Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Frequent Flyer

During the first ten weeks of 2014 I’ve made four different journeys; three lasted five days and one lasted eight.  This meant I spent about a third of my time away from home.  I traveled by plane and during January, February, and March we had ongoing intense winter conditions.  For me, air travel plus weather, equals worry. 
My worries were well-grounded.  First trip, Pittsburgh to New York, we had several inches of new snow on the ground as did my daughter whom I planned to visit.  I had an afternoon flight, so woke early to check status.  The morning flights were all cancelled, but beginning with the noonish ones, the schedules reported on time.  I didn’t know if that meant the planes would really fly, or just that the airline hadn’t yet gotten around to cancelling my flight.  Still, I trudged out to the airport, ready to turn around and return home if needed.  But a midday flight actually posted as boarding, so I took that as an omen for my own takeoff, two hours later.  In fact, the only small delay I encountered was a brief stop at the de-icing machine, not something to complain about in such weather.  The return trip was similarly iffy, but I indeed took off and landed on time.  The parkway was wet but clear when I returned to Pittsburgh; my only tricky driving happened at the very end of the trip—the last three miles of afternoon driving through city streets were icy, slushy, slow.

Two weeks later, I visited my other daughter in Los Angeles.  That trip included a six AM departure, thus leaving the house at four in the morning.  Again, the weather gods were dumping on us, and while I wasn’t particularly worried about snow in either LA or my stopover in Phoenix, I did worry about what if my flight got delayed or cancelled?  Would I make it at all? Would I get stuck somewhere?  So travel plus weather plus connecting flights equals more worry equals insomnia.  And there’s not a whole lot of night available to the sleeper who must leave home at four in the morning. 

LA also brought the question of clothing.  New York and Pittsburgh share similar climates, similar weather patterns.  Mostly, Monday's weather in Pittsburgh is Tuesday's in New York,  highly predictable.  But while I could wear my sheepskin boots and puffy down coat eastward, no way would I need those in California.  So I compromised, stashing heavy winter gear in my car so I’d have it for the ride home.  A good plan, as the clouds flung a wintry mix at western Pennsylvania just as I flew home.  A midnight ride home on a clear parkway, but again, muck as I neared my house.  This was getting old.

A conference in Seattle too required an early departure, changing planes, varieties of clothing, insomnia the night before.  By the third trip, I viewed the stop at the de-icing station as just a normal stage in travel.  Likewise, having snow in the ground before takeoff didn’t even seem worth a comment.  That trip routed me through Dulles airport, where the snow was deeper on the ground and thicker in the air than at home.  Why did I have to head east in order to travel west?  It seemed to invite chaos.  But in fact, I was traveling on a frequent flyer award ticket, in first class of all things.  They offer you wine if you’d like it, at six in the morning.  No thanks.  But they also got us to our destination on time with minimal hassle, both westward and eastward.  As in the two previous trips, my last three miles home were slick and slippery, but I felt grateful to be home and safe and on the ground.

In all of my winter’s travel, only one trip included a delay, a family vacation to Colorado.  This trip required no connections, no what ifs?  If we arrived late, we’d have a late dinner, no problem.  Ironically, that trip left late in the day on a sunny afternoon.  No nasty weather to deal with at all.  Instead, as we lined up to board, the pilot entered the terminal and reported mechanical issues.  So they sat us all back down and delayed boarding for an hour.  This trip occurred, just as news was breaking via a TV at the airport gate about a plane that had gone missing enroute to China.  So I was very grateful to the pilot for discovering the mechanical glitch and to the technicians who quickly repaired the problem.  In spite of the mechanical issue, this flight was the least worrisome of all.  Departures and landings happened in warm, dry weather and they served interesting snack packages on board for once. 

On each of my long flights I worked on student papers, alternating with recreational reading.  And each flight got me where I wanted to go without serious incidents.  So now I’m back on the ground, and for the next ten weeks, I’m staying put.  I’ve been a frequent flyer, but I’ve decided something.  My next several trips will be short, local, and primarily on foot.  I have those things, attached to my body—feet.  The wings were borrowed.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Polar What???

