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I know, I know, I go dark for almost two weeks and then suddenly, what, four posts in one day. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in (ye gods) nine years and eleven months of blogging, it’s: if you have something to write, write it, and if you don’t, don’t sweat it. And following a related-links rabbit trail on the Huck post this morning led me through manymoments I’m glad I chronicled. So here’s an entry for the memory vault.
Of course the main reason for my silence has been my pile of Cybils reading, as we’re rapidly approaching The Big Discussion right after Christmas. I gave up maintaining my sidebar and Goodreads reading logs weeks ago, but after the madness is over I’ll use my Cybils log to catch up. If you are stuck for book choices I can make suggestions, boy howdy.
(I love this committee. It’s so good for mah brain to consume a megadose of YA fiction every couple of years. And my fellow panelists are so darn smart. It’s the book club of my dreams—fierce but fleeting.)
The other occupier of my time has been a glorious stream of company. ’Tis the season for visits from college friends. We had Kristen and her family for Thanksgiving (Krissy, did you get any good pix? Mine, not so much) and then a long-awaited, unremittingly delightful week with my friends Ron and Larry from Portland. I got to show them Balboa Park (the best part of San Diego) not once but twice: two long lovely afternoons there roaming through gardens and museums. One day with kids and one day without. Beanie and Rilla came with us to the SD Museum of Art, where the “Gauguin to Warhol” exhibit wowed us. I wasn’t surprised to be choked up by seeing a Frida Kahlo up close (Self Portrait with Monkey), but I didn’t expect the Jackson Pollock to move me the way it did. The scope of the thing, a whole massive wall of paint crammed with small stories.
Soon we’ll have my parents here, and Jane finished finals yesterday (with a paper on Prufrock, color me proud) and will be headed home in a few days. Fortunately she wasn’t planning on taking the train home today! Amtrak had to cancel the coastal train due to this crazy storm. Water, finally! More than this parched land can handle. Much worse in LA than here. We’re cozying up at home for now.
The other notable thing about our December is, of course, that it’s our biggest birthday month. So before I pour in a bunch of photos from Instagram and elsewhere these past few weeks, I’ll just leave you with this: Wonderboy is eleven now. Eleven!
before the rain
genius at work: the making of the annual grasshopper pie
Rilla’s Stampy Longnose paper dolls
shockingly, this did not end in a trip to the emergency room
I don’t care about the pageantry or the spectacle. I just get bored. A.D.D.? Maybe. Every time I’m stuck watching them, I can’t find an ounce of enjoyment – I just think about two dozen other things I could be doing. This couldn’t be truer than when I’m at Disneyworld.
My kids, on the other hand, love parades. So when people start lining the streets, they want to stop riding roller coasters and wait. UGH…
Wait for what? Floats. No thank you! If a float doesn’t contain root beer and ice cream, I don’t want it.
I figure with half of the eligible riders standing along the parade route, the lines to the cool things are shorter. Not my family. We wait – and not for the good stuff.
A funny thing happened on our trip last week. We were headed to a ride at the back of the park while people were lining up for the parade. No one with me suggested we stop to watch (miracle), so I powered into the street. We must have been the last ones let out before they closed the rope because we found ourselves about 20 paces in front of the parade with all of its flags and music.
Maybe it was the fact that I was pushing my daughter’s wheelchair, or possibly because I looked so stately and official, but it became apparent that the spectators thought we were supposed to be the ones leading the parade. We all realized it at the same time as they clapped and waved at us.
My kids became confused.
They grouped together.
“Should we pull off and get out of the way?” they wondered.
The oldest asked, “What do we do?”
Of course they looked to me, the leader, the head honcho, the alpha male for direction and what did they find me doing?
With a dopey grin on my face, I waved back at all of my adoring fans.
When life puts you at the front of the parade, smile and wave!
The kids laughed at me, but it caught on. All of us began waving to the crowd.
You know what? Everyone waved back. The people didn’t think we looked out of place – they just waved at us. I wonder what they thought when the real parade came and they realized we didn’t belong. Oh well, we were gone by then. We walked over half of the parade route unencumbered by the bustling crowd until we got near the ride we wanted. Then we simply ducked into the masses and became one of them – anonymous once more.
I still hate parades… But for a moment, I was the grand marshal.
Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani is Tu Books’ first New Visions Award winner. Seventeen-year-old Claire Takata discovers a secret about her deceased father that should have remained a secret.
The New Visions Award, modeled after LEE & LOW’s successful New Voices Award, is for unpublished writers of color who write science-fiction, fantasy, and mystery YA or middle grade novels.
Ink and Ashes is set to be released Spring 2015!
Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away ten years ago. But on the anniversary of his death, she finds a letter from her deceased father to her stepfather. Before now, Claire never had a reason to believe they even knew each other.
