The Image of Jesus: In Need of Repair!

On this week of Easter Sunday, this blog post seemed most fitting. Our very good friends, Patti Jacquemain and her husband, Dave Gledhill, lead a most interesting and active life. Patti and my wife, Linda, go way back as best friends to high school days in Santa Barbara, CA – in the late nineteen-fifties. Patti is a well-known, successful artist who came to Santa Barbara with her parents from Detroit, Michigan, in the late nineteen-forties. Although specializing early in her art career in wood-block prints depicting nature and wildlife, Patti’s more recent body of work is with mosaics.

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During our visit two weeks ago, Patti and Dave took us to her studio to show us her latest (unexpected) project – a reclamation task on her first major mosaic which dates back to 1965 – a portrayal of Jesus Christ. This work, which has been displayed from the beginning at the local First Presbyterian Church of Santa Barbara, had begun to suffer from peeling tiles – a mosaic artist’s worst nightmare!

The two most pressing questions for Patti are: Why did this happen and how to fix the damage. Although mounted outdoors on a wall of the church, the mosaic was covered by a walkway overhang. Patti related that, at one time, a small piece of construction machinery doing work near the building accidentally bumped the framed piece as it hung in place; that could have jarred the tiles and begun the deterioration process. Also possibly germane, the tile adhesives available back then were inferior to those which are available to artists like Patti, today.

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Patti with the damaged Jesus (note the lower-left corner)

When the four of us left Patti’s studio to take a walk in the nearby local botanic garden, the question literally still “on the table” was how to proceed with the unenviable task of repairing the image of Jesus.

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Santa Barbara News-Press article on the mosaic dedication, Sept. 19, 1965

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                   Patti in her studio                                    Dave and “Moxie”

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Patti’s large mosaic tribute to the long-gone California Grizzly

IMG_3739 Enjoying our walk in the local botanic garden

After our visit to Patti’s studio and a beautiful evening walk in the nearby botanic garden, we four (plus poodles), returned for a fine “strip-steak” dinner served-up by Dave and Patti – a wonderful evening.

I have no doubt that our good friends will come up with a solution to the mosaic problem and that, soon, “Jesus will rise again!”

 Postscript regarding the mosaic problem: Patti is concerned that the mosaic might possibly be laid-down on marine plywood that is warped or otherwise damaged. Her challenge is to transfer the entire mosaic to a new surface without doing it tile-by-tile. If any mosaic expert is reading this who can offer suggestions, please E-mail Dave Gledhill directly at dave@missioncreek.com .

Cowboy / Western Music – from Santa Clarita

Last weekend, for the eighth consecutive year, we kicked-up our heels at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival. The pilgrimage to Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch at Santa Clarita, California, never fails to rejuvenate its large audiences through music and cowboy “poetry,” all tantalizingly served-up by some of the best professionals in the genre – anywhere!

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This feast for the audio (and visual) senses takes place on the Melody Ranch movie lot, formerly long-owned by that most iconic of all movie cowboys, Gene Autry. There are several sizeable venues located around the scenic ranch whose central feature is the obligatory old “Main Street” of town, the scene of countless cowboy films and television productions. Many of Autry’s old films were shot there; the iconic and very popular television series, Gunsmoke, was filmed there as well.

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The very “best of the best” entertainment at Santa Clarita takes place on the Melody Ranch Stage, situated in a gigantic tent which is capable of seating a very large audience. There are several smaller, partially-covered venues scattered around the grounds which offer a rarely- encountered intimacy between performers and audience.

Our first time at this festival, eight years ago, triggered flashbacks in my memory of the very first cowboy/western music I ever heard – at six years of age, back in Chicago. Anticipating last weekend’s festival, I wrote of those impressions made by the Circle-J Ranch group, way back in 1946 (See my recent post of April 20, 2014, Cowboy/Western Music – from Chicago).

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The Messick family is one of the perennial favorites at Santa Clarita – a local family group that exudes both musicality and joy at each performance. That is the patriarch, Wayne Messick, on the bass fiddle, extreme right. He is in his eighties and still going strong. Being local and family, they perform only occasionally compared to the busy yearly schedules of virtually all the other professional acts. They lend such a nice touch to the musical festivities at Santa Clarita. It appears there are Messick grandchildren involved in music who may continue the tradition!

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The California Battalion is a period “band” from the days of the U.S. Civil War. The group specializes in re-creating the music and researching the traditions that are on display during their performances. They play authentic period brass instruments, and they do so in stirring and often humorous fashion. You might notice that the trumpets and other brass pieces seem to be pointing in the wrong direction – backwards! The battalion leader explains that, because the regimental bands always marched up-front of the troops, the instruments were pointed south for the benefit of the soldiers and their morale.

The trumpets also have rotary valves, not the “plunger” type valves we see today. My wife and I encountered one of the trumpet players and a few other band members who were strolling about the premises between performances. Being a trumpet player myself, I asked about their instruments and how they acquire them. We had a nice discussion on antique band instruments.

The point to be made, here, is the informality of the event and the venues. One often encounters even the “star performers” casually strolling about the grounds; we have often greeted them and engaged them in conversation. They have always been gracious and pleased to meet the public. There are few such venues anymore, sports or entertainment, where audiences can meet and even get to know the performers they come to watch.

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Main Street, early in the morning before the crowds arrive!

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“The Old Chuck Wagon” and “The Blacksmith” on Main Street

There is a lot to see at Melody Ranch during the festival. In addition to the live entertainment, one can stroll about and absorb the aura of a real western film location complete with numerous and eclectic movie props scattered about the premises. For a closer look, one can visit the Melody Ranch Motion Picture Museum located just a short stroll from the entertainment venues.

