Sunday, December 28, 2014

Two Sure-Fire Ways to Keep Your New Year's Resolutions

Resolutions are big in my family. 

We make them and mock them. We egg each other on to keep them. And break them. 

It helps that we write them down. 

Every year, for the past fourteen years, we've hosted a New Year's Eve party with the same group of friends. One of the party-goers, the most resolute of the resolution-makers, (for the purposes of this blog, we will call this person "Deb") records everyone's resolutions. She used to do this on a scrap of paper, but one year her resolution was to buy a blank book that would be used for the sole purpose of recording resolutions.

"Deb" has now become the Keeper of the Resolution Book. 

"Deb" with "the book." It's "fun" to flip through this book
and see what resolutions we made (and broke) over the years.

I know that not everyone is a fan of making resolutions. If you want to make a goal, make a goal. is what some people say. Why do you need to do it on Dec. 31? 

Also, a lot of people make resolutions and then break them like, three days later, as many gym workers will tell you. 

All true. But there is a reason why resolution-making on New Year's Eve has become a tradition. (See here on Wikipedia about how it can be traced back to the Babylonians and the Romans.) (Another fun Wiki tidbit: 88% of all resolution makers fail.

Anyway, after fourteen years, "Deb" and I consider ourselves experts on how to make--and successfully keep--resolutions. If you want to be one of the 12%, read on.

1. Say your resolutions out loud. In front of a witness. Or fifteen.

There's power in verbalizing what you plan to do. I would venture to say that it is the very first step in achieving any goal. You've got to name it. Lose ten pounds. Run a marathon. Finish a novel. Whatever. You won't do it, if you can't say it. And having witnesses adds a bit of peer pressure, people who will hold you to it. 

Last year my husband and I made a joint resolution to visit cultural sites around the city. We took pictures of the various sites and sent them to the Keeper of the Book. 

A Chihuly sculpture at the Columbus Museum of Art

Side note: Attending a Food Truck Festival does not count. According to "Deb."

Sometimes the peer pressure aspect can really spur you on. For the past four years my husband resolved to paint the trim on our house. Last summer we vacationed with "Deb" and family and they joked about how that resolution had become something of a rolling resolution for my husband. Ha ha, they said to him. Wonder what your resolution will be this year? 

We got home from vacation and my husband painted the trim on the house.  

Which brings me to number two. 

2. Set a low bar. 

Painting the house trim is hard. I do not recommend resolving to do hard things like that. Lose weight? Run a marathon? Who are we kidding? 

When my kids were little, simply getting dressed and venturing out of the house seemed like a fairly big deal. I had only one resolution:

Wash my face every day. 

I confess that I did not always achieve this lofty goal, but it was something to shoot for and most days, I did, in fact, manage to accomplish it. 

Now that I think of it, I was usually the only person who remembered and successfully kept my resolution. 

So forget everything I said. 

Make resolutions. Or not. Break resolutions. Or keep them. 

Whatever you do on New Year's Eve, I hope it is done (or not done) while surrounded by dear friends.


Last year on New Year's Eve moments before the resolutions
are shared and recorded... and forgotten.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fun Times Juggling Carnivores and Vegans

It's just not Christmas until The Sausage Maker catalog arrives in the mail.

The Sausage Maker, as I'm sure you know, is the one-stop shopping guide for smokers, stuffers, grinders, and mixers. There are also pages of vacuum sealers, dehydrators, cheese making presses and fermenting pots. But we use it, of course, to buy our annual supply of sausage casings. My husband is Danish, and one of the Christmas traditions in his family is to make his grandmother's homemade potato and pork sausage to serve on Christmas Eve.

Making potato sausage is a complicated procedure that takes pretty much all day. It involves peeling potatoes, mixing it with the ground meat, stuffing the casings, gently boiling the sausages, and later, frying. We always have mishaps.

Example: broken casings or sausages bursting in the boiling water.

In our house, there's also always some kind of engineering involved. Since we never spring for the sausage stuffer equipment found in the catalog, we need to figure out how to hold the slippery casing open whilst stuffing it. One year we used an asthma inhaler container. Last year, an M&M canister with both ends cut out.

