Wednesday, April 30, 2014


     Zachary Richard is a singer/songwriter/environmentalist/poet from Louisiana who plays and sings all kinds of music, but most especially (and here's my bonus Z) zydeco.  I find his voice intoxicating, no matter what he's singing, from ballads to dance music.  And in honor of the end of the A to Z Challenge, I am going to do something very brave.  I'm going to attempt, for the first time ever, to post a Youtube video right here, on this very blog, so you can see Zachary Richard perform for yourself without even having to go anywhere else (wish me luck):

Oh my God!! Did it actually work?  I am Oz, the Great and Powerful!  Technophobe No More!  And in that case, I have to add one more video:

     WOOT!!!  I think I did it!  Which means I get to end the A to Z Challenge on a note of triumph!  Thank you, one and all!  And please go check out Zachary Richard!


Tuesday, April 29, 2014


          I don't mean to get all sappy or anything, but as this A to Z Challenge draws to a close, I do want to say that YOU - the people who read my blog - are pretty high on my list of favorite things.  And I want to thank you.  I'm grateful that you show up here, and laugh at my jokes, and leave comments of your own, and let me get to know you a little, and in all kinds of ways bring me joy and a sense of fulfillment.
     I started this blog about two and a half years ago, at a time when I was feeling particularly despairing of ever getting anything published.  I've been a writer all my life, and I've had a yearning for just as long to have my voice heard, somehow, by people outside my own circle of acquaintance.  I want to send my words out on the sea like a note inside a bottle, and I want someone, somewhere, to see that bottle bobbing in the water, and clamber in to fetch it.  And then I want that person to read the note and say, "Wow. That's exactly how I feel. I thought I was the only one."
     So that's where you come in.  I still haven't had any books published, but you read my blog sometimes anyway, because it speaks to you; I speak to you.  And I feel so honored that you hear me, and I want to hear you too.
     So if you're reading this, or if you've read any of my other A to Z posts, or my book reviews or interviews or my more personal and sometimes extremely loony thoughts: it means so much to me.  I can't thank you enough.  And... this one's for YOU.

Monday, April 28, 2014


     Ha!  Thought I couldn't come up with a post for X, didn't you?   Well, obviously you don't know that I can't resist a challenge.  Or, in this case, #24 of a series of 26 challenges.  But who's counting?  (Spoiler: me. I'm counting. Oh, am I counting.)
     Seriously, though.  Does the letter X even have any reason to exist?  Well, yeah, I guess I'm undercutting my own argument with that sentence, aren't I?  What with the word "exist" and all.  But I submit that in 95% of all cases, the letter X e_ists for the sole purpose of torturing people who are heroically struggling their way through alphabetic challenges.
     But, be that as it may, I'm still going to count xenophilia as one of my favorite things.  I may have invented this word myself (I haven't checked any dictionaries), but it's totally valid nonetheless: it's simply the opposite of xenophobia, which means fear or hatred of "the other."  And "the other" means: the stranger, the outlier, the one who is not like us.
     I came up with the idea of posting about xenophilia about a week ago, when it dawned on me that it was something my husband has recently accused me of in the context of planning vacation trips.  It's true: all things being equal, I would so much rather go to someplace I've never been before.  Since I know I'll never get to most of the fascinating places in the world, why not try to get to as many as I can, instead of repeating?  But as you can tell, my husband doesn't share this view, and so when we plan a trip, there's always some compromise involved on both sides.
     But then I started thinking about a more general kind of xenophilia, and I realized that I probably have some of that too.  Don't most people who love to read have it?  Aren't they trying to eXperience (Yes, I know that was an X) other places, other circumstances, other lives, than their own?  I know I am.  The habit of talking to strangers is another form of xenophilia, but since I'm too shy to do much of that directly, I use reading, and writing, as substitutes.  And of course, there's this blog.  I'm addicted to tracking what countries my hits are coming from - the more eXotic (Yeah, I know) to me, the better. 
     With apologies to my husband, I believe that xenophilia is an eXcellent (Argh! Not again!) thing.  I find it kind of related to the concept of "A man's reach should eXceed (Oh, barf!) his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"  It's a good thing to try to see beyond your own narrow range of vision, to stand in someone else's shoes, to ask what-ifs, to imagine alternatives, to roam through the stars.
     What do you think, fellow wanderers?



     Here is both the best and the worst thing about this debut novel (just released by Sky Pony Press): everything in it could absolutely, positively happen.  It's the best thing because the word "credible" doesn't begin to cover Ventresca's characters and plot; it's the worst because the events the book describes are terrifying, and I defy anyone, teen or adult, to read PANDEMIC and not come away feeling at least a little less safe and secure in his/her own cocoon.
     As it happens, 17-year-old Liliana's sense of security has already been plenty damaged.  Not long ago, a well-liked teacher at her high school attempted to molest her.  And when she revealed it afterward, and the teacher was fired as a result, one of Lil's two best friends actually rubbed salt in the wound by blaming her for "ruining [the teacher's] life."  So, as things stand, Lil is down one best friend, as well as one boyfriend: she can't bring herself to confide in Ethan about Mr. B., but she can't think of any other way to explain to Ethan why she suddenly can't tolerate his touching her.  The incident and its repercussions have changed Liliana from an excellent student and the Queen of Community Service at her school to a girl who has (unbeknownst to her parents) started smoking, whose grades have plummeted, and who secretly stockpiles emergency supplies in the hallway closet at home because she now knows all too well that terrible things can happen without warning to anyone, at any time.
     So, ironically, in one sense Lil is better-prepared for disaster than the average teen, in that she owns a lot of canned food and a hand-cranked battery charger.  In every other sense, though, she is in an exceedingly vulnerable situation.  And, just in case this alone doesn't create enough tension, Ventresca ratchets it up by having both Lil's parents be out of town the weekend that news reports about a worrisome strain of bird flu start trickling in.  (Full disclosure: Yvonne Ventresca is my friend, which does not mean that I would lie about her book.  And even if I would,  I don't have to! Check out her Kirkus review.)
     At first, Lil's small New Jersey town seems to be the epicenter of the flu's appearance, but then its reach gradually spreads, first along the East Coast, then through the rest of the country, then through the rest of the world.  Airports are shut down, people are quarantined en masse, and neither of Lil's parents can get back home to her, no matter how desperately they try.  And no matter how traumatized Lil was before the pandemic even started, and no matter how much the pandemic pummels her over and over with new losses, the time comes when she has to move forward.  With her pitch-perfect depiction of Lil, and her two-steps-forward-one-step-back reactions to the global disaster, Ventresca recognizes the fact that sometimes such disasters create opportunities for ordinary people to rise above their own painful circumstances, and rejoin their communities.  Sometimes, disasters can even open the door for such people to become emotionally unstuck, and dare to find love.  But the first step Liliana must take is to ask herself the question spelled out on the book's cover: "Who Can You Trust?"
     Yvonne has promised to let me interview her about the book, but I think I'll try to be almost as good a friend to her as she's been to me, and wait until after the book's actual launch.  Keep checking back here, though!  And here's another interview with Yvonne, just to tide you over, of course.

