Thursday, November 16, 2017

Photos Filled with Thousands of Words

Yesterday started with a cat being an asshole, and ended with incredible grace.

My lovely stalwart Gully, who is a horse, was going to get his hocks injected--this is a way to combat arthritis, and Gully I realized with shock is 21 years old now--anyhow, the vet tranquilized him and scrubbed his legs and was just ready to inject him when our ancient witch-cat, Hazel, jumped onto the tailgate of the vet's truck and smashed all the supplies. So Gully got to brood in his stall while the tranq wore off, and we'll try again Monday.

I went off to Faith in Action, as I usually do on Wednesday. Afterwards I took our two broken printers to the recycling plant, feeling very virtuous until they handed me, in return $1.12. Yep. Two broken printers equal one Pal's iced tea. Or, the gas it takes to drive them to the recycling center.

I went to the school where my husband coaches basketball and fit the team for their uniforms and the librarian at the school gave me a couple of boxes of books--mostly multiple copies they'd bought for of previous state book award contenders that they no longer needed multiple copies of. I put those in my trunk and went off to Boys and Girls Club, where I met the woman who runs the library and gave them some books--plenty more to come, I said. We had a really good conversation about books, and I understand their library better now. It had been full of crap books until last Christmas, when the local Books-A-Million made them the focus of a holiday donation drive. So that's why the books are so non-diverse--they were bought by random customers, without an overall plan. That's also why they have, say, Diary of a Wimpy Kid books 1, 2, 3, and 5, but not 4. Anyway we're going to be able to work well together.

After that I went to Girls Inc., the afterschool place where I'm going to renovate the library. I had one of those reusable shopping bags stuffed full of books, and when I went into the lobby the side of the bag gave out, and the books cascaded to the floor. Girls rushed to help me pick them up--and most of those books never made it into the library room. They got taken home instead. One girl picked up The Hate U Give, and said, "Oh," in happy recognition, and tucked the book under her arm. Another picked up The War That Saved My Life (the girls don't know I wrote it; for that matter, neither does the administration, though the Boys and Girls Club people googled me so they do), held it out to a friend, and said, "This is a really good book." I picked The War I Finally Won off the floor and said, "here's the sequel," and the first girl said, "There's a SEQUEL?" and snatched it out of my hands.

I will get down to the serious work of this library after Thanksgiving--I'm headed to NCTE tomorrow--but I did take away a couple of armfuls of horrible books. Here's a few:

So you see I'm not making things up. These were copyright 1963, 1960, 1959. Also they all had DISCARD written in huge letters on the inside covers. Appealing, right?

There were a whole host of girls now happy about books, so I took them out to my car and opened the trunk and told them to help themselves to the paperbacks I'd just gotten from the school. They said, "You mean to KEEP?" and started hauling books out of the car, some of them selecting a few books for themselves and others just carrying the books into the building for the rest of the girls. It was pretty fun to be the book fairy.

Then I drove home and my back door looked like this:

And when I opened all those boxes I found this:

Can you see it? Can you see the good this is going to do? I've gathered up the gift receipts and I will be writing thank you notes, but for now, THANK YOU, from the absolute bottom of my very grateful heart. Love to all--

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I Am Overwhelmed

Oh, Y'all. You are so beautiful.

I woke up late this morning, which is what happens when you finally give in and take an Ambien at midnight because shit has been triggering you a little too much, and even burrowing under your 25-pound weighted blanket and even having the best man who ever lived lying gently by your side, taking up the space between you and the door because he knows that makes you feel safer, isn't making you able to relax enough to sleep. Your thoughts dodge into dark places and your skin feels too tight, and where do you think I got Ada from, people? and then the drugs kick in and next thing you know it's mid-morning and your doorbell is ringing, whoops.

It's a new day. There's a lot of sunshine. My husband has sent texts saying he loves me. The doorbell is ringing because the very large new bookcase I ordered has arrived, and the men carry it right up the stairs for me (I don't have to assemble it!).

I open my email and get a message that reads, in part, (and I have permission to quote this): I was reading War with my class and we were having a discussion about Becky, one of my 4th graders guessed that maybe Becky was Susan's wife.  A parent complained and my principal made me stop reading the book until it had been approved through our county.  I was so disheartened and defeated.  I filled out all the necessary paperwork and made some phone calls.  Finally last week, I got the approval to continue!  Since it has been approved through our county, schools  can now purchase class sets and teach with it.  Woot woot!

I already know that most of the one-star reviews my two War books get are from people who think being gay is not compatible with being a good person, let alone a Christian. I would say, Roy Moore has been held up as an Excellent Christian for a very long time. So maybe we're wrong about what it takes to be an Excellent Christian. I myself am perfectly willing to be labelled an Imperfect Christian if it means I can distance myself from Roy Moore and anyone, gay or straight, who preys upon children or forces themselves on anyone sexually at any time. I'll stick with the Doing Our Best Christians who limit sex to between consenting adults and not concern myself with how exactly their adult bits fit together.

I had several messages saying that books were en route to me, and glory, I can't thank you enough. And I want to say right now, loudly, that USED BOOKS ARE GREAT. It's the ancient ratty half-torn racist sexist ones I don't want. If you're unsure, send me the books. I'll sort them. (Last night my husband started reading one. His eyebrows went up, and he said, "I'm pretty sure this is YA." I'm pretty sure, too. That'll be going to the YA section at Girls Inc., not to the elementary school.) Books are my thing, y'all. I can sort them.

Then--just as I was sitting down to write this thank you, for hearing me yesterday and hearing Beverly Young Nelson, and standing up for love and integrity and truth, and sharing my posts on Twitter and Facebook and reading them all the way to the end--just as I was already thinking, this is such a glorious day--

I checked my Amazon wish list. The one I created for these libraries for low-income Appalachian children.

It's gone. Or, rather, it's empty.
I put a ton of books on that list. I put 12 copies of some of the books I wanted most.
Thank you thank you thank you thank you.
I love you I love you I love you I love you.
I promise that I'll do y'all proud.

Now I'm going to add more books to that list.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Crap For the Poor (Books for My Kids)

OK, I'm way behind on blog writing and for that I apologize. It has been an interesting fall, in entirely good ways, and in a related comment my house/office/schedule is a mess. This morning I had a bunch of routine medical tests and appointments and while it was all happening I wrote a really hilarious post about it in my mind--about how when I was asked if I'd had a colonoscopy before I said, "Yes, about four years ago--no, wait, let me think--actually 17 years ago," and how that doesn't actually count as recently. Then I realized I was writing in my head, as I've done for as long as I can remember, and that made me laugh.

