Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Day in the Life

I had the good luck of coming home early from work yesterday, so that I could witness the difficult life of two 8-week-old kittens. I thought I'd have some fun and get into the story via their point of view.

Under the glider rocker is one of the best places to sit, don't you think? Will my brother be able to find me? And what are you doing, taking a photograph of me? 

Rats. Benedict found me, so we we thought under the table might be a good place to play. Too many legs, though.
What is this big furry thing that lays on the floor all the time? He's huge! Maybe he will be a good hiding place. The big furry thing does not hide me as well as I thought.

I'm a little done with hiding. I think it's time for a nap. I'm sure the shot is blurry. I should tell her that I'm sorry. I just have so much energy, it's hard to sit still...

Unless I'm sleeping...It's my turn to be there! As you can see, I'm tired, too.

But hey! She's got enough lap for us both.

At that point (yes it's me talking now, not the cats), the kids began to trickle home. Lots of playing ensued, and I guess we tired those cats out. Again.

Arnold by himself.

Two peas in a pod.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

And Then There Were Four

Last Friday, Melina was home sick and we took a quick trip to the pet store to get cat food. As we walked in, Melina noticed that the Humane Society had placed two new kitties in the crate, hoping that some sucker would come along and adopt them. I leaned in and took a peek. The two tiger kitties, named Benedict and Arnold, were sleeping peacefully on their bed, until they sensed Melina. And then, they ran around the crate in all their fluffy cuteness.

"Can we get them, Mom?" Melina asked.

"They sure are cute," I replied. "But we'd have four cats. That's a lot of cats."

We left the store without applying for the kitties.

Melina can be stubborn, though, and once she has something in her head, she likes to think that maybe things will go her way.

"Guys!" she yelled to the kids as they walked in the door after school. "You should see these kitties! Benedict and Arnold. At the pet store. They are so cute!"

Of course, Melina's thoughts warranted a trip to the pet store to see the cats. Thankfully, Aunt Tara took the girls to see them. Had I looked at them again, I'd have caved.

As I was putting Melina to bed, the phone rang.

"Want me to put in an application for you?" Tara said.

"No! I haven't talked to Tim  about new cats," I replied.

"No matter. I'll bring the application home." Tara can also be stubborn.

The application sat on our table overnight, as I slept on the possibility of adopting two new kitties. I woke up in the morning thinking that if I can handle four kids, why not four cats? Why not, indeed?!? Tim wasn't thrilled with the idea of more animals, so I told the kids that if we actually wanted more cats, they'd have to discuss it with Dad. All people had to be on board for new arrivals.

I won't bore you with the details. WE HAVE TWO NEW KITTIES! Arnold is on the left, Benedict the right.

I'm  guessing that Tim will probably be the one going to the pet store from now on.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What is that Brown Stuff?

Did you know that one of the most difficult parts of my day does not revolve around my children? It also doesn't concern my students. No, the most strenuous task for me is writing a thoughtful and compassionate critique for someone.

Don't get me wrong...I love opening up a document and getting lost in someone else's writing as easily as I can get lost in my own. But when someone shares a story with me, they've effectively put their trust in me. They've opened their heart and I don't want to be the one to make it bleed.

I'm looking at several documents right now, alternating between them, so that my eyes are fresh each time I start to read. And when I read and make a comment, I tiptoe carefully amongst the many words I might choose. Because I want to stick to the positive side of things, and not the negative.

But sometimes, I just want to throw the paper to the ground and stomp on it, then yell at the sky, Why can't you use apostrophes correctly? or Can you understand that we need to "see," as readers, the internal thoughts that go on  inside a character? Other times, I'd love to jot down in the margin of the paper, You know, this just doesn't cut it for me. I'm bored. And if I'm bored, other readers will be, too. And there have been other moments (and yes I've truly had this happen), where I've thought about what it feels like when someone scratches their nails down your cheeks and draws blood. When I think about that pain (or the pain of natural childbirth), I'm critiquing a piece that I loathe so much the fingernail action (or childbirth pain) would be far more welcome than finishing that paper.

I'm not so great a writer, though, that I think someone could say the same about critiquing a piece of my writing. And so, as I said, I'm careful as I read. I pick the right words, gather the good, and try to massage the bad into something that seems like it's good. Arduous task, I tell you. Don't believe me? Try to convince someone that shit is chocolate pudding, and you'll know how I feel.

P.S. This post in no way means that I am experiencing this right now. Which means, if I am reading one of your pieces, do not panic.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Conversations with Melina, II

I should write a book entitled, Conversations with Melina. Considering she amuses me (and others) so much, I'm sure it would be a success. (Yeah...we KNOW how my other writing projects have panned out. I'm not so confident with that new idea.)

