Friday, December 28, 2012

Join me for the Jan Plan

The brainchild of the lovely Christa Desir, The Jan Plan is a concerted effort to finish off a project that has been hanging over you for a while. 

 According to Christa's blog: "The Jan Plan will involve committing to finish one project. One. However you define 'finish'. Just doing what you have to do to get one project out of your unfinished knitting basket."

I love this idea because I have been wanting to dedicate some real time to writing since summer, but when school is in session, this just isn't possible for me. NaNo is never an option because it's a crazy busy time in the semester. 
When I'm teaching, I squeeze in an afternoon here, or a weekend there... but not nearly enough time to really finish a project. I do like it, though, because it gives me time to mull over plots and make cool connections within my work. In January I have a small break of a few weeks where I am working from home but the boys are in school. Perfect for the Jan Plan. 

So, what will I do for MY Jan Plan? Two things, actually. (I'm bending the rules already)

1. I need to work through my current MS, MINA TAKES THE SKY to make a few changes that I've been thinking about for months. I just want to take it up a notch, which will require at least two intense read-throughs with editing. 


2. I want to re-work my first book, STUNG, the MG about a girl who collects bugs and solves mysteries, to include a graphic element. I think knowing how the insects look adds something important to the story. To me, when I describe them, I see them in my head... but not everyone knows these species the way I do. 

For example, one of the first bugs I describe is a velvet ant, which is a wingless wasp that has an extremely painful sting, but the MC finds her fascinating and beautiful. It's an important part of the book and I think the reader should "see" it, not only through words. So, I made a drawing of it. (I don't have a velvet ant in my collection any longer. This drawing was made on the program Art Studio from a photo on flickr that was taken by Hunter Desportes and is open to use, alteration, and commercial use through a creative commons license)

This book (STUNG) is something that I've all but shelved... and this will be its final gasp. 

What say you? Who will join the Jan Plan? Grab Christa's lovely badge and let me know YOUR Jan Plan. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Cow of Kindness, the Gift of Hope

One of my dearest friends gave me a cow last year. 

No, not something for my urban mini-farm (which is sadly nowhere near ready for livestock-- even chickens are too big for my backyard). I mean the gift of a cow from Heifer International. 

On my trip to Kenya we met with representatives from different farming collectives. We wanted them to grow Amaranth and to use some simple technologies that students/faculty created to see if they improved farming productivity.

 So, we met with five different groups over the course of the ten days, and with each we were working to develop an implementation plan. 

We wanted to know how they planned to work together, to share the tools, to try to bring the grain to market after it was grown. We walked them through the steps of planning so we had some reassurance that they were thinking about bigger issues, planning for the future, and taking it all into account. Among the five groups there was a big difference in the depth of their organization. 

One group was one of the most organized-- a group of HIV-positive men and women who banded together to grow crops and sell them, and also formed a micro-lending group amongst themselves where they would save money and use it on projects. 

We asked them really specific questions about how they would manage the implementation of the project, and management of the tools-- and for every question we had, they had really well-thought-out answers that made perfect sense. They clearly had a structure within their group that could handle our project. 

Eventually we had to ask them-- how are you guys so organized? Then they started telling us how they worked with Heifer International, and a part of that included that they trained them on how to work collectively and how to overcome some of the conflict and issues that might arise with sharing resources. 

Then they told us that Heifer International had supplied them with a cow.

Of course on some level I knew this wasn't THE cow my friend gave me for Christmas last year, but secretly I pretended to myself that this was THAT cow. 

Because in Kenya I saw people who I felt needed help every single day. There were many people (like the farming groups we met) who were actively improving their lives, working hard, and achieving success. Their lives held a great deal of promise-- they were relatively quite well off and were able to create a school with their early profits to provide a better future for their kids. In many cases, they didn't have indoor plumbing, they were completely dependent on climate and seasonal rainfall for ensuring their crops would succeed, and it was clear they didn't have a lot in the way of food. 

These were the people who were well off. 

Every day we saw kids in rags. Kids without shoes. Kids sick with malaria or AIDS. Kids who were happy --no thrilled-- to have a meal of ugali (kind of like grits, a cornmeal mush) and kale. Imagine giving grits (without butter) and kale to the kids in your life three times a day. Imagine their reaction. We saw many, many, many, many kids orphaned from AIDS.

The problems felt TOO BIG, TOO HARD TO SOLVE, and as if anything I could possibly do WOULD NEVER MAKE AN IMPACT. 

