Friday, December 31, 2010

Exhausted But Happy

My first New Year's resolution is to stay home tonight. I (and sometimes we) have been out about every other night for the past couple of weeks, or at least that's how it feels. Driving to Ellsworth for a birthday party last night was fun but also the last straw...I am now officially Over the holidays.

It has been a blast.

First, can I have an "awwwww"? The two young men in red are shown practicing their violins before the annual carol sing at the Rockbound Chapel in West Brooklin. Then (lower photo) they joined other young-uns to accompany "Jingle Bells." That's our neighbor Win Pusey at the piano.

Now, can I have "brrrr." You have to imagine total silence except for the moaning of wind and the distant baaahing of sheep. This is what it looked like for several minutes when I arrived to pick up my Christmas turkey and couldn't find anyone. I knew the farmers had gone out of town, and attempts to reach the farm-sitter's cell phone had failed. When I took this picture, I was envisioning sixteen friends and neighbors sitting down to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Fortunately, Brian the farm-sitter rescued me, and I made it home with 23 pounds of holiday bliss. Here's Rob, ministering to the beast.

He also made a pumpkin pie. Can I pick 'em or what?

Here's the table before. (I suppose that should be "tables," since we stuck together two fire department tables and one from our neighbor Ken's shop, and covered the whole shebang with three of my sainted grandmothers' tablecloths. ) (Meaning three tablecloths, not three grandmothers. There were only two. And they were more than enough.) (More than enough in a GOOD way, of course.)

And here's after, when everyone was stuffed with two kinds of pie plus chocolate truffle cake, and looking self-conscious because I was taking their picture.

And here's yesterday, when I spent valuable work time out skiing with my friends Lisa and Kim. (You can sort of see Kim behind me. Lisa's taking the picture.) It was gorgeous, and today the temperature went into the 40s so I'm glad we caught it while it existed.

And here's a guessing game, courtesy of Lisa, the snow, the wind, and a Mystery Guest. What do you think made this?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Nose Knows

The neighborhood dog walk has been spectacular the past couple of days, thanks to yesterday's new snow. I sometimes fight the urge to rub my face in it. (Rob has been known to oblige, although we haven't had a good snow fight in years.) Fortunately, I can live vacariously through my dog, who reminds us that snow hides many treasures, from questing voles to frosty bear poop. All you need is a questing and frost-resistant nose. (The photo's by my friend Lisa, who gets extra points for remembering her camera, which I never, never do.)

The Christmas season is upon us with a vengeance. Last night, I attended the second annual one-man performance of A Christmas Carol by Tim Pugliese and the New Surry Theatre. It was, if anything, even better than last year, mostly because of new lighting and sound effects. The arrival of Marley's ghost was actually scary. (Amazing what green light and clanking chains will do to your nerve endings.)

Tonight there's a Messiah sing-along in Blue Hill, during which I will pretend to sing soprano even though I stopped being an actual soprano years ago. (Thank you, tobacco. Which, I quickly note, I stopped smoking about twenty years ago. Still, the gratitude lingers.) Tomorrow afternoon there's the annual carol sing at the Rockbound Chapel here in Brooklin. Tomorrow night, Alice and John's annual do, which usually features 150,000 varieties of appetizers and cookies. Tuesday, solstice party at Kim and Tom's, which will feature a bonfire.

And Monday I trek to Happytown Farm in Orland to pick up a 23-pound turkey. Christmas dinner will be for sixteen this year. And may I just say, ohmuhgod.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Marketing Ploy

Discerning cats agree: SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS is a head-scratcher.

I have no idea what the attraction is, other than my blood, sweat, and tears all over it. But there is glitter on the title and the fairies, so maybe something about the glue? Or the glitter's a little scratchy?

Whatever. My cat loves my book. (One minute after the last picture, though, the book was on the floor. Tough love.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I got my first copy of SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS this week, in a sumptuous package from my editor that also included chocolate. I have not been waving the chocolate around whenever anyone comes into the house. To be fair, I also haven't been eating the book.

In other news:
· It bucketed down rain and washed away the snow, then last night it snowed again, not enough to ski but enough to be pretty. Also enough to slick up the roads, so the morning neighborhood dog walk was conducted on a side road for fear that we would all slide out under the wheels of a fisherman. If the dogs only knew, they could buy their freedom just by taking off at a run when we're on an icy patch. But they never figure that out, which I guess is the secret to our long and friendly relationship.
· Our friend Lisa is here from Minnesota (she has a house in the neighborhood, usually inhabited only in summer), bringing with her a DVD of Toy Story 3, which Rob didn't see when the rest of us saw it last summer. My favorite part continues to be Mr. Tortilla Head. I am possibly influenced by the fact that, many, many years ago, I wrote an employee newsletter for Hasbro Toys, inventor of Mr. Potato Head, and I am the proud owner of two commemorative coasters, one devoted to Mr. PH and one to GI Joe. There was a rumor that Mr. PH was modeled after one of the brothers who founded the company, back when it made pencil cases. This rumor was hotly denied by all in authority, and yet it persisted. Much like Mr. Tortilla Head.
· As my frumious friend Bander noted in comments to the post below, the Kirkus review of SPWW is up online now. It's here .

