Archive for Family

Kids, Don’t Let This Happen To You: 3 Photographs

JP & Mom, '73

This would be yours truly, guessing age 12-13, circa 1973, and that’s my dear old Mom. In background, the Lincoln Memorial.

Yes, lots of hair. I know.

More recently, here I am on a school visit.

Time waits for no man.

I suppose I should be happy that I still have hair — some hair — any hair at all.

It is always a great sign when a school puts in the time and effort to decorate the halls in anticipation of an author visit. When I see stuff like that, I know they will be excited and prepared.



Oh, and this is my daughter, Maggie, age 13, at the Bronx Zoo, riding a camel. But you knew that already, didn’t you? Not that it was Maggie, but I hope that you recognize a camel when you see one. For most of my life, the only camels I ever saw were on the cigarette packs that my parents smoked.

Hump Day came on Thursday this week.




The Circle of Life: A Little Red Bird Meets My Wife, Driving a Car

This morning my wife, Lisa, and daughter, Maggie (13), pulled into our driveway after an energizing run. What a great way to start the day.

Lisa, alas, did not notice the cardinal that was moving awkwardly on the pavement. Or, I guess, Lisa just expected that it would fly away. Most birds do. This one did not. Splat.

Maggie said, “Mama? Did you just . . . ?”

Our daughter was upset. Well on her way to becoming a young woman, Maggie was suddenly a little girl again, traumatized, struggling to understand.


The poor bird had no chance against a Toyota Camry.

In the car, there was a pause. Maggie distraught, in disbelief.

Lisa thinking, “Uh-oh.”

My wife steps out of the car to see what’s to be done, figuring it will involve a shovel and a garbage can and perhaps a few years of therapy for the aforementioned Maggie. Insurance almost certainly won’t cover it.

Suddenly a large black crow swoops down, grabs the splattered cardinal in its beak, and flies off.

Bye-bye, birdie.

Maggie catatonic now, sputtering, “Mama? Mama?”

Two minutes later, our friend across the street texted Lisa: “What did that bird have in its mouth? Something red? You hit it? Then the crow swooped in? Sorry she witnessed that.”

Damn, a witness!

Good morning, folks. Carry on.

Nothing to see here, nothing at all.

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Photo: Cat Eyes

I took this photo of my fat cat.

For an author of a series called “Scary Tales,” it impossible not to feel a little inspired.

COMINGS & GOINGS: The Rochester Children’s Book Festival, November 16th

I’ve always heard great things about the Rochester Children’s Book Festival, but never got invited. I tried to weasel an invitation a few years back (clever Cynthia DeFelice reference), but that went nowhere. Finally, at last, I wore ‘em down. Good thing, too, because I’m hoping to promote my SCARY TALES series as well as, you know, meet some kindred, book-loving spirits. So if you are near the area — a teacher, a librarian, or merely a stalker — please stop by and say hello.

Some of the many authors & illustrators who’ll be there: MJ & Herm Auch, Julie Berry, Michael Buckley, Peter Catalanotto, Bruce Coville, Cynthia DeFelice, Jeff Mack, Daniel Mahoney, Matt McElligott, Linda Sue Park, Matt Phelan, Robin Pulver, Jane Yolen, Paul O. Zelinsky, and more.

Holy crap! What a list of luminaries! My knees are sweating already. I better pack a clean shirt.

I’m looking forward to it, with thanks to my publisher, the kind folks at Macmillan, for putting me up with a family of Armenian immigrants at a nearby trailer park for the weekend. I just hope they remember to roll out the red carpet. Remember, I’ll only eat the blue M & M’s.

Happily, the event places me in close proximity to my oldest son, Nick, who attends Geneseo College. And by “attends” I mean, I certainly hope so!

Over Halloween, he and some friends decided to go as “Dads.” I functioned in an advisory capacity, the content of which he politely ignored. My big idea was to get a Darth Vader helmet and cape, then pull on one of those t-shirts that reads: “WORLD’S GREATEST DAD!”

Because, you know, irony!

Anyway, check it out. Nick is the one in shorts, pulled up white socks, bad mustache, and “Lucky Dad” hat. Hysterical, right?

Lastly, hey, if you happen to be in Elmira, NY, on November 6th, or Richmond, VA, on November 13, you can catch a lively, fast-paced musical based on my book, Jigsaw Jones #12: The Case of the Class Clown.

I did get to see it a few years ago, with a knot of dread in my stomach, and came away relieved and impressed. Everyone involved did a great job and, to be honest, the story is sweet, too.

Here’s the info on Richmond, VA (where, coincidentally, I’ll be visiting middle schools in early December, mostly giving my patented “Bystander/Anti-Bullying/Author ” presentation. Anyway, the info I promised:

Families, elementary schools and preschools are encouraged to make reservations soon for performances of a children’s show.

