Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Not Very Fun Thanksgiving

Key West -- You know that children's book, The Worst Christmas Pageant Ever? Well, we had our worst Thanksgiving ever. Now that's it's over we're laughing - or trying to. Flew to New York to be with Larry, Randy, and Elliot for the holiday weekend. Long story short -- never got to see anyone. Spent a lot of time on the bathroom room floor with the dreaded stomach virus. This is not something you want. Even though it comes on fast and goes away just as fast -- it's definitely not fun.


Can you believe in the midst of it George snapped this pix with his iPhone? I was so sick I didn't even care. Actually, I didn't even know!

Had to be "hydrated" at the doctor's office. Once, when we were "babysitting" Larry's dog, Mookie, she was so depressed by his absence, she refused to eat or drink. We took her to the vet, who "hydrated" her. She came back renewed, as playful and frisky as a puppy. I was hoping I'd feel the same way. Alas, I did not feel playful or frisky.

Mookie

George caught it from me. (I didn't take a photo of him.) Then I got a sinus/vocal cord infection. Couldn't speak at all. No kidding, could barely produce a grunt. By then I was so run down I couldn't have gone anywhere even with the doc's blessing. She kept me in NY for another week. I never left the apartment except to see her. But I did sit in my window on Thanksgiving morning and caught some of the parade. For a healthier, happier Thanksgiving see my 2007 blog.

While confined I read Wally Lamb's new book. I'm a big fan of his. At the end of the novel there's a note from Wally telling of the trouble he had getting this book off the ground. As a writer I found that note fascinating. He tells of a first sentence he had in his head -- a brilliant first sentence, I thought -- but ultimately he veered from it and wrote a different story. Two years ago Wally came to the Key West Literary Seminar and read a story from what was then his novel in progress. It was a disturbing story about a young boy and his run-in with a school janitor. That story became a blip in the big new novel. But no matter what he writes, he writes it so well, and observes his characters so keenly, I can't put it down.

There's another story line in this book about a woman who was once a Miss Rheingold. As a little girl I fantasized about being a Miss Rheingold when I grew up. I once told that to George and when I came home the next day I found a sign on the back of my desk chair -- Miss Rheingold 1982. How sweet is that?!

We're back in Key West now. There's no better medicine than the Key West sunshine and warmth. Next week Larry, Randy, and Elliot will arrive and a few days after that, Amanda and Jim. We'll all be together for the holidays. Randy and Elliot promise a do-over Thanksgiving dinner. And that means I'll get to cook with Randy. Always a treat.

Hope your Thanksgiving was joyous and that you got to share it with family and friends.
Love,
Judy

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Remembering Gretchen


Key West -- My friend Gretchen Feldman died this week. It's not that it was unexpected but that it was, as she put it a year ago, ludicrous. That's when she learned she had stage 4 lung cancer. She didn't smoke. And at that point she had no real symptoms. Oh, maybe she'd lost ten pounds but that was good, wasn't it? She'd wanted to drop ten pounds. And she'd had some GI distress over the summer, but who didn't? She and Sam and George and I had dinner last November when we were in New York for Thanksgiving week. They had come down from the Vineyard where they lived year round, to see an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering hospital. What do you say when your friend tells you the diagnosis is for real - though she can't believe it and neither can you? Only a 4-letter word will do.

We met Sam and Gretchen at a dinner party on the Vineyard just before the presidential election of '92. We were all Clinton supporters and excited by the possibilities. I was seated next to Sam and Gretchen was across the table. They were from Baltimore and so was George. They knew the Cooper Camera Mart, started by George's father. Gretchen and I didn't really get to talk that night. She was beautiful, with a dazzling smile, but quiet, observant . Sam, handsome and outgoing, had all my attention. It wasn't until later that I got to know Gretchen. The first time they came to our house on the Vineyard, Gretchen carried a huge bucket of wildflowers from her garden. They lived "up-island" and I hadn't yet seen their beautiful home overlooking Chilmark Pond, and just beyond, the ocean.

Gretchen was full of surprises. She was a serious artist. Her watercolors were big and bold. Her Vineyard scenes grew more and more abstract, full of deep, rich colors, making them look almost like oils. When we first met she was also doing studies of Vineyard animals. George fell for a painting of a cow that was so loose and had such humor we bought it on the spot and to this day it hangs in our livingroom, making us smile each time we pass. Randy is a huge fan of Gretchen's work and several of Gretchen's paintings hang in her home.

Who would have guessed that Gretchen also excelled at ping pong? Larry holds a ping pong tournament at our house every summer and one year Gretchen and Sam stopped by. All the players were at least twenty years younger than the four of us. I had no idea that either Gretchen or Sam could play. I thought they were just being sociable. But they were the stars of the night. Sam played our young neighbor in the finals while Gretchen played her daughter, Leigh. Gretchen won.


The next year Sam bought an outdoor ping pong table like Larry's and I knew from then on the rest of us wouldn't stand a chance.

Once I confessed to Sam and Gretchen that I was teaching myself to do crossword puzzles but it didn't come easily. My mind works in interesting ways but whatever it takes to do crossword puzzles eluded me. I was proud that with practice I could now do the Monday and Tuesday puzzle in the New York Times (the puzzles grow progressively more difficult until the Saturday puzzle, the toughest of the week). Gretchen confessed that she didn't bother with them until at least Thursday. Who knew?

Gretchen and Sam's daughter, Dene, was married at their Vineyard home. Though it was July and too early for a hurricane, a fierce tropical storm hit the island. It had a name but I can't remember -- only know it started with a B. All day we waited for the phone call that would tell us plans had been changed - the wedding would be moved to the Hebrew Center, or some other indoor venue. But the call never came. The wind howled as we headed up-island. The tents, as planned, were out in the open field overlooking the ocean. Inside the big tent, Larry and I kept looking at each other, each of us quietly planning our exit strategy if the crew couldn't hold the tent down. Worse yet, if the tent collapsed. But Gretchen and Sam were smiling and telling all their guests how they also had married in the rain and look how well it had worked out for them.

All of this is superficial, of course. You can't really get a feel for Gretchen from reading anecdotes. The real Gretchen was a private person. She didn't talk about herself. Sam and their two daughters and their three grandchildren were the most important people in her life. That much I know. I once saw a photo of a gorgeous young couple at their house in Baltimore. It only took a second to realize they were Gretchen and Sam. Theirs was a love affair to the end.

Which brings us back to that ludicrous diagnosis. Gretchen underwent chemotherapy. She said she could withstand any treatment as long as it would make a difference. In early September the Craven Gallery on the Vineyard hosted Gretchen's last show. She was there looking thin, but elegant, in a crisp white shirt and flowing pants, her silvery hair cropped short, as always (though I know she was never happier than wearing an old t-shirt or a sweater she'd ordered from a catalog). Her paintings were abstract and colorful. "They're cells," she whispered to me. "Can you tell?" Of course. That made perfect sense. The cells in her body were running amok but in her paintings she could do with them whatever she pleased.

The last time we saw Gretchen was the day before we left New York for Miami to campaign for Obama. She was rooting for him. Sam had instructed us to amuse Gretchen. No problem. The four of us sat around their apartment telling stories (some at the expense of Sarah Palin) and laughed and laughed. Gretchen said their lives centered on the C-words -- campaign and cancer. We laughed about that, too. I held my true feelings inside until we'd left.

I bought a stunning painting at Gretchen's last show.


When I unwrapped it in Key West the name she had printed on its back was Fat Cells II. She was still making me laugh. It will hang in my study so I can see it every day. And when I do, I'll think of Gretchen. Not that I need a painting to remind me but I like having a part of her here with me. She was my "girlfriend" and I'll miss her.