Cowboy Cobbler (peach) and Cowboy Coffee

They make a big deal over cowboy cobbler…and no wonder – it is absolutely delicious! Try to limit yourself to only one bowl per each of the two days of the festival…good luck! And we always opt for an endless, two-day supply of cowboy coffee by buying the mug for eight dollars. The coffee is served, cowboy style, from pots hung over coal fires – by authentic- looking cowboy volunteers. Note: fans of weak coffee need not bother! The mug in your hand is your endless coffee pass for the entire festival; each year the cup changes color. Great fun!

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The Steel Guitar is Back This Year!

This year we saw a group called “The Lucky Stars” which had not been at the festival since we started attending. They were great – a nice surprise, especially since they featured a swinging steel guitar. For me, nothing accentuates cowboy/western music like a steel guitar. The first one I had seen since the Circle-J Ranch back in Chicago so many years ago surfaced here, last year, in the person of Bobby Black, one of the venerable legends in western music on steel. He was not here this year, but Rusty of The Lucky Stars did a fine job on the instrument. Pure joy!

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We, once again, saw two performances that are an annual “must” at the Cowboy Festival. The “Sons of the San Joaquin” (as in the California valley, north of here) have resided at the top of the list of best acts in cowboy/western for some time. Joe Hannah joins with his younger brother, Jack, and Joe’s son, Lon, to produce the sweetest harmony this side of …anywhere. Jack and Lon play guitar, but Joe has relinquished his base fiddle to newcomer Dan Kahler. Rounding out the Sons is Richard Chon who plays the most beautiful fiddle accompaniment one could possibly image. Richard can effortlessly “saw” and stomp his way through the most challenging up-tempo pieces in the program, then turn around and play the most plaintive, singing fiddle imaginable; I think he must have a Stradivarius masquerading as a fiddle! When you listen to his musical interplay with the Sons on the slower pieces, it is difficult not to tear-up – it is that beautiful. Jack Hannah is the consummate voice and leader of the group. His deep baritone voice is truly something to behold. He is also a renowned songwriter with many fine ones to his credit.

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Last, and simply the best at what he does, is Don Edwards. His performances involve just him, his guitar…and the whole audience. His vocals always deliver a message, a message which connects with every person in the tent. That genuineness along with a great voice, diction, and superb guitar playing are the essence of Don Edwards. He chooses his songs carefully and well. He is never a “showman.” He is always a consummate professional who has researched much of the cowboy lore of which he speaks and sings. Seeing and hearing him perform on the big stage in the big tent – yet still up-close – is a memorable experience. One more thing about Don: He hates yodeling, but he does it well and usually inserts one short segment to please the crowd. Thanks, Don.

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Thanks also to our dear friends, Gil and Linda (on the right) for convincing us to attend our first festival. They waxed so enthusiastically about the music…and the cowboy poetry? That poetry part scared me off, initially. There are a few performers who deliver soliloquys on cowboys and life on the range. They tend to have ranching backgrounds and know of what they speak. Some of the recitals are very touching; some are downright hilarious. I will admit that I go for the music which predominates and cannot be beat. Thirty dollars per person will admit you for both days, allowing access to the several venues which operate all day. What a deal! Cowboy cobbler and cowboy coffee are extra!!

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Disclaimer: No, I am not a marketing front-man for the festival or for any of the performers or their products. I am merely a happy consumer of what they offer who would like to share the joy. That is my idea of what a blog should be. See you next year at Santa Clarita!

 

Hummel Figures: The Art of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel

My wife collects Hummel Figures. You might say we have adopted an entire family of little German urchins over our 47+ years of marriage. Ever since 1935, when the W. Goebel porcelain works in Oeslau, Germany first created three-dimensional versions of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummels’ drawings, these little figurines have been avidly collected and displayed.

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Berta Hummel entered the Siessen Convent in 1931 as a Franciscan postulate, already possessed of artistic talent. When she received her habit in 1933, she took the name, Sister Maria Innocentia which related well to the youthful innocence radiating from the faces of the little figurines which her convent artwork inspired.

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Although the Hummel collection belongs to my wife, I have been an active enabler through lo, these many years. I like them too, and I enjoyed surprising my wife with the many gift additions she received on Christmas, birthdays, and Mother’s Day. Here is the very first one she ever received from me, on our first Christmas together, 1966:

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“Just Resting” (the girl on the fence) was purchased at Macy’s at the Stanford Shopping Center, December, 1966.

Another of our favorites was also purchased at the Stanford Shopping Center, only, this time, at the Emporium. One evening, around the year 1980, we rode the escalator to the second floor in the Emporium while doing some shopping. As we stepped off at the second floor, we passed a display of Hummels. We stopped and scanned the colorful collection of urchins, and we both commented on one in particular, “The Doctor.” We decided we were not ready for the $32 outlay at that point, so we moved on. Unknown to her, I circled back later to purchase it after I made some excuse about going to look for such-and-such in some other department of the store. When we got home that evening, we commented on “The Doctor,” and I suggested she take a minute to tally-up the total number of Hummels in her collection. Lo, and behold, she had one more than she realized… counting ‘The Doctor” which I had snuck-in on her shelf. That was fun!

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The nicest piece of all is the one in the first picture of the post; it is named, “We Wish You the Best.” I stumbled upon this in a local antique shop many years ago. Buying it in used but perfect condition saved some money off of the “new’ price. I am glad I gave it to her, for this piece is rarely seen on antique-collectable shelves.

