Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Resolutions, Why Do I Delude Myself So?

Still reeling in Christmas haze, I am spending the week puttering around the house trying to avoid my
self-imposed re-write deadline of New Year's Eve.  Three weeks ago, I went so far as to email my agent that I would have my manuscript completed by then...that move was dumb and dumber.

There's a ceiling to paint and a room to paint, too.  I really should get around to finally refinishing those stairs.  The slate in the kitchen needs to be replaced, and I've talked about building a pantry for years.  Good thing I can't find my tools.  For details on my tool dilemma, please read blog post May, 2010:

As far as the novel goes, I have left my antagonist standing in the middle of a cornfield as I type, resembling one of those stranded video game characters my son leaves on the screen when he ditches to grab a snack or go to the bathroom.  The video game persona folds his arms, taps his feet, waiting impatiently for the game controller to kick back in.  Maybe ignoring my antagonist for a little longer will add to his less-than-charming disposition?

I'm in avoidance mode.  No doubt about it.  The week before New Year's Day tends to amplify my inadequacies and weigh me down like Marley's chains (had to sneak a Scrooge reference in somehow). Maybe it's all those "Year in Review" shows that pelt us this week. Half of the events they show have me scratching my head asking, "Did that guy flying the plane into the IRS building really happen this year?  Seems like it was a few years ago."  This only adds to my sly suspicion that my memory is fading faster than anticipated, thus adding several more links to Marley's chain.  You get the picture.

So our reflection on our weaknesses and broken resolutions from the previous year build as the week progresses, thus pressuring us to make new resolutions to change our lives.

Last year I refused.  Maybe this year I'll give in a little.

Let's about...finish this blog post?

No, that's a lot to ask.  I might be reaching a bit, maybe I should start small.

Coffee, I need some coffee.

Resolution #1:  Brew a pot of coffee.  Regular or Hazelnut?  Oh, wait a minute, I wonder if we still have filters?  We were running rather low last time I checked.  Apparently I need to rethink things.

Revised Resolution #1:  Purchase filters for the coffee maker.  Brown or white?  I've never understood the difference between the brown and white filters sold in stores.  Maybe the brown filters are made from recycled materials and more environmentally friendly?  Or maybe the white filters are recycled.  Hmmmm.

New Resolution #1:  Research the difference between brown and white coffee filters.  Okay, not cool. After extensive research (Google), I am now freaked out about about both the brown and white coffee filters.  The brown filters are more environmentally friendly, but as one blogger writes, the brown filters are unbleached and might retain the remnants of warehouse vermin (rat blog), and another blogger writes the white filters are bleached (oxygenated) and might be exposing us to dioxins (poison blog).  This leaves me with the only logical solution, 23 kt gold filters, the Rolls Royce in safety and design (Ritzy blog).

Brand New, Better-than-Ever Resolution #1: Purchase a 23 kt gold coffee filter.  I surfed to the Bunn website.  It doesn't sell a 23 kt gold filter.

I hate New Year's Resolutions.

I'm going to Dunkin' Donuts for a rat pellet, dioxin-filled cup of coffee.  Hazelnut.

See ya next year.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, Where's My Albuterol Inhaler?

It's the most wonderful time of the year, and I as I pulled into the driveway after a hectic day at the 'ol Academy, I saw that a package had been dropped at our doorstep.  73 pounds of something, in a large, elongated cardboard box, and blocking the front doorway.

But what to my wondrous eyes could it be? I wondered, redundantly, stooping to take a closer look.

Why, it was an artificial Christmas tree.

And as I dragged the hefty box inside and down the stairs, settling in to unpack the festive limbs, I realized that this was no ordinary artificial tree.  Uh-uh.  This was a replica 6.5' Norway Spruce with 5,280 tip points and 600 color and clear lights, complete with a remote control with the option of snapping on color, clear, or both color and clear lights at the same time!

I re-heated some coffee and set to work bending and shaping the branches, donning the white gloves generously included in the box. When it was finished, we gathered around the tree, alternately taking turns clicking the remote.  Color, clear, both...color, clear both.  Ah, Christmas in the 21st Century.

It wasn't until later that night when it finally hit me.  The purchase of this artificial Christmas tree signaled the death knell of a time honored family tradition, sawing down a live tree.

Though, as I recall, our first such family endeavor wasn't exactly a Norman Rockwell moment.

(Insert Rod Serling Twilight Zone music here)

Picture, if you will, a pristine winter day, fifteen years ago.  Location:  Allen Hill Tree Farm, Brooklyn, CT.  On a whim, the family and I wheeled into the parking lot of the local tree farm, bent on selecting the perfect yuletide tree.

The temperature hovered near freezing, a bright December sky with traces of snow lingering in the air from the fresh coating that fell the night before.  The fields were dotted with people ducking in and out of lines of trees crisscrossing the landscape.  My stepsons, Michael, age 9, and Matthew, age 4, set off with their mother down the dirt path while I secured a tree cart and wood saw.

It took a bit of effort to catch up with them, but I managed, shuffling along the slushy road, the cart dragging behind, the cold air pressing in on my tightening lungs.

"This one!" shouted Michael.

"No, bigger!" yelled Matt.

The kids were flying in out of trees at breakneck speed. 

"Mike, Matt, be careful, there are other people out here," said my wife, Beth.

And indeed, we were convening on a popular spot.  To my right, a family of five had circled around a tree.  They looked resplendent in LL Bean wear, the children in matching scarves and fluffy ear muffs.  The father was sizing up an 8 foot spruce, while the mother was dispensing a Thermos of hot chocolate in mugs clutched in tiny mittened hands. 