Struggling to understand why her parents kept this surprising history hidden, Claire combs through anything that might give her information about her father . . . until she discovers that he was a member of the yakuza, a Japanese organized crime syndicate. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed.
The race to outrun her father’s legacy reveals secrets of his past that cast ominous shadows, threatening Claire, her friends and family, her newfound love, and ultimately her life. Winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, Ink and Ashes is a fascinating debut novel packed with romance, intrigue, and heart-stopping action.
Thanks to the following blogs for participating in the Ink and Ashes cover reveal:
You can enter to win a signed hardback copy of The Christmas Owl December 4 – December 12. Two lucky winners will receive a copy of these beautiful keepsake books and the hardbacks are only available here. Visit a Rafflecopter giveaway to get your entries in.
Also, during 12/4 -12/6 our Christmas Owl kindle book will be discounted to $.99 on Amazon (reg $3.50). Happy Holidays from 4EYESBOOKS!
I came across a photo today and figured I’d tell you about it. Blog fodder, you know.
This is me five years ago, after throwing batting practice on a hot night:
It was the eve of the championship game for the 10-year-old All-Stars. Bethlehem vs. Colonie. I remember it clearly. My son, Gavin, got the nod as starting pitcher that day (I was coach, not manager, and did not make that decision), mostly by virtue of his being rested and available. He wasn’t our best arm, but on that day he was cool and in control. Gavin hit his pitch count limit after five innings and we had to pull him. Our team was ahead against a very resilient group from Colonie, leading 8-5. Time to go to the bullpen. At that moment, everything that could have possibly gone wrong, went wrong. Three outs from an elusive championship, those poor boys got smoked. It still makes me shake my head in grim wonder. We ended up losing by 10 runs, after one of the most brutal innings I’ve ever witnessed. I’ll never forget that game. I wanted to win, and I genuinely wanted for those boys to experience that championship feeling. Alas, and oh well.
It often amazes me how these games can linger in memory. When I wrote Six Innings, back in 2008, I was struck by how clearly I remembered Little League games that I had played back in the early 70s when I was 9-10-11 years old. It gave me the conviction to write the book in the first place. The games meant something to these kids. That I can vividly recall individual plays across 40 years is a testament to that fact. I can still see that ball rolling through Don Cognato’s spindly legs.
This is a place in life where these boys live. Where a lot of life’s momentous events are played out. It’s a cliche to say that a player leaves his heart out on the field, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I know I left my heart on a lot of ballfields across the years, and I wasn’t the only one.
There’s a moment in Six Innings when I try to capture that feeling. Well, not a moment, exactly; I try to achieve it throughout the entire book. But there’s one particular moment when I suppose I try to elevate the language a bit, try to lift off above the turf. The staccato rhythms give way to longer, more poetic sentences. It happens after a thrilling play at the plate in the top of the 5th:
In that instant, everything freezes, a DVD on pause, then explodes into action. Both teams, the fans, the coaches — shouting, cheering, hooting, protesting — every emotion galvanized at once, a kinetic charge of energy rising up through the five layers of the earth’s atmosphere, their cries and dreams climbing from troposphere to exosphere, soaring into the velvet void of deepest space. A roar that happens on Little League fields every day, in every town, city, state, and country all over the world, from Logansport to Osaka, San Cristobal to Little Rock. The sound the game makes when it is played passionately, with young hearts.
Hey, how’s this for cool? The cover of the Korean translation (uh, it’s the one on the left):
I love the way award-winning author Debra Tidball describes her view on valuing connectedness across the generations. I also love the sentiment in celebrating people’s personal histories and appreciating who they are now, and then. Having had a grandmother with whom I had a strong bond, ‘When I see Grandma’ really resonated in my heart. […]
She finished the last round of high-dose chemo on Thanksgiving Day of 1997. We ate Boston Market turkey and stuffing in the hospital playroom while her meds finished running. There were two more years of low-dose chemo to go, but we expected to spend most of that period as out-patients. When we got home that night—home, where we hadn’t spent more than ten days in a row since March—it was late, a cold, clear night, with as many stars as a New York City sky can muster. I remember thinking I couldn’t imagine ever being more thankful for anything than I was to be carrying that little girl up the stairs to our apartment that night.
The Enchanted Castle. E. Nesbit. 1907. 291 pages. [Source: Bought]
I really enjoyed reading The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit. I had started this one at least twice before, but, I had never been in the right mood to properly appreciate this children's fantasy novel. I was in the right mood this time.