Over the years, Linda’s collection grew to the point where there was no curio cabinet space left for more, and she moved on to other activities and interests. The last two additions to her collection are the large versions of “Umbrella Girl” and “Umbrella Boy.” They make a good “last gasp.”

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Although Linda’s collection no longer welcomes “new faces,” we continue to enjoy the wholesome little urchins that have been with us for a long time. Occasionally, I will stop by the cabinet and take a few peaceful moments to survey each of those radiant faces, remembering still, the time and exact circumstance when each of them came into our lives. For many of them, that was a very long time ago, a time when my wife and I were both young, too. As little works of art and reminders/time-markers of various points in our married life, they are very special.

My Adventures in Self-Publishing a Book: Tips and Advice for New Authors

Have you ever had the feeling that you have a good story to tell – one that would fill at least a small-sized book? If so, you are not alone, and the good news is that you have real options available to you for sharing that story.

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I retired from my thirty-seven year career in electrical engineering twelve years ago, at the age of sixty-one. Over many years, prior to retirement, I had become fascinated with science, especially physics and its history from the sixteenth to the early twentieth century. I began assembling a reference library, a collection of books which could enlighten and explain while also providing historical context.

Working, here, in Silicon Valley, California, for most of my career, I was a part of this culture which is almost exclusively focused on present, unfolding technology and visions of the “next big thing.” There is not much time spent on retrospection in this valley. My side-interests in pure science and its historical development gave me a different perspective from that of most of my engineering colleagues. After years of reading and researching the history of science, a story materialized in my mind which I felt was important to share.

I had read a lot about four men in particular: Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein. They are the brightest of stars in the vast firmament of science, and I came to appreciate that they each earned their greatest fame through their work on the physics of motion. For example, Kepler was one of the first to support the heliocentric (sun-centered) solar system proposed by Nicholas Copernicus in 1543. He proceeded to determine the planetary motions around the sun to be elliptical in shape and not the perfect, “divine” circles espoused by Copernicus and his many predecessors. Galileo Galilei was the first to uncover the fundamental truth underlying motion physics, the celebrated “Law of Fall (ing bodies).” Isaac Newton, the greatest scientist of them all, proved that the universe is mathematical in nature, operating in accordance with universal “natural laws” which can be revealed to humans and understood using mathematics. Albert Einstein and his famous theories of relativity focused on the concepts of space, time, and that unifying theme which embodies those two – motion.

Your Story and How to Tell It:
Learning About Publishing!

 With a great supporting cast of four luminaries all making scientific history by revealing, step-by-step, “the elusive notion of motion,” I had my story…and my book title! Starting soon after retirement, I created some rough drafts of my story. The next step was to find a publisher, and this is was an education in itself. I obtained some books on “How to Get Published” and got started.

The first thing a novice author learns is that book publishers are not interested in talking to you, the unknown writer. Things are different if you are David McCullough, or Hillary Clinton, or Steven King! For the rest of us, the response is some variation of, “Please go around to the back door with a literary agency representing you. Don’t call us, we’ll call you!” The newbie author next learns how to get “represented” by the prerequisite literary agent…you need a “query letter!”

The Query Letter and the Literary Agency

If directly interesting a publisher in your fabulous book manuscript is virtually impossible, finding an interested literary agent to represent you to publishers is next to impossible. One lands an agent by sending out many copies of a “query letter,” a one-page, tautly-written, but lively description of your book manuscript and its unique merits. Most agencies will respond, but only after keeping you in suspense for anywhere from two to six weeks. More than ninety percent of the responses have one of the following cryptic responses scrawled at the top of your letter: “No Thanks!” “Not for me!” “That field does not sell very well,” or “We are so swamped with proposals – sorry!” Occasionally, a kindlier, more empathetic agent will write, “Liked your concept, but just cannot take on any more projects at this time.” Once in a great while an agent will request a sample chapter of your manuscript, but, even then, don’t get your hopes too high for you have only reached first base on a diamond with four bases, and the odds of landing an agent are long, even from first base.

Virtually all new authors will relate the same experiences with the publishing industry and agencies – sending out dozens of query letters without success. It can get to be rather demoralizing.

Self-Publishing, the “Other” Option –
The Good and the Bad Aspects

 After putting the rough drafts of my early manuscript aside for a few years, I was browsing in the reference section of a Barnes and Noble bookstore one spring day in 2010 when I noticed a small paperback book titled Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual Vol 2. I pulled it out and started to read; the more I read, the more excited I became about the prospect of self-publishing. I bought the book and, within a few days, decided to self-publish a more polished version of my then-current manuscript. After a few months of dedicated, hard labor, I was ready.

Another book proved to be very helpful with my learning-curve in this new venture: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing, by Mark Levine. The book sheds much light on the pros and cons of “doing it yourself” while pulling no punches in its reviews of the dozens of self-publishing companies which can turn your manuscript brainchild into a real (or virtual) book. This handy volume also clearly demonstrates the economics involved in authoring and marketing a self-published book.

One might ask, “What is the difference between a traditional publisher” and a self-publishing” company? The major difference: The author pays a development fee to the latter which guarantees a book will “happen.” As an author/ self-publisher, you generally own all rights to your work as well as the ultimate design templates for on-demand printing (read the contract carefully!). When a traditional publisher accepts your book, you almost always give away all ownership rights to the book in exchange for an up-front cash advance and ongoing royalties based on sales. With self-publishing, you enjoy significant control (at least “say”) over the design, formatting, etc. of your self-published book. When a traditional publisher accepts or “buys” your book, they can do whatever they wish with its production, format, cover design, etc.