Cherish your friendships while you can.
xx Judy

Friday, November 7, 2008

Yes, We Did!

A night to remember!

As my friend Letty Pogrebin says:

"WE ARE OUT OF OUR MINDS WITH JOY, RELIEF, AND DISBELIEF. BUT IT'S NOT A DREAM, IT'S TRUE! IT'S REAL! CONGRATULATIONS TO AMERICA FOR RESISTING THE POLITICS OF FEAR AND VOTING WITH ITS BRAINS AND ITS BEST SELF -- FINALLY!
AND DEEPEST THANKS TO THOSE OF YOU WHO TOOK TIME AWAY FROM YOUR BUSY LIVES TO WORK TO MAKE THIS MIRACLE HAPPEN."


Yes, it is a miracle!
Let's remember that as the hard work begins. No one, not even Barack Obama, can fix this mess quickly. I have no doubt that the best and the brightest candidate won. Let's stand behind him and his team for the long haul. He's going to continue to need us as much as we need him.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Biting My Nails Until....

Key West -- we arrived back home on Friday night, following a busy week of campaigning in the Miami/Boca area. It feels as if we've been on the road for a month, and actually, now that I look at the calendar, we have.

First came Madison, Wisconsin. That was on October 14. I still had the last of a sinus infection but flew anyway with my doc's blessing and some meds. Gave the Charlotte Zolotow Lecture at the university on the 15th. George says it was my least focused speech -- maybe because my friend Lois Lowry told me the audience would know every word I'd ever written or said so I'd better do something new. Trouble is, I only have so much to say (this wasn't a political speech - I was being honored as a writer). I've learned that from now on I just have to say what I know. The audience was very warm and generous in their response. They probably just thought I was slightly ditzy.

That was the night of the final debate so I was rushed back to my hotel, where I'd already ordered up a pasta supper to be delivered by room service. Missed just the first 30 minutes which I saw later. (Wow -- this seems like such a long time ago!)

Next morning I met several classes of 6th graders at the Governor's home. His wife, Jessica Doyle, was a school librarian and regularly invites school children into her home -- gives them a tour (they even met Governor Doyle) -- then talks with them about books. I read a scene from Here's to You, Rachel Robinson, as these kids had just started middle school and I thought they would relate to Rachel, a 7th grader who has to deal with a difficult older brother. It started a good discussion about family relationships. Turns out Governor and Mrs. Doyle know Amanda, my stepdaughter. Small world.

That afternoon I had my first taste of campaigning for Obama - first, at a house party for mothers and daughters (and some sons), later at an Obama campaign office. I discovered that in Madison, Wisconsin, not only is everyone friendly, but most voters support Obama. So I didn't have to work very hard and my guide and liason to the campaign, Heather Colburn, was perfect in every way. I learned a lot from her. I wish I had her at my side wherever and whenever I have to speak on any subject. One funny question from an almost 12 year old girl who is already a political junkie -- "What do you think of Sarah Palin?" I knew it wasn't appropriate to say anything negative about the other candidates so I thought for a minute, then said, "Well...I like her jackets." (This was before the story broke about the money spent on her campaign wardrobe.) The crowd cracked up. But I meant it.

On the flight back to New York every time I yawned to open my ears I heard a strange whooshing sound. I kept asking George if he heard it, too. He didn't, of course, since it was coming from my ear. Oh oh.

This explains why, when we left for Miami (to campaign) a few days later, we had to take the train. A leaky blood vessel in my ear made flying not a good idea. We actually looked forward to a day of reading on the train without interruptions. I read American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld. She wrote Prep, a wonderful first novel, and this one, totally different, was equally enjoyable and well written. George read Porter Shreve's When the White House Was Ours (no, not that White House). I almost didn't care that our train was over three hours late getting to Miami. Or that we'd already spent one night on the train. But the thought of spending another wasn't something either one of us found romantic. (The reality of Amtrak isn't the fantasy we grew up with from watching movies.) But, hey, it saved my ear.

We stayed at a hotel in Coconut Grove because 30 something years ago George spent a month there and remembered it fondly. Mitchell Kaplan, who owns Books&Books, one of the great independent bookstores in the country, was a huge help in scheduling a couple of Obama events for me. The most interesting was at a Hebrew Day school in Miami Beach. The campaign freaked out because Joe Lieberman was speaking at the same school the following night. They were sure I'd be asked questions about Israel that I wouldn't be able to answer so they sent two experts on the middle east. This was supposed to be an informal gathering of moms (and some dads) with the middle schoolers. I doubt they would have asked me any hard questions about the middle east. But this way I didn't have to worry. And neither did the campaign.

We met up with Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and a young, talented political comedienne, Katie Halper (who also teaches history at the Dalton School in NY) in Boca Raton. We all shared a condo with a fantastic ocean view, donated by a generous Obama supporter from NY. It was a real bonding experience. The three of us spoke at 6 events in less than 3 days. George gave us moral support and drove us from place to place -- a good thing because he has a great sense of direction, not to mention a GPS in his iPhone. I would get lost even with a GPS.

We performed the "Judy, Letty, Katie" show at an art gallery, a women's center, and at four house parties. Our goal was to reach those voters still on the fence about voting for Obama. Amazing to me that so many of these intelligent women had been frightened by the malicious lies and ugly rumors -- exactly what the opponents had hoped for. The politics of fear! But after each event 3 or 4 women came up to tell us we'd helped them feel better about voting for Obama. Every vote counts, every vote has consequence. We fell into bed at night exhausted, often after very late suppers at the few restaurants that remained open until 11pm. And we were only on the road a week. I can't begin to imagine what it was like to be on the campaign trail for 22 months. Well, I can....but I don't want to go there. What strength and stamina it takes! It's too much for anyone and I hope we never have to go through a campaign that lasts this long again. I hope it as a voter and I hope it for the candidates.

George is working at the polls today -- as a Voter Protector. I haven't heard from him since noon when he reported all was well in Ramrod Key. Don't know where he's traveled since then. Monroe County covers all the Keys with Key West being the end of the road.

I have photos from each event but George has the camera with him and who cares anyway?
Tomorrow this will all be history. I'm pretty much a wreck -- too superstitious to admit the polls look good for my candidate. A friend is having an election party starting in an hour. I'd rather climb into bed and watch the returns on my own but she's having sandwiches and 100 chocolate cookies and we have nothing to eat in our house so maybe I'll wander over. But even if the race is called at 8pm I won't believe it until all the votes have been counted. Or as my mother would have said, poo poo - then she'd spit on her hand. The translation being, It should only be! or, Don't count your chickens until.....

Hope you've all voted. Whichever candidate you support voting is our privilege as well as our duty. I always cry when I vote. I'll cry tonight, too, whichever way it goes.
xxx Judy

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Forever Thirteen...

This is the multi-talented, high energy cast of the new Broadway musical 13. And what a great evening at the theater! My friend, Dan Elish, is co-writer of the book and I felt like such a proud Mama. Dan has written kids' books - funny ones! - but, like me, has always had theater in his blood. (You know my fantasy, right -- to do a musical based on Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself). Once we held a reading/sing through for a play Dan was working on at our apartment in NY. It was such fun. But 13 is something else. Exhuberant, funny, yet surprisingly moving. The audience loved it -- kids and adults. Catch it if you're coming to NY or if you live here. Bring the under-thirteens with you. It will speak to them. The dancing is fabulous, right down to the curtain call when a couple of guys in the cast put on their tap shoes. I was thrilled to meet them all backstage and have my photo snapped with them.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Don't Read That Book!

...because it's dangerous...because you might have questions and I don't want to answer them...because too many kids like it...because it might present different points of view...because it could get you thinking...
Yes, Banned Books Week
is here again!

