Life as I know It

My photo
San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Old Loves

Come on in for a visit.

Drafty, crooked,
Sagging, scratched,
This old house
Just can't be matched.


I guess that is what I love about old houses. They have flaws, but to me that equates to personality plus. Right? And they have distinct personalities. Sometimes the doors of this house won't close, or, on hot, dry days, they won't stay open. I listen to the house creak and crack at night and wonder what stories it is telling.

Both sets of my grandparents lived in old California bungalows, which I think is why I have good feelings when I step into a cozy, vintage home. They may be impractical with their tiny closets, lack of storage, and single pane windows, but no amount of money can buy the charm and the extra touches that are a part of the package called an old house. I love them, right down to the doorbells and the old, time worn steps.

Just ring the doorbell or...

...tap, tap, tap the door knocker.

Clickety clack, let your heels click on the newly restored floor. Out with the brown, wall-to-wall carpet (Mare Betterley, you'll be happy about that) and in with the sander and polish. Nothing like mellow old floors.

Some people don't like the small rooms, but I find them cozy beyond measure. Our friends and family love crowding into this room around the old farm table. Now the floors are patched and refinished, cove ceilings mended, plaster repaired, old chandelier hung (found it at Homestead Antiques in Carpinteria, California), a new coat of linen colored paint. Thank you, Jeff, you are amazing!

Yep, they're single-paned windows, but they have a wavy surface that makes the world look like an Impressionist's watercolor. And think of the families, dramas, sorrows, and joys they've witnessed through the past 83 years.

My grands love to open and close this tiny window (which Jeff just rebuilt) and peep into the courtyard. They feel as though they're in an enchanted castle.

This is L.A. Claycraft heirloom tile from the early 20th century. I urge you (translate–beg you) to save any old tiles surrounding your fireplace. Too many of them have been lost when old houses are sold to unappreciative buyers, or, worse yet, when old houses are demolished and all the goodies are left inside them and reduced to rubble. Save the tiles!

Jeff restored the little fireplace to its original finish and colors, which had been thickly painted over many times. He worked for two years whenever he had a chance, using toothpicks, toothbrushes, and rags to clean it and redo it. I can't believe the patience and dedication it took for him to do this. He made the thick redwood mantel out of an ancient piece of redwood (probably two thousand years old) that I salvaged from a building they were retrofitting in downtown San Luis Obispo. They were throwing this gorgeous piece of wood into a dumpster. I begged for it unabashedly, and they said, "No, it is against company regulations." I said, "Turn around," crawled up onto the dumpster, and slid it out. Then the problem was that it was HEAVY. I had to call Jeff to quickly drive to town to pick me up.

Love these practical little built-in ironing boards. Use it and stow it. So easy. We built a laundry room and traded some windows for this entire cupboard and ironing board. The clothes pin bag belonged to my Grandmother Lovejoy and is filled with vintage clothes pins from the 1930s.

 A little phone niche in the hallway. This was plastered in and covered with wallpaper. Jeff found the arched outline of it, chipped it away, and re-did the plaster. 

No fancy dropped ceilings, big lights, or modern sinks, islands, or gigantic new stove; just plain old-fashioned comfort. Sink from Ohmega Salvage in Berkeley, California. Some of the antique lighting came from Let There Be Light in Stillwater, Minnesota; others came from Trifles in Wiscasset, Maine. 

The cupboard (under the apple sign on the wall) came from the fire damaged Tantamount Theater in Carmel, California (courtesy of Marston House Antiques, Wiscasset, Maine); the giant apple sign came from Timothy Mawson Antiques in Connecticut. Sadly, Timothy passed away.

Jeff designed everything in the kitchen, making sure he kept true to the time the house was built. Out with the 1980's remodel.

Kitchen doorknob.

All the kitchen pulls are true to the time the house was built. I love the old glass pulls.

The old hardware is still on all the doors.

Too much clutter?? Probably, but everything is right at hand. The counter tops are big pieces of maple, but they're not cutting boards. Would I do that again? Uh, maybe not, they're already due for a refinishing. I thought about marble, but it made the room way too cold.

Open shelving doesn't appeal to everyone, but it forces you to be somewhat organized and clean. I love them and have had them in my last two kitchens. 

Photographer Mark Lohman and stylist/producer Sunday Hendrickson are here today and are producing a photo shoot for an article for This Old House magazine. Stay tuned! I cannot write about it now, but will when the article is published. These two are HARD WORKERS. They arrived early and have been working non-stop all day. They didn't even stop to sit down for lunch. Dedication.

Enough for now. I must return to the revisions on my new book to be published by Random House/Delacorte Press. I am so very excited about it. This Underground Railroad research is beyond fascinating, and I love all the letters you've written to me about the UGRR in your own home towns. Lots of information from Ohioans, and I love it.

Thank you for all your e-mails and letters. Also, thanks to you for your words about the inimitable Peter Workman of Workman Publishing. He will be missed more than words can tell.

Oh, before I sign off, the editor of This Old House offered a fabulous copy of their book on kitchens as my new give-away.

Kitchens are where the action happens, where memories are cooked up and reduced down, they are, what my dear friend Susan Branch calls, the heart of the home. Can you hear it? I definitely hear my kitchen's heart beat every time I walk through the door.

Just leave a comment ("Anonymous" comments must begin with "Sharon" to escape the delete button. Sorry. Too much spam) on my blog posting if you would like to enter the drawing for the This Old House Kitchens. If you're a Grimy Hands Girls' Club member and your number is selected, you'll also receive a copy of one of these fine books published by Timber Press. They're both excellent and filled with great information. Take your pick! 