Anyway, Melina does amuse me. Partly because her expressive nature makes any conversation more interesting, and partly because I'm not really sure where some of her thoughts come from. Today's conversation is a great example.
Melina: When the boys are drinking beer, without the ladies, guess what they're talking about?
Me: I don't know.
Melina: Well. They're talking about who should get what girl.
Me: Really?
Melina: Those boys. They're always fighting over a girl. 
Which boys? And which girls? Notice the boys are drinking without the ladies. When they are drinking with the ladies, are they paired off with an appropriate girl? And why would this come out of the mouth of a six-year-old girl?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Tales from Introductory Bio

Date: 4/23/2015 6:25:08 PM
From: Student X
To:         Christina
Subject: for exam
 Do we get to use an index card for the test monday.

(I've left all emails as written to me, whether or not they are grammatically correct.)

Date: 4/23/2015 6:40:23 PM
From: Christina
To:         Student X
Subject: RE: for exam
I've decided that yes, you can. A 4X6 and nothing bigger. Front and back. I'll send out a message right now.


(I sent the message, thinking that I covered everything.)

Date: 4/23/2015 6:43:01 PM
From: Christina
To:         All course students (15_SP_BIO_1141_101) (15.SP.BIO.1141.101 PRIN ANAT & PHYSIO I)
Subject: Class reminders: Please read
Remember, no class tomorrow due to a funeral I must attend. Last exam, number 6, is on Monday. You must be there unless you've already made arrangements. At this point, I cannot put tests into the testing center for you to make them up. The exam will cover Chapters 14 and 16, and you may bring a 4X6 index card or piece of paper with notes on it. I will check your card to be sure it's the appropriate size. Comprehensive will be Wednesday. If you want to take it, your score cannot hurt you at all.


(I'm done, right?)

Date: 4/23/2015 7:12:12 PM
From: Student X
To:         Christina
Subject: RE: for exam
What size paper just like the note card.

(Apparently, I wasn't clear...)

Date: 4/23/2015 8:22:33 PM
From: Christina
To:         All course students (15_SP_BIO_1141_101) (15.SP.BIO.1141.101 PRIN ANAT & PHYSIO I)
Subject: Note card clarification
You can bring a 4 X 6 note card or a 4 X 6 piece of paper. Nothing bigger than that, no matter what sort of paper/card you are using. Front and back allowed.

Hope this clarifies things.


(One can hope...)

Date: 4/24/2015 11:09:02 PM
From: Student X
To:         Christina
Subject: Notes on note card
 Can both chapters go on there or just one chapter


Friday, April 24, 2015

Special Infinitives

I once said that Friday posts seem to find me. I had no plans to write today, but then, I opened up my fortune cookie--something I don't usually have around the house, but Tim brought me some take-out home yesterday. I even toyed with not eating the cookie. Maybe one of the kids would like it? Maybe I should wait and share? But I decided that trying to split a fortune cookie into five pieces (I'd like some after all) would be too much.

So I opened the cookie.

And found a fortune that was worthless. What did you expect?

But I turned the paper over, and just like in those bad sitcoms that I feel I'm trapped in sometimes, the paper read: Learn Chinese--to cough.

Ha! Such an appropriate term, don't you think?

I've recuperated from my "probable" pneumonia, Tim's lingering cough is finally almost gone, Zoe and Talia and Aaron are on the mend (I think) from whatever plagued their respiratory systems, and Melina? Well she's home today, again, while we wait to see if she tests positive for pertussis. (I don't think she will test positive but...) As you can imagine, the infinitive to cough holds special meaning for us around here.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why I Will Never Wear Black to a Funeral

Two weeks ago, I dropped the girls off at a local church for a singing lesson with their teacher, who had just served as cantor for a funeral. As we approached the building, people spilled from the doorways. With the exception of a few pairs of tan slacks and navy skirts, everyone was dressed in black: black cotton, black lace, black cashmere. You name it, the clothing was very dark. And there I stood, in the middle of the crowd, in my beloved rainbow fleece.

A few people glanced my way, possibly because I was moving against the crowd, maybe because of the rainbow fleece. I can't be sure, but at that moment, when my eyes darted from person to person and landed on nothing but drab clothing and long faces, I decided that I would never again wear black to a funeral.

I consider myself very lucky. I can probably count the number of funerals I've been to in my life on my hands. I've attended a few while I was in high school and still under my mother's thumb (black skirt, sensible flats). I also remember going to my grandfather's funeral while in graduate school. Even though I was technically an adult, mom still had the ability to throw scorn my way if I didn't dress properly (hence, the dark attire and sensible flats, again). The most recent funeral I attended was a few years ago, long after I'd left my mom's house. I remember clearly that I wore a light brown floral shirt and cream sweater along with brown capris. A summertime funeral is no place for anything heavier, really. Plus, I think it was about that time in my life, as I held my littlest in my arms and looked around at the tears streaming from people's eyes, that I decided funerals need to be celebrations instead of sadness.