And so apropos -- because my last post was about Maurice Sendak. Who can look at Maurice's deliciously funny illustrations for In the Night Kitchen and not be reminded that the book was banned in some places because Mickey, in his little boy dream, is shown floating naked through the night sky, then falling into a huge vat of batter at a bakery? In some places librarians actually drew clothes on Mickey. As if the body of a little boy is something to be ashamed of. Did you ever meet a small child who didn't love running around naked? It's the adults who are uncomfortable about nudity, not the kids.

But don't get me started. I've had my share of banned and/or challenged books, too.

Last weekend I was in Chicago celebrating our intellectual freedom at a Banned Books event held on the plaza outside the McCormick Freedom Museum. If you live in Chicago or you're visiting, check it out. It's a great place to take the kids. And I guarantee you'll come away with a new appreciation for our First Amendment rights -- something we take for granted until those rights are threatened or worse yet, taken away while we're not paying attention.

While in Chicago I did a TV interview about the event and talked about what the ALA Freedom to Read Commitee, and the National Coaltion Against Censorship have meant to me. I talked about how frightened and lonely I felt when my books were first challenged in the early 80's. When they were the center of an organized campaign to "rid schools and libraries" of Judy Blume books. Those who wanted to censor were determined to remove not just the books they didn't want their own kids reading, but books they didn't want any kids to read.

Ban Fudge?
Last week I received a surprising e-mail. Surprising because it had nothing to do with language or sexuality (the usual reasons my books are challenged) or lack of moral tone, whatever that means, or undermining authority -- other reasons given for challenging my books. No, this was surprising because it was from a mother telling me she was demanding that Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing be removed from her daughter's classroom. Here's an excerpt from that e-mail:

***
"My daughter was assigned your book, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, to read and write a report on. I am appalled by the fact that you had a child swallow a turtle; had the parents not care whatever about the older child's loss of a pet; and then had the father replace the animal with a puppy, with the whole family treating the episode as a joke. Perhaps when you wrote this in 1972, it seemed funny. However, children are now aware of animal's rights and that pets (even reptiles) feel pain and fear. Improper supervision of a 2.5 year old child is another matter, especially in light of the fact that the child was known to be out of control in the first place.
I am asking the teacher to pull this book from her class list.

***

The desire to ban books is contagious. There is no safe book. Humor is suspect. Anything children enjoy is suspect. This mother is carrying PC to the nth degree. How sad to think of all the funny books she probably won't let her kids read. The next day the teacher sent an e-mail to me:

***
Judy -- Recently, I was shocked to hear one parent voice dismay over the silly antics of a toddler and his brother. I have boys and have been around as a teacher of them for 15 years, and I know similar things happen. Your hilarious books have inspired many very reluctant/ non readers to transform into literature butterflies in front of my eyes. I will continue to read them and have them available. Keep writing, no one can get into the mind of little ones like yourself. The parent sent me a copy of an email she sent you, and believe me, she was alone, the other parents love the book, and remember your work fondly. They were excited I was using it for Literacy Circles, as the parents always are. Please, I am a big fan, doesn't matter how many times I read your books with the children, I still laugh out loud and wipe the tears away as we take turns reading. I remove books for nobody, especially classics!!

Now that's a teacher I want to hug! She's not going to allow a parent to bully her into removing a book. She deserves our thanks and appreciation. The kids in her class are lucky. They'll remember her fondly, I'm sure.

Most Banned Book of the Year

I met Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson in Chicago -- authors of the most banned book of this year-- And Tango Makes Three --

a picture book based on a true story about two male penguins, Roy and Silo, at the Central Park Zoo.

The fear of sharing this charming story about nurturing male penguins reminds me of a picture book by Charlotte Zolotow published in the '70's -- William's Doll-- and the brouhaha surrounding it. As if giving a boy a doll would turn him into a homosexual.

It makes me proud that on October 15 I will be giving the Charlotte Zolotow Lecture at University of Wisconsin. Maybe I'll start off by telling that story.

So celebrate! Read a challenged book. You'll find plenty to choose from.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Happy Birthday Wild Thing

New York-- A few weeks ago we went to an 80th birthday celebration for Maurice Sendak at the 92nd Street Y in New York. It was a wonderful night of readings and music and funny stories, starting off with Where the Wild Things Are, read in yiddish (a language spoken by Maurice's family when he was growing up). You didn't have to understand a word of yiddish to follow along with the illustrations, projected on a large screen. It was charming and very funny.



Meryl Streep read from The Sign on Rosie's Door. Has anything ever been read so well? Dave Eggers told us about a novel he's writing based on Where the Wild Things Are. We saw clips from a movie in progress, directed by Spike Jones, also based on Wild Things. And then Maurice -- who seemed to genuinely enjoy this tribute came up to the stage. Truly an evening I won't forget.

So Happy Birthday Maurice! You and your incredible work will always be an inspiration to me. Did you know the first book Randy ever read aloud was Little Bear with your gentle and funny illustrations? Thank you for that, too.
Love,
Judy



Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hockey Mom

New York -- It occurred to me while listening to Sarah Palin deliver her speech at the Republican Convention that I'm a "hockey mom," too. That's right. Make that 35 years as a hockey mom. Hey, I go back so far I boiled Larry's mouthguard in Hawaiian Punch (his choice). When I took Larry to a Rangers game at Madison Square Garden he explained to me that blood and vomit bounce on ice. The things your 10 year old can teach you! It's been a long time since I've seen Larry on ice but at 45 he still plays in a league twice a week. Funny that I never thought to include hockey mom on my professional resume.

Aside from being female, this may be the end of what I have in common with Sarah Palin and, to be honest, I was never one of those pit bull moms. I don't think I'd ever heard of pit bulls in the 70's. I was more of a yellow lab, but that could be a question of style. No doubt Sarah has her own style. And she's a good speaker whether or not she writes her own speeches. But it's her politics and religious right beliefs that scare me most.

I agree with Obama that children of candidates should be off limits. But in this case, Bristol's pregnancy at 17, says a lot about Sarah's politics. She's against comprehensive sex education in schools. She favors "abstinence only" programs. She doesn't want teens to learn about birth control. She doesn't want them taught that condoms, when used properly, can protect them not only from pregnancy, but from disease. She's anti-choice for women of all ages -- she's against abortion as an option even in cases of pregnancy caused by rape or incest. She would overturn Roe v Wade if given the chance. I'm not telling Sarah what's right for her family and I don't want her deciding what's right for mine. Or for any of our families.

I feel for Bristol. In my high school class three top girls became pregnant during their senior year. Abortion was illegal then. Some girls were so desperate they chose to have unsafe, illegal abortions. A woman I know lost a daughter that way. She bled to death. Some girls were sent to live with relatives in other states so no one would know, then gave their babies up for adoption. For others, hastily arranged marriages were the answer. For my classmates, those early, unwanted pregnancies changed their lives and their futures forever.

It is said that when Sarah became mayor of Wasilla she wanted to ban some books from the public library. When the librarian refused, she fired her. Public outcry caused Sarah to relent and the librarian got her job back. Once again, Sarah wanted to decide not just what was right for her children, but what was right for all children.

Her father taught science, yet she believes that creationism should be taught side-by-side with evolution in public schools. Her strong religious views will no doubt shape all her governing policies. This is a scary idea.

A young man who's been writing to me for years e-mailed after watching Sarah at the Republican Convention. He was impressed. This young man, whom I consider a friend, is gay, unemployed due to downsizing at his company, depressed and without health care. For all these reasons and many more he should be listening carefully and reading widely on the issues at stake in this election. I can't believe he can be so easily fooled. But if he can be, then others who are undecided can be, too. I'm worried. And scared -- or did I already say that?

