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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Amelia Earhart Is Chillin' in Hawaii, So Say Philly Students

So I did a workshop at the University City Arts League yesterday with my youngest group of students ever (8-12 years old). And I was a little nervous because when I visited a third grade class last year hands went up after every fifth word I said (“Do you have pets?” “Do you like the Red Sox?”). But I’m happy to report that the group of Philadelphia students yesterday were creative, fun, engaged, and excellent young writers!

Now, my workshop centers on the class working together to create one story based on a nugget of truth from their own lives. So yesterday our story started off with one student’s suggestion that:

He’s “afraid to fly.”

But by the end of that story, our character (Joey, 13, from Philadelphia) had parents who died tragically on the planes on 9/11:

He has a grandmother he’s moving in with who lives in Hawaii and travels for business:

He survives a water landing on the way to Hawaii and has to swim to a deserted island:

Only to find the pilot badly injured and realize he has to fly the plane himself to his grandmother’s house:

Who just happens to be the long lost Amelia Earhart:

Helping him to get over his fear of flying and become an airplane crash inspector:

How great is that?

Thanks to the Philly Spells Writing Center for putting the workshop together. I couldn’t have asked for a more creative bunch of kids!

I’m so sick of the Yankees. I had the displeasure of living in Manhattan during the (I can barely say it) “Subway Series.” It was a miserable time to be a non-New Yorker in NY. Add to that, I went to school a few blocks from Fenway, and I’ve come to be one of those people who sees (ugh) Derek Jeter and cringes like something smells bad. That said, I’m so glad the Phillies won and put a few wrinkles in all the “predictions” going on in the sports world. As Rich Hofmann of the Philadelphia Daily News said:

“In the end, almost nobody [sports commentators] could see the most clutch team in recent Philadelphia memory pulling out the series…Such is the power of New York, of the Yankees, of the pinstripes. The history and the legacy are clear and unrivaled, and it is all true. But baseball isn't about history or legacy. It is about two teams in 2009 - because, you know, Babe Ruth is dead. Now the Phillies have the advantage and the Yankees are the team facing the pressure in Game 2.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Goodbye Toto! Goodbye Balloon Boy! My Trip in A Hot Air Balloon

So the day after Balloon Boy faked out the country and hid in his attic rather than floating dangerously in a balloon, my DH and I were scheduled to take a hot air balloon ride. No joke. It was our five-year anniversary and we were going to spend it cruising above the autumn leaves in Chester County, PA.

But alas, it rained in buckets, so we rescheduled. And you know what we got instead? A balloon ride this past Sunday on one of the prettiest October days you ever did see. It was warm. It was sunny. And the foliage was all orange and yellow. (It sounds like a cheesy sitcom, doesn’t it? The couple running off to look at foliage?)

Anyway, I thought I’d share my experiences floating around the air in a wicker basket. First, you get pretty high up there. At one point we were at 3,400 feet. We could see all the way from the farms of Chester County to the skyline of Philadelphia (about an hour and half away). We could even see to Ocean City, NJ at one point.

And oddly, you barely feel like you’re moving, just kind of hovering—on your feet, because you stand the whole time (about an hour). And the balloon really does shoot flames, like big hot flames (think dragon breath and that’s what it looked like).

There’s also, surprisingly, competition in the balloon industry. When we were up there, we saw three other hot air balloons cruising, all fighting for market share. Some balloons even have advertising on them.

And finally, but most strange in my opinion, you land randomly in some stranger’s backyard. Yup, the pilot just picks a stretch of grass and plunks the balloon down. Then the entire neighborhood comes out with their kids to greet you.

So I think our hot air balloon ride now makes us officially as cool as:

The cast of Police Academy 4

And the cartoon guys in Up

And... wait for it... the Muppets! How awesome is that?

And of course, Dorothy & Co. in the Wizard of Oz. One of our fellow ballooners even yelled “Goodbye Toto! Goodbye Oz!” as we took off. Too cute.

So if you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it. Just don’t spend all day watching balloon boy coverage before you do. Because it’s way cooler (and less dramatic) than CNN made it seem.

