Friday, May 27, 2011

Remember the Fallen

I'm stepping aside from talking about writing on my blog this weekend.  Instead, I am dedicating this post to the fallen in honor of Memorial Day.

I am the proud wife of a retired soldier who served in Bosnia and Iraq for our country.  He is my husband of 12 years, best friend, and phenomenal father, but more importantly he is a hero.  I am so lucky he came home from war without a scratch on his body, but so many more were not as fortunate.

Seven years ago, I met a young man in my Sophomore English class.  His name was Randy Braggs.  He lit up my room each time he walked in with his infectious smile and laughter.  He may not have been an A student, but he worked hard and did well considering.  After a year with him, I was sad not to teach eleventh grade English, but instead of not seeing him in my room as a student every day, he would stop by to say hi at least three days a week, sometimes more.  He still had that smile making even the worst days a little better.  his senior year, he was in my class once again as a student.  He told me he wanted to join the Marines and I told him it was a great idea.  The only problem was that he needed to lose about 100 pounds before getting in.  I watched as his determination drove him to eat right and exercise all year.  He did exactly what he set out to do.  He lost enough weight to enter the Marine Corp.  He graduated with the class of 2008 and entered the Marines in time.  When he completed basic, he came to see me so proud of his new uniform.  He wanted to share his accomplishments with me knowing I would always encourage him to do his best.  In the three years he was in high school, he became a son to me.  We would talk about the future and what inspired him.  He was a wonderful person, so the fact that we stayed in touch after graduation meant the world to me.  When he came home on leave for Christmas, he always took the time to stop by my house to share some milk and cookies with my family and in-laws.  He was such a sweetheart - always, and always very respectful.  In the fall of 2010, he received orders to Afghanistan.  He came to school in his dress blues to visit before he left.  He wanted to show me and a few others how much he had grown into a young man in his blues. We took pictures, he talked to my students, and he promised he would come see me when he got back.  The day he left our town to return to base, he called my cell phone.  I answered the phone and all I heard was, "Mom?  Mom?"  I was confused to say the least and said, "Who is this?" He said, "It's Randy."  He was calling to say good bye because he knew we wouldn't get a chance to talk before he shipped out.  I made him promise to be safe and to come home in one piece.  He promised.

Monday, November 8th, I stayed home sick from work because one of my kids wasn't feeling well.  I was cleaning when my phone rang.  It was my principal.  She told me that someone had come to the school to tell us that Randy was killed in action, but they wanted us to know.  It hit the news that night and the paper the next morning.  I wanted to crawl into a hole knowing that I would never see him again. 

November 15th was his service and it was truly a spectacular service.  He was buried at the Veteran's Cemetery and was given a full military service.  It was so windy, but there were still dozens of flags flying creating the most beautiful picture one could ask for.  That day, I said good-bye to a student, friend, son, and now a hero.  I will always love him and miss him.   For Memorial Day this year, I honor him and all other fallen members of the armed forces.  I hope that you do the same.

R.I.P. Lance Corporal Randy Rashad Braggs March 4, 1989-November 6, 2010
It was an honor knowing you.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Out with the Old, in with the New

Well, last night I called half of the names of the 480 seniors who graduated from my school.  It was such a wonderful evening as I watched my 90 seniors walk across the stage and receive their diplomas.  There is truly no better feeling than to see others succeed and move towards their dreams.  As for me, I am cleaning my house in preparation for a summer of picking up after my little ones.  I like to start fresh with my house and my life as the seasons change.  I'm finally able to breathe and focus on my passion - writing.  I'm entering into another round of revisions on Love and Texts, starting a new WIP (unnamed), and reading an ms for a new friend.  This feels amazing! I'm rejuvenated and the creative juices are flowing.  What does this mean for me?  It means that for the next two months, I will be a writer, mom and wife sans teacher.  I took my kids to the library for their first time today where they each received a library card.  They lit up as they realized they were surrounded by unlimited supplies of reading materials with no distractions.  My son checked out books on dinosaurs and my daughter checked out Disney Pixie Hollow books.  They also signed up for summer reading.  I'm so proud of my little readers.  It is truly inspiring to see my children excited about reading.  They had phenomenal teachers whom I thank wholeheartedly. 