This election is too important to our future and the future of our children and grandchildren to decide in haste. Whether John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate because she's a woman and he was pandering to those women disappointed by Hillary's loss, or whether he choose her because of her conservative and deeply religious views, and was pandering to the right wingers (without whose votes he cannot win the election) of his party -- we'll never know. It's the first and biggest decision he's made in this election. Did he make it in haste when push came to shove, or did he give it the long and careful consideration it warranted? Everything points to a quickly made, purely political decision. Even one of McCain's inner circle gleefully announced this election is about personalities, not issues.

I don't know about you, but I'm making my decisions based on the issues. There are no "do overs" here. We have to choose a leader whose judgment we respect. One who doesn't make important decisions based on gut feelings. That's why I want the calm, thoughtful, intelligent, knowledgeable candidate who will surround himself with the best and the brightest. That's why I'm supporting Barack Obama.

What I don't need is some sarcastic hockey mom who describes herself as a pit bull, who flaunts her pregnant teenager and her new special needs infant, a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yesterday on Today



Click to view!


Yesterday I was on the Today Show with Hoda and Kathie Lee. Turned out to be fun. That's how I judge every appearance on TV. Did I have fun? Because if I did then it was worth it. But I'm never really sure until I see it because I'm vain enough to want it to look good, too. (Will I outgrow this concern and become less superficial? Are you kidding?)

We're still on the Vineyard so our day went something like this:

MVY Airport -- Arrive at 8:30 (after staying up way too late the night before to watch the Dem Convention on TV. More about the convention in another blog -- but wasn't Michelle warm and lovely? And how about Caroline Kennedy introducing her Uncle Teddy? George and I went through a box of Kleenex between Caroline, Teddy and Michelle)

Arrive NY 11am -- Starving. Not used to skipping breakfast.

Sarabeth's -- taxi from La Guardia directly to Sarabeth's (my favorite place for breakfast, brunch, or lunch in NY and Key West). Fill up on a delicious veggie frittata.

Vicky, Christine, Barcelona -- George has to see this movie, Woody Allen's latest, as it's about to open at the Tropic Cinema in Key West and he has to write a column about it asap. He checks his iPhone and it's playing at Lincoln Plaza Cinema, a short walk from Sarabeth's. Do you know how long it's been since I went to a movie at that time of day? Neither do I. Maybe junior high when I'd meet my girlfriends for lunch at the Martine Shop in Elizabeth, New Jersey, then catch an afternoon movie. Never mind that I swore I had to shop for a jacket to wear on TV the next morning. George wants to know what's wrong with the jacket I'm wearing. Okay -- point taken -- we go to the movies. We both love it.

Robert Stuart Salon -- have to hustle up to Amsterdam and 84th St. where we have back-to-back haircuts with Robert starting at 3pm. No way am I going on TV without a haircut. I barely look in the mirror on the Vineyard (this is true!) but there are some things that are necessary and a good haircut is one of them.

Feline -- two hours to spare before meeting friends for an early dinner. The local day spa can fit me in for a pedicure. I race over to 75th St just off Broadway. I don't know/trust anyone on the Vineyard to do a pedicure. I once got an infection from a bad job so would rather cut and polish my own toenails than risk that again. Don't realize how ragged my fingernails are until the nail technician asks if I wouldn't also like a manicure. Wow -- I'm almost a Big City Girl again.

Dovetail -- George and I meet up outside this restaurant, one that opened while we were away. Even though the poached chicken is described by our wait-person as tasting "kind of like raw chicken" our friend orders it and pronounces it delicious. My meal is too fancy/foodie for me but then I like a simple piece of grilled fish with fresh veggies.

Convention-mania -- get back to our apartment, turn on the TV and wait for Hillary. What color is that pantsuit? Or is it our TV? But she does a good job and I know my publisher is going to love that reference to the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits. They publish Ann Brashares. Hope Ann also got a kick out of it. Hope, too, that Hillary's sisterhood will now support Obama.

Wake-Up Call -- literally. 7am. Into the shower and out. My hair is too soft. Maybe the difference in water? Maybe a product used yesterday when Robert did my hair? It doesn't want to curl. Falls flat. I scrunch and fluff, hoping for humidity. Eat a piece of dry toast. Too nervous to eat more than that. Try on four jackets hanging in my closet, all with my standby black pants. Settle on the blue. I knew I would. Then have to decide between my trusty western boots, or summer sandals. Instead, go for the one pair of real shoes in my closet. Wore them to a wedding last fall or was it the fall before -- yes, it was the fall before. Hated them then. Love them now. Ta dah! I'm ready.

Cupcakes -- Beverly (my editor/publisher) and Noreen (publicity) accompany me to the NBC studio at Rockefeller Center. On her way to meet me, Beverly stopped at a Whole Foods to get me cupcakes. A very sweet gesture. But cupcakes first thing in the morning? Even I have my standards.

Makeup -- I remind the makeup artist to go easy. Natural, I say. Then I remind her that I'm very old. I wait for her to say something reassuring. She doesn't, but she smiles. The hair person works magic with a hair dryer wearing a sock (at least it looks like a sock). My curls return. I'm escorted to the set. Grab a couple of tissues in case my nose runs on set. (It doesn't.)

6 Minutes or Less -- it feels a lot longer when you're doing it.

Relief -- it's over. We stop by the apartment so I can change back into jeans and sandals for the trip back to the Vineyard. I gobble up both of the cupcakes. Pretty good.

Vineyard -- we get back in time to see the delegates cast their votes at the convention.

Jenny -- 6:45 -- get to the restaurant in time for dinner with Jenny Allen who has just performed the latest version of her one woman play in progress. She's fabulous and so is her play. I'm still sporting the eye makeup from the show though I sponged off the rest of my face. George thinks the eye makeup is sexy. Maybe I should learn how to apply it myself.

Designated Driver -- that would be me. I don't drink and George had several glasses of wine with dinner.

Joe Biden -- made it home in time to catch his speech as the Dem candidate for Vice Prez. George and I go through another box of Kleenex. Favorite moment, aside from Biden's strong speech -- a shot of Michelle O, hands over her face, moved to tears by the story of Joe Biden's life. (Missed Bill Clinton's speech but have it ready to watch later.)

Tonight -- is the Big One. I'm already feeling nervous for Obama. I'll bet he doesn't try on every suit in his closet before an appearance. I'll bet he knows what he says is way more important than how he looks. You know I'll be rooting for him. He's my candidate.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dog Days

On the Vineyard I've been reading and staying up way too late at night to finish the most unforgettable novel I've read in a long time -- The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by first time novelist David Wroblewski.

It's a big, compelling, beautifully written, yet totally accessable book. I'm glad I didn't read too much about it before I picked it up. I knew that dogs were an important part of the story and I wondered if I'd relate. I've never had my own dog. Mookie, Larry's dog, was the first dog I ever loved.




She was also the first dog I ever knew well. I called her my grand-dog. George and I took care of her when Larry had to be away. She stayed with us in New York and one November afternoon George took her with him when he went running in Riverside Park. He was gone a very long time. I later learned he was afraid that he'd lost Mookie . He thought she was right there with him and then, she wasn't. He searched everywhere, asked everyone if they'd seen a small white and brown dog. By then it was late afternoon and growing dark. I don't know what George must have been thinking as he crossed Riverside Drive, a busy street, and entered our apartment building. Surely he knew I would...um...better not to go there.

But when he entered our lobby ready to face the music, there was Mookie! She'd crossed Riverside Drive on her own and come home. Amazing - since she didn't even live there. I don't know what we'd have done or how we'd have gone on if we'd been responsible for her disappearance.

