Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ryan the Star Wars Kid - Christmas 2008

Happy Holidays!

Christmas came and for once I was not exhausted, lethargic, emotional, over worked, resentful, disgusted, fearful, etc. … all the emotions of working the holiday season in retail. Since I did the majority of my shopping on “Black Friday” I felt I missed a little of the Christmas rush and did a spot of shopping on Christmas Eve just to “feel” the holiday season a bit more. It was quiet odd that this holiday season, even with the present economic uncertainty, seemed to be unrushed and, in fact, calm.

I even got up early Christmas morning and drove to Ryan’s house about 9 a.m. to wallow in the joy of watching the kids on Christmas morning. A few waves of visitors and my other brother showed up with his cute kids and the third wave of opening presents commenced. I brought two cameras with me (one digital and one film) and snapped a few hundred shots of the kids ripping through gift wrap or playing together peacefully. We even got a family photo, the first with all twelve of us (so far + one dumb mutt).

These people are what I am thankful for.

The Whole Clan:

Ryan using his light saber to protect Xmas from the evil Sith Lords:

Aiden wondering what the heck I'm doing:

Molly more interested the in the toy oven than anything else:

Grace in a bag (no, we are not trying to regift her):

And little Sarah who was more outgoing and less shy this time around.

Happy Holidays to all!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

End of the year books...

Like everywhere else, the economic tsunami is also hitting the book industry hard. At a time when different sources are publishing their Best of 2008 lists (like The NYTimes and and NPR ), dire news has been coming from all levels of the book business (NYT). Many of the big name publishers announced staff cuts (including last week, nice timing) and booksellers announced the lowest sales for the holiday period, ever. A few publishers also announced they were not accepting new manuscripts at the present time (!) which hopefully appears to be a temporary thing - you can’t make money without new product.

In fact, sales have been so bad that an informal group of authors and celebrities have been pushing books as an inexpensive, and lifelong, gift. Read what Salman Rushdie and Fred Armisen and others recommend here.

One other issue the publishing houses have rumbling about within all the economic bad news is the practice of publisher returns. Publisher returns means that when books are sent out to a bookseller, the bookseller can return unsold copies en mass for a full refund. Ironically enough this was started in the Great Depression to convince booksellers to take chances on lesser known authors. Currently, publishers take back about 40% of their books and either pulp them or resell them as remainders. 40% of a run of thousands of books is a lot of waste and expense and the way the most of the big publishing houses are talking about it means that it will soon change.

I was going to write my list of my top books of 2008, but as I only saw a few newer titles and read or reread a lot of my older titles from my own library (why my cataloging took so long) I felt I am a little out of sync with some newer titles. I will however give you my list of the best book I read (and in some cases RE-read) this year:

Farewell My Lovely – Raymond Chandler. The second Philip Marlowe novel, peppered with lines like: "He looked as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake."

Over by the River and other stories – William Maxwell. Incomparable short stories by the master of the form and author of my favorite novel, So Long See You Tomorrow.

Novel in Three Lines – Félix Fénéon. A collection of a thousand three line reports Fénéon wrote for Le Matin in 1906 with wit and economy and a sense of the absurd.

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote. One of those books I am embarrassed to say I never read till now, after being prompted by the films Capote and Infamous and a similar home invasion/murder in a nearby sleepy town.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby. See my review a few posts back.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Díaz. Winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and well worth it!

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill, about cricket and a post 9/11 world.

But the best book I read last year was E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News, Winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A wonderful stylist on Newfoundland, the sea, winter, knots etc etc etc. Just made me shake my head in wonder on how well it was written. Here's a favorite bit:

"Suddenly, he could see his father, see the trail of ground cherry husks leading from the garden around the edge of the lawn where he walked while he ate them. The man had a passion for fruit. Quoyle remembered purple-brown seckle pears the size and shape of figs, his father taking the meat off with pecking bites, the smell of fruit in their house, litter of cores and peels in the ashtrays, the grape cluster skeletons, peach stones like hens' brains on the windowsill, the glove of banana peel on the car dashboard."

Friday, December 19, 2008


A big snow storm barreled in today, quickly dumping a pile of snow on us. As is typical of New Englanders, all the local news channels quickly became weather howler monkeys, hooting incessantly on any aspect of this storm they could find to yatter on about for 5 minutes. While we expect to get 5-10 inches (12-25 centimeters for my metric friends) plus across the state (with "embedded thundersnow" no less), I took some time to walk out in it a bit and enjoy the sight of snow falling everywhere. I also slipped and fell on my @$$. So much for winter's beauty.

The view out my window:


1 p.m.

