Book Review – Book All The Teachers! by James Bartlett Parry.

James Parry’s semi-fictionalized (10%, give or take) memoir of the last five years of his thirty-year career as a middle school educator is at once, both hilarious and sobering. Hilarious as only middle school (or Jr. High) with all the hormones, awkwardness, and antics can be. And sobering when Parry masterfully lays bare the true plight of teachers everywhere dealing with bureaucracy, poverty, and a lack of parental involvement. However, despite the sometimes heavy content, Parry’s acerbic and occasionally goofy wit, keeps this book readable and entertaining.

The book begins on an average school day in Parry’s twenty-fifth year of teaching. When he arrives at work he finds the head custodian quickly changing a spray painted, “F**k All The Teachers” into “Book All The Teachers” with his own can of spray paint. At first Parry is upset by the graffiti until he turns the corner to find the colorful epithet continued on to say “Excep Parry.” Deciding this is the best possible compliment from a middle school hoodlum, we then watch James “…float through the door, skip down the back hall, pirouette through the gymnasium, and do the happy dance as I (he) enter(s) the public office.”

This first introduction into Parry’s world is a good example of the ups and downs throughout the book. Middle school has always been a roller coaster ride for the kids (as I’m sure we all remember), but James Bartlett Parry gives us a look at that wild ride from the teachers end of things. Due to the nature of the middle school experience, Parry has included a WARNING section before the Contents page. I believe it is worthy of being included here verbatim.

“WARNING – With its adolescent humor, convoluted sentence structure and many asides, the book is best enjoyed when accompanied by a bottle — or box — of cheap wine; or, perhaps Ice-house Beer would be a more fitting compliment. If you like parentheses, em-dashes, commas, and semicolons (and, hey, who doesn’t?), you’ll love this book.”

Honestly, I did. Well done, Parry.

Spokane werew’elves – A happy howlidays  story / #BlogBattle entry.

Spokane werew’elves – A happy howlidays story / #BlogBattle entry.

Fresh snow sifted through the forest canopy to dust the sparkling carpet of the previous day’s record twenty-five inches. Low overnight temperatures had created a thick crust on top of the snow making it easier for the pack to get to the designated spot. Stan had chosen the meeting place very carefully. He wanted everything to be perfect for what he had planned.

The Alpha parked his Jeep just off a service road. Normally no one but rangers and firefighters used it, but Sheriff plates came in handy at times. Stan rounded the back of the car and pulled a large bundle and a pair of snow shoes out of the trunk. Time to get to work.

Two hours later, he had everything set. Lifting his face, he scented the air. Powdery snow was still falling but his nose told him it would stop soon. It also told him his pack was getting near. He checked on his preparations one last time, then cleared the snow off a nearby stump to sit and wait. It wasn’t long before the soft crunching of paws reached his sensitive ears. One by one, pack members began to appear, slipping out of the shadows and into the moonlit grotto. Moving with purpose, they formed a circle around the perimeter of the clearing.

Walt was in charge of bringing their newest pack members, Miranda and Seif, and was set to arrive last. An easy enough task as he lead them in human form while they followed as wolves. This was done on purpose so the two couldn’t pepper him with questions via mind speak. He couldn’t answer them even if he wanted to however because Stan had sworn him to secrecy. Hefting his pack, Walt tightened his snow shoe bindings and grinned in anticipation as he lead them into Riverside State Park. His heart was light; he loved this time of year.

Twenty minutes later the trio entered the clearing and paused at the perimeter the pack had created. Walt stepped through the circle of wolves and motioned his two charges to follow him into the middle where Stan stood waiting. The sheriff, in his street clothes, grinned merrily as he greeted everyone.

