Category: Life

“I’m a dog, I’m a workin’ dog, I’m a hard-workin’ dog!”

Something I don’t think I’ve mentioned on this blog is that I love dogs.  I am what people call a “dog person.”  For most of my life, I’ve never been without a canine friend and companion.

And because I love dogs, I also enjoy dog-related activities and events.  I meant to write a post about the Soldier Hollow Classic Sheepdog Championship way back last summer right after it took place, but somehow it just kept slipping down the to-do list. But I recently finished copy-edits on my next book, and so I have a little bit of time.

Many don’t realize that right here in Utah we have one of the largest sheepdog competitions in the world.  Over 25,000 people came out last year, with handlers and dogs from 15 countries and 5 continents.  I’d heard about it for years, and I always wanted to go, and last year I finally did.  It was amazing and fascinating to watch the teamwork of the dogs and their handlers.

The main competition takes place on this hillside.  You can see the group of sheep in this photo, just up and to the left of the cabin.

The dogs start out at the base of the hill with their handler.  The handler has to stay by the post, and from there they shout or whistle commands to their dog.  They have a whole system of communication, a language they use to tell the dog where the sheep are, and where they want the sheep to go, and how they want them brought down the hill.

When the trial begins, the handler releases the dog.  The timer starts, and the dog shoots up the hill to find the sheep.

Once the dog has located the sheep, the dog starts to drive them, weaving back and forth and circling to keep the sheep all together.

On the way down the hill, handler and dog have to work together from a distance to guide the sheep along a course, through several gates. This is where the communication is essential, because the dog doesn’t have the same vantage point on the hill that the handler does.

But mind you, at the highest level of the competition, the sheep are free-range ewes, and they aren’t exactly used to dogs, let alone anyone telling them where to go.  And there’s a lot more of them.

Once the dog has brought the sheep successfully down the hill, the handler and dog work together to separate out a few sheep with red collars from the rest of the flock. Again, not an easy thing.

Once they’re separated, the dog drives the sheep into a pen.

When the gate shuts, the timer stops, and then the hard-working dog hops into a basin of water to cool off.

And then…

The gold medal last year went to a dog from Canada.  South Africa took the silver, and the U.S.A. took bronze.  If you want to see some video of the event, with the dogs in action, watch this:

It was really a lot of fun, and I plan to go again this summer.

Oh, and as for the title of the blog post, some of you of a certain age (my age) may recognize it from Sesame Street. If not, perhaps this will jog your memory:

Revisions done! Also, a few more reviews.

Well, I survived. And what’s even better than that, I feel good.

When I began Book 2 (which now has a title, and which I will hopefully be able to announce soon) I knew I was venturing into unknown territory in terms of my skill as a writer. It was a great big gamble as to whether I could pull it off, and at times during the writing of the book it felt very much like that moment in the movie Maverick where Mel Gibson is about the turn the last card over, willing it to be the Ace of Spades. Only I still don’t know if I have the cards or not.

I was also gambling that Scholastic would like it. Book 2 was – still is – very different from The Clockwork Three, and I wondered at the time if it was the right story to go after. But I was passionate about it, really taken with the idea, and my wonderful agent, Steve, gave me the push I needed to dive in. And then Lisa, my editor, loved it too.

It was hard to make some of the changes, to let go of what I’d written. That “delete” key really took on a sinister cast, and it truly felt as though I was “murdering my darlings” (a writing expression I understand much better). But now that it’s all done, and I’ve stepped back to get a good look at what the effort has produced, I’m very happy with it. It’s a book I’m proud of, and hopefully, my readers will like it to.

And now, on to Book 3…

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You might be interested to know that it was exactly two years ago today that I posted my first entry on this blog. Not that I expect that anniversary to mean anything to most or all of you. But it means something to me. I started the blog before I had an agent, and before I was published. So in that sense it’s become a record of all the little milestones of my writing career from the beginning.

It’s also personally gratifying on a different level. You know how at the end of the book Jumanji, two new kids pick up the game in the park and take it home? And they’re the kids who never finish a game? That’s me. I’m notorious for not following through on things. So to say I’ve maintained a blog for two years is something of a personal accomplishment in which I take a measure of pride.