POP CULTURE RANT: NJ Governor’s Race
I don’t even live in NJ, and I’m getting sick of these commercials. But I have to say that the latest one claiming that if Chris Christie is in office women will no longer have mammograms covered by health insurance is kind of alarming (disgusting?). And the sad thing is, Factcheck.org doesn’t completely dispute it. Now I’m not taking sides here. I don’t even live in the state and thus can’t vote, but I would think that in this point in history it’s not too popular to be giving more power to health insurance companies. And given that it’s breast cancer awareness month, and that my mother is a breast cancer survivor, I really hope Christie doesn’t plan to do anything that would even remotely limit a single woman’s access to a mammogram.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Crack Open A YA Novel and Celebrate Teen Read Week

This week (Oct. 18th – 33rd) is Teen Read Week! What, you didn’t know? Let me explain. YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, takes this week every year to try to draw teens away from their Nintendo DS and iPods and toward fun, awesome, page-turning YA novels.

To help bring attention to their efforts, ReaderGirlz has called on authors to blog about cool teen books. Clearly, I know a bit about this. And I’m proud to say that in the past couple years, I’ve gotten lots of adult friends and family members to crack open YA novels (and not only Twilight!).

So I thought I’d bring to light some of the young adult novels currently in my to-be-read pile. Obviously, since I haven’t read them, I can’t give too much of a review. But this will give you a glimpse into what YA novels got this author to hand over her cold hard cash. So here it is:

My Teen To-Be-Read Pile (in no particular order):

1. Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins. This is the sequel to Hunger Games, which I psychotically loved. It will probably be the next book I dive into.

2. Cuba 15, Nancy Osa. This book is sometimes compared to Amor and Summer Secrets in a “fans of this will like that” sort of way. So I’m curious to read another multicultural teen story.

3. Prophecy of the Sisters, Michelle Zink. Before I was published, I hung out on a site called Writers Net. And I remember Michelle being on there when we were both querying for agents. So I’m excited to read her novel.

4. The Naughty List, Suzanne Young. This is actually an Advanced Reader Copy that Suz (a new GCC member) was nice enough to send me. It’s about girls who spy on classmates’ cheating boyfriends, how cute is that?

5. Jars of Glass, Brad Barkley & Heather Hepler. I met Brad at the Baltimore Book Festival last year and he was incredibly nice. I’ve never written with a partner so I’m curious how he and Heather put this together.

6. Keeping the Moon
, Sarah Dessen. She’s one of the YA queens of realistic fiction with a great writing voice.

So that’s it. I hope it gives you some intriguing teen reading ideas. Now go out and buy books, lots and lots of books!

Did you guys see the one where Nate Berkus, design extraordinaire, shows up at a lady’s house and doesn’t makeover a room? Seriously. He just showed up to take her kids to school and give her a few hours off to get a pedicure. Um, Nate, you’re cute and all but people sort of expect paint swatches from you. You know this woman had to be thinking, “I’m going to come home to a whole new master suite!” And instead she got a few hours to herself and a rearranged closet. She should put that on a T shirt, “I was on Oprah and All Nate Gave Me Was An Organized Closet.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oh, My Holy Screamfest! Wow, That Was Scary

Okay, so I followed the hype. I couldn’t stand “Paranormal Activity” being a trending topic on Twitter for the past umpteen weeks and having no idea what anyone was talking about. So I Googled and discovered it’s this low-budget, Blair-Witch-esque scary movie that supposedly gave Steven Spielberg nightmares.

And since it rained all weekend, thus negating my previously awesome five-year anniversary plans (we were gonna go on a hot air balloon ride the day after the Balloon Boy story), we instead went to Eastern State Penitentiary’s “Terror Behind the Walls” and to see Paranormal Activity. Oddly, the movie was scarier than the haunted prison (the haunted prison!)

Not to say Eastern State isn’t awesome (it sooo is), but I’d been there before and taken the non-haunted tour, so I was well prepared. But for Paranormal, I was not.

I purposely didn’t watch more than five seconds of the trailer, and I highly recommend this tactic if you want to be shrieking like a crazy person in your seat. I’m not exaggerating. The audience in Philadelphia was almost as entertaining as the movie. Everyone was screaming so loud that toward the end when I shouted, “What is he doing?” no one noticed because they were all screaming louder.

It was that scary. And if you don’t believe me, listen to this audience reaction someone recorded in Seattle. (There are no spoilers here, just sounds from the crowd… and listen to the end.)

Yeah, I sounded something like that.

No joke. I was so freaked I couldn't return to our 175-year-old house. I made the DH stay and get a drink at the bar first (yes, our awesome city movie theater has a bar attached). And then we came home and I had to watch SNL just to shake off the willies before getting in...that bed. Shivers.