Beth sidled in close to me, nodding toward the Christmas scene unfolding before our eyes. "Look at that.  Isn't it nice?"

I coughed.

The father asked the family if this was "the one." They answered in perfect unison, "Yes, Daddy, yes."  The family encircled the tree, and then began singing Silent Night, while the father knelt down, gracefully wielding the saw, and within six passes of the blade, the tree silently fell to earth, nestling into the snow.  As if on cue, a tractor appeared, towing a trailer of trees and more singing LL Bean families, rosy-cheeked and swilling cider and cocoa.

 "Got room for you," said the tractor guy, dressed as Father Christmas.  He hopped off the John Deere and helped the father wrestle the tree onto the trailer.  The family climbed aboard and off they went, tractor, trees, cocoa. Up the road and out of sight.

We were left alone.

I coughed again, redundantly.

Mike and Matt reemerged.  "Found one!" Mike announced.

Beth and I followed the boys through a maze of trees and ended up standing  in front of a stout 6 footer, round and full.  Beth circled it.

I coughed. 

"This one's not too bad," she said.

"What do you think boys?" I asked, testing a sharp tooth of the saw.  My numb thumb began to bleed.

The boys started whipping pine cones at each other.

"Wanna get in a circle, around the tree?"  I asked.

A pine cone whizzed at my nose.

"Sing a carol or two?"

The boys began wrestling as another family emerged with a perfect tree.  Tractor number two arrived.  This one driven by a plump elf.  Everyone dressed in flannel, festive hats, smiling.  Everyone was singing.  The tractor drove off.

I turned back to Beth just in time to see Matt, dressed in torn jeans and a ragged sweatshirt, take a header into the only mud puddle visible for 9 acres.  The kid was covered in brown muck.  Suddenly, the sun sank 10,000 miles and a strong chilly breeze kicked up.  I decided to take matters into my own hands and knelt to cut the tree.  The branches were thick and low to the ground.  I crawled beneath, pulling in close to the trunk and raking the saw against the base of the pine, but couldn't maneuver my body at the right angle to extend my arms to effectively cut it.

Beth and Mike were attempting to retrieve a sobbing Matthew from the puddle.  Through the branches I could see him, resembling more of a mud-fudge popsicle than a crying little boy.

I struggled to get the saw going.  I could feel my chest tightening, the coughing jags increasing.  Five minutes of sawing and I was only a quarter of the way through.  Beth and the boys stood nearby now, slowly inching closer.

I started wheezing.

"How's it going, honey?"

"I'm c-c-c-o-l-d," chattered Matt.

"This sucks," said Mike.  "I want some hot chocolate.  What's taking so long?"

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  Ten minutes of sawing and I was only halfway through the tree.

It was at this point that I started to notice the stares.  You know, the ones from onlookers who sort of want to lend a hand, but don't want to infringe.  They stand off to the side, with that "no I'm not really paying attention to your sawing inadequacies, but I am looking at you with that rubber-necking car crash stare."

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  "What the hell," I yelled.  "Is this a pine or oak for Chrissakes!"

"Ah, honey?"  Beth asked.

"@#$^%!!!! tree!"  Cough, wheeze, cough, wheeze.

"Say, Mister, I gotta chainsaw in my truck," a man finally offered.

Zhee-Zhee-Zhee-Zhee.  My lungs locked into a spasm.  "%^^%$!!!  You're mine now, tree!!!!  Yeah!!! Going down, sucker!!!!"

"Mommy, why is that man screaming at the Christmas tree?" a little girl asked.

Zhee, Zhee, Zhee, Zhee.... "Yeah! You dirtly little mutha!"

The tree tumbled down, and I pulled myself into a kneeling position, a predatory grin crossing my frozen face.

The two families standing nearby slowly edged away, mothers holding their little ones in close.

I turned to see my family gawking, staring silently at the wheezing lumberjack hacking up snowball-sized phlegm before them.

"Good job, Pop," Mike finally said.

Tired, cold, wheezing, and on the verge of vomiting, I dragged the tree to the edge of the road waiting for the arrival of Father Christmas or that fat little Elf on his John Deere.

They never came.

                                      The fake tree.                    circa 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

Censorship is Alive and Well in School

It's a miracle that I'm able to write this entry right now, and not because of my recent battle with writer's block, mind you, no, it's a miracle that I can write electronically and post this entry because of the network filter in place at the high school where I teach.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, censorship is alive and well in our high school.  The network filter is sifting out undesirable sites and topics as I type to you now.  Big Brother is watching me (and you).  Thank Ford, because we certainly can't be trusted to go to appropriate sites.  Certainly not sites to read articles about the Holocaust (blocked) or find pictures from the Civil Rights march (blocked) or read an author's blog (blocked) to learn more about her writing. 

No biggie. I'll just assign that webquest for homework.

After all, we're preparing our students for what they will experience at college.  The same frustration searching for research information blocked by network filters and trying to work around restrictions when searching images...what's that you say?  There are no filters at college?  It's free and clear?  No constraints?

Thank Ford we're teaching our students repsonsibility now by censoring their computer search habits.

At least teachers are allowed to override the constraints and still access meaningful material normally blocked by the network, um.  Not.

Breathe,, two, three, four, yes, count with me, five, six, seven, eight...that's better, isn't it?

How can one expect to teach students responsibility when one does not allow the students the freedom to choose wisely?

I'd show you a great video on that topic, but YouTube is blocked.  I can't override it either. 

I can show you when I get home.

Now pass the Soma.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2.97-- 2.98--, this just in...2.99

What is up with the undulating gas prices?