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I’ve been meaning to post links to some more online reviews that have popped up for The Clockwork Three. I appreciate the time that each of the reviewers and bloggers put into reading and thinking about the book. Hop on over and check them out.

- Fuse #8

- Kidsreads, which also has an interview

- The Review Broads

- 21 pages

- Fantasy Literature

- The Unread Reader

- Dearest Dreams

Update: A few more reviews…

- Librarian’s Quest

- It’s All About Books

- Night Writer

The Clockwork Three book launch report, as well as a few other cool things

Last week, The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City hosted the official launch of The Clockwork Three.  It was truly a wonderful experience.  The event was well-attended, with lots of family and friends there to show their support.  My parents and my sister even traveled in from out-of-state, and it meant a lot to have them there.

We held the event out on the store’s patio.  Here, Anne Holman, the general manager of The King’s English, is introducing me.  It was a very lovely introduction, full of things she hadn’t told me before.  (I promise you haven’t seen the last of Madame Pomeroy, Anne!)

Rachel, who I believe is the now the manager of the children’s section (sorry if I got that wrong,) ordered a very special cake for the event refreshments.

Yes.  That’s my book cover.  On a cake.  You know how people talk about devouring a book?  Well, we did.  And it was delicious!

I gave a short introduction to the story behind the book, and then I read a few pages.  After that, I took questions from the audience, and then I moved inside to sign books.  I have a video of the presentation portion of the evening (not the signing – that would be one boring video).  When I get some time, I may edit together a few clips.

I have to say, one of the overriding feelings of the night was disbelief.  I mean, here was an event that I had spent years dreaming about, most of the time wondering if it would even ever happen.  And yet, there were my books on the shelf.  It was all a bit surreal, but in the best possible way.  I owe a big thank you to everyone who came out to show their support, and who made the event what it was.  I may not have been able to talk to you all personally, but I noticed that you were there, and I appreciated it so much.  And a big thank you to Anne & Co. at The King’s English for hosting the event.

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Cynthia Leitich Smith interviewed me over on her Cynsations blog here.  Feel free to go check it out.

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Park City TV had me in their studio for an interview.  That was pretty cool.  If it ends up online, I’ll link to it.  But for now, here’s a picture of me with Ori Hoffer, the host of Mountain Views, just prior to filming the segment.

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The principal at one of the schools where I work did something really great for me the other day.  He had ordered several copies of The Clockwork Three for the school’s library (many copies, actually,) and when the UPS guy delivered the box, my principal organized a little ceremonial opening.  He gathered several students in the library, and we all opened the box of books together.  He took pictures, and they wrote something up in the PTA newsletter about it.  It was really nice of him to take a moment like that and turn it into something special that I’ll remember for a long time.  Thanks, Don.

The Clockwork Three – Launch Party

I just received something amazing in the mail from Lisa, my editor.  It’s this:

I cannot tell you how satisfying and surreal it is to hold that in my hands.  Years of hard work, rejection, more hard work, more rejection, finally culminating in this.  A book.  That I wrote.  For all the writers out there with dreams of being published, keep at it.  It will happen.

The Clockwork Three will officially be in bookstores October 1st, though you might see it a little earlier.  In fact, I’m holding a launch party the night before to celebrate the event.  I’ll be speaking, giving a short reading, answering questions, and then signing books.  It will be held at the fabulous King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, and all are welcome to attend.

Here’s a recap of the details:

Date: September 30, 2010

Time: 6:00 PM

Location: The King’s English Bookshop (1511 South 1500 East, Salt Lake City)

I hope to see everyone there!

Curse you, Doctor Who!

More on the title of this entry in a moment.  First things first.

I had one more entry I’d planned to write on my trip to NYC.  But that series of posts has already gone on longer than I’d planned, and anyway, the final day was mostly comprised of waiting in lines and passing through multiple security checkpoints to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (with an evacuation of the Statue due to the smell of burning rubber thrown in).  Rather than go into that whole ordeal, I figured I would just post a few cool pictures we took and move on.

