Love the Turtle!

I had a fantastic time at the University of Maryland last night: an enthusiastic crowd who laughed (and cried) in all the right places, great questions, and one of the best setups I’ve seen for a smaller setting, with the podium set up between two huge hi-def TV screens so there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.  Well done. UMD, and well done all who came. You were a lot of fun.

Incidentally, I had two people raise their hands at the same time to ask, “When will they be releasing The Muppet Show seasons 4 and 5 on DVD?”  Good question, and one I’d love for Disney to answer. The rumor I’ve heard (and keep in mind I don’t actually know anything) is that the biggest obstacle to their release is the tracking down and clearing of all the rights to the music used in the last two seasons. I’d think this would be a drop in the bucket for the Disney conglomerate– but, again, what the heck do know? Discuss amongst yuhselves.

And much, I’m certain, to my father’s disappointment (he reads this blog, then texts me Statler and Waldorf-like comments), I did not get a picture of me with the statue of Jim and Kermit. I arrived with only enough time to run through the A/V check before things started . . . and then afterwards it was dark.

Ya wanna see something else, though? All over the university, you’ll find statues of their mascot, the turtle Testudo, which get painted and repainted to look like this . . .

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or this . . .

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or this.

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Just inside the Stamp Student Union Building, however, there’s a turtle who’s been painted — and slightly modified — to look like this:

Kertle

Have a good weekend!

Fear the Turtle! (But Come Anyway!)

Just a quick reminder: I’ll be speaking at the University of Maryland–Jim Henson’s alma mater–this Friday at 6:00 p.m. at the Stamp Student Union Bookstore. It’s all part of the University’s parents’ weekend events, but whether you’re a UMD parent or UMD student or not, you’re welcome to come join the fun.  And did I tell you it’s free? Well, it is.

Which building is Stamp Student Union, you ask? It’s the one with this statue in front:

Statue.hensonumd

More Comings and Goings

Urgh, I continue to be the worst. Blogger. Ever.

Hi, everyone.  How ya doin’?

Since I last saw you, I’ve come back from a wonderful trip to Kinderhook, New York, where I had been invited to come talk on Washington Irving.  Kinderhook is particularly important in Irving’s story, because it’s where he wrote his first book, A History of New York, in the summer of 1809, while recovering from the death of his 17-year-old fiancee. While I was there, I toured Martin Van Buren’s home, Lindenwald (which is THE ACTUAL HOUSE where Irving wrote his History of New York, though it was still owned by the Van Ness family at that time), and had the great pleasure of staying in this house right here:

kinderhook georgianThis is a local landmark, the Burgoyne House, where British general John Burgoyne was held after his capture by Benedict Arnold.  Arnold, however, had to stay at a very nice, but much smaller, house just down the street.  Which probably explains a lot about what happened later.

I spoke that afternoon at the Reformed Dutch Church, where I talked about Irving’s version of the Dutch history of New York. Afterwards, I was asked several really good questions, and only slightly disappointed the home town crowd when I informed them that Kinderhook was probably not the Sleepy Hollow of Irving’s famous tale (Had I been a bit faster on my feet, I’d have said that every place is Sleepy Hollow.  But it was hot.) Afterwards, we retreated to a reception at the old Jesse Merwin house, which at one time belonged to the historic figure who actually was the inspiration for Ichabod Crane. All in all, a lovely weekend — and I even got to bring Barb with me.

I’ve got several events coming up in the next few months, which I’ll post under the News tab as well.  

First, I’ll be speaking at the University of Maryland — Jim Henson’s alma mater, for those of you playing at home — on Friday, September 12, as part of the university’s parent’s weekend.  I’ll be at the University Book Center at Stamp Union, starting at 6:30 p.m.

In October, I’ll be attending the James River Writers Conference down in Richmond, Virginia, for three days (October 17-19), and I’ll be giving my hour long Jim Henson show on Friday night, October 17, as part of the many kick-off events. If you’re anywhere near Richmond that weekend and love books . . . well, it’s something you’d probably wanna do.

In November, I’ll be back at the University of Maryland (in association with the Prince George’s County Historical Society) to talk Jim Henson on Sunday, November 2, from 2:30 to 4, at the Hornbake Library.

Finally, on Wednesday, November 5, I’ll be making my long-overdue appearance at the New York Public Library’s Mid-Manhattan Library, at 6:30 p.m. I’m very excited about this one, especially as the library and I went back and forth for a long time trying to find a date that worked.

