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Remembering Christmas Past

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on Thursday, 18 December 2008
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We are expecting a big snowstorm in Boston tomorrow, the first of the season, and so I have been remembering other snowstorms (including the surprise 26 inches one April Fool's Day!) but the one that stays in my mind the most was Christmastime in 1995.

My little granddaughter, Nadine, who lived in Germany with her mother (as she still does, though she is not LITTLE anymore) was flying to the states for Christmas.  Here she is, that fall, just around the time of her second birthday in late October.

Beanage2 Beaniedress
Two is not an easy age to travel with, but Margret was willing to do it, to spend Christmas with us, her first Christmas---all of our first Christmases---since my son, Margret's husband, had died the previous spring.

They flew from Frankfurt to New York's Kennedy Airport---an 8-hour flight---and arrived there in a snowstorm.  So their connecting plane to Boston was delayed and delayed and delayed.

At one point it took off, flew all the way to Boston, circled the airport here, and then, unable to land, returned to New York.

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All Kinds of Mail

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on Monday, 15 December 2008
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I was amazed at the number of people who responded to the e-mail from an outraged parent that I shared yesterday....and many of them expressing the hope that I  hadn't been too distressed by her message.

No, I have become quite sanguine when I receive (fortunately, not too many) such emails. I shrug them off but with the hope, always, that the child isn't too adversely affected. Sometimes I remember specific ones that worried me because of that possibility. For example:

This was in the winter about three years ago. I had rented a house in a warm place for three weeks, and had my laptop there with me, so could receive and reply to email.  A mother wrote, quite upset because her 10-year-old daughter had written me a letter ("real" mail) and had not yet received a reply. Her classmates (writing to an author had been an assignment) had all gotten letters back.

I explained to her, by email, that I was not at home, and so letters would be waiting for me there when I returned, and I would answer them as soon as I could. But it would be at least two weeks.

Indeed, when I got home, there was a huge stack of letters and I made my way through them as promptly as I could.  I had no idea which one was from her daughter because of course her email had not included the actual mailing address.  But apparently the child had written me a frequently-asked question, like "How did you get the idea for NUMBER THE STARS"?  and so she got, in reply, my form letter addressing that question. (If you get the same question 2,000 times, you can't answer it in innovative ways. There is really only one answer. Hence, the form letter)

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HO HO HO

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on Sunday, 14 December 2008
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Woman: What do you do?
Man: Me? Oh, I write books.
Woman: How interesting! Have you sold anything recently?
Man: Why, yes. My couch, my car and my flat-screen television.

That's a dumb joke stolen from a NYT humorous piece about whether writers should be bailed out by the Feds.

And here is a venomous (and anonymous) email I received yesterday:

Hate-filled email

But 'tis the season to be jolly, so I am ho-ho-ho-ing.

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Last Night at Harvard

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on Wednesday, 10 December 2008
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This time I was so aware that I arrived 20 minutes late last year, that I arrived an hour early.  Maybe some year I'll get it right.

In any case, here are Jack Gantos and Mitali Perkins, during their presentations, and then the three of us afterward at a nearby restaurant. In retrospect I'm sorry I didn't include Jack's 12-year-old lovely red-haired daughter, Mabel, who came with him and helped with the PP technology.

Mitali said she would put photos on her blog as well so I went there to see if she had firmed up my chin in Photoshop (alas, she hadn't). But I did see one thing I want to correct on her blog (sorry, Mitali, I'm coming on like an  over-eager copy editor).. She refers to my having once worn the Newbery Medals as earrings.  Can't be done! They are big and heavy!  What she had heard about was this:

Earrings which is a cartoon (by me) on my website.

Jack Gantos Here is Jack with his funny blueprint of his own childhood, which incudes the place where he vomited and splattered a wall, as well as bickering spots and an alligator who made off with his dog. (Yikes, Note to self: never move to Florida)

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Fire! Fire!

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on Tuesday, 09 December 2008
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This morning I got up, went downstairs, opened the front door to let the dog out, and saw, to my astonishment, two ambulances parked in front of my house. Bright red vans across the street.  A police car with flashing lights.  What the heck?  (Dog didn't care. He scampered off to find the squeaky toy he'd left in the yard last night)Fire 6

Fire 5

So I went out to the back yard, and looked down the side street (My house is on a corner) and this is what I saw:

Fire 1
Fire 3
Fire is such a hideously scary thing.  It is now a couple of hours later and the street is still blocked off, firefighters still at work, and rumor has it that they got the occupants out alive, though I did see a fireman being taken to an ambulance by stretcher.