Another time, Mookie was in our care on the Vineyard. It was around Labor Day weekend and I was watching the US OpenTennis finals on TV when I realized I hadn't seen Mookie in a while. She wasn't anywhere in the house. We searched outside, down by the water, out in the woods - but no Mookie. Again, it was late afternoon and growing foggier by the minute. We live a mile down a dirt road, with other dirt roads going off in different directions.

We got on bikes and covered the area, calling to her. Nothing. We knew that when Larry left town Mookie always tried to find him. It was Larry's idea to take her with us to the airport. She would know that Larry was getting on a plane and since she didn't like to fly, she'd accept his absence. But I was sure she had followed his scent all the way to the airport. I convinced George that we had to drive there right away. So we did. (What was I thinking...Lassie Come Home?)

When we pulled up I saw a policeman who recognized the panic in my voice. He hadn't seen a small white and brown dog but suggested I call the police and report her missing. Of course! Why didn't we think of that first?

We learned the police (or was it animal control?) had indeed picked up a small white and brown dog on Lambert's Cove Road -- this is a busy road at the beginning of the mile long dirt road leading to our house. My instinct was right -- she was trying to find Larry. I hesitated before asking -- was she okay?

Yes, he said, but she was a very bad dog. She'd brought traffic to a stop on Lambert's Cove Road on a Sunday afternoon. The police were called by someone in a car who couldn't get to where he was going because Mookie kept zig-zagging across the road. When they arrived they couldn't catch her. Mookie could be scary if you didn't know her. She was an alpha dog. She growled. She snapped. They had to catch her with a net. Even then, she wouldn't let them get close enough to read her tag or her tatooed ID. She was taken to doggie jail but at least she was safe.

I said I would get her right away. I was told I'd have to wait until the next day. That doesn't make any sense, I said. So George and I drove there. Mookie was in the last kennel. A runaway curled up with a stuffed teddy bear she'd been given.

She was chagrined when she saw us, tail between her legs. I told her I'd get her out if it took all night. And it almost did. I called everyone I could think of -- I said things I couldn't believe I was saying -- I threatened: If you don't let me have her tonight I'm going to sleep outside her kennel and write about this for the local paper! One call led to another. I talked to a lot of animal lovers that night and I've never forgotten their understanding of my situation and their kindness. Finally, someone knew someone who knew someone with a key. Arrangements were made to meet him.

At last Mookie was rescued. By then it was quite late. We kept her in our bedroom all night.


We didn't let her out of our sight until Larry returned home and when he did and I told him the story he said, You should have let her spend the night in jail. Maybe she'd have learned a lesson.
Gee, thanks Larry!

And those were only two of Mookie's many adventures. There were so many more. She once rolled out of Larry's car onto a highway.


She once jumped into the water and tried to catch Larry, who was sailing into Vineyard Sound.


He and George had to drop the sails, scoop Mookie out of the water, bring her back to me in a dinghy, then continue their sail.

I wrapped her in a blanket and held her for an hour until she stopped shaking.



Mookie lived to be sixteen. I can't see a Jack Russell without thinking of her -- without missing her, the humor she brought into our lives, the unconditional love she had for Larry.

Did reading The Story of Edgar Sawtelle remind me of Mookie? It reminded me of her loyalty and her intelligence. But the Sawtelle dogs are something else. All I can say is it's a good thing I'm not trying to write a novel this summer. There's no way I can even read another book right now, let alone write one. I'll savor this story and the characters, both human and canine, for a long time. Thank you, David Wroblewski, for writing this book. Read it and let me know what you think.

Happy Reading!
And Happy Dog Days of Summer,
Judy


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Going, Going, Gone!


Today is pub date for Going, Going, Gone! the third book in the Pain & The Great One series. I'm always excited on pub date. Even though I already have a small box of copies sitting in my writing cabin (and I've already sniffed the book, something I do right away, even before I read it) the idea of the books being in stores and libraries gets me going. It means soon young readers will be sharing these stories and letting me know what they think.

But it's a bittersweet day, too, because I was scheduled to sign the book at Bunch of Grapes bookstore next week. Sadly, on July 4th, because of smoke and water damage due to a fire next door this great independent bookstore is closed for the season. I'll miss meeting the kids, both locals and visitors. I signed Soupy Saturdays there last summer, but wasn't on the island in May, to sign Cool Zone. I hope the bookstore is up and running next summer when Friend or Fiend? the 4th and final book (for now, anyway) in the series is published. It doesn't feel right to be here and not be able to hang out at Bunch of Grapes, browsing, buying, and signing books.
(You can read more on my July 9th post -- Happy July 4)

The Pain & Great One series is being published in the UK, too. So I've been doing interviews with British newspapers and radio, and last week, Irish Radio. The presenter on that show wanted to talk only about the books she read when she was growing up (Margaret, Deenie, Forever). I love talking about my early books but in this case I was so frustrated I just started yakking about the Pain & the Great One, telling anecdotes until she pulled the plug. I probably won't be invited back on that show. But that's another story.

The first three books are also available on CD's from Listening Library. Friend or Fiend? will be recorded in September. I get to read the part of Fluzzy the Cat in all four books. Fun!

If you've been reading my blog you know I've already finished writing Friend or Fiend? and Jim Stevenson has done wonderfully funny cover art. Now we're waiting to see his illustrations for the inside of the book -- always a treat. Both the US cover and the UK cover feature the Great One smushing an ice cream cone against the Pain's forehead. The UK editor has asked if the ice cream could be bright yellow or pink instead of chocolate. Since the story is about how the Pain eats only white food, and that means only the white kind of vanilla ice cream and the Great One likes chocolate best, I don't see how that's going to work. Here's a peek at the first round of cover art.

I'll tell you about the real sister who smushed an ice cream cone against her brother's forehead in a post I'll write soon.

For now,
Love,
Judy

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mutton Chops VS. Walrus Moustache

In June our friend Elizabeth Winthrop invited us to dinner to meet James Stevenson, the illustrator of the new Pain & Great One series. There's a tradition in publishing to keep the author and the illustrator of children's books apart (unless they're working as an official team). But aren't we always working as a team? It's never made sense to me. It has to do, I think, with the fear that the writer will impose her/his ideas on the illustrator instead of allowing the illustrator to interpret what the writer has written. A battle of the wills -- I'm more important than you! vs. You're nothing without me!

But when you have such respect as I have for James Stevenson, when you're thrilled that he's agreed to illustrate your work, you're not about to try to control what he draws. Instead, I find myself eagerly awaiting his illustrations -- laughing over them, thinking how well he brings my characters to life. Even Fluzzy the Cat has benefited from Jim's magic. With a stroke or two of his pen he shows exactly what Abigail, Jake, and Fluzzy are thinking. So this was my chance to thank him in person. Besides, he'd already finished three of the four books so I didn't think there was any danger in a face-to-face meeting. And I might have waited a very long time to meet Jim if not for our mutual friends.

And what a treat! Jim is just like his illustrations -- wry and witty, but charming, too. And he looks like Grandpa Pete in the 3rd book in the series, Going, Going, Gone! coming August 12. Well, not really -- but he has the same fancy moustache. This started an interesting after dinner conversation -- what exactly does one call his style of facial hair? Not even Jim knew. We started out with mutton chops -- but we were wrong --


because just the other day I found a website that shows and names all sorts of beards, moustaches, and yes - even mutton chops, which are actually a kind of side-burn -- and I can now report that Grandpa Pete (and Jim) both sport a walrus moustache. Anyway, that's my conclusion.

Thanks Elizabeth, for bringing us together!

