Saturday, September 29, 2007

Thank You, Runner's World!

I've been reading Runner's World magazine since I was about 18, so having the magazine's editor-in-chief spotlight Exercise the Right to Read in the current issue is quite a thrill. Here's what he had to say in his "Miles and Trials" Editor's Letter on page 18:

"...I'd also like to recognize Mark Parsons and Wendelin Van Draanen, a California couple who started a program called "Exercise the Right to Read" that combines three of my favorite things: kids, running, and reading. Their goal is to get children exercising, beef up the libraries in their schools, and, in conjunction with publisher Random House and national charity First Book, get new books into the hands of low-income kids. At, you can make a pledge toward Parsons and Van Draanen's marathon or find out more about their program."

If you've never read Runner's World, try an issue (shoot, get this one!). It's not just about splits and form and nutrition -- I love the magazine because it's inspirational. It'll keep you going, or get you started. Articles like "The Newbie Chronicles" are pure inspiration for someone who wants to get in shape.

Happy reading, happy running!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ancient Greece Tie-In

We received an interesting correspondence from a South Carolina school. They're using Exercise the Right to Read as a tie-in to a unit they do every year on Ancient Greece. Check it out! Our school is an International Baccalaureate--Middle Years Programme school with a big emphasis on Community and Service. As a part of our state social studies curriculum standards, the sixth graders study Ancient Greece every year. The media center has coordinated a big marathon webquest for the last few years to support the standards Since Exercise the Right to Read coincides beautifully with our Ancient Greek unit, this seemed like the perfect place to combine a Community and Service Project with their content area coursework. The media center will likely kick-off the event by showing the video clip on the morning announcements. Social studies teachers will help coordinate the walking part of the project and will collect the money raised. Language arts teachers will share the inspirational quotes at the beginning of each class and will help students tabulate their time spent reading using the website bookmarks. During the last mile, students will wear their bibs, get cups of water as they cross the finish line, and hear the song "Chariots of Fire." How cool is that?

Rowdy Clubbers and Flying Cash

I was invited to speak about Exercise the Right to Read at a regional Rotary Club meeting yesterday at noon, and a Kiwanis Club meeting last night. I had never experienced the Rotary / Kiwanis style of meeting, but man, it's wild! They have big brass bells that the hit with a gavel (shooting the unsuspecting guest speaker through the roof), they fine people for everything -- being late's five bucks, having a birthday costs you twenty, talking out of turn is, oh...two or three or whatever the president decides. Those meetings are dangerous! And at the Kiwanis meeting they burst forth with song at unpredictable intervals! I couldn't keep up, man. Money was being passed around all over the place, bells kept gonging, and people kept singing. But really, these clubs have fun, and they do wonderful work for the community. (Not to mention serving great food to their guests.) The Kiwanis member who arranged to have me be the guest speaker at last night's meeting is a bookseller, and she's been a supporter of the ETRTR campaign since the day I told her about it. She's also been a "closet smoker" for, what? twenty years? She told me last year that she was going to use the ETRTR campaign as motivation to finally stop smoking, and that her goal was to run a 5K by the time the NYC marathon rolled around. Over the past year she has quit smoking...and started again...several times. The longest she could make it without a cigarette was three grueling days. I wanted so much for her to succeed because I know she's wanted very badly to quit for years, but things were not looking good. Well, last night after I gave my little talk at the Kiwanis meeting, she stood up, paid twenty bucks for her birthday, and then made an announcement: She confessed to the group that she'd been a smoker, and that, as of tomorrow, she'd been 'smoke-free' for three weeks. She's through. She's had it. She's done. And from listening to her talk, I know she's never going back. And what's more, she announced, she'll be running a 5-K on October 14th, and is collecting pledges which she'll send to First Book for the ETRTR campaign. I just sat there looking at her, glowing with pride. And man, you should have seen those people throw cash at her! She even got her birthday money back.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Run Connecticut Run!

