How to Launch a @Delta2 Rocket @NASASocial

VANDENBERG AFB, CA — Two weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the launch of the OCO-2 satellite, and tweeting about it on Twitter. My young readers are not on Twitter, however, so I will recap the events for them here with some never-before seen photos of this top-secret military base (and hope that I don’t get busted!).

How to Launch a Rocket

1. Arrive at the top-secret south entrance at the pre-arranged hour. IMG_92522. Pretend you can’t read English as you step past this sign:IMG_92563. Present two forms of government-issued I.D. for your security clearance:IMG_9254Which you must wear on your person at all times while on base.

4. Don’t miss the bus.IMG_92575. Step inside the hangar.IMG_92596. Listen to NASA scientists explain how to launch a rocket within a 30-second window to place the OCO-2 satellite in a precise point in an orbit with 17 other satellites. IMG_9263It’s all very extremely precise and complicated, so …

7. Ask a lot of questions! BrZN2VjCIAEx0ti8. If one of the scientists follows you out of the building saying that you still look confused, try your best to look smart. More importantly, try to your best to understand what he’s saying or you’ll end up misinforming your readers, or omitting vital information entirely.

9. As soon as you get back on the bus, cry. Cry that not only are you not smart enough  work at NASA, but you’re not even smart enough to understand the answers to your own questions :( !

10. TGFBT. Thank God for Bus Tours.IMG_9265Above is one of the Space Launch Complexes (SLC, pronounced as “slic”).

Below is the Pacific Ocean, just north of Honda Point, where 11 Naval destroyers ran aground in 1923, and seven sunk. IMG_9267Vandenberg Air Force Base is built on 64,000 acres of farmland that had originally been a part of a larger Army base, Camp Cooke. The Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, and the following year, the U.S. responded by launching a Thor IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) from Vandenberg.

In 1959, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev rode through Vandenberg on the train (the tracks run right through the military base) from Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo. His American hosts had wanted him to see the Atlas missiles aimed at the Soviet Union visible from the train.

Not far from Honda Point is  SLC 6, designed for the space shuttle:IMG_9270The space shuttle program was cancelled after the Challenger disaster in 1986. No shuttle ever launched from Vandenberg.

But there’s evidence that the space shuttle was here:IMG_9273The sides of the canyon had to be cut away in real time to accommodate the space shuttle wings as it was being towed to SLC 6. Power lines also had to be elevated.

I have seen with my own eyes the space shuttle Enterprise being towed up the Hudson River on its way to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on June 6, 2012. And lemme tell you, it was a behemoth in a kiddie pool.

But I digress.

11. Eat lunch. IMG_9274Here are the non-commissioned officers cooking a yummy Santa Maria BBQ for us, complete with fresh homemade salsa, chili and veggie burgers for those with food issues. Thank you, NCOs!!!

12. After lunch, enter a top-secret, classified area (note the barbed wire and fence):IMG_9282What could possibly need security like that within a secured military base?

Gasp! The world’s only Thor rocket launcher in existence today, that’s what!IMG_9287IMG_9290Empty, it’s a 6010-pound aluminum can. But with fuel, it’s a 110,000-pound monster. This is the “grandpa” of the Delta 2 rocket, and was used to launch medium-range ballistic missiles as well as reconnaissance and weather satellites.

Here is our Thor guide, Jay, pointing to the missile head that once contained a weather satellite:IMG_9285And here is one of the control panels:IMG_9286Oops! The anti-espionage sonar must have scrambled my phone and prevented me from taking a clear photo.

But I got a clear shot of the warning:IMG_9289Jay explained that back in the bad old days when they launched a Thor IRBM, they simply pushed the building (it’s on wheels on a track) away from the rocket, tilted the rocket and its missile head to vertical and blasted away. IMG_9284If this rocket ever goes missing, you didn’t see it here. This post will self destruct. I will no longer be blogging … unless there’s free wi-fi in the Federal Penitentiary at Lompoc. Gulp.

Did I tell you that I had to drive past the penitentiary on my way to the off-the-map south gate in the morning? The prison is a working farm on land that was formerly a part of the military base. I’m not so good at planting stuff. Especially under a hot white sun in the desert.

Hmmm. Well, I sure hope I don’t get busted for showing you all this top-secret rocket stuff.