There's more to this story. It's about having routine colonoscopies, something we don't necessarily want to talk about. I had my first ten years ago -- too long, I know, but hey, at least I did it. I always think of Audrey Hepburn who died of colon cancer and I say I'm doing it for her.

We all loved Audrey when we were teenagers. We wanted to be her. And after her career as a movie star she went on to do great work for UNICEF.



My colonoscopy was scheduled for Wednesday, and Monday night of that week was the only night Elizabeth could get us together with Jim and his wife. What to do?

Nothing was going to keep me from meeting Jim. Never mind that I was on a liquid diet. I arrived at Elizabeth's carrying my can of clear soup. (Most people need only one day of liquid diet before their colonoscopy but I need two - a long story that I'll spare you.) And next time I'm invited to dinner at Elizabeth's house I promise I'll eat real food which smelled so good I could hardly stand sitting at the table sipping my boringly clear soup!

For those who don't know, the colonoscopy procedure is nothing. Really. Besides, they give you feel-good drugs. It's the prep that gets me, though even that isn't so bad. Well, I can't say it's fun but after, you feel so good knowing you've finally done it, you don't mind. And the little polyps they sometimes remove and biospy could save your life.

So if you're 50+ make an appointment for that colonoscopy. We have a friend whose life was saved this year - at 50 - because he had the procedure. I've been told I need to have another in just 3 years and you can bet I'll keep that date, not just for Audrey, but for myself.

xx Judy

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Different Kind of Fireworks

HAPPY JULY 4TH?


No, this photo was taken from the window of our apartment in New York on June 24 as we were packing to leave for the Vineyard. Talk about surprises! I heard the booms, ran to the window to see what was going on, and for the next half hour stood mesmerized by this incredible display. Have no idea what was being celebrated in Central Park. I just hope whoever/whatever it was enjoyed it as much as we did. The next morning we flew to the Vineyard. What a send-off!

But on the real July 4th, as family and friends were gathering all over the island for the holiday weekend, word spread that a morning fire, originating in the basement of our favorite Vineyard Haven restaurant, Cafe Moxie, burned it to the ground -- and seriously damaged it's neighbor Bunch of Grapes, one of the best indie bookstores in the country. The restaurant and the bookstore shared a common wall. Bunch of Grapes is still standing but suffered such smoke and water damage that it will remain closed for the season. The business district of Vineyard Haven is very small and Bunch of Grapes - a large, welcoming, and well stocked bookstore - was the linchpin of Main Street. People came from all over the island to browse, to buy books, to attend special events, to see and be seen.

Our first summer on the island, 1983, Randy (she'd just graduated from college) got a job at Bunch of Grapes. Every afternoon she'd ride her bike into town and when the store closed at 9pm, she'd ride home again. I worried at first about her riding home in the dark, then through a path in the woods, but eventually I got used to it, and Randy loved working at the bookstore. She introduced us to the store and to its dynamic owner, Ann Nelson. George and I spent hours in the store that summer and every summer since. Can't remember how many book signings I've had there. Many. I remember one where Ann's mother served lemonade and cookies to the kids waiting in line. I always tell booksellers this story but it seems nobody wants to encourage sticky hands at a bookstore these days.

This summer I was slated to sign Going, Going, Gone! when it comes out in late August. But as of Monday, all events at Bunch of Grapes have been cancelled for the season. What a loss this year round bookstore for readers of all ages and all interests is to the island community! Ann's son (she recently turned the store over to him) is promising to rebuild. I called Ann to say our family is ready and willing to volunteer, and I know many other island residents have done the same. I think I'll call again today. You can read more about the fire; Cafe Moxie and the young couple who recently bought the restaurant; Bunch of Grapes and Ann Nelson - all with photos - at the Vineyard Gazette.
A sad start to a summer season though we're grateful no one was hurt.

On July 5th we celebrated Larry's birthday with a small family dinner. Randy cooked (risotto with fresh island peas -- heavenly) and baked (Aunt Frances's chocolate cake with mocha whipped cream frosting -- yummm). I was her sous chef. Larry prepared shrimp (I'm allergic to shellfish so stay out of the kitchen when it's around). Larry's birthdays usually bring many island friends to our table, and the atmosphere is more raucous than reflective. This year was different but no less enjoyable.

Larry, with his friend Kathryn - behind them is Randy with her cat, Keith (who inspired Fluzzy in the Pain & the Great One series.) Missing -- Elliot, who's in Spain, Amanda and Jim, who are in New Mexico, and George, who's taking the picture.

Moms get to go sentimental on the occasion of their children's birthdays (even when those children are in their 40's). I remember waiting and waiting through an early summer heat wave for him to be born. Of course, in those days, we didn't know the sex of our babies. We didn't know much of anything. My due date was Memorial Day. And Larry wasn't born until the 5th of July! I was 25. I'd gained 45 pounds. Had just two "mumu s" that fit by then. One was an orange and blue plaid, the other a white and turquoise print. I wore them everywhere. Washed them at night. It was the summer we got a color TV. The summer I fell in love with the Mets. Randy was just over two years old. I could hardly carry her. My mother came for the weekend to help. When I went into labor after dinner my mother got so worked up she had a spontaneous nosebleed. I was more worried about her than having the baby. Still, I bathed Randy and put her to sleep, then took a shower, and by the time we got to the hospital there was no time to spare. Larry was born just before midnight. I was out of it for the rest of that night. It wasn't until the next morning that I got to hold and bond with my baby boy. Back then they kept you in the hospital for a week. (I think I was looking forward to having a week off.) My mother phoned to say Randy would eat only applesauce and oreos. She was concerned. What should she do? The pediatrician assured me this was okay. And it was.

Happy Birthday, Larry!

xx Judy

Monday, June 30, 2008

On the Road Again: June - Part Two

June 1 -- Flew from LA to NY on Sunday. Not enough time to do anything but unpack, get a haircut...

And then we were off to Boston. Lively event at Pine Manor College hosted by the 5th graders at Ward Elementary School in Newton. Open to the public. Randy and Elliot came, too. Elliot said, "I'll always come with you for a talk -- but no more book signings. Waiting around for an hour and a half while you sign books isn't that much fun." I totally understand. Especially when you're 16 and starving. Especially when you got braces on your teeth that morning. (PS We had a great dinner but it wasn't until close to 9pm and it wasn't easy for Elliot to eat anything.)

(5th graders from the Ward School)

Spent an overnight on the Vineyard with Randy, Elliot, Larry. Got to see our beautiful peonies in bloom after all. Lilacs, too.

Then back to NY for a few days --
again, not enough time to connect with friends but we did manage a couple of meals with Mary and saw a great play August: Osage County.

Then it was off to Minneapolis. Many years ago I had a visit from a young woman, Karen Nelson, who drove cross country and stopped in to see me in Scotch Plains, NJ to explain the Kerlan Collection -- a library devoted to children's books. For years I've been sending manuscripts and papers to them on loan. Now, finally, I was going to see the collection. And it was impressive! Sorry to have missed Karen (Karen Nelson Hoyle) who was away but we did meet some of the library specialists who very kindly assisted me in my research.

I was hoping to find something for George Ella Lyon who is writing a book about Dick Jackson (my first and most extraordinary editor) and how he works his magic with his writers. Going through those boxes was like visiting my past. An emotional experience. Our time was limited so I got to see just a sample of what I'd sent over the years, going back to Margaret.

That night Minnesota Public Radio, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and the Loft Literary Center, sponsored an event at the beautiful Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. It's Garrison Keillor's home base for A Prairie Home Companion. I love that show. It's also where they shot the movie version so I was pretty excited about appearing on stage there.