Then I went grocery shopping. At first I was really cranky about it, because I wanted lunch and also I wanted groceries to magically appear in my refrigerator, and I shamed myself out of that by reflecting on how damn lucky I am to be able to buy whatever groceries I want whenever I want them. And then I saw the bags of food prepacked for donating to the local food bank. You grab a brown paper sack and put it into your cart. The grocery charges you $10 at checkout for it, takes it from you, and gives it to the food bank. Which sounds like an awesome idea--I quite like our local food bank--until I looked at what was in the bag. Generic mac-n-cheese. Generic tuna. Generic green beans. Generic dried pinto beans, which even I don't know how to cook, and I cook a lot of weird things. I personally would not buy most of the stuff in that bag for myself. I might do generic green beans, if I were ever to buy canned green beans at all (and I totally get that the food pantry needs shelf-stable stuff, and that canned veggies are better than no veggies) but generic mac-n-cheese tastes like orange chalk and generic tuna just might be dolphin. And here's my rule: if I wouldn't feed it to my kids, I'm not donating it to the food bank. Because I am almost certain that the rule is, "Do unto your neighbor as you would have done to you." So I am ALL for keeping our food pantry running, but I'm also all for springing for the real mac-n-cheese and the decent water-packed tuna.

Which brings me to my book rant. So. I've signed Bristol Faith in Action up for First Book, a national clearinghouse for getting books into children's hands, and as a result we have some really lovely new books to put into our Little Free Library on the porch. A mom asked me the other day if we had anything that might appeal to her daughter, who's in 6th grade but reading on a 2nd grade level, and, as such, comes home every day with a book written for 2nd graders that she's supposed to read, which she hates, both because the story is aimed at 2nd graders and because she's deeply embarrassed by her teacher handing her a baby book every day. So I handed the mom one of our shiny new books that I thought might work, and book-talked it a little, and the mom smoothed the cover of the book and said, "This looks new," and when I said that it was, her whole face changed a little, because I was giving her something that wasn't a castoff, wasn't crap for the poor.

It's not to say that donating stuff you can't use isn't useful. It's that donating crap is crap. We put lots of nice used books in our LFL, and they go the way of all good books, which is to say into readers' hands. But when we offer people something of value people recognize that we see them as valuable.

So I am on this whole book rant now, as you know if you've read even a smidgen of my posts lately. When I left BFIA that afternoon--that was last Wednesday, day before I left for AASL--I first went to Girls Inc., which is an afterschool and summer care place for mostly low-income girls in our community. They have a super-cute Little Free Library right by the front door. I opened it to discover the most tragic set of children's books I've seen since the Carter County school library that became my summer project a decade ago. I mean, these were books I wouldn't have been interested in back in the 70s, when color printing wasn't a thing yet and when I was willing to read anything. I don't mean these books were boring. I mean these books were actually from the 1960s and 1970s. They were ancient, ratty, un-interesting. I thought about clearing the whole LFL out, but that wasn't my job, not yet at least, so I went inside with my little box of shiny new good books, and I introduced myself to the director, whom I'd never met, and I said I had some books to donate.

She took me into their library, which is a room lined with bookshelves filled with tattered ancient uninteresting books. The comparison between the books in my box and the books on the shelves was fairly staggering. So, I said, I have access to a lot of books. Can I do something about all this? And the woman said, oh, please, none of the girls want to read these and I can't blame them. She gave me a volunteer form so they could run a criminal background check on me, and I promised to come back this week and get started.

From there I went up the street to the Boys and Girls Club, also afterschool and summer programs for mostly low-income youth. By now school had let out and the place was starting to fill up. A black man happily accepted my books, and showed me their library, which was much nicer, newer, and more organized than the one at Girls Inc. However. "This is," I said, "just about the whitest library I've ever seen." The man looked at me like he couldn't believe I'd said that. I'm still not sure if his reaction was because he didn't think I'd notice that, or wouldn't say so if I did, or because he just assumed from growing up with scads of white books himself that we were still mostly in a white publishing world, and hey, we're not as good as we should be but we're getting better in that regard. So I told him I'd be bringing him some books too, and he said he'd be glad to get any books I wanted to give them. The only sets of books they have (multiple copies for book clubs, etc.)--not making this up--were Treasure Island, Little Women, and something equally moldering.

I went back to the recreation room. Bristol's not very diverse but the Boys and Girls Club is about half non-white. I sat down next to a couple of the middle-school students and started asking them what they liked to read. "I don't like to read," one boy, who was black and introduced himself as Ajani, said. "I like to play ball." So I called up The Crossover on my phone and showed him the cover. "Never heard of him," Ajani said. You'll note he said him, referring to the author, Kwame Alexander.

"I like Stephen King," said a white boy, Jonathon.
"So, you like horror stories?" I asked.
"Not really," he said, "I just like the way Stephen King writes."
"Me, too," I said.

I chatted with a few more kids--they were remarkably polite given that they had no idea why I was questioning them--and then I came home and wrote to my editors and agent and some friends in publishing and then I posted some pleas online, because I need a lot of books here. I need a lot of good books. I'll need a lot of help--I can do some of this on my own, but obviously a whole lot more people helping will do a whole lot more good--and I'm still giving books to Highland View Elementary school, too, which this year is not 100% free lunch. It's 99.5% free lunch--one middle-class kid goes there now. (The librarian said, "some of them are getting really excited about reading this year.") and I've got an idea to put a LFL at the food pantry. And of course I'm cleaning out that wretched one over at Girls Inc.

So many people have offered support in the past week. THANK YOU. It's a true social justice issue. I could go on for hours about it. I put a wishlist on Amazon--here's the link--but as I also have friends who despise Amazon (Yep, I get it)--the general idea of the list is, if it's recent, good, if it's a book you loved or your children loved, if it has non-white characters, if it's YA, if it's a picture book, if it's anything you want to send me, please, go ahead. The address is 128 Old Jonesboro Road, Bristol, TN 37620. This is gonna be a long-term project, so send books anytime.

I'll post updates.

Updated 3:14 pm

Oh, world.

I wrote a big blog post about how I need books for the low-income children near where I live, and then I settled down to write my Egypt book but I was twitchy and checked twitter and there was something about another woman accusing Roy Moore of sexual assault. So I found the feed in time to see Beverly Young Nelson, 55 years old now, all dressed up with makeup on, carefully reading her statement. And she was so brave, and so honest, and I could see the pain and fear of that night in her eyes

it never leaves you. I was five years old, and he said if I ever told anyone I'd be taken into foster care and never see my family again

and whoa it's the hardest thing to hear these stories and the best damn thing and the most amazing thing in the world to see predators suffer some consequences for once in their lives

and it's gathering momentum now and maybe the world will be safer for our children

and I tried to go back to my novel but my hands were shaking

and the UPS truck came right then

and delivered two boxes of brand new children's books, so beautiful. The Hate U Give and Bone Gap and Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Best Man and all sorts of other ones, so good, so exactly what I want and need

dozens of books

and they were gifts from people I don't know. People who read my posts and were moved to kindness

and I stood in my kitchen and sobbed

thank you everyone. Thank you, Beverly Young Nelson.

Thank you forever.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Brown Books for White Children. Etc.