Sure, I understand everyone's need to grieve. And make no mistake, I'm not saying you shouldn't express your sadness. What I am saying is that instead of focusing on the fact that the loved one is gone, let's revel in the fact that we knew that person at all. Let's focus on the person and how she made everyone feel loved. How he helped at every T-ball game whether his kids were playing or not. How much she loved her family and how he made friends everywhere he went. At funerals, we are gathering with an entire community of people who cared for the beloved. Shouldn't we be laughing at memories and clapping our hands over moments we shared together? Part of that celebration can start with clothing choices.

Sadly, I have a funeral to attend tomorrow, for a kindergarten teacher two of my children used to have. I think she'd approve of a ban on black at her funeral (her mom was dressed in bright purple at the viewing). While I might not actually show up in my rainbow fleece, I'm certainly not going to be found in black either.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Remember This?

Work today was rough. I had my last lecture on the endocrine system and then I proctored an exam and gave makeup quizzes. I went from one room to the next, hurrying to get papers put away and tests into testing centers. By the time I got in my car to come home, my skin tingled with the feeling of having too much to do, and I knew once I made it to the house, I'd have dinner to start and grades to put into the computer before the kids came home. I felt the need to speed on the road, just to get some of my energy find relaxation where none had been. But I don't speed, so instead, I sat back with good smoke and rolled down the windows.

Okay, I don't smoke, either. Instead, I took a swig of water and turned on the 1980s rewind. In one moment, I found relaxation in the form of laughter.

Now, don't get me wrong...just like this blog will not become a recipe blog, this blog will also not become overrun with YouTube videos. But this classic one-hit-wonder pulled me back to another life, so to speak, one in which my only care in the world was whether or not my little sister still adored me.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015


On the days I forget to get downstairs and blog, should I go ahead and retroactively post something? I mean, to me, the point of a blog is to give real-time what's happening in my life. I want people to know how I'm doing or what I'm thinking on that day. Does it make a difference if I go back and publish something? And would anyone notice?

Monday, April 20, 2015

The One in Which I Write a Letter to Kristen Bell

Dear Ms. Bell,

You might be wondering why an almost 42-year-old woman is writing to you. Since I'm also from Michigan (lived in Troy, Bloomfield Township, Jackson, and Ann Arbor before moving to Dayton, Ohio in 2003), perhaps you'll indulge me and keep reading. (In fact, had I not moved from Bloomfield, I might have ended up at the very same high school you attended! Small world.) I'll try to keep this letter short (I always do), but my guess is that it has the potential to run long. 

First off, I'm a big fan of yours. Certainly before Frozen, before Fanboys, before Forgetting Sarah Marshall, maybe all the way back to Veronica Mars. I enjoy your humor the most, and the authenticity that seems to shine through the screen. So maybe this is a fan letter, but then again, it's not.

Because the reason I'm writing is to tell you that I wrote a book. (I know. Like you needed to hear that a crazy lady from southwestern Ohio wrote a book. Who the heck cares, right?) Before you jump ship and put this letter down, let me give you a bit of a background about how the story came about.

In early 2013, I was putting my youngest to bed (at the time, she was four-and-a-half years old), and she said, "Mommy, can you read me this book?" Which book was it, you ask? Good old Cinderella. To be quite honest, I was tired of reading Cinderella. My youngest daughter is a princess at heart, and I had probably read that worn copy of Cinderella 5000 times at that point. But as parents are wont to do (and I know you know this already with your little ones), I sat down on the edge of the bed to read that story ONE MORE TIME.

And I'm so glad I did. Because reading that book came right after a discussion we'd had about Doctor Who—another favorite in our house. And in one single instant, a story idea popped into my brain. What if Cinderella had a daughter and she met up with Doctor Who's son? What if, indeed? (Stick with me here…you'll see where this is going.)

I dashed through reading the story, wrapped my daughter in hugs and kisses, and ran down to my computer. That night, my story took off, and over the course of one month (a time during which I drank tons of coffee and took far too few showers), I wrote an entire novel that I entitled, Beyond the Trees. And from the moment I wrote about Philippa Phipps and her flaxen hair, I envisioned you. Philippa's spunk, her determination, her quest to become something more extraordinary than simply a royal daughter…I could see you playing her role in the movie in my mind. To this day, when I read the book, I still see you as Philippa.

I haven't found an agent for the book and I might never find an agent (I'm okay with that fact) but I'm not writing this little (or big?) letter so that you might help me find one. I do realize you’re an actress, and not a literary agent. (I also realize that if the story hasn't quite made it to the published book status, the chances of ever seeing you in this movie are slim. And you're already too old to star as Philippa. Sorry. But I'm older than you, so I'm not trying to be harsh.) I'm writing this letter because I'm thinking on sharing the story with you and your family. I promise to send a more polished—and professionally critiqued—version of the manuscript I finished in March 2013.