A 55-minute performance of “Jigsaw Jones and the Case of the Class Clown” will be performed at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at Civic Hall Performing Arts Center in Richmond.

The show is based on a children’s mystery series written by James Preller. Theodore “Jigsaw” Jones and his friend, Mila, are investigating who’s playing practical jokes. It includes music and humor.

“Jigsaw Jones” is presented by Arts Power, a professional theater company touring the nation.

Admission is $2 per student because a grant from the Stamm Koechlein Family Foundation is helping offset the cost for Civic Hall’s Proudly Presenting Series educational programming.

Teachers and chaperones are admitted free.

For Elmira, click here or call: 607-733-5639 x248 (and tell ‘em Jimmy sent ya!)

My Boys Never Did This

It was a busy weekend. Around here, that’s like saying the ocean was damp. It’s how we roll.

On Sunday, I dropped Maggie off at her AAU basketball’s coach’s house in Castleton at 9:00, because she had a 10:00 practice in Troy and I couldn’t get there, since I had to be in Schenectady to coach a travel baseball game at 10:30. It was my son Gavin’s team, but he wasn’t able to be there because he was spending the night in New Hampshire (taken by my wife, also in NH) for a Regatta. Gavin recently joined the Albany Rowing Club, you see. The college-age son, Nick, visiting for the long weekend, picked up Maggie at the end of practice and brought her out to lunch and then, finally, home.

By the time I returned, everyone was gone. Maggie to her friend’s house, Nick at some other place. I don’t believe my family is all that different from anyone’s else. We’re all running around. That’s not the point of this post anyway.

On the kitchen counter, I found this pad.

(Sorry for the sideways shot, it’s one of the kinks in the Apple dynasty, an impossible thing to solve — the ordinary photo sent from an iPhone that shows up sideways on certain blogs.)

Obviously: Maggie was home alone, grabbed some markers and the nearest pad, and wrote out the names of everyone in her family. It wasn’t a gift, it wasn’t intended for anyone. Just something she did to pass the time, the names of the folks she loved, made to look pretty.

Some Photos from Our Vacation in Ireland

We just enjoyed a dream vacation in Ireland and now, Dear Faithful Reader, sit back while I show you more than 700 photographs . . .

Wait, no. Just kidding!

It really was a special trip — a place I love in a very deep way, the literature, the music, the lanscape, the people, the beer — and I was so glad for my wife, Lisa, and our children to experience it.

A few shots:

My reading is usually thematic — I go on little jags, basically — and it’s been Ire-centric of late. Some highlights . . .

As for other matters, we are still conducting further research . . .

OVERHEARD: “What’s In the Box?” (I Love My Daughter, Part 283)

With my 14-year-old boy in the car, we run a couple of errands. First to the Farmer’s Market because we are obsessed with Jimmy Makes Pizza. Next to the library, return some things. Then to pick up Maggie, age 12, at her friend’s house.

Okay, so that’s the scene. I am in the driver’s seat (literally, but alas, not always figuratively), Gavin is in front seat. In the back, there’s a pizza box.

It looks something like this:

Maggie gets into the car, settles in, lays her lacrosse stick across the floor, and asks:

“What’s in the box?”

Gavin glances at me, blood on his tongue, but says nothing. (I tell myself to compliment my son later for this rare show of restraint.)

“Pizza,” I tell her, and drive on.

Love that girl.

Quick Link: Baseball, Childhood Cancer, and a Family Comes Full Circle

This is a story I’ve told before, 4-5 years back, but recently retold over at my other blog, 2 Guys Talking Mets Baseball. The name pretty much says it all.

So I’ll direct you to it. Right this way, people —> Click on this link right here.

A sample of what you’ll find there, my oldest boy, my beautiful wife  . . .

Standing within the gray, concrete hallways of Shea Stadium, I couldn’t help but think of my mother, and how our love of baseball had brought us to this singular moment. My boy, sick with cancer, smiling weakly into the camera, a Sharpie and a signed baseball in his hand. All those games we had watched together, our spirits dashed by defeat and lifted in victory. All of that time and energy invested, all of that life we poured into the game — all of it, truth be told, a little absurd. After all it is just a game. Not life, not death, and certainly not childhood cancer. But standing in that basement of old Shea Stadium, I knew with certainty that it all had been worth it. We will always be grateful to the Mets organization for the kindness of that day.

OVERHEARD: “Burrrrrp. Oh, yeah.”

That would be my daughter, Maggie, as she leaves the room.

Like a jet plane with a trail of exhaust.

The burp was bad enough. Well, I don’t really think so. I sort of like that Maggie enjoys a good burp. She’s like a guy that way. It does, however, drive Lisa a little crazy. As far as I can tell, my wife does not release gas of any kind, ever. At least not publicly. No farts, no burps.

One day, I’m sure, she’s just going to float off into the sky like a helium balloon.