If you enjoy adventure fantasy novels, you'll probably enjoy spending time with Jerry, Jimmy, Cathy, and Mabel. Jerry, Jimmy, and Cathy are siblings. When these three first meet Mabel, they mistake her for a princess. At the time, they are having an adventure looking for an enchanted castle. So finding a princess within that castle makes complete sense! Mabel is actually the niece of the housekeeper. She confesses that a bit later on. That first meeting is magical enough! She shows them a secret room behind a paneled wall. This room is fabulous if you're looking for treasures. While in the room, the children find (and pick up) a ring. This ring is central to all their further adventures. And Mabel is their new best friend. She's always part of the group.
This one was a very fun read. It reminded me of why I love E. Nesbit in the first place. It wasn't a perfect novel. But flaws and all, it worked well enough for me. It was a joy to read of their adventures and misadventures. The ring gets them into trouble more often than it gets them out of trouble.
“Go then, and be not more naughty than you must.”
“If we were in a book it would be an enchanted castle — certain to be,” said Kathleen. “It is an enchanted castle,” said Gerald in hollow tones. “But there aren’t any.” Jimmy was quite positive. “How do you know? Do you think there’s nothing in the world but what you’ve seen?” His scorn was crushing.
“I think magic went out when people began to have steam-engines,” Jimmy insisted, “and newspapers, and telephones and wireless telegraphing.” “Wireless is rather like magic when you come to think of it,” said Gerald. “Oh, that sort!” Jimmy’s contempt was deep. “Perhaps there’s given up being magic because people didn’t believe in it any more,” said Kathleen. “Well, don’t let’s spoil the show with any silly old not believing,” said Gerald with decision. “I’m going to believe in magic as hard as I can. This is an enchanted garden, and that’s an enchanted castle, and I’m jolly well going to explore.
“I am so hungry!” said Jimmy. “Why didn’t you say so before?” asked Gerald bitterly. “I wasn’t before.” “Then you can’t be now. You don’t get hungry all in a minute. What’s that?”
“Well, then — a detective.” “There’s got to be something to detect before you can begin detectiving,” said Mabel. “Detectives don’t always detect things,” said Jimmy, very truly. “If I couldn’t be any other kind I’d be a baffled detective. You could be one all right, and have no end of larks just the same. Why don’t you do it?” “It’s exactly what I am going to do,” said Gerald. “We’ll go round by the police-station and see what they’ve got in the way of crimes.” They did, and read the notices on the board outside. Two dogs had been lost, a purse, and a portfolio of papers “of no value to any but the owner.” Also Houghton Grange had been broken into and a quantity of silver plate stolen. “Twenty pounds reward offered for any information that may lead to the recovery of the missing property.”
You know pretty well what Beauty and the Beast would be like acted by four children who had spent the afternoon in arranging their costumes and so had left no time for rehearsing what they had to say. Yet it delighted them, and it charmed their audience. There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs for ever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real. And when once people have found one of the little weak spots in that curtain which are marked by magic rings, and amulets, and the like, almost anything may happen.And what more can any play do, even Shakespeare’s?
For this American, my favorite holiday has always been Thanksgiving. Why? I have an image in my mind of Native Americans and colonists meeting and sharing food together; they share knowledge and stories. In the midst of their concerns about each other, they found respect for each other. Their spirit of sharing is a great inspiration.
As an economist in this upside-down world of people stressing over their future and present, I find answers in that image of Thanksgiving. People eventually survive by sharing with each other as a community. The poor are fed. The sick are cared for. The struggling are helped, and communal ties are strengthened.
There is a term in economics, social capital. This term refers to the cultural interactions within a society forming cohesion, coordination, and cooperation that allow an economy to function better. An economy relies on people from diverse backgrounds talking, sharing concerns, negotiating, making plans, and working toward common goals. The social quality of their communication determines the true strength and potential of their economy.
When the Native Americans and the colonists met and shared, I see social capital being built. The society became stronger. People would be better able to have their needs met. There would be less conflict and more enjoyment of work. The societuy would be able to grow in potential.
The focus of my research as an economist is in the area of labor share, which is the percentage of the income from production that is shared with labor. I research how changes in labor share affect such things as potential production, employment, productivity, investment, and even monetary policy from a central bank.
In almost all advanced countries, even in China where labor share was already low, labor share has fallen in an exorbitant way since the turn of the century. What has been the effect of labor receiving less share of a national income? Potential output has fallen. Unemployment will be higher than before. Productivity growth will stall much quicker, or even fall as in the United Kingdom. Nominal interest rates from central banks will be stuck near 0%.
The fall in labor share represents a problem in the social capital of advanced countries. Labor is being excluded from economic development. Their concerns are not being heard, while corporate profits extend to new records. Labor’s wages are expected to fall in order for companies to be more competitive globally.
Stop. Take a moment of silence.
Acknowledge the growing problem of inequality, and return now to celebrate this holiday of Thanksgiving. Within this day exists the answers to our economic concerns. As societies, we only need to share more. And in sharing, we show our respect for the value of people within society.
A man can’t get rich if he takes proper care of his family.