Sending love across the miles,


P.S. After my Grandmother Lovejoy died, my parents bought land and built a new, ranch style home. I did not like leaving the Pasadena area–the old, tree-lined streets, the mountains and hills, the perfect sidewalks for skating and jumping cracks. Our new home never felt like home, but it did provide my mother and me with a built-in network of young families. Mother spent time every day sharing coffee and stories with neighbors. Now, as I spend most days alone, I find that browsing your postings makes me feel like I have my own neighbors, just farther away, and not convenient for sugar borrowing. Most times I make a quick stop-by and leave, sometimes I take time to comment. I love your writings and families. It feels like a good neighborhood. Thank you!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Peter Workman


Today my publisher Peter Workman, Workman Publishing, New York, lost his heroic battle with cancer.

The world is less without him.

How do you describe someone who lights a room with his brilliance?  Who has the wisdom of an old soul, yet the inimitable sense of wonder of a child?

Peter changed my life for the better and forever. I will always remember him, his lopsided grin, his love of the publishing industry, his generosity,  kindness, and sense of humor. I could go on, but I can't.

Our hearts ache with the loss and for the loss to his family, his wife Carolan, daughters Katie and Elizabeth, son-in-laws, grandchildren, and the extended "family" of employees and lucky authors.

Faretheewell, Peter. We will never forget you.

Sharon and Jeff

p.s. Please direct all comments to Workman Publishing. Comments are closed on my blog.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Bones of a Book

Native California Flannel Bush (Fremontia) in full spring bloom.

Spring, and the promise of the new season, has given me a new strength of purpose. Work hard! Don't quit! Immerse yourself! Enjoy every step of the dance! Do the best and most creative work you can! Those are my mantras to myself, but I'm happy to share them with you.

Opening hearts of redbud. I press these leaves in the fall and use them for placecards at family meals.

Dear Friends,

So many wonderful e-mails and letters from you. I thank you for your well wishes, and yes, I will write about the process of the book as I work through my revisions and illustrations.

I haven't had the time to visit many of you, and I do apologize. As my deadline looms, I find that I am most peaceful when I work toward the finish line. Writing, drawing, and a bit of spring gardening= pure bliss.

Today we drew from all the readers who sent in comments on my last (very long lasting) blog posting. Check at the bottom of this short post to see if you were the lucky winner.

The Beginnings

Someone wrote and asked where I get my ideas. Well, ideas have never been the problem; it is sitting down and actually writing them that is the problem. Most of the time when an idea pops into my head, I write myself a reminder note, because although I always think I'll remember, it will get as lost as a needle in my floss basket.

Start saving all your great ideas for your future work. Start a journal or a notebook on your computer, but save the ideas so you can mine them for your writing. You won't regret the little bit of extra time you've spent recording thoughts and experiences. They're gold for a writer.

The ideas for this pre Civil War book came from my thorough drenching in history as told to me by my Grandmother Lovejoy. This portrait is of my great, great, grandmother Mary Ann Mitchell Baker, who was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1804.  She was daughter of John and Abigail Harlan (see our connection Cousin Julie Marie of Idyllhours?). This portrait hung above my Grandmother Lovejoy's couch. As Grandmother tied my shoe laces each morning, she would tell me stories of Mary Ann (who is wearing Quaker garb and a muslin cap), my Great Grandpa, who fought in the Pennsylvania Old Bucktails in the Civil War, and the family's trials and tribulations as they moved from Pennsylvania and Virginia to Pasadena, California, in the 1800s.

Why this time period?

In the late 60s, I journeyed to Virginia, where some of my had family settled in Goose Creek (now Lincoln) in the 1800s. I began copying letters that were stored in my great grandfather's suitcase and kept in my cousin's attic. Day after day, I copied letters into my notebook. I resumed recording them  again when I returned to her home in 1974.

History came alive for me when I read through these amazing letters, filled with not only life, but also the deaths of friends and family who fought in the Civil War. Sometimes, as I copied letters stained with blood, I would see the tears mixing with the ink in my journal. I sobbed as I read how my great, great uncle Aaron Baker had only a few days left before being discharged from The Pennsylvania Old Bucktails. He was shot at Spotsylvania Courthouse and carried off the battlefield by his brother Edwin and three other friends, who buried him in a nearby field.

Through these original pieces of history, written in the Quaker dialect of the family, I also learned how to write the book with authentic dialect of the times, with many colorful phrases of the people of the Virginia countryside. 

I learned, as I worked through these family memories and tragedies, how powerful the telling of history can and should be. I'll have to admit this painful fact– I was guilty of snoozing through many history classes. Was it me? Was it the way we were taught? I do know that rote memorization of dates and events never worked, but hand me a historical novel, or tell me a story, and my mind and heart opened wide.

This is what I want for the children. I want their minds and hearts to open wide to the fabric of our history. To learn how hatred can be transmitted like a virus, but can be "cured" with knowledge and love. 

So, this is a short, short posting, but I must get back to work.

Sending love across the miles to you all,


p.s. And the winner of the random drawing for the double Mayan hammock from Serenity Health and Home Decor is...

Julie Marie of Idyllhours

Julie is Grimy Hands Girls' Club member so she'll be receiving a bonus gift from me.

p.p.s. If you are along the California Central Coast on April 9th, come hear me talk about "The Bumpy Road to Fiction along the Non-fiction Pathway."

April 9, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Talk and booksigning
PG&E Education Center
6588 Ontario Rd  
San Luis Obispo, CA 93405
Open to the public, but limited seating.