You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2011.

Look, even the grown-ups can have fun on Halloween:

Yes, this is another homemade costume, this one created with thick poster board and some time-consuming copying and printing of images of iPhone icons found online. The boys, of course, insisted I include an Angry Birds app. And the only one I actually invented was my school levy “Issue 6” app:

And the back view:

Do you think this will bring new jobs to Cleveland?

Mark was, obviously, Steve Jobs. I thought he could wear any old jeans and a black turtleneck from his closet, but he insisted on going out and buying the exact ones. And, man, was he right.

He looks nothing like Steve Jobs in real life, but the the second he put on those high waisted light blue jeans and that iconic mock turtleneck, he was instantly transformed:

And there we were, ready to party, a dead man and his favorite plaything:

My almost eight-year-old Braedan is long past the age where I have any control over what he wears for Halloween.  Despite my endless suggestions and offers to create something clever and unique, he opted for a packaged costume from Target and went as a Motorcross Racer. Of course, he’s as cute as ever no matter what he wears.

Yesterday, at the end of his school’s parade

Austin, on the other hand, is still young (and impressionable) enough that he actually wants me to make his costume. This year, we settled on a rocket ship/space shuttle which I fashioned out of foamy poster paper. We were both pretty pleased with the results.

Until we got to Braedan’s classroom yesterday afternoon and Austin suddenly refused to put it on. He marched in that whole parade wearing no costume and a scowl on his face, matched only by mine. I was so disappointed that he wouldn’t wear it that I kept harping at him, in my own whiny voice: “This is what you asked for, Austin. This is what you begged me to work on every night.” Next tactic: “Well, I don’t know what you’re gonna wear on Halloween night because I’m not getting you another and nobody wants to give candy to kids without costumes.”

Shockingly, none of my threats or pleas worked. But once we got home, he cheerfully announced that he actually loves his costume and does plan to wear it for trick-or-treating!  Huh. He even put it on and let me take some photos.

Blasting off up the back stairs (which are still part of our
construction zone — more on that next week!)

The back view

Can’t waste a good pre-election opportunity like Halloween!

Kids ….

Well, it was a great day for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District in the pages of the trusty Sun Press.  There were eleven well written and passionate letters to the editor in support of the school levy (including two by the mother-daughter team of Nancy and Krissy) and two tired, repetitive letters against. Now if only we could guarantee those same odds on Election Day!

You would think that in the year 2011, it would be easy to access these letters online but I don’t seem able to.  So I’m copying mine below, which was (shockingly) printed in its entirety without one word of editing, despite being 55 words over their limit.  Please please please, if you live in these fine communities, PLEASE vote yes for Issue 6 on November 8.

Dear Editor,

Rita O’Connor’s attack on the Heights Schools is sadly misguided.  She seems to place blame for criminal activity and irresponsible behavior on the shoulders of the school district. It is true that both exist in our communities, as they exist in all inner-ring suburbs. But it is not true, nor even sensible, to think that such problems are the fault of the schools. 

Our district is doing an excellent job educating all of its students, including those whose parents may not meet O’Connor’s approval. The new programs at the Delisle Educational Options Center are helping to ease the transition of students from other districts, notably Cleveland and East Cleveland, so they are better prepared both academically and behaviorally for the high standards of CH-UH.

CH-UH also partners closely with Family Connections to engage parents of “at-risk” kindergarteners, both in the school and in their homes.  Such programs give parents specific skills and opportunities to interact with their young children in ways that promote early literacy.

But even with the district’s carefully planned interventions, there are and will continue to be students from families who, in O’Connor’s words, have “no idea how to support a child and no idea how to live responsible lives.” Many of these children, despite facing enormous obstacles, are excellent students. Sadly, O’Connor’s solution is to cut them off: We don’t like their parents’ behavior and therefore we shouldn’t offer them a high quality education   .

Nothing could be more short-sighted, or more reprehensible. Children from troubled backgrounds are punished for the mistakes of their parents every single day. A just and caring society would wrap their arms around these kids and give them the very best opportunities, even when it’s expensive, both to prevent the cycle of poverty from spiraling forward and because it is simply the right thing to do.