As opposed to publisher’s “print runs” in the old days, self-published books are “print-on-demand,” meaning they are ordered, as needed, from a dedicated, highly automated print-house which gets all the required software templates from your self-publishing company. Anywhere from a single copy to hundreds of copies can be in the mail within two business days of the order, generally!

Marketing and Sales of Your Book: Ready for Work?

 If you believe that landing a traditional publisher for your manuscript opens the door to being on the New York Times best-seller list, think again! I contend that being on that list does not carry the same aura of exclusivity it did twenty years ago. It seems that fully half of the many books on display in bookstore windows carry that “accolade,” some of which seem unworthy of any notable mention. At any rate, don’t assume that having a traditional publisher will get you on the list. Most traditional publishers will do very little to promote your book that they publish. Unless you are Hillary Clinton, or Ben Bernanke, or Martha Stewart, your book is on its own. The same is just as true of your book when you self-publish: It is on its own once it is listed by the self-publishing company with the major book distributors and major sellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. As any good book on self-publishing will emphasize, your sales will depend on your chosen topic, the quality of your writing, and your personal involvement and effectiveness in marketing the book – especially the latter.

Here is a key statement that all potential authors must appreciate:

With the flurry of books being published today, both by traditional publishing houses and by self-publishing companies, it is extremely difficult for first-time authors to capture the public’s attention to the extent that there will be any meaningful sales revenue. The huge number of communication channels open to the public is both a blessing and a curse for new authors. On the one hand, there are many channels that can be used to publicize a book; on the other, the public audience is so bombarded by “information” coming from every angle that your new book is very likely going to get lost in the shuffle –  without ever being seen or appreciated.

The Big Advantage of Traditional Publishing

The huge advantage of traditional publishing is this: Brick and mortar bookstores will stock a new author’s unproven title coming from a traditional publisher whereas they will not stock a new, self-published title. Why is that?  In large part, it is because sellers can return an unsold, dog-eared copy to the publisher/distributor for a refund/credit whereas they usually cannot return self-published titles. Why should that be the case? The reason is that self-published authors generally must designate their books as “unreturnable.” If they do not, the author is stuck with returned books that a traditional publisher – not the author – would be responsible for. That makes a huge “dent” in the book’s marketing prospects and the ability of a new title to “be seen” by the buying public. There have been many self-published authors who have found out the hard way that not designating their book, “unreturnable” cost them dearly – in returned books.

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The author and his book (on the book-rack)
at the Stanford University Bookstore

You can get select bookstores to carry your self-published book on a consignment basis…if it has merit, and if you take the initiative to personally contact the seller and make the necessary arrangements with the buyer. 

Why Do You Want to Publish a Book?

There are a number of reasons for wanting to see your very own book in print – some noble, some, not so much. The choice of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing will depend to a degree on your reasons for writing the book and your goals for it.

To make money

If you are writing/publishing a book to make big money – good luck! That is very unlikely even with a traditional publisher, most of whom offer skinny advances and small royalties, even on a larger book. As a new, unknown author with a deluxe paperback selling for $19.95, you would be lucky to receive $3.00 per book. One can actually make considerably more by self-publishing and self-marketing that same book, roughly, $8.00 per book of profit, but the sales volume will be small. Even though the financial rewards are small for a first-time author, the bookstore exposure provided by traditional publishing is key to at least selling books and becoming known by the reading public.

To leave a memoir

Not the most economical way to go, but if you desire a real book in small numbers, then self-publishing is the only way to go unless, once again, you are Hillary Clinton! For those who have the several hundred dollars it takes to purchase an entry-level package which will get them the five sample copies of a nice paperback book/memoir, it is a fine approach.

Ego Gratification

OK – fair enough, but for good writers who are serious about their craft, this reason rarely satisfies. Good writers are mainly motivated by the desire to create a manuscript that someone else will read, enjoy, and perhaps benefit from – a book with literary merit that will sell.

 To Tell and Share a Significant Story

Telling a good or favorite story and sharing it with others is the goal of many new authors. We all have our unique interests which captivate our imaginations and which we would like to share with others…in the “true spirit of giving,” shall we say? That is a wonderful reason to offer a book, but no assurance that the topic or your implementation of it will sell. A story that needs to be told, for whatever reason, is also a basis for a compelling book.

To have the kind of book you, the author, would like to read!

Say what? What does that mean? I can relate to that reason-statement. When I wrote and self-published my book, The Elusive Notion of Motion: The Genius of Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, I did so to tell and share a story, one that I deemed important and interesting. But I also felt that none of the many books I have on the subject matter really tied up the scientific history of motion physics along with explanations for the layperson into one neat bundle – the kind of bundled approach that appealed to me. So I literally set out “to write the book that I wanted to read.”

I find I am not alone in that approach to writing! As many of you know from past posts, especially that of July 21, 2013, Meet David McCullough – Engaging Author, Historian, and Man of Common-Sense (see my blog archive for July, 2013), I am a big fan of Mr. McCullough and his writing. I have learned that his first book, titled The Johnstown Flood, was written out of his frustration in not finding a suitable book describing that catastrophic event. He wrote the book he, himself, wanted to read, to paraphrase his words (see the very excellent short film on him, Painting with Words, for the story).

The Times, They Are-a-Changin’ In the Book World!

