Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shackleton, Still Speaking

My son Shackleton, who is 12, is doing the school play.  Rehearsal tonight was from 6 to 7:30 PM.  I was napping from 5 to 6 PM with the result that he didn't get any dinner (not from me anyway, he could have served himself but that's not happening).

Anyway, he had two things on his mind when he got home a few minute ago.  1.)  Money to buy a game on-line. 2.) Dinner.

As for the money, he needs my Paypal account and he knows I will say "no" unless I get some quid pro quo: work or some other form of sacrifice.  He came down the stairs shortly after arrival with a literal fistful of dollars - nine dollar bills and four quarters, to be specific.

Normally I charge him a user-fee, just to be discouraging but I was distracted by catching up with posts by my brilliant friend Lulu who got busy blogging again this winter without my noticing til tonight.  I was trying to read Lulu's posts while he stood there leaking dollars. I said I would make the deal and let him take $10 if he straightened them out - they were a mess, like Oragami created by a perverse and hateful blind person.  He said OK.  Then I made him tricolor rotini (from a box) with meatballs (from the freezer, but beautifully thawed in the Ragu that I pulled out of the fridge).  Then I got back to Lulu.  (She's a gourmet so I guess I'm noticing my poor standards particularly).

Just a few posts into my reading, Shackleton was back at my desk with his (almost) empty rotini bowl.  "First," he said, "one of the dollars fell into the dog water.  I took it out and it's drying.  Second, can the dog lick my bowl?"  (She barfs sometimes).

I said yes to the bowl licking - Maisy tolerates a little red sauce quite well.  And if I will eat from a bowl from which the dog has eaten, can I really object to a dollar that has been fished out of her water? Now he's gone for the night and I have eight dollar bills folded into my wallet but it looks like a lot more.  I'll add the damp one tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Get Out of My Way, Louisa May Alcott! Back Off Mark Twain!

And, at Number 8 We Have...

Really, I reverence Louisa May Alcott and Mark Twain and Frances Hodgson Burnett but, my little book was (and is now, as I write) outranking Little Women and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Secret Garden on the Amazon best seller list for free kids e-books!

It won't last, of course, once the $2.99 price gets reapplied at midnight west coast time.  (Hurry!) And I'm not delusional.  (I know my real place vis-a-vis Louisa May and Mark - even though she's at 22 and he's number 14 as I write - I  couldn't fit them in the screen shot).  But the giveaway caught fire, oddly, briefly outpacing Catching Fire, from the Hunger Games trilogy which was also free this weekend and with which my book ran neck and neck for several days.

I can hear scoffing, I might scoff myself.

Why get excited about giving away something for free?  Who cares about the competition between free books?

Fair enough, but that competition is fierce, publishing being what it is these days.  There are thousands of downloads available for free at any given moment.  And, more important, as I have said here before, it's always been readers that I was seeking, first and foremost.  I only hope that the (to this moment ) 3,500 people who've downloaded the book these last few days will like it.  It's not lost on me that I am outranked by several books at the moment that are not famous, including Polar Bear's Big Adventure at number two.  Although I'm sure that's a fine book.

Anyway, if you downloaded a copy or bought a paper back, or will go do download one now, or if you have told a friend - or kept your mouth closed if you read it and hated it (the good reviews were surely a big help) - I thank you.  A moment in the sun with Louisa and Mark is not something I will soon forget, brief as it is likely to be.


Here's one more screen shot that my Dad took for me about an hour after I posted this yesterday.  Note the position of Up, Back, and Away in reference to that Hunger Games trilogy book, ahem.

By the time the Giveaway ended last night nearly 4,500 hundred copies had been downloaded.  Now it costs $2.99 again and the magic is gone.  I picture it plummeting in the best seller ratings the way Ian-McKellen-as-Gandalf fell with the Balrog.  But I'll always have the screenshot...

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Happy Birthday, Little Book.

Today's banner is a painting by John Constable, courtesy of our own National Gallery of Art.  It is better than the view from the Last House, although that's pretty good too.

