My older daughter lives in San Francisco and is a painter, weaver, woodworker, and many other things, including speaker of Arabic!
Here's a recent painting by her.
My older daughter lives in San Francisco and is a painter, weaver, woodworker, and many other things, including speaker of Arabic!
Here's a recent painting by her.
This is the view from the home of friends in San Francisco with whom I have just spent the past few days. So I have been playing hookey, not working, though now that I'm back, it is catch-up time; 300+ emails were waiting for me on the website.
I go there at least once a year to see these same friends. The wife is an artist, and one time when I was visiting I took her to meet Ruth Heller, extraordinary illustrator who lived there, and who showed us through her studio before we went out to lunch together. We had all three hoped for more such get-togethers but Ruth died, sadly, before we could make that happen.
I do love SF. The weather is so much milder—I returned late Friday night to fresh snow in Boston, with more flurries today; and they are predicting below zero temperature in the morning—but I doubt if I could ever leave New England, especially with grandchildren here. And so many good friends.
Week after next I will go up to Maine, to the farm, and hole up for a little while to get some work done without distractions. My friend Kay, on sabattical from a university teaching job and working on a book, will come with me, and we will set ourselves up in two different offices in the house and plug away....
As you can imagine, I get a lot of interesting email in addition to the usual "How do you get your ideas?" type.
Today one came from a college senior who tells me he has read THE GIVER 30+ times, and that he is currently midway through a project of taking a self-portrait every day. He sent me the link to Day 203 out of 365, because it involves THE GIVER.
Fun to look at! I'll attach it so you can see it (click to enlarge), but to read the accompanying text you'll need to go to:
Yesterday I drove up to Portland, Maine and spent the night at my son's house before visiting my grandson's first grade class to talk to the kids this morning.
I slept in my grandson's bedroom, recently redecorated by their dad in red, white, and blue and with a larger-than-life-size David Ortiz on the wall...so huge that his bat extends onto the ceiling. When I said to my son, "I've always dreamed of sleeping with Big Papi" he said, "Mom, you're disgusting."
The first-graders were wonderful: lively and giggly, and guess what they voted unanimously for when I told them a story, stopped short of the ending, and suggested that it could have an ending that was...happy, sad, scary, or gross. No wonder Captain Underpants and Walter the Farting Dog are hits with this age. Gross wins hands down.
I didn't think to count the number of children in the class. But when it was time for recess, just as I was leaving, I watched them all head for their outdoor clothes: boots, snow pants, mittens, hats, etc. etc...this is Maine in january. It made me remember when I had four small children, all born in less than five years, and how I would bundle them up one after the other, just for a trip to the grocery store. All those mittens! All those boots! At least the first graders could get their own clothes on....
Someone asked if I would post a photo of the bag I bought in the Zurich Airport. Here it is, in all its splendor..
And here, unrelated to the bag, is a photo I've just received of a new paperback jacket for MESSENGER. Many of you know that each of the books of the trilogy, in paperback, has two very different covers: the first, as I recall, green, then blue, and now this one in red/orange..and each showing a pair of hands. The reason is that these "other" versions are intended to be sold in the "adult" sections of bookstores. The text, of course, is exactly the same.
I have been trying to find time, here and there interspersed among other commitments, to write the answers to questions in an interview for Scholastic's TEACHER. And I'm just coming up on the several questions that deal with schools and teachers. Here's an example:
What concerns you about education today? What would you like to see change? What has changed for the better.
If you could give a gift to teachers, what would it be?
I haven't answered those yet for Scholastic, but they are waiting; and in the meantime, today I got an email from a teacher in Oklahoma. Here is part of what she wrote me:
I'm just back from —Brrr COLD —St. Paul where I spoke at the graduation of MFA students in Writing for Children and Young People at Hamline University, one of the few universities that offers such a program. Good people, good time, but it is bitter cold in St. Paul, and snowy when I was there. I did, however, get to go to the bookstore owned by Garrison Keillor —sadly, I forget its name—an important stop because I read and finished the book I'd taken with me, and therefore had nothing to read on the 3 hour plane ride home. Few things are worse than a bookless plane trip!