Really, if I lived alone, God help me.

So go see this movie if you're looking for a good Halloween screamfest. Also, to its credit, it's actually quite witty, great dialogue. Go writers!

But don’t watch the trailers! It will totally spoil the movie. Trust me…if you dare. Ooooohhhhhh!

They’re back in the run for the World Series! I’m psyching myself up for this. I really want them to win. But the problem with a city that goes that long without a championship is that when we finally got one, we went ALL out. I danced down Broad St., popped champagne on South St., marched with the parade all the way from my house to the stadium. It was a celebration! And…I’m not that greedy. I mean, I want them to win, it’s great for the city, the fans deserve it, yadda yadda. But I’m so used to rooting for the underdog that a repeat almost seems unnatural. So here’s to the Phillies hopefully turning me into a fan that expects championships from my city, rather than one who’s shocked by them. Go team!

Monday, October 12, 2009

House Sales, Eagles Games, and A Wedding Anniversary

Okay, I’m not supposed to say anything because, you know, things can still fall through, inspections can go wrong, locusts could swarm in, yadda yadda. But I prefer not to live in a Debbie Downer kinda world so I’m just gonna come out and say it….We Sold Our House!! Yay!

Technically, we just accepted an offer. But we signed legal-looking paper work and canceled an open house, thus making us officially “under contract.” This is Phase I of what appears to be a million-phase plan that gets you to settlement. Phase II is the home inspection, which should be in the next week or so. And many of the other phases involve the buyers coming up with a mortgage and, you know, money.

But after nearly four weeks of showings, and showings, and showings. And cleaning, and cleaning, and cleaning. “Under contract” are now my favorite two words ever. This means we don’t need to keep our kitchen or patio tables perpetually set with fresh flowers and place settings for four as if a dinner party might miraculously spring up at any moment. And our coffeemaker can go back on the counter. And our bathmats can come out of the closet. And our hand soap can return to the edge of our sinks.

Ah, the freedom from staging. It just makes me want to throw my wet towel on the floor and not make the bed.

And instead of shining every surface of our home to prepare it for an open house yesterday, we got to go to the Eagles Game! And they won! And the weather was about as nice as a football fan could hope for, even if our seats were a little chilly in the shade. And by “shade” I mean we were in the last row of the entire stadium, next to the concrete wall, with a better view of 95 than of the field. But that’s neither here nor there, it was still awesome. And did I mention they won?

Plus, the game marked the first activity of our Action-Packed Anniversary Week. Hard to believe but the DH and I are celebrating five years of wedded bliss. And we’ve got lots of fun stuff planned from haunted prisons to balloon rides to martinis in Manhattan. I’ll be sure to post lots of pictures. Stay tuned!

POP CULTURE RANT: General Hospital
I think people have lost the right to make fun of me for watching this show since James Franco has joined the cast. Yup, you read right. James Franco, the bad guy from Spider-Man, the stoner from Pineapple Express, the serious actor in Oscar-nominated Milk, will be joining GH. He’s doing a two-month arc during sweeps, and according to reports he was the one who approached GH. And I think it’s awesome. I can’t wait to watch. And that’s not all, the original Lucky, Jonathan Jackson, is returning this month to reprise his roll. Man, it’s a good time to be a soap fan.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Getting Kicked Out of My House By Strangers, Sort Of

Lately, I’ve become an expert at finding “things to do” for short bursts of time. This isn’t by choice. It’s not like I was going around looking for a hobby or anything. But somehow my work-from-home, build-my-own-schedule lifestyle has been co-opted by a bunch of would-be homebuyers.

Yeah, yeah, I know I’m the one who put my house on the market (well, my DH and myself). And I should be thrilled by all the traffic. The economy is slow! The housing market is tough! And that’s true. I get it, I do. But after three weeks, it feels like half the tri-state area has traipsed through our place in their black scuff-inducing dress shoes (nine showings this weekend alone). And every time one of these homebuyers wants to take a peek, I have to hit the road. Sometimes three times in one day.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Why don’t you just leave for the whole day?” Well, it’s not so easy on a work day. It’s not like I’ve got an office to go to. And there’s only so much coffee one can consume.

So I’ve decided to compile a list of the places I’ve gone during work days when kicked out of my house for the sake of real estate. Here goes:

My Things To Do When I Can’t Go Home

1. Starbucks -vs- Philly Java. I refuse to let myself purchase more than one coffee in a single day. Surprisingly, Starbucks is cheaper than the local joint. However, Philly Java has free Internet access. It’s a toss up, but they’ve both made enough money from me in the last couple weeks to warrant me a Christmas card come the holiday season.