It reminded me of some of the things that inspired me to write the book that I have been going on about over here, and on the book-specific blog, for a year now.  Specifically, the beauty of the England of our imaginations.  And I never saw a picture of spring that I liked better.  I hope it gives you the same happy jolt it gave me.

I'm reflecting on this snow day at home about this last year and my experience with the book.  I just posted this over on my other blog, and I hope that any stoppers-in here who haven't already gotten a copy for themselves will do so now.  Here's that post, which is also up on my Quartersessions blog.

It's been just about a year since I approved the proofs for the book, or, as it loomed in my life for so long, THE BOOK.  While it wasn't actually available for sale until April 15 last year, I figured I would give tax  deadline day a pass and start a little early.   Also, I'm thinking of this as a celebration season rather than a single day.  I plan to have a collection of essays and stories available later this month as part of the festivities. I'll tell you more about that soon.  In the meantime, the e-book version of Up, Back, and Away will be free to download on your Kindle or Kindle app for five whole days starting tonight, midnight west coast time. (That is, March 14 to midnight March 18).

Somehow, despite the nearly solid year of the book being available to you, gentle reader, I remain obscure, not rich, not famous.  Still. I have so enjoyed this year of having a book to share with the world.  It has added a new and fascinating dimension to my existence and I have been gratified that so many people have been kind enough to tell me that they liked it.  (Or to forebear from telling me that they didn't like it).  I was able to travel to England last fall in what I thought of as my Up, Back, and Away pilgrimage that gave me the chance to see in person so many of the places I had researched for the book.  I will look back with fondness on this period to the end of my days.

I hope you'll join in my little celebration by going to the site in your own country (the download should be available worldwide) to  get your copy. If you've downloaded one previously, or bought the paperback, get busy reading and tell me what you think - at least if you liked it.
I'm also going to be giving away some paperbacks over on Goodreads.  Look to your right and click away if you want to come in for a chance on those.

Thanks again to those who have reached out to me or commented kindly online.  What I had hoped for most was readers and when I am finding those, I'm happy.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Seen and Overheard in New York

Seen in Chelsea: Photo by Sarah Velk

I was reading David Sedaris's Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls in an insomniac hour this morning.  He is a diarist, among other things, and his piece on his diary was the bit I read at 4:30 AM.  It reminded me that I wanted to get down a few bits about last weekend in NYC before I forget.  I don't have a diary, this is as close as I come, so here ya go.

Sarah and I had a rushed little dinner at the Red Flame Diner on West 44th Street on Saturday, just before we headed back to Rockefeller Center to see about those standby tickets to SNL (see the previous post).  It was early, just after six.  We got a booth by the far wall and Sarah got the seat with the view of the street.  I noticed a big family group sitting by the window, six people or so, including three little kids as I took my seat with my back to them.

My hearing, as you know if you've been following along, is more than half shot. My right ear can now pick up a jet engine firing and not much more. The left one is only so-so.  I  have had bad luck with hearing aids so I persist in au naturel quasi deafness.  Anyway, just after we'd put in our orders (cheeseburger for me, chicken wings for her), the waitress started ferrying plates passed us to the family by the window.  I heard, or thought I heard, one of the kids, about four years old, call out: "My food is here! I'm so excited! I'm so thankful that this food exists!"

"Did that kid just say, "I'm so thankful that this food exists?" I asked Sarah, quietly.  She confirmed.  I'm telling you, the enthusiasm in that voice...  Words fail. Another minute or two went by and the same voice, cutting through the background noise and my bad ears said, "Will you take a picture of these wonderful chicken nuggets?"

I couldn't hear the answer. I hope it was "yes."  

Earlier in the day Sarah and I had gone down to Chelsea where a high school friend of mine, who is now a bona fide New York painter, had a reception for a gallery show.  We people of northern Vermont do not have a lot of opportunities to ride freight elevators to gallery openings and I wasn't about to miss this one. Plus my friend is really super nice and not intimidating at all like "New York painter" might suggest.  Chelsea also obliged us in providing some echt New York downtown scenery.  Sarah has been interested in photography (read, we bought her a good camera and sent her to photo camp last summer) and she took the pictures in this post.  I love them.  Budding New York artist anyone?  I'm so thankful!