I decided, incidentally, to go ahead and read the story "Snowbound" despite a few children in the audience. I substituted some milder expletives where I could and blurred the f-word so that it sound like furgghhing. So, in the scene where the college girl nudges her repulsive boyfriend in the night and whispers, "Sweetie? You're snoring".....he now replies angrily, "So? I told you I have a furgghhing deviated septum!"
Maybe it's a medical term.
I have received a comment to the last posting which asks about the status of THE GIVER movie so I will try to fill you in.
For a number of years Jeff Bridges held the rights to make the movie of THE GIVER and he was very committed to it, very enthusiastic abut it. He is a good and decent guy so it was fun being friends with him during that time. But his option expired last March and reluctantly I did not renew it, because he had simply not been able to get the major studio backing required for financing....
This mysterious photo is a salad. A beet salad, to be exact. And it's a lousy photo...taken with my cell phone....because you can't really tell that it was the most incredibly beautiful beet salad I think I've ever seen, with red and golden beets in cubes, carefully arranged on the plate and decorated with tiny nasturtium leaves.
This was the first course at a lovely restaurant called ELEVEN MADISON PARK in New York, at a luncheon yesterday in honor of "The Willoughbys." Publishers do wonderfully gracious things to announce a new book, and this was Houghton Mifflin's highly edible welcome to the Willoughby family, with some terrific guests, all of them from the publishing/media/library world, all of them book lovers. Two of them just back from serving on the Newbery Committee! and though of course they can't describe their process of deliberation...at least I was able to tell them what a wonderful choice I thought they had made with this year's winner.
I am now back home in Cambridge after two busy days in New York, trying to get organized to go off to St. Paul on Sunday. Sunday evening I will give a reading at Hamline University. I thought I had the perfect selection...a short story I once published, called "Snowbound," set during winter (and it is certainly winter in St. Paul, Minnesota!) and—I think— quite funny, and appropriate to a college/university audience. Ah, therein lies the problem. I suddenly (fortunately) realized that this event is open to the public...and so there will very likely be children in the audience. And the winter story, the funny story, the college story, has some bad language in it. Sigh. I guess I had better read something else.
When I was hanging around the Zurich Airport yesterday..several hours to kill before getting a flight to Boston, where things were delayed by a snowstorm...I was irritated by the canvas tote bag in which I was carrying my lapotop, my purse, and assorted other stuff. It had once zipped closed, but Alfie had chewed the zipper once in a fit of bad puppy behavior. And one of the two leather handles had come loose. I kept noticing that as I roamed the airport.
Then I noticed an airport shop that sold, among other things, luggage. I didn't need luggage but I thought it would be a good time and place to replace my failing canvas tote bag. And I found just what I needed, with a roomy padded section for my laptop, and lots of pockets of various sorts. And it snapped closed. So I bought it, transferred all my stuff, and threw the old one in a trash can.
Its price was in Swiss francs. I don't know anything about Swiss francs. Ask me abut pounds, or Euros, and I can tell you. But Swiss francs? Not a clue. The bag, though, cost 275 of them. I paid for it with a credit card, assuming it was like the old Italian lira, where you paid thousands for an ice cream cone and then it turned out to be two dollars in American money.
But now I am here to tell you that I was wrong, it wasn't like lira at all. I just went to a currency-conversion website to see how much 275 Swiss francs is in dollars.
And folks: I just paid $250.00 for a canvas bag.
I just got in last night from spending four days in Germany. I KNEW I was missing the Patriots game Saturday night so kept my fingers crossed and indeed, they really came through for me once again.
I did NOT know I was missing the Newbery/Caldecott announcments because I hadn't kept track of when that was happening. So it was after I got home and got an email from a friend who said, "What did you think of..." etc. that I went the the ALA website to catch up.
I don't read very many children's books. Last year I was completely unaware of any of the winning titles. This year I had heard of some titles being talked about, but I hadn't read them. And yet.. And YET:
Way back months ago, I talked on this very blog (I just looked it up. September 2nd) about Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village—the Newbery Medal winner— and recommended it. So I feel prescient and smug. Nah, not smug. But thrilled for the author...and the illustrator, because even though the medal is for the text...this book is perfectly, beautifully illustrated.
