For All of You Halloween Birthdays

Little Z on piano! Yours truly on vocals. I have dim memories of my Aunt Lou singing this when I was a child. That's pretty much all you need to know, right there.

Christina McMullen & Ben Boyce Collaborate on "Going Green"

Illustration by Ben Boyce

One of the benefits of writing about your favorite artists is that, if the stars align, they may discover each other and collaborate. 

And so, it is happening. Two of my favorite artists, Ben Boyce (visual) and Christina McMullen (literary) are collaborating on a project. Boyce is working on illustrations for a special edition of McMullen's book Going Green.

You may remember that Ben Boyce and I are both members of The Tenderfoot Collective, a group of wacky artists who have an art show together about once a year. 

I know Christina McMullen reads this blog, and I do believe she found Ben Boyce through it. I'm not sure if Boyce reads it, but I do know he bought a copy of my book Exhaust(ed) - well, he traded a painting for it, and I felt like I got the better part of that deal. 

No release date has been announced yet, but I am definitely buying this book (Special Edition of Going Green written by Christina McMullen & illustrated by Ben Boyce)! Having read Going Green without pictures, and knowing Ben's style, I know this will be perfect. Above is a scene from the book. I guess this is a sneak peak. 
  I'll let you know when I have more details. 


“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”   -Kurt Vonnegut

The "just one person" is me, usually... but with the children's book? The one person is Little Z. That seems, so far, to be working out just fine. I just ask her what she likes. Usually, she tells me what she likes. Sometimes, she just says, "We don't care about that." Meaning children. She does not care about where the words are placed on the page, so long as she can read the story. She does not like scary looking spiders, but she likes cute spiders, even if they have someone that looks like her tied up in a web. She does like giraffes in sunglasses. She likes crows in hats. 

It's easiest to write to one person. Vonnegut was right. 

Synergy Achieved

As you know, Professor Batty and the Weaver met me for lunch today. The following is a play-by-play of this exciting event:

12:00 I arrive at the coffee shop. Look around. See no Batty.

12:03 In the corner of the coffee shop sits a man who could be Professor Batty, if Professor Batty, since the last photo he posted of himself, had drunk a pint of gin every day and also had his hair cut by weasels. I tentatively approach the man. "Are you meeting someone here?" I ask.

"No," he says, and suddenly looks friendlier. "Don't know what they look like?"

"Not entirely sure."

I should have told Batty to wear a red carnation on his lapel. What was I thinking?

12:04 Professor Batty and the Weaver arrive, guns drawn, and clear out the saloon with a... I'm sorry. That's a different story. Professor Batty and the Weaver arrive and lavish me with gifts. I, in turn, present three young sheep- or maybe just some of their wool, for the Weaver.

12:05-1:35 We have much conversation of blogs past. I am amused to learn that the Weaver doesn't read blogs.

1:36 I start to sign a copy of my book to give to Prof. Batty. "Your real name is John, right?"


1:40 We pose for a picture. (The Weaver is taking the photo.)
Old School Bloggers Batty (Not Named John) and Me (Also Not Named John)

1:45 I attempt to give Mr. and Mrs. Batty a tour of our fare village, only to find that most of my fellow villagers observe a day of rest on Mondays, and almost everything is closed.

1:53 A trip to Mindless Minion Central is suggested, for purposes of visiting mindless sheep and generally killing time in the beauty of nature. 

1:57 I visit the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired bed and breakfast which is Batty Headquarters Abroad. Very impressive. Too bad I live here and can't justify staying there.

2:13 In the car: I am pleased to see that the Battymobile has spiffy coat hangers in back, actually put to their proper use.

2:17 Mindless Minion Central i.e. The farm i.e. Hammerdown Manor is shown to Batty, but he seems to know it well.

2:20 Sheep skittish. As usual. Pictures taken. Documentation.

2:23 Beautiful day, isn't it?

2:40 Still beautiful day. Chances of thunderstorm discussed.

3:00 Battymobile rolls back to town.

3:01 Synergy achieved.

A Scourge of Mosquitoes

Childish "Wanda" Font, Typed Onto Picture

"A Murder of Crows and Other Woes" comes out November 25.

Update (after comments) following suggestions:

More playful, I think, and also this is the right finger.

Where do golf clubs come from?

It's the question every parent dreads,

"Mommy, where do golf clubs come from?"