P.S.  This blog post has gotten almost a thousand hits!  I hope all the people who've read it have then gone on to buy PANDEMIC.  Here's a thought I just had today:  I'm going to be interviewing Yvonne Ventresca soon.  If you have a question you'd like me to ask her when I do, feel free to leave it in a comment to this post and I'll consider adding it to my own list of questions.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


     I still own my battered copy of ALICE IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS, together in one volume with copies of the original Tenniel illustrations (see above).  It's amazing that the binding is still holding that book together, given the hundreds of times I read both stories through my childhood.  I can still recite most of the poems by heart, and snippets of them pop into my head periodically, without warning. 
     "'You are old,' said the youth; "one would hardly suppose/ That your eye was as steady as ever;/ Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose./ Pray, what made you so awfully clever?" 
     "I'll be judge, I'll be jury!" cried cunning old Fury; "I'll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death."
     "The farther off from England, the nearer is to France;/ Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance."
     I guess if I had been a more socially functional kid, these books would not have made more sense to me than real life did.  But, for better or for worse, I just got Wonderland.  I  got the land on the other side of the looking-glass.  I got the perpetually distressed and disheveled White Queen, the austere and ferocious Red Queen, the dissembling Walrus and Carpenter, the petulant Alice, the Mad Hatter, and even the Duchess and her baby-who-turns-into-a-pig.  It all worked for me in a fairly profound way.
     I never watched the Disney ALICE or the Tim Burton ALICE.  I don't think I wanted any other versions to interfere with the images of the characters that I had been carrying around in my head for so long.  And those images remain there, dear old friends who reach out to me every once in a while just to let me know they're still around. 

     Croquet, anyone?

Friday, April 25, 2014


     This is what I see when I wake up every morning. My framed poster of Vermeer's Milkmaid hangs on my bedroom wall, opposite the head of my bed.  I know her so well by now.  She watches the milk trickle from the jug with the devotion of a scientist pouring liquid into a test tube.  It's so important that she pour exactly the right amount into the bowl, so that once she mixes it with exactly the right number of dry bread crusts, it will form a perfect pudding.  She's a big-boned girl, and she moves slowly, but with surprising grace and delicacy.  When she's done making the pudding, it will be time for her to sweep out the kitchen with broad, efficient strokes of the broom, and then head off briefly to the market to buy a duck for dinner.  She takes pride in her work, and in her station in life.  Her job is to take care of her employer's family, and she is going to do it as well as she knows how.
     Simplicity. Concentration.  Quiet strength.  And that heavenly sunlight, falling across her like a blessing.  Every time I have a chance to spend a few minutes with the Milkmaid, she breaks my heart with her beauty.
     I've had this poster since I was a teenager.  I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my brother one day, and to my surprise, he bought it for me.  He was never what I would call observant, but he must have noticed how mesmerized I was by the painting.

     Look at this girl.  She wants you to.  That's why she's wearing that huge, elaborate hat.   She's looking back at you over her shoulder, trying to figure out who you are and what you think of her.  Are you worthy enough to be studying her so boldly?  Are you a possible suitor?  Does the cut of your clothes satisfy her, or does she find you not quite up to her standards?  It probably took her about two seconds to size you up - this girl is anything but a fool - but those two seconds in time have been frozen forever.

     Look at the man of science.  Don't worry about staring; you could be in the same room with him, and he wouldn't even notice you were there.  His thoughts are flying free.  He doesn't know what he's wearing; he doesn't know how dirty his hair is; he doesn't know the sun is shining. His gaze is fixed somewhere we can't see: on the universe itself.  He hasn't eaten anything all day, and he won't remember to eat until, a few hours from now, the maid will knock timidly on the door and, blushing, beg him to come downstairs and have some soup.
     No other painter has the kind of power over me that Vermeer does.  He mixed his own paints, as did many painters of his day, but he must have added his own secret formula to his: it gave him the  ability to display people's souls.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


     In making my A to Z Challenge theme all of my favorite things (with a few anti-favorites thrown in), I know I've overshared by a wide margin.  If you've read all my A to Z posts, you've seen photos of my bedroom furniture, my daughter's dollhouse, my cubbyhole above the garage.  Obviously, if I were to stick with this method, my post for U would have to involve photos of my underwear drawer.
     But I'm going to change it up a little.  The very first thing (as opposed to novel) that I ever tried to write for kids was a rhyming picture book called "Nathan and the Urch."  It was several million times too long for a picture book, because I had no idea at the time that there were rules.  When I decided a few nights ago to write this post for U, I dug out a copy of the story that had been buried deep in the bottom of the guest room closet, along with a manila envelope stuffed with form rejection letters, all dated 1992.  I had actually been dumb enough to send it out - illustrated, no less, by a friend of mine.
     In 1992, my own Nathan was three years old, as opposed to almost 25.  My daughter, now on the verge of graduating from high school, wasn't going to be born for another four years.  I knew less than zero about writing for kids.  But despite all this, and despite the fact that "Nathan and the Urch" was, and will always be, totally unpublishable, I still love it  very much because I love my son Nathan very much, and of course, he was the reason I wrote it in the first place.  So I decided that, for this one and only time, the book will see the light of day.  I'd be thrilled if you would read it (with charity in your heart).  So, without further ado, here it is:

                                  NATHAN AND THE URCH

This guy I know, Nathan - he goes to my school -
The weirdest things happen to him. It's so cool,
Cause he tells me about his adventures, and then
(Nathan doesn't like writing too much) he says, "Ben,
Write it down. Make it rhyme. We'll get rich, you and I!"
So here goes. It's all true. My pal Nate wouldn't lie.

It all started one night in July of last year
When Nathan woke up and thought, "Somebody's here."
You know how that is? Nathan still isn't sure
What made him lie quiet and look towards the door,
But he didn't get scared, wasn't even surprised,
To see a ten-legged, two-horned, giant-sized,
Blue polka-dot something who seemed to be trying
To paw through a bunch of Nate's clothes that were lying
In clumps near the door. Nathan said, "Who goes there?"
The something jumped ten or twelve feet in the air
Then fell down again, looking white as a sheet,
And took a long time finding all its ten feet
And catching its breath. Then it started to say,
"I didn't know -" But Nathan quickly said, "Hey!
If you wake up my parents, they'll call 9-1-1!
They'll think there's a burglar attacking their son!
If they find you in here, then they'll feather-and-tar you.
By the way, you're not really a burglar... Are you?"

