The Science Fair: Dante’s 5th Concentric Circle of Hell

It’s science fair season and I’ve never been more appreciative of my parents as I am at this very moment.  I had no idea.  I really didn’t.  I’m so sorry, Mom and Dad, for all the science fairs, dioramas, posters, projects and reports throughout the entirety of my education.  I have no idea how you survived without ever turning to the bottle.  For that alone you deserve sainthood.

The Peeshwank undertook his first big science project this year.  The prep began back in October.  He worked diligently in his “data journal”, collecting… well… data.  He had a plan and was following it fairly carefully.  He chose a fairly easy experiment because he knew he had some acting projects coming up as well as Odyssey of the Mind.  I admired the forethought he put into it and remember thinking, “My boy is growing up to be such a responsible young person.  This makes me so happy.”

We did the actual experiments over our extended Christmas break and once again I was ecstatic that the boy had chosen not to wait until the last minute to do it.  He had been turning in his data journal each week and so far had 100s at every checkpoint along the way.

Then it was time to make the display board for the big day.

My thought: glue a bunch of pictures from the experiment and some shiny letters at the top and call it good.

Teacher’s thought: a THIRTY THREE PAGE powerpoint explanation of what should and shouldn’t go on the board.

Yikes.

We had two days to get it done.  Keep in mind he had school all day, OM practice until 5:00, then Les Miserables rehearsal immediately after that until bedtime.  The Peeshwank spent his downtime at Les Mis rehearsal typing up the info that needed to go on the board.  The next day I did that thing that I hate to do.  I helped him by formatting it all so it would look nice on the board.  No problem.  The printer would give me fits throughout the day, so that made it a longer process than I had hoped.

I was The Peeshwank’s hero that night.

He quickly assembled the board and it looked great.

Then the next morning happened.

P: Where’s my data journal?

Me: What do you mean?

P: I can’t find it.  I have to have it.  All of this is due today!

[panic is evident in the boy's voice]

Me: Where did you have it last?

P: In my backpack.

Me: Then it’s in your back pack.

P: It’s not.  I checked like a thousand times.

Me: Check your room?  The car? 

[this goes on for several seconds]

Me: Well, we have to go.

In the car there the discussion continued.  We discussed being responsible and the fact that I couldn’t bail him out on this one and that it fell on him.

P: I’m going to fail.  It’s worth 100 points of the grade.

Me: Well, you turned it in on the 15th for a checkpoint.  Your teacher probably still has it.

He insisted she returned them and that he had it in his backpack.  His freakout level reached Defcon 1.

Me: Look.  You don’t have rehearsal tonight.  If you can’t find it at school, we’ll make another one tonight and you can just take a late penalty on it or something, k?

He livened up a bit and went to school just slightly less freaked out.

I got home and Joe and I tore the entire house apart looking for the DDJ (damned data journal).  We moved furniture.  We checked the freezer (Pooh bear was once found there when The Peeshwank was an even Pee-ier shwank).  We looked under mattresses.  We checked everything.  No sign of the DDJ.  P texted me from school.  It was not there either, but his teacher would let him turn it in late without a penalty.

I went to the teacher’s website and started the process of printing out all the forms, charts, tables, etc. that P had used in his DDJ.  Every time I would hit print, the printer would freak out.  (I’ve had it for the better part of 9 years.  It’s the grumpy old man of the tech world.)  So I would have to turn it off and back on again to clear the error messages.  Which made it reinitialize on my laptop, which in turn would give it a new printer name which I would them have to update in the printer queue.  Wanna know how many times this happened?

Yep.  16 times that a-hole of a printer did this to me.

Yep. 16 times that a-hole of a printer did this to me.

Because, of course it reloaded 16 times in the span of a single day.

This is me:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjsSr3z5nVk

But I persevered.

The boy got home yesterday afternoon and said, “I’m gonna watch Breaking Bad and get this done.  Because: science!”

