Friday, August 28, 2009

The Common Room: Collected Rules My Mama Never Told Me I'd Need to Make

In need of a bit of a laugh today? Head on over to "The Common Room" and hear all about "The Rules."

The Common Room: Collected Rules My Mama Never Told Me I'd Need to Make

Then head on over to EMN and read about choosing educational opportunities for your child: "School Daze: In Defense of Charter Schools."

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Mass: Ever Ancient, Ever New

Julie Davis just pointed her readers to this website in which the USCCB explains the changes that are going to be incorporated into the Mass in the coming months.

The Lord be with us (and with our spirit)!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Life Lessons . . . from Africa

This afternoon I was at the school (Boosters season has officially begun!), and came across Miss Adams, Sarah's teacher from last year. Miss Adams spent part of her summer at a school in Tanzania, working with a local elementary school in a kind of cross-cultural partnership.

I had been looking forward to hearing about her experience, recalling what a formative experience it was for me the year I spent in Senegal, West Africa. And I was not disappointed . . . Like me, she had been startled upon "re-entry," finding it hard to cope with the variety and abundance of just about everything here. "At the end of every school year, we toss away more than these children have!"

My heart went out to her. I remember what a hard time I had with adjusting to life back in the States, and the guilt and shame I felt over my privileged status. The injustice of it all was hard to swallow.

However, I did have one advantage: I was returning to Bible school, whereas Miss Adams is going back to the classroom, trying to convey what she had learned to a classroom of first-graders. How do you get kids that age to grapple with such big questions? It's hard enough for the adults.

But then, Miss Adams is not your typical first-grade teacher. I look forward to being a little fly on the wall, watching her bring those life lessons ... to life!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Never Tap the Mower Guy

Today at "Faith and Family Live" I wrote about my experience at the cemetery, trying to find Father Roger's marker.

Lesson learned: When you need directions, never sneak up on the guy who's mowing the lawn. Especially when he's worked for the park for 35 years, and is two weeks short of retirement.

Thought for the Day: Wisdom from Julie Cameron "The Artist's Way"

My friend Pat Gohn sent this quote to me today, which has applications not only to writing but to all worthwhile endeavors.

"Take one small daily action instead of indulging in the big questions. When we wallow in the big questions, we fail to find the small answers.... It's change grounded in respect for where we are and where we to go.... Large changes occur in tiny increments."

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Publishing Game: Like Farkle ... or Farmville?

Last week when I gave my talk on the "ABCs of Good Writing," I turned it into a game. I had participants take out a sheet of paper and write the letter from A to Z in the left margin, then write beside each letter every word they could think of that was associated with writing (good or bad) or writers (ditto). I had 150 . . . I believe the winner of my "Writer's Gift Basket" had 138. (Way to go, Mary!)

When I got to "F," the two words that immediately came to mind are the FaceBook applications Farkle and Farmville. First of all, both games are delightful distractions (the kind of diversion you're supposed to avoid if you want to be a serious writer). However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that both games are apt metaphors for another kind of game . . . the book publishing game, to be precise.

With Farkle, you roll the dice and come up with various combinations of dice to earn points. It's part intuition (knowing when to stop rolling), part numbers, and part dumb luck. There's really no other word for it. Oh, and it also helps to know a lot of other high rollers, as they send you little chip gifts from time to time, and you constantly try to one-up your "friends" by drawing a higher score.

Sound familiar? Nah, I didn't think so.

Then there's Farmville. Everyone has the same-sized plot of land, and everyone on the same level of expertise has access to the same kinds of seeds, trees, buildings, decorations, and animals. You give your neighbor a hand chasing crows or pulling weeds, rescue the odd lost cow, and send your Farmville friends little presents to help them along. (Think writers' groups.)

And yet, there is a lot of work -- and a lot of decision-making -- you must do on your own. Do I plant crops indefinitely (and keep returning every 4-12 hours to harvest), or put in something that requires less of a time commitment, such as trees or animals? Do I go for the "pretty" or for the unabashedly practical? Do I spend a lot of time running around chasing crows out of everyone else's garden, and let my own go to seed?

Most of all, am I willing to make a plan, and stick with it over the long haul -- even putting in a few dollars of my own resources to make my dream come true, if need be? (I have my eye on that farm house!) Food for thought.

What do you think -- is writing more like Farkle, Farmville ... or something else?

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Birthday Curve

Now that I've reached the midway point of my forties, I really should stop giving birthdays so much attention. And I was all-but-ready to . . . until I woke up this morning in a hotel room with two whiny kids wedged under my armpits. Neither of them was exactly belting out the Birthday Song. More like . . .

"MOM! He kicked me."

"MOM! She looked at me."

"KNOCKITOFF!!!! Seriously, guys. It's only 6:42."