Just so you know, there's a bit of humor, some adventure, time travel, and even a few gory parts (my son wanted me to include a place called The Pit of Souls, and so I did). At its heart, though, the story is a fairy tale. My kids enjoyed it, and I'm thinking that someday, your children might enjoy the story, too. (For the record, the novel would be categorized as upper middle-grade. You've got a while until Lincoln and Delta could read it by themselves…)

So if you find a copy of a book by an unknown author in your agent's mailbox soon, well, now you'll know why it's there.

Best of luck to you and hope to see you soon on any screen.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Soccer Time!

Lest you think that life around here only revolves around viruses, math, and writing, I'm posting a video put together by Aaron's soccer league. The narrator needs a shot of enthusiasm, but his voice takes me back somehow to the days of filmstrips and terry-cloth headbands. Aaron wears number 6, in case you're interested. He shows up at 2:36 (sort of upper right corner of the screen), at 2:54 when he wipes the sweat from his eyes, and again at 3:03 when he scores his epic goal (his words, not mine).

Saturday, April 18, 2015

This Writing Life

"Mom, you have any new stories?" One of the kids asked me that question sometime last week. I had to shake my head, sadly, and admit that I didn't have anything new for her to read. My dad asked two weeks ago how my writing was coming along. And to him, too, I had to say that I've been stalled.

It's not that I've got writer's block. In fact, just last week a story idea burst forth in my mind--something to do with neighborhood swingers, if you can believe that one--and I also worked on finishing up Daniel's point of view in my long-awaited (by whom?) Hunting for Lilacs. But finding the time to sit and in finding even one uninterrupted hour of writing time, has been so difficult lately.

I'm not trying to sound whiny. I realize that if I were a published author and writing were my job, I'd be complaining that an agent could be found breathing down my neck. But my job would be to write. I'd be doing exactly what I love to do. And, I'd be getting paid for it. I'd be able to say to the laundry that it can wait, and I'd be able to justify why I didn't make it to the Bi-Monthly Coffee Meet-up with my friends. I've got work to do! I'd say. And I'd feel good about saying it. On the other hand, I'd have deadlines to meet. Right now, I've got zero of those, and I'm okay with that.

The writing life can be hard any way you look at it, I guess. I'm pretty sure I knew that when I signed up.

Write on, friends!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Those Sneaky Memories

I had a post tumbling in my head for today, but then, I took a wee bit of time out of my busy day and found something shared by a friend. Of course, it resonated with me, and since it's Friday afternoon already, and you and I both have many more things to do, I'll skip the original post and share the photo. I hope the image below puts the same slow smile on your face as it did mine.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Gut Instincts

You know those feelings they call gut instincts? I know you do. And everyone says you should follow them; they will mostly steer you in the right direction.

I follow them all the time with respect to my kids. But when it comes to me, I tend to push them aside at times. Like early in the week, or maybe over the weekend, when I had Tim listen to me breathe. "I think I might need to see the doctor," I said. And then I did nothing about making an appointment.

Color me not-surprised when the medical professional told me this morning that she heard consolidation in my lungs and that I more likely than not had pneumonia. I told one of my students yesterday I thought I might have it. And when I told Tim that I might need to see a doctor, I kicked around the idea of pneumonia in my head.

Those guts instincts. Listen to them!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


I always talk about how the little things matter, right? Be grateful for the little things. Like the rays of sunshine that peek from behind the clouds to make a dreary day a little better. The quick hugs I receive from my children before they walk out the door for school. A phone call from a friend.

Sometimes, the little things that make our day can be unexpected things, too. Like finding the time to clean all three of your toilets. Or realizing that the bill you owe isn't due for another week. Or making it to the side of the road because you are coughing so hard you need to vomit. Yes, not only did I successfully pull the car over and work through my coughing fit (Melina was in the car. The last thing I needed was to endanger her.), but I managed, even with all that coughing and near vomiting, to not urinate my pants. Because that could have happened, you know.

Celebrating the little things today!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Strange Requests

Melina is home sick for the second day in a row. I probably could have sent her to school, but she hasn't been fever-free for the required 24 hours, and since I don't teach today, I thought it was best to have her stay home one more day.

I told her I had a few things I needed to do and that she could read and play if she felt fine enough. That playing lasted about ten minutes. She just snuck up on me.

"I want to do something over there," she said, and pointed to the family room. That room has the couch and computer and television in it. I figured that she no longer wanted to deal with books or playing.

"Okay. We can go in there. What do you want to do?" I braced myself for her answer. It was too early for electronics. We needed to get through more of the day before I caved into those demands for television or computer.

"Maaaaaath. I want to do math."

Well okay then. We're going to go do some math. Happy Tuesday!

**Update: Melina wanted to show everyone what we accomplished today. Here's the picture:

I wrote out that last problem (851-62) for her, but she told me how to actually go about doing the work. I've never liked the new concepts these kids get at school (what can I say...I'm stuck in my ways), but writing out this process seems like a fine thing to do. Melina wanted more difficult questions than I anticipated AND she could show me how to do them. Not bad for first grade.