The thing shook its head twenty times at the least,
And it sure didn't look like a criminal beast.
So Nate said, "Okay. Just relax. I'll assume
That's the truth. But then, why are you here in my room?"
The thing tried to whisper. It tried hard enough,
But, when your voice sounds like a tuba, it's tough.
Still, all things considered, the thing's voice was low
When it looked back at Nathan and wailed, "I don't know!
I don't know why I'm here! That's just it! All I know
Is that I lost my shree about two weeks ago
And since then I've been searching, and I haven't slept
And I haven't done anything, really, except
Looking high, looking low, looking every which where,
Wandering, listening, sniffing the air -
How I got in your room? Well, I don't have a clue,
But I miss my poor shree! I don't know what to do!"

And the thing started crying huge tears. They were green,
And they plopped on the rug. Nathan, watching this scene,
Was asking himself: What the heck is a shree,
And why do these crazy things happen to me?
If he cries too much longer, we'll all float away.
I'd better do something. So Nathan said, "Hey!
Hey, have you got a name?" And the creature said, "Sure.
I'm an Urch." Then he cried just as hard as before.
"Nice to meet you," said Nathan. "My friends call me Nate.
Here's a tissue. It's clean. Blow your nose. Okay, great,
Now this shree - Well, I'm positive it can be found.
Just describe it. I've probably seen it around."
"Well," said the Urch, cheering up quite a bit,
"I've tied it all up with a shiny red plit."
"But what does it look like?" asked Nate patiently.
The Urch said, "I guess it just looks like a shree."
Oh, swell, Nathan said to himself. Geez Louise!
The Urch said, "Can you help me look for it? Please?"
"Now, how can I help you?" said Nathan. "Gee whiz!
You can't even say what the stupid thing is!"
The Urch showed some spirit. He held his head high
And said, "I don't know how. But at least you could try."

Well, the guy had a point, Nathan had to admit,
And maybe a shree tied up with a red plit
Is the easiest thing in the world to locate -
At least, for a smart guy like me, reasoned Nate.
If he looks by himself, it might take fifty years.
"Okay," Nathan said. "Here's the deal. No more tears,
And I'll help you to look - Now, you quit that, I said!
Come on now, or else I'll just go back to bed!
Get a hold of yourself. There now, that's a good Urch.
All right, listen to me. Here's the way that we'll search -"
But then Nathan broke off when he got to that part,
Because he just had no idea where to start.

The Urch waited timidly, then said, "Ahem.
If you'd like, I can take you to see some of them."
"Well, I guess," Nathan said. "Then I'd know what they are.
But how do we get there? We can't take Dad's car.
I can't drive," he explained. Urch said, "Neither can I.
I guess I'm not much help. I just know how to fly."
"You can FLY?" Nathan cried. "No. You're kidding me, right?"
"Here, jump on," the Urch answered. "You look pretty light."
So, wondering who would believe him next day,
Nate climbed up and said, "Heigh-ho Silver! Away!"

The Urch took off smoothly. They sailed through the wall,
And right on through the night til they got to - the mall.
"The mall?" Nathan said. "Aren't we looking for shrees?"
Said the Urch, "Yes, they're here. Right behind the TVs..."
"You're in love with a TOASTER?" Nate heard himself shout.
"Don't tell me that's what all the fuss was about!"
The Urch looked at him with those big sad blue eyes,
And said, "Well, you don't need to just criticize.
I know that your purpose is not to offend,
But I wouldn't laugh if you'd lost your best friend."

Nate shut his mouth fast. Then he said, "Sorry, Dude.
I don't know what made me start acting so rude.
Hey, lots of my friends are appliances too!"
"It's all right," said the Urch. "I'm not angry with you.
You don't understand why my heart is in tatters,
But you came here to help me, and that's all that matters."
Nate smiled at the Urch as he said, "Well, okay.
So where do we start? It's your shree! Lead the way!"
The Urch stood and thought, and the Urch scratched its head.
"We could go see my slout first," it finally said.
Now, although Nathan could have asked: What is a slout?
He had learned that he might as well wait and find out.
So instead he said, "Fine," and he climbed back aboard,
And then off through the warm summer night they both soared.

The flight was a long one, and Nate closed his eyes -
It was just for a second - but, to his surprise,
He woke up in daylight, and back on the ground.
The Urch had been grazing, but now looked around,
To cheerfully say, "Well, we got here all right."
Nate rubbed sleep from his eyes and asked, "Wasn't it night?"
"It still is," said the Urch, "in the place where you're from.
We can see my slout now. Are you ready to come?"

Nate was ready for anything. As it turned out,
What to him was a cave was what Urch called a slout,
And this slout had one giant shelf made of wood
With a sad empty space where a shree had once stood.
The place was a sight (a word Nate's mom would use).
Urch had torn it apart, searching wildly for clues,
But Nate said, "Let's check it again to make sure,"
And he found one small place Urch had not looked before,
And a feather was there. With a terrible groan,
The Urch cried, "The Beanobird! I should have known!
The world's biggest bully! He thinks he's so great,
But he can't go around stealing shrees - Can he, Nate?"

"No, he can't," Nathan said, "but - how big is this creep?
It's not that I'm frightened. I'm just short of sleep,
And, to tell you the truth, birds aren't my favorite things.
I'll fight any bully - unless it has wings."
"He isn't that big," said the Urch, "but he's cruel.
He's been picking with me since we both were in school,
But enough is enough. He's not keeping my shree.
I'll go straight to his nest. You can wait here for me."
Nate came close to agreeing, but then he said, "No.
I promised I'd help, so I'm coming. Let's go."

Off they flew. Then on foot they climbed up to the nest,
And then hid there, amazed. Who could ever have guessed
So much stuff could be crammed in one basket of straw?
Nate's forgotten a lot of the things that he saw,
But he knows there were toolboxes, dolls, model cars,
Microwaves, stereos, clothing, guitars,
Cameras and basketballs, wallets and boots,
Statues and skateboards and Santa Claus suits,
And, just when you thought not one more thing could fit -
A shree, all tied up with a shiny red plit.
Balanced on top of this motley array
Was the Beanobird, happily snoring away.
A real one-bird crime wave! This thief specialized
In stealing the things that their owners most prized.