Tonight, as I have done each year for several years, I will speak to a class at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Last year (I cringe, remembering this) I had written it down on my calendar for the wrong night, and was home, in grubby jeans, mindlessly watching TV, when I got a call saying, "Ah, where are you?"  So off I sped and arrived looking grubby, and twenty minutes late.

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...and a few more

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on Monday, 08 December 2008
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3090318076_ee6a9faf7e Kira with her father; and The Gathering, with The Singer

Singer&robe 3088059045_12e0921af0

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Scenes from the show

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on Monday, 08 December 2008
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I'm home now and have been sent some photos from the muscial "Gathering Blue"...  Here (from the bottom up, from some reason) are a scene where the village women are threatening Kira; one where she is comforting Jo, the small singing girl; and  a scene in The Fen, when a  fen-dweller says "what'll you gimmee?"  Several more---including the Singer and the robe---coming in a separate post.
3090312496_abbb15e722

3089475579_004cb625bf 3089464927_ddabd7b293


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THERE BE NO BEASTS

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on Saturday, 06 December 2008
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GB finale

Here is the final moment of the show "Gathering Blue", sneakily taken by my cell phone.

It's an incredible show.  My thanks go to playwright Richard Hellesen, and to composer/lyricists Michael Silversher and Joy Sikorski., as well as director Peter Ellenstein...oh, and the list goes on, and should include, of course, all the performers.

This event in Kansas, done through the William Inge Center for the Arts, is just the beginning of the journey that the show will take.  Already the composers are feeling the need for another song---replacing some expository dialogue---at the beginning of act 2.

It follows the book very closely and the book has moments that especially lent themselves to dramatization and song.  There is a lovely scene in Annabella's garden, where the old woman teaches the girl the names and uses of the flowers; after each verse of the song she turns to the girl with "Say it back" and the song becomes a lovely and lyrical duet. Later:  I won't even attempt to describe it here but the performance of The Singer, wearing the robe, at The Gathering, is breathtakingly staged; the reaction of the audience (which included me) was palpable---we were all stunned, I  think.

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Long Day's Journey into...Kansas

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on Thursday, 04 December 2008
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Well, I have been in Texas today, and Tulsa, and now I am in Kansas. Tonight I will have dinner with the playwright, composer, and lyricist of the musical "Gathering Blue."

Adaptation is such an intriguing art.  And in the past two days I have had emails of inquiry about an opera based on THE GIVER, a film of NUMBER THE STARS, and a dramatization of "Fabulous Gooney Bird."

I have also, today, en route, had a cell phone conversation telling me that we don't just need a new pump in Maine; we need a whole new WELL.  And the well-diggers have all retired to Florida for the winter. Grrrrrr. Maybe someone could set THIS problem to music and make it entertaining.

I'll try myself, after dinner.  I will go have some wine first. It will help.

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The Theatuh

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on Wednesday, 03 December 2008
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I was chatting by email last night with Stan Foote, director of the Oregon Children's Theater which produced my play "Gossamer" this past fall.  Stan said he is currently working on a musical of CLICK CLACK MOO which will open with the farmer shoveling manure (while dancing and singing, I suppose) ; he said they were in the process of designing the manure: " insulation foam, sprayed with glossy brown paint and and a few dabs of green here and there to and add little contrast, they are pooptastic."

Ah, the splendor of theater.

Me, I am heading tomorrow to Kansas, where I will see the first producton of a musical based on my book "Gathering Blue."  Since I didn't write this one, I have no idea how they went about it---what is left in, what was taken out---but at least we can be sure there will be no dancing cows.  I can see in my mind what it would be like if I HAD written it---can visualize what I would have kept, and how the set would be designed (I know, I know, if I learned anything from doing one play, it is that the author doesn't design the set!) but of course everyone has different visions, and it will be fun to see what these people have done.

I have just signed the contract for film rights to "The Willoughbys" and though of course nine times out of ten, the film you sell an option for is never made, still it is fun thinking about that one, too, how it would be done. I picture Peter Ustinov (is he still alive?) playing Commander Melanoff ---or maybe, alternatively, Paul Giamatti---and let's see: how about Frances McDormand as the Nanny?   It's always pointless to try to think of kids for roles because by the time the picture is actually made, the kids you thought of have have grown up.