 Three things, in particular, are in the midst of rapid change: First, the rise of self-publishing vs. traditional publishers; second, the marketing and selling of books, today; third, the E-book phenomenon.

The Publishing Business

Self-publishing is rapidly overtaking traditional publishing today. The old publishing establishment with its “farm system” of literary agencies which is used by publishers to screen new authors and their offerings is quite unable to keep up with today’s demands. There are many good, new, talented authors for whom the protracted struggle to actually get the attention of a publisher (or not) is very discouraging.

In some ways, that tight screening process of traditional publishing is a good thing; it generally prevents many manuscripts of dubious merit from reaching bookstore shelves. In the early years, a rather large number of authors with poor offerings resorted to self-publishing their books, and that fact stigmatized the genre; that has been the knock on self-publishing in the past. I have seen some dreadful, self-published books in which any semblance of decent grammar and syntax is clearly missing. That has drastically changed today, and there are many fine works being self-published thanks to the increasing tendency of the traditional publishing industry to eschew new authors and revert to the financial guarantees implicit in well-known, previously published names – publishing “sure-things.”

Bookselling and Marketing

The visible demise of so many brick and mortar bookstores and the towering internet presence of Amazon tell most of the story. I buy some of my books from Amazon because of the convenience and unbeatable pricing, but my wife and I make it a point to frequently buy from brick and mortar stores, especially our local favorite, Leigh’s Favorite Books in downtown Sunnyvale, California (see my blog-post of April 1, 2013, Support Your Local Bookstore – available in the April, 2013 archives of my blog). Without the pleasures of browsing in a real bookstore and the new discoveries to made there, where would we be?

As for book-marketing, it is the age of the internet and social media with all its pluses and minuses. The advice for new authors with a new book is: Be prepared to be your own VP of marketing…on the internet. As I pointed out earlier, even a traditional publisher will do virtually zero to promote the new book of an unknown author – beyond the built-in advantage of bookstore exposure, as explained earlier. There are many ways to bring your book to the public’s attention using social media, but the bad news is that there is so much “clutter” out there that your book is in very real danger of being lost in the shuffle.

E-Books

E-books have taken on increasing importance in book publishing and marketing. Most self-publishing companies offer to release various E-versions of your book for a nominal up-front development fee. The author’s profit from an E-Book sale is actually slightly higher in most cases compared to the sale of a paperback copy. Although not a big fan of reading from E-Books, I acknowledge their importance and had my book made available in that format. 

The Final Chapter: A “Fun Find” in a Vancouver Bookstore

Back in September, my wife and I visited the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver. Our B & B host in Vancouver recommended a used bookstore downtown, so we stopped there one afternoon. Per custom, my wife and I went in different directions after choosing a meeting time at the front of the store. I headed for the science section. Browsing along the shelves and seeing a number of titles I already have in my reference library, I came across one special title – my own book, The Elusive Notion of Motion: The Genius of Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein (see the photo)!

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 I was quite taken-a-back to find my own book all the way up in Vancouver! Looking closely at it, I could tell that it was from the first order of books I ever received from the printer; it even had the errata slip that I personally inserted before page 191 (I had that problem quickly corrected by my self-publisher). I bought the used copy of my own book for the bargain price of $10.00 and brought it back home…from where it originally left on its journey to Vancouver. It resides on my bookshelf, a special souvenir of Vancouver! I hope the original buyer read it and enjoyed it before giving it up!

What’s Next? A New Book!

For me, a new book is almost ready for a publisher-search… or a self-publisher! The finishing touches are in process on my newest manuscript, a book on the problem of educating today’s youngsters for success, especially in the critical areas of science and math. In my new book, I point out that America’s problems will not be solved by the traditional panaceas of “better schools,” “better teachers,” or “longer school days” as is so often heard in the news media. The solution lies in my thesis that, “education and learning begin at home;” accordingly, my book shows parent/mentors how to send children to school who are “learning-ready.” I hope to have it published, one way or the other, by June.

My advice to aspiring authors?

Believe in your work, but first insure that the quality of your effort is worthy of such belief! Above all, do not get discouraged; virtually every new author will need a vast reservoir of determination and dedication to the task to make their book a reality. Good luck!

Meet Our New Neighbors, the (Scrub) Jays!

I believe it was back in May or June of this year when I began to notice two western scrub jays frequenting our backyard. I had to do some research in order to make an accurate identification as to the exact genre of bird. Although we have all manner of birds passing through my wife’s nicely-tended backyard garden, scrub jays, with their bright blue plumage, are definitely rare. Beyond my initial surprise, I gave these unexpected visitors little thought until I began to realize that they were hanging around the backyard, not just passing through. Soon, I noticed them industriously tugging on and pulling off small twigs from the large hedge that runs along the fence-line. It was then that I realized what was happening.

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As I began to watch more closely, I determined that the nest-building site was just inside the hedge, about eye-level from our patio and only four feet from the corner of our house. At a time when I knew both birds were away, I peered into the hedge and determined the exact location of the intertwined twig structure, nicely nestled in a fork of branches. A splendid view of the comings and goings of our new neighbors was had from our kitchen window as well as from the glass patio door. Never in our 41 years in this house had we seen anything quite like this. It was the beginning of what was to become a fascinating saga.

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Three or four weeks after starting to gather “building material,” one of the birds was much less visible. The other became a “frequent flyer,” making trip after trip in and out of the hedge – bringing “lunch,” I presumed. The gallant fellow usually entered the long hedge-row fifteen feet or twenty feet “downstream” of the nest’s position instead of using the front-door and going right to it. The bird would then adroitly “bound” through the hedge to its mate on the nest. At this point, I began to realize that these birds really knew what they were doing; the intent of this behavior was obviously to obscure the nest’s exact location in case anyone was watching – like me!