One of the best things about CH-UH is its commitment to every student who walks through its doors. This is not a “bad” district because it pours money and energy into educating children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Quite the opposite, in fact. That is one of the things that makes it great.

This is a total non sequitur (yes, that is the correct spelling of that word, I looked it up!) but you’re my best source of information, so I figured I’d come to you first, my trusted readers.  I’ve been super engaged in all things school-related lately (more on that later in the week), and have been thinking about the Young Authors’ Conferences we used to have when I was in elementary school. We’d spend weeks and weeks creating our own stories, going through all the steps of the writing process and then eventually “publishing” them, which is those days meant typing it all up on a typewriter and stapling the pages together.

My kids have two of my laminated books, part of a series about Fred the Flying Monkey, which I painstakingly typed out a typewriter that had no letter K.  I instead had to punch an L every time I wanted a K andthen go back with a black pen and add the legs. Something tells me we wouldn’t have that problem nowadays!

Once the books were complete, the district hosted a big event at one of the elementary schools to which all “young authors” were invited.  We’d share excerpts from our books and browse other student books and then have an opportunity to hear from a professional children’s author and usually an illustrator as well.

I’d love to bring that program back to the Heights.  I think so much of the writing curriculum, in our district and nationwide, has been watered down to fit what’s required on standardized tests. I would love to see children putting effort into a long-term project that relied on their creativity, with each child coming up with a book that is so uniquely their own. And for them to then have the opportunity to celebrate it and share it with such a wide audience.

So, anyway, the reason I’ve come to you is that I always assumed the Young Authors’ Conference was part of a single national program but after doing some quick research, it seems it’s just a term used by schools and districts across the country to describe their own similar projects.  Who remembers the way we did it in CH-UH in the 80s (Judi, I know you’re reading this)? Did anyone else do something similar in their schools or do anyone’s kids do it now? All thoughts welcome.

And maybe when I’m done with this, I’ll dust off an old typewriter and type up my book and then staple the pages together and let you all have at it.

The other thing I got out of my bike trip was renewed desire to work on my book.  I, of course, had many opportunities share Austin’s story,  which I, of course, took full advantage of. Which (of course) led to conversations about the book. I got lots of positive feedback and encouragement from a bunch of people who’d never read a word I’ve written (perhaps I should tell an agent that),. And now I want to get out there and do something about it.

For as long as I’ve been saying that I’m “working on getting my book published,” the truth is I’ve only queried about fifteen or twenty agents in all these years. Most authors, even bestsellers, query five times as many. I recently read that The Help, which I loved, was rejected 60 times before Kathryn Stockett landed an agent (and then a movie deal). Nobody is simply going to find me, as I sit here in my home office and blog away.

I’m still awaiting word from one agent from last year’s Pitch Slam, but I have to amdit that it has indeed been almost a year and I may  never hear from her. And even if I eventually do, it can’t hurt to query others in the meantime.

But pulling that manuscript out of its dusty spot in my hard drive can be a bit overwhelming.  I guess I need to think of it like just another mountain. One step at a time, one word at a time. If I tackle this book word by word, I’ll eventually finish (82,000 words later!). And then the query letter (which is always being revised) word by word and then the literary agents, one by one down my long list.

And sooner or later, I’ll reach that summit. Step by step, word by word. I’ll get there.

Look what I just found on the Hyundai Hope on Wheels website … a little video featuring moi. These are excerpts from the talk I gave back in September when they came to Rainbow as part of their drive across country during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.  The video is about five minutes long with my talk in the last three (cut down from a nearly ten-minute speech, which makes for some choppy transitions).  It’s pretty good though; actually it made me tear up a little and I wrote the dang thing!

Plus there is a cute shot of clueless Austin sitting in my lap and making silly faces.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the kids did great without me. It was the longest I’d ever gone without seeing them, by quite a lot. But they stepped up to the plate and behaved beautifully and Mark said it was good for all of them to have that time together. He did also say that he’s not cut out for single parenthood (which is probably a good thing). And that the thing that surprised him most was how much laundry I do!

I did fine without them too, mostly because I was off having a great time.  But the second I finished my last bike ride on Friday morning, I could not get home quickly enough.

And sorry to those of you I scared with my “Downhill” title posted on Facebook. I obviously meant it in only the best possible way, but I can see where it was reminiscent of these two posts, “The Fall” and “The Quickening Descent” (neither of which was meant in the best possible way), especially after a week of no updates.