Monday, April 13, 2015


You know what Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day is today? It's perfect...just perfect. Today's Word of the Day is...

Ready for it?
Febrile \FEB-ryle\

adjective: marked or caused by fever, feverish
In case you'd like some examples of how to use that word, MW provides a few:


The patient exhibited a rash and febrile symptoms that were consistent with a certain rare tropical infection.

"Febrile seizures typically occur between the ages of 6 months and 6 years old. They happen when a fever spikes very quickly...." — Vikki Ortiz Healy, Chicago Tribune, August 4, 2014
And then, you can of course, make up your own:
Melina sat on the couch, head propped with a fluffy pillow, her febrile symptoms, along with a sore throat, making her mother worry that she might have strep throat.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Scenes from a Germ-Laden Home: 2

Another gorgeous day. In fact, the entire weekend has been full of sun and warmth. I can feel the hope that comes with sunny skies.

Melina: Mom, my eyes are watering. I don't know why my eyes are watering.

Me: Oh no.

Melina: And my throat is sore. It hurts to swallow sometimes.

Me: Not another cold, is it?

Melina: Maybe...can I watch TV?

Me: Yeah. [Turning to Melina.] Will we ever be rid of these germs?


Talia: Mom, my head really hurts. Can I have some Ibuprofen?

Me: Sure. It's in the bathroom.

Talia: No, we need more.

Me: What the heck? I just bought some.

Tim: We need some adult Ibuprofen, too.

Talia: And you said, "Heck."

Me: No, I just bought that! And I know I said that word.

Tim: We'll it's all gone.

Me: Are you kidding me? That's the fastest we've gone through Ibuprofen, ever!

I shake my head, walk away, and add Ibuprofen to the grocery list. Will we ever be rid of these germs?


Dad: How is Melina's ear?

Me: Great. She can hear. The hearing aid seems to work.

Dad: And how is everyone feeling? You sound like you have a cold.

Me: These germs won't quit! I still have a cough, my head still hurts, and the kids have at least one complaint each.

Dad: Will you ever be rid of these germs?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Nugget of Happiness

I have never been the completely uptight mom. I think my more laid-back manner comes from being slightly overwhelmed with twins. You don't have time to think about the decision you're making when you're squeezed between two hungry or filthy babies. Every decision is simply made with one goal in mind: survival.

So I never worried too much about anything except for a few things. 1. Germs: I didn't take any of the kids to church when they were too young. 2. Safety: Yes, we skinned grapes and cut them in half, at least for the twins. After that we realized just how stupid we really were. 3. Routine: Putting the kids to bed by seven o'clock every night, even when traveling? You bet. The routine saved me in more ways than one.

But I like to think of myself as a good parent, one who wants the best for her kids. I breastfed the babies, I bought them fresh fruits and vegetables. I tried to steer clear from artificial preservatives, nitrates, and high-fructose corn syrup. Making my own baby food? I tried it. Canned beans? No, we'll used dried, thank you very much.  As you know, I draw the line at Goldfish. I like those crackers, and so do the kids. Artificial ingredients be damned; we eat them.

As time marched on, though, and the kids grew older, life changed. Instead of dealing with two hungry or filthy babies, I had four hungry and filthy children, four piles of homework, more laundry, after school activities, and all the tasks that went along with my own work. I still believe in fresh fruits and vegetables--organic when I can--and what we eat on a normal day is, in fact, pretty healthy.

But the other day, I admitted to my sister that I had, indeed, served the kids frozen chicken nuggets. (The horror, right?)

"Wow," she said. "You must be really busy."

That week, I was so busy, I barely had time to sit for the few moments it takes to post this drivel. And in that one moment when I spoke to my sister (even though she didn't say what she said to make me feel bad), I felt awful about giving my kids all white meat nuggets that hadn't been chopped into pieces from a fresh chicken breast and dipped into breading by me.

Just one moment, though. And then I laughed at myself.

Because why should I worry that those frozen nuggets and french fries that I baked in my own oven (it doesn't take any effort to throw nuggets and fries in the oven) will have an impact on my kids? They won't. I served them with green peas, a fresh and full green salad, and strawberries, and I'm sure I insisted that before bed they choose a healthy snack in addition to the small dessert they always seem to desire. That shortcut that night allowed me the time to revel in my kids instead of falling under the weight of everything we still needed to do before bedtime. That night, chicken nuggets = no worries. No worries = happy mom. Happy mom = happy kids. Happy kids = all is right with the world.