You stammer for a moment... sweat beads out from under your bra... your normally pleasant child now seems like a Gestapo interrogator, busting into your house at four in the morning on a cold and dark night in Sebastopol (or maybe Graton). You try to begin as so many doomed souls before you have begun,

"Um... well, it's like this... there's some birds... and there's some bees, and, um-"

When you finally do explain it, the child is horrified,

"Is that where you and daddy got your golf clubs?" she yells, indignant and horrified. "I don't believe it!"

Unfortunately, for me, it is too late. My daughter has already popped the question. But for the rest of you, I give you this charming lie:

Fresh, Organic Golf Clubs

Golf clubs grow on farms, and then they are delivered into your chimney by a stork.

I give you permission to use this photo with your children. Don't feel bad about lying to them. Everyone does it. One day, when they are more mature, you can tell them the truth about where golf clubs come from.

Until then, keep up the mindless parenting! And remember: I know best. Always.  


Two things seem, for technical reasons, to be best:

1. All of the backgrounds should be white, so it blends with the white pages of the Create Space formatting.
Little Z believes I need to add roads to go with the road sign. Criticism noted.

2. The words need to be part of a picture, so as to combine pictures and words, the way kids like. Otherwise, I can't have it be an ebook. (Ebooks don't mix pictures and words, at this point.) Not that it really needs to be an ebook, although I thought it would be nice.

I have been looking at children's books, and the words aren't usually too fancy... nevertheless I might end up typing them out. I can't decide.

And another thing:

3. I think it would be good for me to choose a drawing style, and stick to it! I'm narrowing it down. All of the drawings will be slightly different in the actual final version.

4. May I have your opinion? Typed words or hand written? Number two is hand written. Here is typed:

I Have Lice

Schoolwork comes home every Friday. Today a poster of Little Z's came home, one of those all about me I'm so special pieces that only work if you're fewer than nine years. Here I show you the top of the Z:
"What does that say?" I asked.

"It says, 'I have lice,' and look at the cute little lice I drew!"

"But you don't have lice!"

"No, I don't have lice, the Z has lice. The Z is a snake, and the snake has lice in his hair, see?"


"They're so cute, the little licies... What is a lice, anyway?"

I didn't escape until a quarter to three

except that
A clutter of spiders was waiting for me
They spun their webs
Most vehemently
I didn’t escape 
Until a quarter to three
(The Scissors in my backpack
were what set me free.) 

... and 1 More Illustration for "A Murder of Crows and Other Woes," coming Nov. 25

Then a whole smack of jellyfish
Came stinging at me
I thought I was dead
Until I grabbed onto a tree

It's difficult to anthropomorphize jellyfish... so I didn't.

A Reason to Believe In Magic

All sorts of things today would have appeared to be "magic" and "witchcraft" three hundred years ago. Cars, smart phones, television, computers, curing diseases, all of this was just unimaginable then. And we understand things about our world and about the universe that were not understood back then. And every year- even every day- we're learning more and more about the world and things that were previously beyond our understanding, as humans.

So, it stands to reason that there is much more out there that we still do not understand. In another three hundred years, if humanity still exists, there will be more wonders that would absolutely blow our minds today- assuming we continue to progress and understand more. So those things that may exist in the future, those are things that might, at this point, seem like "magic." Which means that magic actually is possible.

This has been knocking around in my brain for a few days, but the thing that really put me over the edge was this news story about the Ig Noble awards, and specifically the analysis of dogs pooping:

"An international team of biologists led by Vlastimil Hart of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague was describing an experiment on dogs. The researchers were trying to measure the animal's ability to detect Earth's magnetic field... After observing 70 dogs defecate 1893 times and urinate 5582 times over a 2-year period, the researchers noticed that the dogs sometimes aligned the axis of their bodies with the geomagnetic field. As the team reported last year in Frontiers in Zoology, on days with random geomagnetic fluctuations, the dog's orientation while pooping and peeing also tended toward random."

This idea of dogs aligning their bodies to the Earth's magnetic field, while pooping and peeing, that, to me, a few days ago? Magic. Pure magic. 

So, you see, it's out there. Magic really exists. 

I'm feeling magnetic north this way...

Blog of the Month Award

I would like to start a thing where I give out an award each month for the best blog. There are too many blogs to really say which one is the bestesteverohmygodit'sgreat! for once and all time, so I thought a monthly thing would be nice. But then I thought, what are the criteria?

1. I like to read it. (duh)
2. It's compelling for other people who aren't me, probably. Which means: No friends. I'm not going to have anyone I have ever met in person be the author of the blog of the month- although, let it be known, I love my friends' blogs!
3. Nothing that millions of people read. This is small. I want to promote people who deserve more attention than they get.