So, for that afternoon, I wanted to feel LIKE SOMETHING COULD MAKE A DIFFERENCE. 

It was INCREDIBLE to see one of the Heifer International  cows in action and what it meant to this community. 

I liked their philosophy (a hand up, not a hand out) from the first moment I heard of them, and loved the work they did, but had NO IDEA how thorough and amazing they were on the ground. 

So, in this season I wish you the HOPE that I felt that day. That someone's actions thousands of miles away might make a difference to those that need it most. 

Posting concurrently on The Kindness Project website on 12/28/2012. 
(Girl and cow photo from the Heifer International website. Farm in Kenya photo taken by my student there). 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What I've read in 2012

Ahhhh... the end of the calendar year always means a fun recap of the books I've read this year. 

I'll list them all by month!

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
39 clues: One False Note by Gordon Korman
Finding Antigone (BETA) by Sue Winegartner
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
The Moving Finger

The Mysterious Affair at Styles
AND Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexi
Fairy Tale Fail by Mina V. Esguerra
Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris
I am a genius of unspeakable evil and I want to be your class president by Josh Lieb


The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Cabinet of the Earths by Anne Nesbitt 
What Alice Forgot by Lianne Moriarty
Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Whales on Stilts by M.T. Anderson
The Hunger Games (reread) by Suzanne Collins
Don't Stop Now by Julie Halpern
Something Strange and Deadly by Susan Dennard
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
It's Not Summer Without You by Jenny Han
The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
Ditched by Robin Mellom
Decoded by Jay Z
Cracked by KM Walton
The Case of the Dying Detective by Arthur Conan Doyle
Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

Death Comes as the End by Agatha Christie.
The Adventure of “The Western Star"
The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor
The Adventure of the Cheap Flat, and 
The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge by Ms Christie
The Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle
Hushed by Kelley York
The Circular Staircase by Mary Rinehart Roberts
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (re-read) 
Darkness Be My Friend
Burning for Revenge
The Night is for Hunting, and 
The Other Side of Dawn by John Marsden
Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Unwind by Neal Shusterman
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
The Clockwork Three by Matthew Kirby
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han
Bill of Rites for the American Man by K. Cooper Ray
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

July (is it obvious I spent nearly 24 hours each way traveling to and from Kenya this month?)
Before I Go To Sleep, by SJ Watson
Several Agatha Christie novellas and short stories:
The Million Dollar Bond Robbery
 The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb
The Jewel Robbery at the Grand Metropolitan
The Kidnapped Prime Minister
The Disappearance of Mister Davenheim
The Adventure of the Italian Nobleman
The Case of the Missing Will
The Veiled Lady
The Lost Mine
The Chocolate Box
The Affair at the Victory Ball
The Adventure of the Clapham Cook
The Cornish Mystery
The Adventure of Johnny Waverly
The Double Clue
The King of Clubs
and The Plymouth Express
Crunch by Leslie Connor
The Ghost of Blackwood Hall by Carolyn Keene

Tate's Hell by Holly Dodson
Burnt Amber by Carolyn Abiad 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Interview with a Vampire by Anne Rice

November - December
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Hundred dollar holiday by Bill McKibben
Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibottson
Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi
Boomerang by Michael Lewis

That's 83... but I don't honestly believe the Agatha Christie's should ALL count-- many were short stories, but since I keep track for the I Dig Reading Challenge I assume it's okay to over-count.  

AND I'm still working... because I need to finish up several books I've started and there are also 2012 debuts I promised to read but haven't gotten to yet. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Kindness Project: Anger and Compassion

This is also posted at The Kindness Project

As I was flipping through  O, The Oprah Magazine (October 2012) I found an interesting quote from Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh*  under the Heading "How to Let Go of Anger". (Source: 20 Things Everyone Should Master by Age 40)

"Anger is like a storm rising up from the bottom of your consciousness. When you feel it coming, turn your focus to your breath. Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body. Then look at, or think of, the person triggering this emotion: With mindfulness, you can see that she is unhappy, that she is suffering. You can see her wrong perceptions. You can see that she is not beautiful when she says things that are unkind. You can also see that you don't want to be like her. You'll feel motivated by a desire to say or do something nice—to help the other person suffer less. This means compassionate energy has been born in your heart. And when compassion appears, anger is deleted." 

We all get angry. 

Of course we do.

But then what?

Do we let it build until it explodes out of us and we say something we regret to someone dear to us?