Why am I sharing this? Learn from me. If my kids can survive frozen chicken nuggets, yours can to. Live a little.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Fight Song

Looking for a good song to keep you going on a day-to-day basis? I've got one for you. I'm dedicating this piece by Rachel Platten to anyone who has had to fight for something. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Tell Me How You Really Feel: 19

I don't get really irritated that often, but I'd say I'm a bit ruffled today. Here's why. I signed up for a webinar a month or so ago that promised to help a writer understand the ins and outs of a query letter. Now, I've already started writing and sending out query letters, but I thought that the letter for at least one of my books (Beyond the Trees, in particular) could benefit from a major overhaul. And included in the price of the webinar was the promise of a query critique by the agent giving the seminar. Score! What a deal! I'd done some research...the agent seemed knowledgeable and well-respected. I couldn't wait to see how she deconstructed my letter. I kid you not. I was ready to take the heat, as they say. Blast the letter, and I will rebuild! (I'll warn you now that this is a very predictable post.)

Her reply arrived yesterday. The short email that accompanied her attachment said this:
Dear Christina,
Thank you for taking my webinar! Please find my comments on the attached file.
All best, 
So I opened the file, excited to see how I could make my letter better. In red, using the track changes function, this is what I found: 
1. With respect to one of my main characters, 14-year-old Callum: This is edging just a litttttle too old for MG.
2. With respect to "...will have to sacrifice more than just a simple happily-ever-after": Does this mean there's a romance between Philippa and Callum?
And below those measly words, the agent added these three sparse paragraphs:
Dear Christina,

Thank you for taking my webinar.

I hope my comments here are helpful. This sounds like a fun world, and I’m curious to see how you meld the fairy tale and science fiction worlds into one.

But I’m a little concerned about the audience here—whether this is a middle grade novel or just young YA. It’s not totally clear here, but if there’s a romance between Philippa and Callum, I think this would be firmly out of the middle grade arena. Callum is a little old for middle grade, and editors tell me over and over that romance in middle grade doesn’t fly. Boys and girls still have cooties to a lot of MG readers. If there is a romance consider aging them up to 15/16. It could be a young-ish feeling YA novel which is totally fine. If there’s no romance, I would consider aging Callum down a little. Does he need to be 14? 14 is high school and just feels too old for middle grade. 
I looked at the file again, slightly dumbfounded. By definition, a critique is a detailed evaluation, something that should help one make the writing better. I'd expected the agent to talk about whether or not I'd used too many generalities and not enough specifics. I thought she'd say that the stakes hadn't been mentioned or that she couldn't understand the appeal of the book. Do I have enough of a hook? Too many details having to do with world building? Not enough? Do my words flow, or is my writing choppy? HOW CAN I MAKE THIS LETTER BETTER?

I'm not an ingrate. Yes, I'm thankful that she told me she thought I need to age up the characters. But what she gave me concerns the story itself, not the actual letter. What I would have preferred is for her to mention the age and then move on. Put aside that comment and move forward. I paid for a critique, after all. And if she didn't want to actually critique any letters, then she should not have told the people that run the webinar she'd be willing to critique, right? (As an aside, the original tale was written as YA and alluded to a possible romance in the future. As written for MG, I'd toned that side of the story down. I find it interesting that "happily-ever-after" in this agent's mind is romance. I guess that's the way of the world. Good to know.)

Now if you follow this blog at all, you will remember that just a few weeks ago, I posted about how this very query letter was read by a YA agent. She also read the first ten pages or so of the manuscript, and commented that the voice sounded like a MG voice. So I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place, no? I've got a MG voice and a story that's youngish YA. What's a writer to do? I'll tell you what. I'm ditching the damn thing for now. Yes, I'm done querying for this story. And since that is at least the third time that I've said that very thought, I'm going to actually listen to myself and quit querying. My science fiction/fairy tale mashup might never find a place in this world, but I think I'm okay with that outcome.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Lint Trapping

We always talk about how the little things can really make a difference. Well I'm here to tell you that these past few weeks, a very little thing has made all the difference in my life. We're not talking vacuums (although I do like our new one), nor am I speaking about friends who do little favors (I love you guys!). I'm talking about a ten inch piece of plastic:

From the insert in the box.
This fabulous fella sits at the bottom of our washtub in the basement and has been very effective (much more so than the previous contraption--pantyhose!) in trapping our lint. Our drains are probably clapping and thanking us right now. And our plumber? He'll be bummed that we don't hit him up for a drain clean more often, but I'm certain he's gotten enough cash from us to fund at least one large yacht.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Thorny Viewing

I woke up this morning and dabbled around on the internet, only to find out that a freakout (if you can call it that) happened over on Twitter last night. Apparently the minor uproar had to do with the Lifetime broadcast of If There Be Thorns. Not sure what that title refers to? I'll tell you. If There Be Thorns is the third installment of the Dollanganger series, by now deceased V. C. Andrews. That's the series that begins with the classic horror, Flowers in the Attic. I wouldn't say the book can be classified as what we now know to be horror, but according to some, the whole premise is creepy (if you don't know why, keep reading, or look it up). It's the sort of book my mother always rolled her eyes at: "You're going to read that?" Then she'd purse her lips and sigh but not take the book away from me. "So yes, Mom, yes I am going to read that." Because at 14 years old, you read what everyone says you can't read, right? Here I am at almost 42 years old and still doing the same thing, yo.