I sat down in the library and breathed a sigh of relief that everything was printed and ready to go for the boy to redo the entire book.  (At last count the DDJ had been 35 pages of research and data.  A pretty big undertaking.)

And then the boy gasps and yells,

“You’ve gotta be kidding me!”

[a pause while I ponder what I could've possibly missed during my printing trials]

“Mom!  Did you know there’s a secret pocket in my binder?”

The original DDJ had been in his backpack the entire time.

I had wine for dinner.

2014 Is Bringing Big Changes To Our Happy Home

Yesterday, the first day of a shiny new year, I sat down on the red couch you’ve all heard so much about and continued reading a book I had picked up earlier in the day.

The Peeshwank walked in and exclaimed, “What are you doing?”

“I’m reading.”

“But you read in the yellow chair.  You’re like Sheldon.  That’s your spot!”

“New year, new spot.  Maybe I’m turning over a new leaf.”

“But… that’s your spot.”  He points over at the empty yellow chair.  “This is where I nap.  Where am I supposed to nap if you’re reading in my spot?”

“Now who’s acting like Sheldon?”

Bazinga! Mug

I know I’ve been absent for a bit on ye olde website, but I promise to get back to making daily writing a priority.  The Peeshwank’s career and my volunteering at the theater started to take over our lives, so I’m working to take back some time to work on MY passion.  Yes, I’m learning to say “No, I don’t have time for that” in order to continue following my own dreams.  It hit me on New Year’s Eve that for the first year since 2009 I hadn’t released a new book.  I vow to never let that happen again.  As long as I am mentally and physically able to write, I will write.  No excuses.

And so, loyal readers, “The Last Girl” WILL be released this year come hell or high water.  If not, grab your torches and pitchforks and meet me in the front yard.

I’ve also got some other fun works that I started during NaNoWriMo that I can’t wait to finish and share with you.  Plus the YA series that Joe and I are writing together.  So many manuscripts!!!  I love looking through my computer and seeing all the work that I’ve been able to do thus far.  I’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m up for the challenge.

Best wishes to you all!  Cheers!

Doctor Who, Minecraft, and a Donkey Named “Danger”

As you all know, we’re nerds.  Big ol’ sci-fi, video game, comic book loving nerds.  We’ve raised The Peeshwank to follow in our footsteps because, let’s face it, nerds are the best.

So this series of conversations made me laugh a lot more than it probably should have…

In the car:

P: Danger is dead!

Me: Excuse me?

P: Danger.  He’s my donkey in Minecraft. [He assured me it was NOT a reference to Anthony Weiner, although he giggled a lot when Joe asked him if the donkey's first name was Carlos.]

Me: Oh.  What happened?

P: Well, he was just standing there when Jerk McCrapface came up and murdered him.  Murdered him!  Right there in front of my house!

Me: I’m sorry.  Why did you let… um… Jerk McCrapface come to your house.

P: He told me he was a Doctor Who fan, so I let him teleport to me.  But I think he must’ve been lying.  A true Whovian would never kill another Whovian’s donkey, would he?

Me: No.  Absolutely not.

minecraftdonkey

Rest in peace, Danger.

Later in the library:

P: I still can’t believe that guy killed Danger.  I’m so mad.

Even later in the living room:

P: I’m gonna find the guy that killed Danger and raid his home.  He’ll be sorry he ever laid a finger on my donkey.

"Hello.  My name is P-dog Jenkins.  You killed my donkey.  Prepare to die."

“Hello. My name is P-dog Jenkins. You killed my donkey. Prepare to die.”

At dinner:

P: I’m still so mad.

Me: Well, how did he kill the donkey? I can’t imagine it’s very easy to kill a donkey.  They seem pretty resilient.

P: He punched him in the face until he was dead.

Joe: So, he was beating a dead horse?

Me: [giggle snorting laughter]

P: What?  I don’t get it.