That Giant Sucking Sound

I’m back from a long weekend in Colorado, where I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful wedding for one of my nephews.  The next day, we headed for Denver to catch our flight back to Washington, DC–and while we were waiting at our gate at the airport, an alarm blared and informed us a tornado had been spotted nearby, and to head for the tornado shelters at the ends of the terminals.

So, while this was raging outside . . .

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(No, I didn’t take this photo.)

…we were huddled in the underbelly of the Denver International Airport, none the worse for wear:

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While I looked, I never did see the Batmobile.

Obviously,  everything worked out fine, though our flight was delayed to the point that we didn’t make it back home until after 2 a.m.

And how’s YOUR week so far?

You Never Forget Your First

photo 2This is a photo I took today of the very first Lego Space set I ever owned.*  It’s the Rocket Launcher, and it was the first time I had ever seen a minifig, a sloped ramp piece with a computer printed on it, and the piece we always called the Gas Tank. I must have put this thing together a thousand times–and when I put it together at the desk in my office today, I was astounded at how my fingers seemed to automatically find each piece even before I knew which one I needed.

I was 12 when I got this, and as you can see, I still have the instructions and the box.  Which is a good thing, because I’m sending this set–and lots of others–off to my nephews. They’re big Lego fans, and I think they’re much better off being sent someplace where they’ll be enjoyed, rather than sitting in the box in my basement.

*Lego Crater Plate not included.

 

This and That

It’s a gorgeous early summer day here in Maryland and I’ve been outside mowing and working in the yard–but I’ve got a few noteworthy things to, uh, note for you.

First, for those of you in the Norfolk/Newport News region, I’ll be on HearSay on Tuesday, July 1, from noon until 1 p.m. (that’s 89.5 FM on the local dial, but it’ll be streaming shortly afterward).  I’ll be sitting in studio to talk Jim Henson with my pal Liz Humes (who also brings you the Wordy Birds radio show in Richmond every Friday), who’s sitting in for the vacationing Cathy Lewis for the week.

And as I mentioned, even if you’re not in the Virginia region, the show will be available online shortly thereafter over on their website.

Next, an interview I did with Neil Haley during last fall’s Miami Book Fair just went online right here. This one was a lot of fun, since we had thirty uninterrupted minutes — and I think Neil had just completed an interview with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, so it was a nice change of pace for him as well.

Finally, it’s always lovely to read a thoughtful reader review like this one.

In Which I Am On CNN, Go To Boston, and Get Back In The Chair

Good grief, it’s really been over a month since I last checked in here? I’m never gonna get a John Scalzi-type following at this rate…

First thing’s first–and because everyone asked me about it at the time–the CNN piece on the Muppets finally aired in late May. The CNN crew had come to my house here in Maryland ages ago to film me in my basement office, and then I never heard anything more about it. I had assumed it had turned into vapor trails, until a sharp-eyed fan on Twitter alerted me to it: a half-hour special called CNN Spotlight: The Muppets, with a brief look at Jim Henson about a third of the way through it.

In case you missed it (and even if you didn’t), here’s the piece in its entirety:

 

I also had the great pleasure of speaking in mid-April at the newly-opened Gaithersburg Library here in my neck of the words, with the added bonus that C-SPAN was in attendance to record my hour-long talk in its entirety for BookTV.  No word yet on when, or even if, it’ll air, but I’ll let you know what I hear. More than likely, some eagle-eyed Muppet fan will spot it before I do and let me know about it.

In mid-May, I headed for Boston to attend Biographers International Organization’s annual conference. It was my privilege to be elected the organization’s president in early spring, but that meant that in addition to the two panels I was on and the one panel I was moderating, I also had to act as emcee for much of the conference–which also meant I didn’t have as much time to spend catching up with everyone as I would have liked. One of the founding principles of BIO is to address with what we informally call “the loneliness quotient,” so the opportunity to mingle and trade stories with other biographers is one of the genuine pleasures of attending the BIO conference. It’s also perhaps the only place on the planet where you can grouse about having to assemble the index for your book (“And that index?!? AMIRIGHT?”) and have everyone in the room nodding sympathetically.

At the final reception, we announced the finalists and winner of the Plutarch Award, presented to the best biography of the year, as chosen by biographers.  I was pleased and honored that Jim Henson was among the finalists (along with Ray Monk’s Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center and Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin), with the well-deserved winner being Linda Leavell’s Holding On Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne MooreIf you haven’t read any of these fine biographies, do yourself a favor and grab any one of them. Better yet, grab ‘em all.

And, oh yeah . . . I’m at work again. On Something Cool. That means I’ll be back at the desk regularly again –which I’m also hoping means I can get back here more often. Bear with me.