I only ask because yesterday on the way to pick up groceries at the local Big Y, the Mobil station on Rte. 6 posted unleaded regular at 2.95.  On the ride back from shopping, it was 2.99.  In the span of an hour the price had jumped .04 a gallon. 

What gives?

As a youngster, I remember gas prices firmly sculpted in stone.  When I write "firmly sculpted in stone," I mean literal concrete signs.  Brick and mortar numerals.  Cavemen crawled out of their caves to make them BC comic strip style.  Stone chisel tools, pounding away producing shards of limestone scattered at the base of the sign.  $1.79.  Bank on it.

I remember prices being so steady that you could actually budget your weekly teenaged allowance around them, sometimes even splurging for the more trendy Premium or Super Unleaded (purchased to impress the girl riding shotgun).

"That's right baby, only the expensive stuff when I'm driving you around town."  Of course, the fact that I droves a 1972 Datsun pick-up truck did little to mask the extra few cents a gallon.

Back to the point.  Steady prices.  Low prices.  Dependable numbers.  Unmoving.

Now, some gas station signs are digitized.  Changing with the punch of a button.  It's like watching the stock market crawl at the bottom of the cable business channel.

"Gotta time pulling to the pump just right, Henry.  Now, now!!!!"

"What's that, Emma?"

"Geez, look at that!  You hesitated and that Prius cut in front of you.  The price just jumped 2 cents a gallon!  You're a loser, Henry!  A loser!  Why I ever married you is beyond me.   Holy Smoley!  It jumped another penny, get yer butt in gear, Henry!"

I ask you, how many more marriages are now in peril like poor Emma and Henry?  All because of jumping gas prices.

I have a theory regarding the roller coaster, minute-by-minute jump and dip in prices-

**It's tied to the number of Snowball snack cakes sold nationally per hour.

On a side note, it rather irks me that the use of my debit card is treated as a credit card at some pumps, and cash at others, with as much as a 10 cent increase for using it instead of cash.  And this little bit of news is never posted outright.  You usually find out right after you've swiped the card.

Okay, that's it, I'm done venting on the volatility of gas prices in northeastern Connecticut.

** Note, the theory that the purchase of Snowball snack cakes is tied to the increase/decrease of gas prices is just a theory, and in no way based on scientific fact, other than the odd coincidence that the author's cravings of said product, followed by purchase of aforementioned snack cake is somehow inversely proportional to the ratio of observed increase/decrease of gas prices at Shell, Mobil, and BP stations in the greater Plainfield, CT area.

Snowball snack cakes are sooooo gooood!

But only in moderation.

Like buying gas.

But not having it.

Gas, that is.

That's bad.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

And The $50,000 goes to...

the fastest texter in the country.

I intended to write a lengthy post on the state of society, and texting, and kids, and members of society giving money to kids for texting, but then became so depressed about the topic that I popped a couple of aspirin and went to bed.

So, the texting thing is old news by now.

I also entertained the idea of starting to train for next year's texting competition.  I don't text much.  Don't have an unlimited texting plan.  I think every time a friend sends me a text and I respond I get hit with a 20 cent fee.  I probably shouldn't own a Blackberry just for that reason.  It's overkill.  I check the Sox scores, scroll through email, use the calendar feature (barely), and once in a while place a call for pizza on the ride home.

I'm a digital immigrant.

So, texting...well, I'm up to nine words a minute.  It's really not a dexterity issue, I assure you.  It's more to do with repeatedly pausing to push my glasses back up on the bridge of my nose.  My eyes tend to water staring down at the tiny keys, fingers nimbly flying over the wrong letter.  I'm wearing out the backspace button.

I'm also trying to get the lingo down, too, to help expedite the texting process.

rofl:  rolling on floor laughing

lmao:  laughing my a$$ off

ttyl:  talk to you later

mctikm:  my carpal tunnel is killing me

Etc, etc, etc.

I wonder about our kids.

Between texting 13,000 messages a month, carrying backpacks that weigh 40 pounds, and sucking down Monster energy drinks, most members of our younger generation appear destined to become hyped-up cripples with lobster claws for hands.

Not a pretty picture at the old folks home.

Right now I'm pecking away (two-finger style) at my laptop.  No paper, no pen.  Just keys and a screen.

When I was a kid, I would sit in the backyard writing with a pen in a notebook.  I could spend hours writing stories and tales, incorporating the sights and sounds around me.

Do kids even know what that's like anymore?  Is it possible that in the not so distant future we may be looking at a generation that never holds a book?  Never composes a written piece on paper?  Never grips a pencil, licks the tip, and pours out their mind at a frenzied pace on a pile of white-lined paper, scrawling it out all in cursive replete with crossouts and arrows and circles?

Is that a bad thing?  A good thing?  Is it progress?

And if so, at what cost?  $50,000 for speed texting?  Really?  Give me a pen, a notebook, and slow cursive any time.

I think I'm going to take two aspirin and call it a night.

ttyl.  :)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

*)%$#@! It's Almost September 1

I'm in a coma. At least that's my latest excuse.  From the end of June until now my body's gone through the motions, but the mind has been elsewhere, at least when it comes to fulfilling my self-imposed writing goals for the summer.

I hate when this happens.  I used to be so good about deadlines, you know?

September 1 was rewrite goal deadline.  Have the manuscript done by then so my agent could package it and resubmit to the guys and gals in NY.  Had all summer, but fell into that dangerous avoidance mode.

The question is why?

I know where I want the story to go.  The words just haven't been there.  The enthusiasm that embraced me when the original story poured out--poof.

