Friday, February 24, 2012

I Did the Dub!

On February 15, 2012, my school filmed its second annual Lip Dub. Today was the grand release day. The first ever showing was in our school auditorium at 2:00 this afternoon, and within half an hour, it was live on YouTube. It's hard to describe what a moving experience it is to take part in something like this. I've always loved theater and music and being part of the CHS community, and being in a Lip Dub is such a wonderful combination of everything. Students, teachers, and yes, even one of our resident school mice was caught on camera. (I'm not going to say where. You'll have to watch everything to see!)

And where is the famous author? Yeah, about that. You see, I thought it would be cool to film the Dub being made, and so on one of the five (I think -- I sort of lost count) takes, my focus was elsewhere as the official camera went by, so all of me that was caught is my disembodied arm in a blue shirt holding a small camera in the cafeteria. And of course, that is the take that was used. But that's okay, because it's all about the spirit of the thing, and believe me, there was plenty of that.

Reflecting on this event, I realized that I was a student in the Colchester district for twelve years in the '70's and '80's. In another three and a half weeks, I will have been a member of the special education staff in the high school for twelve years. I have no idea how that happened. So in less than a month, I will have been part of the community longer as an adult (well, I pretend to be, anyway) than I was as a kid. To say that it's an important part of me is an understatement. When I watched this Lip Dub today, I saw some ghosts in the familiar hallways and cafeteria and gym and auditorium. In my memory, other faces lined the halls, other laughter echoed down the stairs. You all know who you are. I was thinking about you as this was being filmed, and so, as much as it's possible, I think that my hand and camera symbolize those who are there only in spirit.

(Class of 1981 -- we are totally the best! Yeah! Go Lakers! Blue and Green forever!)

The links:

The Colchester High School 2012 Lip Dub

The Making of the 2012 Lip Dub

And the links to last year's Lip Dub (which has gotten over 12,000 hits in a year and all kinds of positive feedback)

Making of the 2011 Lip Dub

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I'm in a Bookstore!

I knew that my local independent bookstore, Phoenix Books in Essex, was carrying Under the Willow, but whenever I've popped in, they've been out, which I guess is a good thing. Nor have I popped in very often lately -- the more I write, the less I read. But I stopped in recently just for the fun of it, looking to spend a gift certificate, and I couldn't help but pass through the young adult section and run my eye over the shelves. And a green binding with white letters jumped out at me. My God, I thought, I'm in a bookstore.

Then I didn't quite know what to do. In a movie, there would have been a great swelling of music and all that stuff. But nothing at all happened to mark the moment I'd been waiting for, for a long, long time. I probably would have just slipped out of the store, but the next thing I knew, my husband had grabbed a copy and was running up to the cash register calling, "Hey, the author of this book is here!"

I was mortified, but the folks at the desk were all excited, and the next thing I knew, I was autographing copies and they were sticking labels on the front that said, "Autographed Copy." I have books that I've bought there with those same stickers! And then they put the copies back on the shelf, this time with the cover facing outward.

I thought I handled the whole thing very coolly and professionally, mentioning that my second novel was coming out in June, and they wanted me to let them know the moment it was available, and I could have just made my purchase and left gracefully. But no, I went back to the shelf and took a photo. Everyone laughed. They could see right through me.

And I didn't really care.

Can you see it? Third shelf up from the bottom. Prettiest cover in the store!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tundra Swans

Last week, I learned that three Tundra Swans were hanging around in the Ausable Marsh State Wildlife Management Area, just south of Plattsburgh, New York. Tundra Swans are very unusual around here. They nest in the arctic in Alaska and the northern reaches of Canada. Most of them winter in the west, but a few head over to the Atlantic. No one knows why three of them have decided to hang out here for a while, but I suspect the lake caught their attention because of all the unusual open water this year. Or they just know a good lake when they see it.

Whatever the reason, I got over my cold in a hurry and organized a trip.  A friend of mine said in amazement, "Kari Jo, you're going to give up half your weekend to a possibly vain attempt to peer at three birds through binoculars?"

