Patriotic Ice Cream Flavors

One night at dinner, in the days leading up to Liesel’s class trip to Washington, we all brainstormed new ice cream flavors that they should sell in the ice cream parlor in the basement of the Smithsonian.

(You didn’t know there was an ice cream parlor in the basement of the Smithsonian Museum of American History? And that all the Smithsonian museums are free? Then you haven’t traveled in DC in hot weather with young kids.)

Here’s the list we came up with. It rivals the list of rock star ice cream names that we created after visiting the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Vermont a couple summers ago. The kids always come up with the best ones:

Macadamia Monroe
Rocky Roosevelt
French Vanillard Fillmore
Kennedy Crunch
Bull Moose Tracks
Bush Berry
Dubya Bubble
Peppermint Polk
Ulysses S. Grape
Turtle Tyler
US Mint Chocolate Chip
Adams Apple
Martin Vanilla Blueberren
John Crunchy Adams
John Fitzberry Kennedy
Cherry S. Truman
Minty Nixon
Raspberry Reagan
Cinnamyndon Johnson

Favorite name: French Vanillard Fillmore
Most eager to try: Mangobama
Least eager to try: Minty Nixon

How about you?

How to Torture an Indecisive Tightwad

So, this whole self-publishing thing has its ups and downs. For each big plus, there’s usually a negative (especially for someone with 20/20 hindsight like me).

It’s exhilarating to be able to supply books directly to readers, and to receive posts and emails and reviews from them. At the same time, it’s a drag not to have stronger relationships with the bookstores and the people who own them, at least for the projects in my foreseeable future. There’s no better place in the world than a good bookstore, and no nicer people you will ever meet. I hope this is not a permanent estrangement.

It’s also a drag not to have a stronger connection with the NY publishing houses now, though frankly, I’ve never had a good long-term relationship with any of them. There is nothing quite like having a trip to NY underwritten by someone else, when all you have to do is be pleasant and eloquent and funny. But that only lasts, of course, as long as they are making money off your writing. It’s been a long time since they’ve bought what I was selling, so it’s a godsend that e-publishing has developed at this time.

One of the aspects of self-publishing that is both a joy and a drag is that all the decisions have to funnel through one wishy-washy bozo: me. Making decisions will excite the entrepreneurial side of me, but sometimes that side is having an off day, and the creative side of me will start to whine, “Aw geez, I just had to write three pages of copy — I’m tired!” Decision-making is a muscle strengthened through use, but sometimes I easily sprain it.

One such decision involves publishing Politically Correct Bedtime Stories in the UK. While it’s been out of print in America since, maybe, 1998, it’s been in print in Britain for more than 15 years. The reason is that my publisher there, Ernest Hecht of Souvenir Press, is a one-man dynamo, raconteur, and all-around savvy character. His firm’s publishing list is interesting and varied, and he keeps my sales up with subtle but steady promotion and mentions in the press. He’s what every publisher should be. He says his only obligation to his writers is to stay in business. I like that directness. It’s worked so far.

So we talked a couple months ago about the UK rights for the e-book edition of PCBS. We didn’t agree on who really owned them, but long story short, I decided to grant Ernest the rights for two years, with a 50% royalty. My negotiation skills, like my decision-making skills, come and go with the tides, but we were both happy with this arrangement.

Ernest is also planning to release a 15th anniversary edition of PCBS, for which I wrote a new story: The real, honest-to-Jah version of “The Duckling That Was Judged On Its Personal Merits and Not On Its Physical Appearance.” (You can find it in the US e-book right now.) I’m looking forward to seeing how it does, and I’m grateful for his faith in me and my book.

But the hardest decision came just a couple weeks ago. I’ve been selling the e-book worldwide (Hi Turks and Caicos!!) through Amazon since mid-November. All that time, Amazon UK sold three times as many (and sometimes four times as many) copies of PCBS as Amazon elsewhere! It was shocking, but the only explanation could be that there’s still a hard copy in the stores. One is driving sales of the other. This made me further realize that a deal with Ernest was a worthwhile venture (at least it will be if he keeps the e-book price down).

Our agreement forced me to do something that went against my nature. A couple of weeks ago, I had to pull the plug on my version for sale in the UK. I had been putting off doing it because of the sales, but I had signed the contract long before that and said I was going to take it down. Pulled the plug on a moneymaker. Ugh. I still think the deal was the best for the long run (or at least a two-year run), but it wasn’t pleasant to do.

Now you know why I didn’t become a brain surgeon or a spy: my decision-making capabilities are sometimes limited to answering the question, “Should this character be holding a sandwich or a banana when he enters the scene?”

Oops. Now I’ll spend the rest of the morning sorting THAT out!

They’re Dropping Like Flies

My first new baseball poem of the year, up today on Bardball:

Spring Injury Report, 2011

Zach Grienke’s arm is hinky.
Jake Peavy’s feeling skeevy.
Adam Wainwright’s wing ain’t right.
Rich Harden’s asked for pardon.
Brad Lidge is off a smidge.
That goes ditto for Johnny Cueto.

And an inflamed elbow is causing
Pain for Jason Isringhausen.

Thank God for March,
So these great apes
Have one less month
To fall out of shape.

A Wee Joke for St. Patrick’s Day

An Irishman moves into a tiny hamlet in County Kerry, walks into the pub and promptly orders three beers. The bartender raises his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which he drinks quietly at a table, alone.

An hour later, the man has finished the three beers and orders three more.

