Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Home again, home again

Home from Italy, and I miss it. But today is my first "official" dayof summer, and I will get into a writing routine. First, a few Italy pictures.
My favorite places were Assisi and
Florence. Here's the castle in Assisi, then the arrow slots (about five inches across)--from which soldiers shot arrows to defend their city-state against intruders. Next, a cannonball of sorts is set in a window just big enough for it to pass through. Last pictures: and the passageway between fortress towers, and finally: how we looked in the passageway. I can't imagine running through there with a bow and arrow or spears, carrying only a little oil lamp. Stay tuned for more.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Italy or bust! And the garden and other odds and ends

So...school's out, and I'm writing a last post for ten days. (okay, so I might be on FB later, but I'm not writing another note until I get back from Italy).
I had to share a few pictues:
1. Freya's new water dish (Tom's hand-made birdbath)
2. Happy garlic.
Neruda refers to fishermen's nets as sad, and it's a metaphor. Here, it's not a metaphor. Those little transplanted winter garlic sets are downright happy and bright green in their rows.
3. Half the tomatoes and peppers, grown from seed, eagerly awaiting their transplanting (the plan for tonight)

After I pack.

Tomorrow morning, twelve students, Kurt D, and I are heading to Rome, Florence, Venice, Assisi, Lake Como, and Milan. I finally, finally get to go inside the Uffizi Museum in Florence. Sooo excited to see Botticelli's Primavera and the Birth of Venus and Donatello's work...and more...

I know I'll be blown away by Michelangelo's David again--and now that I've read Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling, I can't wait to see the Sistine Chapel again and identify all the prophets and sybils besides the old testament scenes. The crucifixion of Haman is a story I never heard until I read that book...want to explore more of that this summer (after I stare at Michelangelo's rendition).

The Giro d'Italia is also underway. Besides the art and Cathedrals, the architecture...and food, and landscape, and cobbled streets, and, and, and...I am desperately seeking a way to get a peek a the Giro racers. I'll let you know if that happens when I get back.

Happy summer. Happy end of the school year to those still in school anticipating summer, and those out!

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I'm done, I'm done, I'm done.
Funny, how, even though I do this final grading, figuring and posting grades thing twice every year, it always feels like I seriously can't finish in time.

Got done yesterday at 4:15, rushed off to graduation festivities. Oh, and forgot my cap and gown, so had to bolt home to get it. Tom saved me--I called him and he fetched it and met me halfway.

Graduation, as always is way more fun than I anticipate. No matter how tedious the ceremony can be, students graduating after working so hard inspire me. It's worth the work and long hours to see someone walk across the stage who is the first to go to college from his or her family--or made it through with three jobs and still graduated with honors--or has a passel of kids and they're all sitting in the stands, shiny-proud of mom--or mom is there after saving six kids from a horrible life in Somalia, and she's there, bursting with pride at her daughter, the college graduate. It's worth it.

It's a delight to share in their celebration.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Finals Week

This is the time of year that feels impossibly stretched in a bunch of directions. I'm like a sheet of hide (though much, much, much, MUCH thicker), stretched in so many directions and staked out, pulled until I can't breathe. So what am I doing? Writing a blog post. Go figure.

Grading: grading research papers is certifiably one of the hardest jobs in the world. I'll put it up there against most. Okay, okay, I'm rethinking that. What about mining for gold or copper in Africa, coal mining in West Virginia, diving for pearls off the California cost in the 1800s, garbage collecting, sorting recyclables, and dishwashing...Okay, so I'll quit whining. In a minute.

Give me the minute, okay? It's tedious and you cannot lose concentration, have to read for content, argument, support, organization, documentation, lack of plagiarism, and grammar...it's not fun. Some of the papers are fun, though, and I always learn stuff while I'm reading them. It's just such a huge job. This year, I got some exceptional and creative ones, too...so I'll quit whining.

When I'm done with those, it's a few stacks of final exams. Then figuring and entering grades. Enough said. It'll take me until sometime tomorrow, and I've been at it now for a couple weeks.

Also: the weather warms up (not today; rain streaks my windows) and I want to plant the garden, tune up the garden tractor and mow my hayfield yard.

And: I want to plan a trip to see my kids. Planning takes time. And money.

And: sunshine (when it's out) and the open road beckon me. My legs are itchin' to put miles on my road bike...haven't ridden nearly enough this year (hence the reason the hide is so thick, as noted above).