Statue of Liberty Face

A life-sized replica of the Statue of Liberty’s face.  Note: in this photo I am either contemplating the meaning of Freedom and what it means to be an American, or I’m staring at that spot on the ceiling.  Can’t remember which.

The Statue of Liberty

She truly is impressive.  Another note: prior to visiting the Statue of Liberty, I had no idea she was green.  I am color blind, as you may recall from my stint as the Green Spy.  I’ve always thought that Lady Liberty was kind of an off-white marble color.  Mind you, knowing she’s green doesn’t mean I can see it, but it’s nice to feel in the loop.  (Other things that are green, which I only learned about in the last few years: pistachios.)

The Registry Room

Ellis Island.  I wish we would have had more time there.  It is a place steeped in significance, and I’m not sure whether that feeling came from the meaning I imposed on it, or whether it came from something external to me, a residual imprint left behind by those whose lives were changed by their passage through its halls.  Either way, it was a memorable experience.

Ellis Island

From the balcony I saw this child walking alone in the light across the Registry Room and had to take a picture.

And that’s it for NYC, I think.

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And now, Doctor Who (with a warning that this will be pretty geeky).  Oh, where to start…

The Doctor (Tom Baker)I used to watch Doctor Who as a kid, the Tom Baker incarnation, with his trademark too-long scarf and unnatural affinity for Jelly Babies candy.  I loved that show, I think because it was so random, and weird and so different from most American TV programs.  I mean, what other show would take a slow-moving tank of a robot shaped like a salt-shaker, with a toilet plunger for a hand, and turn it into the most menacing being in the universe?  And yet, that’s exactly what they did with the perennial Daleks.

DalekAnd they totally pulled it off.  I bought it completely, mostly because the characters were so engaging.  I loved the Doctor.  The Tom Baker Doctor.  And that’s the problem with the show, and why I’m so frustrated and puzzled by it.  You see, when the Doctor dies, he regenerates with a brand-new body, to be played by a new actor.  Since the show holds the record for the longest running science fiction show in the world (and here is where I thank Wikipedia, to simultaneously cite a source and give myself an out if it’s wrong, because hey, it’s Wikipedia) there have been, at present counting, eleven Doctors.  And I can’t figure out how the show has lasted so long.  Not because it isn’t good, but because as a kid, after Tom Baker’s Doctor regenerated into a new actor, I lost all interest.  Who was this new guy calling himself the Doctor?  Where was his scarf?  Where were his Jelly Babies?  He was all wrong.

The Doctor and RoseThe show went off the air in ’89, and was then brought back in ’05, refreshed and rebooted (while remaining charmingly and bravely true to the original).  I still had little interest, but a couple of weeks ago I decided to watch an episode out of mild curiosity.  And then I watched another.  And another.  And I got hooked again.  And then they went and killed off that Doctor just as I was getting invested in him and replaced him with yet another Doctor.  Then I started the whole process again, trying to get reinvested in a character that keeps changing on me.  And did I mention the Doctor’s traveling companions?  They get swapped out every season or two.

And this is, essentially what’s bothering me, as a storyteller, and why I curse the show while still loving it.  How on earth do you have a series as successful and long-lived as Doctor Who when you regularly and systematically purge the cast of characters?  It defies what I know about storytelling, about how you sustain a reader/viewer/listener’s interest – you get them to care about your characters – and leaves me feeling that I’m missing something.  The popularity of the show is undeniable, so they’re doing something right.  I just don’t know what it is.  But I want to figure it out, because in spite of the frustration, and the effort it takes to follow a show that has seen three different doctors in the last five seasons, I’m still watching it.

What about you guys?  Do you watch Doctor Who?  And if so, how do you think they pull it off?

NYC – Part 4

Part 1, here.  Part 2, here.  Part 3, here.

So, after a long day of filming and a good night’s sleep, the next morning we rode the subway down to a recording studio.  There I met Mary Gruetzke, the audiobook editor for The Clockwork Three, and Cheryl Smith, the audiobook producer.  Both women were very nice and welcoming.