I have just had a pleasant lunch in the Zurich Airport and have settled in for an afternoon because my plane to Luxembourg doesn't leave for 5 hours. The trouble with my planned afternoon of work is that my mind is groggy. I never sleep well on an all-night flight no matter how tired I am or how often I tell myself, "It is 2 AM"...each time I try to arrange myself in a comfortable position, my mind turns to, "If my left foot just weren't wedged against that metal thing..." which precipitates a whole new rearrangement of body parts, settling in anew, and then: "If I could just keep my knee from poking that thick magazine in the seat pocket..." and on and on. Then I end up in Zurich and veeerry tried.
A long time ago, when it was announced that Switzerland was disbanding its army, I said facetiously, "What will they do with all those little knives?" Well, the answer is that they are all for sale in the Zurich Airport. The irony is, if you buy one, you are not allowed to take it aboard a plane.
It is a beautiful sunny day here today: blue skies over the hills. But my iPhone can't operate in Europe so if I took a picture I would not be able to send it to myself, to attach to this post. Take my word for it, though: the Alps are snowy against the blue sky, cows are wearing flowers around their necks, men in lederhosen are blowing into alpenhorns, and pretty girls have edelweiss wreaths in their hair.
I made all of that up. I am actually looking out at tarmac with Lufthansa and Swiss planes lined up, baggage handlers and small vehicles, and not a single postcard view in sight.
Yawn. I think I'll take a snooze. Oh, but first: here's another picture of the little boy in "The Willoughbys"..the one trying to make his way back to his long-last father. By now (again, click to enlarge) he is starting to look a little bedraggled....
Here I am at Logan Airport's International terminal, soon to board a flight to Zurich. I'll spend 5-6 hours in Zurich tomorrow, then take a short flight to Luxembourg where my daughter-in-law will pick me up for the one-hour drive to her home in southwest Germany. It will be a too-brief visit, just three days, but a treat as always to be with Margret, her partner Jürgen, and Nadine, my 14-year-old granddaughter.
Airline scheduling is responsible for my sitting around the Zurich airport tomorrow...and again on Monday, coming home. But I don't mind, It's an unusually pleasant airport, and gives me uninterrupted, undistracted time; with a laptop I might actually get some work done.
I wish I had with me on this computer the illustrations from my upcoming book "The Willoughbys" because one of characters, a young boy, finds himself stranded in Switzerland, wearing lederhosen. I just today received an advance copy of the upcoming ALA Booklist review of the book, which gives it a star...always a good thing!
I remember many years ago, 1977, when my first book was published, and I was living in a small fishing village in Maine, newly divorced and very poor. The publisher kept calling (this predates email, of course) to announce starred reviews with great delight. I didn't have a clue what they were talking about....
Sorry about the blast of light in the lower right hand corner. But this is the second grade of the Meadowbrook School in Weston, Massachusetts, with me in their midst this morning. I no longer visit schools, as a rule, but a Meadowbrook parent bought me at a benefit auction (the benficiary: Reach Out and Read, a very worthy cause) and so I spent this morning with the second and third graders, who are Gooney Bird Greene fans. In fact, if you look closely (click to enlarge) you will see many kids dressed in wild and crazy outfits as Gooney Bird often is.
But the amazing thing is that when I called upon kids in this group, and asked their names, the first four boys replied, "Will." "Will." "Will." "Will."
I was sure they were putting me on and accused them of being, actually, Sam, Max, Henry, and Jeff. But no. It was true. Will. Will. Will. Will.
Anyway, thanks to Meadowbrook, to its librarian Lucia Corwin, and to all those Wills and their classmates and friends. They are good readers and good listeners, and now that I have read them parts of the upcoming (not yet published) Gooney bird book, they will have some new and interesting fashion statements to make....
So: here's what happened. You may recall that on December 21st or 22nd, my pocketbook disappeared, with all my worldly goods: credit cards, iPhone, drivers license, money, etc. etc. I took all the necessary steps to avoid identity theft, and went off to Maine for Christmas.
Yesterday morning, back here in Cambridge, January 3rd—let me count; that's 13 days later—some workmen working on a house about two blocks away found my purse flung into a snowbank in a back yard, its contents strewn about. They gathered everything, gave it to the local mailman who was passing by, and he brought it to me.