Or for trying to twist Charles Bolden’s arm to give me a closer look at that LIVE rocket behind us:IMG_9314Mr. Bolden, who is the NASA Administrator, was often riding atop the rocket itself as an astronaut, so surely he wouldn’t bust an author for approaching the gate within a few hours of the 42nd liftoff from Vandenberg because how else would she launch a rocket, right?:  IMG_9338Yikes!!! Can you believe I got this close to a FUELED rocket that was about to blast off into outer space on 227,000 pounds of thrust, accelerating from zero to Mach 22 in eight minutes???!!! Yes, that’s 22 times the speed of sound, or 16,874 mph. But not only is it supersonic fast, it’s “unbelievably precise and accurate,” as Randy Pollock, the original architect of the OCO, said in the morning news conference.

As it turned out, the OCO-2 launched on its second attempt, on July 2, at precisely 2:56:44 a.m. We couldn’t see it through the coastal fog from the public viewing area more than 3 miles away, but we heard its strong rumble and felt its sonar waves shaking our bones.

The OCO-2 is circling the earth every 99 minutes. It’s on a two-year mission, but has enough fuel for 12 years. It is collecting hundreds of thousands of measurements each day of the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The data will be used to help us manage climate change. With one eye on the stars, and its arms turned toward us, NASA scientists say it’s watching the earth breathe.

Wow.

It takes my breath away.

A space shuttle-sized THANK YOU to Stephanie L. Smith, Courtney O’Conner, Veronica McGregor, John Yembrick @NASASocial, and Larry Hill, Vandenberg AFB Chief of Community Relatons and Tour Guide Extraordinaire, for your warmest welcome and hospitality at the launch of OCO-2. And a special thank you to all the NASA scientists and engineers who were so inspiring: Ralph Basilio, Ken Junks, Randy Pollock, Pavani Peddada, Ann Marie Eldering.

 

 

 

 

Failure to Launch is Not a Failure #Delta2 #OCO2

VANDENBERG AFB, CA — This is what it’s like to attend a NASA launch.

5:56 p.m.  Take a nap.

6:05 p.m.  Can’t sleep.

6:16 p.m.  Still can’t sleep.

6:40 p.m.  Doze off.

7:11   You startle awake. You stare. Is that 7 p.m. or a.m.? WHAT??? DID I MISS IT???

7:12 p.m.  You try to go back to sleep.

7: 23 p.m.  You check your email.

7: 31 p.m.  You check your Twitter account.

7:40 p.m.    You read other people’s tweets.

7:56 p.m.    You’re famished.

8:02 p.m.    But you’re too exhausted to get up.

8:24 p.m.   You’re in your rental car cruising the streets for dinner.

9:10 p.m.   You sit down to a yummy shrimp fajita dinner, finally.IMG_933910:15 p.m.  You’re back in your hotel room, exhausted. You set your alarm for 12:30 a.m.

10:21 p.m.   Lights out. You take nap #2.

10:40 p.m.  You blink. You can’t believe it’s not 12:30. You force yourself to go back to sleep.

10:48 p.m.   You breathe in. You breathe out.

11:41 p.m.   You bolt up. It’s useless. You turn on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. You laugh. Jimmy Fallon is really funny.

11:50 p.m.   You check your email, etc., again.

1:02 a.m.  You head out the door, finally.

1:05 a.m.   The streets of Santa Maria are eerily empty.IMG_93421:32 a.m.  You’re the only one on the deserted highway.IMG_9343For 15 miles.

Winding road along the coast in pitch blackness and fog.

You freak out a little. You wonder if you’re crazy. Sane people don’t go speeding towards a military base in the middle of the night. All you could think of is Pliny the Elder running towards Mt. Vesuvius as it was spewing its murderous fire.

A rocket launch with 220,000 pounds of thrust is quite volcanic, you imagine.

1:52 a.m.  The point of no return.IMG_93452:01 a.m.   I join those going toward the white light.IMG_93472:06 a.m.  Everyone is settling in on the bleachers in the public viewing area 3.2 miles from SLC2 (Space Launch Complex 2, pronounced “slic”), and listing to Delta Launch Control over the P.A. system.

Before us, nothing but darkness and fog.

2:17 a.m.  @NASASocial host Stephanie Smith explains that the first missile launches at Vandenberg were failures, until . . . IMG_9349peanuts were eaten in Mission Control. “Everything went smoothly as the peanuts went back and forth,” Smith said.

