Happy Mother’s Day

How to pack for a cool, rainy Mother’s Day weekend:

1 novel, 2 graphic novels, 1 cooking magazine

Flannel pajamas

Fuzzy socks

Favorite hoodie

Tea bags and honey

Sweats, top and bottom

Extra socks

Tablet, for extra reading material, just in case


Conference Recovery Kit

Snow boots

What NOT to pack:

Work phone


Anything that needs to be critiqued

High heels


Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms I know, and to all the women who make a positive impact in this world, whether they’re doing it for their children or for other people’s children. Happy Mother’s Day to the grannies, the aunties, the cousins, and the BFFs. Remember that not all moms get to sip mimosas and nosh on bacon sandwich on Mother’s Day. If you can’t hug your own mother, hug someone else’s. If you can’t pick up the phone and make that call, then send up a good though for the person who birthed you, the person who raised you, and all the women who had a hand in making you the person you are today.

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Leftover Love: Broccoli

I like broccoli.

Sometimes a hunk of teriyaki salmon, a tree of broccoli and some curried rice is just what I need at the end of the day.

Broccoli slaw, I can’t get enough of. I even like that weird salad with the broccoli, raisins and crumbled bacon.

But I’ve been cursed with a child who can’t abide the broc, at least not cooked. What’s a mom to do? When they reach a certain age, there’s no more pitting your will against theirs, because it’s a disturbingly even match.

I used to encounter the same resistance over cauliflower. But then I roasted the little white florets and doused them in buffalo wing sauce. This experiment met with great success, and I’m even asked to include it on our dinner menus. I’m also warned that sneaking pureed cauliflower into mashed potatoes isn’t fooling anyone, and can I please wait until they leave for college before trying that again?

I thought broccoli might benefit from roasting. Doused with some olive oil and minced garlic, roasted at high heat, then sprinkled liberally with lemon juice and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The author of this particular recipe wrote that she ate it like candy, couldn’t stop eating it.

I’d like to suggest that I could teach her a thing or three about eating candy. Or maybe she had those parents who made dense slabs of carob concoction and called them brownies. Maybe she’s never had real British chocolate from Cadbury, or intense dark chocolate wrapped around luscious caramel and sprinkled with sea salt.

{Momentary pause while I wipe the drool off my keyboard.}

The broccoli was fine. Good, even, although i went a little too heavy on the lemon. But Thing 2? Ate her thank you bite and then politely passed the rest of it to her father.

It did not go down like candy. Nor should it. Broccoli, left on its own, does not have confectionary aspirations.

I understand enthusiasm. I understand that the interweebs, and places like Pinterest, are all about attracting attention to your website.

But please, stop comparing innocent vegetables to candy. You’re just aggravating those of us who love both, and confusing the people who only like one or the other.

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Think Twice About the Youth Symphony

So here’s the whole story of how the Youth Symphony managed to insult both me and my children. Think of it as a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about encouraging their child to audition.

Normally, when the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony wants to disseminate information, they do it with a vengeance. You will get emails, follow-up emails, and reminder emails. You can rarely say that you weren’t warned, no matter what the subject. Tours, rehearsals, raffle tickets, auditions…you can hardly open your email program without a slew of emails from the Youth Symphony.

Except when they don’t.

In January, a youth symphony from another state visited, and there was a combined concert scheduled. We got approximately seven or eight thousand emails about hosting the visiting musicians and the potluck that would happen the night before the concert. I happily made two pans of green chile cheddar potatoes and sent them to the potluck with my daughters.

That was Friday night. On Saturday morning, we realized we didn’t have any concert details, except start time. So my daughter and I went through our emails. The inbox, the trash, the spam folder. If email could be sent there, we opened it up and scoured through it. Nothing.

So the girls packed their uniforms and drove off to the rehearsal. I told Thing 1 to call me and let me know the deal about lunch–was she coming home, going out, it was provided or whatever the case turned out to be.

Things 1 and 2 are 17 and 15, respectively. While neither one is going to perish if they miss a meal, it’s not a good idea to expect teenagers of any sort to go for several hours without eating.

The phone rang. It was Thing 1. On the verge of tears. Which is not USUAL for a dress rehearsal.

What, I inquired, was the problem?

They’d been yelled at for being late. OK, fair enough, the rehearsal was in a new space in a part of town she wasn’t familiar with. We both thought she had left in plenty of time, but apparently not.

But she’d also been reprimanded for not knowing the plan for the day and for not packing a sack lunch.

Not kidding. A supposed “adult” thought that ridicule and sarcasm was the best way to teach these girls a lesson about not reading their email. Never mind that they never got it.