I need to get back to the heart of things.  Kind of like when an aging Rocky returns to his "beginning" and starts running through the streets of Philadelphia and up the concrete steps to victory, clenched fists raised to the sky.  I'm not drinking the raw eggs, though.  Nope.  Gotta draw the line there, especially in light of the massive recall.

So, why the avoidance mode?  Maybe it's facing rejection again.  It's been three years.  Had some close calls (et tu, Little Brown), maybe it's the underlying fear of going through the waiting game all over again.  The market's rough.

A dear friend of mine passed along an interesting article from Newsweek about authors that have self-published.  One gentlemen uploaded his novel to Amazon Kindle, selling his book for $2.99 and the money came pouring in streams.  Publishing the traditional way usually nets an author 8-9%.  Self-publishing yields 70-80%.


But there's the marketing aspect to consider.  One needs to have a platform and build a base.  Not to mention the stigma still associated with self-publishing and the vanity press.  Though, it would appear to be diminishing as some self-published books have been picked up by major publishers after demonstrating success in the market.

So, one more push going the traditional route.  Then time to regroup, rethink.

Right now, I need to write.

I'd don some sweats and go for a run, but it's raining.

And guys in comas shouldn't exert themselves.  It's on WebMD.  Look it up.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Go Ahead, Make My Day

For five minutes, this past Tuesday, while innocently sitting in on job interviews for a position in the English department, I was wanted by the police.

That's right.  A fugitive.  Here's the story.  The names have not been changed to protect the guilty.

It began as an ordinary day.  We had already interviewed a couple prospective teachers, and were in the midst of questioning another, when I noticed my Blackberry (set to quiet, of course) jump to life.  The first time it went off, the number registered from home. No big deal, I thought, probably my wife, Beth, checking to see how things were going.  Within a minute of that call, the tiny screen flashed a second call, this time from Beth's cell.  Something was up.

So, between candidates, I ducked out in the hall and called.
She answered, breathless.

"Someone's in the house!"


"I turned on my cell phone and there was a voice mail.  Some guy with a creepy voice saying he was in the house! I grabbed the dogs, jumped in the van and called my mom."

I stood in the dark hall dumbfounded. "Someone's in the house?"


 It took a second for my wife's words to register, and being married to her for fourteen years I responded in a manner customary of someone married to another person that long.  I burst out laughing.

"What?!  It's not funny!"

I laughed so hard my eyes teared. As the kids would text:  LMAO.  ROFL.  It took several seconds to gather enough breath to respond.  "Beth, that's me."


"That's me on the voice mail."

"What?!" she repeated.

"Don't you remember at the restaurant yesterday?  We wanted to see if your phone was working okay?  I was sitting right across from you and called your cell, left a message on your voice mail:  'I'm in the house!'"

Pregnant pause.

"Oh my God," she finally said.

"Yeah, now do you remember?"

"I think so.  I wasn't really listening to you."

"Weren't listening to me?'

"Well, no, I mean, you know--  Oh no."


"I called the state police.  They're on the way."

"You called the cops?"

"Yes, my mom told me to get out of the house and call the police!"

"Your mom told you to call the cops on me?"  Obviously the mother-in-law/son-in-law relationship had taken a turn for the worse.

"She didn't know it was you!"

"Yeah, but--"  The next candidate was entering the room.

"I gotta go," she said.  The connection went dead.

So, I returned to the room, smiling and shaking the candidate's hand, and I sat through the questioning while my head swirled with images of Dirty Harry bursting into the room, .44 Magnum drawn, staring me down.

Feeling lucky, punk?

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


It's been a while since I've written here.

Truth be told, it's been a while since I've written anywhere.

To update the last couple months, my agent put me in touch with an independent editor that read the manuscript. I spent 45 minutes on the phone hearing his comments and suggestions, all the while playing back the other comments I received from the publishing houses.

All of the advice I have received is different.

I'm so confused where to take the novel.  It's been a down few months. The market is getting worse.  The publishing houses more selective than ever, and everyone is telling me to turn in a different direction.

So, I hung up the phone facing the task of rewriting the novel for the summer.

Since the phone call, I've spent hours poring through the manuscript seeing where to cut, where to add.

I've come to the realization that slight tweaks here and there aren't going to do it.

Surgery is needed.

Major surgery.

So, for the last few weeks I've been in a mental trance trying to summon some inspiration, some light to illuminate where I can unearth the real story behind my story.  Nothing. Nada.

Until the other morning.  I awoke with the words on the tip of my mind.  I had traveled to that magical place where writers sometimes go, the one between half-sleep, half-awake.  A new character was born.  Inserted in just the right spot of the storyline.  A new thread in the tapestry, yadda, cliche, yadda.

I'm letting the characters take control.  Letting them change the story.

So, suddenly, in the last few days I find that I'm through chapter five.

The Mist, redux.

We'll see where this goes.



Saturday, May 8, 2010

Truth is Stranger than Fiction, or Ice, Ice, Baby

My wife has told me on a number of occasions that I should consider putting aside my YA fiction for a while and write a book about life as a step-parent.  She usually makes this suggestion when I've walked into the house, head wagging side-to-side in utter dismay, disgust, confusion...(fill-in-the-blank to describe today's facial expression).  This head shaking is usually followed by a punctuated sigh. 

I'm a loud "sigher." Even the poodles, napping prone on the living room floor will lift their heads when I sigh.  It's kind of like the ominous clouds in the distance just before the first crack of thunder, or the sound of the phone chirping to life at 3AM.  You know what follows is not going to be good, and my wife, bless her heart, braces herself to play referee between my rants on the latest catastrophe and her explaining away the actions of our two older boys.  It's not always bad, mind you, just a bit of a mystery to me.