Four or five weeks passed, with mama jay infrequently seen and papa jay coming and going constantly. When he was not on the move, he was keeping vigil over our back-yard, sometimes from one of our small birch trees and sometimes from the very tip-top of several very tall juniper trees located a significant distance away. The trees were just close enough for me to resolve the form of a jay at the very top monitoring our yard. This happened frequently.

I began to develop an attachment to these two jays and a first-hand respect for birds in general now that I was witnessing, up-close-and-personal, a special part of their life-cycle. Actually observing the instincts of these creatures in action is much more powerful than merely reading about them in a book. I did not know it at the time, but I recently read that scrub jays do operate as “breeding pairs” – a fact which I had begun to assume after watching our two new neighbors and concluding that their exercise would be no “one-night stand.”

At a midway point during this whole process, I sprinkled some cracker crumbs on our patio to see what would happen. It was immediately apparent that they loved my crackers. The male was somewhat reticent about even landing on the patio to grab the tasty tidbits while I stood watching in the patio doorway, several yards away. The female was not shy; she, in fact, quite blew me away by actually coming right up on the doorstep and wolfing down cracker bits less than a foot from the toes of my slippers…as I stood directly over her watching in amazement! She did this the very first time I offered crackers to them! Quite amazing and somewhat like my little hummingbird friends who will land on my hanging feeder at eyeball level with me standing (very still) only three feet away.

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                                         Mama Jay

I have had several years of experience chronicling hummer behavior around our feeder, so I knew that, being flashbulb-quick, their little brains are constantly “calculating” how much time/separation are needed for them to escape a sudden threat. They have great confidence in their judgment, in that respect. For this female jay, a large, thus relatively slow bird, more caution would seem to be in order…or not!

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                                                           Papa Jay

Finally, I sensed that eggs had hatched and there must be baby jays in the nest. I delayed taking a peek for a couple of weeks so as not to intrude. Finally, when I was certain that both adults were on an “errand,” I walked up to the hedge and peered in at the nest. I saw two little blue heads visible over the top of the structure. I moved quickly away, not wanting to be caught peeking by mama and papa. By now, my connection with this whole affair and the two adult jays was such that I felt guilty for my prying and for “betraying their trust!”

One evening, about two weeks later, I could sense unusual activity in progress. I thought to myself, “Must be time to leave the nest.” Standing just outside the patio door, monitoring events with a cup of tea in hand, I suddenly heard a rustle in the hedge, right near the nest – like a baby bird falling through the branches. Immediately, I could hear a plaintive little squawking sound coming from ground level underneath the hedge, but I could see nothing. This continued for ten or fifteen minutes accompanied by much activity on the part of the adults who were flitting among various other tall shrubs in our backyard. The squawking stopped, and it soon became apparent to me that the parents were engaged either in flying lessons or branch-hopping instruction to some number of new chicks.

Here is the amazing aspect of all this: I never, ever caught so much as a glimpse of those baby chicks after they left the nest – not even during the rustling commotions raging within our backyard shrubs that first evening of their apparent liberation. Mama and papa stayed close-by for three or four weeks afterward; I could see one or both keeping vigil on our yard – usually from the tip-top of the distant cypress tree, but I never saw the youngsters. How strange is that? I suppose I witnessed a demonstration of how mama and papa are programmed through instinct: To keep their young from view!

As I write this post some seven months later, the two adults are still coming around quite regularly. They clearly consider our back yard as their “homestead.” They were out there early this morning, so I gave them some crackers – of course! Papa jay makes it a point to stay out of mama jay’s way when the food comes out. I have often seen her aggressively chase him off until she has made her first pass. Sometimes, I’ll pull the sliding door open to step out, and one of them (followed closely by the other) comes gliding in for a landing, looking at me as if to say, “Where are our crackers?” It is great fun…especially when they hide the larger pieces of cracker for a rainy day. Where? They bury them in flower pots, in the lawn, and they even tuck their goods in the split seams of our bedraggled patio chair cushions – right in there with the cotton batting. It is fun to watch them identify a place for their stash: they will look around, decide on a good spot, go there, and finally take a long pause to look around to be sure no one is watching – like me! I have heard that birds have a phenomenal ability to recall great numbers of stash locations, places where they have hidden food for a rainy day. I often have trouble remembering where I laid my glasses ten minutes earlier.

I feel blessed with the opportunity to watch nature’s creatures so up-close-and personal, and I stand in awe of what I see – every time. Any human being with a “superior complex” relative to the animal kingdom ought to take a closer look.

We hope our two new friends will stay in their new neighborhood and add to the family, right here, next year!

A Rare Antique Shop Find: A 1934 Ingersoll Mickey Mouse Watch!

Are you an antique shop browser? Do you gladly subject yourself to hours of scanning shelves and peering into a motley assortment of old, glass display cabinets in the hope of finding that certain “thing” that can be reasonably purchased and which has the potential to “make your day?” 

I cannot resist perusing antique shops, those repositories of our cultural past, for any “thing” that piques my interest. That “thing” could be any item that I consider attractive, well-made, unique, historically interesting ….and not very expensive. Mostly, I come up empty-handed for my efforts, tired of seeing the same genre of knick-knacks from the 1950’s time after time (seems like all the shops have those in abundance!).