“Spokane Guardians, thank you for coming on this beautiful winter night. Tonight we welcome two new helpers into our yearly endeavor.”  He gestured toward Miranda and Seif and the pack reacted with happy yips and chuffs before he continued. “Seif, Miranda, every year our pack adopts families in need and as the holidays approach we collect goods and gifts to deliver to them. This tradition has been handed down, Guardian to Guardian, pack to pack, for hundreds of years and tonight you join our happy band as apprentice elves!”  With his last word, Stan bent over and flipped the switch on a small generator. The pine tree behind him lit up and flooded the snow covered clearing with multi-color light. Bundles of gifts surrounded the base of the tree, as well as one strange pile of fabric with glittery bands. Miranda and Seif, their tongues lolling out in wolfy smiles, stared at the beautiful tableau until Stan began to speak again. “For those of you who’ve done this before, you know the drill. Please line up behind our newest helpers.”

The pack settled in behind Seif and Miranda, chatting happily about their individual holiday traditions while Stan disappeared behind the tree. Walt moved to the forefront to speak to the pack and cleared his throat loudly to get their attention. He was obviously holding something behind his back and Miranda scented mischievous mirth wafting off him. She threw a look at Seif then turned back to eye Walt, tilting her head in question. The old goat chuckled and winked at her before lifting his voice.

“As the newest members of our Secret Santa Brigade, you two,” he motioned to them, “get to don the honorary head gear!” Pulling his hands from behind his back, Walt approached the duo with red and green striped elf hats with large elastic bands.  He placed one on each of their large canine heads and stepped back. “Behold,” he shouted, “Santa’s newest helpers!” The pack howled their approval, some with obvious laughter, and a few puns were cast to the duo.

Hey, you two look great! You’ve really pulled your ‘elves’ together!

Too bad wolves can’t use phones, you two should really take an ‘elfie’ together!

Good thing we switched to hats. Rudolf noses would have interfered with your ‘elf’factory senses!

While the pack groaned at the puns Miranda and Seif looked at each other and chuffed out wolfy chuckles. They looked ridiculous but it was for a good cause so, grinning, they made a small bow to their fellow pack members. When they turned back around Walt asked them to wait, executed an awkward turn in his snow shoes, and slowly made his way back to the tree where he picked up the strange glittery pile. “All right, come here and let’s get you situated.”

Miranda and Seif padded forward to sit in front of their Beta. He shook out one of the bundles and held it up. It was a large harness with saddle bags attached. In each bag there were several small bundles with names and addresses on them. Moving steadily, Walt attached a harness to each of the 14 Guardians. When he was done they sat chatting among themselves as they waited for Stan to reappear.

The time waiting was definitely well spent as far as Miranda was concerned. The Alpha stepped out from where he’d been changing and appreciative sounds emanated from the pack. Stan was now sporting a beautiful old fashioned Santa Suit. The dark red coat that fell to his knees was closed with a sash and trimmed with a light golden fur, as were his thick, black leather mittens and boots. An intricately hand-knit scarf wound around his neck held three small jingle bells at each end. The bells caught the lights and sparkled against his chest. Well over 6 foot 4, with fiery red hair and beard, Miranda thought Stan made an impressive Father Christmas!

Catching her errant thought, Stan smiled. Thank you, Miranda.

You’re welcome. Miranda grinned ruefully. I’m still not used to this mind speak stuff, though.

Neither am I. Seif admitted. But she’s right. You make a striking Saint Nick.

Stan inclined his head to the two of them then the Santa Alpha directed the wolves toward the northern edge of the clearing, across from where Walt had lead them in. A small red sleigh with gold accents and runners awaited them. The Guardians once again formed two lines and Stan moved along them attaching the leads. Miranda couldn’t believe they were going to run around town pulling him like sled dogs, but was excited to do so! She glanced at Seif and he looked just as thrilled though obviously confused.

How are we able to do this without freaking out the town folk? Seif asked.

People see what they want or expect to see so as far as the town folk go, they’ll just think you all are big sled dogs. The reins, bells, and hats add to the disguise. Plus we’ll be sticking to the shadows as much as possible. Don’t worry, you two. We’ve been doing this for years.

Satisfied by the explanation, Miranda and Seif settled in to wait. When the last lead was connected Stan mounted the small sleigh, picked up the reigns, and with a booming voice called out, “On Guardians, pack members, my family and friends. Let’s make this a merry Christmas for as many folks as possible!”