The Navajo, or Diné, have a saying: “A man can’t get rich if he takes proper care of his family.” The wisdom embodied in this saying is immense. The wisdom not only assures the strength of each member of the community by building social capital, but it assures a stronger economy.
Now we need to answer the question: Who is family?
Here comes the true meaning of Thanksgiving: We are all family. The poor, the rich, the uneducated, the educated, the powerful, and the powerless, as well as those of different races and cultures. Families, friends, and strangers are invited into our homes to celebrate Thanksgiving. The abundance is shared and ties of respect are celebrated.
The extent to which a society can see everyone within the society as family determines the potential of their economy and eventually the quality of life. So Thanksgiving is a moment to celebrate how different people can embrace each other in a spirit of sharing. In that sharing, a broader vision of family is cultivated. In that vision, sick economies can be healed.
Featured image ‘Home to Thanksgiving’ litohraph by Currier and Ives (1867). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
I remember distinctly the last time I held it in my hands. Shiny, yellow, beautiful – a huge exhaust pipe rolling out the back billowing imaginary smoke as my hotrod peeled rubber and raced away topping speeds of 210 miles per hour. I set my favorite Hot Wheels car on top of my dresser one night, went to bed, and never saw it again. I’m sure there is a logical explanation – factory recall, aliens, jealous friends, Hot Wheel collecting criminals. I looked for it everywhere to no avail. Whenever I read Robert Frost’s poem, Nothing Gold Can Stay, I think of my car. It was just too good for this earth.
Did you ever lose something and it drove you nuts?
I lose stuff a lot. Big stuff, little stuff.
I had a jean jacket once. When I wore it, I was invincible. Cool like James Dean. All of my friends had them. When we felt cocky, we’d flip the collars up. In truth, we always felt cocky so they may as well have been starched. Those were the days
By the time I settled down into a job, that jacket had lived a pretty good life and didn’t really fit into a young professional wardrobe. It hung in the closet alone. Every once in a while, I would get it out just to smell it. It had the scent of autumn, the great outdoors, cheap perfume, debauchery, friendship and youth all rolled into one. I never dared wash it, lest I forget.
Then it was gone. On a chilly night, my girlfriend took it from my closet to warm her on her way home. I married the girl, but never saw my jean jacket again.
Was she jealous of the jacket? I don’t know. There are two predominant theories:
She tried to wash it but couldn’t make the smell go away or the collar go down.
She washed it and realized it would never be the same. Ruined.
She swears she never took it. (It’s not like I have a history of losing stuff…)
And then, there are these polka-dotted shoes she owned. I hated those shoes. Somehow, in a move, they disappeared. Although I shoulder the blame, I will go to my grave denying I had anything to do with their demise.
What happens to the stuff we lose? When we get to heaven, will there be a pile of it waiting for us? If so, I fear my pile will be huge. However big my mansion is, the closets are likely stuffed full already. Maybe when I show up, St. Peter will hand me jean jacket so I can inhale it in pure oxygen while I vroom my little yellow car across the clouds. I hope it smells the same, although they probably filter debauchery scents.
My wife can dance through the mist in her shoes I did NOT destroy.
Who knows where all of the stuff goes. One of the great mysteries of life.
The question is: does it matter? Am I the poorer for losing stuff?
Nah… Stuff is just stuff and most times, the memories are better than the stuff ever was. I never filled out that jacket as well as I remember. The collar should have stayed neatly down. But in my memory and a couple of pictures I have yet to lose, I was legendary.
It’s that time of year again. Everyone is going around being all grateful for everyday things, like underwear and spare keys. Some people even go so far as to be grateful for other people. Isn’t that astounding?
I know I’m grateful for all the people who liked, retweeted, purchased, complimented and otherwise glanced at or sneezed in the general vicinity of Sparky Firepants art. You guys are super awesome.
What are you grateful for? Who are you grateful for?
Searching for fun ideas that will bring the family together this Thanksgiving? Me, too. My family doesn’t know it yet, but I plan to go vintage this year.
I love traditions, especially during holidays. However, our current technology is threatening to exterminate one of our most cherished traditions—family time. This post is not a ranting against technology. I’m actually thankful for it. It actually keeps me connected to family and friends.
However, when we are able to come together in the same place, I want face-to-face, heart-to-heart, talking, laughing, and everyone-fully-engaged-time.
So, we’re going vintage—the pre-cell phone, pre-computer, pre-iPod, pre-satellite dish, pre-electronic gaming system era.
True vintage items must be at least fifty years old. Some may say we’re going prehistoric!
No need to panic. You may be surprised how long many of your favorite things have been around!
Want to go vintage with us? Challenge your friends and family to turn off the distractions for at least three hours this Thanksgiving. Focus your full attention on the people that are gathered in your presence and enjoy the blessings.