The Peeshwank: Silly White Kid to Siamese Prince

Most of you know, The Peeshwank is currently appearing in “The King and I” at one of our local theaters.  A lot of people have asked for pics of the young one’s transformation from pasty, bespectacled white kid into a Siamese Prince.  I’m nothing if not accommodating, so here you go:

Step 1: Take one REALLY white kid.  Blonde hair, blue eyes, the works.

aIMG_3419Step 2: Dye his hair appropriately.

He grabbed a blanket to cover up, so as not to blind us all.

He grabbed a blanket to cover up, so as not to blind us all.

Step 3: Cut hair into a mohawk and spike.  (Got 2 B hairspray is the best for this portion of the program.)

Step 4: Crazy eye make-up.  Liquid liner is the only way to go.

Still looking a little goth though...

Still looking a little goth though…

Step 4: Spray tan the munchkin.

Still not quite there…

Step 5: Add a blingy costume and a couple of other Siamese Prince photobombers and VOILA!  Transformation complete!

Now go get tickets to come see the show and marvel at the majesty of it all: the singing, the dancing, the costumes, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera!

What I Read: June

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty

This first half of The Chaperone is absolutely engrossing.  The latter half moves by at a break-neck pace though, leaving one feeling as if the author wanted to squeeze as much as possible into the book in as small amount of space as possible.  The premise of the story is fantastic.  A young Louise Brooks (prior to becoming a famous silent film star) is accompanied to NYC to attend a prestigious dance school.  Louise is irreverent and smart-mouthed, but open-minded to new experiences, while Cora (her companion) is a little more prim and proper and less open to what was becoming acceptable in 1920s society.  It’s a lovely ride through 1920s New York and Wichita, Kansas.  As I said, the ending left me a little deflated – how many epiphanies can one character have in 20 pages or so?  But all in all, it’s a good read.  It’s also apparently being made into a movie, which I’m really looking forward to.  I love the 20s and seeing the fashion, etc. on the big screen.

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

The Bean Trees

I absolutely love Barbara Kingsolver’s work  – and this book did not disappoint.  Kingsolver is the creator of one of my favorite characters of all time (Ada from “The Poisonwood Bible“), so I went in knowing that I’d more than likely find new characters to fall in love with.  Taylor, Turtle, and Lou Ann make a unique little family that I did indeed love.  Lou Ann’s various neuroses about all the crazy ways a child can die in the everyday world made me laugh out loud quite often.  She reminded me of all those fears I had when The Peeshwank was just a baby.  The story is a much simpler story than the epic Poisonwood Bible, but tells as engrossing a tale.

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Cover of "Under the Dome: A Novel"

Yep.  I’m a Constant Reader (as King refers to his legions of fans).  I have been since I was about 12 and my mom found me rifling through her book collection after being thoroughly bored by the offerings of my school library.  I started out with some of the scarier (to a 12-year-old girl) novels – Pet Sematary, Salem’s Lot, etc. then graduated on to The Stand at 15.  There’s not a thing of his that I’ve read that I haven’t liked.  Under the Dome represents King at his best.  He’s built an entire cast of characters under that dome, each one depicted as only King can.  The town dissolves into a Nazi-esque regime under the thumb of the good-ol-boy Big Jim in which if you’re not with him you probably wanna watch out for a knife in the back (or a gold plated baseball to the head).  Living in the South I’ve met countless people who resemble Big Jim in some way or another which makes this story that much more chilling – these are everyday people.  They could be your neighbors.  Yet they are at war in their small picturesque town and there’s no way anyone outside the Dome can help them.
I decided to read this one along with the television miniseries, but after the first episode and the following letter from King, I went on and blasted through the rest of it without waiting for the show to catch up.  Honestly, it’s just one of those I can’t put down even if I wanted to wait for the show to catch up.  It’s King at his finest and probably one of my top three of his – along with “The Stand” and “On Writing” and “Misery” and “11/22/63″ and “Needful Things” and… oh forget it.  It’s like asking a mom to decide which kid is her favorite.
As for the miniseries… part of me is enjoying having no idea what’s going to happen next.  It’s like reading “Desperation” and then watching “The Regulators”.  Same dome, same character names, but everything else… different.  Another part of me though, would love to see the events of the book played out on the screen.  Of course, it would never live up to what I see in my head when I read the book.