2:21 a.m.   We crunch like crazy!IMG_9350Who knew that astrophysics and mind-blowing mathematical calculations needed peanuts to work?

I jot the following in my writer’s notebook while listening to Delta Launch Control:

2:49 a.m.   “Zero Alpha, Alpha zero.”

2:50 a.m.   “You have permission launch.”

Cheers erupt from the bleachers.

2:52 a.m.   The viewing area lights go off.

For a moment, silence.

2:53 a.m.   “Vehicle fuel tank open.”

2:53 a.m.  “One and two heaters off.”

“95 seconds.”

“Minus 90 seconds.”

“Check hydraulic pressure go.”

“Go.”

“Minus 70 seconds. Hydraulic . . . .”

“65 seconds. We got no water flow.”

2:56   “Hold water flow . . . main power on and apply . . . four-inch line.”

“Step 10.”

“Line open.”

“Perform hydraulic . . . .”

2:57  “Launch will not be occurring this morning.”

Larry Hill, Director of Community Relations, apologizes for the “disappointment.”

Stephanie Smith says, “Better a good scrub than a bad launch.”

3:01  People start to leave.

3:17  Social media attendees linger, tweeting, chatting, reluctant to end a long, happy day in which we got to see and walk through many areas of a top-secret military base, chat with the brightest minds in science and engineering, meet Charles Bolden, the Administrator of NASA himself, and got treated like VIPs.

This what we saw yesterday:

The Cold War is dead and if NASA out to prove anything, it’s that science is fun and cool.

Women and minorities are not anomalies at NASA.

Youth is not disdained. (Many social media attendees were students.)

Age is revered. (Each succeeding generation of missiles is built on the knowledge of its predecessors.)

Science is a catalyst for improving lives. (Measuring the world’s carbon dioxide and offering solutions for “faster, cleaner and less noise” aeronautics, as a start.)

The NASA spirit is the indomitable human spirit. “We know how to get our butt kicked, pick ourselves up and press forward,” Charles Bolden said while standing in front of the OCO-2, just hours before the scheduled launch.

A failure to launch is not a failure, NASA. It’s a resounding success. Of the thousands of mechanical functions on board, you caught the malfunction. Seconds before liftoff. Before disaster struck. If that isn’t success, I don’t know what is.

I, for one, am not disappointed. I got to experience an aborted launch.  And just as you need shadow to see beauty, I needed to see NASA at “failure” to see NASA at its best. And the best is this: you DID launch yesterday. You launched yourselves into a new age with a new generation, with new work to do.

It’s not about who has the most toys anymore. Or who can reach whose motherland with a missile first.

It’s about being smart and helpful. It’s about doing what’s right. It’s about responsibility.

And when you try again tonight, I’ll be there — not for the reason I came in the first place — for the thrill, but because I want to be a part of that fearlessness that looks into the dying sun and leaps.

NASA, you ROCK it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Lucky Day!

SANTA MARIA, CA — When I got to my mini rocket in Los Angeles this morning to blast off to Santa Maria near the Vandenberg Air Force Base . . . IMG_9239I nearly tripped a gentleman with a cane. Bad me. He’s at the center of the photograph above.

Later, I noticed that his shirt was embroidered with the NASA globe insignia. So I had to ask — “Are you going to the launch?” When you’re an author it’s usually a good idea to talk to strangers. You could learn something.

He turned out to be James O. Norman, Director, Launch Services. He’s the guy in charge of the rocket!!! It was my lucky day! Normally, Mr. Norman works at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. But today, since he’s the BOSS of the team of scientists working on the Delta II rocket, he had come to oversee the pre-launch testing (not open to the media). Oh, I should have told him I was a member of the top-secret military unit responsible for the new paint job, or something like that, when he asked what OCO-2 unit I work in. He thought I was a rocket scientist! And so did the car rental guys!

I digress.

Anyway, this is what I learned from Mr. Norman: when the Delta II blasts off, it goes from zero to Mach22 in eight minutes. That’s 22 times faster than the speed of sound!!! The speed of sound is 761.207051 miles per hour. So the Delta II goes from 0 to 16,746.5551 miles per hour in eight minutes.

And I thought that race car I drove in Tucson was badass.

I have NO CONCEPT of this power. None.

But in about 28 hours, I will find out.