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A few years ago, my luck changed in the little town of Fillmore. We were traveling along California route 126 on our way back to the San Francisco Bay Area from Southern Calif. and stopped briefly for a rest-stop. I told Linda I wanted to take a quick look around the little antique shop on the town’s main drag, one we had not visited for some time. After making my usual luckless rounds through the store, I was almost out the front door when I noticed a display of several wristwatches on mannequin hands. This display included a typical array of watches from the 1950’s and later, some with Disney themes such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc. One watch caught my eye because I recognized it as an early version of Disney’s ubiquitous Mickey Mouse Watch. I asked to see it and promptly noticed the $250 price tag when the sales-lady handed it to me – considerably more than the other watch prices!

I gingerly wound the watch-stem once or twice around, but the little rotating minute dial at the bottom of the watch-face did not seem to be rotating – not good! In the process of handing it back, I fortunately noticed it was now moving, apparently needing just a slight jar to get going on such little spring tension. The watch clearly was in working order! I got pretty excited at that point.

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I could see that the watch seemed completely original and without the tell-tale signs of being disassembled for repair or parts replacement. I left without buying it because of the non-trivial price. On the way home, with my wife driving, I did some research on my iPhone. I determined that $250 was half the value of a similarly nice, all-original 1933/34 Ingersoll Mickey Mouse Watch. I called the shop and asked the sales-lady more about it. She told me it was consigned by a local woman whose grandfather had bought it at the 1933 Chicago Exposition. My quickie internet research had verified that the first-ever Mickey Mouse Watch made its debut at that fair in 1933, marketed by Disney and Ingersoll. This particular early 1934 version is akin to the second printing of a first edition book – and quite scarce in nice, original condition. Furthermore, the owner confirmed my suspicions via telephone call that the watch had never needed repair and was completely original in all respects – including the cute and unique leather band.

I called back to the shop and bought it over the phone while still driving home and have enjoyed it ever since. I am a big fan of Disney, and the Mickey Mouse Watch is truly a cultural icon.

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I still recall the thrill of receiving a brand-new Mickey Mouse Watch at Christmas, 1948. An old photograph shows me proudly showing off my new watch. I still have it, it works, and it seems altogether fitting that I should stumble across that related treasure on my lucky afternoon of antique sleuthing.

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Chicago: Returning to My Boyhood Roots

I’m from Chicago. We all are who we are due, in no small part, to our inherited beginnings, our genes. In a similar sense, that applies to our childhood roots. Although my younger sister and I came to California in 1948 and have spent much of our lives here in the San Francisco Bay Area, it seems that I have never lost the taste in my mouth of Chicago.

 Chicago and the Midwest can stay with one for a long time. I was flabbergasted many years ago – and many years after we came to California – to be asked by someone out of the blue if I were from Chicago! I replied, “Yes, what prompted you to ask that?” I was told that I had a Chicago accent! “I do?” I thought to myself; amazing!

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 We left in early 1948 when United Air Lines transferred my father to SFO (airline code for San Francisco) along with their maintenance operations. I was seven at the time. I recall the long flight on a DC-4 United Mainliner which left virtually all of our family-ties behind and carried our young family into a great unknown. Aside from a brief return visit in 1951, we never returned. A temporary stay in a small motel along the Bayshore Freeway (also known as Highway 101) in San Mateo, revealed to us a landscape (sparse) and a way of life which promised to be very different from what we left behind. Now, after sixty-five years in California, most of it in the Bay Area, this area is barely recognizable from what we first saw in 1948!

 Through all the years, I kept alive memories of our West Chicago neighborhood, my boyhood friends, my grandparents, uncles and aunts, and weekend fishing and boating trips north to Lake Loon and Lake Geneva.

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That’s me next to my sister, Karen, in front of our apartment building.

 I remembered the wonderful Lionel electric train layout at the Museum of Science and Industry at Lakefront Park. I recalled the famous and elaborate Christmas window displays at the venerable Marshall Field department store on State Street. And the snow – we kids loved the snow and sledding down the gentle slopes in the vacant lot across the street from our apartment building.

 How often I thought about these things, and how often I missed family ties which were suddenly severed when we left. I was old enough to form some vivid memories of my grandparents, but not old enough to really know them and to benefit from their life-experiences as I grew.  I have always regretted not being able to truly know them, especially now when I wonder to what degree their attitudes and sensibilities are present in me, our children, and our grandchildren.

 Visiting My Chicago Boyhood Places in 2004

 Fifty six years after my departure, Linda and I decided to return to Chicago on vacation – to revisit those places which stubbornly resided in my memory all those years. Would anything remain, and, if so, would it at all resemble those mental images I had carried around for so long? We hired a town car for one full day during our stay with the express desire to visit the old places. Our driver, Steven,  came for us in his black Lincoln town-car at our Oak Park B&B at 10 AM one bright, sunny morning, and off we went on one very special personal adventure.

Boyhood012Our first stop was the nearby neighborhood and apartment building which contained many of my boyhood recollections. As we pulled up at the curb, I saw that the venerable old brick building was not only still there – it had not changed one bit from the old black and white photos which captured me, my playmates, and my sister Karen playing along the front of the building so many years ago.

 The garage at the left facing the alley was where my dad completely overhauled the engine of our 1934 Pontiac when it threw a piston in the mid 1940’s!

Our tiny apartment was located in the far wing of the building closest to the sidewalk – the upper two windows nearest the camera.