I was there at the recording studio because several weeks ago, Mary suggested the idea of adding some “bonus” material at the end of The Clockwork Three audiobook, kind of like the extras on a DVD.  She and Lisa and I bounced a couple of ideas around, and eventually settled on something that I think will be really cool (but as with most things related to the book right now, it’s too early to talk about in detail).  And since I was in New York City, they wanted me to record a brief introduction to go with the bonus material.

Being in a sound-booth was another first for me, and I was so struck by that little pocket of silence nestled right there in the heart of NYC, one of the noisiest places I’ve ever been.  I sat down at a microphone, put on a pair of headphones, and read the introduction I’d written.  But unlike my experience the previous day, I didn’t feel awkward with the reading at all.  It went smoothly, and I think I read through it three times.  Each time, Cheryl gave me a little direction – “Put more emphasis on this word.” “Read this section more slowly.” – and then we were all done.

Mary and me in front of the Scholastic building

Mary and me in front of the Scholastic building

After that, Mary got us a cab, but we had a few minutes before we had to be at the Scholastic offices, so she took us to see Union Square.  They have a really nice farmer’s market running there a few days a week, which we walked through and enjoyed.  If it had been lunch time, I could have easily made a fabulous meal of artisan cheeses and meats, with some crusty bread.  But as it was, we just looked and then got in another cab.

The Scholastic Building is in SoHo, and even from the outside it has a very different vibe than the publishers with their offices up in Midtown.  Mary showed us in, we got our visitor badges, and went up to my editor’s office.  It was cool to see where Lisa works.  Her office was as filled with books as I expected it to be, and to be honest, I was a bit envious.  I don’t currently have the shelving to load my office up with all the books I own.

Lisa and me

Lisa and me

I was supposed to give a reading at an office reception that afternoon, so Lisa and I talked about what I should read and settled on the passage where Giuseppe plays the green violin for the first time.  After that we started a series of meetings.  I met my publicist, Samantha Grefé, and we went downstairs to film a “5 Questions” feature that will appear on the Scholastic On Our Minds blog in a few months.

Lisa and Samantha took us out for lunch, and my agent, Stephen Fraser met us at the restaurant.  Steve, ever the gentleman, brought flowers for the women.  Now, I don’t intend for this blog to become a food blog, but as much as I love food, I think it’s inevitable that I’ll mention it now and again.  So let me just say that we had another delicious meal.

Scholastic Credo CarpetAfterward we went back to the offices and sat down with the Sales and Marketing teams.  Everyone was so amazing and enthusiastic about The Clockwork Three.  But more than that, I could tell that every single person I met was passionate about children’s literature in general, and I once again felt lucky to at least be a peripheral member of the Scholastic family.  Oh, and something else I thought was pretty cool: they have the company credo printed on their carpet.

We then went to the office reception.  There were lots of people there, some of whom had already read The Clockwork Three.  I started out by talking a bit about the inspiration for the book, and then I gave the reading.  I think it went pretty well, although I did read a little too quickly.  I need to just get in the habit of slowing down when I do these kinds of things.  After the reading, I signed a few ARCs for people that had them.  And then Scholastic’s CEO Dick Robinson walked in.  I was pretty excited to meet him, and to tell him how much I appreciated the speech he gave in Bologna.  He had me sign an ARC for his son, which I was very happy to do!

We finished up the day with a quick meeting with the foreign rights team, who have been working very hard and done a tremendous job of handling the foreign licensing of The Clockwork Three.  I’ll let you know more when I can, so stay tuned for announcements on that front.

How do dinosaurs...After that meeting, Lisa and I chatted some more (I noticed a Cylon perched on one of her bookshelves, and found out we’re both Battlestar Galactica fans) and then I went down to the Scholastic bookstore on the building’s ground level.  I understand it’s a favorite destination for neighborhood parents and their kids.  It would be one of mine, too, if I lived in NYC.

All in all, it was one of the best days of my life.  Really.  I felt so welcomed, and everyone was so friendly and complimentary.  It was honestly a little overwhelming, but in such a wonderful way.  I feel very lucky, very grateful, and I owe a special thank you to Lisa for putting it all together.