This month has been crazy (I know, different month, same excuse) with doing local theater (if you’re in the area, come see The Peeshwank in “The King and I” at Rogers Little Theater) and a couple other film projects (here, here, and here), so I haven’t had as much time to read as normal.  I did start my umpteenth re-read of “Much Ado About Nothing” though because…

Shakespeare + Captain Tightpants = AWESOME.

Shakespeare + Captain Tightpants = AWESOME.

Review forthcoming… as soon as a movie theater in Arkansas will man up and decide to show the danged movie.

The Peeshwank: Superhero or Crazed Villainous Overlord?

The Peeshwank turned 13 this year which is a cause for much excitement in our household.  Every nerd worth his mettle knows that the teen years are when your superpowers reveal themselves.  For The Peeshwank, this happened on our recent trip to Michigan…

The Peeshwank has participated in Odyssey of the Mind for a number of years now.  He comes from a long line of OMers – I having joined a team in ’84, and had it been around when my parents were in school my father would’ve been the king of Problems 1, 2, and 4, while my mother would’ve ruled over Problems 3 and 5.  This year The Peeshwank’s team won our state championship and made their way to World Finals at Michigan State University where they competed against teams from all over the world.  (And came in 25th in their division of almost 60 teams.  Top half!  Woohoo!)

After coming out of their Spontaneous competition we hosed the kids with silly string, bubbles and Hog calls then gave them Starbucks to refresh themselves.  Something in that combination must’ve set off something in The Peeshwank, because moments later this happened…005 (2)We knew a growth spurt would be coming soon, so we didn’t think much of it, until this happened…

004 (2) A Force Choke, Pdog?  Really?  Paul is your friend!

Then he turned his powers on his entire team and punched the ground.  The aftermath was too gruesome to show here.  Michigan State sent us packing after buildings started to crumble.  We’ve also been added to the “no-fly” list.  (These things may or may not be true.)

IMG_1904We’re a little concerned at this point.

In Which I Discover What Kind of Videos My Teen Boy is Watching…

Every night at bedtime lately The Peeshwank lovingly hugs me and sneaks the tablet out of my hands and trots off to bed.  When I ask him what he does, he just says, “Oh, watch videos or read on the kindle app.”  He’s always been a trustworthy kid and whenever I check on him, there aren’t any crazy online shenanigans going on. The other day I finally discovered what’s been keeping him so engrossed though.

It wasn’t what I expected…

P: I saw this awesome thing the other night.  It’s… (he begins describing some scientific concept my brain just couldn’t wrap itself around)

Me: Is that for real?

P: Yeah, I watched a video on it.  It’s so awesome.

Me: Where did you see this? (Thinking it would be some sci-fi youtuber or something.)

P: Oh, it was on yesterday’s TED video, but it was so cool.  They…

Me: Wait, you watch TED videos?

P: Yeah, every day.  They’re awesome.

Me: Carry on.

Whew.