2 p.m.

3 p.m.

4 p.m.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree, can't you put up your own branches....

Yes, still alive. My cold continued past the date of my last posting and when I upped my arsenal against it by going to medicine of the pseudoephedrine family, I spent three nights watching the clock ticking the night away. Thank you side effects.

In any case, I had this debate about when to put up my Christmas tree and decorations. As this is “The Non-Retail Year”, I’ve fought putting it up too early and settled on December 13th - St. Lucy’s Day in Scandinavian countries. That gives me just shy of two weeks of full on Christmas decorations. In the past, if the tree didn’t go up right after Thanksgiving, it ain’t going up at all. I was too exhausted and too Christmased out by that point. (Remember: I’ve stated how on the 6th busiest day before one Christmas, I logged in 7 miles just running around in my store.)

As I was too out of it from the cold and the cold medicine to clean first, my tree has yet to go up. I was starting to wonder if by delaying it, I was somehow missing something or was behind in the season somehow. Most everyone I know has put his or hers up, if not Thanksgiving weekend, then by the first week in December. But in that fog of congestion I was fighting, I caught several versions of The Christmas Carol. In each one, according to Victorian tradition, the tree and decorations went up on Christmas Eve.

The joke in my retail days was just how earlier and earlier each year the holiday merchandise would arrive. Last year we had Christmas books arrive in store in July. Often I was physically exhausted from work that I would often see Christmas Day as a chance to sleep in late. One Christmas Eve, I actually fell asleep on my couch with my coat on when I was due at a party. As much as I love the season, it was work and commerce. This year I plan to celebrate the holiday season and enjoy it like Scrooge finally does. The damned tree will go up in it’s own time!

Some photos:

Christmas Lights on Saks 5th Avenue, NYC

The Christmas Tree in Rockefeller Center

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Body Betrays Me

Sorry for the gap but I was sick as a dog all last week. I brought chocolate cherry trifle to my brother’s house and left with his in-law’s flu from D.C. - I got gypped on the deal. I thought that considering I wasn’t in retail this winter I would be spared the run of the cold & flu season where I am usually the first or last to contract it.

After little sleep, I got up at 5:30 a.m. to hit the stores on “Black Friday” something I have never done before. Usually I was working and passing snide remarks on those that did get up far to early to shop. Being on the other side of the counter for this was quite the experience. I drove to Wal-Mart armed with an annotated shopping list and some HOT black tea, and saw the parking lots for the nearby Kohl’s (opened at 4 a.m.), Target (opening at 6 a.m.) and Wal-Mart (opened at 5 a.m.) were all full to capacity.

Inside, Wal-Mart was just a few gunshots shy of a riot. I had gone for one specific unmentionable item, for certain readers of this blog, but there was a huge line to get that item and my arms were already full with extra bargains I discovered along my way. Most of the lines were for the HD TVs and Wii and Xbox stuff (or so it seemed, I know nothing about electronic games and wasn’t buying any) but since I wasn’t buying that stuff I was in and out pretty fast. I then stopped at Target where I ran into a very tired Nonnie. By then it was 7:30 a.m. and I realized quite happily that my Christmas shopping was about 95% done! I got some great stuff for the kiddies and spent about 1/3rd the money I would normally have spent so all in all it was worth the little sleep.

Later that day I picked up Ryan and took him to the other brother’s “after Thanksgiving brunch” with said trifle and said D.C. flu. The food was very good and the affair was loud and fun. There were about 13 kids, all 5 years old and under and all in various states of running, toddling, crawling around. The trifle was a hit, of course, although everyone kept calling it "Death by Chocolate".

It took a few days for the cold to waylay me and left me alternately drowning in my own fluids or too zoned out to do almost anything but crawl from couch to bed to medicine cabinet and back again. I reread one of my favorite books, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby and finished watching the excellent film adaptation by painter Julian Schnabel. At age 42, Bauby who was the editor of French Elle, suffered a massive stroke that left him speechless and paralyzed, except for his left eye. He literally blinked his dictation for this memoir letter by letter, relating being locked in his body (the diving bell) but having his mind unaffected and free to take “flight like a butterfly”. With its upbeat and life affirming elegant tone, and the fact that it is fairly short, I used to recommend this great book to people looking for a book club read or high school students who needed a quick biography subject for a report.

The film is also an amazing achievement. Aside from being a visually beautiful, poetic film, Schnabel was able to capture the first person viewpoint of a prisoner in a dead body whose mind was free to roam the world of his imagination and memory. Both highly recommended.

Lastly, I started adding little snippets of videos to my Youtube account. Take a gander and let me know what you think.