So, that being said, the first Blog of the Month is Professor Batty's "Flippism is the Key," which I have been following for, oh... eight years? I think?

Holy cow! It must be really good, right? It is. He's got it all: fact, fiction, great photography, and it's updated all the time. He's on his game. That must be why he's the Professor, eh?

It had to be this month, if I were to follow rule number two, because guess what? I'M GOING TO MEET PROFESSOR BATTY IN PERSON!!!

Yep. That's right. I get to meet Professor Batty and the Weaver, his partner in... well, his partner.

I'm so excited, I even created a countdown clock:

Congratulations, Professor Batty.

More Book Illustrations

I'm still working on some book illustrations for A Murder of Crows and Other Woes.

Oh, Daddy I wanted to go! 
The Monday before last
I remember it well
I had just finished breakfast
When I heard the school bell
I went running so fast, 
past the old Chestnut tree
(It’s a really nice way, I think you’ll agree)

My Personal Publicist Is Seven

A few weeks ago, as soon as I said I was writing a children's book, Little Z came up with a plan: I should write it and read it to her, make sure she likes it, and then read it to her class at school. If it plays well to her classmates, I can publish it. If not, I should rewrite it.

I did not necessarily entirely agree with this plan, but I knew I would end up going with it, because this is how she is. She is deaf to negativity. "Come upstairs and watch my play," she might say. "No," you might say. "Okay then," she will say back, "I'll see you upstairs in five minutes! And bring a kangaroo." That's just how she is.

Little Z is in second grade now. I ate lunch with her today at school. Heading down to the lunch room, two kids asked me whose grandma I was. Children are so sweet.

I ended up sitting between Little Z and a young man with a red mohawk (probably colored for the homecoming parade today). His teeth were a little too large for his head, having just grown in. Otherwise, he had the look and mannerisms of a personal banker.

"So, how's the book going?" he asked me, tilting his head and smiling. How does he know about the book? I wondered.

"Oh, fine. I wrote the text and now I'm working on the pictures."

"Are you going to read it to our class when you're done with it?"

"Um... sure. Yeah. It might be three or four weeks yet, before it's finished."

"Books take a long time to write," he said with a knowing nod. Clearly he had written several.

Birdie is waiting for her big debut.

I turned around to Little Z, who had just gotten a lunch lady with scissors to help her open her yogurt squirty thing .

"That boy asked me about my book," I said to her.

"Oh, yeah..." she blushed, "I may have mentioned it once or twice... or three... or four times."

The way she said it, I think she meant more like ten or twelve times.

I'm actually a little bit nervous. What if they don't like it?

Chicago Scene Complete (Yay!)

I had a commission I just finished. It was to paint this.

I mentioned some difficulties I had with it before. After fussing with it a lot, though, I'm pretty happy with it and ready to send it off.
Yes, that is a shadow of the morning sun streaked across it. 

I did take the time to have it scanned, for a high definition print, but no one had a big enough scanner for the whole thing! So I pieced together a few different scans and stitched it together in an art program here. And then I had them scan the middle here, for a more high definition, authentic print, but only of most of the painting. (Both of those last sentences lead to links where you could actually purchase a print, if you were so inclined. I just joined Deviant Art. We'll see how that goes. Am I deviant? Am I art? Not sure.)

There was much ado and trouble over getting the thing to scan, and Aarreon (as his name tag said) kept carrying the painting across the room with his thumb right on the blue sky, and it was like having your newborn baby being slung over someone's shoulder by her arm. But he scanned it. He actually went to a whole lot of trouble for me, and I appreciated it. And then, after I got home, I painted a little more blue over the finger smudge, which may have been imagined by me or may have been real.

Deep breath. Now to mail it off.

P.S. I charged $10/ hour for this. Now I see that we have on the ballot in Wisconsin a choice to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Perhaps I should consider charging a bit more? 

"Dear Bob and Sue" Is Free Today

I just started this book, and I can just tell it's going to be good. I'm only mentioning it because it seems to be free to download today. It's about this funny couple (the lady is terrified of rodents, which to her includes squirrels, marmots, and chipmunks) who travel to all of our great nation's national parks.

I would recommend downloading it today. If you don't have a kindle, but you have a smart phone, you can always read these things on your phone. 

I Have Cleaned Since 1999 (I think?)