No. 45 Crosby StreetOne block over from the Scholastic building lies Crosby Street.  That name might be familiar to those of you who have read The Clockwork Three.  I’ve already mentioned that one of the characters in the book, Giuseppe, was inspired by a 19th century boy from NYC named Joseph.  He lived, or rather, was imprisoned at No. 45 Crosby Street.  So after I left the Scholastic offices I had to go see the address myself.

The experience was very moving.  As you can see in the picture, the building has changed from what it was in the 1870′s when Joseph lived there, but the street has not.  Those are likely the same cobblestones that Joseph walked across every night on his way back to his master.  I’m glad I got to see it.

We met a writer friend of mine, Kate Milford, for pizza at a place called Lombardi’s.  Kate’s debut novel, The Boneshaker, will be released this month, and it’s getting tremendous reviews.  I’ve read it, and it’s wonderful, and I will put up a more lengthy post about it soon.  After dinner, we had planned to go see the Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, but when we got there we were very disappointed to learn that tickets for the evening were sold out.  We decided to still try to see some of the museum (even though it was closing soon) but ended up spending more time checking and claiming our bags than we did looking at actual art.  Plus, they made me carry my laptop around.  Not the bag.  Just the laptop, which for some reason could not stay in the bag when I checked it.

After leaving the museum, we were lured into a restaurant claiming to have “the best cheesecake in the world.”  It did not.  But it was in New York, so I suppose that made it New York Cheesecake, and it was nice to spend some more time talking with Kate.  Afterward we said goodnight, Kate got on the subway, and we went back to our hotel.

I called Lisa because earlier in the day she had invited us over to hers and Liel’s apartment.  I called assuming it would probably be too late, but they said no, come on over.  So we did, and had another lovely time with them, talking and laughing into the early morning hours.  I feel very fortunate that not only do I have in Lisa a trusted and talented editor, but also a great friend.

Up next, last day, last NYC post.

NYC – Part 2 of… maybe 4?

For part 1, click here.

On the first day of sightseeing, we decided to ride the ferry out to Liberty Island and Ellis Island.  As a history buff, I was most excited about Ellis Island.  The problem was, there were a lot of other people who had the same idea.  The line to get tickets was long, but after buying tickets the wait to just get on a boat was still another two hours.  To top it off, NYC was experiencing unseasonably warm weather, and waiting outside in the hot sun wasn’t the way we wanted to spend our time.  So we bought tickets for another day, and rode the Staten Island Ferry instead.

Staten Island FerryThe Staten Island Ferry runs the five miles between Manhattan and Staten Island, and best of all, it’s free.  It takes you right by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and offers great views of lower Manhattan and New York Harbor.  It was a lot of fun.  We got out on the water where the breeze was a lot cooler, and just enjoyed the ride.  When we reached Staten Island, we just hopped on the next ferry coming back to Manhattan, about an hour round-trip.

From there we walked up through the financial district, past Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.  My editor, Lisa Sandell, met us at Trinity Church, a beautiful cathedral where we heard a youth choir sing for a few minutes.  It was really wonderful to meet Lisa for the first time.  She walked with us to Ground Zero, which was a haunting experience.  There is a profound absence there, and it’s not just the physical opening left behind in the density of the city.  There is a psychological void there, waiting to be filled.  I hope the city will soon resolve the issues and conflicts around the building of a memorial.

The Brooklyn BridgeAfter that, we walked to the Brooklyn Bridge.  A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the building of the bridge, and ever since I’ve been fascinated by the ingenuity, the bravery, and the will it took to construct it, a truly monumental feat.  So to stand beneath its grand arches, to look down at the water below, was an inspiring experience.  I can only imagine what it would have been like to cross that bridge upon its opening, at the time the largest suspension bridge in the world.  Okay, I think I might be verging on becoming a documentary myself here, so I’ll move on.

After that, we walkeWinnie the Pooh & Friendsd up through Chinatown and Little Italy, and then rode the subway up to Grand Central Station.  From there we went to the New York Public Library.  The Children’s Room there has Winnie the Pooh on display.  Like, the actual Winnie the Pooh.  And Tigger, and Kanga, and Piglet.  Even Eeyore.  The library has the original stuffed animals that A. A. Milne gave to his son, Christopher Robin.  The same toys that later inspired one of the most beloved characters in children’s literature.  They look a little threadbare and tattered (it actually appears as though Kanga might have been decapitated and had her head reattached at some point) but that only adds to their significance and charm.