A couple of weeks ago I got to be part of the Southern Festival of Books, a great big literary party in downtown Nashville. It was excellent. I shared a ride from the airport with Javaka Steptoe, and was so in awe when I discovered who he was that I said, "I loved Radiant Stepchild. (For the record, it's Radiant Child. He was very nice about me sounding like an asshat.) I got to present with Alan Gratz, author of Refugee. And I got to hang out with my favorite booksellers, from Parnassus Books; my daughter, on her fall break, worked Saturday in their tent.

At one point my daughter came up to me. "I just saw," she said, "a perfect example of why we need more diversity in children's books." She pointed to a little girl holding her mother's hand--a little black girl, perhaps four years old, dressed in a Supergirl dress with a flouncy bright red tulle skirt. "That girl," said my daughter, "she stopped and looked at one of the book covers, and she counted, 'one curly-hair, two curly-hair, three curly-hair!' Then she said, 'Mama, look! Three of the girls on this book have curly hair!' and her mother said, 'That's right. Curly hair like you.'"

It's a really, really simple thing. You are an important part of this world. Your hair, your skin, your smile--your songs, your food--everything you love is true and real and important to the whole world. Your history is important. Your family is important. You are part of the world's stories. Whoever, however, whatever you are.

Which brings me to today's rant. Because last week Nic Stone's incredible new YA novel, Dear Martin, debuted at #4 on the NYT Bestseller List, right under Angie Thomas's equally amazing The Hate U Give, and all of a sudden, to some white writers at least, this was Taking Diversity Too Far. A white writer, Seriah Getty, tweeted that diversity had to be representational,  "Will I include diversity (race, age, gender, disabilities) in my books? Heck ya! But when it fits the story, and serves a purpose. Not just to throw it in there solely for the purpose of being "sensitive" or fit the times."

This caused a fair bit of outrage that she still does not seem to understand. It horrified me. Not the outrage--the ignorance, the continued willful ignorance, the hardened shell of white supremacy, the distance we still have to go. Because diversity is normal. White is not normal. Ablebodied, heterosexual, cisgender--not normal. Not the default. Except that it still is, so many places, so many times, and I am so so sorry and so tired of it.

If you're white, and your white kid mostly reads books about brown kids this year--if those books are assigned to your kid, if what your kid is reading doesn't look like your kid or have anything to do with your kid's lived experiences--get in line. That's what we've done, over and over, to all sorts of non-white kids. For years. For decades. Forever. And if as white people we feel a little uncomfortable when our surroundings aren't 100% white anymore--that would be the effing point. Be a little uncomfortable. Let your children be a little uncomfortable. Let them see for one tiny minute what it's like to not have themselves constantly validated as the normative standard.

Let the little girl in the red tulle dress skip her fingers of a book that shows smiling children with hair exactly like hers.

"What's this book called, Mama?"
The mother looks, and smiles. "'Beautiful,'" she says.*

*Beautiful by Stacy McAnulty and Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Here's a Reading Rant for the day--and forever

Teachers, help me out.

I seem to have found a life's passion here. I'm working on all sorts of things, and I don't yet have a coherent message, but let's just plunge in.

A few weeks ago, prepping for a talk I was giving at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians meeting at the start of my 19-day book tour, I came across some staggering statistics--brand new from 2016.

In Tennessee, of public-school fourth-graders receiving free or reduced-price school lunch (that is, 180% of the admittedly-low federal poverty line), 22% tested in reading at proficient or above;

while among public-school fourth-graders NOT receiving free or reduced-price school lunch, 88% tested at proficient or above.

This staggered me.

Now, correlation is not causation. The link between poverty and reading success could be explained many, many ways. And I wondered how my TN stats compared nationwide. I found the following at the National Center for Education Statistics: 2015 data, again fourth graders.

Nationwide, lunch-eligible students at or above proficient: 21%
                      non-free-lunch students at or above proficient: 52%

So not as large, but still, to my mind, shocking.

Children who don't read proficiently by fourth grade are more likely to drop out of high school.
Adults who fail to graduate high school make something like $10,000 a year less than high school graduates who don't attend college.

We have got to get more kids reading.

Access to books is a primary concern: the only data I have is pretty old, but says that middle-class neighborhoods average 13 books per child; low-income neighborhoods average 300 children per book. This makes sense to me: if you can't afford rent or food you're not going to be buying books. And yes, libraries, but that requires transportation, time to get to the library, and a permanent address.

So then I've been looking at the teaching of reading, and what motivates children to read, and this is where I need help from educators. Because it seems like what most schools are doing is at cross purposes to their goals.

Take Accelerated Readers. I hate them. I do not know a single author or librarian who doesn't hate them, and most teachers I've talked to hate them too. We turn reading into something students do for "points," not fun. It demotivates readers. More than that, it's just insane. Last week I had an email from a mother asking when the AR quiz would be coming out for my new book, The War I Finally Won. Her son had read The War That Saved My Life, and loved it, and he was eager to read TWIFW, but, you know, she couldn't let him--he needed points for his reading. I told her that I had no idea.  AR is a company that make money selling the quizzes and systems to schools. I've taken quizzes on my own books and not gotten a perfect score, because the quizzes are stupid. They're designed to prove the kid read the book, not to prove that the kid understood it, or thought anything meaningful about it.

Then, Lexiles. What the actual F? Apparently children take Lexile tests to show how strong of readers they are, and, after that, they're only supposed to read in a range right around their Lexile level--nothing too hard, nothing too easy. The problem here is two-fold. One, we're discouraging love of reading by throwing up barriers to books kids might love. If they're obsessed with dinosaurs, they should read all the dinosaur books you can throw at them.

As adults, how many times do we pick up a book because it's at the correct lexile for our reading level? How many times do we set down that fun-looking current piece of chick-lit and, instead, eagerly pick up Moby Dick? That's right, never. Because we read what interests us. Full stop. Why shouldn't children do the same?

The second problem with Lexile numbers is that they make no sense at all. I've spent a bit of time looking them up this morning.

Les Miserables, the original doorstop novel by Victor Hugo, in translation of course: 1010L.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down: 1010L.

You can not tell me that one of these books is as easily read as the other.

Let's look at a few other numbers:

The War I Finally Won (my new book, 400 pages long): 520L (a number that suggests it's appropriate for many 2nd graders)
Pop! A Book About Bubbles (picture book I wrote for preK): 540L
Dear Martin: 570L (that would be, no higher than 3rd grade!)
The Hate U Give: 590 (ditto!)
Last Stop on Market Street: 610
Oliver Twist: 900
Little House in the Big Woods: 930
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (the first one, others are higher): 950

Please, I really mean this. Help me understand how this makes sense. What am I not getting? Because this seems like complete crap to me. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Hello from the Book Tour

Good morning! I'm in Baltimore, at a Hilton Garden Hotel, and I've got 8 minutes until official checkout time and 53 minutes before I'm picked up by someone who's taking me to the airport. It's the third Friday of my book tour. I'm headed to Nashville, for the Southern Festival of Books (I'll be speaking tomorrow in the Nashville Public Library, at 3 pm, with Alan Gratz, please come) and then I'm going home. Mostly I've been touring schools and libraries, but this morning I video chatted with librarians and educators in Nebraska. The schoolchildren of Nebraska gave The War That Saved My Life this year's Golden Sower award, and while I couldn't manage to be physically present at the awards ceremony I very much enjoyed talking to them.