My tools, for instance, disappear on a regular basis.  I've filed many Missing Tool Reports at Sears.  You have to wait the required 72 hours, but there are forms you can fill out in the hopes that your tools will be recovered.  I'm on a first name basis with many of the Investigative Officers at Craftsman Headquarters, Missing Tools Division. All of my investigations are still ongoing, but I remain hopeful.  Sometimes, when I'm outside walking around the property or mowing the lawn, I'll come across a stray socket or screwdriver, usually rusted and worn away by the elements.  Cast offs left to fend for themselves, separated from their tool box or comfortable hook in the garage...they died horrible deaths, abandoned and alone.  I question the two older boys.  But they have no knowledge of how these tools could have ended up where they did.

Then there's the rake homicide that occurred yesterday, some time between 10:15 AM and 2:45 PM (according to the attending coroner).  The rake was found three feet away from the overturned wheel barrow.  Photos of the crime scene reveal extreme blunt trauma to the rake as illustrated by the eight inch crack across the plastic portion above the rake's tines.  In addition, the handle was completely severed in two.  Questioning of stepson number two, reported to be in the area during the estimated time of death, revealed no conclusive evidence of foul play.

 "It just broke," he said. 
"Just broke?" I repeated, holding the pieces in my hand.
The homicide remains under investigation.

And finally, this brings us to the older boy.  He arrived for a visit with his new acquisition, a 1995 Ford Mustang.   He pulled into the driveway, jumped out of the car and popped the hood.  Still confused and rattled about the death of my rake, I hardly noticed as he walked by me toward the house muttering that he needed to get ice.  I went into the carriage shed to find my shovel so that I could bury the rake.  When I re-emerged into the light, the older boy was coming from the house, cradling three large ice packs.  My mouth dropped and I stood in a stupor as I watched him placing the ice on top of the car's engine (see picture below).

"What?" he asked me. 
I shook my head. 
"No, there's a reason I'm doing this, Pop." 
"I need to get a picture of this."
"For the blog.  I need evidence or no one will believe me."
"No, wait, there's an explanation.  See, the O2 sensor that controls the mixture--"
But his words trailed off...
After I buried the rake, I returned to take another picture, only to find the ice packs replaced with a Zip Lock bag of cubes.

I snapped the picture.

A few minutes later, Sears called.  Officer Marnier had a report of a discarded 3/8 socket wrench a jogger discovered off Route 12 in Plainfield.  The wrench was badly decomposed. He needed me to come down for a positive identification.

I sighed, loudly, clicked off the phone and went to get a drink.

We were out of ice.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Working Titles: Don't Eat The Dandelions or The School Nurse Dials Poison Control

The other day my wife, Beth, a teacher at a nearby high school, received that call that most parents dread.
A phone call from our son's school.

The text of the conversation went something like this:

Office Secretary: Beth, we have a phone call from the middle school nurse regarding your son, Adam.

Beth: Okay (deep breath, pulse rate jumps)

Clicking of transferred call.

School Nurse: Hello, Mrs. Anastasio? This is (insert name here) the school nurse at Adam's school.

Beth: Yes, is he okay? What's wrong?

School Nurse: Yes, it's not really serious.

Beth: What happened?

School Nurse: Well, there was an incident outside on the playground.

Beth: Okay.

School Nurse: Apparently, while running outside, Adam fell down and somehow when he was near the ground, he ingested a dandelion.

Beth: What?

School Nurse: He swallowed a dandelion.


School Nurse: Ate it.

Beth: (repeating in monotone manner) He ate a dandelion...

School Nurse: Yes.

Beth: Umm. (mind spinning with images of a slow motion, high definition replay of Adam tripping, background noise grinding into a drawn out groan. As his body nears the ground, his mouth opens and we see a close-up shot of the menacing dandelion zooming upward, center screen. Cut to Adam rolling over and sitting up, chewing slightly. He burps audibly, clutching his stomach. Teachers on duty rush to his side. One of them shouts above the schoolyard din, "Get a medic! Stat!" A WWII corpsman appears, mud spattered, med pack in hand. "What do we have?" he shouts. "Dandelion!" one haggard teacher replies. The corpsman's face blanches as he slowly shakes his head, the teacher bursts into tears--

School Nurse: Mrs. Anastasio?

Beth: (snapping out of trance) Yes, he okay?

School Nurse: Oh yeah, bit of a stomach ache, but I called poison control. There's really no danger in swallowing a dandelion. Adam may experience some discomfort later on, some minor stomach cramps. But, he'll be fine.

Beth: Uh-huh.

School Nurse: Just wanted to let you know.

Kids... ya gotta love 'em.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Still "Wilder" Than Ever

This past Saturday, my sister and I traveled down to Stratford to attend the first annual Unicorn Writing Conference, organized and implemented by my agent, Jan Kardys.  The day was packed with informative workshops involving every angle of getting published, understanding contracts, developing characters, screenwriting, etc.  It was a worthwhile experience and I would heartily recommend it for anyone who writes (Jan is making it bigger and better next year, if that's possible).

For me, two events stick out from the day.

