The Weekly Peek

Hello, and Happy Monday! Today is particularly happy for me, as it is my kiddo’s 3rd birthday! Hard to believe how time has flown and how much he’s grown. He’s also turning into quite the little performer…I wonder where he got that from?

Other stuff happening this week:

I’ll be rendezvousing with my friend (and former Bluebird Works client), Kristen Kittscher, author of the amazing middle grade mysteries The Wig in the Window and The Tiara on the Terrace! Though we’ve worked together and known each other for years, we’ve never met in person before — looking forward to connecting and raising a glass (or three) of bubbly to our awesomeness.

I’m hoping to get some feedback on a few of my works-in-progress — I have a picture book out on submission, two picture books and a chapter book with my Trusted Readers, and I’m awaiting editorial notes on the next Bland Sisters story. Can’t wait to get some fresh perspective on these projects!

I’m getting ready to go on vacation. Because when your toddler turns three, you deserve a celebration (and some down time), too.

Have a great week, everyone!


I’ve been putting off blogging (or anything that requires brain-power, really) until I’ve fully recovered from the flu, but I’m still sneezy and sniffly and it’s already 2015, so let’s do this.

To start the year off right, I have some pretty awesome news to share, which I’ve had to keep under my hat for some time. My upcoming chapter book series, The Infamous Ratsos, has found its artist, and it will be none other than…Matt Myers. You guys, I am so, so excited. I love Matt’s work and his sense of humor, and I can’t wait to see his vision for Louie and Ralphie Ratso and their world. Believe it or not, I’ve never had to go out looking for an illustrator before for my picture books; I’ve always been paired with someone pretty much from the get-go, so this whole illustrator search has been thrilling.

The first Ratsos book will pub in 2016 — spring, I think, though I may be (and have often been) wrong. In any case, I will keep you posted.

In other news, I have a project out on submission. Tom Petty was right — the waiting IS the hardest part. But I’ve been able to distract myself, thanks to the holidays, and my husband coming down with the flu just before Christmas and passing it along to me. I mean, talk about the gift that keeps on giving. Thankfully, our little one has remained healthy and symptom free, though that’s meant that he’s been as energetic and active as ever, to the delight of his fatigued and congested parents. But we persevere, as ever. I’m hoping to get some news about this new project in the next month or so. It’s a new jam for me — more of a reader, a la Frog and Toad — and it needs just the right home.

As for the new year, I face 2015 with the same list of resolutions — eat healthier, sleep and read and write and exercise more, be present and positive, refrain from stress and toxicity. Also, I hope to clean our upstairs landing, one place in our house (along with our scary dungeon/basement, which I CAN’T EVEN) that needs serious attention. Does everyone have a spot where all random junk and old toys and to-be-donated clothes seem to coalesce? Because our upstairs landing is that zone for us, our very own crash pad for crap. And it makes me feel bad. Really, really bad. I don’t even like thinking about it, much less actually going upstairs, because the messiness of it bums me out. I have to walk through it (okay, more like WADE through it) on the way to my office, which also houses my treadmill and my exercise stuff, which means I start and end every workout on a sour note, and I hardly ever use the office as my workspace anymore. All this because I want to avoid the mess. But as experience has taught me, the best way to avoid messes is to GET RID OF THEM. So that’s what I’m aiming to do.

And maybe, someday, I’ll even face that scary basement. There’s always 2016.

Do you have a (literal or figurative) mess you’ve been avoiding? Let’s commiserate — and face that cleanup together!


Thankful for You

Looking for a great holiday gift for a young reader? What better present is there than the gift of civility? If you buy a copy of my latest book, NO SLURPING, NO BURPING: A Tale of Table Manners, I’ll be happy to send you a signed, personalized bookplate! Just email me with your mailing address and to whom you’d like me to sign it.