The stage whispers continued in a not-so-dull roar, until I rolled out of bed, shoved my feet in a pair of sandals, and waddled off toward the breakfast room with my little urchins so my nieces (who had been watching the kids this week) could get a few more zzzzs.

A few minutes later, I sprinted for the door to catch the opening session of the writer's conference. No sooner had I stepped into the conference ballroom than my cell rang. It was Craig -- I smiled, thinking he wanted to wish me a happy birthday.

"You'll never believe what happened to me last night," he began a complicated description of his piano lesson and the mini-consult he'd had with his teacher's husband, the doctor. I asked Craig a few questions -- all the wrong ones, apparently -- and tried to sound sympathetic. Then my phone beeped. "Honey, I hate to cut you off, but I need to take this. It might be about the kids."

It was my sister, saying she might not be able to make our sister reunion. We talked for a few minutes -- her upset, me trying to soothe. Then I went back into the conference. My friend Pat saw the storm clouds brewing on my face, and took me outside to chat. Dear Pat. She's always been such an encouragement to me, cheering me on as I try to meet a myriad of little goals. She even prayed for me when I lost my Edirol recorder two months ago, and using it as an excuse not to start my podcast. What a friend.

The great thing about true friends -- good friends, I mean -- is that they can deliver the tough messages no one else will. She encouraged me to think of ways to be supportive of Craig even when I didn't understand what he was going through -- and to understand how hard it is to be the chronically ill partner. My response was something highly mature and constructive having to do with his forgetting my birthday.

"It's your BIRTHDAY?! I didn't know that!" She gave me a big hug and said she needed to get back inside to set up for the next talk. I went to my seat and started digging around in my computer bag . . . and nearly fainted when I discovered a secret compartment that contained the three credit cards I'd recently reported as lost . . . and my recorder.

"PAAAAAT! I found it! My recorder!!!!" And like a true friend, she whooped and danced around with me. Then she sat me down and gave me a lesson on GarbagePail (or whatever that podcasting software for Mac is called).

It was my birthday present from God. HE had not forgotten that, even at 45, His kids like to be remembered. (Thanks, God!)

By the end of the day, everything had turned around. All three of my sisters turned up to celebrate the weekend with me. And I even got to see an old high school buddy who was the musical director of a local production of "Seussical." (Way to go, Rory!)

And now that the day is officially over, and the kids are both slumbering peacefully on the floor, I think I'll get a little shut-eye. Thank God birthdays only come once a year!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Convention Heats Up ...

First day of the Catholic Writer's Conference, and already I'm glad I made it. So many people I've known for years, virtually, I finally got to meet in person. Two of the most important: Karina Fabian and Ann Lewis, who have worked themselves into a fevered pitch just to pull off this lovely convention.

Tomorrow will be a busy day, but today I enjoyed just sitting back and interacting casually with writers coming "up the ranks." Most of the women my age have college-age kids, which is a little disconcerting (I had to excuse myself to go tuck in the kidlets when the party seemed to be warming up for everyone else). But then, as I sit here typing, Chris and Sarah snuggled up to the air conditioner (until a few seconds go Chris had his arm around Sarah in a darling pose that I caught on camera but will have to post another time since I forgot the cable to put it on the computer, dang), I have to say they're cutest when they're sleeping.

And it's good to be "home."

Tomorrow I give my little talk at 10:30. Book signing at 2:30. If you're in the area, be sure to stop in!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Like A Shining Wedding Dress ...

Our first day of the road trip was an unqualified success. Sarah's at the stage where she keeps a non-stop monologue going through most of her waking hours, unless a video is on (in which case she assumes a gratifyingly quiet, glassy-eyed stare).

But today she was mid-sentence in her enthusiastic litany of all the fun we were going to have over the next two weeks, swimming and frolicking and eating in restaurants every single day. Then, just as we crossed the Ohio River outside of Cleveland . . . silence.

"You okay, Sarah?"

"Uh, huh . . . How pretty! It looks like a shiny wedding dress!" I looked up at the pointy modern spire of the bridge, shining in the sunlight.

You know something? Sarah was absolutely right. Just like a wedding dress.

Dinner with the Russells, and as we sipped tea and watched Sarah and Ellie at play I found myself wishing they lived closer. Or at least that I could have talked her into joining me for the writer's conference THIS year.

Ah, well ... there's always next year! (It's gonna be a FULL van, with all the people I'll be picking up along the way, right Sarah?)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Two suitcases ... and a van

Two weeks. Two suitcases. Two tons of . . . paraphenalia (sp?) that we may or may not use. Including the extra rolls of duct tape to affix to various extremeties when the bickering makes my head explode.

I think we're ready. First stop . . . State College, PA! Catholic Writer's Conference, here we come!

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Quality Time with Dad

They look happy, don't they?