Monday, December 6, 2010

Snow! Lights!

We're getting a bit of snow today. I am ecstatic, although skeptical that it will stay around for long. We may have eight inches or maybe even a foot by the time this ends. I clattered down cellar and dragged up my skis and poles, and have them chilling on the porch. (For non-skiing readers, warm skis turn the cold snow into an icy mound under your foot. It's a lot like those ancient Chinese platform shoes. And just about as easy to maneuver in. ) I plan to ski around the yard tonight (when I should be reading about ancient Celtic homelife, but who's watching?) to get my legs under me, and hope to head off into the woods tomorrow.

Here's what the house looked like after the first round of shoveling. (Probably more to come tomorrow morning, at which point maybe I'll be a little less enthusiastic.)

You will note that I got the lights up on the maple tree without the drama of procrastination and near death I went through last year.

And here are my skis. Thoroughly chilled. Waiting. *Looks furtively around for ancient Celts.* Guess I'll head out now.

P.S. I suppose I should mention that Publishers Weekly gave SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS a starred review. (Not sure the link will work, so I'll just say the reviewer called SPWW "wistful, humorous, and clever.") And we just heard that Kirkus Reviews did, too, although I don't think the review will be up on the web until the 15th. Yay team!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December Book Review Club

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book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

If you're reading this, you spend time on the Internet. Like me, you might even be an addict. Ever wonder about consequences, other than carpal tunnel syndrome and eye strain? Read on...

Oh, and click the icon for more reviews. If your brain can handle it.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
By Nicholas Carr
W.W. Norton & Co, 2010

In a waiting room last week, I happened on a National Geographic story about how much market gardeners in Iceland are enjoying global warming. I didn’t get to finish the story, so I don’t know whether they saw any downside to their warmer climate. But what I did read sounded familiar—I’ve heard others in the chilly zones tout the advantages of climate change, ignoring the droughts and floods and weird weather systems elsewhere.

Is Internet use the new global warming? Could be, if this book by Nicholas Carr is any indication.
Carr’s thesis is that extensive browsing, tweeting, and link-clicking is changing our brains both functionally and physically, reawakening our earliest talents as hunter-gatherers but killing off the gains we’ve made as deep thinkers. He quotes some analysts—the “yay, it’s getting warmer” crowd—who think this is just another step in our evolution. That point of view gains support from the tale of Socrates, who decried the advent of writing as a blow against our ability to remember without taking notes. It’s hard to argue that writing and reading have been anything but good for us, so maybe this is another case where we should just relax and see where evolution takes us.

Carr doesn’t think so. “We shouldn’t allow the glories of technology to blind our inner watchdog to the possibility that we’ve numbed an essential part of our self,” he writes.

Whichever side you’re on, this book is fascinating. Starting with the 1964 publication of Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media, Carr traces the past half century’s astonishing explosion of electronic communication, dwelling particularly on the advent of Google. We’ve heard much of this before, of course, but not always coupled with current research on the ways our brain adapts to new tasks.

If we repeat a task often enough, apparently, our brains not only adjust the behavior of our existing synapses but actually build new architecture, abandoning the old digs for the new.

London cab drivers studied in the late 1990s had larger than normal posterior hippocampuses (hippocampi?). That part of the brain “plays a key role in storing and manipulating spatial representations of a person’s surroundings,” Carr tells us—in other words, knowing the fastest route from Bloomsbury to the City enhances part of your brain. The cabbies’ anterior hippocampuses had shrunk to accommodate the neighboring expansion, reducing their abilities in other memorization tasks.

The biggest difference between reading a book and reading on line is probably the hyperlinks. The act of deciding whether to click that link, and then the process of following it, reading what it offers, and making our way back to our original document, changes the act of reading into something else. We are problem-solving, using hand-to-eye coordination, sharpening our reflexes, processing visual cues, increasing the capacity of our short-term memory. But we’re not “deep reading,” a process that makes us calmly deliberative and helps to build our long-term memory.

The social implications, Carr says, could be massive. For example, becoming less deliberative may make us more likely to go with the status quo rather than engaging in original lines of thought. Shallower, shorter-term thoughts may even hamper our higher emotions, such as empathy and compassion.

Engagingly, Carr does not set himself up as our model. He starts out by describing his own evolution into a truly impressive Internet user, on here constantly for research, blogging, even drivers’ license renewal. Worried about his inability to concentrate, he moved to Colorado and cut most of his Net use in order to write this book. When the book was almost done, he started reconnecting again and even discovered new stuff he could do on line. “I have to confess: It’s cool. I’m not sure I could live without it.”

Reluctantly, I have to agree. The past couple of evenings I read a book instead of watching a movie or TV show on line. As I write this, the modem’s turned off. But I found that I missed the conviviality of spending my evening with my partner rather than alone in a book. And of course I’m about to turn the modem on to post this review.

Plus, I’d like to finish that story in National Geographic. The issue’s probably at the library, but it’s December and it’s chilly out. What do you bet it’s on line somewhere?