I don't have anything else to report today, but I will be back sooner than later.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Feeling the Pressure

Only three more days until it's officially summer and the pressure is on.  I have 20 papers to grade for a final - they're due tomorrow, and I am dreading reading and editing and grading these papers.  I love teaching online, but seriously, this assignment gets me.  Once that's done, I have a two weeks until the next class starts.  My real job is over on Thursday, but I have to build a brand new curriculum for the August.  I am officially teaching Creative Writing in the fall.  I'm really excited about this, but making a curriculum is tough work.  Needless to say, that will keep me busy this summer.  The truth, though, is that neither of these tasks are freaking me out.  The pressure is that I always start a new WIP in the summer.  The pressure to start one in five days is getting to me.  I have a couple of ideas, but they're not bubbling in my brain the way I'd like them to.  My dry erase board hangs on the wall behind me staring at me, taunting me to use it, but I feel like the well is dry.  I know this is only because my brain is school absorbed getting ready for finals and announcing names at graduation, but it does scare me a little. 

The good news is that I have made friends on twitter whom I will be setting writing goals with.  This is so important because I hate letting people down.  Mandie, you're the best!  Knowing these goals are in place will light a fire under me like nobody's business, so now I just need to do it.  I do have this one story in mind and the first couple of pages are written.  It's dark and depressing, but solid.  I think I'm going to run with it.  I don't want to say too much, but I can say it's a YA contemporary starting with a girl walking aimlessly on the highway thinking she has no way out.  We'll see.  I also have the conflicts all mapped out, but my husband says that it's too depressing.  Let's just say there's a lot of death.  Anyway, the pressure's on.  Writing will resume in five days and my children will be in summer school for three hours a day.  This will be my time to shine.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Perspective is Everything

This week has been such a wonderfully eye-opening week and I am thankful to all of my classes for that.  I recently assigned my classes a project where they needed to find one song with lyrics and one without each needing to define who they are today.  My example for them was "Daughters" by John Mayer as my song with lyrics explaining that I want my daughter to raised in a home of unconditional love and happiness versus growing up in a home full of divorce as I did.  My song without lyrics was "Flight of the Bumblebee" because I never seem to stop moving.
The kids really enjoyed doing the assignment, but they definitely took it to the next level.  They shared everything from death of family members, feeling bullied, discriminated against due to their sexual orientation, abusive home environments they've been removed from and so on.  We spent an entire day crying together as a "family" and felt so much better afterwards - or at least I did, yet at the same time I felt worse.  So many times I have complained about this or that feeling like it's the ultimate low, but the reality is that my problems are extremely small in comparison to those half my age and much the wiser. I am truly blessed to have the life I have - a wonderful husband and two amazing children.  This week had a profound impact on my life and ultimately changed the way I think. As an example, Thursday afternoon after the first day of tears, I received a rejection from an agent I was so hoping would not only like my manuscript but would want to pick it up.  Two weeks ago, I would have been devastated, but instead I closed the email and transferred it to my rejection folder and went on with my day.  Though I did care enough to have a moment of sadness (seriously minimal moment), I was not destroyed or even depressed.  I simply thought of the heartache these kids have gone through and gave my own children a hug and kiss.  My dream is to be a published author, but I think it's more about being heard than just seeing my name on a book.  I want other kids to know they aren't alone, so I write about what really happens in schools.  If others don't want it for their lists, then I move forward and keep trying.  At the same time, I know that by having 150 kids share their stories with one another I am accomplishing my dream.  I do plan on continuing writing and pursuing publication, but if it never happens, I'm OK with it.  I am making a difference in the kid at a time.  Thank you to my students for showing me this and giving me the perspective I think so many have yet to achieve.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Getting Ready for Summer

In January, my husband and I made a drastic change to our diets and cut way back on our carb intake.  It was great; we lost some weight and people were noticing, but then we fell off the diet and gained five pounds back.  Now, we are back on the cutting carbs and are starting Power 90.  We just completed Day 2 and I can barely walk, but I feel good.  We're going home to see our families in a month and want to impress them with our progress.  OK, I know a month isn't that long and nothing happens over night, but it would be great to lose at least eight pounds by then.  Of course, we both need to lose more than that, but it's a start right? 

On top of that, I'm starting to outline a new book.  I sat down and wrote the first paragraph based on a first line I thought about for about a week.  From there, I brainstormed a couple of conflicts, beginning, middle and end.  It's really different from anything I've written, yet it's still YA, but a little darker.  I'm not quite ready to talk about it, but I'm going to start outlining the story this week.  It's such a nice feeling to have something new to work on after a couple of months of writer's block.  It's not really surprising though that I haven't been writing considering my online class is coming to an end in two weeks and graduation is in two weeks as well.  My work load this time of year is massive, so writing gets pushed aside.

