Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Here's a favorite moment of mine from 2008. (It's in Cornwall, but there were others like it in Maine.)

May 2009 offer many sunlit days with books, for all of us.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pondering Mickeycide

I am a heartless woman. Why, just this afternoon I was sitting at the mechanic's hoping he'd suck a mouse into his vaccuum cleaner. (Some friends of mine actually did that with mouse babies once. They didn't recommend the experience. That's why I was hoping it would be the mechanic's vaccuum cleaner, so it would never be mine.)

A mouse seems to be living in my car's heating system, decorating. It's a busy mouse, Pete the mechanic says, one of the Many Very Energetic Mice (who) Jumped Slowly Under Neath Peter when I was trying to remember the planets back in grade school, back when there was still a Pluto.

My car smells like an untended hamster cage and the heater fan sounds like a jet engine eating a streetlight. I've been in twice to have Pete vaccuum out clumps of mouse architecture, and the fan sounds normal for a day or two before it sucks more m.a. into itself. No idea whether the mouse is still making his/her (their? oh lord) way back to the nest, or whether this is all the handiwork of autumn. (Or maybe of summer, since it seems to me the fan was slightly noisier than usual in August.)

I'm going to have to get mousetraps, and place them in the engine, and then hope to hell I remember to take them out before driving away. (What are the chances of that?)

I know, I know, I could get a have-a-heart trap. We've used them in the house, catching the critters and releasing them a fair distance away in the woods. Surely, we thought, they'd be distracted or eaten on their way back. Then Rob started to see a strong family resemblance in the mice we caught, so he painted the current one's tail red. Sure enough, the next mouse in the trap had a red tail.

I suppose we could drive them off in the car and dump them far, far away. (That's assuming I remember to take the trap out of the engine.) But the next question is whether a have-a-heart will even fit in the engine anywhere.

I suspect that Mickeycide might be easier, if less pleasant.

Don't suggest the cat. She's an indoor cat, because of all the coyotes and hawks out there. I know, it's nature's great plan--she rids my car of mice, a coyote exacts revenge. But if we send her to her death, who will scratch the woodwork for us? And it's no less Mickeycide if you let the cat do it. (Sort of like extraditing the mouse to another country for less humane treatment, to introduce a somber note.)

Lessee. Cheese or peanut butter? If you were a mouse, which would you prefer?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Eye of the Beholder

I've been meaning to link to this for a while but kept forgetting. Since I bad-mouthed Rhode Island corruption when the Blogojevich thing broke, it's only fair to point out that, statistically, other states are much worse than Little Rhody.

Notice the charts beside that story, though. Although other states scored higher on "number of guilty officials" and "guilty officials per capita," when you ask state house reporters how much corruption they see around them, Rhode Island wins (or loses, depending on your point of view).

So I guess that means Rhode Island officials do all the same things Floridians do, but manage not to get caught. Which explains why corruption stories in Rhode Island have such a fond, humorous tone. There's nothing as endearing as a dextrous attitude left over from our frontier days, possibly.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Mentioning no names, someone within the sound of my voice--someone within the sound of my brain, actually--is going to have to get reacquainted with her NordicTrak, and right quick. The sad thing is, we still have tons of cookies left, plus half a squash pie.

I'm just grateful that the scale is upstairs, and I'm still showering downstairs so I don't get on it anymore.

Here's why I am girth-enhanced:

First, a tableful of good cooks, replete with each other's bounty, yukking it up in the postprandial segment of our neighborhood Christmas feast. There were 13 of us for dinner, 17 for dessert, at Cope's and Greg's house. That's Cope at the end of the table in blue, next to Rob. I decided not to use the previous shot, which was better in some respects except that Rob was flipping the bird at the photographer. Ah, forever young.

Nancy and Viv serve pie, while Tim and Greg salivate.

The young-uns plus Greg, whose wonderful daughter Golda is on the right. Also in the photo are Andrew and Luke (seated) and Josh, Golda's estimable partner.