We had another "adoption" go through today. A couple of weeks ago a middle school in Connecticut contacted us wanting to do the Exercise the Right to Read program but donate their pledges to a school in the "Katrina" area. First off, I love that. I love that there are teachers / schools / kids who come forward and say, "We want to help." So I started making phone calls to see what I could arrange. (I began by calling information and getting the number for the Louisiana Department of Education.) Several helpful conversations later, I was in touch with the Director of Academics for the "Recovery District". She, in turn, met with school principals in the Recovery District and came back to us with a school. It's a middle school on the east side of New Orleans, a section of the city that's having a hard time recovering from the Katrina disaster. From what I understand, the old school was completely destroyed by the hurricane, and where the pre-Katrina buildings used to be, there are now modular buildings. "It has tremendous potential," the Director informed me, "but at this point there's very little inside the buildings." In other words, their library has no books. "Connecticut's going to help them with that!" I told the Director, and she was touched that kids in a school so far away were stepping forward to help. I am, too. I mean, it's one thing to have the idea that one school could adopt another. It's quite another to actually step forward and adopt. Run, Connecticut, run!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sammy Keyes and the Cold, Hard Cash

Just a quick check in to report that I've finished the rough draft of Sammy Keyes #12. (Probably to be titled ...and the Cold, Hard Cash.) Wa-hoo! What a wild ride. I never know until the end whether it'll turn out the way I envision. And then, when I write the last page and all the subplots I've been juggling come together for the grand finale, well, I can't help jumping around all over the place. See me? I'm like a pogo stick over here. (Oh, just let me bounce around, okay? It happens, like, once a year--maybe twice.) Tomorrow I face the rewrite. And the re-rewrite. And the... But tonight I pogo!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pump You UP!

Okay, so this picture may not have the best resolution, but the content ROCKS. This is a PRINCIPAL coming in to a multi-media presentation put on by a middle school LMS about Exercise the Right to Read. The LMS did a Power-Point, explained the program, showed them the bookmarks, etc., and when she was done, she played the ETRTR jingle and the principal came in to pump the kids up. Asics may not have gotten back to us, Oprah will almost certainly never call, but you know what? THIS is what it's all about.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My Risque, Gossip-Inducing Life

I got a request for "more personal" blog entries. Like, what's my day-to-day life like. I actually sorta avoid that, because I think the philosophical angle is way more interesting. And I think what one thinks is very personal.

But okay, here's a weekend in my life:

Friday my younger son and his band had a gig at a restaurant that specializes in hot dogs and brats. We hauled PA gear, instruments, etc., set the boys up, tip jar and all. They'd been written up in our local paper, and a gazillion people turned out for the 1-hour show. (Well, okay, maybe 100 -- by middle school band standards, that's equal to a gazillion.) From originals to Wolfmother, they totally rocked the place. Teachers from the present school and their elementary school showed up, there were (gasp) groupies, and people from the school where I used to teach made the trip to see Wendelin's "baby" bash on the drums. Our other son sat in on "Crazy Train" -- one of my favorite Ozzy songs -- and he did an awesome job channeling Randy Rhoads on guitar.

By the time we got home, we were all wiped-out tired. I tried writing on the Sammy title before bed, but it was hopeless.

Saturday, however, I passed up the opportunity to go on a sensible morning run and wrote. Two great hours typing on my laptop while Mark went out in search of his dad, who's recently started running Saturday mornings at 7 AM.

Both boys had birthday parties to go to, so after breakfast we helped them focus on getting their chores and homework done beforehand. (Translation, we kept busy with our own chores and checked in on them every ten minutes, making sure they were doing what they were supposed to be doing.) After presents were wrapped and all of that, we dropped them off at their parties, had lunch at Baja Fresh, and went home, where I wrote some more on Sammy while Mark took care of some Modern Drummer business (he writes for that magazine).

Is this boring enough yet? Geez.

Around four o'clock I had had enough of sitting and typing, so I strapped on my shoes, and Mark (who cannot pass up a run, even if he's already done one that day) and I went about 11 miles. We went past the clubhouse where our 16-yr old was attending the b-day party, and Mark actually wanted to go peek in the window! I wouldn't let him -- our son would have been mortified.

Kids came home, we sat around and talked for a while, I worked on a song I've been writing for about two months, folded mountains of laundry, wrote some more on Sammy Keyes and called it a day.