"I have a plan," said the Urch gleefully.
"I'll be you don't know just how strong plits can be!"
He whispered to Nathan, and then they both crept
To the overstuffed nest where the greedy bird slept.
Then they picked up the shree, and took off the red plit,
And tied up the Beanobird tightly with it.
He was stuck to his loot and the nest where he sat,
And he'd never escape. They made certain of that.

H didn't wake up, so the Urch flew right down
And stood on a box in the center of town,
To tell all the creatures who gathered around
Where the things that were stolen from them could be found.
They all held a meeting, and they all agreed
That the selfish old Beanobird wouldn't be freed
Till he'd worked for three days for each creature he'd robbed,
And the Urch would make sure that he did a good job.

"Three cheers for the Urch and the boy!" yelled the crowd.
Our heroes flew back to the slout feeling proud.
The Urch, with his shree safely back on its shelf,
Said, "Thank you. I couldn't have done it myself."
"Oh, give yourself credit, Urch," Nathan replied.
"You did do it all. I just came for the ride.
You can fly, you can think, you can rescue your shree -
You're an Urch in a million! You didn't need me."
"And now," sighed the Urch, "I suppose you must go."
"I guess so," said Nate. "It's a school day, you know."
Nate tried to stay up, but he slept the whole way,
And found himself tucked in his bed the next day
With a note (all tied up with a plit) on the sheet
Saying "Take care, my friend, till the next time we meet."

Nate told me the story and said, "Write it, Ben."
I stayed up all night with my notebook and pen,
And the next thing I saw was the sun. I was beat,
But my mom made me come to the kitchen to eat.
"I'm not hungry," I said. "Don't make breakfast for me.
I'll just throw some slices of toast in the shree."
My mom said, "Come over here." She felt my head,
And made me take aspirin and go back to bed.
Now she's calling the doctor. I don't think she should.
We writers are always so misunderstood! 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


     Yes, I KNOW that "technology" does begin with the letter T.  The "not" refers to the fact that technology is so, so NOT one of my favorite things.  See what I did there?
     I loathe and fear technology in more-or-less equal measure.  And now, since I voluntarily opened this can of worms, I guess I have no choice but list some of the many, many technological tasks I do not know how to perform.  Will this make you happy?
     I cannot:
  1. Download music.
  2. Use a Kindle.
  3. Use a scanner.
  4. Use 3/4 of the gadgets on my laptop.
  5. Use 90% of the gadgets on my cellphone.
  6. Skype.
  7. Do anything at all with a gif.
  8. Record anything on TV.
  9. Use Photoshop.
  10. Create a digital chart.
  11. Put a phone call on hold.
  12. (and perhaps the saddest one of all)  Turn on the TV in my living room.
     You ask - I can hear you - How the hell can I not know how to turn on the TV in my living room?  And I answer: It's not just a regular TV.  It's an HDTV.  So turning it on is not just a matter of pushing the power button; if it were only that, I'm fairly certain I could manage.  No, there are several buttons that must be pushed in succession, and that's the part I can't get the hang of.
     It's possible (though, I think, unlikely) that I could learn to do some of the things listed above, if I weren't so terrified of technology.  But the fact is that I believe that the entire universe of technology is out to get me, for some perverse reason of its own.  The injustice of this stings.  After all, I may have never done anything to advance technology, but it's not like I've ever held it back, have I?  I'm hardly a saboteur (because you can't sabotage things without first knowing how they work).  I'm not some Luddite, going around smashing computers with a hammer, for heaven's sake. (And yes, I do know how hammers work, thanks.)  I've always been content to live and let live.  But it seems like technology won't leave me alone.  It attacks me on a daily basis, using my children, my friends, my co-workers as proxies.  They say things to me like, "It's so easy!  All you have to do is...,"  and ""You really don't know how to...?", and the falsely sympathetic, "You would find things so much easier if you just learned to..."  They're not fooling me one bit.  They are minions of Technology, the dark overlord, and they will not rest until I am curled up in a quivering ball under a table, clutching a clay tablet and a stylus.
     Yes, T is for technology.  But it's also for technophobia, which is my neighborhood.  Come on in and visit!  Just leave all your electronic devices at the door. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


     It's true - the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators really is one of my favorite things.   Being involved in it for almost 20 years has greatly enriched my life.  From the workshops and conferences I've attended over the years, I've learned a lot about the craft of writing and the business of getting published.  I've seen that agents and editors aren't gods, but just busy, over-scheduled people (who, alas, are mostly about 30 years younger than me, although there are exceptions).  And I've made a few contacts and a few friends among writers, so I don't feel like I'm in this swamp all alone.  And although I haven't gotten any of my books published yet, SCBWI has made me feel that it still might happen one of these days if I keep plugging away long and hard enough.  I know that SCBWI will rejoice with me for any success I have, and console me through my disappointments.  The dues are a pittance, and membership is worth every penny and more.  I feel strongly that SCBWI is on my side, and that if you join, it will be on yours too.  So although this post  reads sort of  like an infomercial, I do mean every word


Monday, April 21, 2014


     I know there are only nine letters left in the A to Z Challenge, but I'm tired, tired, tired.  This should be the easiest post of all, because really... reading.  What's not to love?  But my brain has shut down tonight and I know I can't do justice to books on my own.  So instead, I'll provide some quotations from writers much wiser and more eloquent than I am.  Enjoy.

The habit of reading is the only enjoyment I know in which there is no alloy. It lasts when all other pleasures fade. It will be there to support you when all other resources are gone. It will be present to you when the energies of your body have fallen away from you. It will last you until your death. It will make your hours pleasant to you as long as you live.  - Anthony Trollope

Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. —Frederick Douglass

It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own. —Katherine Paterson

Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time. —E.P. Whipple

A room without books is like a body without a soul. ― Cicero

You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive. ― James Baldwin

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate
And though I oft have passed them by
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.
  - J.R.R. Tolkien