I've been talking a lot. I woke up Wednesday with a cold and today I've very nearly lost my voice, so I'm grateful I don't have school visits today. But the school visits in general have been excellent. I love talking to kids who are enthusiastic for my books, and I love talking to kids who are indifferent to my books. I've been trying to convince them all that reading is not about decoding squiggly lines on a page. Reading is about telling and hearing and understanding stories. I felt like I'd succeeded when a fifth grade girl stood up and said, "I have dyslexia. Do you think I could actually be a writer?"

I said, "Of course you can," and the girl beamed.
I hope she always understands I was telling her the truth.

The whole tour is about the launch of Ada's second book, The War I Finally Won. Wednesday I learned that on October 22nd it's debuting at #3 on the New York Times Bestsellers List. This is amazing. It's astounding. It's everyone-at-Penguin-was-dancing-in-the-hallways and I-couldn't-stop-laughing-even-though-I-was-on-my-second-box-of-Kleenex-for-the-day-and-felt-inspid-glorious. Thank you, everyone.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Happy Birthday, and Thank You.

Today is my Book Birthday, the official release date of my new novel, The War I Finally Won. It's a fabulous day, as pleasing to me as my recent actual birthday--and I loved my actual birthday.

I find I have something to say:

--to the 500 sixth-graders crammed yesterday onto a middle-school cafeteria floor, who listened to every word I said;

--to the student yesterday who handed me a copy of Jefferson's Sons for signing and said, "Thank you for writing this;"

--to the student yesterday who confided to me that they were being raised in foster care, and that when I said, "That's hard. You must be strong and brave," looked me dead in the eye and said, "I am strong and brave;"

--to the parent last night with tears in their eyes, telling me how TWTSML reflected their own reality of adopting traumatized children;

--to the student in the back row who dabbed when I came in, causing me to dab (in an embarrassing middle-aged white woman kind of way) (which the students nevertheless received with touching enthusiasm) on my way out;

--to whoever stuck the sign next to the white board for one of my presentations yesterday that read, "Kimberly Brubaker Bradley--welcome home;"

--to whoever wrote the early review saying, "Ada is for the ages;"

--to my author friends who thought 9 revisions astonishingly many, and even more to my (very few) author friends who thought 9 revisions astonishingly few;

--to the 50 or so people at Penguin Random House who worked very very hard to turn my words into an actual physical marketed on-sale book;

--to my agent, Ginger Knowlton, who loved it before anyone else, and that includes the rest of my family;

--to the indomitable Jayne Entwistle, reader of the audio version, who magically matched Ada's physical voice to her true one;

--to my mom, who thought it was better than the first one;

--to my dad, who caught a bad mistake on page 318 that no one else would have;

--to my daughter, who made one crucial change to the ending;

--to my son, who reminded me to try not to suck;

--to my husband, who helps me find the best stories;

--to Jessica Dandino Garrison, my amazing editor. The book is dedicated to her because she worked so hard and well on it that she deserved to have her name on it;

--to all of you who read it and will read it:

Happy Birthday. This book also belongs to you.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

All Children Need Books. Period.

I'm working on a presentation for the Tennessee Association of School Librarians Conference.

Here are some 2016 statistics regarding public school children statewide in Tennessee:

48.9% receive free or reduced-price school lunch
32.3% live in families that receive SNAP (food stamps)
24.1% live in poverty
11% live in extreme poverty
5% live in foster care

48.4% of 3rd-5th graders are reading at proficient level

Of 4th-graders eligible for free lunch, 22% are reading at proficient level.

This means that 88% of 4th-grades NOT eligible for free lunch are reading at proficient level.

This is the difference poverty makes. If you aren't poor enough for free lunch, you've got nearly a 9/10 chance of reading proficiently in fourth grade. If you are, it drops to 1/5.

I could throw more statistics at you--I've been working on this for two days--but the upshot is, poor kids need books.

Poor kids need books. Get them some. It's the way out.

Monday, September 25, 2017

On Tour: Where I'm Gonna Be

Okay, everyone! My official book tour for The War I Finally Won starts Friday!

Below is a listing of the events I believe to be open to the public:

Friday, September 29th: SCBWI Children's and YA Booksigning Party, Franklin, TN
***through special permission I will be signing TWIFW ahead of its Tuesday release date***
7:30-9:30 pm, Embassy Suites in Franklin. Open to all, and lots of writers will be there!

Monday, October 2nd
Moore High School, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Tuesday, October 3rd:  Release Date of The War I Finally Won!
Encyclomedia Conference, Oklahoma City
Signings from 9:45-10:30, 1:00-1:45, and 2:00-2:30
Sequoyah Book  Award Author Panel with Victoria Jamieson and Lois Ruby, 11:15-12:00

Wednesday, October 11th: Chevy Chase Library, Washington, DC
afternoon event, time tk

Thursday October 12th: A Likely Story Bookstore, Sykesville MD
Educators' Night Wine & Cheese
7:00 pm

Saturday, October 14th, Southern Festival of Books, Nashville, TN
3:00-4:00 Presentation with Alan Gratz, author of Refugee
4:00-4:30 booksigning

Come visit! I'd love to meet you!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Happy Birthday, Beautiful!

It's only 10:45 am and already it's been a weird day.

For starters, my dog collapsed this morning, in the middle of a joyful romp up our hill. It appears she now has heart problems. She's at the vet getting sorted, and the people at the vet were all kind and reassuring, but it's odd writing without her snoring in my office and it wasn't a good start to my day.

After I got back from the vet's I made myself a second pot of coffee, because circumstances called for it.

My writing so far this morning is lousy. I do not blame the excess caffeine. I blame my procrastination 3 months ago which has caused this deadline jam which means I can not just walk away from my desk today but must sit churning out lousy words.

Oh well. First draft. (Brace yourself, Jessica!) (That's my editor. My long-suffering editor.)

The good news is that today is the third birthday of my penultimate nephew, Fred. All my nephews are brilliant and funny and I love them individually and as a pack. I rejoice in my nephews. When I facetimed Fred and his older brother this morning they shrieked with joy and ran around showing me their new house and Fred's presents, a scooter and a microphone and a balloon that somehow sings "Happy Birthday" in Mickey Mouse's voice when you smack it. No kidding.

A few months ago when I was visiting my sister, I picked Fred up, just at one point in the day. He was chattering away, but suddenly he looked down at my face, cradled it in his two chubby hands, and said, in a tone of delighted wonder, "Oh--you're beautiful!"

I have no idea what made him say that, but I have a feeling that I'll remember it all my days.