Okay, instead of designing sets for a musical and casting a movie, I will turn my attention to my real work, the one thing I DO get to do: writing.  I am plodding along too slowly on my current project, possibly  because the plot--the main character, actually--- has entered a fish hatchery, and though I have done the necessary research and know, now, how to strip fish eggs and mix with milt (I once knew a guy named Milt. Wonder how he feels that his name also means fish sperm)--- frankly, it is not fascinating to me and that is probably why I am dragging my feet, writing-wise.

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Happy After-Thanksgiving

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on Tuesday, 02 December 2008
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We had a good-sized bunch here for Thanksgiving, with lots of food, of course and also a birthday to celebrate: twelve year old granddaughters Schuyler and Gabrielle.  They are really my STEP-grandaughters but their original grandmothers have both died so I am the default Grandma and honored to be so.  In addition to pumpkin, pecan, and aple pies brought by my son Ben, stepson Andrew brought a birthday cake so there was no shortage of dessert. Or gifts.  I gave the girls each two books---but because of the fact that I can't remember every title*, I won't mention any and thereby shortchange any authors.  Enough to know that books are always a welcome gift in our extended household.

I remember the day 12 years ago these twins were born very well because of the circumstances---I was in Mass. General Hospital (very sick with aftermath of flu) while my daughter-in-law was in labor with twins down the road at a different Boston hospital.

We all survived and now the twins----Martin's youngest of five grandchildren---are in sixth grade, quite tall and pretty (I mentioned that to a friend who said: "Good, they can become models." Oh, puhLEEZE!)...and they have just moved back to Massachusetts from Florida so we can see them and their family more often.

Martin and I went to see Sean Penn's amazing performance in "Milk" Sunday afternoon and now I have the documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" coming from Netflix. Bet anything SP watched it over and over.

MV5BMTI2OTM5NjUzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzY1MTM5MQ@@._V1._SX94_SY140_ MV5BMTMwMjEwNTg0OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTkwODUyMQ@@._V1._SX98_SY140_   *  I just  remembered two:

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Kansas (and Maine)

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on Tuesday, 25 November 2008
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I have been trying to add this to the schedule which is on my website and for some reason can't get it in. So I will just announce here that at 11:30 AM on December 6th (Saturday) I will be speaking at the Civic Center, 400 N. Penn, in Independence, Kansas.  11:30 AM, free to the public, with book-signing afterward.


I'll be in Independence for the opening of a musical based on my book GATHERING BLUE presented by the William Inge Center for the Arts.

It is NOT EASY, by the way, to get to Independence, Kansas, from Cambridge, Massachusetts.  So it will be a long day of travel both coming and going. But I am used to that.

****

This past weekend we went up to the house in Maine, and my son and grandsons--and cat--joined us there. Alfie had never met a cat before, and the cat, Sam, had never met a dog, so there was a certain amount of curiosity combined with paralyzing fear on both sides.  GIven a lengthier visit, they would have come to terms with it.  But during the night on Saturday the water pump broke: so no water on Sunday. And no plumber available on Sunday in a tiny Maine town.  Finally we packed up children, dog, cat, cars, and went home, after flushing all the toilets with bottled Poland Spring water. (That may be a First for Poland Spring)

Now: to start getting ready for Thanksgiving. Lots of company coming here.

Alf and sam
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Endings

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on Saturday, 22 November 2008
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Recently I received a pdf copy of an article I had written back in 1989 and which will soon be republished in THE WRITER. I had given my permission for that re-publication, of course, but maybe a little casually; there was maybe an "Oh, sure" quality to it. When they sent me the article, which I barely remembered after all these years, I began to read it a little nervously because it occurred to me that I might no longer agree with what my younger self had said. 


Fortunately, though, I did, and do.

Here are a couple of paragraphs which contain the essence of what I had to say about the topic, which was "Endings."

Of course everyone who has complained during the past 15 years about the ending of "The Giver"---or, in fact, the two books that follow it---will argue that I did not follow my own dictum. I'll disagree.  Such arguments make life interesting for everyone, and especially for teachers.

I am back now from Germany. My Danish friend, Annelise Platt, the inspiration for "Number the Stars," used to say that when you fly across the Atlantic---as she often did in those days---it takes a while for your soul to catch up with your body. A fanciful way of describing jet lag.  In any case, my body arrived here Thursday night, and my soul-less body had lunch with a couple of friends yesterday, Friday; and today it is Saturday and I am headed to Maine for the weekend, I think with my soul firmly re-attached.