I was interviewed by Kerri Miller, who was warm, funny, and on top of everything. To listen to the show go to: http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/06/16/midmorning2/


After, another book signing -- ending late -- you know what that means -- scrambled eggs and toast at a diner, my late night comfort food. Thanks everyone in Minneapolis, for making this a great event.

No time to write about politics. But I still hope to get out and work for Obama. Here's a picture of Amanda and Jim with our candidate, taken when Obama was in Albuquerque, giving a speech about women. And what a strong speech that was! Almost as strong as Amanda.


I promise to do a better job of keeping up-to-date over the summer. No deadlines -- that's reason enough to celebrate!

Happy Summer to all of you!
I'm trying to remember how it feels to relax. Will let you know...
Love,
Judy

On the Road Again : June - Part One

LA -- We left Key West on May 29, heading for the west coast and the biggest book convention of the year, BEA. If you have a book coming out in the fall, your publisher may ask you to attend. It's a way to introduce the fall list to the booksellers. Since Going, Going, Gone! will be published in September I was invited to speak at the Children's Book&Author breakfast in front of about 1200 booksellers and publishers (that was the expected audience, anyway).

I said Yes! because 30 years ago, at the first Children's Book&Author breakfast, the guest speakers were Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, and me. I don't think anyone on this year's committee realized that and I didn't tell them because I have a priceless (to me) photo of that event taken by Jill Krementz and I decided to share it with the audience. I mean, we're talking 30 years ago! I wonder if anyone in this year's audience attended that breakfast? Do I even have to say what a thrill it was for me to appear with two of my heroes in Atlanta, May, 1978?


(This photo is copyright by Jill Krementz and may not be reproduced)

When I first began to write I wanted to be the next Dr. Seuss (to my left in photo). Everything I wrote was in rhyme -- very bad rhyme. Fortunately, I was taking a course at NYU in writing for young readers, and my teacher suggested (very gently) that I might want to try prose. Whew! Thank you, Lee Wyndham. And Maurice -- well, who doesn't love Maurice and his incredible work?

When that photo went up on two huge screens, one on each side of the dais and I told the audience (because I'm not sure they recognized us) who we were -- well, it was a magic moment for me. I think I forgot to tell them Elliot took that photo to his kindergarten class for sharing. All the kids knew about Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak. I doubt any of them had ever heard of me but Elliot got a lot of points for having his grandmother in the picture.

This Book&Author breakfast was very different -- instead of being the new girl on the block I was the grande dame (or something) sandwiched between a group of young(er) turks. Naughty boys all (or pretending to be naughty boys -- I'm not sure). First we had Jon Scieszka, the first national ambassador for young people's literature, warming up the audience. Then we had Eoin Colfer (Irish writer/comedian) introducing each of the three speakers in alphabetical order. First speaker was Sherman Alexie. I'd recently read his first YA book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian. He was charming and told a poignant story about one of his fans. Then it was my turn. Then Neil Gaiman (black leather jacket, jeans, curly black hair) a sexy looking guy with a British accent. No wonder he had groupies lined up at his book signing afterward.

Here we are just before the Book&Author breakfast.

(to my left, Neil Gaiman, to my right, Eion Colfer, Sherman Alexie, John Scieszka)

In the world of children's books it felt very odd to be the only woman on stage. What was that all about? Or did the planners of the event think the audience would enjoy the guys more? Hmmm.... in 1978 it was the same thing, wasn't it? Either way, the early morning audience (we began at 8am) seemed to enjoy the raucous program. Maybe it woke them up. I know it woke me up -- it was freezing on the dais! I kept thinking about Neil's black leather jacket and wishing I'd had mine with me. But, okay -- I admit it was fun! When the audience is with you it feels really good.

On Saturday night Random House Children's books hosted a party for 300 guests at Dodger Stadium. I once saw a movie set in LA where two families were competing for most outlandish Bar Mitzvah of the year. One of them was to take place at Dodger Stadium. I couldn't help thinking about that movie during our party.

The nine Random House writers sat in the dugout and as Chip Gibson (head of RHCB) introduced us we ran out.


I was Judy,The Scooter, Blume.

Then each of us was escorted to a table under an umbrella to sign -- No, not our books -- but baseballs. Nine signatures on each baseball. The RH Team! Did I mention I was freezing? Never again will I go to LA without a leather jacket and boots.

Best part of the evening -- I asked Chip if I could use the loud speaker system to wish George a Happy Birthday. Wow!! Then everyone joined in, singing Happy Birthday to George. He handled it well.

June, Part Two to come...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Almost ...

It's been a hectic month but I've just sent in revisions on the 4th book in the Pain and Great One series and will be doing a catch up blog over the weekend. And there's a lot to catch up on!
xx Judy

Monday, May 26, 2008

May is Full of Promises

Key West --May was full of promises.

May 7 --Visited a 4th grade class at Poinciana School in Key West. The kids were well prepared with questions but there's always the unexpected when you visit with a class of 9-10 year olds and this time I got a marriage proposal. That's right -- first he professed his love for me, then he sent a girl from his table to give me a message -- he wanted to marry me. He understood that meant I'd have to divorce George but that was okay with him. George doesn't seem worried.



May 8,9 -- Gail Rosenblum, reporter from the Minneapolis StarTribune came to Key West, along with photographer Steve Rice, for a story to coincide with an event on June 12 at the FitzGerald Theater in St. Paul, sponsored by the StarTribune, the Loft, and Minnesota NPR.

Gail interviewed me at length. I think she knows more about my life and work than I do. Steve was also making a short video that will run on the paper's online site (info to come). Then we rushed off to tap class where Gail observed, and seem to genuinely enjoy, our group. Steve followed us with his video camera. Bruce (our teacher) put us through one of our best, and fastest moving classes. I thought we were going to drop by the end, but troopers that we are, we all made it to the end.

May 10 -- Today would be my mother's 104th birthday. She died twenty years ago. But there's still so much I'd like to talk with her about. So many questions I wish she could answer. She always wanted a great grandchild and she'd be thrilled to know Elliot, who's named for her. We always celebrated her birthday and Mother's Day together. Even after I became a mother, I thought of Mother's Day as her holiday.

Yesterday I received a package from Randy with a blue hoodie, perfect for the Vineyard. Holidays mean a lot to her and I feel sad that we're not together this year. I know we will be soon -- I'm speaking in the Boston area on June 6 and I'll stay with Randy and Elliot. Also spoke with Larry, Amanda, and Elliot. Sweet. I'm lucky!

May 13 -- Pub date for Cool Zone. Exciting! This is the second book, following Soupy Saturdays, in the Pain & the Great One series. Can't wait to hear from kids telling me what they think. There's a story about a bully on the school bus who finally gets what he deserves, another about losing a first tooth. All of the stories are about life in school.

May 14 - I'm working 7 days now, writing and revising Friend or Fiend, the 4th book in the Pain & Great One series. (The third, Going, Going, Gone! will be published in September.) Just today when I added up the pages of my manuscript I realized I have 15 too many. This is better than having 15 too few but it might mean cutting one story from Friend or Fiend. Or cutting down each one. My goal is to send it to my editor next weekend. That will leave me a couple of days to pack up here and prepare a talk for the Book&Author breakfast at BookExpo in LA on May 30th. (Update -- I cut one story out.)

Although I have to stay away from the political blogs for now (in order to concentrate on my book) things are looking good for my candidate, Barack Obama. I'll be holding my breath until it's official (see my April 1 blog on why I'm supporting his candidacy).

Have also been working on a Q&A intro to The Best American NonRequired Reading, an anthology edited by Dave Eggers. I'm a fan of Dave's and couldn't say No when he asked. Will I never learn?! This is a stressful time. I'm trying to take it one day at a time but time is running out.