And: I am leaving for Italy with 12 students on Tuesday. Have I started packing or planning? Are you kidding? Have I had time to breathe? I did read Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling (on tape--no time to read a book lately), and now I want to make some diagrams of the ceiling, so I know what all of the figures represent when I see it this time. That's a task for after turning in grades.

Finally: I want to write! Have these two stories broiling around in my head, and half in the computer, and I want to work on them in the worst way, but if I do, I won't get all this grading done.

So, why, you ask, am I writing in my blog? I have no idea. Maybe it's some latent procrastinating gene that I can't excise. Maybe I felt like I needed to still be connected to the world. I don't know. But now, I'm signing out of the social world and retreating back to my grading desk, perhaps never to return...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Death in Italy

Wouter Weylandt, a Leopard-Trek rider (my new self-proclaimed favorite team for the year in pro cycling) crashed and died today on stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia.

I feel a strange kinship...since I'll be going to Italy by the end of the race. Such a sad, sad day for cycling.

Friday, May 6, 2011

May the Best Dog Win by Kelly Hashway

Today, I have a special guest on my blog. I had the opportunity to interview Kelly Hashway, author of the just-released picture book, May the Best Dog Win.

Here's Kelly, and her book, and below is our inteview. Here's my short review and blurb for the book:

Help! Dash thinks he's being replaced by the brand-new Sweeper. With an extra long leash, and a closet-bed all his own, Sweeper seems to be taking over the house.
What dog hasn't felt threatened by a new vacuum?
Dog lovers of all ages will smile all the way through this dog's eye view of the dog-sweeper conflict in May the Best Dog Win, a delightful new picture book by Kelly Hashway.

Here's our interview:

BFD: When did you decide that you wanted to be a writer?

KH: Pretty much the moment I learned to write. I used to write short stories all the time when I was growing up. I even wrote a novel. It was awful and all one paragraph if I remember correctly. I got serious about writing in 2004. I decided that I didn't just want to write as a hobby anymore, so I enrolled in classes, joined writers groups, and started writing everyday.

BFD: Some people ask if you write when you’re inspired or if you have a writing routine. You’re a full-time mom and writer, so I think I already know that you can’t wait for inspiration to hit in order to sit down and write. Can you talk about how and when you write in order to get so much writing done?

KH: I do have a schedule. I write everyday while my daughter naps. But I also sneak writing time in during breakfast and after my daughter goes to bed at night. Of course inspiration strikes when it wants to, so I keep notebooks all over my house and in my purse. I write by hand a lot just to make sure I get my ideas down as soon as I get them.

BFD: You have May the Best Dog Win coming out to charm picture book fans. You’ve also written YA horror, middle-grade fantasy and lots of other children’s fiction for many magazines. (An impressive list, by the way). Do you have a favorite?

KH: I do love it all. I think writing across genres and age levels keeps things fresh for me. But I have a special place in my heart for fantasy. I love stretching my imagination.

BFD: Can you decide, “I’m going to write…this kind of story now…” Or do you need an idea as a generator, and then let that idea dictate what type/genre of story you will write?

KH: I've done both. Most of the time I begin with an idea. But last fall I decided I would write outside my comfort zone, and I sat down to write horror for the first time. I wrote and sold two short stories that began simply out of the fact that I wanted to try that genre. That's not typical though.

BFD: And…do you find it difficult to go among different genres/types of stories? And is it hard to change the language you use for such a wide range of reader ages?

KH: I have a rule that I read whatever age level/genre I'm writing at that time. It keeps me grounded in the voice and language I need for my writing. Plus I get to read some really great books, so it's a win win situation.

BFD: Do you start with a character? A plot idea? A place? A theme? What’s the first seed of a story for you?

KH: It really depends on the story. For my middle grade fantasy I'm working on, I came up with the plot first. My main character developed to fit that plot. But for my young adult fantasy I had this voice in my head demanding that I write her story. I've learned to go with the flow and not fight what's working for that particular manuscript.

BFD: Do you ever work on more than one story at once?

KH: Always! Right now I'm working on a middle grade trilogy, but I also wrote the first draft of a young adult fantasy at the same time. In addition, I write at least one short story a week. I love working on multiple projects because if I'm feeling stuck with one manuscript, I can open up another and still get in some quality writing that day. Usually one of my projects takes the top spot and gets the most attention though.

BFD: An obvious question might be “What inspired May the Best Dog Win in?” but as a dog owner and obsessive dog lover, I have a feeling that I know what inspired it. However, I’m asking anyway--is there a story you want to share with us?