The idea is to find something all ages can do together. Conversations are always nice, but games, crafts, and other activities are fun, too. Older folks can teach the younger ones, and vice versa!
Here are some vintage ideas to get you started:
Vintage Board Games:
Scrabble, Candyland, Chutes & Ladders, Clue, Monopoly, Rick, Life, Operation, checkers, Stratego, Aggravation, and Pick Up Sticks, Bingo, and Twister.
Vintage Card Games:
Rook, Gin Rummy, Old Maid, Go Fish, War, Hearts, Snap
Children still enjoy weaving those potholders we made back in the sixties! You can find those plastic looms at Target and craft stores.
Red Rover, Tag, Basketball, Softball, Frisbee, Marbles, Hopscotch, Charades, and Musical Chairs (played with vintage music of course)
Of course, football has been around since the late 1800’s. A reward, foreveryone staying tuned in to the people at your gathering, could be an opportunity to view football on television later. Televised football is true vintage. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, NBC was the first to televise a pro football game on October 22, 1939.
If not everyone is a football fan, there are other viewing ideas.
Vintage Family Movies:
Jungle Book (1942); Dumbo (1941); The Wizard of Oz (1939); Mary Poppins (1964); The Jungle Book (1967); A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965); 101 Dalmatians (1961); Alice in Wonderland (1951); Peter Pan (1953); and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966).
However, try to save the vintage viewing for later. Savor the moments of talking and playing with visiting family members and friends. Interact without any electronic distractions. Dig below the formalities and chitchat. What’s that person across the table thinking and feeling?
Every year, things change. Time seems to go by a little faster. Carve out some time for family fun. Be fully engaged with those who are with you at this moment—that never goes out of style.
Alex Field‘s talents as an author, publisher and speaker, her love of Christmas pudding, and her overt enthusiasm for Jane Austen all cleverly amalgamate in the latest of her series, Mr Darcy and the Christmas Pudding. Having previously featured her beloved Pride and Prejudice characters in Mr Darcy and Mr Darcy the Dancing Duck, Alex […]
Every year as more and more retailers are opening up earlier than ever on Thanksgiving, I look forward to the P.C. Richard & Sons advertisement they publish in many newspapers across the nation at this time of the year.
I applaud them...
Don't shop on Thanksgiving. Don't fret, the almighty sales will be there long past Thanksgiving day!
It's time to take back the Thanksgiving holiday!
Best wishes, Donna M. McDine Multi Award-winning Children's Author
A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Story Monster Approved and Reader's Farvorite Five Star Review
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist
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The most disingenuous three words in the English language. Unless you are the ultimate cynic and cast your lot with I love you. I hope that’s not the case.
Do we ever mean it when we ask? Really? When is the last time you passed someone in the hall and said “how are you” and truly wanted to take the time to know how they were? I’ll bet it’s been a while.
I’m not holier than thou. I say it all the time and rarely care. If some slick gunslinger is quicker on the draw than me, I even add the oft-disregarded, “I am well, and you?” Of course, I don’t want to know.
I get these wild hairs – often they involve really stupid things, but this one actually had redeeming potential. I decided to spend my lunch hour in the lobby of my building asking people I saw, “How are you?” and giving them available time and a proper interest to see if they would answer.
Most people don’t stop long enough to notice my disarming voice beckoning them to unburden themselves. The first seven I asked kept moving and gave the appropriate return without so much as an upward glance.
I don’t believe that anyone is “fine” like these seven told me. Pawn your lies and rote responses elsewhere.
Number eight seemed to think I had serious mental problems and eyed me warily while reaching into her purse for either a small handgun or pepper spray. Needless to say I decided against an elevator ride with this charmer. “I’ll take the next one, Bonnie Parker.”
You can trap the elderly.
In walked a slow, older gentleman. Number nine. He began scanning the directory and seemed somewhat confused.
“How are you?” I asked in a very welcoming and reassuring tone.
“I’m fine young man, just fine,” he replied. Something was different, though. Before he spoke, he turned and made eye contact.
He was rather unkempt, smelled like my high school gym teacher, and had a thick bushel of hair growing out of each nostril. But he smiled warmly. In fact, he smiled all over… an infectious smiled that started at his lips, slowly ran through his eyes and worked its way off his person and onto me. I liked this old dude.
“Say, would you know where the office of Litton & Driscoll is located,” he asked.
“I think that’s on the fourth floor.”
He patted me gently on the chest with some paperwork he had rolled into a tube, like a kid’s telescope. “Thank you, friend.”
“Don’t mention it.” Judging from his demeanor, this might be my first victim who actually was okay. He might just be fine. I had to be certain, though. “Are you sure you are fine?”
He looked at me long whilst I returned my best, biggest, dopiest smile.