This happens yet again.

The next evening the man again orders and drinks three beers at a time, several times. Soon the entire town is whispering about the Man Who Orders Three Beers.

Finally, a week later, the bartender broaches the subject on behalf of the town. “I don’t mean to pry, but folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers?”

‘Tis odd, isn’t it?” the man replies, “You see, I have two brothers, one went to America, and the other to Australia. We promised each other that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we drank as a way of keeping up the family bond.”

The bartender and the whole town was pleased with this answer, and soon the Man Who Orders Three Beers became a local celebrity and source of pride to the hamlet, even to the extent that out-of-towners would come to watch him drink.

Then, one day, the man comes in and orders only two beers. The bartender pours them with a heavy heart. This continues for the rest of the evening – he orders only two beers. The word flies around town. Prayers are offered for the soul of one of the brothers.

The next day, the bartender says to the man, “Folks around here, me first of all, want to offer condolences to you for the death of your brother. You know-the two beers and all . . .”

The man ponders this for a moment, then replies, “You’ll be happy to hear that my two brothers are alive and well. It’s just that I, myself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent.”

It’s Bee Season Once Again

It’s early spring, so for me, that means at least two things: I’m making props for the school play (more on it later) and I’m officiating at a school spelling bee. Today was the bee, and tonight is the debut of the play, so I got the double whammy.

I’ll say first off that I love doing both of these. It’s never a burden or an imposition. That’s why it’s a little heartbreaking that this will be my last bee. My hearing isn’t getting any better, and while I’ve never missed the spelling of a word b/c of it, I’d hate for it to be a factor in the future, especially since the winner of this bee gets to travel to Washington DC and compete nationally. Point of fact, today’s participants weren’t exactly Ethel Merman in the enunciation department, so I had to watch their lips and listen very intently. Time to hang up my Merriam-Webster and all the benefits the position held.

(For an essay I did some years ago when my son was in the city-wide bee in fifth grade, click here for the audio of the radio broadcast, or here for the text version.)

Today was the Chicago-wide bee for kids in private and parochial schools and homeschoolers. The 25 kids were a handsome lot, but so many different sizes! Ranging from 4th to 8th grade, there was literally a 2 foot difference between smallest and tallest.

The hardest part of judging a bee is that you end up pulling for every single kid, and you get your heart broken when they fall. Some kids were nervous, with quivering voices and loud sighs when concentrating. A smaller number were (or seemed) pretty nonchalant about it. One or two wrote the word out with their finger in their palms, but not as many as I’ve seen on TV. One of the youngest, smallest kids was really crushed when she misspelled a word (I think she was the first to do so), and buried her face in her hands and her collar as she sat down in the group. It was maybe the most upset I’ve seen a participant in my 5 or 6 years of doing this. In time, I noticed the boy next to her try to coax her back into equilibrium and elicit a small high-five out of her. Maybe bees, like sports, reveal character.

One thing about the words this year: Not many of the kids (thank heaven) got stuck with the extreme foreign words that have been included in recent years. I’m talking about really strange ones, like taj, klompen, babushka, sevruga, koan, peloton, Backstein, and aul (if you’re curious, “a mountain or desert settlement in the Caucasus region”, and a homophone for awl, which I wouldn’t think many kids would know unless their father was a cobbler).

Now certainly, the kids get the entire list of words to study, but what’s the chance of a kid spelling a word like mynheer (a Dutch word meaning “Mister”) versus a word he or she might’ve read or seen at some point, like charlatan or vernacular? Familiarity is a reason I would ban certain words like caribou and chipotle, since they are on commercial signs all over town, and thus might be easier to recall.

When it was obvious that the three finalists would be able to go all day on the list of words they’d studied, it was time to go off road and start from the list of words they hadn’t seen. These were all more common English words, but they weren’t a cakewalk, either. One participant fell by the way with her first word, deductible (yeah, how many schoolkids ever have to worry about a deductible?). But the final duo battled it out for about 15 minutes, going through 28 words back and forth before the victor emerged. He’s a 7th grader who placed about 4th citywide last year, so it was good to see him pull it out. But you wouldn’t believe how effortlessly both he and his opponent (a 6th grader) plowed through the word list, picking off desperately, exaggerate, fluoride, leviable and scuttlebutt (TWO T’s at the end!!!) like they were pumpkins waiting for release by a baseball bat.

The top five kids each got a prize, but the fairness of it left something to be desired. Fourth and fifth place each got a $25 gift certificate to Amazon. Third place received a year’s subscription to Encyclopedia Britannica dot com, and second place received the subscription plus a dictionary. All due respect to the hardworking folks at EB and Merriam-Webster, but these kids ain’t that impressed with your name brand. Numbers 2 and 3 were undoubtedly saying to themselves, “Those two get to spend their money any way they want, and I get a ticket to Research Dinosaurville.” Way to go.

Since it appeared that the words were a little less obscure this year, I don’t have many to give out for you to work into your everyday conversations, as I have in the past. It took a little digging, but here are a few to file under “It Pays To Increase Your Word Power”:

gynarchy — “government by women”
sitzmark — “a depression left in the snow by a skier falling backward” (if you can believe it, the speller got this one right)
hoomalimali — “the art or device of persuasion and flattery” (from Hawaiian)
decrement — “the act or process of gradually becoming less; decrease”
purfle — “a decorated border, esp. an embroidered edge of a garment”

Sparge these into all your parleys this weekend and flummox your conversances!