Life as I know It

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

Friday, July 20, 2012


Her big, soft lap, wide welcoming arms, and gentle voice were made for stories. Every morning, I crawled up onto the couch below the portrait of my Great Great Grandmother Mary Ann Mitchell and listened to Grandmother Lovejoy tell stories of our family.

Then Grandmother tied my shoes and took me by the hand. We walked through her bountiful, old-fashioned garden, and she named the plants, told me the stories of their life, how they were used, and what critters liked to visit them. I listened, and the stories seemed to pour into my mind and lodge in my soul.

At lunch time, we went indoors and sat in Grandmother's sunny breakfast nook where we watched the birds at her busy feeders. Grandmother Lovejoy's stories taught me where the Mockingbird babies were hidden in the boysenberries, how the hummer licks at her nest with her long, long tongue, and that the jays were the easiest birds to tame.

Before nap time, I crawled up into Grandmother's lap and curled into her arms. She read Little Lame Prince, Heidi, The Secret Garden, Little Women, Robert Louis Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses and Treasure Island, and so many books that still hold a place in my heart.

When Grandmother died my family sold her house and ours. I was torn from the hillside neighborhood and the friends and family I loved. Hardest for me was leaving Grandmother's garden. But, I found refuge in stories. Refuge in the books she left behind. Like so many of you reading this, I hid books in my bed and read under the covers until my flashlight dimmed and went dark. Stories kept me sane, gave me hope, assuaged my homesickness, and led me to a dream world of possibilities.

Throughout my life, stories and story telling have remained my sanctuary. That is why I so love to write, to create books, and to tell stories to children who are eager to merge with and become a part of the words.

Yesterday I welcomed some of my favorite women-writer friends to my home for the read of the final four chapters of my new children's novel. I was scared to my toes. Would they like it, despise it, think that the plot and climax were clunky or unbelievable? All these things were worrying me as they sat and listened to me read for almost an hour. They oohed and ached at all the right places, urged me onward, and at the end of the story, they sighed and applauded. But the applause wasn't the end of the meeting. Then they helped me pick out tiny inconsistencies, checked on the time line of the book, made sure that my main character's voice fit, and checked on how a man mounted a horse. Tiny little details that merge seamlessly when one tells a believable story.

Some critiques are written. I save all the papers and comb through my manuscript to make necessary additions and adjustments. But, I don't always agree with everyone and any writer must feel things are right with himself/herself.

Afterward we feasted on my freshly harvested fruit, toasted each other with champagne, and celebrated how much we all love being writers and love sharing books.

Blueberries, grapes, a bumper crop of nectarines, and a few Sequoia strawberries, sprinkled with rosemary, menthe citrate, and chocolate mint.

I use limoncello as a tart/sweet dressing.

Author Elizabeth Spurr, next to her is author Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, my Jeff, author Lori Peelen, Red Fox Literary agent Karen Grencik (others are cut out of photo) out under our grape laden arbor.

Lori, Karen, author Roni De Coster, and illustrator Helen K. Davie

Two Elizabeths on a bench! A toast!

And me toasting these FABULOUS and creative friends (and editor-agent husband).
Thank you for being such an important part of my life!

When we finished our dessert and champagne toasts, we returned to the living room to listen to the readings of Elizabeth Spurr, Elizabeth Van Steenwyk, and Veronica De Coster. We missed Lori's reading because she had to leave early. We also got to hear the good news of Karen Grencik's recent sales of many more books. Her literary agency is thriving and connecting more authors to publishers. Hurrah Karen and Red Fox Literary!

Missing from this meeting due to schedule conflicts were authors Sherry Shahan, Cindy Rankin, Cynthia Bates, and author-illustrator Stephanie Roth Sisson. Next time girls!

I send love across the miles-and keep on creating, keep on reading, and cherish your friends,



P.S. Jeff caught me tending the hollyhock this morning. Of course, I was in my nightgown. This hollyhock towers almost to the top of the little, blue window upstairs in Mockingbird Studio. You can see the pink blooms, but the tight, green buds are up there a few feet above the blooms. This is the tallest hollyhock I've ever grown. Lovely. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Good Night Moon–Good Morning Little Cobble Court

In search of "Cobble Court," the little house of author Margaret Wise Brown. The house now "lives" in the artistic and exciting Greenwich Village in NYC.