That night, we went out to dinner at The Spice Market with Lisa and her husband, Liel.  It was a wonderful evening full of great food and great company, with plenty of fascinating and entertaining conversation.  If you ever meet either of them, you must ask them about the time they shared a train with smugglers on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  I’d try to tell you the story myself, but I know I wouldn’t do it justice.

More to come.

NYC – Part 1 of… not sure yet

Statue of LibertyLast week, I went to New York City.  I did a lot and saw a lot, so it’ll likely take a few posts to share it all with you.  As I mentioned, my publisher flew me in for business, but I tacked on a couple of extra days to do some sightseeing.  It was the kind of trip where you feel like you need another vacation afterward just so you can recover.  But it was an amazing experience, and I loved it.

I’ve only been to NYC once before, as a kid.  My family was living in Maryland back during the heyday of Phantom of the Opera, and one day my dad drove us up to New York to see it on Broadway.  I remember a few things about that trip, little details here and there, but I didn’t come away with a real sense of the city.  It was great to go back as an adult.

Our flight was late getting in, first because we had a freakish snowstorm in Salt Lake City and had to wait for them to defrost the plane, and second because JFK was a mess and we had to wait on the tarmac for a while before our plane could squeeze into its little parking space at the terminal.  There was this guy sitting next to us who really seemed upset by the delays.  At first, he was just shouting into his cell phone in a language that sounded Russian.  But the longer we waited, the more agitated he became.  When people got up to use the restroom, he’d gesture at them and yell what I assume were Russian swear words, because the flight crew kept saying that the pilot couldn’t move the plane until everyone was seated.  Then he started punching the seat in front of him, jarring its occupant, who pretended that the whiplash didn’t bother them.  By the time we were safely parked at the gate, all the passengers around this guy just let him get off first – “No, no, Mr. Swearing Russian Man, I already missed my connecting flight, so why don’t you go ahead of me.”  Sheesh.

The bread is a mere formality so that it can still be called a sandwich.

The bread is a mere formality so that it can still be called a "sandwich."

From JFK we caught a cab into the city.  Scholastic put us up in a hotel right off Times Square, which was pretty much an unbeatable location.  It wasn’t too late in the evening, and we were hungry, so we took a look at the map and decided to go wander around a bit.  We walked a few blocks up to Carnegie Deli, which is kind of a tourist spot, but still a landmark that serves great food.  I ordered the “Woody Allen,” a monster sandwich of corned beef and pastrami, enjoyed some hot sauerkraut, and ate a few half-sour pickles.

Apple Store - NYCThen we wandered over to the Apple Store, which I looked at but did not go inside because we didn’t have time. (That’s just what I tell myself.  The real reason is that I’m not cool enough to go inside.)  Then we walked to Rockefeller Center and watched the ice-skating.  I have to say, I was surprised by how small that rink is.  It’s the smallest ice-skating rink I think I’ve seen, but considering the little slice of real estate it occupies, it’s probably the most expensive ice skating rink on the planet.  But there were some talented skaters out on the ice.  One of them looked like he was ready for the Olympics, and another kid was just doing his own thing – a mix of hip-hop and skating.  Really cool to watch.

Times SquareWe walked through Times Square, which is a lot like walking down the Vegas Strip.  It was kind of overwhelming; full of light, and people, and energy.  The one thing it didn’t feel like was New York City, which is weird because the two are practically synonymous.  But everywhere I looked I saw generic America – “Oh, look.  There’s T.G.I. Fridays.  There’s the Hard Rock Cafe.  And there’s The Olive Garden.”  The Olive Garden??? Really?  On the one hand, I understand it.  People want to experience new things, but they want it with the safety net of the familiar beneath them.  They may be in a strange city, but if things get too stressful they can always take refuge in the menu of the chain restaurant they eat at back home.  I get it.  That’s just not what I went to NYC for.  But it was still cool to stand there in the center of it all, where they drop the ball on New Year’s Eve, and think about how many people from all around the world have been there on that same spot.  Boggles the mind, it does.