“Well, I am headed up to settle my wife’s affairs. So, if you want an honest answer, I suppose I’m not fine.”
Oh boy… Panic! In over my head… I thought I would learn about a foot ailment… or a wayward kitten. Not this. Why am I so stupid? All of me wanted to say, “I’m fine, and you?” But I got myself into this.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I can’t imagine.”
“Yes, sir. For 22 years now.”
“Seem young for that.”
I really liked this old dude.
“How long were you married?”
“Fifty-three years last August….”
And so began a wonderful story of love and loss.
You know what? I’m glad I asked. In fact, I’m going to break the habit of asking when I don’t care. From now on, I will only ask, “how are you” if I have time and interest in the answer. Try it yourself. Better yet, come join Joseph and me for coffee tomorrow morning and see that infectious smile.
Bo at Ballard Creek. Kirkpatrick Hill. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2013. Henry Holt. 288 pages. [Source: Library]
I loved Bo at Ballard Creek. Did I love, love, love it? I'm not sure. Time will tell. I certainly loved many things about it.
I loved the setting, that it's historical fiction, set in Alaska, set in a small mining town, in the 1920s. I loved the perspective, Bo, the heroine is young adopted girl. For most of the book, she's too young to attend school. So perhaps in the four to six range throughout the book. Readers meet Bo, her two fathers Jack Jackson and Arvid Ivorsen. (One is black. One is Swedish.) Readers meet the whole community: other miners and former miners mostly men, of course, all ages and ethnicities; Eskimo families, and the dance-hall girls. I loved the narration and the amount of detail. I love that the book covers a whole year, if not a little more. So readers see the community in detail throughout the year. One gets a real sense of what was like on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis. On ordinary days. On special days. Special days being not just holidays, but, also days where airplanes stop and land, the days when supplies arrive. I love the vignettes of the whole town. I loved the strong sense of family and community in this one. It just felt right from cover to cover. I also loved the illustrations. I'll be honest. It was seeing LeUyen Pham's name that made me pick this one up. That being said, I may have loved her illustrations. But I also LOVED the text itself.
If the book lacks anything, however, it may be a strong plot. Think Little House In the Big Woods. The chapters are strong in description and characterization and little happenings. I loved it. I did. I loved meeting Bo. I loved some of the relationships in the book.
The Fourteenth Gospel. Jennifer L. Holm. 2014. Random House. 208 pages. [Source: Library]
Ellie gets the unique opportunity to hang out with her grandfather, Melvin, when his scientific experiments succeed. Ellie has grown up knowing--observing--that her mom and her grandfather don't get along very well. But she'll get the chance to know him much, much better when his experiment reverses the aging process and he becomes 13 again. They'll live together. They'll go to school together. It would be hard to judge who has a harder time: Ellie, Melvin, or the mom/daughter. (Though my guess would be the mom/daughter. By all appearances, he's a kid, he's living in her house! She has to make sure he's doing his homework! But he is still very much her father. He has OPINIONS on everything she does.)
Ellie is growing apart from her best, best friend. Her friend has some new interests. Ellie has new interests as well. Ellie is meeting people she likes and though she hasn't made a new best friend overnight, Ellie is learning that change can be good, that meeting new people can be a good thing. One of Ellie's new interests is science. She really enjoys it! And she loves hanging out with her grandfather and their new friends. (Yes, they have friends in common.)
Our brains seem to want comparisons. Every time a new book comes out, editorial blurbs sing, “For fans of….”, or “Blank meets blank in this striking new novel…” I am both attracted to and wary of these comparisons, because they often create a false hope. After all, a significant amount of connection to a story comes by what we bring to it. I was first struck by the gorgeous cover of The Greenglass House, by Kate Milford and then I started hearing the buzz. I started to heartalk of The Westing Game . Now, if you don’t already know, any time someone asks me what my favorite book of all time is, The Westing Game slides quickly from my mouth. No questions asked. Over the adult titles that I have swooned about, the Newberys I have loved, the picture books that spawned the art that is matted and framed on my walls, The Westing Game is still firmly on the tippy top of the pile. So the talk worried me a bit.
Milo and his family have just settled in for the holidays at their inn, The Greenglass House. The guests have all departed, school is out for a couple of weeks, and it’s officially family time. Imagine Milo’s surprise when the bell rings to alert the family that a guest is ready to come up the hill in the rail car called the Whilforber Whirlwind. Situated on the top of Whilforber Hill, the inn is somewhat iconic in their town. Nagspeake is a smugglers’ town, and Milo’s parents are as likely to get paid in goods by the folks passing through as they are money. But smugglers have seasons and the winter holidays are not smuggler time. Who could be coming to stay now?
Milo and his family are even more surprised when the bell keeps ringing! More than one guest? What is going on?