On the plane, coming and going, I read, on my Kindle, the new Wally Lamb book, "The Hour I FIrst Believed"---it is long and would have been heavy to carry; the Kindle is such an asset for traveling.  Many years ago I was at a book event someplace---I think it was the Southern Festival of Books--and was waiting in line at the hotel coffee shop, to get breakfast. When my turn came, the hostess suggested that the man behind me, also alone, and I share a table since the place was crowded. So we did, and it was Wally Lamb; and I think we both enjoyed the brief acquaintance and visit. He's a nice man, and a good writer.  I knew that even before Oprah fell in love with him.

Here, taken in Germany, is a picture of my grand-beagle, Luke, a very sweet dog but one with an insatiable appetite. Shortly before I arrived Luke had stolen, and eaten, an entire pound of butter.  Believe me, you do not want to hear about the physical aftermath of the butter-snatch. 

Luke



Ending copy
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Decadent Oma

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Friday, 21 November 2008
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What can I say?  I have just been in Germany, visiting my 15-year-old granddaughter and her family, and she took this photograph of me at dinner.

Lois wine

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Amsterdam

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on Saturday, 15 November 2008
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It is very early morning and I am having tea in Schipol Airport (Amsterdam) between flights...I will fly to Luxembourg from here in an hour, for a four-day visit with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter. I usually come over here this time of year to see them, and often...as today...with an old suitcase filled with Xmas gifts...they can later throw away the suitcase, and it beats the nuisance and expense of mailing things to Europe.


I have trouble sleeping on planes (wish I could afford the 1st class seat which folds down into a bed!) and so always arrive here very weary and befuddled.  In the old days, when my granddaughter was small, she couldn't understand why I wasn't up for exuberant play when I arrived.  Now that she is a teenager, she understands SLEEP better!

This is a HUGE airport and I have walked from one end of it to the other. I don't know why I seem always to have tickets that require plane changes of that sort.  Recent;y, on my way home from Calgary, I changed planes in Mnpls/St Paul and felt as if it was a walk of a mile or more.  Same here today.

Still, it keeps me awake, I suppose.

Zzzzzzzz.





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I wish I had posted this tree weeks ago...

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on Saturday, 15 November 2008
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...but I had forgotten that it existed, until I came across it in my computer today. A magazine for teenagers had asked me to write an article...this was maybe a year ago...about---well, I hardly remember what it was supposed to be about, but I guess it was about me and politics during my much-younger years.  So I wrote this.  But they didn't like it and it wasn't published.  So I left it in my computer and went on to other things.


But when I came across it today, I thought...oh. I wish I had posted this in the beginning of November.

Anyway, a little late: Here it is. Me and politics:

The first memory I have of me in connection with politics is a spring day in 1945.  I had just turned eight.

It was wartime, the last year of a devastating war, and my father, an army officer, was still overseas. We lived in a small college town, the town where my grandfather was president of the bank on High Street.

At eight I knew nothing—cared nothing—about politics. I didn’t know, (though I do now, and find it unsurprising) that my mother and grandparents were Republicans. But I did know that the president of the United States was named Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and I knew that my mother and grandparents disapproved of him. I had overheard conversations about “that man in the White House” and can still hear, in my memory, my grandmother’s disdainful sniff at the mention of his name.

So when, on an April day, I heard my mother, who had been listening to the radio, gasp and say, “The president is dead!”  I leaped to a childish assumption. My eight-year-old’s thinking took this form: 

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Lois, Lois, Lois

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on Friday, 14 November 2008
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Night before last I was at the Historical Society in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, speaking about the past---mostly my own past---and how it has affected my work. It was a real treat to be in that lovely, historic town, the home of Dickinson College (my grandfather's house, where I once lived while my father as overseas in WW II, now houses the Economics Department of the college). I have so many memories of being a child there---some of which I have included in the book "Autumn Street" which is fictionalized autobiography.


Some of the many people in the audience were people from my own past. One of them actually brought me this photograph of my first grade class...taken in May 1944, just after my seventh birthday.

There I am, the farthest-left girl in the middle row.  Wearing glasses!  I have no memory of wearing glasses in first grade.  I know I did, briefly, later---sixth grade, I thought.

But here is the thing that amuses and surprises me. Two girls to my left is Lois Beittel, who brought me the photograph.  And in the back, there is Lois McDonnell, my first grade teacher.

It seems amazing to have three Loises in one small space.

And it makes me chuckle to look at Mabel Hays, in the first row, far right, with her arms crossed across her chest.  Boy, did she NOT want to have her picture taken!