I'm still waiting to hear on my other two manuscripts, but waiting is just a part of life, so now I am moving forward with something new.  I'm hoping the fourth time will be the charm.  :)

Well, I'm off for the night.  I do want to wish all those with partials, subs, queries, or WIPs good luck in their future.  We are all part of the same family and need to stand by each other's sides. 


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Stop the Whining Already

So, it dawned on me that anyone reading my blog has got to think I'm either a whiner or desperate or both.  I think the neurotic writer in me has come out in blog form. This leads me to this blog where I am going to tell you a little about myself so I sound NORMAL.

First and foremost, I'm a wife and a mom.  Not sure which is more because I can't be one without the other.  After being married for twelve years and a mom for eight, they have become synonymous.  I love my husband and children more than anything and if they asked me to give up writing I would. I hate cleaning up after them, but it's part of the job.  My husband is my rock and my children are my saviors even when they drive me crazy. Without them, I am nothing.

After that, I'm a teacher.  I've been teaching for eleven years ad as much as I would love to share stories from the classroom, and believe me there are plenty, I don't feel I can due to so many teachers being persecuted for voicing the truth. What I can say is that being in a high school environment keeps me young.  I laugh every day thanks to my many "children" and am grateful to have them all in my life.  At lunch, we, my friends and I, can't go a day without a "that's what he/she said" joke and we share in the many open mouth insert foot moments.  I never knew so many innocent comments could be taken the wrong way by the students causing me to turn beat red.  Again, I'd give examples but fear drives me, but if you ask me via email or DM on twitter, I might be able to go there.  Teaching has been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done second to my children and husband, and when asked why I teach, I sound like an after school special - "I want to make a difference in the world."

The final side of me is the writer.  I think I've spoken about that quite a bit, so there's no need to expand on the neuroses I encounter daily. ;) 

So there it is.  I'm a normal person who laughs more than cries, jokes more that sulks, and at times can be a bit immature.  I live to be sincere and honest and am loyal to a fault.  I hope that sums it up in a nutshell. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Apple Pie Deception

Last year, my neighbor gave me so many zucchinis from her garden, I searched for creative recipes to incorporate them into our meals.  My aunt gave me a recipe for Zucchini Apple Pie, and though I was extremely hesitant to make it, I did and was amazed at how delicious it was.  My family devoured the pie, so I made a second one for my neighbor and didn't tell her what was in it until she and her family ate it.  I simply told her it was an apple pie.  Well, they LOVED it, so I broke it her that there are NO apples in the pie at all - it's all zucchinis. 

So, on twitter, one of the tweeps I follow was talking about making an apple pie for the first time and I immediately thought about my aunt's recipe and how it could relate to my writing.  The thing is, it really does.  This pie is deceptively delicious.   It's a totally new concept (for me at least) and surprised me with how traditional it tasted in the end still satisfying my taste buds making me grateful I ate it.  My book All's Fair in Love and Texts is equally new and exciting (in my opinion and my teen betas').  It's new in the sense that it incorporates texting throughout the book.  This, I have found, is so new that even my current critique partner has no idea texts should be formatted - should they be italicized, bold, quotes, etc.  I chose to change their font and treat it like dialogue.  It follows a traditional pattern in high school life, but uses a new dialect becoming the standard in real life.  This is like my apple pie.  It's traditionally apple flavored, but filled with zucchini, a healthier choice.  It may be scary to try out, but well worth it in the end.  I am still in a state of calm, but I do hope that an agent will take a chance on Love and Texts.  I do believe it is as delicious and inspiring as a slice of apple pie.

For those of you thinking, I'd like to try that apple pie, I have included the recipe below.

Zucchini Apple Pie
4 cups sliced zucchini (from bigger zucchinis)
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
dash of salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tarter
pie and bottom

Peel and cut zucchini length wise, remove seeds.  Cut in slices.  Boil until tender and drain.  then put in ice water for 5 minutes and drain again.  Mix carefully with all the other ingredients.

Place in 9" pie shell, dot with butter and cover with the top crust.
Bake 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until done.

Note: When you have all ingredients mixed together, it will be really juicy.  The flour will take of it when baked. 

So there is the recipe.  Please let me know if you make it and what you thought.  I look forward to the comments.