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. -Groucho Marx 

Saturday, April 19, 2014



     Many years ago, when I was the world's nerdiest tween, I became obsessed with reading about the Tudors.  I was mostly focused on Henry VIII and his various and sundry wives, but his daughters were pretty fascinating in their own right (his son Edward died too young to do anything very memorable, except to try to bypass the laws of succession and cut out both his sisters, but clearly that didn't work).  My approach to the Tudors arose from a fascination with their celebrity, and was anything but scholarly, but here's what I do know about Elizabeth: she became Queen of a very divided England at the age of 25, and she stayed Queen until her death about 45 years later, and for all of that time, she totally beat the boys at their own game.  What an incredible power player she was!  She spent almost her entire life navigating the narrow shoals between Catholics and Protestants; between ever-shifting political camps; between warring and land-grabbing European nations; and through constant local intrigues and plots against her life.  Despite ceaseless pressure from various factions, she never married (although reportedly her lovers were legion) and never had children, thereby eliminating the possibility of any serious rivals for the throne.  Elizabeth was evidently one of the very few people in history placed in a position to rule a country who was entirely capable of doing just that.  She brought 45 years of much-needed stability (relatively speaking) to England, initiated a period of religious tolerance (again, relatively speaking; her sister Mary had burned Protestants at the stake), refused to become embroiled in any more wars than strictly necessary, and basically made no irreparable mistakes.  Oh, and she was also a patron of the arts, which flourished during her reign.  Ever heard of Shakespeare, for example?  How many leaders, from any time in history, could credibly make all of those claims?
     Yeah, Elizabeth Regina, Good Queen Bess, the Virgin Queen.  You go, girl!

p.s. As I was trying to work tonight on my current book, which is set in Ireland in the 16th century, it suddenly struck me that I'm being hypocritical in my praise of Elizabeth.  Although I believe everything that I wrote about her to be true, there was certainly a dark side, and it was starkly revealed in her policies toward Ireland.  Basically, throughout her reign, she supported the subjugation of the Irish people to England, the theft of Catholic land to be given instead to English Protestants, and eventually the torture, exile, and/or murder of Catholic priests.  By 1607, four years after Elizabeth's death, Gaelic Ireland had been put to death too.  I would have been remiss not to add this sad historical note here.

Friday, April 18, 2014


         I don't remember when or how I first discovered the books of Katherine Paterson.  I know that it was a very long time ago, and I know that she is the author whose work first introduced me to the concept of historical fiction written for children.  Think about it.  Aside from Bible stories, weren't almost all the books you read as a child set in a time contemporary to when the book was written?  I know that the ones I read were.  At most, they were set during the time when the author was a child - not hundreds of years earlier.  But here was a children's author, skipping around lightly through the centuries, through countries and cultures, seeming for all the world as if she belonged wherever she landed.  And it changed everything about writing for me.  If I hadn't encountered her work, I would never have dreamed about setting the first book I wrote for children in Venice, in the year 1574.  Katherine Paterson opened that door for me, earning my eternal gratitude.
     But gratitude wasn't the only emotion she shook loose in me.  There was also admiration for her gifts as a writer, appreciation for her humor, and awe for her courage.  Her best-known book, BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, was the very first American children's book to feature as a main character a child who died in an accident during the course of the story.  Public reaction was very strong; many people were horrified at the thought that child readers would be exposed to a tragedy they wouldn't be able to handle.  But Paterson was adamant that BRIDGE was a story that needed to be told.  She knew from personal experience that sudden tragedies do occur in the lives of children; the idea for the book originated with the accidental death of her young son's playmate, and she knew that similar experiences might happen to any child.  The book was widely banned for years.  As most of you probably already know, eventually the tide turned, and Paterson ended up winning one of her two Newbery Medals for BRIDGE.
     But it's the book that won her the other Newbery which resonates most deeply with me, and that still remains my most beloved children's book of all time.  JACOB HAVE I LOVED is the story of Louise, known by the unbeautiful nickname Wheeze, who lives with her family on a little spit of land in the Chesapeake Bay during what seems to be the 1940's.  Everyone on the island is involved in one way or another with the fishing industry, and Paterson brings vividly to life the pervasive feeling that on the island, there is no clear demarcation between land and water.  The only person who seems to be completely land-bound is Wheeze's twin sister, Caroline.  In fact, although Wheeze and Caroline share a room, they seem to occupy two completely different worlds.  Wheeze is rough and tomboyish, and feels as much at home on the water as she does on land.  Caroline is delicately beautiful, as well as exceptionally gifted.  Even the most workworn residents of the island recognize that Caroline's musical talents lift her far out of their ordinary realm and out into the wider world.  Wheeze recognizes Caroline's gift too, but is also victim to the complacency and self-centeredness that come along with it.  Wheeze has nothing, Caroline has everything, and as much as Wheeze tries to resist, envy eats away at her heart until she hates both Caroline and herself.  But there is something even worse in store for her.  The girls' mentally ill grandmother, who seems to have the ability to see directly into Wheeze's heart and to revel in her despair, gleefully quotes from the Bible to her: "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated."  Wheeze looks up the quote to find out who spoke that line, and sees that it was God.  Wheeze is the bad twin.  God loves Caroline, but hates Wheeze.
     Paterson has been married to a minister (now retired) for some sixty years now, and her own faith is deep, but she doesn't shout about it in her books; she wears it lightly.  That's probably why it cuts so deep.  She embodies the maxim of walking humbly with one's God.  JACOB HAVE I LOVED is permanently wrapped around my heart, but there are so many other books of Paterson's that I love too.  Consistently, she roots for the outcast, the underdog, the one who feels unloved.  She forces her readers to see them and care about them.  She is an ambassador of empathy to the world, and the world has made an effort to repay her.  She has won just about every prize and award in the field of children's literature,and has richly earned all of them.
     This astonishing woman is now 81 years old.  She is a beacon of light in my life, and always will be.  Thank you, Katherine Paterson.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O IS FOR....

        Okay. It's odd. Maybe a little out of the ordinary. But obviously, I'm not the only one in the world who likes to read obituaries. There are others among us, perhaps even oodles of them, so don't visit your opprobrium on me just because I admit it in public.
     Here's the fascinating thing for me.  Each obituary is a quick snapshot of an entire life, birth to death, in chronological order. It offers what we can never achieve with regard to our own lives: perspective. Oh!, it says. Here's the overview, as seen from Mount Olympus. Here's what that person's life MEANT. It's the authorial point of view, as it were, applied to real people. To me, it's no wonder that people who are addicted to reading fiction might also be addicted to reading obituaries. It's all an exploration of the human condition and the fingerprints that Fate leaves on each of our lives.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014



I have two fantastic pieces of news for you, dear readers: (1) I'm going to get the night off from writing an A to Z Challenge post (great news for me, anyway; I hope it's not quite as great for you), because (2) my dear friend Michele Granger is doing a guest post tonight, and it's terrific!
     It all started when Michele read my "D IS FOR DOLLHOUSE" post, and its followup photos of the actual dollhouse.  In response, she emailed me to tell me that it all reminded her of the dollhouse that her Nana had made for her when she was a little girl.  Michele and I have been in a critique group together for umpteen years, so I've heard other Nana stories, but the one she told me in this email was so lovely that I asked her whether she'd be willing to develop it a little more so that I could post it on my blog for N night.  Reader: she did it.  So here, without further ado, is N is for Nana!