I hope you’re all managing this pre-holiday mania, especially given the weather and the state of the world these days. It’s hard to me to feel thoroughly thankful, when so much lately seems hopeless and unfair — but I do find solace in the fact that I have so many good, smart, kind people in my life, who endeavor to make the world better through their deeds and words. You all not only make me keep going — you make me want to be a better person. Please know I will be raising a glass (or two…or three) to you tomorrow. xo


The Princess and the Pea (-sized mass)

A few months ago, while getting out of the shower, I felt a little lump in my upper left thigh. I tried to locate it again a short time later, and couldn’t, so I though it had disappeared. A few days later, I felt it again, and rationalized it as calcified blood, an after-effect of all the bruises I’ve been getting on my legs from my toddler bumping into me all the time. A few days after that, I couldn’t find it again, and convinced myself that I’d imagined the whole thing.

Then, about a month ago, I felt it again, and showed it to my husband. He could definitely feel something, too. We decided I should show this mysterious lump to my oncologist; it turned out the oncologist couldn’t make a definitive diagnosis, so I was scheduled for an ultrasound. The ultrasound couldn’t determine anything definitive, either, other than the size of the “mass” (that’s what we started calling it), which was 1cm x 1.3cm, about the size of a pea, so my oncologist suggested further, more invasive examination. A needle biopsy wasn’t recommended in this case (the mass was so small that the needle could possibly miss it), so I was referred to a surgeon.

This surgeon happened to be the one I was referred to almost four years ago, the one who initially evaluated the mass in my shoulder, which turned out to be cancer (namely synovial sarcoma, a malignancy of the soft tissue). Paying him another visit felt like the worst kind of deja vu. Though this surgeon was/is amazing, I just couldn’t help drawing uncomfortable parallels between my experience four years ago and the one I was having now. Again, I was having surgery to remove a mass of indeterminate nature, and I was being told that the surgery would be easy, with a quick recovery, and that the lump would probably turn out to be nothing. I had heard this all before, and last time, none of it came true. Four years ago, surgery revealed that the mass was wrapped around my C5 and C6 nerves, which had to be severed, rendering my arm partially paralyzed. I went through a second operation two days after the first, where a neurosurgeon removed an 8cm length of nerve from my lower leg and grafted it into the damaged area in my shoulder. So, on top of what later turned out to be a cancer diagnosis, followed by three months of radiation and four cycles of chemo, I had to deal with major trauma in one of my limbs, agonizing pain, a long, slow healing process, and intensive physical therapy. (P.S. My arm is okay now. Not perfect, but okay.)

I thought I had left this garbage behind four years ago, when I finished my last round of chemo. I don’t consider myself a sick person anymore, and I don’t want to be seen that way. I am a happy person, someone with a full, rich, healthy, authentic life, which now includes being a mom to a gregarious toddler. I am DONE with negativity and toxicity, misfortune and malady. So how could this be happening to me again? Pardon my French, but, really, WTF?

Thankfully, I managed to pass through the shock and anger phases of this journey by the time I had my surgery two weeks ago. I was not nervous at all in the hospital, and it turned out I had no reason to be. The surgery was a success, the mass was removed without complication, and there were only three crappy things about my experience:

1. I couldn’t eat or drink anything (including water) for more than twelve hours before the surgery. This sucked big-time, especially as the surgery was scheduled late in the day. I can go without food, but going without water is torture for me. I drink water ALL THE TIME, and I have a weird phobia about getting dehydrated, so this was pretty much my personal nightmare.
2. The insertion of the IV. I always hate this part. It’s a particular delight when you haven’t had anything to drink for twelve hours, so your veins are virtually non-existent.
3. Having to wait a week and a half for the biopsy results. This was a killer. Though my husband took great care of me, and I did what I could to distract myself: I hammered away at my WIP. I cooked and baked. I watched innumerable episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Peppa Pig with my happily-oblivious little one. I ate a LOT of Halloween candy.

And then, yesterday, I visited the surgeon at his office, with my husband and my son. I was anxious, but I didn’t have the opportunity to fully freak out in the exam room; my son was fussy, so my husband held him while I sang whatever came into my head, which turned out to be The Alphabet Song and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain and Close to You by the Carpenters. Honestly, I think the singing lulled me more than it did him. Then, there was a knock at the door, and the surgeon appeared. And he was smiling.

“Good news!” he said. “It was nothing! Just a lump of fatty tissue!”

