Life as I know It

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Meanwhile, I Keep Dancing

"I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile, I keep dancing."
Daniel Hillel

Dear Friends,

Congratulations to Susan (My Mother's Apron Strings) who is the lucky winner of Marta McDowell's wonderful new book Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life. Susan dear, I don't think I have your new address. Please send it along. 

Sending love across the miles,


Remember to keep getting up. Dance your way into 2014!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Warmth of Love

Dear Friends,

Every day during the busy holiday season I look forward to reading cards and catching up on the goings on of good friends and family. Thank you, thank you for all your many kindnesses. Thank you dear herbal friend Nancy Heraud, Lemon Verbena Lady, for the unexpected trove of glorious, jewel-like jellies and jams. Nothing is better than something cooked or crafted with love.

How can it already be time to unpack our family treasures from the old green blanket chest? It feels like I tucked our favorite ornaments away only a few weeks ago, but it has been a year. The first things to come out are always our old stick sheep from the beginning of the 20th century.

Our old German stick sheep line the mantel. When the horrible San Simeon earthquake hit us in 2003, the sheep were all hurled across the room and onto the floor. Many of their ears are broken and legs are wobbly, but they've been a part of my life for almost 40 years. The children expect them to watch over our family.

The handmade Edwardian hat-topper is now our tree-topper. Imagine wearing a hat big enough to support a ten inch squirrel. I found this in an antique shop I always loved. Do any of you remember Millie Fairie's fabulous store in Cambria? I'll never forget it. I think I bought this guy about 35 years ago.

This little snowman (smaller than my pinky finger) is about 100 years old, and he is one of my all time favorites. 

Mary Margaret Klug stitched the Christmas hearts, my daughter in law made me over a hundred origami paper birds, my friend David Krause made the tiny walnut basket in the lower left. It has a gingham table cloth and is filled with berries. I included his walnut basket in my first book, Sunflower Houses, so this basket is over twenty four years old.

An early, clip-on glass bunny.

A tiny cotton Santa and above his left shoulder is the ferry boat that traverses the sea between Anacortes and Orcas Island where we once had a tiny cottage. Waiting for the ferry was always so exciting.

This is as close as Jeff will get to having the sailboat of his dreams!

Or maybe this is! This red canoe is in honor of the one we have in Maine. This canoe topped my 50th birthday cake and now always sits in a place of honor in our tree.

The little clip-on chicken is one of my favorites. I think it is from the early 20th century.
Corny as it is, the Santa face ranks near the top of beloved keepsake memories. This is actually a half of a mussel shell, which has been painted with Santa's face. Our friends in the Brewer family took us out for a memorable boat ride and picnic at the tiny Burnt Island Lighthouse out of Boothbay Harbor. I bought some of these from the girls who lived out there and tended the island. When I hang these on the tree, I smell the aroma of the firs, the sound of our feet scrunching through the shell-strewn pathways, and I see the play of clear Maine light across the blue, blue waters of the bay. 

I'm a sucker for little holiday stockings.

An old, clip-on bird ornament was a gift from Susan Pendergast, who also made the string/garlands of old glass ornaments. Another few origami paper birds. I love their flight across the branches.

I treasure all the handmade ornaments sent to me by Suzanne, Down in the Meadow, all the way from South Africa.

Out come the old Christmas quilts and the memories of blazing sunshine over vast fields of antiques in Maine, Massachusetts, and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And the stockings from Christmas Cove Designs, which Jeff and I will fill with small gifts for each grand.

And five little socks to be stuffed for the faerie mailboxes out in our garden. I know that the more grown-up grands are shaky about their belief in the garden faeries, but they still go out to check their mailboxes and many times find fanciful gifts tucked inside them.

So now the stockings are stuffed, the tree is finally hung with the memories of our lives, and we await the arrival of family and friends, which is really what this season is all about.

I send love across the miles, and remember, the days are already beginning to lengthen; they're loping toward spring time. Holiday blessings and the warmth of love to you all.

Believe me dear friends, one doesn't need to grow up!

LUCKY US! Timber Press sent an offer for a give-away copy of Marta McDowell's new book about Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life. This is a must read for anyone who loves Beatrix and for anyone who loves a garden. This book is amazing! Be the lucky winner, just leave a comment on this blog posting. If you're an anonymous commenter, please check back to see if you've won Marta's book.

Remember, don't grow up!

Happy Holidays!


Saturday, December 7, 2013


This is Jake. He is my morning alarm clock. Jake taps at my bedroom window to let me know that it is breakfast time for him. So, I load his feeder with whole peanuts and he is a happy Scrub Jay.

Dear Friends

I know, I know, it has been a long, long time, but you all know what a hectic and joyous time of year this is. We had company for five days, cooked many meals, and had lots of great adventures. I am hoping that your Thanksgiving was wonderful and filled with love. Ours was. We celebrated our first Thanksgiving with a little boy who fought hard and long for life. He is our blessing.

Thanks so much for your letters, cards, and gifts. I can't believe how thoughtful you all are. Oh, and a wonderful gift was this autographed book from the author herself. It was a surprise, but oh how welcome in my library. 

Marta McDowell's book, Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life, is scholarly, but homey, elegant, and filled with information for all the fans of Beatrix and her works. I LOVE this book. For those of you who are Beatrix lovers too, please visit my blog posting I did on Beatrix's beloved Hilltop a few years ago.

Thanks dear Marta. I wish you great success. YOUR book is brilliant!

And to my dear Cousin Julie Marie at Thank you for the little squirrel friend who is doing her best to get me through my separation anxiety with my little Audrey.

As I work through 280 pages of what is called First Pass on my new middle grade novel, Running Out of Night, (Delacorte Press/Randon House, Fall 2014), the sights outside my window keep me going. What could be tedious and trying is punctuated by the beauty and grace of the birds in my life. I love them.

What better gift for a youngster than a simple feeder or a birdbath? Such a great way to introduce a child (or someone who is infirm and housebound) to the nature right outside a window. I treasure my bird friends and love them so much.

The shy Hermit Thrush visits a few times a day for berries and baths.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler ...

... drinking daintily.

Dear little Chestnut-backed Chickadees and White-crowned Sparrows feasting at the wooden feeder Jeff built for me. Such a busy stop for so many birds.

House Finches try to run the show...

...but the chickadee never gives up. (A good lesson for us all?)

An immature White-crowned Sparrow

Jeff shows our little guy how to feed the birds.

And at the window feeder he drops in seed by seed. Phew, that took awhile. This is a great feeder with heavy duty suction cups to hold it on the window and an easy fold out front for quick cleaning. This comes with my book My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder (Workman Publishing).

You're never too young to enjoy nature. And, never too old.

This is my girlfriend, author Sherry Shahan. Her grandsons used the recipe for my bird booster, which can be found in Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars and My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder.

Bird Booster Recipe: 

Note: please replace peanut butter with almond butter IF your child has an allergy to peanuts.

1 cup almond or crunchy peanut butter
1 cup canola oil
4 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup white flour
A few tablespoons of shelled sunflower seeds and/or raisins.

Mix together and stuff into a pine cone. Hang the cone from a wire or string. Place it where you and your children can enjoy all the activity. The birds need protein and fat during the winter months. Feed them and feed your soul!

NEWS FLASH!! The winner of Susan Branch's new book, A Fine Romance, has never responded. So Jeff did another random number generator choice and the winner is number 67, Bonnie K at Birds, Bees, Berries, and Blooms. Bonnie is a Grimy Hands Girls' Club member so she'll be receiving a bonus gift.

Joys to you and love across the miles,