Before the pack could move, Miranda turned to look back and broadcast a thought to her Alpha. You couldn’t find a rhyme for friends to end that with, could you?

Stan chuckled. Nope, but I did find this.” He pulled his cell phone out of a pocket, ran his finger over it, then held it up and waved it once, sharply. The sound of a cracking whip broke the serene silence and the two new helpers eyes widened in shock.

Are you kidding me with that? Miranda squeaked a split second before the pack’s laughter erupted. She and Seif looked at their fellow Guardians. They’d all been in on this.

“You two should see your faces right now.” Stan chuckled.

Miranda and Seif, grinned, shook their great furry heads and took off pulling the sleigh across the snow, as the entire pack yipped and howled with joy.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!

A very humble THANK YOU!

So my first novel, Waxing is Useless has been out for nearly 2 months now. It’s still somewhat surreal that it’s out there, but what’s even more surreal is the sweet, positive comments and reviews I’ve been getting!

To all out there who’ve taken the time to visit the Amazon site and leave a review,

You guys make me feel like this. . .

WIP = Vol. 2 of The Luna Chronicles

WIP = Vol. 2 of The Luna Chronicles

Lilac City Lunacy is in the works!
So I’m about ten chapters in and it’s reminding me why a first draft is called rough. Good grief! I’m struggling a bit, but still enjoying the world of the Spokane Guardians.
I’m digging deeper into my original characters back stories (esp. Hank and his mysterious family tree), introducing new characters, and creating a monstrous new menace!

Miranda and the pack will have their relationships and creativity tested, and their pack history, territory, and shoe sizes expanded. 😉

Stay tuned for more news about “Lilac City Lunacy – Vol. 2 of the Luna Chronicles!

**Mini-spoiler** There may also be a bit of romance involved this time. Crikey!

Happy Howl-oween!

Hey everyone,

I hope you all have a Halloween fun enough to howl about! 

Tail wags & shoulder bumps to you all,

M.J. 

P.S. If you are looking for a good, clean Halloween read, check out my first novel in the Luna Chronicles, Waxing is Useless.  What happens when a middle age soccer mom faces adversity? She grows fur and a tail, of course! **Excerpt below. 

Miranda closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on breathing, but the minute she shut them her other senses seemed to explode. Her heart raced, a bass accompaniment to a symphony of dripping water, crackling ice, a light breeze, and somewhere a few blocks away, tires on icy streets. She could feel every blade of mushy grass beneath her hands and feet. She felt the mud and the slight temperature fluctuations in the wind. Even the moonlight felt like waves of mist against her burning skin.

Lifting her face to the sky, she inhaled deeply. Scents she’d never recognized before sifted into her brain. She identified crocus shoots, compost, and weirdly, earthworms. She turned her face north into the wind. Someone was smoking marijuana in a nearby home. The Kollyers had apparently grilled chicken earlier. George burned it a bit. The chemical floral scent of someone’s dryer stuck in her throat, making her gag. She sneezed to clear her nose and continued to explore the scents of the neighborhood. Wood smoke from someone’s stove and beer and cigarettes from the bar four blocks away. She couldn’t believe what all she was sensing!

Miranda opened her eyes. She had spent so much time analyzing scents that the moon had slipped lower in the sky, and the temperature had dropped even further. She knew it was cold enough to become hypothermic but didn’t feel cold at all.

She focused on her surroundings. She could see everything so clearly! Details she’d never noticed during the day jumped out at her in the dark. Despite the strange new clarity of her eyesight, Miranda was finding it hard to think. Her brain felt foggy. She considered calling for help, but she couldn’t work up the energy to vocalize her need.

Fighting the urge to lay down in the now semi-frozen grass, she forced herself to stand, and swayed unsteadily for a moment before she turned toward the house. She’d taken two lurching steps when something metallic hit the cement floor inside the garage. Someone is in there!

Available soon – Waxing is Useless

Available soon – Waxing is Useless

Hey everyone, I promised a while ago that when my book became available I’d let you know. Well, I finally hit that publish button on KDP and it’ll go live in approximately 72 hours!  Look for it on Amazon, and thanks for reading.