My Nana was a chain smoking, fun loving, French Canadian woman who sold bathtub gin out the back door of her apartment during prohibition, or that’s the story, anyway. The family lore, which sadly was discovered to be untrue when a cousin did a genealogy search, was that we were part Iroquois Indian on my grandfather’s side. In fact, I believe a princess was involved. That discovery makes me wonder about the bathtub gin story. Sigh. When Pepere would tease Nana or untie the strings on her apron while she was cooking, she would say (with a cigarette dangling from the side of her mouth), "Leave me alone, you God damned Indian!" Pepere was also a wonderful guy. I would give anything to hear that laugh of his again.

Nana was the best grandmother a child could imagine. She would drop whatever she was doing to help my cousin, Bobby and me set up a lemonade stand in front of her house or sew up costumes for our latest fantasy play on her machine. She made a Parcheesi board on the back of an oilcloth table covering and would spend an afternoon playing with us at the kitchen table, using buttons for markers. My sister and I were fascinated at how long Nana would let her cigarette ash get and how she could use her bottom lip to tilt it up at just the right angle to save the ash from falling. She’d be busy with something that she didn’t want to interrupt to flick it off in an ashtray and would squint around the smoke as it got in her eyes. It’s like a mortal sin to smoke in front of kids, now, but this was in the fifties and early sixties before our consciousness about such things had been raised. After Pepere died, many Friday afternoons, I would walk a mile to the bus stop with my little suitcase and take two buses to get to Nana’s to stay for the weekend. I thought she might be lonely, or maybe it was me who missed Pepere so much and needed the comfort. I was only twelve, but no one seemed to worry. Did I mention that this was another time? Long before ‘helicopter parents’ were the norm.

But I need to get to the reason that I wrote to Susan about Nana to begin with. It was her dollhouse blog entry that got me started. Nana made me one out of a stack of fruit crates that she’d fastened together somehow. They might have already been in use as a homemade shelving unit when she got the idea, or I might have seen it and asked if I could use it as a dollhouse. I can’t remember. Anyway, it was a totally vertical dollhouse, unlike the adorable one that Susan’s husband made from a kit and yet, I loved it so much. I papered each room using wrapping paper that seemed to suit each one. The top room was the kitchen, the next one down, was Jill’s room (a blonde teenage doll, pre-Barbie), the next down was baby, Ginette’s room, then Ginny’s room (I was totally crazy about my Ginny doll) and the bottom room was the living room. Nana made living room furniture for the house out of the plastic crates that four pink, tasteless, uniformly sized tomatoes used to come in. The full size was for the couch (in fact, I think she wired two together –one upside down) and then she cut down two for the chairs and one for the coffee table. Each had a hand sewn matching cushion on it with tiny buttons to make them look tufted. The coffee table had a thimble attached to its center with tiny fake flowers in it. Nana had a collection of salt and pepper shakers and one was a small plastic TV. When one turned the knob (remember when the knobs were only for on and off?), the shakers popped up. It was the perfect size for the living room. I played with that doll house for many hours over several years. If only I could see it again. Thank you, Nana.

p.s.  The photo above is not of Michele's Nana.  It's from Google Images.  But it's what I imagine Michele's Nana might have looked liked, cigarette and all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


     I know I already posted about glassblowing, but this post is different.  It's about a very special place at a very special time: the tiny island of Murano, off the coast of Venice, during the 16th century.
     There were glassblowers in Venice dating back to about a thousand years ago.  But they didn't work in big factories; glasshouses were tiny buildings that would get suffocatingly hot from the kilns, which had to be perpetually stoked with wood to create roaring fires.

     Often, there were accidents; glassworkers could not contain the fires, which leapt out to destroy not only the glasshouses, but the surrounding areas.  In the year 1291, the Venetian government had had enough of this dangerous industry coexisting with homes and shops and churches.  It decreed that all the glasshouses in Venice had to be relocated to Murano.  From that time to the present, Murano has been home to generation after generation of glassmakers.
     In the 16th century, Venetian glass was the best in the world, coveted by the wealthy everywhere that Venetian traders could transport it.  The government wanted to ensure that the trade secrets of the Muranese glassmakers remained secret, so that the local industry remained extremely lucrative.  It accomplished this goal by decreeing that the glassmakers were forbidden, under penalty of death, from ever leaving their island, or even speaking to visitors.
     But some glassmakers dared to violate these laws, despite the threat of being pursued by assassins sent by the government wherever they might flee.  Terrifying as it must have been, some of them did escape, and survive, and establish their own glasshouses in London or Paris or German cities.  By the 18th century, Venice had lost its monopoly over top-quality glassmaking.
     When I first heard this story, I was instantly hooked.  The more I read, the more I realized that 16th-century Venetian glasswork was not primitive, as a modern reader might think.  The facilities and the tools were primitive, but the work produced was anything but.  The image at the top of this post, for example, is of a lamp made in Murano in the mid-1500s.   And here is a chalice from the early part of that century:

     And a wine decanter, also from the early part of the century:

     And a fruit container, from the mid-1500s:

     The source of all of these images is a book, "Glass from Antiquity to the Renaissance," by Giovanni Mariacher, translated from the Italian (Hamlyn, 1970).   I chose them to illustrate that the level of 16th century Venetian glassmaking has (in my opinion) never been matched before or since, let alone surpassed.
     And maybe someday my middle-grade novel, GLASS ISLAND, will be published,  and then I'll be able to share a lot more about this magical, dangerous, thrilling place and time.

Monday, April 14, 2014


     I've lived in my house for about 17 years.  For most of that time, the space above my garage consisted of some rotted-out wooden floorboards.  You could get up there via a rotted-out wooden ladder, if you were willing to risk it, but there wasn't much point to that because once you were up, wherever you set foot, there was a good chance of your crashing through the floor to the cement below.
     When my daughter was in middle school, my husband and I decided to hire a handyman to construct a real space up there, so that she and her friends could use it as a playroom.  He did a wonderful job, installing a sturdy floor, a window, insulation, electricity, and a staircase.  So of course, my daughter and her friends used the space maybe twice and then completely abandoned it.
     Meanwhile, at some point my daughter decided that one bedroom really wasn't enough to meet her very sophisticated needs, so she annexed the guest room.  This became her bedroom, and her bedroom became her closet.  The main problem with this was that the guest room, when not being used for guests, was supposed to be MY space, to be used specifically for writing.  Not that I actually used it very much, but still, at least it had been my theoretical space, and now it wasn't even that.
     It took a long time, but eventually I came up with the following thought: if she's going to take over my unused space, what's to stop me from taking over hers?  So I did.  Voila!  My writing nook:


     I adore my loft.  I truly do.  I decorated it with carpet scraps I cut up to form a patchwork, with bits of furniture donated from friends, and with pictorial references to every book I've written and some I haven't yet.  Maybe, if you've been following my A to Z posts, you'll have figured out that it's probably my adult version of a dollhouse.  Or maybe it's modeled after the Swiss Family Robinson's treehouse, another space I coveted as a child.  The key is that it's ALL MINE.
     There's only one slight problem.  I haven't spent any time in my beloved space in probably over a year.  After all the work I put into fixing up my nook, I do my writing at the kitchen table instead, right in the middle of whatever is going on around me.  Like daughter, like mother, I guess.  But it makes me so happy just to know my loft is there, waiting for me whenever I feel like visiting again...