tedtalks

What I Read: May

The Last Cato by Matilde Asense

This book is basically what would happen if Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code gave birth to a daughter. The main character is a nun who translates ancient works for the Vatican. She’s an intriguing character to say the least. She pairs up with the leader of the Swiss Guard and an Egyptian scholar to track down the people behind the disappearance of pieces of the cross Jesus was allegedly crucified upon.  It’s a fun story with a lot of history mixed in.  A lot of history. When I was in school, I never would’ve considered myself a history buff, but I guess I am. I loved reading about Constantine, St. Helen, and so many other stories the author worked into the novel.  The historical references were one of the best parts of the novel.  The “tests” the characters have to endure required a lot of suspension of disbelief.  The last chapter is a throwaway.  It’s like she ran out of steam and just quickly wrote the first thing that popped into her head.  Of course, it may have lost something in translation along the way.  A good editor could’ve corrected most of what’s wrong with the book.  Seriously, are proofreaders and editors a thing of the past?
On a side note, I noticed Dan Brown is coming out with a book that focuses on Dante’s Inferno.  Nice.  I guess he’s hoping we haven’t read The Last Cato…
Oh, and for the second month in a row, a book I read mentioned Briareus.  What an odd coincidence.

Naked Heat by Richard Castle

Yes, as a die-hard Browncoat, I am required by law to watch “Castle.”  Crime shows were never my thing, but I will follow my Captain wherever the ‘verse takes us.  And so, when I saw this at the used bookstore at my local library for a meager 50 cents, I couldn’t resist.  And… it’s not good.  It’s not even close to good.  It’s a poorly-written hour-long Castle episode spread out over 400 pages minus the wit, dialogue, and character growth.
One thing I did enjoy were the couple of Firefly references.  I read the first one and thought, “This was written by someone pretending to be Richard Castle, who is portrayed by Nathan Fillion, who played my beloved Captain… it’s like Inception: Browncoat-style.”  If you want to read it, you can have my copy.  I won’t revisit this one.

Nathan Fillion at Borders Northridge

Nathan Fillion kissing a baby.
Just because.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

My dear friend, Tina, gave me a copy of this book after falling in love with it herself.  It’s a series of letters between an author, her best friend, her publisher, and the people of the British Channel isle of Guernsey after WWII.  It’s funny and heartbreaking and easy to get swept up in.  As soon as I finished, I immediately began researching the Channel Islands with the hopes that someday I could go visit the charming little island that was so intriguing throughout the book.  It’s not a change-the-world type of book, but it mixes romance, intrigue and humor with the German occupation of the island during WWII in a beautiful way.  It’s a must-read for fans of the epistolary novel.  (A favorite style of mine and one that I hope to try my hand at writing in the near future.)

Liberating Paris by Linda Bloodworth Thomason

I picked up this novel at our library’s used book sale mainly because Paris, France has become The Peeshwank’s latest vacation-spot obsession.  So, imagine my surprise when I realized that it wasn’t about Paris, France, but Paris, Arkansas.  It was written by one of my all-time favorite TV writers (“Designing Women” and “M*A*S*H”).  Then as I read the “thank yous” at the beginning, the author thanked someone I know personally.  It was like the gods were begging me to read this book and I’m so glad they did.  The story lines (of which there are several) touch on everything from young love to homosexuality, from the Wal-Marting of America to religious hypocrisy.  And they are told masterfully.  On one page I found myself laughing out loud and a page later fighting back tears.  I loved the characters and the setting.  It felt like any small town here in my neck of the woods.  This is one of the few books that I feel would make an excellent movie.  Or TV show (since Mrs. Thomason has already proven she has a knack for that.)

Cover of "Liberating Paris: A Novel"

What I Read: April

The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus

I was really surprised that a novel about a real estate mishap could’ve engrossed me as much as this did from the start.  The switching points of view between recovering alcoholic/drug abuser Kathy Nicolo and former Colonel in the Iranian military Massoud Amir Behrani are written quite masterfully.  The last 100 pages or so let me down somewhat.  I finished reading it, but felt like the first half of the book was so much better written.  I could’ve done without switching to Lester’s 3rd person point of view later in the book.  As I was reading the last few chapters, I kept asking, “What!? But why? Seriously, why?  WHY?!?”  The characters reached a point where I just wanted to shake them. It’s a long read and can be quite tedious at times, but an interesting character study.

