Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I'm a (self)Published Author!

I've always loved to write.

You know how in children's books, part of the binding process leaves one or two blank pages in the beginning and at the end?  Right before the Title page, and right after the "The End" page?  I used to write on those.  When I was little, I thought those pages were meant for you to add to the story.  I ruined countless books that way, but I can vividly remember thinking, "what if it ended this way?!" before defacing them.

About three years ago, I started writing my first novel.  It all began during Library Duty at school.  

Go figure.  

The library was a quiet place where I could sit and think, and before long, my characters and dialogue were pouring out of my fingertips.  It got to the point where I would hate the days that my library period dropped, because it meant I couldn't get back into my story.  

When I finally finished it, I had a good friend proofread/edit for me.  She was a middle school English teacher (recently she switched to elementary special ed) and she is the only adult I know who has voluntarily read more YA novels than myself, so I knew she'd be the perfect person to help.  

She spent a summer reading my entire book, making grammatical corrections, story arc suggestions, and in the end, gave me the confidence to keep going.

By June of last school year, I had my manuscript all prettied and polished up to send out to publishers.  I thought, "I'll hear back in no time!" and anxiously awaited my book deal to appear.

Oh I heard back, alright.  Sometimes it was quick- the same day even.  Sometimes it wasn't so quick- three our four weeks out.  But it was always the same, "Thanks, but no thanks."  I think I sent out about 50 query letters, which, as I've come to find, really isn't even all that many.  Remember that book The Help?  I watched an interview where Kathryn Stockett said she'd reached out to over 100 publishers who each told her, "Thanks, but no thanks."

Now, I'm no fool.  Sure, I love my story, and I feel it has an audience out there, but I know I didn't write the next big YA sensation.  This is my first try, and I've still got a lot to learn, but even so, I wanted to get it out there.  I wanted to get some unbiased opinions, some suggestions, some fuel to move forward with some other book ideas I have. 

I got the idea of self publishing from Kristy over at theprimamomma who has self published a few of her own original works.  Last Friday I got into the nitty gritty of Amazon Kindle's Direct Publishing. It's free and relatively easy, and as of 10pm tonight, I am officially a (self) published author!  

If you've got some free time, or better yet, and angsty teenage girl you know of who likes to read, please give it a try. It is called Summer of my Sophomore Year and can be read on both the Kindle or your iphone on the free Kindle app.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fat Cat / Skinny Cat

Indy and I have two kitties: Charlie (5) and Isis (4) - we named her after the Egyptian God, not the terrorist group.  (While her name is an unfortunate coincidence, I don't think she even knows what her name is as when we call her, she ignores us completely.  She only responds when we say "Treats!"  I think she thinks her name is "Treats.")

Here is a photo of them being grossly cute with Charlie's hand on Isis' booty.

Here's another of them being even more obnoxiously cute in the same spot just a day or two later.

Anyway,  a little more about them: We adopted Charlie from a friend's sister, who works as a vet-tech in Long Island.  Charlie and his three sisters (Kelly, Sabrina and Jill....any Charlie's Angels fans out there??) were brought in by a patient who had found them outside, and the vet office was trying their best to get them into good homes without having to put them in a shelter first.  Indy and I drove all the way out to Long Island, played with all of the kitties, but ultimately fell in love with Charlie.  (It was kind of a meant-to-be thing, because before even seeing any cats, we discussed what we would name them.  The "Charlie Bit my Finger" video was big at the time, and I've always loved that name, so my pick was Charlie.)

Charlie has always been a vocal, playful, very affectionate cat.  My friends who own dogs refer to him as a "Cat-Dog."  He greets everyone who comes to our house with licks and snuggles.  He constantly wants to be involved and in-the-know, and he cries out when you leave him alone.

Isis was adopted a year after Charlie.  She was picked up from a local shelter in NJ.  Indy really, really wanted an all black kitten and we were lucky as we hit the jackpot on our first try!  The shelter spayed her so we could take her home a.s.a.p., but she was only 3 months at the time, so she remained very tiny and delicate.  Isis has always been a stereotypical "Scaredy Cat."  Only now, four years into living with us, will she not bolt from the room as we enter it.  She has, though, always been a lap cat- but very much on her own terms.  You have to sit on the couch for a long time, like, while watching a Netflix marathon, for example, and she'll cautiously leap up on your lap and sleep.  But if you make ANY movements- sudden or otherwise- she bolts.  She's getting better, though.