Men of Chelsea: by Sarah Velk

Monday, January 27, 2014

My Dinner with Leonardo

Plans for my dinner with Leonardo, and yes, I mean Leonardo DiCaprio (I couldn't very well mean the only other "Leonardo" we all know since has been dead for about 500 years) started a couple of months ago.  My birthday was this last weekend and I decided that my daughter and I would celebrate our January birthdays together in New York City.  (She just turned 16 and I am a little more than twice that old...)  Leo's people in the meantime were seeing what they could  do to get him into town at the same time.

As you can imagine, arrangements for this kind of thing  involving an international superstar and all (I don't mean me, silly!) are a tricky business.  It's amazing when you stop to think about it that we managed to pull it off at all, but we did!  Leo, my daughter, and I got together at 8 PM on 49th Street and had a fabulous time.

Of course, we did have to make a few compromises.   One little impediment was the crowd.  (He is Leonardo Di Caprio so that was to be expected).  We also had to forego the table, food, drinks, conversation, and eye contact.  Another little issue was that Leo had no pre-knowledge that my daughter and I were going to be meeting him that night,  or even of our existence.  Actually, we didn't know before he walked out on stage at Studio 8H at NBC that he was going to show up either.  Of course, he knows us now!  At least he might recognize us again if he could see to the back row where we were sitting, yelling for him when he made that cameo appearance during Jonah Hill's monologue on Saturday Night Live.  Still, it was so great meeting to be in the same building with him!  Of course, since I'm married and have kids and everything we had to leave it there.  What a great memory we forged, though.  We'll always have Studio 8H, won't we Leo?

Here's a YouTube video of our special moment.  (Leo looks pretty into Jonah Hill here but if you follow his eyes, he's looking up at the back to near where we were sitting):

The Way We Were

I was one of those tragic 8th-graders who could sing the words to all of the songs from Gilda Radner's one-woman show (I can still do "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals" and "Goodbye Saccharine").  I didn't maintain that same level of devotion/interest in SNL from Gilda's era to this weekend, but I've always kept on eye on the show.  When it dawned on me (after I had made hotel reservations in midtown for a Saturday night) that they might be doing a show while we were there, I started investigating the possibilities.

Please Stand By

In case you are wondering, there are three ways you can get in to see SNL:  be a VIP who knows someone (I didn't know Leo yet), win a ticket lottery that you can enter via email once a year, or  wait in line on the morning of a show for a standby number.  This number might allow you to go in if enough regular ticket holders or VIPS fail to show (you have to choose the dress rehearsal or live taping - we went with the DR because I knew I would be exhausted by 11:30).

The standby numbers (NOT tickets, mind you) are handed out beginning at 7 AM on the day of the show.  Lines sometimes form days ahead of time(I Googled "SNL Standby" before we made up our minds - there are several good blog posts about it if you're interested).  I consulted my daughter (she's a big fan of the show with designs on a job there someday) and she was game, so I decided we would add Friday night to the trip and hope for the best.

I wonder if you heard about that polar vortex thing in New York?  I had, and I was prepared with multiple layers of performance ski gear, a pair of hikers' chairs (they weigh less than two pounds and cost $89 a piece.  I had to buy them because I knew I couldn't stand for hours and I also couldn't shlep the usual beach gear down on the train and through Manhattan).

As I sat in the freezing pre-dawn cold under my tarp and sleeping bag on my $89 chair, I tried to calculate what someone would have to pay me to do any such thing.  I couldn't come up with a figure.  I had shelled out almost $400 for the extra night in the hotel room and chairs and then there was the sheer suffering of rising at 4 AM to sit with the garbage on a freezing sidewalk for three and half hours.  Our investment was, I reckoned, somewhere between $400 and beyond price.  And then, I kept reminding myself and my daughter, when we got our numbers (49 and 50) at 7:30 that morning, all we got was a chance to come back and wait that night to see if we had lined up early enough to get into the show.

Well, that and we had made friends and bonded a little in the arctic dark with our line-mates.

We had a fun little reunion with them all, inside this time, under the NBC Studios Marquee on 39th Street at 7 PM that night.  We were put in a velvet-roped chute, well separated from the privileged actual ticket holders.  We were lined up by standby number, politely but firmly, by charismatic grey-suited NBC pages.