After the passel of guests shows up, Milo’s folks call on their regular help to come and help with meals and rooms and such. Since it is break, the cook brings her kids and even though Milo has never met Meddy before, the two get along famously even starting to role play using Odd Trails -- a game Milo’s own dad played when he was young. Milo’s personal of Negret comes in handy when guest’s belongings start disappearing.
This is such an atmospheric, multi layered story -- I just can’t say enough about it. When you put all of the aspects of the story into writing, they can seem overwhelming. We have the mythos of the town, the rules of the game, the mysterious guests, the criminality afoot, Milo’s own adoption story and sense of self, the lore of the house...it goes on and on. But in Milford’s deft hands all are perfectly balanced and unfurled just so. I started to slow down as I read this one, because I didn’t want it to end. I ache to see this on the big screen, and am anxiously awaiting the first real snow of the season so I can hunker down and treat myself all over again! Add a Comment
Countdown by Deborah Wiles. 2010. May 2010. Scholastic. 400 pages. [Source: Review copy]
I first read and reviewed Deborah Wiles' Countdown in 2010. I loved, loved, loved this documentary novel. If you love historical fiction, or, if you love coming of age stories, you should consider reading this one. It's a great read.
1962. October 1962. The world waits. Will there be war? Can the situation in Cuba be resolved peaceably? Or is this the beginning of the end?
Franny Chapman is the heroine of Countdown. She's eleven. She feels like she's invisible. She feels persecuted. Her sister assures her these feelings are completely normal. Franny herself isn't too sure. Franny struggles with issues big and small in this novel. Of course, there is the shared experience of worrying about the Cuban Missile Crisis. (Franny knows that everyone--adults and kids alike--is worried about this.) But of a more personal nature, Franny is struggling with several things. First, her forever-best-friend, Margie, is acting strange, different. Franny wonders if the two will be able to stay friends. It's more than just drifting apart. Margie seems to suddenly hate her. Second, Franny is worried about Uncle Otts (is he her great-uncle?). He's getting older. His mind isn't always great at distinguishing between past and present. The threat of war isn't helping matters any. He has his own way of reacting to threats and dangers. And to Franny, those ways are just EMBARRASSING, extremely embarrassing. Third, Franny finds herself in love with the boy next door. (His name is Chris. Many girls find themselves in love with Chris).
Readers see Franny at home, at school, at play. I loved meeting Franny and her family. I loved how the novel was put into context through the format itself. This documentary novel is packed with images, photographs, quotes, lyrics. (Everything from photographs of JFK and other world leaders, other politicians, other leaders to Miss America, to images from the Civil Rights movement, to a cover of a Nancy Drew novel.) So while Countdown is a novel, it also serves as a scrapbook. (You can see some of what the book looks like on the author's blog.) I think this one does a good job of capturing a time, a place in American history. It is rich in detail. (For example, I loved hearing about the wonder, the novelty of McDonald's hamburgers--for Franny and her family.)
Jo Ellen has the world's best 45-rpm record collection. Since I can remember, I've sprawled across her big bed when she's in her room doing homework or talking on the phone to her girlfriends, and Jo Ellen has let me play her records, as long as I don't get fingerprints on them or let the needle scratch them. I'm not allowed to touch her albums, but the 45s she lets me rifle through to my heart's content. I've memorized the geography of every one of those records. "Johnny Angel" has a yellow label, "Twistin' the Night Away" has a tiny scratch at the beginning edge, and "Runaway," which is my current favorite, by my favorite singer, Del Shannon, has a heart drawn on the label--by me. Jo Ellen doesn't know this yet. (75-76)
My first concrete remembrance of church is going to revival with Miss Mattie in Halleluia, Mississippi. I like revival. It's entertaining. I know almost every hymn in the Methodist hymnal by heart, every verse, and I can play most of them on the piano. Revival lasts two weeks, so we go every night to church, and every night there is tarnation preaching and seventeen verses of "Just As I Am," until someone walks up to the altar to be saved. Trouble is, Halleluia is a small town, and most everybody in church has already been saved. So unless somebody new shows up, or an older kid is pushed into the aisle by his mother, we just sing and sing that hymn, until my grandmother stands up and ambles in her square shoes up the aisle with a half-exasperated look on her face, and gets saved once again. Mostly she is saving all of us, and she knows we know it. (130)
"Nobody's the favorite, Franny," she says. "Of course you're important. Just because they don't broadcast it--" "You're not around enough to notice," I interrupt, standing up straight. "You're all grown up, you're in college--you have loads of friends--you even have new friends! You can do whatever you want." "That's certainly not true," says Jo Ellen. I sigh. "I just want to skip all these years in between and go off to college like you, only I want to live in the dorms like Lannie does." "This, too, shall pass. You don't know how lucky you are, Franny. You go to a good school, your dad's an officer in the military, you eat, shop, play wherever you choose, you can go to any college you want when you grow up. You've got it made. You're privileged." I toss the tissue in the trash. "I'm invisible around here. I could disappear for days and nobody would miss me." Now it's Jo Ellen's turn to sigh. "Franny, you're eleven. That's the problem in a nutshell." She pulls an envelope out of her purse. "Everybody feels persecuted when they're eleven. It will pass." (85)
When I was in college, I had a thing for Vanna White.