From the day we brought Isis home, it's been a true love affair.  The two are with each other constantly, and at least 4 times a week, I come home from school to find them literally embracing each other.  It's often so cute that it's disgusting.

I could go on forever about my cats and how much I adore them, because I am a crazy cat lady, but this post's title promised you a story about a fat cat, and a skinny cat, so here it is:

Indy and I had been a bit neglectful in taking the kitties to the vet.  The year we moved to our current place was a crazy one- Indy was about to graduate, we were knee-deep in job searches for him, we moved, etc.  Somehow we forgot to take the cats to their yearly check-up.  The cats are exclusively indoor, and were seemingly fine, so we didn't panic.  Finally, this past summer, I took them in.  We got an overall good bill of health for both of them, but there was one, major issue.

At the vet, the vet tech saw the kitties and did the usual once-over, weighing and note-taking.  Then, we put the kitties back in their carriers.  When the doctor came in, she opened the file and with giant cartoon eyes and exclaimed, "Charlie is FIFTEEN POUNDS?!"  And I got all cartoon-eyed and was like, "HUH!?"

I had NO IDEA he weighed that much!

I let him out of the carrier, and to my relief, the Vet sighed, "Oh, well, he's very long.  Very, very long.  Fifteen pounds is still too heavy, but thank goodness he's so long!"

I instantly felt better, but the deal is, Isis is an ideal weight (because, she's a perfect little kitty) and Charlie is a big, fat slob.  The vet recommended we put Charlie on a diet and come back next year. The goal was to get him to 12 pounds, and to do that, we had to make some serious changes.

We used to just put out some dry food in the morning, and leave it out all day.  We didn't even measure it, we'd just fill the bowls.  Please don't all of you cat lovers verbally abuse me at once.  I realize now that this was the error of our ways.  Dry food, while good for the cat's teeth, is high in carbs, and leaving it out all day long is basically inviting your kitties to a 24 hour carb buffet. 

On the recommendation of some friends who used to have fat kitties and now have skinny ones, we decided not only to feed the cats at certain times as opposed to leaving the food out all day, but also switching to wet food for most of the day.  Since our kitties were so used to the same old dry food all the time, they took to the wet food in seconds.  I can crack a can in the kitchen, and they come bounding down the stairs from the second bedroom in a heartbeat.

We've been feeding each of them 1/4th of a can of wet food in the morning before we leave for work, and at night when we have dinner.  When I get home around 3-4, I give them a very small bit of dry food for "lunch" to hold them over so they're not howling crazies by the time dinner rolls around.

The first few days were tough- there was lots of yelling and late-night meowing, but after the third day they seemed well adjusted.

We still have issues with Charlie over eating.  When I put out the food bowls, he'll go to one, and she'll follow him.  Then, he'll move onto the second, and she'll follow, even if there is still food in the first bowl!  It was getting to the point where he was chowing down almost everything before poor Isis could decide where to eat, so we've taken to separating them for the wet food feedings.  We take Charlie's bowl and put it at the top of the basement stairs, he runs over and we closet he door.  This allows Isis to eat at her leisure.  She eats like a 95 year old woman.  Painstakingly slow and in super teeny tiny mouthfuls.

Charlie does not like eating in the basement.  After he wolfs down the food he sits by the basement door and meows these long, dramatic wails, but we don't let him up until she's finished.

I'd say we've been doing this for about three weeks.  I'm thinking Charlie might have lost half a pound- possibly closer to one pound, but we're not where we need to be yet.  I think we'll be needing to do this for a good six months before we see any significant changes.

Again, any words of wisdom are welcome.  I'm hoping my next post on this will be titled Slightly Less Fat Cat / Skinny Cat.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Activities my FitBit Should Count as Exercise, but Doesn't

5. Loading/Unloading the dishwasher twice in one day.

4. Folding a fitted sheet.

3. Cleaning the bacon pan without a brillo pad.

2. Vacuuming the cat hair off the couch.

1. Watching Sherlock Holmes- my body isn't moving, but that's because all of the energy has gone to my brain, which is racing around and around not only trying to decipher Benedict Cumberbatch's rapid British accent, but also from making the foolish attempt to try and solve the case before he does.

Anyone want to help me add to my list?  If we make it long enough, maybe FitBit will make some changes and get us all more steps!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Finding Balance

Indy and I have recently gone through a kind of “What Are We Doing With Our Lives?” thing.  

That makes it sound much more serious than it is.