Saturday, April 12, 2014


     Joseph Frank Keaton was born in a trunk, as the saying goes.  This may not have been literally true in his case, but it is true that by the age of three (which would have been in 1898), he was appearing in his parents' vaudeville act, dressed like his father as a bald, bearded stereotype of an Irishman.

     This was the benign part of Buster's entry into show business.  And if you don't like that part, you'll probably really hate the part about his mother sewing a suitcase handle onto the back of his little jacket so that his father could get a good grip when he flung his son off the stage and out toward the back wall of the theater.  Seeing how the little boy would just get up calmly from wherever he landed, as if nothing had happened, a fellow performer (some say it was Houdini) said to his father, "That's quite a buster you've got there!"  And the name stuck throughout his life.
     When he grew up (despite what seem to have been his parents' best efforts to prevent it), Keaton casually found his way into a career in the movies, and he proved himself to be a genius of silent film.  He wrote, directed and starred in hilarious comedies through the 1920's and 30's.  His two hallmarks as a comic actor were his permanent deadpan expression - he was known as The Great Stone Face - and his extraordinary gift for physical humor.  A superb natural athlete, Keaton always performed all of his own movie stunts, and some of them have to be seen to be believed. 
     Everyone knows who Charlie Chaplin was, but the same is not true about Keaton, and that's a tragedy.  To me, Keaton had an innate delicacy and vulnerability that Chaplin lacked.  The Little Tramp was a poignant figure, but in such a studied way.  Keaton's persona was of course studied too: he never allowed himself to be photographed smiling, even when not in character.  But he still somehow managed to project both outrageous humor and a deep melancholy at the same time, while making it look like he wasn't even trying.  "The General," a full-length feature film starring Keaton as a train engineer in the South during the Civil War, is widely regarded as his masterpiece.  But if you don't want to start learning about Keaton by watching a two-hour film, I urge you to turn first to You Tube.  Start with the compendium of his best stunts, move on from there to some of his short films, and I hope and believe that by that point, you'll be hooked.
     Keaton died of lung cancer in 1966 at the age of 70.

     Remember those ads, "You don't have to be Jewish to love Levy's?"  Well, here was Buster as an old man.  Same porkpie hat, same Great Stone Face, eating a deli sandwich on rye.  He always had the world's saddest eyes. 
    Buster's midlife descent into alcoholism robbed the world of so many brilliant films that he could have made, but I want to focus on the positive.  Buster was physically beautiful, incomparably graceful, and madly talented, and I have a huge crush on the young man he once was.  Do yourself a favor and get to know him.  You will be richly rewarded.


Friday, April 11, 2014


     I kind of have food issues.  I've kind of always had them.  There have always been a lot of things I wouldn't eat.  I've grown out of some of these aversions, like to tomatoes and eggs, but some remain.  Primarily, I can't even think about eating anything that has a gooshy texture.  This category includes: cheesecake; custards; puddings; meringues; whipped cream; avocadoes...  need I go on?
     Anyway.  When I started elementary school, my mother was at a loss as to what to pack me for lunch, so she fell back on peanut butter sandwiches.  No jelly... right, the whole goosh factor thing.  PB and no J.  Day, after day, after day.  Year, after year, after year.  Always, always Jif.   First grade through eighth grade.  Every.  Single.  Day.  I never tired of it, and I never complained, so why fix what isn't broken?  I ate my peanut butter sandwiches, and I was happy.
     Until eighth grade.  Either my body's reaction to peanut butter changed, or I suddenly became aware of it for the first time.  I began to realize, to my complete mortification, that every day, after lunch, I had an uncontrollable urge to fart (or, as my mother would say, to "expel gas").  And this urge did not go away after I indulged it once or twice; no, it came back repeatedly, for what felt like hours.  If I was excrutiatingly careful - and believe me, I was - I could prevent the noise, but preventing the smell was beyond my power.  And the very worst part was that we all sat in assigned seats, and in the seat just behind me sat Leslie Berger, a boy whom I now remember as having been rather sardonic and mean-spirited, but who at the time was generally considered by the girls to be cute.  Every single afternoon, I sat at my desk, mortified, wafting my Jif-induced farts in Leslie Berger's direction.  And somehow, during that never-ending year, I never associated my gaseous state with the peanut butter sandwich I had just finished eating.
     Oddly enough, Leslie Berger, who was not shy with nasty comments, never snickered or said "pee-yew" or in fact said a word to me, or to anyone that I knew of, about my Condition.  Maybe he had no sense of smell.  I don't really know what the disconnect was, but I do know that it made it possible for me to survive eighth grade.
     By high school, I had somehow figured it out.  No more peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.  But guess what?  That doesn't mean I ever lost my taste for Jif.  Why, I still bring myself a peanut butter sandwich (albeit reduced-fat) to work for lunch once a week or so.  The difference is that Jif no longer seems to have the same physiological effect on me.  And, even if it did, now I have my own nice big office, and nobody sits four feet behind me, in prime position to share any odors I might generate.  See, kids?  If you can survive middle school or its equivalent, life does get better!
     Viva la Jif.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


     To me, irises are the most exquisite flowers on earth.  When many people think of irises, they think of Van Gogh's heartbreakingly beautiful purple blooms:

But in fact, in modern times irises are grown in every color imaginable.

     The original French fleur de lys were the precurors to today's irises.  Traditional irises were what we would consider small (and here's Van Gogh again):

     But the trend in recent years has been towards bigger, showier, bearded varieties.

