Wednesday, November 26, 2014

They're All 'Bout the Class, 'Bout the Class, No Trouble

NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND -- Okay, the song is actually "All 'bout that bass, 'bout that bass, no treble," but my reference is to the English teachers and educators at the annual National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) convention this past weekend at the Gaylord Convention Center near Washington, D.C. I attended as an author, and I got to listen in on conversations that went something like this:

"This material could work with my high school Shakespeare project." "My kids would love these books and learn about writing at the same time." "Books about real history that aren't boring. Who knew?"

My admiration for these dedicated teachers is huge. All business, all the time. These folks made sure to get their money's worth from the convention. And that's where the "no trouble" comes in. Because, in fact, there is trouble:

Not only do some of these teachers/principals/professors/education specialists have to pay their own way to this convention, but some of the teachers have to PAY THE SALARY OF SUBSTITUTE TEACHERS OUT OF THEIR OWN POCKETS in order to come to the convention. What? There's something wrong with that.

But everyone attends the NCTE to learn, and maybe to buy their year's worth of books for their students. Some carry only cash, and when it runs out, that's it. Some bring an extra empty suitcase to fill with books. And wow, were there books. All the big children's publishers, and educational publishers. Lots of "big" authors signed their books (and some of us small authors, too). Christopher Paul Curtis (THE MADMAN OF PINEY WOODS,  among many others), Tim Federle (BETTER NATE THAN EVER and FIVE, SIX, SEVEN NATE), Jon Klassan (THIS IS NOT MY HAT), Brian Floca (LOCOMOTIVE), Jane Yolen (loads of her books), and Jacqueline Woodson, new winner of the National Book Award for BROWN GIRL DREAMING (I didn't even attempt to get in that line).

Signing at the Charlebridge booth.

Meg and Stephanie with Charlesbridge
I participated in a panel of five women authors (just all happened to be women) whose books were some of the NCTE 's 30 Notable Children's Books in the Language Arts for 2014. The committee (sponsored by the Children's Literature Assembly) read over 600 books before choosing the final 30! I'm honored that PRISONER 88 made the cut.

The other panelists:  Kathi Appelt (THE TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP), Nancy Cavanaugh (THIS JOURNAL BELONGS TO RATCHET), Andrea Davis Pinkney (MARTIN & MAHALIA) and Karen Harrington (SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY).  For the complete list:

My friend Naomi Shihab Nye spoke at a luncheon. She is a writer, poet, educator and lovely person who has lived in both Ferguson, Missouri AND in Palestine. Please read her piece here

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Follow the Yellow Book Road!

SAN DIEGO -- Not the yellow BRICK road, the Yellow Book Road. A terrific children's bookstore in San Diego.

Owners Ann and David Diener (and Susan Santillan, co-worker and author of GRANDMA'S PEAR TREE) welcomed me with open arms to talk about PRISONER 88.

And then a flood of 6th grade students from High Tech Middle Media Arts poured in. Here they are, with their fearless leader, Mr. Baughman (back left)! They've been studying historical fiction. They just finished BUD, NOT BUDDY, one of my all-time favorite books.

We were also joined by a Balboa Park park ranger who is interested in historical fiction and reads with his son's class every week.

What great questions! Thank you to everyone who attended!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Rocks of Ages -- Meadowcroft Rockshelter

AVELLA, Pa. -- Forty-five minutes from Pittsburgh, tucked into a hillside of old-growth forest, sits the Meadowcroft Rockshelter, the "oldest site of human habitation in North America." The site is part of the Heinz History Center and is associated with the Smithsonian.


The Rockshelter is a naturally occurring safe haven, carved from layers of rock over millennia, where natives would stop to rest, shielded from the elements. Because so many humans used the location over centuries, their history is imbedded in layers of sandstone. Discoveries of artifacts have led to carbon dating that show humans living in North America as early as 14,000 B.C., earlier than anyone had believed before.

Native village recreations dot the Meadowcroft property. This weekend features Native Indian hands-on demonstrations. Ever skin a bear? (I took a picture, but I think it's too graphic to show. The bear was either road kill or it was taken by the Game Commission as an out-of-season kill.)


Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Poe Boy

BALTIMORE -- This "Poe Boy" is not a sandwich. It's the real (dead) Edgar Allan Poe. I visited his home a while back. If you're a Poe fan, take a look when you're in Baltimore. The house is period, some bits and pieces having been replaced since Poe lived there with his family.

In an effort to save this little historical building, it appears that compromises were made. Yes, the building is still standing in the place it was when Poe lived there, but new housing has been built right up to (and touching) the walls. An odd juxtaposition of old and new.

Check it out further at Poe Baltimore:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Writing Camp! (Imaginary marshmallows included)

PITTSBURGH -- Kids and summer camp. So many choices. There's soccer camp, swimming camp, rock climbing and camping camp. There's music, art and drama camp. Add to the list:  writing camp.

I got to hang out with about a dozen 5th and 6th grade authors today at Julie Albright's summer camp for young writers at the Kentucky Avenue School in Shadyside. Thanks, Julie and kids!