Happy Birthday, Fred. You're beautiful, too.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Serendipity in Siricusa

So, this just happened. Really, it did. I’m typing this sitting on the floor near the front doors of Catania airport, in Sicily, because they won’t let us check our luggage until two hours before the scheduled flight time (the flight is already an hour late). And I’m so excited I got out my laptop. When I get wifi I’ll post this, and then I’ll really start writing.
I’m in Sicily, which is more or less insane. We scheduled this trip—which is actually a golf trip organized by the association for which my husband rates golf courses—way before I knew I’d have a book tour starting September 28th or that my Egypt manuscript due September 27th. Even knowing how full my September would be, my progress on the new book this summer was slow. I love summer and my girl was home, and I wanted to have fun. Also it was the first time in five years I was writing from a point-of-view other than my beloved Ada’s, and that was difficult. Also everything was a hot mess, as is usual with first drafts. Sometimes it’s hard to keep going when you know what you’ve written so far is shite.
So. Challenged by my friend Dan Gutman to make an audacious goal and achieve it, I joined the September Squad, with the goal of either 50,000 words or a finished draft by the end of the month (If I’ve got 50,000 words and I’m still not finished, the book is much more complex than I thought). I was plugging along happily until I hit this trip. I brought my laptop and my manuscript, but then I’d think—I could write today, or I could explore the Sicilian countryside on horseback, and I picked horseback, and learned what olive groves look like, young and old, and about wild fennel and wild thyme and the exact shade of the Mediterranean Sea, and then I bought a bikini and it’s not like I’m not taking the book seriously, it’s just that I’m not sure I’ll ever be in Sicily again. I’d be a shame to not pay attention.
Meanwhile, I’d hit a place in the Egypt book where I was really really pleased with a particular scene, and with its implications for the rest of the novel, but I was aware that I was lacking a crucial piece of background—that what I had happening needed an antecedent I couldn’t yet identify. So, that’s what first drafts are for. I kept on.
Mostly the itinerary for this trip is pre-arranged, but yesterday my husband and I looked hard at today’s proposed schedule, and thought it lacking, so we hared off on our own. Our hotel concierge suggested we would enjoy Siricusa, an ancient harbor. We arranged for a driver to take us there and then become our tour guide and show us the highlights. Unfortunately the driver we got didn’t speak any English and had never been to Siricusa at all. He got comprehensively lost in the ancient town, driving in circles the wrong way on streets designated pedestrian-only. He stopped several times to ask other Italians for directions. Finally he just stopped the van, threw us out, and told us he’d come back in four hours. By that time we whole-heartedly agreed. His meandering had shown us a basic layout of the town, and we immediately walked to the ancient piazza fronting the 7th century Byzantine cathedral which was a modification of a 5th-century-BC temple to Athena.
So that was cool. We looked at some other stuff. Then I saw a poster advertising a museum exhibit of Egyptian coffins dug up from Deir El-Bahari, which is to say the dig near Hatshepsut’s temple. So we paid five euros and went in. Turned out it was a traveling exhibition from a museum in Brussels.

Turned out it contained EXACTLY the information I needed. Two specific items. I’ve solved the plot issue and I’ve gotten a translation of an ancient source I was searching for, and it was brilliant, absolutely amazingly brilliant, and I have no idea on earth how I came to find this information about 20th dynasty papyri and ushabti in the middle of Siracusa where I hadn’t planned on visiting until yesterday. It’s all amazing. It’s beyond amazing.

So I’m ignoring the rest of my tour group to sit on the airport floor, laptop on my lap, and type this, and the others are sort of guessing that maybe I’m a writer after all. And it’s the icing on the cake, baby. The icing on the Italian cake.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Oh, Boy! We're Going to Call Him Red

So quite often on this blog I tell the truth but not the whole truth. Some things aren't public consumption. A few weeks ago, when I wrote about going to my sister's to help with her little boys while she worked 18-hour days the week of the PGA championship, I deliberately failed to mention that she was 8 months pregnant at the time. It just felt wrong. My sister is a warrior, and she was part of a good team, but it was still a potentially stressful situation and I decided to keep it private.

My sister and her husband had let everyone know that they were expecting a third boy, but they steadfastly refused to divulge his name. That's understandable, of course, but also of course I tried my best to find out early. When we got to Charlotte, my daughter and I cuddled up 2-year-old Fred, and said, "so, what's your new brother's name?"

"Filmore!" Said Fred. That's a character from her current favorite movie, Cars 3.

"Yeah," cut in four-year-old Louie, "but we're going to call him Red."

Baby Filmore was born this morning, healthy and beautiful, as is his momma. My siblings and I are seven for seven: seven pregnancies, seven children. Could anything be more blessed?

I'm off to meet him tomorrow, darling baby Red.

Monday, August 21, 2017


It's eclipse day, but before that I need to do laundry. Also buy new tires, ride my horse, return my overdue library books, buy feed, and--oh yeah--write my novel.

My husband is an eye surgeon. He wishes the eclipse were not happening. He has been fielding what he considers Stupid Eclipse Questions for the past few weeks, and here's his answer, put concisely:

Don't look at it.
He says, watch it on TV, which I find ludicrous. Thing is, I've hung out in a partial eclipse before, and it was really interesting. The light got thinner. It wasn't like sunset at all. And if I recall, it was about a 70% eclipse, whereas today, on my farm, it will be 96%.

I wouldn't have to go far to experience totality--the other side of Knoxville, or down to Greenville, SC--about 2 1/2 hours driving, so five hours round trip. I've been balancing the idea of five hours solo in a car with 4% more eclipse--staying home won. I'll sit on my porch and enjoy the eclipse without looking at the sun, which is the important part--not to look at the sun. I didn't buy eclipse glasses and given my husband's attitude probably wouldn't risk them anyhow. And no, I have it on very good authority that regular sunglasses are not the same.

Meanwhile I've got to go fetch my truck, which is getting 6 new tires, hitch my trailer to it, and take the trailer in for 4 new tires. That's a lot of tires, and the old ones still have plenty of tread. However, they also have dry rot. The truck is 16 years old, the trailer 15, and this will be the third set of tires for both.

Also my novel. It's such a hot mess, and the first draft is due September 27th. I spent the last few days doing needed research--I usually write, figure out what I need to research, research, rewrite, on an infinite loop--and taking notes on 3 x 5 index cards. I just arranged those cards chronologically so that now I have a plan, more or less, for the entire scope of the book. But some of the cards are less useful than others. One says, "October." That's it. October. I have no idea what I was thinking there.

In the paper this morning there was a letter to the editor saying that the eclipse was a warning from God. The writer pointed out that in a few years, the next eclipse will run across the country diagonally the other direction, thus marking the United States with a great big X for God to aim at. It would be a more interesting idea if the eclipses hadn't been able to be predicted long in advance, so that everyone knows when they're happening. It's a lot like calling the vernal equinox or even the sunset a warning from God: might be, but then, so might sunshine or rain or dry rot on my tires. I have always believed that religion and science comfortably co-exist.