I'm missing dogwood, lilac and peony season in the northeast.
I hope spring brings them to you -- or something equally fragrant and beautiful.
Love,
Judy

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Alert -- 50 Free DVDs

Sheila the Great on DVD....
First 50 Teachers to Write Receive Free Copy!

May, 2008—Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great is finally available on DVD through Judy's website. This is Judy's favorite of any adaptation of her books. She hopes teachers and parents will enjoy it with their classes or at home. The DVD also features a discussion between Judy and her son, Larry, who directed the movie. If you're a teacher and would like a copy, send a message to Judy's Guest Book telling a bit about your class. The first 50 teachers to write (include your school's snail mail address) will be sent a DVD.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Where the Wild Things Are

Key West - No, I'm not talking about the democratic primary or John McCain though things are getting pretty wild. Every day it's something else. I'm still ardently supporting Barack Obama (see my post of April 1). And with the Indiana and North Carolina primaries looming I've been obsessed. If I weren't working on a tight deadline I'd be in one of those states right now. Instead, I have very different Wild Things (forgive me, Maurice) in mind this morning. Key West is a small city and we live close to our neighbors on small lots so I've been surprised, to say the least, by some of our recent visitors....

CHAPTER ONE
Iggy

Yes, this creature sometimes allows me to see him. Here he is at our outdoor dining table, right outside my study. Interesting, isn't he? So prehistoric!

I've been told that after iguanas eat they need to rest their bellies on a warm slab in order to digest. Concrete around a pool is a favorite choice on a sunny day. And once they've digested -- well, they're ready to poop. If you're lucky they'll let it out on the concrete, not in the pool (they love to swim). Not that I'm happy having to clean up iguana poo around the pool, but I'd be less happy if it landed in the water.

I know where "Iggy" lives. In a tree near the pool. And I know what he likes to eat. He's especially fond of a flowering vine climbing the wall outside my bedroom. I know he's got friends, too, because sometimes they congregate on the roof of our house. Not that I can resist watching when he's around but I've been warned he, like all iguanas, carry salmonella on their skin, so no touching!


CHAPTER TWO
Free Range

George parked the jeep at the post office in town and when he came back he found an egg on the seat. An egg! The post office is a favorite hang-out for local chickens. For those who don't know, chickens are protected in Key West. They're all over town. If I were a chicken I'd want to live here. So George found this egg in the jeep and knew it was unlikely that some passerby had dropped it there. This means while he was gone a chicken flew into the jeep (it's open) sat down, laid an egg, then left. George was pretty excited. He brought the egg home, refrigerated it, and meant to eat it right away. But by the time he got around to it a week had passed and without thinking he mixed it in with his scrambled eggs one Sunday morning. I kept waiting for something bad to happen. But nothing did. After all, it was truly an egg from a free range chicken.



CHAPTER THREE
Wolverine

We were awakened at 4:30 in the morning by screaming and splashing in the pool. Our bedroom is at one end of the pool and we sleep with the doors partly open. You know how it is when you're awakened from a deep sleep -- neither of us could figure out what was going on. But when we looked we saw what appeared to be two animals at the side of the pool, and another in it. They were screaming in distress. Pretty scary, actually. George ran for his camera but he's like one of those guys with a gun who keeps the gun locked in one place and the ammo locked in another. He finally managed to get his camera out of its zippered case but finding and attaching the flash was something else. Meantime, another of the animals either fell or jumped into the pool, trying to rescue the first. My initial reaction was, we have to save them! But at this point we didn't even knowwhat they were. By the time George got it together and stepped outside with his camera, the two who were poolside (by then only one was left struggling in the water) lumbered off, leaving just the one screaming swimmer.

When he finally made it out, George caught him on camera. Looks like he was in shock (the animal, not George). We put the picture up on the computer screen but it wasn't clear to us at 4:45am what it was. Wolverine? George asked. Do we have wolverines in Key West? We went online to check. No wolverines. But look at that face. Raccoons? Yes. there's a south Florida raccoon -- a smaller, blonder version of the kind we know so well from the northeast -- but these guys were neither smaller nor blonder. They were the real deal. If it hadn't been the wee hours I like to think we'd have spotted that striped tail from the get-go. Wet and bedraggled, here's our 4am swimmer!

All of this on a small, heavily populated island just 90 miles from Cuba.
xx Judy

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dancing Queen

Key West -- On Friday mornings I take a tap dancing class. My teacher, Bruce Moore, is the best! I come home singing and dancing every week. And Bobby Nesbitt is in my class! Bruce and Bobby are a talented duo who perform in Key West, sometimes together. Bobby is a piano man with a great voice. Bruce was a Broadway baby, who sings and dances. The rest of my class is a varied group -- everyone from grandmas, to brave guys who've always wanted to tap, to anyone who loves to dance and can get out of work from 11-noon.

Some learned to tap as kids and their feet have never forgotten. Some started last year when Bruce announced his class. I started when I moved from New Mexico to New York in the mid '80s and discovered a tap class over the local bagel shop. I was 45 at the time. Little did I know that Bob Audy was one of the best tap teachers in the city. I stood in the last row of the basic beginner class for the longest time, learning from those in front of me. For a couple of years I was obsessed. Forget about writing. Tap was all I wanted to do.

(Back in the day - 25 years ago!)

Many of the students were Broadway hopefuls. Some were preparing for auditions. I've never been in such good shape as I was then. I was determined to do double pull-backs for my 50th birthday, but I didn't make it. Oh well.
Growing up in Elizabeth, NJ, I took ballet lessons, starting in the baby class with Elsa Heilich. Miss Heilich (as we called her) wore beautiful outfits to teach. I remember her all in red with red ballet slippers. Her hair was pitch black (now that I think of it, probably dyed). There was piano music. We wore dotted swiss ballet dresses.

In 3rd and 4th grades, when I lived in Miami Beach, my mother found a dance/acrobatic studio. But it was nothing like Miss Heilich's. I was enrolled in a Saturday morning class. The star of our class wore a tutu and could do perfect cartwheels and backbends. She had toe slippers! I hated her. Okay, I didn't really hate her, I envied her. No matter how many times I practiced my cartwheels up and down the beach I never got both legs up straight.
That year we all saw Margaret O'Brien and Cyd Charise in The Unfinished Dance. The local shoe store claimed they had the actual slippers that Margaret wore in the movie. They held a contest -- I've written about this in Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. The winner would get a free trip to Hollywood and maybe a screen test (my memory is vague here, confused between reality and what I wrote in the book). But of this I'm sure -- my fantasy was winning that contest. Alas, my feet were too narrow to fill out Margaret' s slippers. Big disappointment.





Back in New Jersey I wanted to take tap class but my mother considered tap vulgar. Jewish girls took ballet, others took tap. So I never learned.
Cut forward -- I stopped going to Bob Audy's tap classes after 5 years when he moved his studio to midtown and I realized my writing was suffering because my focus was on tapping. Soon George and I were coming to Key West for the winter. I always packed my tap shoes just in case. Once or twice I wore them to parties where I threatened to dance but never did.

And then, magically, Bruce Moore announced that he'd be giving tap classes! His classes remind me of Bob Audy's. Okay, there's no piano. And we're in a small room at the back of a gym (Body Zone South) in a strip mall . And sometimes there's a guy grunting on a mat on the floor. But none of that matters. Because we're dancing!

There's nothing like tapping to take you out of whatever else is going on in your life. For one hour you're thinking only of your feet, the beat, and the thrill of learning a new routine. Better yet, you're not thinking at all. It's just happening! Thanks, Bruce, for bringing tap to Key West!

Twenty-five years have past since my first tap class. But here I am with Bruce, doing a triple time step.

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