Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where do you read?

I frequently hear from writing friends that they don't have much time to read. Actually, I hear that from non-writer friends, too. I am totally mystified by the comment. Who doesn't have time to read?

There is a cute post at called Gulp or sip: How do you read? The blogger and I have much in common when it comes to reading.

I read all the time, every day. I used to get in trouble in school for whipping out a book and reading during class. When I started reading romances in high school—the kind with Fabio and an unlaced corset on the front—I bought a cloth book cover so that teachers couldn't object (as much) to what I chose to read.

Like the blogger, I read when I eat by myself. I read before bed. I read on airplanes. I love flying by myself because I have hours where I can do little else besides read.

When I was nursing both of my kids, and pumping on breaks at work, I would read. I had to set myself a timer to make sure I didn't get too engrossed in a book and stay in the mother's room for an hour at a stretch.

I read old classics through (free! Delivered in small chunks via RSS feed to Google Reader! Alice in Wonderland is even wackier than I remember it!).

Lately, with the addition of my Sony reader and both the Borders and Kindle apps on my phone, I read everywhere. In between stirring the tomato sauce for dinner and draining the pasta. Just out of splash range while the kids are in the bathtub. During Dragon Tales, Max and Ruby, and WordWorld. In the lobby during the kids dance class. In the waiting room at the doctor's office.

I read in the car on long car rides. I read on short car rides. If I cared for audio books (I don't), I'd “read” while driving. I'm tempted to try them again, just to make a dent in my list of books to read.

With few exceptions, I read two or more childrens' books every night. Outloud. To my children, who always beg for one more.

Since starting writing the past few years, I haven't noticed any decline in how much I read. But I have changed what I read.

I read books on writing, books on grammar (a small section at a time), books in genres that I'm also writing, books that are completely different. I read my critique partners' chapters of books they haven't finished yet. I've beta-read whole books for them. I read blogs and more blogs (from editors, agents, writers, book reviews).

I also read more than one book at a time, and I don't always finish them. Right now, I probably have 5 books in progress. I can think of two books on writing, at least two fiction books I've started, and a couple of non-fiction ones in areas of research for potential future writing of my own.

I used to finish every work of fiction that I started, no matter what. I'm much pickier now. I also have an entire bookshelf (plus a still-unpacked duffel bag) full of books that I've bought or received (love free books from RWA conference!). So a book has to be great (or better than great), or else it can be replaced by one of a hundred more that I have queued up and ready to go.

What about you? Where do you read? Or do you need a long "gulp" for your reading time?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The best way to recover from a trip

The best way to recover from a trip is by turning around and going on another one. Right? Uh, sure.

Two weeks ago I went to the RWA National Convention (Romance Writers of America) in Orlando. Yes, I'm a writer. No, I'm not published. I'm working on that :) That, in fact, was the purpose of the convention. Though at times it felt like a vacation (no kids, no cooking, no laundry), the point was to attend workshops to improve my writing and to network with other writers, editors, and literary agents. The first photo is from the last night when the Golden Heart and Rita awards are presented. Its kind of like the Oscars for romance novels, only 99% of all of the awards attendees are female :) The first photo is my weekly critique group (minus Dawn, who had already headed back to her room). From the left are Shawntelle Madison, Jeannie Lin, myself, and Amanda Berry.

After a week back at the day job, and not quite catching up on dirty laundry, we drove to Indiana for my husband's family reunion. The second photo shows my kids (facing the camera behind the table), their cousins (backs to the camera), my sister-in-law (right side of the table) and mother-in-law (left side) working on crafts during the heat of the afternoon. There were lots more cousins and second cousins there that I didn't get photos of. Most of them blondies like my kids :)

We left the reunion close to dinner time and drove up to Indianapolis to visit my mom and two of my sisters. On Sunday, we all went to the Indiana State Fair. We took the fair train, run by the Indiana Museum of Transportation, which also happens to leave from about 5 minutes away from Mom's house. Trystan is a train fanatic and loved every minute of the ride. I got pictures of Charlotte and my sister Katie because they were in the seat across from mine, but not Trystan (who was in my lap or running down the aisle most of the trip).

The kids rode a bunch of rides, and it was Charlotte's first time on a Ferris wheel. We walked through some of the livestock barns. The kids especially liked the chickens and bunnies. For lunch, we had rib-eye steak sandwiches that were delicious. Except that the tent was right next to one of the doors to the cow barn, where the cows were being primped for show. As my husband phrased it, "There is no second place." We drove home Monday afternoon, exhausted, and still haven't tackled the mountain of laundry.

I have an unexpected day off today. Unexpected because we have a deadline at work next week, and I was mentally prepared for stress and overtime. But (fingers crossed!) we are running ahead of schedule, so I'm home.

And I plan to spend the day lazing by the pool eating chocolate, since the kids are at daycare.