My response was a slightly more eloquent version of, "Hell, yeah!"

So my husband, his parents, and I headed across the lake on a ferry yesterday afternoon in temperatures that weren't much above zero, into a wind that literally felt like knives. It took us a few attempts to find the park because the sign had been taken down for the season, but within about thirty seconds of leaving the main road, we came upon a line of cars full of people with binoculars and spotting scopes trained on the water. My kind of folk.

And within another few moments, I had nailed species number 240 for my life list.

We spent about an hour watching the swans. There were three of them -- two adults and their immature offspring. Tundra Swans mate for life, and their young stay with them for a while. Our timing couldn't have been better. Soon after we arrived, the swans stopped feeding and began to bathe with much splashing and flapping, and then they stepped out onto the ice to preen their feathers into place. I took over 90 shots of them, periodically popping back into the van to warm up. These are my favorite:

As we first saw them, looking elegant. The immature is on the right.

Because they were eating aquatic plants below the surface, I got a lot of shots that looked like this.

Or like this.
"Really not your best angle, honey."

Then they began bathing and splashing.

The immature came up on the ice first and shook like a dog.

Then he got down to preening

Dad joined him.
Mom: "Guys, I'm still bathing! Quit staring at a lady!"

"Oops, sorry!"

"Jeez! What I don't go through!"

"Yeah, but you know I'm gorgeous!"
 "Do you notice I'm not looking at you?"
"God, parents!"

"I am so not looking at you! Even though I know you're doing the leg thing."

"On the other hand, there's a famous author with a camera over there, and she blogs a lot, so we'd better give her a nice shot, huh?"

Just for the record, it's impossible to tell the genders of Tundra Swans apart. (Well, for us to, anyway.) I just have an overactive imagination. But what else was I supposed to do with 90 shots of swans? And also for the record, these shots were all taken with my 300mm lens and then enlarged, so I was (obviously) not near enough to disturb them. (I love digital. You don't want to know how much money I used to spend on film. Yes, I developed my own. A darkroom used to be one of my favorite places.)

So after we bade the swans farewell, we were all eager to warm up in a restaurant in downtown Plattsburgh with my skeptical friend, who is probably no longer skeptical but convinced that I've lost touch with sanity. Then another ferry ride home. Yes, I stood at the railing and looked at the dark sky and the dark water and the lights on either shore, and thought lofty thoughts about swans and freedom and flying and how wicked cold my ears were getting.

All in all, a lovely day, well spent!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Cat Rescue Story Part II

Followers of my blog may recall that my family and I spent Christmas morning rescuing our wandering cat, Whisper, from the top of a silo in a falling down barn near our house. The story had a happy ending, but it involved five largish people clumped together on an unsafe floor and climbing on very unsafe ladder, and all kinds of drama involving a free falling cat being grabbed over an abyss by the author herself.

Suffice it to say, I have been keeping my furry wanderer under lock and key ever since Christmas. Well, okay, I take pity on him and let him out once in a great while, and he always comes straight back inside the minute his precious little paws hit the cold patio stones. He's been the perfect little purry kitty, looking very chastised when I remind him daily how lucky he is.

Until yesterday.

I stayed home from school with one of those colds that feels like head explosion is imminent every second, where your eyes are red and oozy, your ears are blocked, your throat feels like sandpaper, and things are not okay in your tummy. A cup of tea and your pillow are the most important parts of your life. But of course a mom has responsibilities even on a sick day, so I managed to let the dog in and out a few times. Since it was a warmish, sunny day, the cats went out, too. Because I was feeling so miserable, I went back to bed without counting heads when the pack was ready to come in.

It wasn't until I was about to fall into bed for the night, at about nine o'clock, that I realized something was wrong. I'd let Ruby, our golden retriever, outside while I was doing the final sweep through the house to gather up tissues and a glass of water to get me through the night. But when I called her back in, she didn't come. Well, sometimes when I've called and she's been right in the middle of doing what I let her out for, she won't come, for obvious reasons. I gave her a few more minutes, then went to the door again. Still no Ruby.