KH: I have a huge German shepherd, and I'm a compulsive vacuumer (yes, I know that's not a real word). I vacuum everyday--at least once. Well, my dog is ten years old but she still is afraid of the vacuum. She sniffs it, gets in the way of it, and just looks at it like she can't figure out what it is. So it made me wonder if she thought it was some sort of animal--maybe another kind of dog. May the Best Dog Win was born from there.

BFD: That makes me laugh because my biggest dogs were the biggest wimps around the vacuum. My Newfy, Freya, who weighs 167 lb., jumps on the bed when I get the vacuum out.

BFD: What are you writing now? And where do you see your career going in the near future?

KH: Right now, I'm working on a middle grade trilogy. I just signed with an agent for the first book in the trilogy, so we are moving forward with edits and then going on submission. I hope to make a long career out of writing. I can't imagine doing anything else.

BFD: If you could pick anything in the world to accomplish as a writer, what one thing would you like most to accomplish?

KH: This is going to sound simple, but I really would love to overhear just one child say, "Kelly Hashway is my favorite author." That would be a dream come true for me.

BFD: That doesn't sound simple at all! That's a very real dream, and I bet that it will happen, maybe sooner than you think.

Kelly, THANKS for being my guest today. All the best of luck to you and Dash with May the Best Dog Win. You are amazingly prolific and it's been such fun to talk with you!

(Side note: Kelly hosted me on her blog, and you can see our chat on her blog). She has a great blog, so check it out anyway!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Green day...green eggs? No ham.

So... I buy my cage-free organic eggs (sometimes I get them free) from a neighbor. This week, I opened the carton, and lo and behold, two eggs are green! Most of them are the beautiful brown pictured here, but GREEN? I've never heard of a green egg except, of course, through Dr. Seuss.

I ate one of them yesterday morning, and the yoke was bright yellow, the white pure white, and I didn't eat ham. So what kind of chicken lays GREEN EGGS?

I'm going to do a bit of research, but at this point, I'm going with this theory: some smart hen is celebrating the fact that the sun is out (FINALLY) and the meadow is green, and baby tree buds are popping. And the hen thought she needed to join the trend.

Time lapse: I just found my answer. Fun!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Derek and Lindsey's short film

is a short video made by two of my students for another class--their film class. I think it's well-done, and pretty powerful. Maybe some critics will say there's a bit of stereotype in it. But you know what? Sterotypes come into being because there's truth somewhere inside them at some point. (Maybe that's not a P.C. thing to say, but sobeit).
This time, the truth is all too powerful--and sad. And I think the film is very well done. I'm proud of the work they've done!
Way to go, Derek and Lindsey!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Holy Smoke

I haven't had time to be online for several days, and I have a lot to catch up on....When I sit down to write, I guess I can see why. Holy Smoke.

Wed., the 27th, I spoke at the Summit Center about writing and biking, and read some from Chasing AllieCat. Small crowd, but every person there bought a book. Great disussion, and some wonderful senior bike enthusiasts. Keeps me inspired to keep at this biking thing forever. (And Freya went with me).

Friday, I got to visit a second grade class in Nevada, Iowa, with Freya, and the kids and Freya had great time. I love talking to kids about writing.

Saturday, I read and signed books at Borders in Ames. Again, not a huge crowd, but very receptive and all wonderful people. The crowd included my aunt and cousin, cousin's wife, adopted sisters-in-law (through my brother), former student (thanks, Heidi!), new acquaintance whose daughter is a librarian and is going to ask me to come for a library event, long-time friend, classmate (thanks, Glenda!), and a few more, including a woman from Des Moines trying to sell her first book. It feels so important to give back to the writing community. Funny, my road to publication was sooooo long and full of set-backs that I never thought the whole thing would feel fortunate, but it does.

Sunday, I rode the Minnesota Ironman Bike Ride/Gran Fondo--a timed 105-mile ride starting and ending in Lakeville. The wind almost killed me. But if it doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger, right? After all said and done, it was indeed fun. Thanks, David, Lisa, and Carol for being such great riding partners, and Rachael, too!

Today, I visited Sam Pottenger's Preschool at the YMCA. Freya went along, of course. We read my Flowers and Showers: A Spring Counting Book. That was a blast. Freya sort of makes a splash of attention wherever she goes and makes getting out of any building a rather long task...but much fun.