I have this pile of unopened mail on the table that I go through every week or two. It's stuff that seems fairly unimportant, probably junk mail, but I open it all just to make sure. As a rule, the oldest date in the pile is the day after the last time I cleaned. Today, however, I found this in the pile:

I did live in Pueblo in 1999. 

This is the kind of thing that makes me question the laws of physics, parallel universes, perhaps Cthulhu is real. If I have found the 1999 water report for Pueblo,  Colorado in my recent mail, anything is possible. 

Got My Panties in a Knot Over This Painting

You see the problem, don't you? The lettering, in the cell phone ad. Too big. Too thick. I must redo that part again for the.., uh.., fifth time. I think the fifth. If I leave it the way it is, these kind people who commissioned this will look and see a cell phone ad. What they should see is a rendition of a moment, a moment in Chicago, with the advertisement as more of a subtle backdrop, part of the white noise, the visual hum of the city. 

I will keep trying.

I love commissions. It's so challenging. I always learn so much. This is the first time I've done a city landscape as a commission. It's fun. Frustrating and fun. How is that possible? It is. 

Bobby Lee's "Stella" Is Amazing

Full disclosure: Bobby Lee is my dear old dad. My *gaffer, as Samwise would say. So I've been hearing him play my whole life. But this is by far my favorite **album of his. It's a culmination of decades of experience and creativity, practice and patience, and yet it is as raw and fresh as a cold swim in a wild lake at dawn.  It's a blues album, mostly. The gaffer knows his stuff, and now he's having fun with it, to our delight.

Take a listen here. 

*Sources here at Mindless Minion Headquarters tell me that "gaffer" actually refers to Samwise Gamgee's grandfather. But I maintain that Bob is a grandfather, now, so he's still a gaffer.

**There is no pedal steel on this album. This European Steel Guitar Hall of Famer is just playing his acoustic lap steel, whose name is Stella. (It's an awkward title, "European Steel Guitar Hall of Famer," but nevertheless true. The European Steel Guitar Hall of Fame is right next door to the European Bassoon Hall of Fame, and across the street from the European Banjo Hall of Fame. (The rumors about shotguns being fired and volleys of molotov cocktails going back and forth across the street between the European Steel Guitar Hall of Fame and the European Banjo Hall of Fame have been greatly exaggerated.)

***Actually, I just made up that whole part about the European Banjo Hall of Fame and the European Bassoon Hall of Fame. The bit about my gaffer being in the European Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, though? Totally true. It totally exists. He's totally in.

*****Except that Bobby Lee actually has never been there, to the European Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. I mean, he's in it, as in he's represented in some imaginary or tangible form, but his actual bodily self? Never been to Europe.

******Stella is a Harmony. He gave me his other Harmony guitar, the Harmony Rocket, which I treasure:

Bodkay is listening.

"Farewell, My Subaru" Is Funny and True

A few months ago, I read Farewell, My Subaru, by Doug Fine. I've been meaning to write something nice about it ever since.

The premise is: This guy, Doug Fine, wants to live off the grid. He wants to see if he can make it on his own without destroying the environment. For some reason that I can't quite fathom, he moves to New Mexico to do this. Anyway, hilarity ensues.

This is not what I was expecting. I was sort of expecting a preachy thing about how we should all live like this, but no, that is not at all what this is. Fine does a fine job of showing just how nearly impossible it can be to live up to your ideals. And he does it all with goats. Did I mention goats? Goats are my favorite part of this book. His goats are most definitely his sidekicks. Some of my favorite moments:

* The only diesel car he can find (to convert to cooking oil fueled) is a monster truck, with actual steps that go up the side.
* His continual battle with the goats to maintain a rose garden.
* The moment when everyone goes to watch the creek rise.
* When he dates the triathlon runner in part just because she's the only one who can make it across the flooded river with his goat medicine.
* Seeing other like minded people at the dreaded Walmart.
* The accusing look on the chicken's face just before it is to be eaten by the coyote. ("Why didn't you protect me?")
* Climbing up a windmill platform and looking down when he really really shouldn't look down. If you like true farm stories with a touch of humor (which I assume you do, because you read my stuff) you will probably like this. A warning to my right wing readers: he really bashes Bush a lot! But, interestingly, many of his friends seem to be Republicans. So gather what you will. Highly recommended reading.

Off Her Gourd

I grew special white pumpkins this year. Exotic and stuff. Then some animal ate all of the white pumpkins, except for one. Little Z asked if she could paint the one white pumpkin- because white takes color so well. I said sure. 

It was only later, when it was drying on the table, that I realized...
She painted the white pumpkin orange.