Basically we’ve assessed all of the things we complain about most, and the different aspects of our lives that we’d like to get better control over.  Those include, but are not limited to: how much time we’re “plugged-in” to stuff, how frequently we’re interacting with friends and family, how much money we’re spending on memberships/electronic devices we’re not using, how often we're lazing about, etc.

After putting our heads together and discussing a few things, we both felt like we’re spending too much of our time and money on things that are pulling time and money away from what’s most important, and we wanted to change that.  Here’s a breakdown of how we’ve started:

Cell Phone Usage:

Indy often complains that I’m on my cellphone too much, that I’m easily distracted by it during conversation, and that he feels I waste a lot of time on it when I’m ‘bored’ rather than being productive.  While I staunchly disagree with the amount of time he believes I’m  on my phone, (the man brings his iPad to the toilet, by the way) I will give him that yes, I probably spend more time on it than I should.  In fact, there have been times where I get in bed at 10:30, think “I’m just going to check Vine real quick…” and by the time I’m done, it’s 11:35 and then I have dreams where people are constantly singing “the club is going up…on a Tuesday…”  It was bad.

Indy had heard on NPR about an app that tracks the amount of time you use your phone.  You can use it to simply monitor how much time is spent on the phone, or even set limits, where at after a certain amount of use, the phone locks you out.  The app is called “Moment” and I downloaded it for free last week.  Let me first say, that the app isn’t perfect by any means.  First, it has to run all the time, which sucks the life out of your battery.  Second, while it doesn’t log phone calls as “screen time” it does log when you use your GPS in the car- getting to and from band practice the other night, it logged an extra 30 minutes for my daily usage!  Not cool!  I also think it adds one minute for every time you simply check the time on your home screen, which, in my opinion, isn’t really “screen time.”  However, I will say it woke me up a bit. I got home from school one day last week and had already logged 60 minutes on my phone…that means while I was at school, working, I had some how managed to check my phone enough for it to log 60 minutes.  Given, most of that was probably during my 45 minute lunch, but seriously, that’s a lot of time on a work day!  

I’ve since deleted the app, because of how quickly it ate my battery, but I’m definitely putting limits on my use at home.  When Indy talks to me, I put the phone down.  When I get in bed, after I set my alarm, the phone gets put on my night stand and that’s the end of it.  When I’m bored, I ask, “What else could I do besides this?”  If I get off track, I can always download it again, and I just found out that you can also track iPad usage with it….Indy might be in for a dose of his own medicine soon enough!

FitBit & Getting More Active Together:


I didn’t make any hard-and-fast resolutions this year, but one goal of mine is to get back on the work-out train.  Shortly after finally becoming a runner,  in October I did something funky to my IT Band.  I'm not sure what I did exactly, but my knee started to hurt really badly during a run, so I took the rest of the week off.  When my rest was up, I tried again, and it was worse!  It was so bad I went to a specialist who recommended I go to physical therapy 3 times a week or 6 weeks! He must’ve thought I was one of those stay-at-home trophy wives or something.  

Since the beginning of November (play season at school) through the holidays (December) and the beginning of January, I didn’t have one day a week to go to PT let alone three!  I promised Indy I’d get on it in the new year and currently have an appointment to go to a local physical therapist the first week of February.  Along with the exorbitant amount of PT, the doctor also recommended I rest, as it’s the best way for an IT Band injury to heal.  I decided that a solid two months of rest had to be enough, and I started using the stationary bike on New Year’s day.  

Indy and I visited with two friends who have lost a ton of weight (probably close to 100 pounds combined) and a big part of that was their FitBits.  She’s in love with hers and has talked so much about it, I figured I’d get one myself.  I was mostly curious to see how many steps I log in an average school day.  I, like most teachers, feel like I never sit down!  The point of the FitBit is to help you get/stay in shape by starting small and hitting 10,000 steps per day.  I was surprised to find that on my busiest day at school, I still only left with around 5,000 steps, and on a particularly lazy Sunday, I might only hit 1,000!  The FitBit motivated me to get on the stationary bike at least four times a week to hit my 10,000 steps. 

Additionally, Indy and I have started rock climbing again.  We were addicts a few years ago, but couldn't find time for it while he was in his last year of school.  Now that he's settled in his new job and I'm back on the mend, we've gone rock climbing every Friday.  It's a fun, non-conventional way to get some exercise in as a team, and spend time together.