For those of you who want to know everything-you-need-to-know about the OCO-2-before I take the tour tomorrow, here’s the pre-launch press briefing that they gave us via an Internet live-feed today:

Enjoy!

OCO-2: Quick Facts from @IamOCO2, @NASASocial, @NASAJPL

Quick facts about the Orbiting Carbon Observatory:images-7

Spacecraft

Length: 6.96 ft (2.12 meters) — approximately the same as the typical wing span of the American Bald Eagle 1.8 -2.3 meters (5.9 – 7.5 ft).

Width (stowed): 3.08 ft (0.94 meters) — a little wider than the girth of the typical American refrigerator.

Weight (spacecraft and science instrument): 499.5 killer rabbits — or 454 kilograms (999 pounds).

Power: 815 watts — runs a small waffle iron, coffee maker, or toaster, but not enough to run a hair dryer, vacuum cleaner or air conditioner — in other words, you could make breakfast, but not look very good while doing it.

Primary science instrument: three-channel grating spectrometer. Don’t ask me what that is.  I have no idea. But maybe it has something to do with the solar panel-looking arms sticking out from it.

Instrument Dimensions: 5.3 feet by 1.3 feet by 2 feet (1.6 meters by 0.4 meters by 0.6 meters) — hey, that’s an exact description of me in my golf shoes! Yikes!!! In case of malfunction…

Instrument Weight: One Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin, or two gorillas — 288 pounds (131 kilograms). Whew! Not a description of me, not even close.

Mission

Launch: No earlier than July 1, 2014, at 2:56:44 a.m. PDT (5:56:44 a.m. EDT) — and no later than 2:57:14 a.m. PDT (5:57:14 a.m. EDT) — from Launch Complex 2 West (SLC-2W), Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

Launch Window: 30 seconds daily — this means that if they miss the 30-second window, they must wait for the same 30 seconds the next day to attempt it again. This is because the OCO-2 has a precise place along the “A-train” of 17 satellites passing a certain point of the earth at an exact time each day. This is not a random firing, people! This is 30 seconds of man’s highest intelligence and the poetry of the universe coming together.

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Launch Vehicle: United Launch Alliance Delta II 7320-10.CONE

Primary Mission: Two years Orbit Path: Near-polar, sun-synchronous, 438 miles (705 kilometers), orbiting Earth once every 98.8 minutes and repeating the same ground track every 16 days.

Orbital Inclination: 98.2 degrees — don’t ask. I don’t know what this means.

NASA Investment: $467.7 million (design, development, launch and operations) — the same price as the Paris Marriott Hotel Champs-Elysees, which a Chinese investor recently agreed to buy for 344.5 million euros ($648 million).

Wow. That’s a lot of money.

If I had $648 million, I would . . .

Well, I wouldn’t be leaving my house at 3:45 a.m. tomorrow morning to sit in coach class without any food for six hours on a commercial flight to California, that’s for sure! I’d blast off in my own private Delta II rocket!!!

See you at the launch :) !!!

 

 

 

 

 

OCO-2: Watching Earth Breathe

In three days I will be at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California to watch NASA launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory satellite!!!!

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I was chosen as one of seventy social media users (and one of only two children’s authors) to attend the event and to blog, tweet, post photos, etc., about it. The other children’s author is Robin Dobson, who writes non-fiction. We’ll be meeting with scientists and NASA officials and getting a grand tour of the facilities on Monday, June 30. Then BLAST OFF! on July 1 at 2:56 a.m.!!!

Here’s what the Delta II rocket launcher looks like: CONE

The mission of the OCO-2 is “watching the planet breathe,” from space. Carbon dioxide (CO2), as everyone knows, traps gases in our atmosphere and prevents the earth from breathing properly, which deprives our plants, and ultimately ourselves, of vital nutrients. The OCO-2 will be able to tell us where the earth is breathing, and where its suffocating.

It’s like I learned in yoga — breath is all you have.

Here’s a peek at the OCO-2:

I welcome questions from my readers — if there’s anything you’d like me to ask the scientists and NASA officials, please send it as a comment below!

Stay tuned for posts/tweets from the Vandenberg Air Force Base! I’m SOOOO EXCITED!!!!!