Do we hold it deep inside until it festers, causing more harm to us than to the person who has angered us?

I certainly do both of those things. I try not to, but of course it happens.

So, what if I did something different?

What if, instead, I considered how the person who is angering me may be suffering?

And how to do that in a way that isn't condescending or judgmental?

I don't know if I know the answer, but I keep repeating these words in my mind, "When compassion appears, anger is deleted".

Does this resonate with you? Why or why not?

*Thich Nhat Hanh is the author of Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gender Wage GAP

This infographic was created by


This feels true because for me it is true. But why is it true? What is this really about? Will we ever resolve this?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Car to the Pool

Check out this amazing infographic, produced by about the environmental power of carpooling.


This is especially interesting to me right now because my car recently died, and we're trying to exist as a one-car family. Oh my. It is tough. The hardest part is that I only need a car a few times a week, and only for a few hours on a few days... which makes it difficult to justify replacing our gas guzzler with another gas guzzler. I'm considering just using a zipcar... but I need it for commuting, which doesn't necessarily make sense. 

Do you carpool? Do you ZIPcar? What are the pro-cons?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Quinn's Cookie Exchange: CHASTE by Angela Felsted

I'm happy to be celebrating the release of Angela Felsted's YA novel CHASTE by sharing a cookie recipe with YOU.

First things first, here's the cover and the blurb for Angela's debut novel.

When he steps into his physics class on the first day of senior year, Quinn Walker is too exhausted from staying up all night with his three-month-old nephew to deal with moral dilemmas. As a devout Mormon who has vowed to wait until marriage for sex, the last thing he needs is a very hot and very sexy Katarina Jackson as his physics partner. Regrettably, he has no choice.

Kat feels invisible in her mansion of a home six months after losing her older brother in a fatal car crash and will do anything to get her parents’ attention. Since her pastor father has no love for Quinn’s “fake” religion and her ex-boyfriend refuses to leave her alone, she makes an impulsive bet with her friends to seduce her holier-than-thou lab partner by Christmas.

Now, a recipe for my favorite holiday cookie OF ALL TIME.

It's from a cookbook written by my sister that's full of delicious recipes.  

Candy Cane Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 tablespoon red food coloring
1/2 cup crushed peppermint
1/2 cup sugar

Mix shortening, butter, sugar, egg, and extracts. Mix in flour and salt. 

Divide the dough and tint half red.  

Roll out thin ropes of white and red dough. Twist together in 4 inch long pieces and bend one end to form a candy cane shape. 

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for nine minutes.

Upon removing from the oven sprinkle with peppermint and sugar. 

As you can see in the photo my candy cane got gummy and didn't crack well (but my friend Cathy and I had a great time anyway and the kids LOVED these cookies). 

TRUST me... these cookies are fantastic!

I'm reading Chaste now and will write a full review when I'm done, but so far I'm loving it.  So often  YA deals in fantastical scenarios, and while I LOVE those as much as anyone, it's great to be reading a YA book about real honest-to-goodness issues that don't involve any mythical creatures or paranormal activities. It's a book about kids trying to figure out their own path as they deal with loss, challenges, and faith.   

Find CHASTE here and Angela's blog (with many other delicious cookie recipes in December) here

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christa Desir's Cover reveal for FAULT LINE

I'm SO THRILLED to be part of the group sharing the cover of Christa Desir's debut Fault Line.

(Wait for it)

I love it. It is simple, strong, and eye-catching.

Here's the blurb:
Ben could date anyone he wants, but he only has eyes for the new girl — sarcastic free-spirit, Ani. Luckily for Ben, Ani wants him too. She’s everything Ben could ever imagine. Everything he could ever want.

But that all changes after the party. The one Ben misses. The one Ani goes to alone.

Now Ani isn’t the girl she used to be, and Ben can’t sort out the truth from the lies. What really happened, and who is to blame?

Ben wants to help her, but she refuses to be helped. The more she pushes Ben away, the more he wonders if there’s anything he can do to save the girl he loves.

So, I'm DYING to read this... it comes out in November of 2013 (11.12.13... which has to be the coolest debut date ever). 

If you don't follow Christa's blog then I encourage you to do it. Her good humor, sincerity, and honesty shine through-- and she tackles the toughest of topics. Somehow she manages to run a bible study, write amazing books, raise a family, and volunteer with rape victims. And I just know that her book is going to be great.

I'm proud to know her. 

Here's Christa's blog and her twitter

What do you think of the cover? Share your thoughts in the comments.