I immediately began to think that she'd been run over, even though traffic is almost non-existent around here. Or maybe she'd slipped on the ice and fallen into the brook and been swept away. Or been attacked by a pack of wild pigs! But before I could get too alarmed, she bounded up the steps.

Relieved, I start heading to bed again, but something about the way Ruby sat down and looked at me just wasn't right. I don't know if I've said this before, but Ruby is one smart dog. All dog owners think that about their pets, but Ruby really is. She stopped me from walking into a bear once, and she's very protective of the girls and the cats. And she was giving me this look with her eyebrows wrinkled up and her ears half cocked, like she knew something I needed to know.

And then it hit me that I hadn't seen Whisper all afternoon.

Somehow, I knew that Ruby had just followed his scent down to the barn, and that he was at the top of the silo again.

Of course, I searched the house. No Whisper, and he's not one of those cats who hides behind the washing machine for fun. He's gone.

I called my husband, on his way home from a band rehearsal. (He's in FOUR bands now, which means practicing FOUR nights a week. I've got nothing against music, but REALLY!) So, figuring he owes me since he just sprang band number four on me yesterday, I called him in the car and asked him to stop at the barn on his way up the road and see what's going on in there. He sputtered about it, but he was in no position to refuse, especially since I'm sick, so I went to bed, hoping Whisper would come crawling out from under it.

He doesn't.

I couldn't sleep.

So I got up, got dressed, found my flashlight, got in my car, and drove to the barn. I know it's just down the road, but it's dark, it's icy, the bears area awake and hungry, and I'm SICK! I park and walk around the outside, calling his name. I don't want to have to deal with the old door and the frozen rock that keeps it closed if I don't have to.


I've just about convinced myself that Whisper must have decided to hide behind the washing machine like normal cats do, and that Ruby and I had miscommunicated, and that I can go home to my pillow, when I hear a very faint, "Mew?" from deep inside the barn.

The first words I said are not appropriate for the blog of a young adult writer.

So I dealt with the door and the frozen rock, picked my way through the holes in the floor with my flashlight, went up the rickety stairs to the bottom of the silo, eased my way to the ladder over the abyss, and shone the light upwards.

Two yellow eyes looked down at me from the very top, and somebody said, "Mew?"

I said more inappropriate things involving getting his little, gray, furry self down here this instant, or sooner. He just looked down at me pitifully. So I put my flashlight on a pile of old storm windows, aimed upward, stepped over the abyss and headed up the ladder with no clear plan in mind other than what was I was going to do to him when I got up there.

As soon as I started climbing, my body blocked the light so I could see nothing above me. And then I remembered that I had had knee surgery a year ago and that my knee did not like rickety, narrow ladders. So I climbed back down, stepped over the abyss, and said a lot more inappropriate things to Whisper. I even pulled out my ultimate card -- I told him that I would send him to live with a friend of mine who has been known to threaten to put her cats in a BLENDER!

He was unmoved by the threat. (As I'm sure her cats are, too.)

So I went home. My husband arrived shortly. He and I and our youngest daughter had a council session. Obviously, our plan of attack that had been so effective the first time wouldn't work now, because two key players weren't here -- our oldest daughter and her firefighter boyfriend. We're on our own. And it's pushing eleven o'clock. Things are not looking good. (Well, technically our oldest daughter is part of the conversation, via her phone, on which she is coming up with all kinds of useful advice like, "You had to let the cat out today, Mom!")

Ultimately, my husband, daughter, and I, with the cat crate and a towel and several flashlights, head toward the barn. We do the door, rock, holes, climb into silo thing, and there are more pitiful meows and more language, and eventually our daughter heads up the ladder. She gets to the part where it gets dark, and down she comes. Now, I'm ripped, so I head up the ladder again, and I get to part where my knee starts to hurt, so I come down. My husband goes looking for lumber, thinking to make a makeshift ramp, or something, but nothing is lending itself to the cause.