So I said, “Is there someone in charge nearby that I can talk to? You’ve got my car, I can give my permission for you to run out and grab some lunch.”

Remember the reason I asked to speak to someone. To solve the very minor issue of lunch.

The person who my daughter handed the phone to is the Executive Director of the Youth Symphony.

One would suspect that title would mean someone who is accustomed to representing her organization in a professional and thoughtful manner. Perhaps someone who has been dealing with parents for a number of years, and knows how to put their mind at ease in a polite and efficient manner.

One would be wrong.

I rank that phone conversation as probably the single rudest, most insulting phone call of my adult life.

The woman proceeded to talk over me. As in, I was not allowed to finish a single sentence. I wasn’t allowed to ask any questions, either.

I got a bile-filled earful of how thoughtless the Youth Symphony parents are, not to mention lazy, and it’s not her fault that we’re too negligent to read the email we were sent. I believe that time I got out, “But we didn’t get–” before she was off and running again. She told me we DID get it. It was sent on X day by Y person and she told me what it was titled.

While she wasn’t exactly yelling, none of this was in a calm, normal speaking voice, either.

Then she started in on my children, and how irresponsible they are not to read THEIR email, and it’s not her fault that they, too, are lazy and careless.

Dude. WTF doesn’t even begin to cover it.

I’m not generally considered either timid or tongue-tied, but I am not exaggerating when I say I couldn’t get a word in. My husband was at his desk next to me and heard the whole conversation. Because I was holding the phone away from my ear and he COULD hear the conversation.

This woman had been inundated (her word) with emails and phone calls on Friday from other parents just like me, who were too lazy to read their own email and were calling her for the details about Saturday. I needed to quit bothering her and search through my email. I believe at this point she suggested that my email program or my server was at fault. It devolved into her shouting, “You want me to feed your children? Fine, I’m sure we can scrounge together something for them to eat.”

My ears rang from the verbal bitch-slap.

By the way, while the girls were in rehearsal? Two of their directors commented on the fact that so many members didn’t even appear to know there WAS a concert that day.

Immediately after it happened, I contacted the Music Director and told him my husband would like to speak to him.

Because this wasn’t the first time the Youth Symphony had gone out of their way to make me feel like a second class citizen who couldn’t possibly understand the very, very important work they do that ignorant me just writes the very large checks for. When I hung up the phone, I was finished. I’m not washing uniforms, I’m not reminding anyone about important dates, I’m not baking cookies, I’m not writing checks. I’m done. Anything they want from my family, they can now go through my husband.

To his credit, the Music Director called my husband to inquire about what happened.

In response to his request, I wrote him a very polite letter detailing what happened, how I felt, and how it changed the way I see the entire Youth Symphony organization. Because “inspiring leadership” and a “professional environment” are supposed to be major components of the CSYSA’s mission. When a key volunteer’s first response to a question from a musician is to respond sarcastically in a loud and angry tone, they have larger problems than losing one parent supporter. But when shrieking at a parent is an acceptable response? Whoa.

The incident I described here took place two weeks ago. The response I’ve gotten to my letter? I was told I was very clear about expressing how I felt.

And that’s it.

No apology. Not even “We’re sorry there’s been a misunderstanding.” Absolute zero. They know they pissed me off and insulted me. It appears the organization is too large and too important to care about something as insignificant as a member of their board insulting the parent of one of their musicians.

Coincidentally, I sit on the board of another local nonprofit, although not nearly so large as the Youth Symphony. I would be mortified if another board member, or any member representing our organization, thought so little of our supporters or was so incredibly rude.

I understand how hard it is to run a volunteer organization. I understand the frustration of trying to provide information to a lot of different people in as many ways as possible. I’ve made mistakes, others in my organization have made mistakes, but we acknowledge them, we apologize for them, we learn from them and we try to make things right.

I hope I’m never involved with any organization which is too large and too self-important to offer an individual a simple apology.

After all, if you stepped on someone’s toes in a crowded room, would you apologize or would you yell at them for getting in your way? Because it’s pretty clear that the Youth Symphony believes we’re all in their way.

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Are You Fit Enough to Get Fit?

You’ve all seen them. The rubber bracelets are everywhere, tracking our steps, our activity level, our sleep patterns, whether our shoes match our outfits and the weather.

Someone, somewhere, decided that since we’re no longer wearing multiple rubber bracelets exhorting people to Live Strong! or Beat Diabetes or End Zombification, we needed a new reason to wear rubber bracelets.

Personally, I think old Crocs are being recycled to make these fitness trackers. Because do you see anyone wearing Crocs any more? Not so much, right? Where did they all go? Think about it.