It was surprising how our line mates looked different (I mean "better") without their hats, coats, and misery.  We lit up at the sight on one another. The woman behind us, who had morphed from a Christmas-tree shaped being into something like a ballerina, said she would never forget her standby number,  We laughed.  "It's like your SAT score, right?"  Her date showed up, also transformed from human yurt (pointed hat with ear flaps) to popinjay (bow tie, slicked down hair).  His number was one higher than the ballerina's.  When the pages started moving us out of our chute, he was cut off at one point.  It looked like maybe the ballerina might be the last standby to get a seat.  There was this terrible Sophie's Choice moment as we looked back at him, stranded, as we were moved through security. I was really happy to see that, in the end, he made it too.

About the Show

You know, it actually was amazing.  You can see it on Youtube of or wherever if you missed it. I didn't really know who Jonah Hill was, though I recognized his face (someone at work asked me who was hosting that night and all I could come up with was "Joshua Bell").  I won't forget him now, though.

The show was really funny from start to finish and watching the cameras and the floor people do their thing was a revelation.  The WORK, I thought.  What a lot of WORK.  Of course it also featured that Leonardo moment, which will probably go down in SNL history.  (Remember when Barbra Streisand jumped out of the wings to surprise Linda Richman?  I do.  I also heard Paul McCartney interviewed once about that offer Lorne Michaels made in 1976 to give the Beatles $3,000 to reunite on the show - he and John almost went down... Wouldn't that have been great?)  

The rest of the trip was filled with fabulous New York moments - several excellent meals, all that.  We didn't get to see Leo again, but who knows.  Probably he'll be in touch after he reads this blog post to invite me to dinner.  Maybe I'll enter that lottery next year.  Ta for now.

Just after the magic - my 16-year-old and others, still in the glow...

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Fun at the Gynecologic Oncologist's

First of all, I don't have a gynecological cancer, at least not as far as I know.  I'm trying to avoid having one which is why I spent my morning hanging out in an examining room for my local five-star gynecological oncologist.  Really, she was great - she started by pointing out that she owned the same pair of Danskos that I was wearing.  I then noticed that the resident and medical student who were tagging along with Five-Star were also wearing Danskos. (This happens a lot in Vermont, wherever professional women are gathered, but I digress).

I had to wait for quite awhile in that examining room and, as always when left alone in an examining room, I see what there is to see.  This one featured the first SPECULUM WARMER that I have ever seen.  I write SPECULUM WARMER like that because the typeface was huge - like 50 point.  I wondered about this.  Perhaps it was meant to calm patients who want to know why the doctor is reaching into that little microwave.  No, it's not to get a muffin  Lean Cuisine, just a nice, warm speculum.  (If there had been post-it notes in there, I would have left one saying NO MORE COFFEE IN THE SPECULUM WARMER PEOPLE!  THIS MEANS YOU!  There weren't any though).

The other thing that caught my attention was the panel that had been placed over the fluorescent lights in the ceiling above the examination table.  It was a vibrant scene of a coral reef.  Instead of "close your eyes and think of England" you can keep your eyes open and find Nemo.  There were three clown fish.  I counted. I sort of knew I would have to make fun of this, but I was also a little touched that someone, architect, nurse, doctor, whoever, took the trouble to hang a marvel of nature over those who are subject to examination.  Honestly, coral reefs always make me reflective about our creator.

I also spent a few minutes contemplating the screen saver on the laptop the nurse had left behind.  It showed the facade of the new part of the hospital in Burlington.  Like all venerable east-coast hospitals, ours has Dickensian bits linked to slightly newer bits, linked to parts of the set of Logan's Run.  The new part of our hospital, Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, reminded me very much of the Hilton at Terminal Three at Heathrow.

New Entrance at Fletcher Allen Health Care minus door person

Honestly, I was happy to have this shiny new building in which to wait for my doctors. It made me think that America really still has a lot to recommend it.  Better not to have to be the patient, of course, but when it happens you want a warm speculum, clean windows, and a tropical fish panel.  At least I do.