, or followers of this blog, you may know that I had my first mystery novel, Decaf & Drones, published last year. I felt kind of like this:


Then, in less time than it took me to finish my elaborate victory dance, my small indie publisher announced that they tragically had to close their doors. I felt kind of like this:


Fortunately for me, I tend to bounce through emotions like a teenage girl hyped up on Gatorade, so I didn't have to wait long until I felt inspired again.


Many people I know wanted the book in paperback form, which the original publisher hadn't been able to arrange (they were into the ebook scene), and I had already been through the intense editing process with the professionals in the industry. There was no sense in the book going to waste, so I decided to go the route of self-publishing.

Side Note: Something that always gets me hung up on self-publishing is the misconception that just anybody can do it. Technically, I suppose that anyone can post work online or go the route of an online self-publisher, but it shouldn't belittle the quality of the work being published. I am proud of Decaf & Drones, and I know I'm constantly growing as a writer and that future books in the series (now in progress) will be even better. I hope that friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers will take the time to read a little intriguing mystery about new beginnings, a crazy bomber, and a spunky gal who drinks a lot of coffee. Speaking of which...

mmm, coffee.

So anyways, to get back on track, I spent this spring paging through blogs, self-publishing websites, and other publishing gurus' work to determine the best way to go about this, and I ended up (with guidance from my original publisher) choosing CreateSpace. The book has also been revamped as far as its cover design, and it has had yet ANOTHER edit to cover some issues I STILL wasn't satisfied with earlier (writers will always hate on their own work, trust me).

After all that work-- tah dah!!--

Decaf & Drones, the first book in the Northwoods Barista Mystery Series, is now finally available in paperback form! All you have to do is click one little link here. I would also love to message you a discount code or link you to the book synopsis if you're not yet sure this is your cup of joe.

As always, thanks for reading, and I appreciate your support!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What to do when your publisher goes out of business...

1. Bawl your eyes out into your favorite beer and chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

2. Watch your choice of "person overcoming adversity to achieve their dream" movie. (Personally, I'm a sucker for danced-themed dreamers like "Save the Last Dance" or "Flashdance". Alex gets into ballet school and can finally leave the dance club...maybe my dreams can come true, too.)

3. Close your account with Amazon, feeling betrayed by the crooks that put small publishers out of business.

4. Reopen your account with Amazon. What, you think you can just close an account at Amazon? Laugh ironically at your naivety and helplessness, then cry a little more.

5. Check your email repeatedly for any sign that this is all a misunderstanding and the off-color possibility that your publisher was playing an early April Fool's prank. Realize you are being ridiculous.

6. Print out copies of old manuscripts and burn them symbolically.

7. Contemplate your purpose on this earth.

8. Browse the aisles at Barnes & Noble and mock every book in your genre that made it through the big publisher gateway and onto those abnormally tall shelves. Belittle their obscenely glossy covers, overrated plot lines, and transparent characters. Buy one or two that are on sale.

9. Consider clicking on one of those ads that promise instant fame and wealth to all writers who click on it. Stop yourself just in time to avoid downloading what likely would have been a plethora of spam and viruses onto your six-year-old laptop, which would have doubtless caused its inevitable betrayal and violent death.

10. Start to breathe and realize this is not the end. This is just another one of those annoying beginnings. 


Friday, January 22, 2016

Finding Joy through the End of Semester Chaos

I haven't written about the teaching aspect of my life in this blog for a while, but as the 1st semester winds to a close this week, my passion for teaching (despite the tears and stress it occasionally brings) overwhelmed me and inspired me to write a bit on this.

Let me start by stating that the last week of the semester at times makes me feel like this:


...and a little bit like this:



And, seeing as how I teach online these days, it's also a dollop of this, but less lonely and more helpless:

Basically, it boils down to the fact that I have students who don't turn in anything until the last week, regardless of when I set deadlines, and then occasionally what they do turn in is so far off base or, in very devastating cases, plagiarized, that I don't even know where to begin.

Still, despite all this disappointment, I do also have the students who really inspire me, the ones who turn in excellent essays and request my feedback and comments, and actually respond to that feedback and continue to blossom in their English and writing skills. These students are beautiful and amazing, and I honestly believe they give me that boost to deal with the tougher cases presented by their peers.
All in all, the virtual school is a weird and magical world that we're only starting to really discover how to use effectively. I feel that some students thrive in this environment, and they can grow so much from the personalized experience. Others, unfortunately the ones who so frequently get herded into this environment, cannot handle it. They use the time at home poorly and do not embrace the support and encouragement that their virtual teachers provide. The fact that we cannot physical see them and provide that extra sense of presence and support only further hinders this situation, and they spiral into those who refuse to answer emails or phone calls and who submit one page summaries of a book they maybe read once back in elementary school.

However, despite all this potential negativity and failure, I try to focus on the positive (as per my New Year's Resolution! (see previous post) ;)). For instance, one student of mine is currently having difficulty admitting to the blatantly plagiarized content of his persuasive essay, despite the fact that it is quite literally copied word for word from a website. Instead of flipping out and failing him (tempting, I'll admit), I'm walking him through the pitfalls and legal repercussions of plagiarism and working individually with him to backtrack to his main idea and outline using resources we'll discover together. I will teach him all over again how to cite these sources appropriately, and I will not give up on him until he's written a decent essay. I will always maintain the idea that I can continue to work with these students, even the ones who push me farther away than the hundreds of miles that already physically separate us.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

My Weird and High-Reaching Resolutions

I've decided that I will have resolutions this year. That and magical jewelry.


Well, okay, at least the resolutions. So here goes:

1. Looking on the positive side of life, even in the face of difficult or stressful situations. For instance, when facing a day when I have no less than twenty items on my to-do list, I will celebrate crossing off each little darned one, preferably with a shot of espresso-- although, for the sake of my health, I may limit this celebration to an awkward victory dance (and the occasional shot of espresso).


2. Asking for more favors. This may seem ridiculous as a resolution, but, if you know me, you know that I hardly ever ask for any help and instead find myself stressed and buried under a pile of things I've agreed to do.

No more! I will ask for help, and I will accept it gratefully, always with a smile, and occasionally with simply a plate of fresh-baked brownies if I do feel the need to return the favor in some way.

3. Less time on Facebook. Bahaha. Is this everyone's resolution? Well, I'm stealing it. (Cue 2nd LOTR allusion.)


Well, that's all I've got for now. Oh, besides the ever-present....

#4. WRITE!!!!! And promote my cozy mystery Decaf & Drones, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble as an e-book. It is also soon to be available in print copies. The second book in the series is in progress as we speak, but, naturally, in order to finish it, I must WRITE!