Here’s the back cover blurb. – Cover art kudos to former interviewee, Shannon Potratz .09-21 werewolf_bck_cvr

Me. . .

When I noticed today’s date and realized I didn’t have an artist or author lined up for this month. Again.

It’s true. Time really does fly when you are having fun, but also when you are preparing to publish your first novel. That’s right. I said it. I’m close to publishing the first novel in a series, and I’m freaking out.

Sure (beyond the GIF) in real life I look calm, perhaps a tad comatose, slug-like even but appearances aside, I’ve been busy editing (and freaking). Happily so.

My editors are a joy to work with. They’ve put up with me and my weirdness and made my book so much better! Which frankly is a miracle for which they should both achieve sainthood, or at least get a thank you in the acknowledgments and definitely a hug.

That said, I’m just going to beg off on this month’s interview (yes I know, “again”) and get this book business put to bed. Oh and believe me, when it becomes available online you will hear about it. Until then. . .

Stay tuned friends, art lovers, and Urban Fantasy bibliophiles and thanks for sticking with me.

loveya

Fizzle or Sizzle, blogging is therapeutic.

Hello Gentlereaders, (yes I squashed those words together, leave hate comments below) I am posting this to let you know that I have not given up. Despite missing a post here and there recently, I’m still kicking this pig.

Explain

When I started this blog, I wasn’t certain which direction to take it in. I mean, I LOVE to write, but I couldn’t make an instant decision. Should I write book reviews? I certainly read enough, and I definitely have opinions about what I read. Should I review films? That idea was short-lived as I can’t afford to hit our new and improved theaters every day at $12.00 a pop + whatever insane amount they charge for a bottle of water. I still have kids living at home. Kids who enjoy eating occasionally. 😉

Dickens

So here I was, stewing over what I wanted to blog about when it hit me. My town is having somewhat of an Art renaissance right now, and I seem to be surrounded by both Artists and Authors. Aha! A stroke of genius, right? It’s a good thing I didn’t *facepalm* when that lightbulb lit over my head. I might still have scars. With my blog focus finally set, I gassed this vehicle up, took it for a spin, and enjoyed every minute of it. **There’s the SIZZLE!**

Recently though, someone (very kindly) told me that even though they enjoy TheSquidandSquirrel, they wonder why – as I’m also working on a novel and doing a bit of freelancing – I bother to blog at all. That question took me aback for a moment. I mean, I know why I like (LOVE) to write, but why saddle myself with a blog that requires monthly maintenance? I told them I’d have to get back to them on that one. After pondering for a bit, I’d like to finally answer that question. **I hope they read this!**

fingerscrossed

I write this blog because it helps me to be accountable to the blessings I’ve been handed. Unable to work the average full or part-time gig due to disability **That’s the FIZZLE**, this endeavor (despite missing a few posts) helps keep me moving. It keeps me focused on staying connected with people. It allows me to get out of my house, work at my own pace, and meet new and interesting people. People with incredible talent that needs to be shared with the world.

It also (hopefully) brightens somebodies day occasionally. Maybe lifts a spirit of someone out there – either by the gorgeous art, or by learning that they are not so unlike some of the amazing folks I’ve interviewed. At it’s heart it is a labor of love. Love of writing, love or art, love of books and authors and people in general.

Hugsloth

It is also a kind of social therapy for me. Many folks with chronic conditions like mine, tend to become social hermits. As their condition progresses, their world becomes smaller. I’ve seen it happen, and I refuse to go down without a fight. My blog and the people it allows me to meet, learn from, and befriend, helps me not to disappear beneath the lead blanket of health issues. It helps me to hone my skills as a writer, and as a person. It has helped broaden my mind, and open my heart. This little experiment of a blog, has been a complete blessing to me, and I hope at least a small one to you all.

That said, if you’ve read this far, congratulations on your tenacity. And thank you for sticking with me. I won’t go into the gory details of what’s derailed this month’s post, but suffice it to say I am back on the trail of yet another fun and interesting interview. So check back next month and thanks again!