Stay tuned for more.

Best Friends

My wife and I have a yearly Christmas tradition of donating to a charity.  We usually pick a cause or an organization that we are passionate about, or has a special meaning to us that year.  This year, we are donating to the Best Friends Animal Society.  If you aren’t familiar with them, they are an amazing non-profit group dedicated to the animals we humans share our lives with, whether it be dogs, cats, horses, parrots, or just about any other little critter.  They even take in wild animals in need of medical attention or a refuge.  Animals lucky enough to end up there receive compassionate care from very dedicated animal lovers, and those pets that can be are eventually placed with adoptive families.  But those that can’t be placed, for one reason or another, are still given a wonderful life at the sanctuary – Best Friends is a no-kill organization.  Which means it is very expensive to operate and maintain.

This is the same organization that runs Dog Town, which you might have caught on the National Geographic Channel.  Dog Town received a lot of attention for taking in Michael Vick’s rescued pit bulls, many of which have since been rehabilitated and placed in loving homes.  Here’s a glimpse of what they do there in Dog Town:

I mention this because the Best Friends Animal Society has been given an amazing gift this year.  Several very generous philanthropists have offered to match all donations to the society, dollar for dollar, up to 1 million dollars.  Let me say that again. ONE MILLION DOLLARS.  From now until the end of the year (only a few weeks left!) if you donate to the society, your donation will double what the society receives.  So if your holiday season includes charitable giving, please consider giving to the Best Friends Animal Society.  They’re an amazing organization.

Thanks for listening.

Donate here.

The Green Spy

As I arrived at work the other day, my principal came into my office and asked me if I wanted to do something fun with him.

“Sure thing,” I said.

“Thanks.  I need to you be the Green Spy,” he said.

“The what?”

“The Green Spy.”

“Okay,” I said.  “What’s the Green Spy?”

“You go around to the classrooms and you give prizes to the students.  It’s for Green Ribbon Week.”

“Oh,” I said.  That sounded like fun to me.  I like going into the classrooms.  And Green Ribbon Week is intended to promote safety awareness, so I felt good about being involved.  “I could do that,” I said.

“Great!” my principal said.  “Come down to my office and get your costume.”

“Wait, I wear a costume?”  In that moment I began to experience the first flutters of apprehension over what I had just agreed to, but I followed my principal down the hallway.  We went into his office, and he shut the door.

“I was the Green Spy last year,” he said as he pulled a garment bag out of a closet.  “But the kids all figured out it was me.  I want to throw them off this year.”

He laid the garment bag out on his conference table and unzipped it.  Inside was a suit.  A green suit.  A leprechaun-green suit, with glittery gold dollar signs all over it.  It also had really wide cuffs and a fat collar printed with $100-dollar bills, only these Ben Franklin’s wore zebra-stripes and came from “The United States of Funk.”

“Uh…” I said.  “What is this?”

“It’s a pimp costume,” he said.

“A what?”  That’s when I noticed the matching hat with an exceptionally wide brim.

“Yeah, last year they told me I needed to find a green costume, but when I went to the costume shop this was the only green thing they had.”

“So the Green Spy is really the Green Pimp?”

He laughed.  Then he pulled out a Zorro mask.  “Last year I also wore this, but it wasn’t enough.  So I got something different for this year.

“What?” I asked.

“This.”  And he pulled out a green Frankenstein mask.

“This?”  I asked.

“Oh.  And you also wear this.”  He reached deeper into the garment back and pulled out a wig.  A long, black, ratty looking wig.  Like something shaved from the head of a member of an 80′s metal band.

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said.  “I wore it last year.  Except for the mask.”

By this time, I simply had to laugh and go along with it.  I stepped into the restroom to change, careful not to let any children see me.  Honestly, I felt like Miss Nelson putting on the Viola Swamp get-up and going missing (it was the black wig that did it).  I even arranged my office so it would look like I had just stepped out for a moment.  I worried about the costume fitting, but since it was made of a conveniently stretchy and forgiving material, I was able to pull it on.  Then the latex mask, the wig, and finally, the pimp hat.  I looked in the mirror, and I honestly scared myself.