My first index card for the Egypt book, the one on the top of my story pile, reads, "What is art but freedom of expression?" That's not from any book I read. It's from my trip to Egypt, when one of our tour guides was showing us a small statue from a long-opened tomb. It showed a baker, kneading bread, with a thoroughly exasperated look on his face. The statues of the pharaohs (except Ankhenatun, the heretic) and those of the ancient Egyptian gods all conform to certain ritual forms and proportions, but the statue of the baker was fully intransigently human. It was perhaps my favorite thing in all of Egypt: what is art but the freedom to tell the truth?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

After Charlottesville: What White People Can Do

So, wow, that mess in Charlottesville this weekend, where white supremacists from around the nation converged on a fairly liberal Southern town, ostensibly to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from public land to a museum. Many of them came armed with assault rifles, dressed as militia. Many of them carried Nazi flags or wore swastikas on their clothing. They were nearly all men--it goes without saying that they were all white. One of them rammed a crowd of peaceful counter-protesters with his car. A woman died and 5 are critically injured.

I'm white. I've been thinking hard about what I can do to fight against racism. I would welcome anyone's thoughts and comments. Here's what I've come up with so far.

Step one: acknowledging racism and white privilege. Realizing that all humans have natural inclination toward bias, that these biases damage our society, and that we must be award of them and take action against them.

If you don't believe in white privilege, google "charlottesville militia." Take a look at some of the videos. Note the police response (or lack thereof). Now imagine what the police response would be if the marchers, equally armed, were all black.

Plenty of other things are also white privilege, but that's a start.

Step two: educate yourself. The way to do this is not by pestering those friends you have who are black. Your education is not someone else's responsibility, unless you are still a child (more on that later). Books are my go-to; I recommend Between The World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, and The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. You can also learn a lot from the Southern Poverty Law Center (

Step three: educate children. Those men screaming hate slogans in Charlottesville were not born that way. Again, books are my go-to, but I've got backup here--there's a growing body of evidence that says reading books increases children's empathy, their ability to relate to others. So--Jacqueline Woodson (from kindergarten with Each Kindness up to YA), Ashley Bryan, Kadir Nelson, Carole Boston Weatherford, Jason Reynolds, Shannon Draper, Marilyn Nelson. Angela Thomas is rocking the world with The Hate U Give, which everyone older than 14 should read. If you're an educator, Southern Poverty Law has a whole lot of downloadable classroom plans.

Step four: go further. What's your comfort zone? Step outside it. Can you make your own world more diverse? What books do you chose? Restaurants? Churches? Where can you expand your own horizons? I recently signed up for an Ally Backpack from Safety Pin Box. I'll report back on what I learn from that.

I know I've got an awful lot to learn. I'm going to do the work. I hope you'll join me.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fun With Louie and Fred

Two years ago my sister followed her job from Wisconsin to Charlotte, North Carolina. My sister works for the Professional Golfers' Association; she's been part of the women's and men's PGA Championships that took place in Wisconsin, and then she went to Charlotte to be part of the PGA Championship there, which, after two years of on-the-ground preparation, is happening as I type. (Kevin Kisner is in the lead; looks like the cut is going to end up around four over par.) As you can imagine, my sister's putting in rather lengthy hours this week. Her husband, also a golf professional, is working at the tournament instead of from home as he usually does, and her two boys, who I call on this blog Louie and Fred, are 2 1/2 and 4 1/2. Long ago my mother agreed to come for the whole tournament, to help out, and then I did, too, and so did my daughter, and this morning my dad flew in. I also brought our dog, because hey, why not. You'd think this would be a recipe for chaos, and I haven't actually asked my sister how's she felt--mostly because she keeps coming home from the tournament after I'm asleep, and leaving before I wake up--and I'm sleeping on the couch in her living room so it's not like I'm sneaking to bed before everyone else--anyhow, strictly from my point-of-view it's been a lovely time.

Here's the thing: my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and incidentally also husband and son (but they couldn't make it this week) very much love the game of golf. I don't. I was raised by golfers and live among golfers, and I like golf well enough. I don't play it, but I'll happily watch it either in person or on tv. I've been to tournaments before just for fun, and I had fun, but my husband has also been to the Kentucky Rolex Three-Day Event several times and enjoyed himself without actually loving horses or wanting to ride at all, and I think that's pretty much how golf is for me and my daughter. We aren't here for the tournament. We're here to take some pressure off the rest of my family during the tournament.

The boys really need to see their Mommy, so each day we pack them up and take them to the course. We've all got tickets, and we've got parking passes that let us park at the Catholic high school near the tournament, instead of way out at Carowinds like most people. We take shuttle buses from there to the course. Then we walk to the parking lot near my sister's office and retrieve the stroller, put the boys inside it until we come to a colossal set of stairs, take them out, all go down the stairs, put them back, go to the next set of stairs, repeat, and head out to the course, runing through all the misting fans on the way. Then my mom checks to see where the good golfers are--this is what we did for Wednesday's practice round, for Thursday, and for today except today my dad was with us--and the boys decide that they're hungry. Which makes sense, because by then it's lunchtime.

We get food. We watch a little golf. Then my daughter and I take the boys back home, stopping first to let them hug their mom--and today they also got to wave to their dad, who was a walking scorer. My mom, and today my dad, stay and watch golf. They love golf. We take the bus back to the Catholic school and sing Disney songs as we drive home from there, and then the boys nap, and the dogs cuddle up next to my daughter and I, and it's lovely.

Fred, the two-and-a-half-year old, has decided he doesn't like hot dogs. He doesn't like hamburgers. He likes buns. Yesterday he refined this: he didn't want a hot dog bun, he wanted a "bun sandwich." This worked out great, because Louie wanted "chicken fries," and I was able to get a fried chicken breast sandwich, plain, without the sauce, lettuce, bacon or pickled okra it normally comes with, and a side of fries. I took the chicken out of the bun, gave it to Louie, and handed Fred the empty bun, a proper bun sandwich. All was well. They also each ate an apple.

Today Louie wanted a hot dog and an apple, but first he had to use the bathroom. Fred, who flirts with the idea of being toilet-trained, insisted that he also had to use the bathroom. So I told my parents and daughter to get their own food, I'd handle the boys, and I took them out of the stroller and down some more stairs to the toilets, and Fred took one look at the funky toilet and refused to use it, which was fine, except that by the time we'd gotten back up the stairs he was hungry and hot and cranky. "Bun sandwich!' he said. Yes, I assured him. And did he want an apple? NO. He'd eaten his apple with such enthusiasm the day before that I didn't believe him; I asked him several more times. Fred, look at me. I know bun sandwich. Do you also want an apple?


Where we were was a sort of food court with different stations. The hot dogs and hamburgers were at a different place than the chicken sandwiches and the apples. So I got a hot dog first, handed it to Louie, and asked the counter for a plain bun for Fred.