So I gave in to the New Year lure of getting more fit, being more active. Optimistic enough to be lauded, vague enough to be virtually unquantifiable. Until you slap that little tattletale on your wrist and start tracking your steps. The one I bought is a Fit Bit, in a lovely shade of pink which could appropriately be called raspberry.

My Fit Bit thinks I’m in a coma. I’m fairly certain it would dial 9-1-1 if it could, and tell them to come resuscitate me.

Between working on the upcoming writers conference (#PPWC2015), writing, email feuds, Pinterest and Facebook, I can spend a lot of time in my uber-comfy, absurdly ergonomic office chair.

But I can always see the pink bracelet, quietly shaming me, ready at a moment’s notice to tell me that geriatric hip replacement patients get more daily exercise than I do.

Because I’m not a total nincompoop, and because I hate wasting money, I decided to allow the device to motivate me. I’ve upped my water intake, because I’m not going to slip into astronaut diapers every morning. More water in means more water out, so I at least have to get up and walk to the bathroom more often.

The other things I’ve started doing is keeping an eye on the clock. If a half-hour passes without me getting up, I lunge to my feet and run up and down the stairs a few times. For a given value of both “lunge” and “run.”

(WARNING: If you have hardwood floor and/or wooden stairs, do not attempt to copy my efforts in your stocking feet. Unless you enjoy full-body contact with a wall, twisting your ankle, or catapulting down the stairs ass over teakettle while your cats mock you.)

(ANOTHER WARNING: If you have cats, you already know they’re going to mock you no matter what. But it’s easier to tolerate if you aren’t bleeding from the ears or weaving in and out of consciousness.)

My goal is to increase my daily steps by a thousand on a weekly basis, until I reach the magic goal of 10,000 a day.

Before you start snickering about how out of shape I am, let me tell you about the second thing my little Fit Bit pal does. It tracks my sleeping patterns.

I am currently ranked at 99% sleep efficiency.

I challenge anyone out there not in a coma to beat that.


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It’s a Disaster

I’m just curious. How many of you watch–and enjoy watching–disaster movies?

I remember watching both Poseidon Adventure (the original, starring Gene Hackman and his sideburns) and Towering Inferno (Paul Newman AND Steve McQueen!)in the theater.

Poseidon, along with Jaws, might have something to do with my deep and abiding mistrust of the ocean. There’s stuff living out there that we don’t know about. Which is almost as scary as the stuff we do know about.

But I digress.

I saw a headline today on Facebook about an earthquake rocking Dwayne Johnson. He’s a big, powerful dude, but I don’t think he’s big enough to absorb an entire earthquake all by himself. Turns out he has a new movie called San Andreas, about what happens when the big one finally hits the famous fault line. You can picture the trailer already–freeways collapsing, skyscrapers crumbling to the ground, explosions, massive amounts of people being wiped off this mortal coil all in one fell swoop.

I just don’t know if I can watch these movies any longer. The widespread destruction and loss of life, which we are powerless to prevent, is just depressing. Sure, the hero saves the girl. And usually the dog, often attached to an adorable child with a will to survive and a gap-toothed grin. But for every person the hero saves, there’s a close-up shot of a loving couple holding each other and bravely facing their death holding each other.

I call bullshit. How many people would really go gracefully into that good night, their eternal dirt nap? And how many would run like hell for the high ground/bomb shelter/life boat? That would be me. And if my beloved spouse proposed that we meet our end stoically and with dignity, I would happily bash him over the head, dump his unconscious form into a wheelbarrow and take him with me.

(Sidenote: That’s why we’re so well matched. Neither of us would give up. Any death that wanted to take us should be prepared to have its ass thoroughly kicked first.)

I much prefer when the threat to the world is aliens. Or monsters. Or zombies. Love me some Independence Day, because the film gives us clearly defined enemies that we can fight against. It’s the fact that we have a chance.

You can’t shoot a tornado. You can’t reason with a volcano. You can’t outsmart or outrun earthquakes, floods, blizzards, tidal waves, hurricanes or icebergs. They don’t care. They don’t exist to do us harm–they’re natural phenomena going about their own business and casually crushing anything that gets in their way.

You might say, “Hey, MB, we can’t reason with zombies. And aren’t aliens all hostile and much more intelligent that we are?”

And I would reply that you can at least outrun zombies. And everyone knows aliens can be outsmarted as long as Will Smith has a cigar.

But the natural disasters. You can’t fight nature. Because nature doesn’t engage. The planet doesn’t plot to vomit lava on someone in particular. The planet doesn’t care for your clenched jaw, clean-cut good looks and moxie.

Watching hundreds of innocent victims being trampled, crushed, burned, drowned…I know it’s CGI. I know people aren’t really being killed. But on a very deep level, I react to it. It bruises my soul.