Cutting the Cable Cord:

We've discussed getting rid of our cable for a while.  We hardly watch anything on cable anymore, and we've got subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO.  We've known a few friends who took the plunge and haven't looked back.  After the new year, we sat down and made a list of pros and cons including how much money we'd save, how much time we waste, and what shows we were willing to lose. After much debate, we decided to cut the cord! 

While it sounds relatively simple, it took over an hour in phone calls to our cable provider and even Indy demanding to speak to a supervisor to get the job done! When he hung up the phone, we sat together for a second and watched as our cable box went blank (they wasted no time in un-plugging us.)  We did the whole, "This is weird..." thing for a few minutes, then Indy went to the basement to work out, and I wrote this post.  Already getting rid of cable has paid off!

Making Dates:

Not with each other, but with our friends and family!  One of the biggest things Indy and I were uncomfortable about was the amount of time we're not spending with friends and family.  

Many of our close friends just became first-time parents, so it's hard not to feel lonely (on both sides) when they're cooped up indoors learning how to keep a baby alive.  It's been particularly hard for Indy to deal with as he'll excitedly call up a buddy to go hiking only to hear, "Sorry man, we have a doctor's appointment today" or "Can't man, I'm on baby-duty."  (It's actually made Indy quite afraid of babies, but that's a post for another day!)

One night, when he was feeling particularly low about not seeing his friends, we decided to sit down and actually make some dates.  In less than 20 minutes, we had 3-4 weekend dates planned out with 3-4 different friend-couples of ours!  Maintaining friendships is all about making the time for each other, and if our friends are too busy raising humans (a tough job, no doubt) than we could certainly shoulder the extra work of having to plan.  It instantly made Indy feel better and I'm excited about seeing so many of our good friends in the near future.  

The same goes for family.  My Big Little Brother's Christmas vacation will be over next weekend, and he'll be back at school until his spring break.  As he's my favorite person, ever, I always try to make time to see him when he's home.  We've set up a movie date for tomorrow, and a dinner date the following weekend before he leaves.  

We've learned that we just have to be proactive with this stuff!  Yes, John Lennon, sometimes life does happen when you're making other plans, but sometimes if you don't make any plans, life will pass you by!

Anyway, are any of you dealing with similar issues?  Any suggestions for how to add more balance to your daily life?  We're all ears!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Third and Fourth Nights at the Museum!

Incase you're just hearing about this, Indy and I are taking a painting class in the North American Mammal Wing at the Museum of Natural History in NYC!  You can go back and read about our first and second nights at the museum, or just start from this post.

So, our third class was the first, two-hour sitting of a two-class, four-hour painting.  I chose to do the Caribou:

It was kind of tough, because they're on a darker side of the wing, so it was a bit of a challenge, but it got easier as I continued.  I also chose not to do all of the Caribou in the diorama, just the center three- in a weird, girly way I thought, "Oh, how cute! The daddy, the mommy and the baby!"

Here was my painting after our first session, where they wanted us to focus on lights, darks and shapes....I warn you, it's not all that pretty:

The instructors were happy with my color choices and were very encouraging all through out the sitting, offering me a lot of good tips as I moved along.

During our second sitting, they asked us to focus a little more on detail and rendering.  They were pretty clear in that they didn't expect anyone to have a fully completed work of art, but a tidy, holistic piece.  This is how mine ended up:

While it could probably use another four hours, or so, I was pretty happy with the end result.  I took a ton of reference photos of the diorama so I could try and really finish the piece when I have some free time ("Free time? Hahahaha..." reality laughed as she continued typing).  I'm most pleased with the buck- I like his nice, round belly and the way his legs turned out- they were giving me a tough time. I also changed his face/snout significantly from the first sitting to the second.  I was scared to tweak it at first, but I'm so glad I did.  I'm also pretty pleased with the baby- he worked up real quickly.  I do not like the mom.  She has a weird droopy eye and it bugs me.

Eventually I'll work it up.  Spring break is only, what, three months away?

Indy worked on the diorama of the wolves:

Now, if you've never been to the museum, or if it's been a while, trust me when I say this photo is extremely misleading (I borrowed it from the internet).  This diorama is extremely dark- it's a night-time scene, and as you walk upon it in the museum, the darkness actually throws you off- you think the diorama is "closed," but once your eyes adjust, you see the two wolves flying across the snow bank.  Indy is in LOVE with the wolf diorama, and when we signed up for the classes, this is the one he talked about doing most.  The teachers encouraged him to give it a try, but warned him it would be challenging.