It was a hot dog bun.

NO, he wailed, BUN SANDWICH.

I had agreed to a bun sandwich all along and I understood precisely what he meant. I found my parents and daughter, who'd commandeered a table and chairs in some shade, set both the boys down, gave Louie his hot dog, and promised to returned with an apple and a proper bun sandwich. Got the apple. Got the chicken sandwich plain as I had the day before. Went back to the table, gave Fred the plain bun sandwich, popped the chicken breast inside the hot dog bun, and starting eating that myself (it was delicious.) Fred looked at Louie wide-eyed, and said, through a mouthful of bun sandwich, "HEY. I WANTED AN APPLE.

Fred Michael, I said, Holy Mother of God. How many times did I ask you if you wanted an apple?

Fred looked at me. He held up his hand, five chubby fingers splayed. Then he folded his fingers, and spread them out again. Ten. Fifteen. Twenty. Then he laughed and laughed.

So did I. So did all of us.

Louie gave him half the apple, and we called it good.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Making Art From Each Day

I heard earlier today that a friend of mine's health has taken a sudden and mostly irreversible turn for the worst. The friend in question is not someone I see often but has been someone I care about for years and years--she rides, and her son competed alongside my children, and for awhile the two of us owned the two oldest ponies in the county. She's always been someone I could entirely trust, and also always been someone who knew how to have fun. We would be the only two moms trying to beat all the little kids --and each other--at pole-bending or barrel racing at the annual pony club horse show. No matter which of us won we would laugh and laugh.

She let me ride her pony sidesaddle, which is how Ada learned how to do it.

Earlier this week I was reading The Art of Living, a new book by Buddhist philosopher Thich Nhat Hanh. In it, he reminded me of the scientific truth that neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed: it can only be transformed. He offered this as a spiritual truth as well.

At the time I found that wise and true and I suppose it still is. Between my own traumatic head injury and lots of things that have happened to my family and friends, this whole year has been a lesson in the art of living. Nothing more is promised, not one day. So laugh. Teach children, love them, gallop your ponies, and laugh.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

In Which My Beloved Is Stuck On A Boat

We--my husband, daughter, and I--just got back from a trip to France, mostly Normandy. People keep asking how it was, and, well, I loved a lot of the things we did, and the places we saw, and I love France, and I think I would give people legitimate cause to hate me if I ever complained about a trip there, and I'm not complaining. I had a great trip. My daughter had a great trip. But my poor husband spent most of it stuck on a boat.

Let me explain.

Fifteen years ago, when the kids were still quite small, we took a summer vacation where we spent a few days in Boston and a few days in Maine. One day in Maine we decided to go whale-watching. It was a nice big boat and a clear warm day, and the ocean that day looked like a sheet of glass--except of course that the ocean is constantly moving, so the smooth, waveless surface went up and down in gentle swells.

We started out on the open top deck because I was very excited about seeing whales. Not very long after that, at my request, we moved downstairs, inside, and about five minutes later my young son and I were slumped on the bench at the outside rear of the boat, the one reserved for people so motion-sick they were likely to puke over the rail.

We found whales. The whales did amazing things. They breeched, which is that very showy maneuver where they leap wholly out of the water, then fall onto their side with an enormous splash, like whale cannonballs. They swam beside the boat. There were lots of them. And while I saw the whales, and I sort of non-emotionally appreciated the whales, I no longer really cared about the whales at all. All I cared about was getting off that damn boat.

My husband flew to France sick with bacterial bronchitis, on an antibiotic, just not the right one. The antibiotic did a number on his intestinal flora without actually treating the bronchitis. Our first day in France involved an emergency stop at the US Embassy in Paris--more on that some other time--and he was completely wiped out, and then he didn't get better. Between his lungs and his intestines my he had a doozy of a week. Eventually we found a nice French family doctor, who was quite pleased to see us since he'd been carefully learning medical English every Monday from a teacher in Paris, via Skype, and we gave him a chance to practice. ("You have hay fever?" he asked my husband, and my daughter said, "What's hay fever?") The doctor prescribed a useful antibiotic, and when that proved even more of a scourge to my husband's digestive system I found another pharmacy with a very large probiotic section, and used my very limited medical French and excellent sign language to get the pharmacist to help me choose the best one.

And he was still on the damn boat for awhile. The last night we had a special meal planned at a little Left Bank bistro we love, and I was ready to cancel it, because I was not up for another meal that ended with me saying to the waiter, "My husband is sick. I need the check right now, and a cork for this half-finished wine," especially when we were several subway stops away from the hotel and the public toilet situation in Paris is limited. However, my husband felt that the tide had turned. His boat docked, and he stepped off it, a little shaky but determined to go and have an excellent time. So we did.

And if you ever want to know how to lose six pounds while vacationing in France, just ask him. He knows.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Now We Are Fifty

Long ago, when my son was a baby and we lived in Indianapolis, we went over to a friend's house on the summer day that was her daughter's fourth birthday. When we came up the walk the little girl was sitting on the porch steps, next to her cousin who lived down the street. I wished her happy birthday. She beamed, and her cousin slung his arm around her shoulders and said to me, solemnly, "Now we are both four."

I'm a few weeks older than my husband. Today is his birthday, and now we are both fifty.

I had a lovely birthday. My parents came to spend the weekend, and we were in our house in the North Carolina mountains, which I love, and I went to the farmer's market in Boone, which I love. That week I had lunch with some of my girlfriends and they gave me birthday cards that referenced leg hair and wine--I was among my people--and really, even the weather cooperated on my birthday.

I'm sorry to say that my husband is having a substantially worse day. For one thing, he's quite sick. He was feeling a little off on Sunday, then yesterday felt bad enough to stay home from work (this is a man who only missed two days of work when he ruptured his Achilles tendon). This morning he's still not wholly well but he got up early and heaved himself off to the office, where he's got a full day including surgery; we were going to go out to dinner but he's not sure he'll be up for it. Meanwhile his beloved wife, who was sleeping in the guest room to avoid contagion, accidentally set her alarm for PM instead of AM, consequently overslept and didn't see him off or wish him happy birthday in person, let alone make him breakfast or do anything nice for him.

Though I do have presents for later.

Anyway, we are fifty. I expected I'd feel older. Perhaps he does; I'll have to ask.

Fifty has a nice solid heft to it. A half century. A reasonable length of time. The world can change a lot in fifty years, and ours has, in mostly good ways, and for all that I love history I prefer living now. We've had a couple of sharp wake-up calls this year--my head trauma, some life-changing events in family and friends--and it's made us think hard, what do we really want to do with whatever time we have left? We both hope it's lots of time--I think living to be 100 sounds great--but of course that's not our call. Very little is our call, except how we chose to react to our situations, how we spend each small portion of our time. We were walking through Grant Park in Chicago on Saturday and my husband slipped his hand into mine, and I thought, I've been married 28 years to a man who still wants to hold my hand. 