And finally, in the true Christmas spirit, Cope and I blur out. (Boy, do I need a haircut.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Santa Sightings

Santa is in Gori, Georgia, as I type.

Oops, nope, just checked again, and now he's in Azerbaijan.

I know because NORAD tracks him using "radar, satellites, Santa Cams and fighter jets," and broadcasts video of him on-line.

What an utterly cool thing to do. Thanks, NORAD.

And, in case I don't get back here, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lovely, Dark, and...

Pissed off.

This applies only to Rob, who had to scoop and shovel all 18 inches of snow singlehandedly because His Beloved is a knee jerk. All I managed to do was clean off the cars, which seemed like it wouldn't involve much knee action.

I was so thrilled by it all that you'd almost think I was capable of skiing. If I were permitted to ski, I'd be insufferable right now.

Here are some shots, because I can't help myself:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Season's Greetings, a Minor Rant

Happy Hanukkah/Yule/Solstice!

Speaking of which, I've had it with the Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas debate. I keep seeing letters to the editor griping about how this is a Christian Nation (huh?) and how anyone who says "Happy Holidays" is somehow dissing Christmas. (The same way gay marriage is an attack on straight marriage, I guess.)

If you want to wish me a Merry Christmas, by all means do so, and I hope we both have a wonderful holiday. But don't complain when the rest of us acknowledge that other important cultures have celebrations at this time of year, too.

In cold climates, late December is a dark time, greatly in need of light and cheer and the promise that Old Sol hasn't gone for good. We're all in this together, so stop letting the dark win, OK?

It may be that Maine newspapers get more letters on this subject than elsewhere, so pardon me if my tone seems overwrought. On the other hand, I've noticed that TV newscasters are tending to say: "Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!" Which seems like a neat response to the problem.

In other seasonal news, the annual carol sing at the Rockbound Chapel (pictured at left) got canceled by this afternoon's snow. It's a big disappointment, but a wise decision considering the number of older folks who turn out. Here's what the carol sing looked like two years ago:

That's my friend Leslie with the red scarf in front. I hasten to add that I wasn't including her in the "old folks" comment. Nor myself. Heh.

The wind's starting to howl out there. I have to admit, I'm glad I won't be driving home from the Rockbound Chapel in half an hour. Perfect weather to brew up a nice cuppa and settle down with a good book. Rob's making chocolate chip cookies as his contribution to the annual sack of cookies we give the neighbors, but of course I won't have any.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Catastrophe Delayed

I spent a productive hour with the third grader I'm working with at the school. World leaders will be relieved to know that we did not work on the Evil Albert Einstein story, so our villain did not get a chance to destroy the human race.

Instead, in an effort to understand what it feels like to actually finish something, we worked on two super-short stories. One was about a carnivorous computer attacking the house of a woman called Gate. She lures the attacker away from her house by sneaking out to the street and impersonating several Fat Old Ladies, the computer's preferred snack.

The second was about a man called Writing a Formal Piece (I think...that may not be quite right) (it's Formal for short, I do remember that) who discovers that his daughter, a cannibal alligator disguised as a girl, is about to kill his wife. He sees this as a problem because his wife had been planning to make him his favorite meal for dinner.

I don't think any of us should ever worry about whether our stories are too scary for children.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Well, we did the lights up on the maple tree with a maxiumum of teamwork and minimum of unnecessary profanity. We used only the profanity that was absolutely necessary.

Rob's early Christmas present is that I've decided we won't have an indoor tree--at least, not a fir tree that we cut down and bring inside. I'll string some lights on the lemon tree inside the front door, which will appreciate the attention. We're postponing our annual New Year's pot luck until later in the winter, because just now I'm living in the dessert room. So it seems silly to have a tree just for the two of us, especially when one of us is an unrepentant Grinch. (Even if the other of us is Cindy-Lou Who.)

At the post office, mailing a package to other Cindy-Lous, I rediscovered the game of Telephone, small-town style.

The correct story: I had arthroscopic surgery to remove torn meniscus tissue and find out how bad the arthritis really is. I learned that I will have to have my knee replaced sooner than later. I'm doing just fine in the interim, although I retain whining rights.

