Wednesday, March 21, 2018


I had no idea what I was going to
 when I checked in.
I recently got back from my first-ever writer's retreat, AKA Three Days as a High-End Hermit.

I've always had this daydream about holing up someplace with good room service and soundproof walls, so I could write nonstop for an uninterrupted period of time.

But my thrifty little self has always been a bit dubious about the value of it. After all, I'm not currently employed outside the home, so supposedly I have vast swaths of time at my disposal anyway. Right?

Of course, my Millennial offspring may both be gainfully employed, but they have moved back in to live with my Beloved and me in our semi-large suburban home because it's cheaper, we have the room, and they're saving their money.

One of Signy's cats (Boots) has discovered
that the top of one of my Bettas' tanks is
an awesome vibrator seat
(warm, too).
So far, both Boots and Pokoyo the fish
appear to be co-existing okay.
But they're both autonomous adults. Coordinating with them doesn't take that much time. Of course, I do a daily morning-and-evening shuttle, because the parking at my daughter's work is insane and we don't live that far away, so it's not that hard for me to drop her off and pick her up. Gives us a chance to catch up with each other.

We do have animals to care for and feed and get to the vet as needed, which I do a lot of the time (now that I have lost Jake, all but two of the fish are my daughter's, but I like her dogs, cats, and even her blind lizard that has to be hand-fed daily). It's not that much of a chore. Also, there are the usual housekeeping-business things (repairs, insurance claims, contractors) that usually fall to me because I'm home and available.

Oh, and I have regular dates for lunch, coffee, and/or art museum trips or writing workshopping with assorted friends, as well as regular check-ins with my 93-year-old father, who also lives nearby. But a woman can't be a hermit all the time.

Really. I have lots of time.

This  delicious little birthday cake greeted me
the first night.
I took my time enjoying
EVERY MORSEL. (Yes, the moon was solid chocolate).
For my birthday, my sister Gigi (also a writer, the best friend of a writer, and the widow of a writer) called my bluff this year. She booked me for a weekend at The Fontaine, an elegant little boutique hotel less than two miles from my home, on the west end of the Kansas City Country Club Plaza.

So, kind of dubious but willing to experiment, I packed my clothing, my computer, my sketchbook full of Rana Station visualizations, and my Journal . . . and I checked in.

OMG, the Fontaine is beautiful. Check out their website--but be warned. It doesn't do them justice. Most especially it doesn't do the warmth, friendliness and courtesy of the staff justice. I have rarely felt more welcome anywhere. From the moment I wandered in, I was greeted, guided, and offered any help needed--and that "TLC" treatment continued, without fail, no matter who I talked to, for the entire three days I was there.

But I also had some clear objectives and a lot of work to do. I had just sent the first novel in the XK9 "Bones" Trilogy, What's Bred in the Bone, off to a collection of trusted beta-readers, charged with telling me where it "worked," where it didn't, and whether they liked it, preferably by the end of the month. I desperately needed to think about something else and let them read in peace, without getting little "Are you done yet?" "Is it okay?" and "Did you (oh, PLEASE GOD!!!) like it?" messages from me every couple of days.

I had a second and third novel in the trilogy to get a handle on. Yes, I knew in general what I planned to do with them. But specifically? Not so much. At least not in detail. My primary objective for the weekend was to build a timeline for the second novel, A Bone to Pick. I also hoped to rough in a good, much more specific plan for the third novel, Bone of Contention

Brunch was like the rest of the Fontaine: elegant, delicious, accommodating, and welcoming. I got totally spoiled!

On my normal schedule, I'd expect that process to take a while. Possibly a couple of weeks. How much better could I do, uninterrupted?

And I do mean uninterrupted. I went to the lovely brunch each morning for a good, high-protein breakfast. I ordered supper in, either from Room Service or from a favorite local Chinese restaurant. I went on several "thinking walks." Otherwise, I worked (or slept. I did some of that too. But when I did, I dreamed about what my characters might do in various scenarios. I was that immersed).

Suffice it to say I met my objectives, and then some. I got my second novel's timeline done. I got my third novel planned out in semi-detail. I even got the next trilogy, and the one after that roughed in. I'm not sure I've ever gotten this much done, this coherently, in this short a time. Ever.