The first involved a visit from Gene Wilder.  I've been a fan of his work since I can remember, so I was obviously excited to hear him speak. To me, Gene Wilder is a cultural icon, even students I have now know his body of work, as evidenced by the number of responses I received on Facebook from jealous teenagers that wanted to be where I was at that very moment.  As one student wrote, "Gene Wilder is the man!"  I agree.  I even wrote and delivered a speech for an awards ceremony at Bacon Academy in "Gene Wilder- Willy Wonka" persona.  I mean, come on, who doesn't recogninze and appreciate the iconic actor, writer, and now water color artist.  In my mind I will always picture him donning his Willy Wonka top hat, or shucking and jiving in black face, boom box perched on his shoulder, Richard Pryor in tow. 
Soon, a murmur ensued in the room.  He had arrived, and our attention pivoted toward the door.  But the man who entered the room, hunching slightly, shuffling toward the easy chair was not the man entrenched in my mind... This man didn't spring into the room or duck into a somersault and leap upward to grand applause.  This man looked every bit the 76-year-old he should look.  Where was the Gene Wilder I remember?  He seemed lost...lost that is until he was seated and began to speak.  That unmistakable voice-- clear, steady, unique.  And with every question posed (all fresh and unrehearsed as he had insisted) the Gene Wilder in my mind's eye slowly evolved and took shape.

He spoke of his time with Gilda, of the loves in his life, his time spent acting and writing.  He spoke of meeting Mel Brooks for the first time, the origin of his stage name (his real name is Jerome Silberman), and how he almost didn't take the role of Willy Wonka unless one very important concession was agreed upon, a request for a scene change that altered the entire tenor of the film.  Soon, the entire room melted into his world and hung on his every word, much like little Charlie Bucket wandering aimlessly through the Chocolate Factory, we didn't want it to stop.

But, all too quickly the visit did end, and as Gene Wilder slowly made his way toward the exit, people descended around him seeking autographs and posing for pictures with the star.  My sister leaned in and asked if I wanted a snapshot with Gene. 

If she had asked me before he arrived, I probably would have said yes, but after hearing him speak, hearing him open up with persoanl stories and honest emotion, a photo opportunity seemed almost inappropriate, if that makes sense.

So, we sat and watched him pause with people he didn't know, camera flashes firing on and off like mini-indoor lightning storms, and soon after he was gone.


The second significant event is a personal one.  Apparetly, my manuscript found its way into the hands of a movie producer and he had read it, and he also happened to be attending the conference.  My sister cajoled me into approaching him about it, and I did.

Our encounter was brief.  I introduced myself and explained that it was my understanding that he read my book.  He smiled and said, "Yes, it's almost there.  You're a terrific writer." 

After months of doubt and self-loathing about the manuscript and the rejections received, those words have reinfused me with hope.  Which is my point, I suppose.  If your goal is to one day see your work published, the roller coaster of emotions is part of the deal.  You can't give up.  You have to believe in the message of your work and roll with the highs and lows of ebbing confidence.

Of course, it helps to hear some encouraging words from outside of your own head, too.

So now, on the eve of some major re-writes to my work, the movie producer invited me to call him so that he may share his comments on my work.  "Nervous about what he might say?" you ask.  Not at all.

Wait a minute, strike that, reverse it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To all the Fantasy widows out there, our apologies

Fantasy Baseball season approaches. It's a time to sit staring blankly at a computer screen in the dead of night, scrolling through numbers and unfamiliar minor league baseball players' names, searching for that diamond in the rough. That cheap nugget that will help a team owner carry home the championship plaque.

I've been caught up in the Fantasy Baseball world for more than two decades now, and it still has the allure of yesteryear when stats were compiled weekly from USA Today and manually compiled to rank team standings. Now there are web sites and stat services to make it happen.

Yes indeed, Fantasy Baseball has boomed into huge business, with instant updates and mobile alerts, so you can cringe and vomit in your mouth during family events or school plays when your pitcher gives up a three-run bomb, plummeting your team into the basement.

And there are the poor Fantasy Baseball wives and significant others. They become widows during the baseball season. They secretly dread the popping sound of the first pitch hitting the catcher's mitt. They know the roller coaster of emotions is about to begin. Oh, it's nice at first, because every Fantasy team owner begins the season with delusions of optimism.

"This is the year! I can feel it."

She responds with a fake smile, a slight nod of the head. She knows your starting pitching is a joke and that your outfield slugger has aged another year.

My wife is pretty savvy to my "team owner" demeanor as the season unfolds. She knows when I'm locked into a tight race or a hefty head-to-head match-up. There's a skip in my step, a slight all-knowing gleam in my eye, general manager confidence oozing everywhere. She also knows when my teams are in the tank because that's when I usually pay partial attention to chores around the house.

Last year I was in four leagues. Yes, four leagues. I thought I could juggle the lineups and stay on top of things. Nope. I did place fourth in one league, but didn't fare well at all in the others. So this year, I've scaled back to two. Two is manageable. A fair compromise to the family I have neglected in the past.

So two teams is my limit. For sure....

Well... okay, maybe just one more. Three teams. It's one less than four. A reduction from last year. You see, a friend just asked me to join a league yesterday because they were short an owner. You can't be short an owner and effectively draft so close to the start of the season. I had to do it, you see. The league had to be saved. Think of the other owners. Right?

Yeah... so, I'm in three leagues.

Just don't tell my wife.

Go Brooklyn Joes!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Raise your hand if...'ve had a chimney fire and didn't know it.

Yesterday, I ventured outside to greet a husband/wife team from a local chimney cleaning/repair company. They drove out to give me an estimate on repairing our chimney. As the inspection unfolded, the chimney guy noticed a crack starting from the top of the chimney and moving all the way down to the roof line. Upon further inspection, the crack continued along the lines of mortar between the cement blocks visible in the garage. Both flues are cracked and the chimney slightly bows out on the side where the apparent fire took place.

According to the expert, many chimney fires often go unnoticed.

I stood there listening to him explain the repair options in a bit of a fog. What if I had burned down the house? We could have lost everything. Someone could've been hurt or killed.