Anyway, my first response? I laughed at the article. How could the internet "freak out" over this movie? Did the people watching even bother to look up the books the movie was based on? Anyone? Anyone at all? If so, why the twittering? (Oh, that was bad.) Yes, the books deal with incest, but if you've read the books (or watched the other two awful movies) you would have known about that from the outset. And if you really didn't know the story behind If There Be Thorns...then you just didn't do your homework, or you were too lazy, or maybe you didn't care and just wanted to watch a movie, for crying out loud. In which case, you don't have to get in an uproar. If the goods aren't delivered as expected. Just shut the television off. (To be truthful, you should shut the television off when it comes to Lifetime movies anyway, right? I mean, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?)

Some of the Twitter responses are great, though. For example, Sheila Taylor Clark (@staylorclark) said: They shoulda bought a one level house with NO attic #IfThereBeThorns. That tweet had me in stitches. I like how this lady thinks. And Susan Alexander (‏@susankalexander) wrote, Jory is the only person in family who is dating someone he is not related too [sic]. #IfThereBeThorns. Yes indeed. The incest that began in the first book sort of follows its way through the series, if you must know. And finally another Twitter user, Fiona J Brady (‏@FionaJBrady), stated what most people probably would say about books-turned-movies: Obviously you have to read the books to understand the plot twists; movies just don't do books justice ever. #IfThereBeThorns.

And by the way, I've read that series multiple times. I'm not grossed out by the incest, which might say something about who I am, I guess. I'm more drawn in by the psychological hold that Christopher (the brother) has over Cathy (the sister). But If There Be Thorns is told from the point of view of Cathy's son (whose father happens to be her mother's that more or less repellant for you Twitter people?). And the book is the worst of the series: poor writing, even poorer execution. All around bad. And so Lifetime didn't' have much to work with from the outset.

But if you couldn't get enough of such a tale, tune in next week. Lifetime has the fourth movie ready to go. Seeds of Yesterday will air next Sunday at 8/7c. I won't be watching. But I might jump on Twitter just to see what sorts of funniness abound.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Disparity

Many moons ago, when my knees stood closer to the ground, Easter Sunday meant sitting through long homilies, shivering in the cold "spring" air, and eating Easter dinner with just ourselves. I remember thinking that when I was older, I'd like to have family live close so that we could have cars lined up in the driveway and half-way down the street like the neighbors did. I remember thinking about all the ways I'd make Easter special for my kids: lots of candy, Easter egg hunts, family laughter, and hugs.

And then, life happened. Two kids turned into three and then four. We didn't live near family, and with school schedules--theirs and mine--traveling in the spring wasn't always feasible. I, especially, got tired of driving like a maniac on Good Friday only to drive like a maniac back home on Easter Sunday. And in recent years, with four kids and two parents who spend time with students, I find that viruses breed by the dozen (or more) right around Easter time.

So for the third year in a row, we stayed at home. And instead of rushing here and there and everywhere, we calmly proceeded to early mass, then headed to our friends place for brunch. A little bit of good food, a whole lot of coffee, and one Easter egg hunt later, we walked home, threw in some laundry and drove to the nearby metropark. Sixty-five degrees and sunny meant that frolicking in the creek was not frowned upon. And then, after a quick clean-up by the kids, the best Easter gift of all: take out pizza for dinner. No muss, no fuss, right?

I can't say that I ever envisioned serving my kids pizza for Easter dinner, or that I'd be happy with an empty driveway on such a holiday. But sometimes, what we think will be good for us and what actually is good for us don't quite match up. And this time, I'm okay with the disparity.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Another List

I love lists. Top 10 lists. Top 20 lists. Lists that tell you the best restaurant to go to (I never agree with them) and lists that inform you of what the best movies of the year are (I can't agree with them because I rarely go to the movies). So when I saw this article on The 11 Greatest Children's Books, I of course had to stop everything and read it.

The BBC complied the list: "In search of a collective critical assessment, BBC Culture’s Jane Ciabattari polled dozens of critics around the world, including NPR’s Maureen Corrigan; Nicolette Jones, children’s books editor of the Sunday Times; Nicole Lamy of the Boston Globe; Time magazine's books editor Lev Grossman; Daniel Hahn, author of the new Oxford Companion to Children's Literature; and Beirut-based critic Rayyan Al-Shawaf. We asked each to name the best children’s books (for ages 10 and under) ever published in English."

The poll collected 151 books, and the titles that came up again and again were ranked at the top. Any idea what the top book is? (No cheating here, please.) I'm pleased to say that this list is one I can agree with. With the exception of number 9 (A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K Le Guin), I've read and enjoyed every title. And the number 1 spot? It's held by good old Charlotte's Web, by EB White.

Finally, a list I won't complain about.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Yeah, I Know

"Mom I need to tell you something." Melina looks up at me, her eyes wide and bright. I think, maybe, what she has to say is important. So I stop in my tracks.