The story I heard at the post office: I had my knee replaced at great trouble and expense, but the operation was botched and now I'm in torment.

I do love it when this stuff happens. Sometimes, I'm pretty sure I contribute to it myself. Anyway, I eagerly await the next embellishments.

*Sneaks up to attic, rummages around. Mutters to self, "Now, where did I put that horn? I had it just the other... ah, there it is."*

*Whispers: Samantha Clark interviewed me for her Day By Day Writer blog. And Greg Leitich Smith liked my book.*

Horn-blowing? Me? Nah.

In other pressing news, I've read some books lately that I loved, neither of them new to the world. One was Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson, which is one of the best books I've ever read. Hysterically funny, but with a compelling sense of history and the march of generations. Not sure when it first came out in England--the mid-90s, anyway--but it won the Whitbread whenever it was.

The other was Cordelia Underwood by Van Reid, a Maine native who lives in Edgecomb. This is the first of the Moosepath League books, and I'd wanted to read it and the others ever since I reviewed the latest one when I was newspapering. Reid originally published them as a serial in a local newspaper, just like Dickens, and they are Dickensian in form and spirit. They're set in Portland and Maine in the 1890s, and I can say with hand on heart that the first and fourth (fifth?) are delightful . Can't wait to read the others.

Off to drink wine with the neighbors, and re-toast Rob's birthday several weeks after the fact.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ups and Downs

Couple of rollercoaster stops I forgot to mention yesterday.

1. The marvelous and insightful Sarah Shealy and Barbara Fisch, associate publicity directors of Harcourt Children's Books, were among last week's layoffs at Harcourt Houghton Mifflin. They were the biggest surprise of my entire Harcourt experience, because I 'd heard horror stories about this stage of the publishing process, and was not expecting to be treated so kindly and helpfully and all-around professionally. I will miss them and I wish them beyond well.

2. Barrie Summy's book is out! She's the last of the 2k8ers to hit the bookstores, and the book sounds like an absolute winner. Check out her celebration on the 2k8 blog right now.

3. Some bloggers liked my book, bless their calloused little typing fingers. (This'll be the last horn-tooting for a while, I promise.)

On the book-review blog Stella Matutina, Memory thrilled me by praising any book that "introduces interesting ideas and leaves the reader free to come to her own conclusions, " and then adding, "Booraem does this, and does it beautifully at that.” said the book has a “refreshingly philosophical approach to a coming-of-age tale that stands well above the pack.” Over on, Sarah Rachel Egelman called the book “captivating.” She added: “Booraem presents some of the universal themes of children's literature in a new way, and readers cannot help but cheer Medford on as he discovers the meaning of family and friendship, independence, and the importance of art and expression.”

Fairrosa (big spoiler alert if you follow the link--maybe wait 'til you've read the book) said she was afraid all the naming stuff was going to be all symbolic and allegorical and predictable. "And yet, with the blusterous arrival of the Goatman and then all the tangential but significant side trails and events, the story drew me in and kept me highly interested and entertained. I bated my breath, hoping for a satisfying and well paced ending, and was not let down."

*Puts horn back in case. Locks case. Hides it in the attic next to the exercise bike.*

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not So Much Action as Sloth

We never did put the lights up on the maple tree. It was too mushy out, particularly since part of Rob's role will be to crawl under the deck to snake the extension cord from tree to power outlet. Then it got brutally cold and windy, with snow. The new plan is for tomorrow. Supplications to the good humor gods will be much appreciated.

Life's pretty much of a rollercoaster these days. The publishing industry is having the hiccups, my next-door neighbor has an absess following a root canal (I'm sure he'd prefer hiccups), my knee hurts, and you'll be astonished to hear that there might be corruption in Illinois. (I get to be snide about it because I used to live in Rhode Island.) On the other hand, fellow 2k8er Elizabeth C. Bunce hit the bigtime--her YA fantasy, A Curse Dark as Gold, is a finalist for the American Library Association's William C. Morris Award for best debut YA novel. We, her classmates, naturally feel that our names should be on the plaque, too. (Just kidding, Elizabeth.) Seriously, we're all very excited about this.