On a separate note, please visit the website of Cleveland’s Red Cross  over the next two days to vote for local heroes. Austin’s oncologist, Dr. Jeff Auletta, has been nominated in the Medical category and is most deserving of the honor.  You can only vote once and it’s very simple and quick.

That’s it. Now I’m off to put away some of that laundry Mark didn’t get to….

Nice post for me to leave sitting out there for more than a week, huh? Hope nobody accidentally stumbled across my blog or they’d never return!

I happened to be on vacation last week. Yes, a real, super fabulous, sort of random, lucky-for-me vacation. You know how my parents go on these bike trips every year? Well, my dad had his knee replaced in the spring and then his other knee scoped in August and my mother was suffering from bike trip withdrawal and pathetically requested my company so she wouldn’t have to go an entire year without a Backroads trip and I, being the good daughter and not wanting her to suffer too much, sacrificed myself and tagged along.

Okay, well, that’s not exactly how it went. It was really my husband who sacrificed me and let me go along. Thanks to short work days for Mark and long playdates for the boys, I had the distinct pleasure of going with my mom for a week of cycling through coastal Maine. I know when people think “bike trip,” images of roughing it come to mind. But no, this is quite the opposite. We certainly worked hard on our bicycles (there are no flat parts of Maine, as far as I can tell), but these trips are quite luxurious, with leaders taking care of every detail and van support in case you want to quit (needless to say, we never did) and lovely hotels and inns and fantastic gourmet dinners each night. For me, the combination of intense exercise, quaint seaside towns and delicious food and drink could not be more perfect.

Day One: Ready to go

The weather was iffy (and that’s an understatement) but the scenery was beautiful. We were quite close, in  fact, to where the boys and Mark and I went last fall.

Best of all, we had a great group of fourteen cyclists and two leaders, and spent a significant portion of our non-biking time just talking and sharing and laughing.  We knew we were willing to get to the heart of the matter when our second night dinner conversation revolved exclusively around religion, inspired by one lapsed Mormon and many lapsed Catholics.  So much for not talking religion or politics with strangers!

View from hotel

My favorite part was Day Two, the toughest by far, which included a climb up Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. As our leaders described the route, they predicted it would take us 40 to 45 minutes to bike the 3-and-a-half miles up. Forty-five minutes for three-and-a-half miles? On a bike?! That seemed crazy to me and as soon as I thought, “I could run it faster than that,” I knew how I’d be spending my afternoon.

After cycling more than thirty miles on unpaved, trafficless paths, I met our van at the base of the mountain and handed over my bike, ready to  tackle a run up the mountain. “Oh-kaaaay,” my leader had said when I suggested it at lunch. “We’ve never had anyone request that before.” Which, of course, made me want to do it even more.

A few hundred yards into my run I had a brief moment of doubt — what was I thinking? — which quickly dissipated as random drivers and cyclists cheered me on. Every time I got a wave or a clap or a toot of a horn (or even a head shaking), I’d smile and just keep going. (It always helps, you know, like today as I ran down North Park and someone leaned out of a minivan window and shouted, “Run, Krissy, run!” I haven’t a clue who it was but I sure appreciated it.)

Partway up

Still going

The hardest part was not knowing how far I’d gone. Because I was slower than usual (and had forgotten to look at the exact time when I started), I had no idea if I was just around the bend from the top or only halfway there. It reminded me of those final weeks of Austin’s treatment when we were never sure of how much more chemo we had ahead of us. It’s always easier when you have a clear goal, an end post, to set your sights on. The not knowing makes it so much harder, both physically and emotionally. Do I push now and finish strong or conserve for all that remains ahead?

The whole run reminded me of the cancer journey.  Cancer’s like that, you know. One small step, one foot in front of the other. If you look up and try to take in the whole path ahead of you, you’d be too overwhelmed to ever even start. The summit would seem insurmountable. So instead you put your foot down and you take one step and then you take one more. Focus on the one tiny inch in front of you — that’s what my dad said before we started the second round of chemo. Just that one little inch. And before you know it, you’re there. You’ve done it.

And then it’s all downhill.

October 2011


October 2011