This polar vortex thing is really bothering me.  As  writer, I pay close attention to words.  I choose them carefully in my own work and I try to respond appropriately to them in my reading.  So all these predictions of another polar vortex, or a named winter storm, they make me grumble and shiver.  Earlier in my life we had these things called cold spells.  It meant that the thermometer would plunge for several days and we should wear  lots of warm clothing.  Stir up some hot chocolate.  Every winter we had a spell of frigid weather, and if we were lucky, it would coincide with he arrival of spring planting catalogs, which offered a vision of warm days, bright sunshine, fresh garden tomatoes.

Cold weather has not just been recently invented.  The planet has even endured ice ages and glaciers.  For those of us who live in the north, ponds do freeze.  Snow does fall.  But also, spring will arrive.  If you believe in Punxatawney Phil, the Western Pennsylvania amazing marmot, spring will in fact arrive soon this year, as today, February 2 (aka Groundhoug Day) was gray and cloudy.  Not a furry shadow in sight.  But don't put away your mittens just yet...

As a younger woman in graduate school, I once bemoaned the terrible cold of a Boston winter's day.

"Well look at you," one of my classmates said.  "Of course you're cold.  Light jacket, no scarf, no hat, thin gloves.  You need to layer up.  Get some warm stuff."

I stared at her.  She wore a sheepskin coat, thick boots, what appeared to be hand-knitted hat and scarf and mittens.  Her cheeks were ruddy but she also wore a smile.

I followed her advice and learned to dress for that slimy Boston winter weather, snow-changing-to-rain.  I stopped complaining and began to enjoy winter--snowshoes and cross country skis and hikes along frozen rivers.  When time permitted, I even left Boston behind for the colder weather of Maine.  Enjoyed it.

These days I feel like a missionary of sorts, encouraging others to also enjoy this dramatic season.    But naming winter storms as if they're hurricanes, or calling a cold snap a polar vortex doesn't help.  It just encourages people to complain.  And complaining involves mostly hot air, not hot chocolate.  Not nearly so delicious.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Long Time No Blog

Sometimes life gets in the way.  For the past year and a half, I've been AWOL, no news, no blog.  That's not quite right.  In fact there's been too much going on, so I've been preoccupied, mostly by family concerns.  But as they say on some TV show or another, sheee's baaack!  And just as bad news seems to clump up and overwhelm us from time to time, just now I have lots of good news to share.  So I'm starting the New Year off right, with good news times five.   
First, and most exciting, Bear Season has just been released by Autumn House Press.  It's my first book of nonfiction for adults, a series of braided essays about the American black bear.  Why?  I've had a number of bear encounters, some of them fairly close-up and exciting.  And the book is for adults, as some of the content is X-rated.  Yes, bears do get up to mischief, but sadly, we've behaved badly toward them as well, not such good reading for children.  I've had a couple of reading events and will be promoting the book at the AWP Conference (Associated Writing Programs) in Seattle in late February.
My second bit of news is that an old friend has returned.  Family Tree, my first book, is back in print after being out of print for some time.  The current edition, available on Amazon in both print and electronic versions, has a new cover with my young friend Claire as model and my old friend Susan Abrams as illustrator.  The story has been revised only slightly.  In the first version, Tyler, the main character, discovers and plays some music tapes.  In the newer edition, those tapes have morphed into CDs.  Not a lot of change, but it should feel more up to date for today's readers.

Another book has a new face.  In a few days, Up, Down, and Around will be released by Candlewick Press in a brand new, Spanish Language edition.  This story has traveled widely in English, and now gets to venture forth to Spanish readers as Arriba, Abajo y Alrededor.  Fortunately for the book and for readers, the wonderful illustrations by Nadine Bernard Westcott remain the same.

For people who know me well, the next bit of news won't come as a surprise.  I do like to tell people what to do.  Some folks might label that as bossiness.  I prefer to think of it as sharing knowledge, which I do on a regular basis as professor of writing.  Now, two articles of professional advice and writing technique will appear in the 2014  collection produced by The Institute for Children's Literature:  "Secret Weapons in Character Development," and "Avoiding the Passive Voice."

All of these projects have been underway for some time, but it's fun when so many lovely things happen at once.    Sometimes, the good news doesn't even come from one's own efforts, as is the case with the last bit of news.  I now have a new title, a new job description--I'm a Great Aunt.  I hope I've been a great aunt for some time now, or at least a good one, with nephews ranging in age from early thirties down to mid-teens.  But with the arrival of the newest member of the Ayres family, it's official.  I'm a Great Aunt--and he's a little sweetie.  Nothing like a new baby to make the New Year truly joyous.  I hope your year is lovely too.