Or, I could do laundry, buy groceries, clean the house, pick up supplies for tomorrow's girl scout day camp, and finish polishing one of my manuscripts (fancy word for those unpublished books) to send off to a requesting agent.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Back to $chool

The St. Louis Post Dispatch this morning reported that the average family will spend about $600 this fall buying school supplies. They didn’t say whether that was per child, or whether it assumed the average 2.4 or 1.9 or whatever children per family. Nor do they say whether it includes school clothes and sports equipment, or just the learning-related supplies.  But I believe it.
We only have one child to buy school supplies for, and she’s entering first grade. So there are no laptops or expensive reference books on her supply list. But that doesn’t mean our shopping list is much shorter than average.
Char goes to a private school, so uniforms are at the top of her list. And by “uniform” I don’t mean “generic white polo shirt and navy blue skirt that can be bought at Walmart”. I mean go to the one and only uniform provider to buy the one style of school-approved blouse, the one style of school-approved plaid jumper (which is different for first grade than the Kindergarten style), the one style of school-approved warm weather shorts, and the one style of school-approved under-the-jumper shorts.  Her shoes are likewise dictated by the school and available from exactly two retailers in the entire St. Louis metro area. And no, this stuff isn’t cheap. 
Purchased brand-new, it would cost around $120-150 to outfit her for a single day at school. Luckily, the school runs a used-uniform sale every summer, and she already has a collection of blouses, warm-weather shorts, and under-shorts from last year that still fit (many of which were bought at the used uniform sale last year).  Unluckily, Charlotte must be the smallest first-grader ever because there were no used jumpers in her size at the used uniform sale (she would be swimming in the lone size 7 that I found, let alone the 8’s and up on the rack).  So we still need to purchase one or two brand-new size 5 or 6 jumpers (at around $50 each).  Or I need to do some serious tailoring.  (In my free time LOL)
Besides every day uniforms, she needs an all-white dress for special feast days.  An all-white dress with sleeves, but NOT made of beaded satin like most of the First Communion-type dresses sold in department stores. In other words, the type of dress you can’t find anywhere. The uniform store has a limited selection of ghastly options that run around $125.  Hancock fabrics had some lovely white cotton eyelet for $5 a yard. So, about $30 for pattern, zipper, thread, fabric, lining fabric, plus several hours of my (free, LOL) time to cut and assemble. I feel for the families who don’t have the option of making their own dresses. And the boys who *must* buy a specific uniform-store-provided blazer and tie. (The boat we’ll be in once Trystan hits Kindergarten in a few years).
Lets not forget gym shoes (to leave at school), tennis shoes for warm-weather days (mostly white, no princesses or fairies or glittery pink-and-silver), tights (which last year lasted an average of 5-7 wearings each, tops), and plain red sweats for gym (not hot pink, no glittery emblems, in other words impossible to find in the girls department, and in dangerously low supply in the boys department of any given store). And soccer cleats. I’m not counting her soccer uniform (since it was paid for last spring with her registration fee), and she already has two pairs of shin guards from last year.  We won’t discuss costs for other extra curriculars (potentially dance or gymnastics, to be decided once we see the final soccer schedule).
Did I mention actual school supplies yet? This is the one place where I actually feel thrifty. The school contracted with some small business to provide packs of pre-approved school supplies, at $40 for the first grade list. But when I looked at what was on the list, I realized I could do much better.  She didn’t need another ruler (we bought 1 last year and she somehow adopted a second). She already had one of two required school-emblem pencil cases (the second was $3.50). She had a couple of folders in the proscribed colors that were still in good shape from last year. I had several 1” white binders with insertable covers that I’d bought in a pack for myself for something else. The rest of the items (pencils, crayons, markers, pointed scissors, additional plastic folder with or without clips in specific colors) were all available in the same styles/sizes/quantities from chain stores for very little money.  I think I spent about $15, and that included extra sets of markers and colored pencils for home (at $1 for the Crayola washables, why wouldn’t I?).
Not counting the uniforms, we will spend way under that $600 mark. Counting uniforms and soccer shoes, we’re getting closer. On the upside, Char doesn’t need as much of wardrobe as other kids, since she only wears jeans and dresses and things on weekends, so we do save money there.
And I won’t even begin adding up the cost of the tuition.  As I’ve joked, we’re not just saving for college, we’re *practicing*.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

I saw a funny quote today

Life is precious; treat it like a jewel.
Uh, don’t we use diamonds for drills and saws?  And don’t we chip bits off of jewels and grind them down into just the right shape? And then lock them away in a safe? Is that how I’m supposed to treat life?
Funny, I would think that “life” should be treated as though it’s alive. Alive, and in need of nourishment and sunshine, and a storm now and then to clean the dead leaves away and to strengthen us.