Live long and prosper! (No, that isn’t a *hint*)

Livelongspock   MJ

On The Fly with artist, Noelle Dass.

The painted world of Noelle Dass is filled with whimsy, wonder, and wisdom. Influenced by greats Dr. Seuss, and Gary Larson, there is a joyous abandon and sense of adventure in her work that (from the first time I saw it) makes me smile.

After meeting Noelle, it was easy to see where all of that comes from. Soft spoken, intelligent, fearless, and utterly charming, Noelle is everything you’d want or expect from her paintings, and so much more.

Keep reading to learn more about artist, Noelle Dass.

SnS: Hello Noelle! Thanks for interviewing with me today. Let’s start off with some background information. Are you native to the PNW?

Noelle: I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for 22 years, but I was born in New York and raised in Vermont. I lived there until approximately age 12, when my family moved to Arizona so my mother could earn her MSW. I moved to the PNW to finish college at the University of Washington.

SnS: I’d say you are naturalized by now. 😉  How long have you been an artist?

Noelle: I think it’s safe to say I’ve been drawing and painting since I could hold a pencil / brush, so probably since the age of three. Art was my favorite subject in school, and I studied art for four years in college. I’ve been a professional artist (earning my living with art) since 2004.

SnS: That is an accomplishment! Did or do you have a job (or hobby) outside of art?

Noelle: Up until now I’ve been so busy doing the art show circuit that I haven’t had time for much else, but I’m hoping to cut back on art shows next year so I can have a little more of a personal life.  For hobbies, I love to read, run, hike, camp, walk my dog Ellie, and volunteer. 

SnS: What kind of dog is Ellie?

Noelle: She is a Goldendoodle – half golden retriever and half poodle. She’s still young and full of love and energy.  I also have two cats: Sadie and Kabuki.

SnS: Where do you volunteer?

Noelle: I haven’t been able to volunteer as much as I’d like, which is one of the reasons I’ll be cutting back on art shows, so I can spend more time trying to make a difference in people’s lives. There are many great organizations I support. Some of my favorites are Sea Shepherd, Mercy for Animals, and World Wildlife Fund. I also donate to animal shelters that hold fundraising auctions. For the last couple of years, I’ve volunteered as a mission assistant for Angel Flight West. I hope to continue as an assistant, and eventually as a pilot. 

Angel Flight West is a non-profit that flies people for free, to medical appointments when they either can’t drive themselves or afford air fare. So, say that you need to travel from Spokane to Seattle 3x per week for medical help. Angel Flight West would take you there. All the pilots volunteer their time, money, and aircraft. A friend of mine, Jim, volunteers with them and he introduced me to it.

SnS: So do you have a pilot’s license?

Noelle: Not yet. I started learning last year, but I’m moving from Oregon to Spokane right now, so it’s on hold. Sadly, I’m moving away from my friend Jim, who’s been kind enough to allow me to use his plane without charge. I’d like to pursue lessons again once I’m settled in Spokane, but pilot training can be expensive, so we’ll see. I’ve been painting commissions of people’s planes and saving those earnings for flight school. In the meantime, I’m finishing my ground school training. 

In fact, learning to fly is what got me into painting airplanes. It was a new and refreshing challenge. I have so much fun painting something more technical versus my usual animals. The first ones I painted, didn’t have any pilots, but I felt they were missing some life. So I painted Pilot Dog and once I did, the paintings with him got a really wonderful, positive response. In fact, my two main paintings with Pilot Dog sold. I have one original left, of Pilot Dog in a Pitts Biplane. I’ve also done a few paintings exchanging the client’s dog as the pilot. So one thing lead to another, and it’s been fun and exciting.

SnS: Do you have a favorite painting?

Noelle: I tend to favor newer pieces, because I’m excited about them, like my Pilot Dog series. I also like the joy that dogs exhibit in every day life, so that is a recurring theme. We can learn a lot about being present, and joyful, from dogs. 

