Happy (almost) birthday to one of my favorite people in the world, Sarah Mlynowski!
And happy belated birthday to Sarah’s newest book, out earlier this week:
Isn’t it adorable?
My nieces, Sara and Tesa, would probably tell you that the greatest perk to having me as an aunt was getting a signed copy of the ARC of this book months ago. The girls LOVE LOVED the first book in the series, FAIREST OF ALL, declaring Sarah their favorite author. (Besides me, they assured me. At nine and six years old, they already know how to handle me.) Book #2 was adored just as much. When I visited in November, the girls were showing the ARC off to friends who’d come over for Thanksgiving—“This is the best book! And Courtney knows her!”
Here’s the official book descrip—pick up a copy for yourself, and grab a few more for all the little girls in your life:
Once upon a time my brother and I found a magic mirror.
Tonight the mirror swept us into Cinderella's fairy tale. Now, we are NOT messing this story up. No way. Cinderella is going to marry her prince just like she's supposed to.
Cinderella broke her foot and there's massive swelling. The glass slipper won't fit, the prince won't know she's the one for him, and they won't live happily ever after. And it's all our fault!
To save the day we'll need to:
1. Learn how to use a dustpan
2. Stay out of jail
3. Find Cinderella a job
4. And make sure true love finds its way.
We just have to get it all done before the clock strikes twelve and the chance for a happy ending is gone . . . forever!
I wish I could take credit for this cleverness, but the truth was, I got the idea off my friend Ella’s facebook page, to buy new socks for the new year, to symbolize starting 2013 off on the right foot.
So here are my friend Amy’s and my feet, just after midnight.
There’s nothing like good friends and cozy socks.
I know this may be cheesy, but each year, I like to take stock of what I did in the preceding twelve months, and think of resolutions for the new year—more like aspirations: what I’d like to do, who I’d like to meet, the ideas I’d like to turn into books. Given that the end of 2012 is just two days away, I guess it’s time to get on that. But instead I’m thinking, Where did the time go? How are we already on the other side of Christmas, and about to ring in the new year?
Speaking of Christmas, it always makes me a little sad that the trees get to go up around Thanksgiving, and stay up until New Year’s, but menorahs are only displayed for eight days. I’m not saying I want the trees to go up later and come down earlier; I just want the menorahs to have the same amount of airplay.
I do love Christmas trees, and every year, I make sure to walk by this tree at least a couple of times. I always snap a picture.
That was the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree a week ago. I believe it’s about eighty feet tall—mighty impressive. (Though my friend Regan’s eight-year-old nephew said “I’ve seen bigger,” when I asked him what he thought of it.)
Here’s another picture I took last week, a gingerbread house you’ll only see in New York:
Oh, yes, that’s the cookie version of the crane that fell on 57th Street, during Hurricane Sandy, on display in the lobby of the Parker Meridien Hotel.
Actually, I’m not a gingerbread cookie kind of girl, but this morning when I was eating the last of the brownies from the third batch of brownies I’ve made in the past week, I got to thinking about how happy brownies make me. I went all year without making any. (I know; I can barely believe it myself!) Then last Monday I made them with my friend Lindsay’s kids (Lindsay’s rather brilliant idea). On Tuesday, I made them with Amy’s kids. Home on Wednesday, and brownie-less, I decided to make some just for myself. It’s been such a delicious week that my first resolution is: More Brownies in 2013! I also resolve to share them with friends.
On the book front, I’m setting a stricter writing schedule for myself, so I can finish the work I’m obligated to do, and have time left over for new ideas. (This resolution is giving me the distinct feeling of déjà vu.) The other day, I had an idea that I fell so in love with, that as I was driving out to Lindsay’s house on Long Island, I actually pulled off the road to take notes. Now I’m trying to remember exactly what I meant when I wrote: youth, boredom, she can’t go outside, orphans.
There are other resolutions: to volunteer, to travel, to read and write more, to be kind, to be generous, to more patient and less afraid (or maybe the same amount of afraid, but not let the fear hold me back so much, particularly when it comes to driving new places).
I’d resolve to update this blog more often, but I try to stick with resolutions that I’ll actually keep.
I’m going back to my list now, but I wish you all, and all your loved ones, a very happy, healthy New Year.
My friend Rebecca Serle recently tweeted about how reading the late, great Nora Ephron is basically a cure-all. Last night, not necessarily in need of any cures, but still wanting a little pick-me-up, I picked up my well-worn copy of Ephron’s last book, I REMEMBER NOTHING.
And when I finished that, I moved onto I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK. Here is a quote on reading that is so right-on, I have to share it:
“Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”
I remember Gilda Radner.
Not because I knew her personally. Not even because I knew her from TV. Though I have a distinct memory of watching the news the night she died. They showed footage of Gilda’s rendition of “The Way We Were.” I was eleven years old and I turned to my mom: “She’s actually not that good.”
“That’s Gilda Radner,” my mom told me. “And she’s not supposed to be good. She’s supposed to be funny.”
“Is she funny?”
It’s strange the things that stick in your head. A thirty-second conversation, a name I remembered. That’s why, a couple years later, I picked up It’s Always Something, Gilda Radner’s memoir of her life as a comedienne, her marriage to Gene Wilder, her battle with cancer, and the comfort she found at the Wellness Community, a cancer support center.
If indeed God created the world and then left us on our own to work things out, then getting together with other people to communicate is what we should be doing. I learned at The Wellness Community that that is the most magic thing we have, our ability to open our mouths and communicate with each other.