So, okay, Maggie burped. It happens. But it was what came next that’s so wonderfully my daughter. “Oh yeah,” she said, taking pleasure and satisfaction in the good belch.

Lisa looked me like it was my fault, shook her head. So I called after Maggie with something like, “Say ‘Excuse me,’ please.” Just to let Lisa know that I was on the ball and I was keeping standards sky high. But Maggie was gone, off the grab another late-night bowl of cereal (she eats constantly).

I have to admit it. I like that my sixth-grade daughter burps. But let’s keep it between us.

Oh, one more thing. Another little habit of Maggie’s, which I attribute to middle school awkwardness, is she now sabotages every photograph we try to take. She’s lovely and beautiful and we have tons of great pictures. But not from the past year.

First, here’s some sweet ones. I have to confess, I’m home working today while Lisa and the kids are off for a couple days, skiing and having fun. I miss them.

Nowadays, alas, this is what we get. A nice father-daughter shot, ruined by . . . the face.

A Murder of Crows, Etc.

In Book #3 of my SCARY STORIES Series — launching this summer, so don’t make any plans — and I mean that, no plans whatsoever — I featured a whole mess of crows in the story. You know, when it comes to foreshadowing and a general air of ominousness, nothing beats a murder of crows.

We have Van Gogh to thank for that, his intimations of mortality in the great painting, “Wheat Field with Crows.”

And, of course, there’s Hitchcock. This is one of my favorite scenes in the history of film, the essence of suspense, the knot slowly tightening, the shots of the crows gathering, cut to Tippi Hedren smoking her cigarette unawares, and back and forth, back and forth, until we get that great shot of Tippi watching one crow in flight across the sky until it lands on the playground. And her eyes grow large. In the background all the while, children sing an American variation of a Scottish folktale, “Risseldy, Rosseldy.” Young, innocent voices. That’s cinematic perfection right there. I’ve watched it a dozen times.

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So I stuck some crows into my story, black harbingers of doom!, and even included a small tribute to a scene from “The Birds.” (Kids these days are always clamoring for more allusions to 1960′s films. It’s just the kind of thing that young readers nowadays expect to find in their chapter books.)

Crows are basically gross, for the most part. But useful as nature’s trash collectors. They eat the road kill, smashed squirrels and flattened chipmunks, and I think we can all agree that we’re grateful for that. Thanks, crows!

Quick crow story:

My wife Lisa is the best mother in the world. She’s tied, actually, with a long list of other mothers, but she’s right there at the top, tied for first place. One Easter long ago, when Gavin (13) and Maggie (12) were probably 3 and 1 1/2, Lisa woke early in the morning to set up an Easter egg hunt. We had a nice, woodsy backyard at the time. Plastic eggs? What? Is that what you’re thinking? Oh, please. No, Lisa used actual hard-boiled eggs and hid them around the lawn. Under bushes and often right there in the middle of the lawn, since at the time the kids were young and not exactly the best Scotland Yard had to offer.

Later it was time for the egg hunt. And lo, there were no eggs. Or, at least, very few to be found.

What happened to them? Where’d they go? We didn’t know. So we set out an egg in the middle of the lawn, ducked back inside, and watched by the window. Within two minutes, a big black crow landed, grabbed the egg in its talons, and flew off for a hearty breakfast.

While thinking about crows, and researching them ever-so-slightly, I came across this, which is why I began this post in the first place.

Oh, and here’s the brief excerpt from SCARY TALES, Book #3. In this scene, three students are trapped inside a school, surrounded by zombies, or ghouls, or whatever creepy thing they are out there. It’s not good. For a variety of reasons — the best one being “for dramatic purposes” — Carter decides to go for help. He needs to quietly make his way two blocks through the night fog, avoid the zombies that seems to be aimlessly milling around, find his folks, get help, and save the day.

(I know, it’s sounds kind of dumb, but it’s a lot of fun.)

Here goes . . .

Carter stepped out into the mist with supreme calm. Cool as a lake. It was foggy, but he could still see about 30 feet in any direction. He gave a thumbs-up to the worried faces that stood vigil at the door.

It’s all good.

A crow landed near his foot, cawed noisily. Then another, and another. Carter stepped cautiously, not wishing to disturb the birds. He noticed a dark figure ahead and veered away from it.

CAW-CAW! Carter looked up to see a crow dive-bombing from above, talons out. The black bird hit Carter’s head at full force, wham, and tore into his scalp.

“Ow, shoot,” Carter cursed. He staggered a step, dazed, and waited for the dizziness to pass. Carter tenderly probed the injury with his fingers. His scalp was torn. Under a loose flap of skin, his flesh felt like raw hamburger. It was wet.

He checked his fingers. Blood. Lots of it.

Oooooaaaaannnn, oooooaaaaannnn.

The moans came, louder and louder, from every direction. As if the creatures were calling to each other. Now more shapes appeared in the distance, moving toward him. “It’s the blood,” Carter thought. “They smell it.”