There's good news in the mundane world, too, not even counting the numerous opportunities to whine about my knee.

The Horn Book's January/February issue will call the Goatman "an endearing, anarchic figure," adding that the book's "humor and amiable tone make it a highly accessible but thought-provoking read." And Kliatt's November issue, the last print edition unfortunately, gave The Unnameables a starred review that called it "a fantasy novel that stands above the rest; it is fresh, original, and appealing and the kind of book you want to read again, just to spend more time with the characters." That was nice of them.

On a less mundane subject, the third grader I'm mentoring this year is writing a fantasy whose villain is an outer-space insect named Evil Albert Einstein. Today he blew up the moon. Not sure what his next move will be, but it doesn't look good for the human race. Just thought you ought to know.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Lights! Action!

One of the many disadvantages of being knee-crippled is that I can't for the moment use a step-ladder or climb a tree. That means Rob has to help me put the lights on the maple tree out front, an essential operation because a) the lights keep me sane in the dark months, b) they light the path to the front door better than the front door light does, and c-z) they keep me sane in the dark months.

Rob isn't a big fan of Christmas, and thinks the lights drain our precious natural resources for no good reason. Usually, he has next to no hand in putting them up. This year, he will have his entire body in it. Disgruntlement is likely. That's all I'm saying.

In general, I am not adapting well to my newfound reliance on others, and the situation may not improve for some time. The arthroscopy nicely trimmed my torn meniscus, but revealed that the inside half of my knee is as arthritic as it can possibly be, with just about no cartilege left. The logical next step is a partial knee replacement, but I'm going to try injecting something called Synvisc, a goop made from rooster combs that is supposed to lubricate the joint and buy a few months. It only works half the time , though, so I'm going to start organizing a replacement sooner rather than later.

Rooster combs? Rooster combs? Whoever figured out that something wobbling on the head of a rooster would be a good thing to inject into yourself? Same person who figured out you could eat an artichoke, probably.

I have more good reviews to share, but it's time to grab Rob in one hand, lights in the other. Wish me luck.

P.S. My old friend Catherine Stornetta just called--first time I've heard her voice in 25 years at least. In an otherwise delightful conversation, she insisted that she was the one who started calling people freelance ne'er-do-wells, back when we were young and foolish and living in Providence. I vigorously protested and that's where it lies, for all eternity most likely.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Further Catch-up

My father came from Minnesota, and always said New England made him claustrophobic. "I like to see the weather coming," he'd say.

I finally found out what he was talking about when I went to St. Peter, Minnesota, the middle of last month. I'd been to Minneapolis before, but had never seen the Plains, which apparently start just uphill from my friends' house, meaning Peg O'Connor and Lisa Heldke. It's a little like the ocean--the same sense of standing on a planet in the universe, rather than being the universe. Very freeing, in a nervous sort of way. But it would take me a long time to get used to having so much solid ground around me, stetching for miles and miles and miles.

Because there's so much land without buildings--the farms seem HUGE to a New England girl--it's actually possible to imagine hitting that gorgeous, flat, sky-filled expanse in a covered wagon. And getting excited about all that rich black soil.

The people I met were gems. I sat in with a writer's group in St. Peter, then talked to Annette Engeldinger's two seventh-grade advanced English classes at St. Peter Middle School, where the kids were phenomenally engaged and bright and polite. Gustavus Adolphus College was hosting me (thanks to Lisa and Peg, who teach in the philosohy department), so I gave a reading there and talked to two classes: Deborah Downs-Miers's children's literature students, and Becky Taylor Fremo's writing class.

Everybody kept telling me Minnesota students wouldn't discuss or ask questions, and that was not my experience at all...they asked a hell of a lot more questions than I ever would have in college. But then, as I kept telling everybody right back, I take after my father, who was from Minnesota. So I guess this was my spiritual home.

On another tack entirely--a jibe, in fact--here's a cautionary tale about copiers and working too late.