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These two photos are of the same guy and the same windows (to my right in the 2004 photo); 59 years had passed, and I must admit that the building had changed much less than the guy. An interesting anecdote will support that contention: I was not sure which of two sets of identical windows was pictured in the early photo. Later, when I carefully inspected both prints with a magnifying glass, I could recognize the exact same pattern of light/dark bricks under the windows to my right as were identifiable in the black and white shot! Elementary detective work, my dear Watson!

 Next, we drove several miles to the little brick home of my maternal grandparents, a house which figured in so many of my memories. It had a real attic, a wonderful, rough-finished attic where old trunks and other things were stored. It was the kind of attic in which little folks could run around upright and have a ball. The house also had a full basement with little windows at ground-level and a great big furnace. To feed that fiery beast during the heavy cold of Chicago winters, a large walk-in coal bin and a shovel were nearby!

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My grandfather and grandmother both arrived in New York from Poland as young, single adults. Grandpa was very proud of the fact that he became a naturalized citizen and that he was living the American dream when he bought this brand new house in 1938 – his first and only. He was a barber for many, many years just across from City Hall in Chicago’s Loop. He had a large repeat clientele which included many city big-wigs from across the street. Grandpa was a no-nonsense kind of guy – short, stocky, and stern in demeanor, but dutiful, hard-working, and apparently, very honest.

There were fun times for me at the house: Going up and down the circular attic staircase with my sister; sitting in a huge galvanized wash-tub filled with cool water in the backyard on very hot Chicago days (the pungent smell of that galvanized tub is as vivid today in my memory as it was back in the mid-1940’s). I recall, as well, humid Chicago evenings when we all sat in the back yard as it got dark eating fresh garden tomatoes with one hand with a salt-shaker in the other. I never forgot those wonderful Chicago fireflies which seemed like nature’s magic.

 One of my favorite memories involves the weekend afternoon I was following Grandpa all around his house; I was probably around four or five years of age. Down to the basement, back up into the house, out to the back-yard, and back again inside we went. He apparently was quite busy that day, and I presumably had nothing better to do than to follow him around asking questions, etc.

 At one point in this parade of two, I locked him out of the house. When he was let back in, he blurted out his frustration for the benefit of anyone within earshot, “He’s a nuisance!!” Now, I did not know exactly what that word, “nuisance,” meant. I recall thinking it might have something to do with “newspaper.” I probably was exactly what he said I was – on that particular day!

 As with our old apartment building, my grandparents’ little house was virtually unchanged through all those years. Even the wrought-iron hand-rails framing the several front steps were the exact same ones pictured in keepsake photos we have of the early days. My mother was photographed in her wedding dress on those steps in 1939. My parent’s wedding reception was held at the house in the backyard which faced the unfinished “field” behind the newly constructed house.

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And, finally, there is my personal favorite, a photo taken in August of 1944 of me, my parents, grandparents, and my young Uncle Edwin by the front steps. I cannot fully explain my affection for this particular picture, but I feel it in part because it somehow embodies the mysteries of time, space, and family for me.

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There were other sentimental family stops for our town car that day. Several involved the earliest residences of my parents and me. The major disappointment of the day was our inability to locate my paternal grandparent’s store-front/home on Diversey Avenue. Elmer and Martha lived very frugally directly behind their little store-front which combined a radio repair shop (Elmer’s) and a candy/toy store (Martha’s). She emigrated from Germany early in the last century; Elmer’s parents came from the German-Polish border. Dad’s parents had little money throughout their lives, yet managed to raise five children who carved-out a good, successful life for themselves and their families. After returning home, we surmised that the little premises we sought once occupied a site now covered by a large, modern banquet-hall/restaurant which we had photographed.

One more stop was noteworthy: We went up Milwaukee Avenue, northwest of Chicago proper, to visit my mother’s old high school, Carl Schurz High. Given the fact that it was built in 1910 (she graduated in 1936), I did not expect much more than a dingy, dilapidated facility. I was totally blown-away when we got out of the car; there before us was this stately old, meticulously maintained, classic brick school building situated on a gorgeous, fenced campus.

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We learned afterward that Schurz underwent a full-blown, loving restoration in 1997 and is now listed as a Chicago Historical Monument, being a beautiful example of the “Prairie Style” of architecture, reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s pioneering style in nearby Oak Park. What a beautiful surprise this school was to me – to see such a fine and noble structure knowing that it was an important part of my mother’s early life.

 She had fond memories of her years there in spite of the social disadvantages of being so young when she graduated – she was sixteen or barely seventeen. Education and learning were always important to her. Nevertheless, alongside her senior yearbook picture, she declared she “wants to become a dramatic actress.” During that heyday of the movies, that was a common yearbook sentiment, it seems. My sister, Karen, and I are glad she opted for home-maker and mother.

Here’s Megan!

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Our desire to visit my Chicago roots was fulfilled after the first few days. By pre-arrangement, our older daughter, son-in-law, and first grandchild, Megan, joined us in Chicago for several days. We all had a wonderful time in Chicago; there is so much to see and do there.

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Linda and I at Buckingham Fountain – Lakeshore Park, Chicago

 In concluding this post, I want to add one more comment: As with Schurz High School, I was deeply impressed by the beauty, cleanliness, and wonderful spirit of my first home, Chicago – not what I expected from a big city! So clean, so fine, and so much to see and do.  For me, returning to my boyhood roots …and seeing so much still unchanged was a life-long dream come-true.

My kind of town, Chicago is !

Have you experienced a similar reunion with your past?

 If so, please share with us by adding a comment with some details. We would all enjoy hearing about your experience!