Ask the Universe

I’ve been doing a lot of online historical research recently. I am left with a bunch of questions I have not yet found quick answers for. So I am posting them here, both as a reference to myself for later, and on the off chance that someone might just happen to know one of the answers and supply it.

  • Are there any good books documenting life  at the turn of the century (1900-WWI) for middle-class (white color, not factory floor, not Carnegie) urban-dwelling Americans? Any historical fiction that covers this category?
  • In terms of housing, where would these residents have lived? Is there any way to track “class-flight” over time as the upper incomes followed the transit lines (and eventually car routes) into further removed boroughs?
  • Any good books describing urban flight (any time period) from the perspective of the lower-status people who inherited the neighborhood? (I’m less interested in cases like modern Detroit which does not have a population moving in to replace current exodus, leaving extended vacancies.) I am curious as to how this played out in a new-immigrant-rich city as people attempted to balance their desire for newer/fancier newly vacated “rich” houses with the social pull of staying put in a more culturally familiar neighborhood.
  • Private school information for Boston for this same time period. It seems that many of the Boston elites were sending their sons to boarding schools. Where were their daughters going to school?
  • Meanwhile, it seems that Boston public schools were still pretty popular with the middle class, with the poorest children still unable to attend school at all. Mention is made of public schools at that time still having a “nondenominational” (Protestant) religious education aspect to them. What would that have looked like?
  • Catholic schools were forbidden funding because of a state amendment, and seemed(?) to have a reputation for being academically inferior. By 1900, it seems statistically that many of them were comprised of primarily Italian immigrants. Would older Irish immigrants have still wanted to send their children to these schools? Or were there different Catholic primaries in the city to serve different languages/”ethnicities”?

P.S.– If you’d asked me five or ten years ago if I’d ever write a historical novel, I would have vehemently sworn up and down “no way, it’ll never happen. Too much work.”  My mind on that second point hasn’t changed. But apparently my willingness to tackle said work had changed considerably. I can tell already that this story is going to be amazing, and that makes all of this totally and excitingly worth it.


Portrait by Caroline Poe I was interviewed this month for the blog at Sky Candy aerial studio. I work there now. Seriously. I work at the circus. It is the coolest job ever. Check it out!

Also check out my awesome new staff photo by Caroline Poe Photography!

April Fools

When I was four, my mom would drop me off at the twins’ house before preschool and then head off to work. The twins went to my school but were a year older, and their mother would drive us all there and then babysit me for an hour after the school day ended until my mom could come pick me up.

I don’t know which of the twins came up with the idea to play an April Fools joke on me. But that morning, the two of them very carefully strung several lines of clear fishing line across the front door, hoping that I wouldn’t see it, and get stuck when I tried to walk through it.

Unfortunately, in their five-year-old excitement, they couldn’t wait to see me trip over the fishing line, and crowded the doorway as I got out of my mom’s car and waved goodbye. I walked up to the front door, and couldn’t figure out why they already had the door open waiting for me, and were standing so strangely just inside the doorway.

“Why won’t you let me in?” I asked

“You can’t come in!” they shouted. “You’re stuck!”

“Why are you standing in the way?” I asked.

“You can’t get through!” they said “There’s a string there!”

“Why did you put a string in the doorway?”

“April Fools!”

They then cut the string free from the door, and I went inside and we got ready for school. I knew I had been “pranked”, but because the joke had failed, I was having huge four-year-old difficulties understanding what exactly that had meant.

A few years ago, we had a housemate who worked from home and therefore often had his laptop sitting open in front of him on the couch. Sometimes we would all be sitting around having conversations in the living room while he was working, and he would chat with us while simultaneously typing away at a programming problem.

One of his favorite tricks was to invent a crazy lie in these situations, which he would drop into the conversation completely deadpan. Then, while the rest of the house discussed how improbable such a fact was, our housemate would quickly update the wikipedia page for the topic at hand to reflect his invented lie.

“Check wikipedia,” he’d say when we all told him he was full of it.

He only fooled us a few times.

Today, the best April Fools prank I saw was the Grosset & Dunlap design team covering director Giuseppe Castellano’s desk in googly eyes.

Unlike the wikipedia lie or the fishline door, this is a prank I understand and can get behind. I think it would be awesome if Hallmark got in on this, selling massive googly eye packets. Of all the holidays to commercialize, I think there’s a market here. Compare, if you will, the googly-eyed scissors or thermostat to the stale “conversation hearts” that are a Valentine’s Day staple. The appeal should be obvious.

Meanwhile, think of the future. Think of the children. Put the plans to work now and in a hundred years we’ll have a googly eyed muppet who “distributes” April Fools eyes like Santa or the Easter Bunny.

Googly eyes on the toaster.
Googly eyes on your steering wheel.
Googly eyes on your math textbook.
Googly eyes on everything.

It will be glorious.

Family Vacation

Bondi Boys 2014We’ve been sitting around this evening comparing our adorable photos of the little ones. A two-year-old, a 16 month, and a 7 month all running around and keeping their parents up all night. The youngest one’s mother has made them all matching baseball shirts with their names on the back.

Tomorrow is our last full day at the lodge. Assuming the weather holds, my wife and I are going to take a canoe out to the waterfall, and canoe down the river and across the lake. It has been nice and cool every day that we’ve been here– a lovely vacation from Texas. Yesterday during the mile swim, the water was definitely warmer than the air!