I took a deep breath and stepped out in the hallway where I startled some PTA moms.

“I’m the Green Spy,” I said as I walked by, attempting to act casual.  I hoped they knew what the Green Spy was.

They just stared, so maybe they didn’t.

In the main office, my principal saw me and laughed.  “You look awesome!  Let’s go get the prizes.”  We stepped back into his office, and he pulled out a bag that one of the Green Ribbon Week sponsors had left for the students.  We opened it up and looked inside.  It was filled with ball-point pens, key chains, and little breath mint dispensers, all with the name of a local insurance agency printed on them.  The kind of freebies you see in little baskets on receptionists’ desks that no one ever takes.

“These are the prizes?” I asked.

He shook his head.  “Let me make a call.”

So I hung out in the costume, trying to avoid the hallways where I might be seen, until my principal found me.  He had the bag of “prizes” with him.  “We’ll go ahead and use these.  The kids will love them.”

I shrugged.  “So I just give one to every student?”

“No, just the ones wearing green.”

I stopped.  “Um.  I’m color-blind.”

“You are?”

“Yes.”

“So what do you see?”

“I just can’t tell certain colors apart.”

“What colors?”

“Red and green.”

“Oh.”

“So how am I supposed to–”

“The teachers will help you.  Let’s go.”

So I walked with him down the kindergarten hall, a Frankenstein Colorblind Pimp Monster, hoping to somehow spot the kids who were wearing green through a mask that was getting pretty… moist.  “How should I talk?” I asked my principal.  “Like, what kind of voice should I use?”

“Any voice you want,” he said.  “I’m going in first to turn off the lights, then I’ll turn them back on when you walk in.”

So he did, and I stepped through the door, and he turned the lights on.

Several kids in the class screamed.  All of them looked frightened.  Their poor teacher even jumped a little, but realized that I was apparently the Green Spy she had heard would be coming through.

“Look kids!” she said.

“It’s a green monster!” one of the students shouted.

“No,” she said.  “It’s the Green Spy!”

And here, I spoke.  Don’t ask me why I chose the voice I did.  I don’t really know.  I was trying to sound, you know, sneaky.  Like a spy telling a secret.  But instead it came out sounding like a raspy old witch.  “I’m the Green Spy!” I hissed.  “I’m here to give you a prize!  Who’s wearing green?”

No one raised their hand.  I don’t think they wanted me to come any closer.

I looked around.  “Who’s wearing green?” I asked again.  Seriously, who’s wearing green?

“Raise your hands if you have green on,” my principal said.

Hands went up, and I made the rounds with my bag of crap.  And the kids really did seem to like the prizes after all.  Especially the keychains.  I finished handing it all out, and said, “I’ll be back next year!” but it sounded less like a good thing and more like a threat.

“That was great!” my principal said out in the hallway.  “Let’s go to the next class.”

We repeated that for every room in the building.  First grade to sixth.  Every class tried to guess who I was, but none of them did.  Some even claimed I was the principal, even though he was standing right next to me.  I tried different voices throughout the morning, even doing my best James Bond with a vaguely British accent.  And soon I was back in the bathroom, staring at the mirror in a state of semi-disbelief before I removed the Frankenstein mask and pimp suit.  The wig had left my hair in a matted, sweaty mess, so I waited a few minutes for it to dry so as not to give out any clues to my identity (Clark Kent would be proud).  I replaced the costume in the garment bag and returned to my office.

A little while later, a couple of students came by to ask me if I knew who the Green Spy was.  I just shrugged and tossed them some red herring clues about the custodian and the assistant principal.  Something about a black wig I saw in one of their closets.  The students left, and I smiled, and I thought about what a cool job I have.  But if I get to be the Green Spy next year, I think I’ll try a Tony the Tiger voice instead.  Not very spy-ish, but hopefully less frightening.

Now, if you truly want to see the costume, click here (and notice how none of the kids are standing near me).