Any doubts I may have had are gone. The weekend was worth its weight in gold, as far as advancing my projects is concerned. Guess what I mean to do, once I've finished A Bone to Pick, and sent it off to my long-suffering betas?

IMAGES: All photos were taken by me. Feel free to re-post any of them you wish: all I ask is an attribution and a link back to this post. Thanks!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Challenging absurd distinctions

The Artdog Quote of the Week

IMAGE: I put this quote-image together with some help from Julie Kim of Red Rocket Creative Strategies (for the background photo--see also the excellent article that goes with the image!) and Robert Webb, without whose quote this thought would not be complete! Thank you both!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Green shenanigans

The Artdog Image of Interest

Today's Image of Interest has more than a touch o' the Blarney goin' on.

This photo dates to 2016, When Alan Lawrence, a Utah art director, photographer and web designer combined forces with his wife, baby son Rockwell, and--for this photo--the family dog, to create a memorable St. Patrick's Day picture (don't worry about the dog: the green paint is Photoshopped in).

It's actually part of a series of pictures created for Lawrence's That Dad Blog, his Instagram account, and his Facebook Account. I discovered these creative family moments via an article for TODAY by A. Pawlowski. This one was my favorite, but check out the whole, imaginative collection via the embedded links!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Alan Lawrence, via TODAY! And a happy St. Patrick's Day to all!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Arming teachers?

I'm no longer an active classroom teacher, so you might wonder if I even have a right  to weigh in on the question of arming teachers to prevent school shootings. However, as a second-generation teacher, I have strong opinions on the subject.

And I'm strongly against it.

Let me be really clear on that. I stand with the teachers' associations who've come out against the idea with a pretty unanimous voice. If you want to read a really snarky voice that totally tells it like it is, check out this reality check, but don't say I didn't warn you.

In my recent studies of police, their tactics, and their approaches to security, I've learned nothing that contradicts this opinion. Most police don't want teachers armed, either. Why not? Well, consider this dilemma:

People don't know how they'll react in an emergency. Police understand this. They train and train--but the real thing is disorienting. And the questions that arise are not easy.

With all due respect to Mr. Trump, running into a dangerous situation (especially untrained and unarmed) would simply increase the confusion. There are enough problems when personnel are both armed and trained.

Remember Fort Hood? Remember how that went down?

There's also the mundane but very real problem of liability. If your school district's insurance rates suddenly shoot up the moment they arm the teachers in the classrooms--in today's climate of austere budgets--what responsible superintendent would move forward with the idea?

For me and for a great many other teachers, the idea that armed teachers are a credible deterrent to school shooters is ludicrous. It's not where our heads are at. Shoot to kill a student or former student? Are you crazy?

Most of us would still be standing between him and the rest of the class, trying to "talk him down," till the bitter end. If you'll recall, "between the shooter and the class" is where a great many teachers have been killed.

There are always a few who defy the generalizations. But let me assure you, "crossfire" is a real thing, teachers' unquenchable faith that students can be reached is a real thing, and in general, the unwisdom of arming classroom teachers as a deterrent to schools shootings, is ALSO a very, VERY real thing.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Me.Me for the "which one is the bad guy?" photo, and to The Progressive Cynic for the image that references the Ft. Hood shooting.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Why we should respect student protests

There are always a few. Not content to let history teach a giant, life-altering civics lesson, there will be a few school administrators who won't respect students' First Amendment rights to join the groundswell movement of student protests against gun violence, because it's "too disruptive."

We owe it to these kids to respect their fear and their feelings NOW. No one wants to live with a target on her back. Seeking the chance to "LIVE in order to LEARN" is NOT an unreasonable request! 

When I was a high school journalism teacher, I saw this impulse first-hand. The traditional impulse of many schools is to keep the kids quiet, out of the way, and docile. The Paradigm of Control runs crosswise to the First Amendment (also to critical thinking).

Even more than corporations, kids are people, my friend. They have rights, weirdly enough including the rights of free speech, to freely assemble, and to petition the government. In my research for yesterday's post, I found a quote that seemed à propos of the #ENOUGH movement and students' rights in general.