 

The Denise McCoy Legacy Award

ALBANY, NY — I won an AWARD!!!IMG_9063The Denise McCoy Legacy Award for humorous children’s literature was given to Alvin Ho Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals and Other Fatal Circumstances. Woohoo!!! Yay!!! Hooray!!!

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that I’ve struggled for more than a month to tell you about it.

Worse, I’m still struggling.

How hard could it be to tell you about winning an award?

Not hard at all, I thought. It’s the first award I’d ever won in which I was invited to a special dinner, signed a sqillion books, sat on a stage while someone made a speech about my work, got a super-duper trophy plus a huge check!

It’s very author’s dream come true!

So why couldn’t I just come out with it?

Was I dazed? A deer caught in the flashbulbs?

Yes and no. To tell you the details of what happened would have been no problem. The problem is not the accounting of facts, but the rendering of something that cannot easily be explained, or fully known.

So let me start with the facts, the easy part.

Denise McCoy, who spelled her name with a little d, was a bookseller in Albany. She sold many books. She especially sold many children’s books. If you had a homework assignment and didn’t know which book to use, she could tell you exactly what you needed. Her favorite books were the funny ones which made you laugh. She herself liked to laugh and to make people laugh. She was little and fat. She could ride a horse, no problem. Once she slipped a little and rode a horse upside-down and laughed as though that were the normal way of riding a horse. Her friends are still laughing about it. That’s only one of many funny stories about denise. Her biggest talent was making friends. Very, very good friends.

Denise died in 2003. But her friends are still her friends, and they are friends with one another. Every year for the past nine years they’ve gotten together and continued denise’s work. They read a bunch of children’s books and they pick the funniest one and give it the Denise McCoy Legacy Award (formerly the Little d Award). They invite the author to dinner. They present the award at a ceremony. They arrange for the author to visit an inner city school. They give away hundreds of autographed copies of the winning book to young readers throughout the capitol city.

Denise’s oldest very, very good friend friend is Lynn Derry, from first grade. Lynn picked me up from my hotel and brought me to dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. The room was filled with denise’s closest friends and relatives.

This is where it gets hard.

I don’t have a photo of Lynn, but here is a photo of her husband, George Chelius:IMG_9048George said he was “accidentally in the restaurant,” as he greeted the ladies around the table. When he got to me, he started to read from this letter that he wrote to the Boston Red Sox outfielder, Jim Rice.IMG_9052In it, he says that he is sending Rice a silver dollar that he always keeps in his pocket. He is continuing his father’s tradition of giving it to a stranger having a special occasion. He says that not only will the silver dollar bring him luck, but it will assure him induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame the following year.

And presto! Rice is inducted into the Hall of Fame the next year (2009), and sends autographed balls and a photo to George;IMG_9053With that, George reached into his pocket and presents me with a silver dollar!

I’m struck speechless.

Then he reaches into a bag and gives me something else –

His own treasured baseball — signed by Bill “Spaceman” Lee.

Just because he knew I’m a Red Sox fan (see Alvin books!).

Something inside me explodes, like a little cup unable to hold the sun.

How else do you describe the transformation that happens when you receive such unselfish kindness and generosity from a complete stranger? All I could think of was the scene in Victor’s Hugo’s Les Miserable where the monsignor gives Jean Valjean the silver candlesticks that he had intended to steal. It changes Valjean forever. I felt like that. Changed.

Here I am holding my newly bestowed treasures:IMG_9050 Thank you, George!!! You didn’t stay for dinner, but your gesture was repeated over and over again that evening.

As I sat at the table with denise’s friends, the room filled with kind words. Memories. Funny stories. Laughter. Their long-treasured friendships surrounded me on all sides and pressed me in.

I marveled. I wondered.

Were it not for denise, none of us would have been there. Her friends would be going home from their jobs. George would have kept his silver dollar in his pocket and his baseball in a safe place.

And the next day I would not have gone to the Griffen School in downtown Albany, where Ms. Derry presented me with the award and I gave an author presentation. The young authors at the school would not have had a yummy pizza lunch while I held a writers’ workshop.IMG_9061I never would have met Shareem, who was filled with all sorts of wonderful ideas for his writing:IMG_9058And wonderful ideas for his pizza too!!!