2. The gym. Seems like a logical choice. I go there anyway, why not time my workouts to home showings? Great in theory, and it works sometimes. But on days when you have two consecutive showings that go ridiculously long, even I can struggle to fill an hour and forty-five-minutes of workout festivities.

3. CVS. I’m ashamed to admit it, but yes, I will plant myself in their magazine aisle like it’s the free library and read the mags until my house is clear. I’ve never been so updated on celebrity gossip (what’s up with Letterman?).

4. Read outside. Great for daytime showings.

5. A walk. I always heard of people “going for walks” to “clear their heads.” But I find it’s kinda lonely to walk around the city aimlessly with no destination. Not a fan.

6. Hairdresser.
I only go once every three months, but hey for that one time, it was nice to have a concrete plan.

7. Book store. The one by my house is crazy tiny, but there’s no time limit on how long I can peruse their YA shelves. I’ve become a squatter.

So that’s it. The new interrupted daily schedule of a stay-at-home writer. And that doesn’t even include weekend activities—though this weekend we’ll be at the Eagles game during an open house. Whoo hoo! Now that’s quality time suckage.

I think the world, collectively, needs to stop caring about this marriage. First, I can’t stand to see Kate’s haircut on one more magazine cover (you know it’s gonna be the hot Halloween costume). Second, Jon’s love life is just sad. These twits are dating him to get in the headlines, and the news keeps reporting on them thus perpetuating the problem. We need to break the cycle! We got Octomom out of the news (relatively), so let’s dump the Gosslins, folks. It’s time for America to divorce them.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

How Good Books Get Banned By Good People

So as many in the publishing industry know, this is Banned Books Week (Sept. 26-Oct. 3). And while typically bloggers and news outlets focus on the books that have been banned—everything from Judy Blume to Catcher in the Rye to Little Women—I’d like to focus on something else. Actually, someone else. The book banners. Because they’re not who you think.

I suspect that many in the literary community tend to think of book banners as these evil beings with Freddy Krueger nails and Zippo lighters. And while some may fit that description (who knows?), I think most of them look like the guy sitting in the cubicle next to you. And he might be a nice person. He didn’t go from book lover to fire-starter overnight. I bet the shift was subtle, stretched over years (maybe decades), until one day he saw his kid’s reading list and snapped. And instead of just monitoring what his own kid was reading, he decided it was his job to monitor the reading for all kids. He got out the torch.

And I’d like to talk about the first step into book burning craziness.

Not long ago, I was speaking to a couple of young parents. They are both highly educated (multiple graduate degrees), liberals, and one even works in the realm of education. They were talking to me about how horrified they were about the young adult literature they recently saw stocked at their local bookstore.

“There was all this stuff about ‘summer hook ups’ and drugs, and rape, and sex. We were shocked. They didn’t sound appropriate for teens. Who decides this is okay? What happened to books?”

I explained that YA spans the spectrum, you’ve got your squeaky clean authors like Meg Cabot (Princess Diaries) and then you’ve got your more risqué authors like Cecily Von Ziegesar (Gossip Girl). There’s even an entire section called “trauma porn” that’s all about teens dealing with catastrophic events (think Hunger Games or If I Stay). But you’ve also got your Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series and your Sarah Dessen novels to even it out.

Still, I could see that look in their eye, that implication that something had gone “wrong” with publishing. That this needs to “change.” And if they simply apply that belief to monitoring their own child’s reading, then fine. That’s a parent’s job. But I feel like I got a glimpse into what could lead a person down that slippery slope—that first step to where “this needs to change” becomes ”this needs to stop.”

So remember people, this week of all weeks, that books are fun, and tragic, and scary. And teens are smart enough to enjoy them and appreciate them as entertainment. I know I was smart enough at that age. Weren’t you?

When did the world decide it only watches television on Thursdays? Did I miss that memo? Because if you look at my DVR, I’ve got nothing going on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, then suddenly everything I have ever wanted to watch is scheduled on Thursday night. My DVR can only do so much, folks. Grey’s Anatomy, Fringe, and The Office. That’s one too many. And you know which one gets the ax? The one that’s free on Hulu.com. Sorry, Steve Carell, but I’ll be watching you on the net until these conflicts are resolved.

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