When you think about, the practice of inviting fire into your house is a bit ridiculous. You're sort of asking for trouble. Is it worth the risk to sit and stare at the flames or close your eyes to hear the sizzle and pop of the wood? If you asked me a month ago I would've said yes, but now, no.

It's unclear when the fire occurred. Could have been many years ago, even before we bought the house (maybe the inspector missed it) or this winter. But I've learned my lesson. It's worth the money to have the chimney regularly cleaned and inspected.

No indoor Smores until further notice.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Olympics, Lady Bug, and the Ceilings in Our Bathrooms


I couldn't sleep last night. We decided to make breakfast for dinner. So out came the eggs, asparagus, cheddar cheese, spinach, hash browns, turkey bacon, and of course, one can't have breakfast without a pot of coffee, right?

Big mistake.

So at 11:15 PM, eyes wide shut, I tuned into the Olympics. I must confess, I haven't watched any of the Olympics to that point, so when I discovered the evening's event was women's figure skating, I almost switched to a re-run on Nickelodeon. But I stayed with it for a few minutes, and soon found myself caught up in watching the skater's perform. Something about it kept me riveted.

Perhaps it was the back stories of the skaters, like hearing about the fortitude of Canadian skater Joannie Rochette competing days after her mother's death.

Or perhaps it was the simple beauty, the grace, the precise execution of a difficult routine. Maybe the pressure to perform at that particular moment, years of work and practice coming down to a few minutes on the ice, and one bad landing, miscue, or fall, and the dream was dead.

Korea's Kim Yu-Na's routine was flawless, and the sixteen-year-old American, Mirai Nagusa, put on quite a show. Sixteen and almost garnering a medal at the Olympics. Amazing.

When I was sixteen I was trying to pass math class, hit a few foul shots in the driveway, and get a girl to notice me at a dance. Barely passed math, went 6/10 at the line, held up the wall at the dance. I'd give that a 6.2.

Lady Bugs

Once in a great while the English department at Bacon Academy gets a request to host a student teacher, usually either from Connecticut College or Eastern Connecticut State University. Such a request came several months ago, and I agreed to meet the candidate, but in the back of my mind, I had already decided I would say no. While some might think having a student teacher take the reins lightens the load, in reality, particularly when one has sophomores (CAPT pressure, remember?) it's not as easy as it looks.

I've had four student teachers over my seventeen-year career, and three out of the four were wonderful experiences. One of my former student teachers is now a colleague at Bacon, another a Library Media Specialist at a school in the northwest hills, and the third, left teaching to become a successful entrepreneur. The fourth, well, I'm not sure where this individual ended up.

So, on to number five. I met this individual at ECSU, and was immediately impressed, especially when she indicated that she'd like to come in over her winter break to observe and get to know the kids. So, as we talked about her teaching philosophy and ideas for lesson plans, the "no" firmly planted at the back of my mind became an instant "yes." We're now nearing the halfway point of her experience, and she seems like a natural in front of the kids. She's competent, plans well, is reflective, and adjusts.

Which finally brings us to the lady bug.

I happened to be watching a lesson unfold earlier this week when a lady bug descended from on high. It was interesting to see the reaction from the kids. Some exclaimed, "aww, a lady bug," others recoiled and screamed, "get it away!" Still others announced, "it brings good luck." And so the lesson derailed, as lessons sometimes do, but within a minute or two, the student teacher got the class back on course. Interruptions are part of the business, and the teacher's ability to adjust or incorporate the distraction develops over time.

A lady bug, a fire drill, a student having a bad lesson often goes as planned. A teacher has to constantly monitor, adjust, regulate, repeat, etc. I'm not sure outsiders understand this. It falls under that heading "teaching as an art." It is often not precise or scientific, especially when one considers we are dealing with the human spirit, the human emotions. We have to be open to moments that cross our threshold. Sometimes they're worth embracing and not mere annoyance.

The lady bug appeared in several other classes, with varying degrees of disruption, comment, and care. That is until period seven, when a young lad decided to stomp it into the rug.

Freshmen have their moments, don't they?

Ceilings in Our Bathrooms

In our quest to ready the house for sale in March, I rolled up my sleeves to right a wrong from my past. Many years ago I vowed to re-do the bathroom off our bedroom. Fell short a bit on that one, particularly when it came to the ceiling. It was a popcorn ceiling, so I decided to scrape it down and create a smooth surface. Big mistake. It was hard work, and judging from my efforts, I'd say I successfully scraped about 80% off to make a smooth surface.

Now it was time to right a wrong. So, in my infinite wisdom, I bought a new can of ceiling white, and a sand additive to make a pock mark surface. Not quite popcorn, but enough to hide my inconsistencies. I have to say, after three coats, it came out pretty darn good. Only took me three years, four months, seventeen days, and 5 hours to finish my original ceiling project. Not bad, eh?

I mean seriously, how often do you really look at your bathroom ceiling?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rewrite on the Horizon, or hang on, don't take that dumpster away just yet...

So, it seems that my dream of one of the big houses offering a deal for The Mist is fading fast. It looks like a few months of rewriting and resubmitting are ahead of me.

I realize it's just part of the process, but one can't help but be initially discouraged at this point. It's been more than three years, and it feels like I'm back to square one.

But I suppose I shouldn't complain. There have been quite a few positives along the way, and I've made it further than some. After all, on the basis of the first few chapters, the book won the PEN New England Discovery Award, I landed an agent, and have received feedback from some major publishing houses. I should be grateful that the manuscript actually got through the door and on some editors' desks.

I could just blame the lousy marketplace. Bad economy. Far too many obstacles in the way...but that isn't it at all. There's always room for improvement, and I just need to roll up my sleeves and make the book better. My agent has offered her assistance, and I gladly accept the work ahead.