In those 13 days it had snowed, rained, frozen, snowed and rained some more, and for the past two days it has been in the teens here. VERY cold. So my purse and its contents—which had clearly been in that snowbank all those days— were all frozen solid and I set about trying to restore and revive what I could. The money was gone: about $200. Goodbye, money. But everything else was there. A pair of leather gloves were too badly damaged and I threw them away. All the credit cards, library cards, drivers license, etc, were sort of frozen together in disgusting clumps but after they thawed, I was able to dry each one and of course, being plastic, they were fine (though I shredded and tossed all the cards I had cancelled and replaced). Grocery lists and receipts and a bank deposit slip, upon melting and thawing, turned into soggy spitballs and I threw those all away.
That left the iPhone, which was frozen solid into its leather case. After resting a while on my kitchen counter, the leather thawed and now the iPhone was lying in wet leather surrounded by a puddle. I took it out and let it rest until it seemed to be room temperature.
At one point, early on, when I first missed the purse, I had called my iPhone number, hoping I would hear a ring from some obscure place. Didn't happen. I got my own voice mail and wailed, "Where are you?" but needless to say there was never a reply....
Well, perhaps it is because the weather has turned VERY COLD...down in the single digits...that Alfie felt compelled to take up knitting. Here is a partially-done (by me) sweater that—when my back was turned—he decided to work on. Thanks a lot, helpful puppy. (Okay, so it did look like a stick).
And here are two other photos.
Four summers ago I hired Jesse, then 14, to be a model for me, and his is the photograph on the cover of my book MESSENGER. And here is Jesse now(click photo to enlarge), four years later. He has just embarked on a trip that will take him six months: 300 miles on cross-country skis, then 200 miles by river in a handmade canoe, with hand-caved paddles, living off the land and using wilderness survival skills. Jesse is a remarkable young man whose dedication to preservation of the natural world is genuine and admirable.
I am in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where this morning it is clear and even a little sunny, though they predict a snowstorm starting at noon. This photo is my house in Maine, which my son, Ben...who is there now for a few days of skiing and reading and not-thinking-about-his-law-office... took from his cell phone and emailed me. Isn't it amazing, technology?!!!
We had a steady stream of company in Maine, the last batch three adults and three grandchildren 11, 11, and 16...so our final morning there was a sea of laundry, sheets and towels, making a mountain on the laundry room floor. But somehow it all got done, and cars all got packed, and everyone headed off to their regular lives after what had been a nice respite. And I got to watch that final Patriots-Giants game which was SUCH a good one! with four guys: Martin and his two sons and one grandson. (Daughter-in-law opted for reading and eleven year old twin granddaughters were watching a movie in their bedroom) So it was Grandma and the Guys yelling and hooting in the TV room. What a great game.
Now: real life (and okay, the play-offs) and work to be done. I have been neglecting work. Next week I'll fly to Germany for a few days, and between now and then—January 9th—I MUST open up those two folders that I've been neglecting. (It is rare, incidentally, that i am working on two things at once, but somehow it has happened). When I get back to both of them and putter and fiddle around with them, at some point one will take over. Then one folder will be closed for the duration while I concentrate on the other.
Here he is. Man of the hour. Of the YEAR....
Note: For a long time I have not posted comments to the blog, because someone alerted me to the fact that the comments, when posted, allowed anyone to access the poster's email address, and of course many were children. But so many people make comments that are interesting and invite a response and I have hated not being to make them available. So I've decided to try this: posting those comments only from adults. Let's see how this works.
It is now lost-purse+two days, and I just got an email from the DMV saying that my new drivers license will be sent to me shortly and in the meantime I can use the email as proof that I have one. So that's a help, and Martin won't have to be a chauffeur anymore (though clearly he loved sitting in the car yesterday in the Craftworks parking lot while I looked inside for a birthday gift (why do some people have birthdays right at Christmas? It is VERY confusing)
Tha Patriots won again last night (okay, so it was against Miami; still counts) and are now 15-0. I am a little worried about next Saturday's game because it is being shown on the NFL network..whatever THAT means...and I fear this farmhouse in the middle of Nowhere, Maine, might not be one of NFL network's recipients. I will be VERY DISTRESSED not to watch that crucial game. There isn't even a bar to hang out in, in this little town. (I remember once, years ago, Martin and I were traveling in Colorado duing a crucial baseball play-off involving the Red Sox, and we ended up in an Elks Club in a small town...I think Ouray...watching the game.