LAL first grade blog
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back from Canada

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on Monday, 10 November 2008
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As always one of the nicest things about a conference is getting to see people you like and haven't seen for a while...(in this case, at the Calgary Kaleidoscope conference, Betsy and Ted Lewin)...and also meeting new friends. (Here's a photo of me with writer Betty Birney; we shared a cab to the airport yesterday, she flying home to LA, me to Boston).   I look as if I have antlers but it's because I stupidly stood in front of a picture that was hanging on the wall.


LAL & Betty Birney It reminded me of the time I met Carol Otis Hurst for the first time, years ago, in Toronto. We shared a cab to the airport, waited there together since our gates were near each other,  and she was telling me a long story but had to stop mid-paragraph because her plane was about to board. Two days later, back home, I got a letter from Carol, which began mid-sentence, and completed the anecdote.  We became close friends and remained so until her sudden death two years ago.
I also met Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, a close friend now for many years, at a conference...and it was the Calgary Kaleidscope conference...16 years ago.  Three days ago, in Calgary, a woman said to me, "I was here when you were here in 1992, and I've remembered all this time how you described your grandmother teaching you to pee in the woods."  I had to say, "Ah, that was Phyllis Naylor. "  I remember Phyllis telling that story, actually, in the speech she made.  It certainly wouldn't have been my very proper Pennsylvania  grandmother who would never have entered the woods unless she was wearing hat and gloves and was there for a lecture on arboeal botany.

I have to start thinking a lot....this very day....about my Pennsylvania grandmother because on Wednesday I fly to Pennsylvania to speak in the small town where I spent my childhood.  One of my books, AUTUMN STREET, is set in that town, and many of my books arise out of the nostalgia that is so much a part of my creative process.  I'll have to try to put that all together coherently so that I can speak abut it Wednesday night.

I think I'll email Phyllis and tell her that for sixteen years someone has been remembering her urinary history, even if they got the name of the protaganist wrong.
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Two Days After

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on Thursday, 06 November 2008
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Odd, to wake up in the morning wihtout a pending election to think about! Odd, in fact, to wake up this particular morning because my alarm was set for 4:30 AM...I was picked up at 5 in order to head to the airport. Now I am in Salt Lake City, sititng in the Delta Crown Room while I kill a few hours between planes.

A snapshot from my cell phone shows a glimpse of mountains with snow.

Calgary is the every-four-year conference called KALEIDOSCOPE.  I was at it once a long time ago..it must have been 1992, because I remember my mom was still alive, and that was the year she died.  And the reason I remember that was because my mother had always yearned to visit Banff and Lake Louise...I think she had been there as a very young woman. So when I found myself there (having rented a car and headed west after the conference in Calgary) I used a tape recorder and talked into it, describing for her what I was seeing (she was blind in the last months of her life)

Curious how one memory leads to another, to another, to another.  of course that kind of free association is what keeps psychoatrists on 

SLC
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Election Day 2008

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on Tuesday, 04 November 2008
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I went this morning to vote, after getting a text message from a son in Falmouth, ME: "I just voted" and an email from a stepson: "I was the first person in Manchester, MA to vote!"...I had barely sipped my coffee and glanced at the NYT headlines, and already I felt as if I was lagging behind the rest of the world.  So I threw on some clothes and walked to the fire station, kicking my way through the bright yellow leaf-cover on the sidewalk..  


I love my neighborhood. It is very walkable, and the neighbors quite varied, but everyone involved and interested and friendly.  There used to be a grouch down the street....I would encounter him dog-walking....but I think he has either moved away, or died, or maybe just retreated into a Barcalounger with a perpetual hostile frown on his face. I haven't seen him in a long time.

No long line at the fire station: surprising.  Two glamorous Russian Wolfhounds tied to a post outside. Lots of strollers. Bikes.  A couple of people holding OBAMA signs at the requisite distance. No McCain signs; I wonder why. I suppose they don't bother, in a neighborhood known to be mostly Democrats.

Someone in the neighborhood reported that recently a nighttime intruder came into her yard and dug up her lavender.  That is the most heinous crime that has taken place here in years.  Lavender theft! Imagine.  I picture a masked man with an evil chuckle....heh heh....who takes his loot home and makes sachets for his great aunts at Christmas.

Tonight we will have friends here with us to watch the returns and who are optimistically bringing a bottle of champagne.

I remember the January that the Patriots won the Superbowl, late at night, and people opened their doors and cheered up and down the street.

Tonight I hope it will be be the sound of corks popping.  Followed by a reverential silence as we give thanks for the democratic process and a collective optimistic sigh, as we look forward to change.

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