It does not entertain me. It disturbs me.

Am I alone in this? Does wholesale destruction bother you, or are you immune to the made-up images? Or do you fall somewhere in between?


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I Found a Time Machine!

Would anyone care to guess where it was lurking?

In my daughters’ high school. That’s right, District 11, there’s a time machine buried deep in Coronado High School.

It’s not hard to find at all.

Just go to the Music Department.

Today, the man who is paid by the district to instruct my children in the fine skill of instrumental music announced to his class, “If it was easy, women and children would do it.”

I shit you not. It’s two-thousand-and-goddamn-fourteen, and this older, white male thinks the calendar has leaped into reverse and we’ve all landed on an episode of Leave It To Beaver. Or perhaps the Donna Reed Show.

When some of the students responded with surprise at his statement, his response was that the expression was something a friend of his used.

Wally or the Beav? Or maybe it sounds more like Eddie Haskell.

It just happens that both of my daughters are in the Chamber Orchestra, a group one must audition to get into. So they both heard the statement. They were both surprised and somewhat offended by it.

Thing Two, the younger, thought of a retort but didn’t want to make it, because she didn’t want to get a referral and get sent to the office. I reassured her that for a statement like this, I would happily drop everything I was doing and show up at the school to defend her. And woe to any administrator who tells me that this sort of unmitigated bullshit is either harmless or acceptable.

I’ve sent a note to the teacher in question, so that he might explain himself. Very short and to the point, nothing rude or inflammatory.

But really? In this day and age, casual misogyny can go unremarked in a high school classroom? Not only is it disrespectful to every female in the room, but it sets an extremely bad example for every single student. “Hey, putting down women is funny! And it’s okay! Because it’s funny!”

It’s neither.


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Exotic Dancers and Free Beer

(This post is appearing simultaneously on the Pikes Peak Writers blog. Which is a great place to go for all sorts of writerly stuff.)

The 2015 PPWC will not offer either of those things, but I like an attention-grabbing headline. What can I say? The spotlight is fickle and you have to grab it while you can.

Registration for the 2015 PPWC, Choose Your Writing Adventure, is all set to open on November 15th, and I can feel the weight of all those fingers, poised over keyboards, ready to connect to the link and start making plans for the most fabulous writers conference in existence.

You did know I’m the Director, right?

What is your reward for signing up for conference as early as possible? (Not counting the thrifty, intelligent and handsome souls who signed up at the 2014 conference and got a substantial discount, of course.)

  • First five people to sign up after registration opens on the 15th will get a free “front of the line” pass for one meal at conference. Yes, you get to bypass the crowd and enter first, to possibly secure a table with the faculty member of your dreams!
  • You will make the hearts of all the planning committee members go pitter-pat as we gratefully watch our attendance numbers grow.
  • The earlier you sign up, the better the chance of getting your first choice for a Query 1-on-1 or Read & Critique session.

Query what? Read and what?

Query 1-on-1 is an eight-minute session with an agent or editor of your choice, for the purpose of reviewing your one-page, standard format query letter. Same great taste as Pitch, but less filling. For those of you who aren’t old enough to get that advertising reference—same opportunity for the agent or editor to say, “Hey, send me more,” but with the additional benefit of professional feedback on your query letter.

Read & Critique is an opportunity to read your first page to an industry professional and get immediate feedback. There are three flavors:

  • R&C X: You read your first page to an agent or editor.
  • R&C 123: Your first page is read anonymously to a panel consisting of an agent, author, and editor.
  • R&C Author: Smaller, closed session where you read your first two pages to a published author.

Our incredible lineup of keynotes this year includes Mary Kay Andrews, Andrew Gross, Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant) and the one and only R. L. Stine.

Our faculty includes esteemed agents and editors, as well as some new and exciting authors we’re welcoming for the first time. As we work on faculty and workshops, I get more excited every day by the variety of programming we’re able to offer for 2015. This is going to be a dynamic, entertaining, and motivating conference, and I hope you’ll be able to join us!

About the Author: MB Partlow’s first paid writing gig was for the A&E department of The Independent. She wrote a parenting column for Pikes Peak Parent for several years, and freelanced for The Gazette. She’s a longtime volunteer for PPW, working her way up from chair stacker at Write Brains to Moderator Coordinator, Contest Coordinator, Director of Programming, and now Conference Director for 2015. A voracious reader across genres, she primarily writes urban fantasy, although she dabbles in space opera, mystery and magical realism. MB is physically unable to restrain her sense of humor, and her mouth occasionally moves faster than her brain. She blogs at PartlowsPool@wordpress.com, and can be reached at Conference@PikesPeakWriters.com.

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