Years after Gilda Radner’s death, when I was a senior in high school and co-president of the Community Service Club, my friend Katie and I organized a group of students to volunteer at the inaugural Gilda’s Club event in New York City. Gilda’s own cancer support therapist, Joanna Bull—I knew her name from the book—gave a speech about what the Wellness Community had meant to Gilda, and how it was her legacy to bring that same kind of community to others.
A couple days ago, I read that several chapters of Gilda’s Club were changing their names—taking Gilda’s name out of their own. The reason, a spokesperson explained, was that Gilda Radner died so long ago, and many college students hadn’t heard of her. Wanting their support groups to be inclusive of everyone, including younger cancer patients, they decided on the change.
I feel the need to point out that when I was checking out Gilda Radner videos on YouTube last night, I saw they had hundreds of thousands of hits; clearly, she IS remembered. But that is, of course, beside the point.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog you probably know that I’ve long been involved with an organization called the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. It was founded by Elizabeth Glaser and two of her closest friends. Elizabeth was infected with HIV just around the time AIDS itself was first identified. Unknowingly, she passed the virus onto her two children. After her daughter’s death, she created the Foundation, hoping the research it funded would save her son. The last few years of her life were devoted to tireless advocacy. I remember the last time I saw her, just weeks before her death, she’d flown across the country to New York, and gave a speech about how difficult it was for her to make it to this particular event, and all the work that was yet to be done.
Three years later, exactly fifteen years ago to the day today (World AIDS Day 1997), the Foundation changed its name to bear hers. It is now the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF). Elizabeth’s daughter, Ariel, who died in 1988 at age 7, drew the picture that has been the Foundation’s logo since its inception.
When I was in high school and even in college, when I said I’d worked with Elizabeth Glaser, most people knew who I was talking about. This coming Monday marks eighteen years since she died. It sometimes makes me sad, when I bring her up to people who don’t know me well (those who know me well already know all about Elizabeth) and they’ve not heard of her. But then I tell them. I remain involved with her foundation, and I have a number of friends who have volunteered for them—shouts-out in particular to my friends Arielle and Maria. My friend Regan is an ambassador for EGPAF. It continually breaks my heart that these women never got to meet Elizabeth in person. But—and this is going to sound cheesy, but it’s true—it keeps Elizabeth so close for me when I see them participating in the work that she started, in the cause she died fighting for. And I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch to say it keeps Elizabeth close to them, too.
What do we leave after we die? If you search Gilda Radner’s name on YouTube, you’ll find close to 1000 video hits. And there’s her beautiful memoir. And there is the club, Gilda’s Club, that was named for her and created because of her, and brings hope and solace to countless people like her. You can change the name, but nothing will change that.
I’ve posted this recipe before, and recently I’ve gotten a couple requests for it. So here you go, my friend Jen W’s famed Cookie Brownie Pie:
What you need:
2 graham cracker pie crusts
1 box of Dunkin Hines Chewy brownie mix
package of cookie dough (I used the Pillsbury breakables)
What to do:
Preheat oven to 350
Let cookie dough stand out and get soft
Make brownie mix according to box and pour half into each pie crust
Crumble cookie dough in small chunks on top of brownie mix until nearly covered
Preparation takes about five minutes. Then you bake it for 20-30 minutes, until top is golden and cooked. Let cool and pig out.
Thanks to my stepdad, I’ve gained two brothers, a sister, and five nieces and nephews—in my (totally objective) opinion, they are the five BEST nieces and nephews in the whole entire world.
My stepsister lives in Lancaster, PA, where I happened to have a school event last week—the first event for book #4, A CASE OF THE MEANIES.
The icing on the cake was that my nieces, Sara and Tesa, would be visiting from London, and they’d get to come.
They’ve never seen me read before, though Sara is the reason the STELLA BATTS series exists. She’s nine years old now, but back when she was six and I was visiting London, she complained I’d never written anything she could read; up till then, everything I’d published had been for older kids. So I started a book for Sara, and put all her friends’ names in it. It wasn’t until later on that I thought maybe it could be a book, too. (Sara herself has no recollection of my visit, or her request, but I swear both things happened.)
Here I am, a few days ago, at the Lancaster Montessori Academy. My nieces are the two sitting next to me:
Back home that evening, six year old Tesa sat on the steps with her copy of A CASE OF THE MEANIES and read a few chapters out loud. It was exactly what I’d dreamed of—more than I’d dreamed of—when I started writing the first book. I started crying. “You always cry when you’re happy,” her sister observed. Yup, that’s right, I do.
This is the official book descrip:
One night when Liza went to bed, Patrick was her chubby, stubby, candy-grubbing and pancake-loving younger brother, who irritated and amused her both, and the next morning, when she woke up, he was not. In fact, he was quite, quite different.
When Liza's brother, Patrick, changes overnight, Liza knows exactly what has happened: The spindlers have gotten to him and stolen his soul.
She knows, too, that she is the only one who can save him.
To rescue Patrick, Liza must go Below, armed with little more than her wits and a broom. There, she uncovers a vast world populated with talking rats, music-loving moles, greedy troglods, and overexcitable nids . . . as well as terrible dangers. But she will face her greatest challenge at the spindlers' nests, where she encounters the evil queen and must pass a series of deadly tests—or else her soul, too, will remain Below forever.
Like everything else Lauren has written, I LOVED this book. And here’s one of my favorite quotes:
Liza told herself stories as though she was weaving and knotting an endless rope. Then, no matter how dark or terrible the pit she found herself in, she could pull herself out, inch by inch and hand over hand, on the long rope of stories.
Oh, Lauren, you get to the heart of it in every single book.