I wouldn’t have signed a sqillion books for Shareem’s school:IMG_9043 Or signed a sqillion more for the young readers and their families who came to the annual book giveaway at the offices of 15Love, started by the tennis great Arthur Ashe, which teaches life skills to youths through tennis and educational programs. IMG_9076Nor would I have this beautiful trophy:IMG_9083 Do you see the word, “legacy” above? It means a gift from the past — in this case, a gift of friendship that continues to inspire, to be life-giving, and life-changing.

Thank you, denise.

And many thanks to her friends and family at the dinner who shared with me a side of life that is so hard to describe because it is both poetic and sacred:  Lynn Derry, Gail Donovan, Joann Hoose, Eleanor McCoy, Katherine McCoy, Mary Williams, Allyson Shea and Amber Marino. It was a real honor to sit among you.

And a special thank you to Tom O’Brien, denise’s brother, who first notified me of their award.

And thank you again to George, whose lucky silver dollar I carry with me everywhere.

Past recipients of the Little d:

Bruce Hale Murder, My Tweet
Christopher Paul Curtis, Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money
Sara Pennypacker, Clementine
Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Lois Lowry, The Willoughbys
Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute
Tom Angleberger, The Strange Case for Origami Yoda
Tommy Greenwald, Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading

 

 

 

 

Countryside and Barbara B. Rose Schools

BARRINGTON, IL — My visits to Countryside School and Barbara B. Rose School in late April started nearly four years ago when this kid named Alvin, I mean Aidan:Aidan & Alvinwrote me this awesome letter:

"Alvin Ho is scared in the dark."

“Alvin Ho is scared in the dark.”

Then his younger sister, Joelle, wrote to me in 2012:IMG_9109Followed by his little brother, Brennan, who not only sent this beautiful card last year, but included a jaw-dropping CD of himself reading BRUSH OF THE GODS:IMG_9108Aren’t they marvelous?!!!

Additionally, when I first put up this blog, Aidan saw it and immediately (it was that bad) volunteered his dad’s services to make it look better. The next day his dad, Bill, had given this blog a complete makeover, and he’s been my blog’s unpaid administrator ever since! There but for the kindness of strangers go I! Thanks, Aidan and Bill!!!

So when their librarians invited me to visit their schools in a northwest suburb of Chicago, what could I say?

YESSSS!!!! Of course!

So on the evening of Wednesday, April 23, Aidan, Joey, Brennan, their amazing mom, Sidney, and their super-duper dad, Bill, became strangers no more:DSC_6923DSC_6924After they picked me up from my hotel, they whisked me out for –DSC_6930 Chicago-styled pizza!!!

You can’t eat it like regular pizza.DSC_6937You have to use a fork!

It was SOOO good, I can’t even tell you.

After dinner we went to a fancy gourmet chocolate shop where everything was the color of chocolate, even the couch: DSC_6947We ate up our chocolates faster than we could drool, but we got to sit around the fireplace anyway :).

After that they took me to their house so that I could see where they lived.DSC_6957Brennan, who is an author, shared his book with me.

And I shared mine with him.DSC_6963I was remiss in bringing my reading glasses, so had to use a magnifying glass. DSC_6965It was such great fun! I felt like I was visiting Alvin, Calvin and Anibelly!

The next day, I went to Countryside School, where Brennan is a kindergartener. IMG_8925This is Valerie Baartz, my amazing librarian-host at Countryside.

Countryside began offering a Chinese-immersion program last year where you can opt to have a half-day of instruction entirely in Mandarin, five days a week, starting in kindergarten. Imagine learning how to count — in Chinese and on an abacus! It’s a good thing I’ve been going to Chinese school!  Here I am giving my first Mandarin presentation and showing off my Chinese practice book to the kindergarteners and first-graders:DSC_7089It was great!

Until I used up my entire Chinese vocabulary.

And there were forty minutes left to my presentation.

Oops.

Lucky for me, I could count up to 9,999 in Chinese and knew the Chinese words for the Great Wall, Forbidden City and several other tourist attractions to keep things going for a while . . . DSC_7082Plus, I had a few old tricks up my sleeve, like the original egg from POLKA DOT PENGUIN POTTERY, which is usually good at producing some oohs and aahs . . . DSC_7095My audience was suitably impressed, I assure you! Painted eggs, as everyone knows, speak a universal language that everyone understands. (Don’t be fooled by the photo bomb in the lower right-hand corner above.)