Sea of Monsters (Percy Jackson and The Olympians #2) by Rick Riordan

The Peeshwank and I read all of the Percy Jackson books together way back when they first came out.  They were some of the first “real” books he read, so they hold a special place in my heart.  Add to that how sweet Rick Riordan is in person and I can’t help but love the books.  I decided to revisit this one in particular because the trailer for the long-awaited movie (seriously, these kids are gonna be 40 by the time we get to the last movie at the rate they’re going) was released this week and although it looks like Hollywood did a typical chop job of the source material, we’ll be going to see it because…

Captain Tightpants himself as Hermes.  Y'all.  Seriously.

Captain Tightpants himself as Hermes. Y’all. Seriously.

And yes, they totally changed up the scene where Percy meets the Greek God of Bringing Sexy Back Thieves (and fathering lots of half-bloods), but I prefer my Captain in a suit anyway.  But, I digress.  We’re talking about the book here.  The book is… oh, who am I kidding?  Captain Mal as a Greek God.  Y’all.  The swoon is strong with this one.

The Titan’s Curse (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #3) by Rick Riordan
The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #4) by Rick Riordan
The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #5) by Rick Riordan

Yeah, I ended up re-reading the rest of the series once I finished “Sea of Monsters”.  It really is a fun children’s series.  I always loved studying Greek mythology in school, so it’s amusing to see how Riordan plays with it and makes it work in our modern world.  Sure they follow the Harry Potter formula – three friends battle evil and just when you think all hope is lost, some deus ex machina swoops in to save the day, but it’s fantasy fiction for kids so it doesn’t bother me.  I think my favorite of the three is Labyrinth because, Briareus y’all!  Last time I heard about how he was doing was when I read Dante.  It’s always nice to run into old friends.

Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix

I was looking for something to transition me back into more grown-up fare and grabbed this one out of The Peeshwank’s library.  This is one of the hundreds of YA novels The Peeshwank has picked up at book fairs over the years.  The cover intrigued me as soon as I saw it.  (I’m a DNA/genetics nerd, big time.)  It also clued me in as to what the big secret was regarding the main character’s identity.  It’s a little predictable, but it was a quick, read-in-one-sitting book.  It would be a good one for a tween/teen girl that likes to read about strong heroines.  It also tackles some deeper themes like science vs. religion that I truly appreciated seeing in a book meant for a younger audience.  That just doesn’t happen enough in YA lit.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Murakami loves to bend reality and send his readers on a metaphysical journey.  I read 1Q84 last year and fell in love with it.  I enjoy going into a book having absolutely no idea what to expect.  This one did not disappoint.  Murakami’s not for everyone, so unless you enjoy reading along and all of a sudden a main character is having a conversation with a cat, you may want to skip this one.  His descriptions of Japan and Japanese life are absolutely beautiful.  The settings in this story made me want to pack up and jump on a plane and follow in 15-year-old runaway, Kafka Tamura’s footsteps.

Kafka on the Shore

I’m almost done reading a sweeping epic of a book, but I don’t think I’ll have it finished today, so it’ll go on the May list.  Until then, read a book or two and let me know if you find any that you positively adore.

Like these.  (Another one will hopefully be joining them soon!)

The Peeshwank and The Lyrids: A Conversation

English: A meteor during the peak of the 2009 ...

Living in a science-loving home we are all about meteor showers, comets, eclipses and all sorts of other night sky phenomena.  The Peeshwank will drag the telescope out to the front yard to try to view all sorts of things.  (Usually this takes place on the coldest nights of the year.  Of course.)

This week, the Lyrid meteor shower promised to entertain us for a night.  So we bundled up and took our place in the driveway and waited.  And waited.  And waited some more.

P: You know, on nights like these we should really live out in the the country.

Me: Yeah, the lights in town make it hard to see anything.

P:  And if we’re out in the country watching for meteor showers that aren’t gonna show up, at least we wouldn’t have neighbors around wondering, “What are those idiots doing laying in the driveway again?”

Touche`, Peeshwank.