"Okay, Melina. Go ahead." I kneel down in front of her, an action which allows me to look directly into her eyes.

"I used to not be able to wear lip gloss," she says, and flicks her gaze toward the mirror in the dining area. "I could wear lipstick, but not lip gloss." She ends the sentence with a huge nod of her head and looks at me out of the sides of her eyes. "I could wear lipstick but not lip gloss. Because when I was young, I used to lick my lips and the lip gloss would come off." She tosses her hands in the air. "Lipstick wouldn't come off, but lip gloss would. But now that I'm older, I can wear lip gloss." The grin of the Cheshire Cat spreads across her face.

I have so many thoughts tumbling around in my head. That she is too young to be wearing either lip gloss or lipstick. That she makes me laugh with her penchant for cosmetics. That the expression on her face--a countenance full of seriousness--has the potential to send me into convulsions. But she won't really understand why I am laughing, and I think she really wants a response from me. Plus, I am listening to her. I am present. I want her to know this fact.

"Huh." I push the strand of hair that always falls into her face away from her nose. "I'm glad to know that, honey. It's always good to know that you've matured and can do things you couldn't at one point." Just looking at her sweet face does me in, and I place a swift kiss on the tip of her nose.

"Yeah, I know." She smiles again, this time at me, as if my answer confirms for her what she already knew to be true: she already had everything figured out. And she's right. Melina didn't need for me to tell her what I did. Because what I said, was exactly what she'd already told me, but in different words. She'd already said that she had matured, right? I mean, she used to lick the lip gloss off and now she doesn't.

And, as if to add insult to injury, or to simply remind me that even six-year-old girls can be so extremely wise, she nods one last time and whispers again, "Yeah, I know."

I hope she also knows just how much I love her.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Scenes from a Germ-Laden Home

A gorgeous day. The kids are all inside. Mom is inside with them. All faces pressed at the windows, looking out--longingly.

Kid 1: Mom, my eyes are watering.

Kid 1 pushes her fingers across her eyelids, hoping to catch the offending drops before they land on the floor. She rolls her eyes.

Mom: I know. You have a cold.

Kid 1: Yeah, but I don't want this cold.

Mom: Yeah, well neither do I, but here we are now, aren't we?

Mom tries to hold in the sarcasm and the expletives that perch on her lips. She holds another tissue to her nose and coughs, twice.

Kid 1: I knoooooooow, Mom, but how can I get rid of it?

Mom: Sleep. You need more sleep. We all need more sleep. So go to bed early.

Kid 1: But it's spring break. I want to stay up late!

Mom: And you'd be able to, if you didn't have a cold. But you've got to get rid of this cold before school next week. Maybe by the end of the week you'll be better. Maybe then you can stay up a little later...

Kid 1: Yeah, well I didn't want this cold in the first place.

Mom: Sigh...

Another gorgeous day. The kids are all inside. Mom is inside with them. All faces pressed at the windows, looking out--longingly.

Kid 2: Mom, my cheeks feel warm.

Mom leans in and places her fingertips to Kid 2's cheeks, which are flushed red. They do, indeed, feel warm.

Mom: I think you've got a fever. Hold on.

Mom touches her lips to his forehead, feeling the abnormal amount of heat, and then places her hand against her own forehead, which also seems warm.

Mom: Yep, you've got a fever. Let's get some ibuprofen.

Kid 2: I don't feel like getting the ibuprofen. Can you get it for me?

Mom: Yes, sure.

Mom gets the Ibuprofen and stubs her toe on the way out of the bathroom, which forces her to fall against the piano where she bangs her knee then hits her back in the place where her wound is still healing.

Mom: #$%^^&@....You didn't hear that, did you?

Kid 2: No, and thank you.

Mom: You're welcome.

Kid 2: I'm tired of this cold.

Mom: So am I, kid. So. Am. I.

Kid 2: Why did I have to get sick?

Mom: Why do you kids keep asking me this?

The third gorgeous day in a row. The kids are all inside. Mom is inside with them. All faces pressed at the windows, looking out--longingly.

Kid 3: Mooooom! Melina just sneezed!

Mom: And?

Kid 2: She tried to sneeze into her arm but she missed.

Mom: And?

Kid 1: And the mucus is on the floor.

Mom: So pick it up.

Kids 1, 2, and 3: No way!

Mom: Seriously? How many times have I picked up your mucus? How many times have I wiped your bums? I never said no way!

Kid 2: I barfed on Daddy's shirt once.

Kid 3: I did, too.

Kid 1: I did, too.

Kid 4: Did I ever...what was that word? Barf? Did I ever do that on Daddy's shirt?

Mom: Oh for goodness sakes! You all vomited on our shirts at some point or another. And some day, your kids will do it to you. Maybe you should rethink your stance on wiping up this mucus! What do you say?

All kids: Uh, no.

Mom: Sigh...

Kid 1: I just have to say that I didn't want this cold.