After my day of presentations and book signing was over at Countryside, Ms. Baartz rolled the “goods” out the door . . . IMG_8991 and drove me to a parking lot somewhere outside of Chicago, where we met a squirmy, bespectacled, lead-footed, brake-squealing character, and some nefarious transactions took place from the back of her car:IMG_8995Sometimes when you’re an author, it’s best to stand there like an idiot and keep your mouth shut, especially so close to the Windy City. You know why they call it that, don’t you? Well, lemme just say this wasn’t the first time questionable stuff happened from the back of a car, in broad daylight, near Chicago . . .

Or the first time that someone who writes for a living gets pushed into a booth in a dark restaurant with a strange name, Claims  . . . something, afterwards.

Gulp.

But the food was good! And the company, fascinating. There are no photos, however, on account of we had to eat in a hurry. They do things swiftly around here, not like in New York, where people sit around all night taking pictures of their food.

Anyway, they must have drugged me or something because I went willingly back to Countryside School where the Student Art Fair was in full swing:DSC_7107And Firecracker Man was bursting around the place: DSC_7144And I willingly and happily read excerpts from my forthcoming Alvin Ho book . . . DSC_7116to a new audience every 10-minutes from 6:30 to 8 o’clock.

But that was not all . . .

Many books were waiting to be cooked, I mean inked, in my dimly lit hotel room that night, or else!  IMG_8999Or else I would be cooking, I mean signing late into the night the next day and miss my flight!

How I ever got up the next morning and made it to the Barbara B. Rose School, I’ll never know.DSC_7146But here I am — vertical — with happy young friends and with that slippery, bespectacled, rubber-burning, back-of-the-car wheeler-dealer creature from yesterday. Her name is Pam Meiser, and she’s actually the pencil-bunned, cart-swivelling, encyclopedia-brained, super-nova librarian who had orchestrated my visit to the two schools. Thank you, Pam!!!

Inside, I was greeted by this fantastic banner:DSC_7147In Chinese it says, “Welcome! We love your books!” and “Happy!” Then two Indian brothers greeted me in fluent Chinese and explained that their triplet brother was at home sick, but had made me a special poster, displayed next to the happy yellow banner:IMG_9016Thank you, Milan!

The Rose School was the first school in the district to offer a half-day Chinese-immersion program, so the students here are older and more advanced than Countryside’s. In fact, many students greeted me in Mandarin and continued to converse in Chinese with me as though it were normal to be conversing in Chinese everyday. Because it was!

Gulp.

I was in trouble now. How was I ever going to fake another presentation in Mandarin without being found out???!!!

How to Give a 60-minute Speech in Mandarin When You Know Only Five-minutes Worth:

1. Smile. (5 min.)DSC_7154

2. Wave. (5 min.)DSC_7155

3. Embarrass someone. (10 min.)DSC_7157

4. Wear a dress that makes you look sexy. (Strut: 10 min.)DSC_7166

5. Ask some questions. (5 min.)DSC_7172

6. Do NOT sing along when the Chinese class sings to you in Chinese. (3 min.)DSC_7206Do not even THINK of it. (2 nanosec.)

8. Do NOT sing along when the younger Chinese class sings to you in Chinese. (3 min.)DSC_7197They are super-duper adorable. But you are not. You’re not even close.

8. Teach them Shakespearean insults. (10 min.)DSC_7182In English.

9. Pit them one against another. (10 min.)DSC_7186

10. Cross your fingers and hope to die if all that fake Elizabethan English doesn’t wreck havoc on their pitch-perfect Mandarin tones. (30 sec.)DSC_7194

11. When all else fails, de-mic! De-mic! (normally 4 sec., but due to hair-detangling: 4 min.)DSC_7208

12. RUN!!! (30 sec.)

13. But don’t run into the Chinese classroom . . . IMG_9018Oops!

Or you’ll have to show them what you really know.

Then have a face-to-face with Wei Laoshi . . . IMG_9025and use up your entire vocabulary all over again.

THANK YOU, Countryside and Rose School PTOs, for making my visit possible. THANK YOU, Pam and Valerie, for the tremendous amount of work that you did to make my visit simply PERFECT. THANK YOU, Moy Family, for all your kindness as strangers, and now as friends.DSC_7143 THANK YOU, Sidney, for taking all these marvelous pictures. DSC_7242And THANK YOU, Aidan, for starting it all. DSC_7190You’re the dude, man. You ROCK!!!