Now we are both fifty. Let the second act begin.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Perfect Day in The City of Big Shoulders

We went to Chicago this weekend to see our son. Saturday was a sort of perfect day, one that began and ended in loveliness (except for the final score of the Cubs game). It was clear sunshine, low-70s, the kind of weather I can't ever remember from my own Midwestern summers (usually 90, high humidity). We, my husband, daughter, and I, met our son for breakfast at a diner near our hotel called Hash Browns, because that is what they specialize in. Our son got there before we did and was sitting outside at a sidewalk table wearing his Javier Baez jersey with a baseball cap on backward, and he grinned when he saw us and that was the start of a very good day.

We walked downtown--we were on the near north side, it was a bit over a mile--through pleasant, tree-lined streets and then the bustle of the main shopping area. First we went to Maggie Daley park, a wide new public space on the lakefront. It had climbing walls and a dedicated area for roller skating, but what attracted us was the mini golf, because in our family we love mini golf. And I came in second of us four, and I had a hole-in-one, and I won a free game. That's all true.

Then we walked straight south to the adjoining Grant Park, home this weekend to Taste of Chicago, one of Chicago's best festivals. Something like 100 food booths and food trucks, selling full-sized or small "taste" portions. We headed right for the pierogis and split two full portions between the four of us. I'd been eager to try the Philly cheesesteak pierogi, and they were good, but nothing actually tops your traditional potato pierogi.

Washed that down with local Chicago beer. Moved on to a taste of a banana dumpling, which was a mistake, as it was spicy greasy meat with no trace of banana at all. Something got lost in translation there. Then we sampled truffle fries, then I tried cucumber gazpacho, my husband had a bbq chicken slider, my son ate shrimp and my daughter went with a taste of a fancy grilled cheese sandwich and an enormous pickle. Ice cream and fruit ices for dessert.

By then Grant Park was getting overwhelmed with people. We walked back up to the shopping district, stopping off at an outdoor wine bar to play a hand of pinochle. (This was the only downside to the weekend: at every opportunity, my daughter and I got absolutely spanked in pinochle. It was karmic retribution for the way the two of us dominated the previous vacation.)

Then Niketown. My son needed another pair of pants to wear to work (he's with US Soccer, which has a contract with Nike, which means my son can't wear his UnderArmor khakis in the office. not kidding.).

Then we tried to take an Uber to the best ice cream store in Chicago but it turned out to be a branch that wasn't opened yet, so we walked from there to a grocery store to stock my son's cupboards (in a big city it helps to have four people to carry the groceries home). Walked to my son's apartment. (I ended up with 24,000 steps for the day). Brief nap. Walk to second attempt at best ice cream in Chicago, and it was amazing. I had a summertime special flavor that was a Nashville craft beer with rosemary bar nuts made into ice cream, which sounds like a mistake but wasn't.

From there took the train to Wrigley field.

I've realized as my children have grown into adulthood that there are places where, when I return, I will see their ghosts. Wrigley was one of those places. My children have actually been there several times without me--the last time I was at a Cubs game it was with them when they were very small. That had been a day game in the spring--warm but not hot--and we had box seats behind home plate. An usher brought them coloring books and crayons. I remember my daughter's happiness as she sat on the ground using her open seat as a table while she colored. I remember the amazement on my son's face at the thought that anyone might think he would be interested in coloring during a baseball game, let alone his very first Cubs game at Wrigley.

These small children hang out with us, wedged invisibly in the seats with their now adult counterparts, my beautiful, snarky, whip-smart children. They make me very happy.

The game was fabulous, too. It was a wonderful evening to be at a ballgame--perfect temperature, great seats, a pretty good game but for that last score. We stayed until the very last out, then headed back to our hotel on a packed train.

You don't get perfect days that often. It's best if you have the sense to cherish them.

"City of big shoulders" comes from Carl Sandburg's poem Chicago. It's in the public domain, so here it is:


        Hog Butcher for the World,
        Tool maker, Stacker of Wheat,
        Player with Railroads and the Nation’s 
             Freight Handler;
        Stormy, husky, brawling,
        City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
            Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Randomly on the Third of July

We're having an odd sort of holiday this year. The Fourth is on a Tuesday, which may be the worst possible option, and my husband, an ophthalmologist, was on call for the weekend and still is for today. For the first year in a long, long time, we are not hosting a big family celebration. My sister's heavily pregnant, my brother's preparing to take his young family on vacation to South America, my parents were just here for my birthday, and my husband's dad is in the midst of moving houses. Also everyone has to be back at work early Wednesday morning, and many people, my husband included, are working today. (As am I, as far as that goes. But my schedule is very flexible.) So while the Fourth of July and surrounding days are usually all about fireworks, baseball, and my husband's famous firecracker ice cream--this year, we still have no idea how we're spending tomorrow. Some of that will depend on what happens with my husband's call. July Fourth is the worst possible holiday for ophthalmology call, because between fireworks, barbecues, and alcohol, there are so many opportunities to put out an eye.

All that is not to say that I'm not having a perfectly fine day. I've really enjoyed the farm this week. I'm back to riding, my mare got her hocks injected and is feeling spry, the weather's gorgeous and my daughter is home. I'm writing, and the early reviews of TWIFW are good.

Also we have peaches.

Nineteen years ago, when my husband and I first bought the open fields that would become our farm, we planted a fruit orchard. We really enjoyed gardening at the time and we had lovely homesteading ideas about life on a farm. Many things about the farm panned out as expected--the horses, the barn the hay fields--but the orchard turned out to be a bit of a miss. Orchards take a lot of work, and where we live, that work is quite often not rewarded--two or three years out of every five, late frosts zap our blossoming trees, and then there's no fruit. You're supposed to spray orchards on a regular schedule but we never get around to it--I like to call it organic farming, not neglect--and the plum trees caught some awful disease, and mostly if there's fruit at all the deer eat it. I don't really care. I usually have a whole host of things that need to be done and the orchard perpetually falls farther down the list than I get, and I've made peace with that. I grow some asparagus and some blueberries and I really really need to weed or till or something there, and I don't, and so far the world has not come to an end.

But this year, for the first time ever, our trees are packed with peaches. Large, healthy, luscious peaches. Hundreds of peaches. We're making forays into the orchard every few days to pick the peaches that are ready. I'm lining them up on the kitchen counter. We're making peach smoothies and peach clafoutis and I'm starting to contemplate peach jam. I made strawberry jam this summer, for the first time in a few years. (We long ago gave up trying to grow strawberries, mostly because there's a local farmer who grows gorgeous ones and sells them at a stand on the Volunteer Parkway, and his are so much better than anything I can grow. They're so much better than store-bought, too. Word spreads around town late every spring when the strawberry stand goes up, and I buy them every few days as long as they're on sale.)

Anyway, I'm rambling. I knew I would be rambling. It's a rambling sort of day.

Enjoy the fireworks, everyone, but wear your safety glasses. Trust me on that.