I drove into town today to get thread to work on the BFF’s cross-stitch, and I’ve been doing a bit of drawing. Unfortunately, it’s ended up being a bit of a working vacation for me, and I haven’t had time to sit and relax as much as I would like. Ah to be a wee munchkin again!

Brother-in-law is taking photos of everyone to make a photo book for the two-year-old. It will be a really beautiful project when it’s completed, and I’ve loved seeing all the portraits in progress. It’s nice to have everyone up all at the same time. I can’t think of the last time I’ve made it up here when everyone else was visiting.

It’s hard to believe the week has flown by so quickly already.



State of the Cait

ImageThe big news for February is that we’re probably not leaving Austin this summer. I am torn about this. I miss my family, and I miss living up north.But there are good practical reasons to stay in Texas for another couple of years, and so, we remain.

We had our first skating competition of the year, and came in first in the little old lady division. I was really happy with how I skated overall, and am excited that, with this competition out of the way, we are starting to learn the long program for our competition in May. I am also starting to work on a couple of solo dance programs, and one individual footwork program. Which will probably be the first time in over twenty years that I have competed solo!

Meanwhile, I started taking an aerial silks class. I have never had much upper body strength, and this stuff is hard! I have bruises in all sorts of interesting and strange places! But it’s also really cool, and I am very much enjoying just getting to do something so very different from my normal habits and routines.

I have been working on some new jewelry patterns, learning how to cut wood and acrylic pieces using a machine laser cutter. Hopefully I will start to have things up for sale in late spring, now that I have finally found a good studio space for me to do metalwork. Question: In the 21st century, does anyone still wear brooches? Or is it all necklaces these days?

In horrific news (the good kind of horror!) I will soon be writing a weekly post for The Midnight Society. I can’t wait, and was thrilled to be asked to join their team. I have also been thinking a lot about ghosts in picture books, and whether one can have truly realistic ghosts in those stories, the kind that aren’t just sheets with faces, but, you know, actual dead people. I think you can, I just haven’t quite figured out how. I haven’t read it, but The Bake Shop Ghost by Jacqueline Ogburn seems like it might be the kind of thing I am thinking about.

No writing classes at the moment, but hopefully that will change by this summer as well. So much to do, so little time!

Life With Chronic Pain: A True Story

Fuzzy pants. Two pair of socks. 6 spine and hip pillows, carefully arranged. Two fleece blankets, one knee support pillow. Heating pad. Top of feet pillow, with laptop for more weight and warmth, lap pillow to support journal. Pain meds, an arrangement of books and other entertainment while stationary. Finally get everything arranged, and then realize you forgot your compression and fingerless gloves (yes, two pair of gloves, to match the socks) on the other side of the room. Cry.

October Classes

I am teaching 2 new classes this October! I’ve made them easy to sign up for through a new group called Stories and Stuff. If you live in Austin, you should join the group. It is going to be awesome. The classes I am teaching are:

Introduction to Writing Picture Books:

Fascinated by the children’s section of the library? Still find yourself agreeing with Alice’s thought that “what is the use of a book without pictures or conversations”? In this 4 week class we will jump down the rabbit hole of writing stories for the very young. Artists and illustrators are welcome, but no artistic skills are required, we’re just here for the words.

Week 1: List books

Never tried to write a picture book before? No problem! Week one is alphabet and list books, proving that everyone who knows 1-10 and their ABCs has a story inside them. We will work together on the difficult quandary of “X” and talk about themes and story cohesion– what makes a “good” alphabet book? There’s a lot more here than xylophones!

Week 2: Luck

In this class we will work to dissect the “luck” book and follow it with our own examples. In doing so, we will cover all the most important elements of story writing– for picture books as well as longer pieces. We will also cover pacing and the narrative importance of turning the page. Watch out, there’s a monster at the end of this class!

Week 3: Bedtimes

When do we read to children? During story hour– and bedtime. Week three is a discussion of the bedtime book, how to tell a story that gets us ready for bed– without putting the storyteller to sleep too!

Week 4: Surrealism

A picture is worth a thousand words, and a good picture book is worth reading a thousand times. For our final week, we’ll explore some of the bizarre worlds of classic picture books and answer the question “what if my strangest ideas were suddenly made real?”

Duration: 4 Weeks
Cost: $100
Dates: Saturdays 10/5, 10/12, 10/19, 10/26
Time: 3-5pm
Location: Trinity United Methodist Church, 4001 Speedway, Austin TX 78751
Sign up through Meetup

Nothing but Prompts

Need to refill your creative juicebox? Always “wanted to write something” but don’t know what it is? Looking for that spark of an idea to get you going for this year’s NaNoWriMo? This four week class is designed to get you out of a creative rut and get you writing again. Tons of in-class writing activities all hand-selected from over two decades of creative writing classes– good for both beginner writers and battle-weary wordsmiths alike.

Week 1: What Would You Do?

What does your character want? How badly do they want it? And what won’t they do to get it? The student that brings in klondike bars for the rest of the class gets an extra gold star.

Week 2: Strange Juxtapositions and Arresting Images

Confusion can be a great motivator. We need the world to make sense. When it doesn’t, we’ll invent a reason that it does.

Week 3: Location

Setting isn’t just a place, it’s a state of mind.

Week 4: That’s What She Said

When characters talk to each other, they sometimes say things that even the author didn’t know. Prepare to be surprised.

Duration: 4 Weeks
Cost: $100
Dates: Thursdays 10/3, 10/10, 10/17, 10/24
Time: 6-8pm
Location: Trinity United Methodist Church, 4001 Speedway, Austin TX 78751
Sign up through Meetup