Here's Julie's assistant writing instructor, Lovey (taking a break):

Everyone working hard on a writing prompt:

I asked the kids why they love writing so much (which they obviously do). Well... they get to write in school, but it's usually something that's too constraining. I heard that a lot. "I want to write what's in my imagination." They love to make up their own characters, and a lot of the kids like those characters to live in worlds where they can make up their own rules. Maybe people can fly. Maybe 6 year old kids are superheros.

Their answers made me smile and I'm still smiling.

Today, writing kicked the @$#%^&* out of soccer.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Day 2 -- Good Night Irene

LAS VEGAS -- Larry busted out just before the dinner break. He played short stacked all day, worked his way back. And then he lost with pocket queens to a guy who played 3/6 of hearts who ended up with a flush on the river. There's a joke in there somewhere about a river and flushing, but I'm too tired to figure it out.

Thanks to everybody who was rooting for him.

Day 2, Still Chugging Along

LAS VEGAS -- Larry is still in. Maybe 30k chips when I stepped away. Up some, down some. I sat with him for the first level because he was at a seat at the table where he couldn't pull all the way in (table leg in the way). It was fun. I could see what was going on, not that I understand much. But then they broke down his table. They "break" tables when people at other tables have busted out. They move an entire table and distribute them to other tables where there is an empty seat. Now he's at a seat where he can reach the chips.

Phil Hellmuth is at a feature table. Didn't have a chance to look for other pros still in.

Next break at 4:20. Fingers crossed.

Some stats:

6,683 people registered representing 83 different countries

693 will get paid (place 693 will get $18,405)

280 women (even less than I imagined)

Average age:  39.28 years

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Made it to Day 2!

LAS VEGAS -- Just dragging ourselves out of bed. That was a loooong day.

Everyone started with 30k chips. Larry's stack hovered around 20k almost all day. And then finally after dinner he won a big hand, and then a few small ones. 41,250 at end of day.

Place 1,148 out of 3,300+ still left. 6,683 played on Day 1. They usually lose about 40% after Day 1, but this year it was closer to 50%.

Several Pittsburgh people still in that we know of.

I ran into Aaron Paul (Jessie Pinkman from Breaking Bad) a couple of times. Was too tired by then to ask for a photo, but he was being really gracious of people asking him.He was there to support a friend who was playing.

Check to see stats. Although it always takes a while for them to get all of the previous day stats recorded. A lot of moving parts to keep track of.



Monday, July 7, 2014

WSOP 2014, Cards in the Air Day 1C

LAS VEGAS -- Registration is down this year. Instead of 8,000, the final number might be closer to 6,800. Just a guess, but folks have been talking about it.

Haven't seen any celebrities (non-poker pros) this year. The whole day seems more low key. Play started 40 minutes ago, and there are still a lot of open but paid-for seats. Folks are dribbling in.

Larry and I ran into a few guys from Pittsburgh who play at Rivers Casino.  The folks who survive today will play again starting on Wednesday.  For now, it's just the beginning of what I hope will be a nice long week.







Sunday, July 6, 2014

Update on Sit & Go

LAS VEGAS -- Larry ended up third at his Sit & Go table. Greg Raymer busted out before him. And it was good to "touch the cards" to get prepared for tomorrow.

We've planned out meals for the day. It's really important to eat well to stay mentally sharp. And to drink enough water to stay hydrated. Did I mention that it's hot?

WSOP 2014 Main Event! And, we're back.

LAS VEGAS -- Why am I surprised every July when the initial heat just knocks me out?

Larry will start tomorrow in Day 1C of the Main Event. Right now the Day 1B group is playing. Yesterday's 1A group was about 700. Don't know what will happen tomorrow. It feels like it might be bigger than last year, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Right now Larry is playing a sit-and-go. 10 players, one table. (There are many of these one-table sit-and-go tournaments going on.) Whoever is left of the 10 who started wins a buy-in to the Main Event. As I was leaving when Larry went to the table (only 2 people at the table at that time -- they had to wait until 10 people registered), I saw Greg Raymer, a poker pro (, standing in line. He's now at Larry's table! I've got to get back over there and see what's going on.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

On the Radio, Almost

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE -- I had a first person piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday. It's about how I attempted to have a career in radio. Even though that didn't happen, I did have some adventures while trying. Hope you like it.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Airport Distractions -- Japanese Toys

SFO -- Airports can suck the life out of you. You want to get home/to your meeting/to the beach to start your vacation, but maybe you're flight is delayed or, worse, cancelled. Even if it's on time, waiting at the airport (for people who fly often) can seem a lot like Groundhog Day. Generic food, generic news shops, generic luggage for sale, generic clueless travelers who bump into people who are all on their generic cellphones.

How nice to have something different to look at. Say, for example, Japanese Toys. Thanks to the folks at SFO who put this exhibit together.

One of the reasons this exhibit resonated so much with me is that my mother lived and worked in Japan in the early 1950s, and I grew up with Japanese apple head dolls displayed through the house and lots of Japanese prints and even a silk room divider. My mother brought back fabric and made fancy cocktail dresses for herself. This is the only one that survived.

I never knew that the apple head dolls were called Kokeshi dolls.

My mother also brought back porcelain pillows. I don't know the history, but seriously, did anyone ever really sleep on one of these?

Silk room divider is in the background.