So we have another consultation. Whisper appears to be just fine. He's in a sheltered place. We have a neighbor who's a building contractor who will come over first thing in the morning and brave the ladder. Morning is just a few hours away at this point. (Our daughter points out that she mentioned all of the above an hour ago in the kitchen during our first council.) So we go home and go to bed, leaving a message on our neighbor's answering machine to help us rescue a cat first thing.

Trying to sleep when you're sick isn't easy anyway. No matter how I tried to lie, I couldn't breathe. I had one of those sore coughs that get worse if you cough, but you can't not cough. My ears were making all kinds of popping, squealing noises that sounded like a cat meowing. My bad knee ached. And you know those feverish, thirty-second nightmares that leave you all drenched in sweat? I had one those whenever I did dose off. I dreamed I was holding onto a ladder over an abyss and somebody was throwing human skulls at me. I dreamed I was holding onto a ladder and there were wild pigs below me, slavering and trying to reach my heels. And whenever I woke up, I knew my cat was stuck inside a silo.

At last, the alarm went off. I let Ruby and our good cat, Pumpkin, out, feeling worse than I had the morning before. I blundered around the kitchen a while, trying to decide what pills to take and if I'm even still breathing. I will obviously be worthless at school, since I would be capable of little save being living example of somebody with The Plague. I call in sick. And then I let Ruby and the cats in.

I've literally closed the door and am halfway across the kitchen before I realise that I've let TWO cats in. Whisper is there at the food bowl, just as normal as can be. I stare at him, wondering if the whole THING was a fever dream. I'm still kind of speechless when my daughter and husband meander into the kitchen. I point at Whisper, and from their reactions, I gather that it wasn't a dream. It sinks into all of us that not only was last night completely unnecessary, but our whole Christmas morning rescue was completely unnecessary! There is some more inappropriate language. The B word might even have been used.

As Whisper finished his breakfast and sauntered off to our bedroom, our neighbor called. We tell him that the rescue is unnecessary, and there is a pause, and then he kind of tentatively asks us if we know how dangerous that silo is. This, from a building contractor, who builds buildings for a living. In fact, he says he thinks the whole thing is about to fall down. We don't say much. And then he says that he guesses he'll seal the whole thing up this weekend. We agree that that would be an excellent idea.

So a few minutes ago, I slipped back into the silo, hopefully for the last time, to retrieve the cat crate and the towel we left there last night, in case our neighbor decides to board it all up today instead. And I notice I sign I'd never seen there before in the dark. It says, "Danger. Area may contain unexploded explosive devices."

Huh. I do remember something about a previous owner of the farm involved in a militia group.

So not only could we have fallen to our deaths, we could have blown up, too!

And Whisper just innocently washes his face.

(The board lying across the abyss to the ladder is the one my husband tried to make an ariel ramp out of. Like I could have carried that up the ladder?)

(The bright spot way up there is where Whisper was.)

(Proof it wasn't a dream.)

(See? I wasn't exagerating! We could have all blown up!)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

It's Bear Day!

Well, the rest of the country is celebrating Groundhog Day, but I'm celebrating Bear Day. While I was driving home from school today, I saw a bear! I came around a bend on a winding, narrow road, and there, just ahead of me, stood a big, black shape. I knew it was a bear -- I didn't even think it might be a big dog. Nothing else is that color black. It was just really, really black, and beautiful, and wild, and man, was I glad I was in my car. Before I could get a good look, it was gone. Just gone.

When I got up to the spot where it had been, I slowed and looked hard, reaching for my camera, but there was no sign of it. Far down below, a stream crossed under the road in a large culvert. I suspect the bear had been following the water. When the stream disappeared into the culvert, the bear was forced up and over the road. Somewhere in the woods below, the bear was still probably heading downstream.

It seems early for bears to be out of hibernation, but in the last few days, I have been seeing raccoons and smelling skunks, so I assume bears are waking and rambling about, too. This means I probably should bring in my bird feeders, but I really don't want to do that yet. This bear was miles from my house. The ones who live around me are still sleeping. I'm certain of it. Yup.

It was cloudy, so the bear didn't see its shadow. I wonder what that means for the rest of the winter?

Probably absolutely nothing.