Ahh, here it is. Cobble Court (original cobblestones in courtyard) is a funky, lovable, 200 year old farmhouse that was moved from its Upper Eastside site (where it was scheduled for demolition) to the corner of Greenwich and Charles in Greenwich Village.

Dear Friends,

Sometimes you just need to step back, gather your wings, and think about life. That is what I've been doing (in answer to your wonderful inquiries). I am also finishing my children's historical novel and  preparing for an upcoming appearance in Minnesota and an oncoming book tour. For those of you who live in the Boston area, I will be doing a special bird presentation for children at the Boston Public Library (see upcoming appearances link). Come see me and bring the kids!

My garden flourishes and keeps me busy. I've harvested apricots, nectarines, artichokes, peaches, lemons, limes, citron, Kafir lime, kumquats, tangerines, blueberries, figs, and of course lots of herbs. During my times outdoors, I reflect on life and how I (a country girl at heart) ended up in a real city (albeit a small one). I once commented to Jeff that I couldn't work and live in a city, and he said, "Make your own paradise," which is what I've tried to do.

I love to visit the homes (the Paradises) of authors and artists. Some of my favorite trips have been to Monet's home in Giverney, the apartment of Gertrude Stein in Paris, Laura Ingalls Wilder's home in Missouri, Rudyard Kipling's home, the home of Thomas Hardy, the farm of Beatrix Potter, Willa Cather's home in Red Cloud, and her original home in Virginia, Hemingway's hang-out in the Keys, Carl Larsson's home in Sweden, Audubon's home, Celia Thaxter's island haunt, Sarah Orne Jewett's home, Louisa May Alcott, Hawthorne, Emerson, and Thoreau's homes, and Emily Dickinson's home in Amherst, Mass. Oh, to stand at her desk and gaze out the wavy glass of her window, the exact view she studied for years. The list of author-artist homes is endless, but I especially loved finally finding the little house so beloved by one of my favorite authors, Margaret Wise Brown.

Jeff and I had a celebratory luncheon in NYC with my beloved editor Ruth and Peter Workman, founder of my favorite publishing firm Workman Publishing. After lunch, Jeff and I set off in search of the home of Margaret Wise Brown, author of more than 100 books for children, probably most famously the author of Good Night Moon and The Runaway Bunny, (but The Little Island and some of her others rank near the top for me).

Imagine living on the Upper East Side of NYC in a tiny, picturesque, funky, 200 year old farmhouse on a cobblestone courtyard. Huge buildings loomed above the farmhouse, and the din of traffic and commerce swirled around it twenty-four hours a day. How could anyone stand to live there in the midst of the congestion, noise, and passersby? Luckily, one special lady not only lived there, but also found the peace and stimulation to create a host of some of the world's most cherished books.

I had just finished reading Awakened by the Moon, a bio of Margaret Wise Brown, and told Jeff that I couldn't leave NYC without finding Margaret's "Cobble Court." It had been scheduled for demolition, but was saved by a caring couple who purchased the little building and moved it (and all the cobblestones) to the corner of Charles and Greenwich in the Village. Thank goodness and thank them.

Big buildings still loom over Margaret's little "Cobble Court"

The owners erected a wide iron gate so that "passersby would not have to crowd into a small space." Very kind and much appreciated.

I am in Heaven

Let me in, let me in. A pitiful plea.

Lucky for me, the authorities were not alerted that a crazy woman was lurking outside the little farmhouse. 

So, what is the point of this ramble about author's homes? I suppose the point is that Jeff is right. "Make your own Paradise." Wherever you live, you can create your own world– you can write, draw, make music, throw pots, garden (even if it is in a coffee can). You can be YOU, and you are one-of-a-kind, just like Margaret Wise Brown.

"Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark."

Agnes De Mille

Joys to you all and remember to make your own Paradise,