[I keep saying WE but there is no WE about it. I have nothing to do with the grinding or the stuffing or the engineering machinations. Although, I will help peel potatoes, and later, I'll watch the stove while the sausages gently boil--and inevitably burst.]

Potato Sausage Making is my husband's operation, with some help from our son. Christmas Eve you will find them, setting up our kitchen like it is a science lab, my husband laughing, my son saying "Ew," every few minutes.

I should mention that sausage casings are made from hog, sheep, or cow intestines. You can buy plastic inedible casings, but COME ON, PEOPLE, you may as well buy a casing shaped like a football.

(a casing shaped like a football.
Also, a baseball bat)

The sausage making tradition is always interesting, and this year it is about to become more interesting when my visiting brother from California arrives, just in time for the Christmas Eve peeling and grinding and stuffing.

Visiting brother from California is a vegan. I haven't looked this up, but I am pretty sure that vegans do not eat intestines.

Finished Homemade Non-Vegan Potato Sausages

I admit that I had been a little anxious about the menu-planning coming up over the next few days. But I turned to my trusty Sausage Maker catalog and lo and behold, on page 39, I found the solution:

Now, if I can only figure out a way to hide our annual tray of assorted cheeses...

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Don't Come Early to the Rally (and other advice for would-be protestors)

Yesterday I got metaphorically booted out of a government building.

I was sorta flabbergasted. I've never been asked to leave a place in my life.

The guy-- a security guard at the Ohio Department of Education--was totally nice about it. A few minutes before we'd been sharing a laugh, so when he told me to leave--and not just leave the building but stay off the entire property and make sure I was standing on the sidewalk, and not blocking the stairs or the street--I thought he was joking.

He wasn't.

I walked outside, stunned, and stood on the sidewalk, making sure I did not block the stairs or the street, and feeling weird and, okay, outraged.
(The building in question.)

I was too early, is what the problem boiled down to, and when you're participating in a rally, apparently, you need to be on time and not expect to sit in the lobby of the Ohio Dept. of Education while you wait.

It all worked out in the end. As rallies go, this one was pretty mild. A few protest signs. Speeches and chants. All of us crammed in on the sidewalk clear of the stairs. Moms. Dads. Kids. Teachers. A cool group of nurses.

(the cool group of nurses)
I guess I should tell you what this raucous protest rally was all about. This week the Ohio Board of Ed is voting on a measure that could potentially put discretionary positions such as P.E. teachers, art and music teachers, librarians, nurses, and guidance counselors on the chopping block. The way things stand currently in Ohio, schools must have 5 out of 8 of these positions per 1000 students. 

Money's tight in Ohio. The state's cut money to the schools, and the schools are doing what they can to deal with the loss of state support, which includes raising taxes and cutting jobs. But their hands are (fortunately) tied by the 5 of 8 Rule. 

Now some school board members, in the guise of giving local school districts "freedom," propose doing away with the 5 of 8 standard. They say it won't lead to the loss of discretionary positions (which some have called luxuries), but, come on. Who are we kidding here? 

The sad truth is that wealthier districts will find a way to keep art and music and librarians in their schools, while other districts--and children in those districts--are going to lose out. 

People gave impassioned speeches.

A mom talking about how the arts helped her child. A child talking about her ADD and how much being in the theater made a difference. A guidance counselor speaking about kids in crisis. A college student describing how music made him what he is. 

My friend Susan Yutzey, a retired librarian and president of the Ohio school librarians, spoke about how kids need help more than ever in analyzing and understanding the vast amount of information they are bombarded with each day. I spoke about how librarians saved my life and about how I've seen first hand what districts look like without librarians--

(hint. It's not pretty)

--and places where the libraries are the heart and safe haven in the schools and what a difference that makes to children (and, okay, if you're concerned about fff-ing test scores, I'll tell you a secret: a librarian in your school will help ya' out there too.) 

The speaker that made me cry was one of the school nurses, when she talked about saving a child's life. Literally.

The news came. The little kids held the protest signs-- tombstones. We all chanted "Keep 5 of 8."

No one got arrested or burned anything down. 