Still, it’s hard to choose a favorite painting. They all have different feels and themes that touch me in different ways. One of my all time favorites is “Rocks Gazing at Moon” (pictured above), because I like to think of everything on earth as having some sort of unseen spirit or energy. 

SnS: Which artists (past or present) do you admire?

Noelle: Stylistically speaking, my favorite artists are Kandinsky, Miro, Picasso, Modigliani, Klimt, Dr. Seuss, Gary Larson, and many, many more. Larson’s often dry, outrageous, scientific / intellectual humor was a big influence on me growing up.

SnS: So where do you find inspiration for your creations?

Noelle: People often ask what inspires me, but in my mind that’s not the same question as how do I come up with ideas, so I’ll answer both.

I am inspired by two things. The first is, being in the act of creating makes me feel alive, calm, and at peace with the universe in a deep meditative way. The second reason I’m inspired to create is that it brings humor and joy to people’s everyday lives. In a world with so much darkness and pain, to bring a smile to someone’s mind / face, bringing them joy for a moment, is the most meaningful gift I can give with my talents.

Both of my parents worked in Mental Health fields. My mother was a social worker for abused children, and I was raised with the understanding that it is our duty as humans to do what we can to help others, and make the world better. And no way is too small. A smile from a stranger on the street has resulted in my going home and creating a painting that in turn, brought joy to many others. I think people often underestimate what they can do to make the world more joyful. 

My art is hanging in a few healing / health centers. Some of my work is here in Spokane. Some is in the Children’s Chemo room at Renown Health in Reno, NV, a children’s cancer hospital in Brazil, and other places.  To me that is the most amazing, fulfilling thing I’ve done with my art. To give people in pain something to cheer them up. I would love more than anything, to do more art for healing institutions.

How I get my ideas: Most of my best ideas come from clearing my thoughts and sketching without any idea in mind. Once I start drawing, an idea or design will appear to me, and then I will consciously move forward with it. About a third of the time, I will draw with an idea in mind, such as dog, cat, airplane, or Airstream. Beyond that, seeing my dog play in the snow trying to catch snowballs in her mouth, inspires me. As does learning how to fly planes, give me conscious ideas for plane paintings.

SnS: Your Pilot Dog character seems to really get around. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?

Noelle: That is hard to answer. I want to go everywhere. I like warm and tropical in the winter. I also like outdoor adventures. I found an on-line discussion forum for the sailing  community and was able to match up with a couple of people who needed a crew. We met via Skype, exchanged references, and I ended up working two voyages with two different, very small, crews. It was a great experience both times. Of course, Pilot Dog likes to travel too, and can fly himself anywhere. I’m hoping to make a kids book starring Pilot Dog next year.

SnS: Oh, I hope you do! I first saw you at ArtFest here in Spokane. Do you travel a lot?

Noelle: Yes, I’ve been doing art shows full time for 14 years, and that requires a lot of travel. I’ve been doing about 33 shows annually, split between local and out of town. But, I’m excited to be moving to Spokane at the beginning of the new year, and hope to focus more on selling art in my community, on-line, and travel less. That will also give me more time to volunteer and work in the community. I’d really like to volunteer with youth, and spend time with elderly people who may not have anyone visiting or helping them.

Those two areas are very close to my heart. Animal welfare is, as well, but luckily I’ve already been able to help out a lot with that, by donating animal art to auctions, and donating a percentage of sales to various organizations.

SnS: That’s great! So here’s a silly question. Once you are settled into your new home, if you could invite ANY three people (living or dead) to a dinner party, who would you invite and why?

Noelle: Oh that’s tough! I’d invite Jesus, because I think he was cool even though I’m not religious. Theodor Geisel (more popularly known as Dr. Seuss), and the Dalai Llama.

SnS: Now that, would be a fun and fascinating group! Thank you, Noelle, for sharing your time and talent with us, and welcome to Spokane!

If you’d like to see or purchase some of Noelle’s art, visit her website NoelleDass.com.  She has originals, giftable reproductions, T-shirts and more. **SquidandSquirrel readers are being given a special $15 off coupon code to use online, with no minimum. Just use code Squid15.