Thing – (n) An odd desire or inkling of unknown origin and without rational basis that impels one to make poor decisions.
Everyone has a thing for someone else at some point. You can’t dismiss them, nor can you describe them. Things are just things. Boys especially get things because we are so visually driven. My thing happened to be for a letter-turning model who wore evening gowns.
It’s best when a thing isn’t an acquaintance. That way, you have little opportunity to make a fool of yourself. Also good is when your thing is a celebrity because they have 300 pound security officers to keep fools with things away.
I never got the chance to meet Vanna. A friend had a similar thing for her and we decided to drive to Charleston when Wheel of Fortune went on the road. Our jalopy broke down somewhere in Tennessee and we never got close. Probably best.
By the time I met my wife, I thought I was over my thing. Little did I know that Vanna would rear her finely-styled locks into my life again. Searching for something to watch, I paused on Wheel of Fortune far too long, which elicited a comment from my Future Lovely Wife, who knew about my thing for Vanna.
FLW: It’s okay, you can watch her.
Me: No, I don’t want to watch her.
FLW: Seriously, nothing else is on and I know you like her.
Me: I don’t like her.
FLW: It’s okay to think she’s pretty.
(Before I type my response, you have to understand that I am and always have been an idiot.)
Me: Oh, you’re nowhere near as pretty as Vanna White.
Yup. That is actually what I said. I fully intended to say, “Vanna White is nowhere near as pretty as you.” But I didn’t. Stupid Thing! That comment has been etched in family lore ever since. Somehow, she still met me at the altar.
In breaking news, my wife is HOT! I’m sorry if that offends anyone – I don’t mean it to be demeaning. I asked if I could say it and it doesn’t offend her. She got the chance to wear an evening gown a few weeks ago and WOW! I always knew she was gorgeous, but WOW! Of course, in the pictures, there is a gorilla in a tuxedo beside her who looks too dumb to know he is the poor side of the unequal relationship.
There is a point in this post.
I decided to change the background of my phone to the picture of us in our swanky clothes. Since there are six of us, I couldn’t lay it out without cropping one or two of my kids, which could cause problems (especially if it were one of the middle children who always feel cut out). So I made just my stunning wife in her blue gown my background. Now that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it has been for me.
You see, every time I finish a call or close an app, no matter what I’ve been doing or seeing, I go right back to my wife. Remember our visual nature. Wherever I allow myself to wander, this picture on my phone gets me revved up about my wife… which is kinda the way it’s supposed to be.
Take note guys. Find a picture where your wife, fiancée, girlfriend looks absolutely gorgeous and put it as the background on your phone. Too often, we get stuck looking at other things.
Things aren’t real and will get you nowhere. Just ask me about Vanna.
It was so, so lovely to talk a few weeks ago with Sarah and Beth Anne of Brilliant Business Moms. They sought me out after reading this guest post at Modern Mrs. Darcy. Here are a few of the things you can expect in the podcast:
01:15 – Roald Dahl, the Oregon Trail, and My Journey
04:24 – The Most Honest Thing I’ve Ever Written
07:48 – What about Mr. Chapman?
09:59 – The Apprentice Stage
13:34 – Maniacal Optimism
16:54 – Why a Traditional Publisher?
19:29 – How to Get Published
22:50 – Finding an Agent
24:59 – Advice for Apprentice Authors
29:31 – Does a Web Presence Matter?
31:02 – A Day in the Life
34:34 – How Much Does an Author Make?
38:56 – Resources for Aspiring Authors
44:30 – What My Boys Think About Having an Author for a Mom
It felt like time to pull this post out again, as I’ve gotten questions of late. Here’s the inside scoop.
Because it seems to come up often during school visits and while chatting online (there’s even been some confusion at Random House), I thought I’d explain my name today, specifically the Starr business.
Starr is my middle name. It’s not my maiden name. It’s not hyphenated. Just my plain ol’ middle name. I know my email address doesn’t help make things clear (I don’t use my last name, just my first and middle). I was named for my grandmother, Gene Starr, and my mother, Polly Starr. As I don’t have any daughters, my boys have graciously named the dog Boudreaux Starr.
When I was a middle schooler, Starr felt like a curse. I was always asked if my parents were hippies and if I had sisters named Moonbeam and Sunshine at home. Now I like it. A lot. It flows so nicely with Caroline and Rose.