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


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