Last night—what my children used to call "Christmas Eve Eve"— it rained like crazy, with a howling wind, and this morning it is weirdly warm (at least for Maine in December) and the driveway is bare. There is still deep snow over the gardens and in the meadow but it is crusted now with ice, and Alfie is a little apprehensive about where, exactly, and how, he can walk, if he leaves the driveway. Tibetan terriers have wide paws, like snowshoes, so they do well on snow, but ice is a whole other problem. Or "whole nother," as some folks like to say.
Two more days of real quiet and solitude for Martin and me, then the company starts. Two grandsons, 7 and 9, here Wednesday. Then three grandchildren, 16, 11, and 11 (twins) Friday-Sunday. Various parents and uncles and friends as well, along with the kiddos, so lots of groceries to buy and things to cook. But right now is loafing-and-reading time. Martin's reading a biography of Robert Oppenheimer but I have a good thriller going (forget the name, and it's upstairs at the moment) and the new Richard Russo book—"Bridge of Sighs"—waiting.
On January 9th I will fly to Germany (actually, I fly to Zurich and from there to Luxembourg, where my daughter-in-law picks me up and drives me to Germany, about an hour from the Luxembourg airport) so it's a lot of plane time and I will need a good long book: maybe two actually, one for going and one for coming back. I'll have just a brief visit...really just a long weekend, Thursday-Monday...but will visit my granddaughter's eighth grade class (at her request; or maybe it was her teacher's, actually) that Friday (she will have to be my translator since I don't speak German)....
I am writing this from Maine, where the snow plowed up against the barn door is probably ten feet deep. The barn, garage, and house—attached to each other, typical early New England— form a cul de sac, and Jesse, who plows, has no place to push it when he gets up into that corner...so it all goes against the barn door and gets higher and higher and higher.
It is lovely to be here in winter, though the day started badly yesterday. The plan was to pack two cars (driving separately because Martin would be coming back to Cambridge a couple days before me), leave mid-morning, allowing time to stop in Kittery, Maine, to meet my daughter Kristin, who lives near there, for lunch and to exchange Xmas gifts before heading on north.
So: the dog got me up at 5:30 AM. I went downstairs and let him out, then lay down on the couch in the TV room to snooze until he wanted to come back in. Zzzzzzz...until at 7 AM I was startled awake by water dripping on me. Oh dear! The house is a three-story federal colonial house. When we remodeled it 12 years ago, we moved the laundry upstairs to the second floor (near the clothes, right? Makes sense?) Now I was lying on a couch directly under the upstairs laundry room and water. was. dripping, on. my. head.
Ah, but it turned out not to be a leaky washing machine hose. It was the wonderful New England phenomenon known as an Ice Dam...when a roof edge becomes frozen and water backs up under the ice and then..stealthily...into the house...across the innards above the ceiling...and then...drip drip...onto one's head.
The recent weather has so lent itself to that possibility: Snow, rain sleet, freeze, ice, snow, rain, etc. etc....
All week I've been hoping to head to Maine but all week it has been either snowing, or just finished snowing, or about to snow again, or sleeting, or icy, with terrible driving. So we have put off heading north until tomorrow. The weather man says, a la "Annie": The sun'll come out tomorrow. This is the view this morning from our front door. Tomorrow we will have a different view from a different front door and it will be MUCH DEEPER snow in maine. As I emailed to my son: Great skiing in store. (And my smartass son replied: Who wants to ski in a store?)
So: all week I have puttered around, accomplishing nothing much. We watched a fascinating film..."Looking for Richard"...Al Pacino's very unusual take on Shakespeare's "Richard the Third"...not new, but I had never seen it, and someone recommended it; and I read a biography of Sonya Tolstoy, also not new, and in fact I had read it years ago, but something made me pluck it out of the bookcase for a satisfying re-read. I started working on a speech to give in Minnesota in late January. I cleaned off my desk and then started messing it up again. I watched DVDs of a BBC series called ""State of Play" directed by David Yates, the British director who is to do "The Giver." I cooked a large lamb curry to take to Maine. I slogged through the snow with a friend and saw "Juno" at Harvard Square (a sweet film, I thought, but not as good as the reviews would have had us believe)
Ashley Bryan was to be here last Sunday but couldn't get here because of sleet/snow/ice. He was at the home of friends in Newton, and we always get together when he comes down this time of year from the island where he lives off the coast of Maine.
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