Another consistent positive is that the editors have all acknowledged that they like the writing and that the book is something they haven't seen before. That's refreshing, I suppose. Glad I left out the vampires. Then again, maybe I should have included a few blood suckers. Probably would've landed me some movie rights by now.

Who the hell knows.

The elation of purging

Last week, I spent the majority of days and nights filling a thirty-yard dumpster with accumulated junk. Sifting through discarded odds and ends in our carriage shed, I uncovered a wealth of our consumer history. Discarded baby carriers, toys, and broken chairs. Several old mattresses, bed frames, desks and dressers.

Much of what resided in the shed lay ruined or beyond repair because of neglect, moisture, and the fact that it wasn't in very good condition when we bought it in the first place.

I've concluded that more and more we are a throw away society. Nothing's really built to last or be repaired these days.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Frenetic Musings

I spent yesterday's snow day installing a new shower kit in our bathroom. I enjoy taking a break from grading papers to roll up my sleeves and tackle a hands-on project. After a few minor miscues and miscalculations (including having to place a call into tech support because one of the parts shipped in the kit was badly deformed), I completed the job just before dinner.

Tonight I'll test for leaks (fingers crossed).

As I was caulking the joints, it occurred to me that this "hands-on" project or break from the norm is something our students need incorporated in their day. As our school moves to block scheduling next year, this idea becomes an even more important ingredient in planning lessons and units. Application of skills and moving beyond the text is something our students need and with the current schedule is difficult to accomplish.

Depth vs. breadth is the shift we're making with longer blocks of time, a philosophy I completely embrace.

The Mist...

Still no word from the other eight publishers and we're approaching the five month mark. I'm hoping I'll hear something soon and with my luck, it will all come on the same day.


Beth and I are working round the clock to ready the house to be sold at the end of the month. The amount of work is overwhelming, but we keep plugging away room by room. February break will be Purge week. We're getting a 30 yard dumpster and decluttering. It's amazing how much junk one can amass in a 15-year period.

Anyone want to buy a house?

Get in

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Race to the Top?

Educators are rushing to cash in on the latest government initiative to reform education: Race to the Top.

Race to the Top? The first thing that comes to mind is a scene from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World (the original Spencer Tracy version, thank you very much). No particular part of the film jumps to mind, just any of the various near collisions, disasters, and pitfalls as the competitors "race" for the hidden prize.

The "mission" of the initiative is noble enough:

But the part that screams out to me is found in number 3-- Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals....


Could it mean Merit Pay?

I think it might, which raises a number of issues in my mind. Who establishes the criteria? Who judges it? Will teacher rewards be based off student performance on state tests? Etc, etc., etc.

The answers could be scary. But it appears the movement is afoot.

This past fall, New Haven teachers ratified a contract with elements of merit pay hidden inside, including other hints of linking bonus pay to student achievement. While some have stated that the system of rewarding teachers will not pit teacher against teacher, but rather reward all teachers based on student performance, it still leaves me with an unsettled feeling.

The awarding of merit pay resting on the backs of student test scores sends a strange message to both teachers and students. Many in the educational trenches contend that there already exists too much pressure with these high-stakes tests, couple that with tying it to teachers' paychecks and it may have crossed the line.

The notion that we have created a nation of test takers is not new. We measure, quantify, and study data during professional days. And for what? Most data collected in a contrived classroom setting is not valid and quite often the PowerPoint presentations thrust before staff compares the proverbial apples and oranges. "Look at this year's sophomore scores against last year's." Different test. Different batch of students.

It's time someone with courage changed a school mission statement to match what is really going on... data, funding, high-stakes testing.

No more archaic messages of "instilling a love for learning, appreciating a work of literature, or creating anything on your own."

The message is clear from on high.

There obviously isn't time.

There are no resources.

And most importantly, it's simply not on the test.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2010 begins

So, another year rolls in and we're once again bombarded with the notion of creating the good 'ol New Year's Resolution.

Not happening here.
I refuse.
Totally nada.

Wait, that's not considered making a resolution, right? Just because I'm being resolute in not making a resolution does not necessarily make it a resolution.


Just for the record, that's my stand on the topic.

I came across a list of the top ten resolutions Americans make (according to the South Carolina's cold here, so I'm checking news in a warmer region of the country):

1. Spend more time with family
2. Get in shape
3. Lose weight
4. Get out of debt
5. Enjoy life more
6. Stop or control drinking
7. Quit smoking
8. Get organized
9. Learn a hobby
10. Volunteer

That's a nice list. A respectable list. Can't really argue with anything on it, I mean they are all noble pursuits, the kind that look good on resumes.

But it's the first one that kind of confounds the other's on the list.

Think about it a moment. I mean, spending more time with the family usually means eating more, less exercise, more debt, the need to drink more, etc., you get the picture. It essentially gets in the way of the other resolutions.

I suppose one solution is to get a Wii. We decided to spend more time as a family so what better way than play video games together. The Wii-playing family looks so happy and "together" on the TV commercial.

So, for Christmas we got a Wii.

We actually got a Wii with Wii Fit Plus.

Initially I was excited about the idea. But then I stood on the electronic platform and attempted to prove my agility during the balance portion of the program.

I'm 43 years old, but after I nearly fell off the two inch high platform exercising like a Russian contortionist, the Wii Fit Plus proclaimed that I am the equivalent of a 56-year-old male.

Thanks for the pep talk Nintendo. Way to kick a guy when he's falling down.

You know what, I've changed my mind on that resolution thing.

I am going to make a resolution.

Tomorrow, I'm returning the Wii.

Happy New Year.