     I'm not, by any means, an iris expert.  They're just my favorite flowers, and anything I know about them is what I've picked up by serving as a part-time volunteer every bloom season (more or less the four-week period surrounding Memorial Day) for the past eleven or twelve years at the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Montclair, New Jersey.   The Presby Gardens have been a fixture at that site since 1927, and bloom season there is really something to behold.  The beds house over 3,000 varieties of iris, some dating back to the 1500's and some hybridized just in the past year.  The people who really work at the gardens are incredible fonts of information on all things iris, and I can't think of many ways I'd rather spend a few hours than sitting in that extraordinary setting at the "host table," greeting visitors and trying to answer their questions.  I've also worked in the Bloom Room, the on-site gift shop featuring a wide variety of home and garden items, many of them iris-related.  The Gardens have become a symbol of spring to me.
     If you live in New York or northern New Jersey, please stop by this bloom season!  People visit the Gardens from all over the world.  They bring their children, they bring their dogs, they picnic on the hill.  Pretty much everyone leaves there smiling.  Even grumpy old me!!!

p.s. Sorry about my tantrum yesterday.  Will try to complete the rest of the alphabet without any further disruption.  Will no doubt fail, but will sincerely try.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


     H is for How Can It Be That Posting About My Favorite Things For Only Eight Days Makes Me Want to Shoot Myself in the Head?
     I'm not even a third of the way through the alphabet, and yet here I am, rebelling against my self-imposed oppression.  Did anyone force me to sign up for the A to Z Challenge?  No.  Did I have unfettered freedom to choose my own topic?  Yes.  Did I plan to post this evening about my deep and abiding love for horses?  Yes.  Do all of these facts, which render my opposition absolutely pointless, diminish it in any way?  Nah.  Am I the most self-defeating person in the universe?  You betcha!  For proof, just check out the title of my blog.
     I can't remember what I've planned to post for I, but trust me - it's going to be phenomenal.  Meanwhile, however, tomorrow is so very far away, and H isn't going away for another couple of hours, and so tonight it's just going to have to stand for


Tuesday, April 8, 2014


     Almost twenty years ago, when I was in England, I visited a glassblowing factory for the first time, and - I'm sorry, but I have to say it - I was blown away.  The factory had a small library which included some books about the history of glassmaking, and I bought one or more, and thus began a journey which eventually led me to spend a couple of days visiting the Corning Glass Museum and its incredible library; to spend another day visiting a professional glassblower whose kiln was in his back yard*; to try my hand at blowing glass myself... and to write my first children's book, set in 1574 on the glassblowers' island of Murano, off the coast of Venice.  And that's all I'm going to say about it for now, because (1) I'm dead tired, and (2) I have to leave most of what I want to say about Murano for six posts from now, when we get to M!

* For years, I've been struggling to remember the name of this lovely man, who 18 years ago (I was pregnant with my daughter), along with his wife, hosted me for an afternoon and let me shadow him in his glasshouse. Last night, his name suddenly came to me: Larry Roff.  I just googled him, and here is his website:  Isn't his work beautiful?  A true craftsman!

Monday, April 7, 2014


     Remember this scene from The Producers? "He likes boids. Doity, disgusting boids." Well, I'm here to say that not all boids are doity and disgusting.  This wasn't what I was planning to post about for F, but I thought you'd want to see a fair fowl that was casually occupying a front yard across the street from my (definitely non-rural) house one day last week:

     And a different view of the same guy:

     He might have been doity, but he was far from disgusting.  I'd go with "majestic," in fact.  Which is why it was so weird that when I was standing in the street, taking pictures of him, the neighbor in the adjoining yard opened her window to tell me that she'd called Animal Control, but they'd come and "not done anything."  Not done anything like what?  Like shoot him, for God's sake?  He was just standing there, preening.  I replied to the neighbor, "Well, I think he's cool."  Her response?  "Well, I don't want him in my yard."  Window slammed shut.
     As my mother used to say: it takes all kinds.  And that definitely includes Fools.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


     Voila: the basement dollhouse.  It isn't much, but it's home.

     How's that?  More creepy than you imagined, or less?

Saturday, April 5, 2014



      Email has changed my life. For someone like me who's always had a pretty severe phone phobia, email makes it possible to stay in touch with people at arm's length. There's no tension, no trying to read verbal cues to assess how welcome or unwelcome my overture is.  If someone doesn't want to hear from me, all he has to do is not respond.  Of course, email has its own anxiety-producing elements (Was it sent? Was it received? Did I get an answer and delete it by mistake?), but those are nothing compared to phone trauma.  Plus, email is accomplished via WRITING.  Writing, I can do.  I can take my time, editing as I go, until I'm satisfied with my message before I send it out into the ether.  Written communication makes me feel so much safer than the oral kind.
     But here's something I never would have suspected: everybody likes email.  Evidently, there are a lot of people besides me who, for whatever reason, don't want to talk on the phone unless they have to.  Who knew?  Not everyone is addicted to real-time conversation across distances.  In fact, most of us seem to agree that email is a boon to humankind.
     So I have a modest proposal: would establishing a National Email Day be out of line? Please weigh in with your opinion!  But don't call me - and I won't call you.  (LOL!!)  (yeah, I text too)

Friday, April 4, 2014


     My plan was to do "D IS FOR DOLLHOUSES," and to take a few pictures of the dollhouse in my basement before I left yesterday morning to drive to Vermont with my friend Michele for a mini-writing retreat.  My husband built that dollhouse from a kit for my daughter, and after she stopped playing with it years ago it moved to a tabletop in our basement.  But I'm mostly the one who arranged the furniture and household belongings in it, and from the beginning I played with it more than she did.  And still, when I go down to the basement to do laundry, I'll stop to admire it, do a little rearranging, imagine what it would be like to live there...
   But I forgot to take that photo before I left, which kind of defeats my whole plan, because why bother posting pictures of dollhouses and their miniature contents from Google images when you can just look those up yourself, if you're so inclined? 
     So I'm left D-less.  And I've been trying to come up with viable alternative Ds, and instead all I can think of are things like: D is for draconian laws... dental floss... Darwinian evolution... demo cars... desolate landscapes...  Diet Coke.  D is for debonair denunciations; dainty Dobermans; dolorous dance parties.  D is for decrepit doughnuts, demented dentists, and dissatisfied dominatrixes.  D is for... well, I dunno what D is for.  It's all too daunting, too demoralizing, too devastating for me.  And so I dare to desist.  But -

     I thought that first, you might want to see a glimpse of my darling dogs....
p.s.  Seriously, though.  I don't know why I didn't think of this before, but Doctors Without Borders is one of the most inspirational groups I know of.  I'm a Field Partner, which means I make small but regular monthly donations to them, and I urge you to do the same if you can.  These are people who will go anywhere in the world, no matter how dangerous, to try to save lives.  In my opinion, they are the faces of true heroism.