But then again, no one really pushed us-- a group of mostly white middle aged middle class parents and little kids. Our outrage is of the white middle aged middle class parent variety-- frustration and sadness to think that our elected representatives are making poor decisions that will have real effects on what happens in our children's lives-- Will they be able to play sports? Will they have a librarian in their school who knows their names and what books they like to read? Will they have a guidance counselor to help them cope with bullying? Will they be able to play in an orchestra or act in a play?  

--and not the kind of outrage that I can only imagine you'd feel when, say, for example, your child is shot to death by someone in a position of authority. 

Once upon a time, I was a child growing up in poverty in a single-parent home. One year we did not have a car. One summer we lived in a tent at a campground. There was a death in my family. And violence. The course of my life was set on a certain trajectory.

But I went to good schools filled with "luxuries," schools where there were teachers who cared about me, librarians who knew my name and put books into my hands. I was exposed to music and art and (even though I didn't like it much) P.E. I had a great guidance counselor who walked me through the college application process. 

And I was nudged onto a different path from the one seemingly set in the beginning. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Interview with Jenny Torres Sanchez

One of my favorite books this year is a little book with a long title: Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia. Last post I talked about why I pick up books-- and the result of the not very scientific survey is that they are books written by authors I know, either virtually or in real life. But that doesn't explain why certain books resonate with me.

I picked up Frenchie Garcia to read on a trip to Orlando for a Florida librarian conference. The book had been on my radar for a while. It was released around the same time as my book, and I was keeping up with the competition. I knew it had received a starred review from Kirkus, for example. And that it had made it onto their Best Of list at the end of the year. Jenny had been a member of the same group blog YA Outside the Lines. And a few weeks before, I'd bumped into her agent, the lovely Kerry Sparks, at another conference, and saw Jenny's book at the conference bookstore.

When I found out that Jenny lived in Orlando and would be coming to one of my events, it seemed like one of those serendipity things. Why the hell hadn't I read her book?

I read the entire thing on the plane down and was blown away. Jenny was sitting in the audience of my shared book signing with Jessica Martinez, (they are friends. The YA writing world, if you haven't guessed it by now, is small and tight) but all I wanted to do was switch places and sit in the audience myself and pepper Jenny with questions about her brilliant book.

So, I didn't get to do that, but after the event, I cornered her and requested an interview.

Which begins now...

Jenny: Are we having coffee?

Jody: Why not? I love coffee.

Jenny: Good. Let’s have coffee as we talk and sit on plushy chairs….oh, or let’s be on a Ferris wheel. With coffee (the carnival just came to town and I see the Ferris wheel every day as I drive to the bookstore where I write.)

Jody: All right. We're on a Ferris wheel and drinking our coffee. I hope we are turning very slowly...

(Jenny Torres Sanchez possibly sitting on a virtual Ferris wheel) 

Okay, Jenny, you know I loved loved loved Frenchie so much and am recommending it to everyone I know. I must ask the question that every writer is asked--but I don't care!! I want to know!!-- where do you get your ideas?

Jenny: I don’t know. Great answer, huh? Okay, let me talk through this, because I’m serious about not knowing. Usually it starts with a character. They sort of show up and I know they’re going through something rough, but I don’t immediately know. So they hang out in my brain for a while as I figure out what has happened to them. I don’t remember coming up with the ideas for books at all, actually, at least not with The Downside of Being Charlie or Death, Dickinson, and the Demented Life of Frenchie Garcia.

I just peeled back layers of my characters and wondered, “Okay, why is he/she this way? What has he been through? What is she dealing with or covering up?” And then the stories just started forming. With the piece I’m working on now, believe it or not, it started out with a line from a story I wrote years ago while in high school? Maybe college? An image actually, that has stayed in my brain and has become a kind of a little string I pulled and keeps getting longer and longer and more tangled and I’m like, “Wait, there’s a whole story here!”

Jody: You talk about these characters or ideas sort of simmering in your head for a while-- what do you do at that point? Do you plan? Or do you just start writing and see where the story goes?

Jenny: I make up as I go. I’m terrible any other way. Planning never works for me because I can’t stick to the outline. My characters end up making all these other decisions and the story takes different turns. I know outlining works for a lot of writers, but when I plan, my writing tends to sound forced and just doesn’t really ring true. So, I let the story go where it wants to go and worry about editing later.