Today I went to a tomato festival. Seriously. It was at an organic farm, there were dozens of varieties of tomatoes, and it was actually very interesting and tasty.

And there you have it -- my risque, gossip-inducing life. See why I prefer the more philosophical approach?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Crazies 'R' Us

When I was working as a teacher, I was an absolute maniac. I rarely sat down, I ran between classes, I was, like, Hyper Lady. I know I drove other teachers crazy, but there was just so much to do. At the end of the school day, I'd be totally exhausted, of course (it's a integral part of the profession), but then my second shift would start. Being a mom. Well, I discovered that I was Good Mom when I'd squeeze in a run before picking my kids up. Just a quick 25 or 30 minutes would give me enough energy to make it to bedtime. On the days I was "too tired" I'd be Draggy Mom. It seems like a complete paradox, but running really does give you energy. "Gee, I wish I had your energy" people tell me. Well, I get wiped-out tired like everyone else, I've just learned to recharge with a run. After I'd worked as a teacher for about ten years, the school hired a woman who made me look calm. I was able to take a step back and go, wow, that woman is crazy! I loved it! She's still in education, but at a different school, and she's charging up her kids to exercise and read in October. Since the Exercise the Right to Read campaign began I've met two more "crazy people". One's in New Hampshire, one's in California. Both have so much energy that I feel like a slug! I've written about the gal in New Hampshire in previous postings, and she e-mails me from time to time with updates about what she's doing to prepare her whole county--scratch that, I bet she's influenced the whole state. She's creative and enthused and is actually going to travel with her posse of like-minded crazies to NYC to root us along on November 4th. I'm passing the Hyper Lady tiara over to her! My new "crazy" friend in California is a librarian at a high school who's run an unbelievable 86 marathons in 36 states. He's doing all sorts of innovative things to get the kids at his school running and reading in October. Prizes, competitions, challenges...he's the sort of person you know is going to get kids motivated.I'm wowed by his energy and his willingness to dive in and make things happen. Another one who makes me look like a slug! Still, when I do school visits, kids often ask me, "Are you ADD?" (The ones asking are always so hopeful they've found a kindred spirit.) When I tell them, Uh, no, they sometimes follow up with, "Well...are you ADHD?" Still no. I'm not a coffee drinker, either. Me and coffee are, like, dangerous. What I am, is a runner.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Big, Puffy, Purple Chair at LAX

I was planning to check in every day while I was in Oklahoma, but gee, I was busy! I visited two wonderful middle schools--exhausting days, but so worthwhile. The kids were great (about 1000 at each school) and the educators were fantastic. Dynamite schools. I also did several breakout sessions and a keynote at Encyclo-Media, an Oklahoma state educational conference. I met some amazing and refreshingly "real" people in Oklahoma! So it was a super-busy week, with evening events scheduled, too, but I managed to hit the gym at odd hours and got my miles in. Good girl! Where the whole week fell apart was on the way home. I had a delightful conversation with the woman next to me on the leg into LAX, was feeling great, and was actually looking forward to working on the new Sammy Keyes story during my nearly 3 hour wait for a connecting flight, when I got waylaid by a big, puffy, purple chair. Where in LAX can you find a big, puffy, purple chair? With an outlet in plain view beside it t'boot? At the Starbucks in the United terminal, that's where! I thought I was dreaming, really, I did. But now that you know where to find this big, puffy, purple chair, I have a word of advice -- don't let it lure you in. Or, at least, don't eat the sandwiches offered at that Starbucks. The coffee may be fine--I wouldn't know. I wanted that purple seat, so I ordered "dinner" there -- a turkey sandwich and a bottle of iced tea. I snagged the seat, plugged in my laptop, and was totally jazzed. Such luck! But halfway into the sandwich, I knew something was not right. My tummy began protesting. It grew increasingly furious. It was soon preparing for a revolt! Overthrow that sandwich! Adding insult to brewing injury, the outlet didn't work, but who could concentrate anyway? I was sick! I managed to get home, but I was laid up for nearly the whole Labor Day weekend. Lured in by a big, puffy, purple chair.