At that, I lowered my head into my lap, and exhaled. Whew. WHEW.

So, it turns out I had nothing to worry about. Sometimes, surgery really is easy, recovery really is quick, and a lump really does turn out to be nothing. Sometimes, shit happens, but you just end up with a barely visible scar, a crazy story for your blog, and a life that will go on.

Sometimes, even I get lucky.

(PLEASE NOTE: While I don’t like to keep secrets, I won’t be sharing this story with my grandmother — and if you know her, I hope you won’t, either. She is 93 and in a very fragile mental state, and prone to anxiety, so this health scare is not something she needs to know. Thanks in advance for your understanding and discretion.)



Summer’s gone by in the blink of an eye — well, maybe a few blinks towards the end of August, when my son poked me in the eye and I suffered a corneal abrasion. But it’s not like I really need my eyes for anything important, right?

I am all healed now, thanks to a very kind ER doctor and some antibiotic drops and a hot fudge sundae (my husband administered that last “treatment,” and I really think that’s what did the trick). And I’m rounding the bend on a draft of a novel I’ve been working on all summer. I think I have about fifty pages to go. Hold your applause, though, because this is a VERY ugly draft. It’s probably the loosest, roughest thing I’ve ever written. It’s so lumpy and bumpy, I’ve been calling it my gargoyle.

My gargoyle is very hard to love in this state. In most other cases, I have abandoned my longer work when it’s gotten ugly — and nowhere near as ugly as this. Even though I made a resolution this year that I would allow for more imperfection in my life and in my work, I keep having to convince myself not to give up. And I keep having to remind myself that while this story may be a gargoyle, it is MY gargoyle. And as its (reluctant) mama, I have a responsibility to stick around and straighten it out. So I am trying to stay strong, and patient, and open-minded. I am trying not to judge myself for my sloppiness, however temporary. I am trying to remain in love with this story, (innumerable) warts and all.

How do you other writers put up with your own early, unruly, fuggo drafts? Any helpful hints?

Happy Birthday to Moi

For most of my thirties, I hated my birthday. I suppose it’s because I wasn’t very happy with myself for most of that decade, so it’s not surprising that the one day a year that celebrates me specifically would send me into a depressive tailspin.

The worst, by far, was my thirty-ninth birthday. I’d just started my first round of chemo a few weeks before, and my body chose my birthday to be the day that my hair started falling out. I knew that day was coming (my oncologist predicted it with an eerie precision), and I thought I’d prepared for it, by having my husband shave my head pretty short. But I was still shocked when I found that first handful of stubble in my hands in the shower. The rest of the day went downhill from there.

Somewhere between my second and third chemo infusion, I started thinking about my upcoming fortieth birthday, and I realized I was really, really looking forward to it. I suppose I was looking forward to just about anything beyond the end of my chemo treatments, but in particular, I felt ready for my (big) birthday. After everything that had happened to me during my thirties, especially my late thirties, I couldn’t wait to say goodbye to that unfortunate era. I was ready to celebrate — and, in particular, I was ready to celebrate myself. Even though I was still in touch with friends through Facebook, chemo left me isolated from most in-person social interaction, so I started fantasizing about throwing an all-out bash for myself, and inviting EVERYONE: friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, doctors, nurses, etc etc. This hairless, pale, weak, immunocompromised girl was ready to par-TAY.

When my birthday did roll around, it turned out I didn’t have the means to throw myself the Gatsby-level soiree I’d imagined. But my loved ones did their very best. I went out to dinner with my family in Connecticut, then went to New York the next day with my husband, where he wined and dined me and surprised me with a relaxing spa treatment. And then we met all of my childhood friends for one of our old-school apartment parties. The next day, we went out for brunch, and when we got back to Providence, my husband took me out to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, where it turned out my best friend and her husband were waiting to surprise me. It wasn’t the singular bash I’d imagined in my chemo haze, but it was a series of wonderful moments where I allowed myself to celebrate myself, and feel deserving of love.