Jody: I haven't read your first book --The Downside of Being Charlie (it's on my TBR!). Was it the first book you wrote or do you have a few novels stuffed in a drawer?

Jenny: I started a couple of middle grade books when I was in college but I never finished them. Before writing novels, I mostly wrote short stories and I got a lot of rejections from those. But The Downside of Being Charlie was the first book I really set my mind to finish, and when I did, I started querying agents (I got a lot of rejections during this process too). Lucky for me, my now agent

Jody: Kerry Sparks--

Jenny: Yes, Kerry. She saw something in it and took a chance on me.

Jody: Is she hands-on when it comes to revision?

Jenny: Yeah, definitely. My stories can get lost, sort of wander around in circles, or sometimes they keep trying to get through a brick wall by running into it repeatedly. And I think of Kerry as this guide who points out little paths I missed and need to explore. And someone who reminds me to walk around the brick wall or climb over it. She’s fantastic.

Jody:  Speaking of revision, do you have a process for that?

Jenny: (Insert laugh track) Ahahahahaha…ha…ha…ha…sigh. Yeah, so I’m all over the map with that. I mean, I definitely revise, but it’s not a very disciplined approach I guess. Sometimes I go back to what I wrote the day before and spend forever getting that paragraph, just that one paragraph, right.

Jody: OMG I do that too. It's a sickness.

Jenny: I know. Right? Other times, I’ll do a whole chapter. Or I’ll revise starting from the end of the manuscript and work my way to the beginning. It’s a bit chaotic, my process, but it works for me. Mostly. I think. I hope.

Jody: Switching gears a bit, what kind of work schedule do you have every day?

Jenny: Wake up. Do the school drop off thing w/ my two oldest kids and then drop off the smallest w/ my mom so I can write for a couple of hours. That’s it. Those couple of hours is all I have to actually sit and work, so I make sure I use every second of it. I’m pretty protective of that writing time, but I think you have to be.

Jody: I'm impressed. I had the hardest time writing when my kids were younger. There were so many things going on and writing kept falling further and further down the list. How do you balance your writing time with your other obligations?

Jenny: I guess what works for me is keeping it all separate. When it’s writing time, it’s writing time. That’s all I’m focused on. I don’t worry about other things I have to do, I don’t use that time for anything else, I just sit and write. Likewise, when it’s family time, I make sure not to even attempt to write.

Jody: Writing time, family time, and then there's a whole other big chunk of promotional time, which these days, means being on social media. What's your take on that?

Jenny: Hmm, I should probably talk more about my books on social media. But what I actually do is tweet a bit about them when they come out and give a few away. And then I tweet a lot about other things like music and art and things I love like other authors and essays that I find interesting. I guess I tend to use social media as more of a “hey look, isn’t this cool!” kind of thing than a promotional tool.

Jody: People are tired with the whole "BUY MY BOOK" kind of thing anyway.

Jenny: And that's good because I’m not great at constantly promoting myself on social media, so I do what makes me comfortable and I’m okay with that.

Jody: You mentioned before that you're working on something inspired by story you wrote in high school. Can you share a bit more about that?

Jenny: It's a weird story. There’s no other way to explain it. It’s weird, but it’s been a lot of fun working on it so far. It’s still in that fun stage where I don’t want to kill it yet. It’s in the early stages, so I’m still hush hush about it. But basically it came from that short story I wrote (and actually never finished).  But sometimes stories do that, don’t they?

They stay with you for years and then suddenly surface again. In a weird way, I think they’re kind of writing themselves a little in the back of your mind, just waiting for the right time to come out. Anyway, I’ll share the image that inspired it too. It’s of a woman’s bloody pinky dangling from her hand, the tip of her finger gleaming with shell pink nail polish.

Jody: I'm getting chills.

Jenny: That’s about all I’ll say, but it’s interesting what happened to her. And how it affects the main character. ;)

Jody: Well, I now I've got a future book of yours to add to my TBR. Jenny, thank you so much for chatting with me.

And dear readers, if you'd like to more about Jenny and her books, check out the links below.

Jenny Torres Sanchez
Twitter: @jetchez  
on Amazon