People tend to place children in some kind of sub-human category, maybe a little higher than pets (or maybe not). That's always bothered me. Even when they're too young to be completely autonomous, they always, ALWAYS deserve respect.

It may be more time-consuming to reason with the child (and--reality check--parents sometimes have to just decide), but in my experience it's always worth listening, explaining, and respecting. In the household, in the classroom, and in life, it just always works out better to listen and to respect. (Remember, they're the ones who'll pick your nursing home).

I also stumbled across a fun website built on that very principle: Kid President (unfortunately suspended in 2016, it seems). But in the spirit of the student protests and the message of this post, here's a word of wisdom from Kid President:

You've now been schooled. Go forth and respect!

IMAGES: Many thanks to to the Mankato Free PressAP images, and Jim Mone, for the photo of the student protest in Mankato, MN, from which I cropped a detail for emphasis; to Gryphon House via Pinterest for the quote and image from Stacia Tauscher, and to Odyssey, Robby and Brad, for the Kid President quote/image.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


A month ago today on February 14, 2018, one of the deadliest mass school shootings occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, USA. Along with a lot of my compatriots, I braced myself for the usual round of reactions, because this is very far from a situation without precedent in my homeland. My fellow Americans and I knew what always seems to come next.

People evacuate Stoneman Douglas High School in the wake of the shooting Feb. 14, 2018, in this Getty Images photo by Joe Raedle

The dismay, the grief, the outrage.
The thoughts and prayers.
The talk about "maybe this time--finally--things will be different."
The calls for gun control (knowing nothing will probably happen).
The calls for better mental health care (unfunded, of course).
The arguments about good guys versus bad guys that have never yet seemed rooted in practical reality to me.
The legislative attempts that no one can get quite enough people behind, to pass.
The "must pass" bills that accrue amendments like barnacles. then sink under their weight.

The gradual subsidence into the previous status quo.

This 2013 cartoon by Jeffrey Koterba of the Omaha World-Herald is just as right-on in 2018--except as of Feburary the child is standing up to demand change.

Except this time something different happened. The surviving students of Stoneman Douglas High School didn't wait for the adults to figure it out. They stood up and said, "#ENOUGH." They walked out in protest. They went to the state capitol and demanded change.

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School decided to take direct action into their own hands.

They stood together. They stood strong. And pretty soon other kids stood with them. In spite of some administrators' threats to punish them, students all over the country began to stand up and say "we're tired of being targets while you adults argue!"

March 7, 2018 student protests at the Minnesota state capitol in Mankato--AP Photo by Jim Mone.
Pittsfield, MA students from Taconic High School march on Feb. 27, 2018 in solidarity with the students of Stoneman Douglas High School--photo by Gillian Jones, Berkshire Eagle via AP.
Today, on the one-month anniversary of the shooting, students from all over the country will walk out of class in solidarity with the Stoneman Douglas students--including students from our local Kansas City area schools--most with the (wise) blessing of their administrators. So far the legislative responses have been mixed, but as a former high school journalism teacher I am here to tell you that experiences like this don't soon fade from a young person's memory.

And even though some of the kids on these protest marches are currently too young to vote, I'm willing to bet they won't forget this experience once they are old enough. If I were a sitting legislator, I'd be taking note of that.

IMAGES: Many thanks to NPR, Steve Inskeep, Getty Images, and Joe Raedle for the photo of students evacuating Stoneman Douglas High after the attack on Feb. 14; to Politic365 and Jeffrey Koterba of the Omaha World-Herald for the cartoon; to CNN for the photo of Stoneman Douglas students protesting; to the Mankato Free Press, AP images, and Jim Mone, for the photo of the student protest in Mankato, MN; to (Advance Local/Alabama Media Group), The Berkshire Eagle, AP Images, and Gillian Jones for the photo of Taconic High School students marching in Pittsfield, MA on Feb. 27, 2018 in solidarity with the Florida students; 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Remember K9 Veterans!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Kristen Levine Pet Living for this image. And blessings upon every MWD, working or retired. Good dogs, all!