I’ve let go of a lot of toxicity in my life over the past few years, and I suppose that’s allowed more positive energy to shine through, in both directions. Now, I feel so grateful to have the life I have, and be the person I am, and love the people I love, I can’t help celebrating EVERY DAY. My birthday is just the icing on the cake.

Thanks to everyone who made the past few days so special for me, including my husband, my son, my friends, and my family. I’d raise a glass of bubbly to you all, but I don’t think there’s any left, after all the damage I’ve done!


The first day of high school could have been the worst day of my life. But it wasn’t.

It was the fall of 1984, nearly THIRTY YEARS AGO (*gulp*). As freshmen, we were invited to pick one elective course in our schedules. I picked Creative Writing.

As it turned out, I was the ONLY freshman taking Creative Writing. This meant I knew no one in the class. This meant that the entire class, other than me, was made up of sophomores, juniors, and seniors. These upperclassmen all seemed much more sophisticated than I was…probably because they were. At least one of them had a mustache. It was a sea of Led Zeppelin t-shirts, leather jackets, perfectly-applied makeup, perfectly-feathered hair, and at least one varsity football jersey. Some of them looked old enough to teach the class themselves, though it was actually taught by Ms. Fuggazzato, also known as Ms. Lee, who didn’t have her own designated classroom, so boldly rolled her teacherly belongings around in a shopping cart.

Any one of these details would have been too much for me at the time, but all of them together were utterly terrifying. How would I ever fit in with these people, who seemed so much older and more worldly — and who all seemed to know each other? And more important, who was I going to sit with at lunch? Creative Writing was scheduled for fifth period, which was lunch period, which meant that you typically sat with your classmates. It was a foregone conclusion that no one would want to sit with me, a lowly freshman, who wore braces, and whose unruly hair only partially feathered.

These issues preoccupied me during that initial class, to the point where I didn’t pay attention to anything Ms. Fuggazzato was saying. It was only the first day of school, not even halfway through the day, and already, I was in full-on crisis mode. When the bell finally rang for lunch, I had already devised a plan where I would sneak off and eat lunch in the nearest bathroom. I was that desperate.

“Hey. Wanna sit with me at lunch?”

The question came from a girl standing at the back of the room, seemingly waiting for me as everyone else filed out. The girl was wearing a red sweater (or sweatshirt, my memory is hazy) and she had brown shoulder-length hair and bangs. She was smiling. I’d never met this girl, had never seen her before, and yet, here she was, extending an invitation to me.

I said yes. I followed her to the cafeteria, and at first, I have to admit, I wondered if she might be a weirdo. Because, in my mind, only a weirdo would invite me to sit with them. Thankfully, my instincts were dead-on, because Paula — that was her name, Paula — did turn out to be a weirdo. MY kind of weirdo. She had a quirky sense of humor, and her friends were funny and snarky, too, and she was inclusive of me from the get-go. I don’t think I could have picked a better table to lunch with if I tried. Even better, Paula made her own bag lunch, and even though it was the same sandwich every day — ham and cheese on a soft, eggy roll with pickle relish — it was a revelation to me, after many years of my mom’s half-hearted bag lunches. My mom’s sandwiches were often inscrutable, if not completely inedible (cream cheese and grape jelly on a poppy seed roll was one of her “specialties”), so I was always hungry; Paula always made sure to let me have a bite or two of hers, and they were delicious and somehow sustaining. She was generous to me in every way, and in every way I needed it most.

I recount this story because I think of Paula’s kindness every now and then. I don’t know if she ever really knew just how much her initial gesture meant to me; back then, I was probably too self-conscious to tell her outright. And I never really asked her what led her to ask me to sit with her at lunch in the first place, maybe because I assumed my panic that day was palpable, and she simply felt sorry for me.

Paula and I were friends throughout my freshman/her sophomore year (and even partnered on at least one creative writing project, a Halloween-esque short story in which we murdered all our characters in increasingly gory ways, much to Ms. Lee’s distaste) and the next, though we ended up drifting apart. But I still think of her, and her smile (and her sandwiches), and the miracle that was her appearance in my life.

Paula, you saved me, and I can’t thank you enough. I might still be eating my lunch in the bathroom (figuratively, at least), if not for you.