Unfortunately I don't have an in-progress pic of Indy's work, but I do have the "finished" piece- and while, like me, he still has a ways to do, I'd say for someone who hasn't painted in 11 years, he did a pretty darn good job!  Also, it bears mentioning that on our second night of painting, Indy was feeling very sick, and ended up getting diagnosed with pneumonia the next day, so yeah, I'd say he did really well:

Indy has a really heavy hand when he paints- and he uses a lot of paint.  (He's actually making a guest appearance in this shot- see him in the orange on the couch? Everyone say, "Hi Indy!")  I hope he goes back into it eventually so we can hang it up in the house!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall

Two years ago, my classroom was the sewing room.  Unfortunately, the garment program, which was really wonderful, was ended when that teacher retired.  When I was offered the space as my own classroom, I jumped at the chance, and while it took a lot of cleaning and re-arranging, I'm *almost* at the point where it really feels like a real art room, and not a garment-room-turned-art-room.

A few things I had to do to get to this point was have the doors on the changing room removed, the 20 raised outlets covered up, and just recently, cover up the super large mirror at the back of the room:

Now, I appreciate a nice, big mirror just as much as the next gal, but this one was a problem for a few reasons:

1. It is a fire hazard.  I know, weird, right?  But I've been told (repeatedly) that the glass is not tempered, and will shatter as opposed to spider, which, has something to do with fires...Anyway, each year when the fire marshall comes through, he mentions getting it removed, and each year I ask B&G to take it down, and each year it never happens.

2. It is a safety hazard.  When we have our lockdown drills, I gather the students in a far corner of the room on the same side as the classroom door so bad guys can't see us in the room.  I learned last year that we were, in fact, sitting ducks.  As one of our routine lockdown drills ended, the head of security popped in and said, "Uhh...from outside the door we an see you all in the corner through the mirror." He's totally right.

See that little blank space with the filing cabinet in the reflection of the mirror?  That's our hiding space.

3. And far worse than the previous two reasons, it is a MAJOR distraction for almost all of the girls.  The constant make-up checking and hair-flipping...I just couldn't do it anymore.

So, my quick-and-dirty solution was to treat it like a bulletin board.  I taped up some paper, boarder, a few posters and it worked!

Well, that is, it worked...for a while.

As I predicted it would, the tape began to give out around the end of October and the "board" got all sad and melty looking.  The kids were starting to get concerned, so my new roomie and I put our heads together. (Oh, right, I'm sharing my room this year- that'll get it's own post in due time, but spoiler alert: It's working out superbly!)

She and I started tossing out ideas- we had to make it functional, but since the paper didn't work, why not try Pinterest's favorite suggestion... Chalkboard paint!

Now, here is where I'm supposed to post all my in-progress photos, but I can't because I didn't take any.  Use your imaginations and visualize the following:

1. The regular old mirror again.
2. A coat of blue-ish gray primer paint to get the smooth glass surface a little gritty.
3. A streaky coat of black chalkboard paint.
4. A second, slightly less streaky coat of chalkboard paint.
5. A final, smooth, rolled-on coat of chalkboard paint.

And here is the final image:

All done!  That white stuff is chalk dust.  The can recommended before writing on it, cover it all with some chalk dust to help the paint settle and prevent scratching.  Since this shot, it's been cleaned and all kinds of fun things are written on it regularly like:

Dirty Brushes = -5 Points for the Whole Class!


Dirty Trays = -5 Points for the Whole Class!

Gotta love threatening a whole class of children, especially on a new, home-made chalkboard!

So, here's how my life has changed since the transformation:

1. Still a fire hazard.  Covering up the mirror has not, in any way, changed the fact that the mirror still will shatter in extreme heat.  I am still requesting it be removed by a professional, but since I've learned not to hold my breath over stuff like this, at least for now, while it's still here, it's serving a purpose.

2. No longer a safety hazard!  The mirror and all of its reflective properties are 1,000% gone.  Any creepers peeking in from the door can't see us in our hiding space in case of an emergency (heaven forbid!)

3. Best of all: No more make-up and hair checks!

The chalkboard paint was only $9.99 for a quart off of Amazon, and with my prime account, it was here in two days!  The whole project took just one afternoon to complete.  I am very happy with the results!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why Art Class is Important

I live in New Jersey.

My state looks like this:

On a recent trip to Bed Bath and Beyond, there was a chalkboard sign, and our state was drawn like this:

I wanted to cry.  But then I tried some of these kick-ass guacamole tortilla chips to sample, and they made me feel much better.  I was still sad, but not enough to cry.  Snacks make everything better.