1962, Hello-Goodbye

Quittin' time! Boy-oh-boy. I've worked hard this week. I've hacked my way through the forest of narrative, have slogged through the sludge of story, have reconfigured the path of possibilities, and have had several fantastic lunches along the way (none of which I can show you yet, because I don't know how to put images from my camera onto this ancient desktop, but I'll figure it out).

So... I'm officially declaring myself done-done for the week, at least with the actual words-to-paper of the narrative arc of Book One of the Sixties Trilogy. (Well... I will work this afternoon -- but the work will be administrative, not creative, and I will knock off at the end of the day freeeee, freeee, frreeeeee! until Monday. What a concept!)

I know the story will bubble this weekend while I do other things and, come Monday morning, I hope it will spill back onto the page. I'm taking the weekend off, and it's a rare thing. This is the third weekend -- in a row! -- I've deliberately taken off in the past SEVEN YEARS. No email, no administrivia, no computer whatsoever! BLISS.

Whatever happened to weekends? I got swallowed up in work, in survival, in keeping us solvent, keeping my daughter in college, keeping the house, keeping on, keeping on.

And the result? We've kept the house, we graduated college (heck, we got married!), we survived, and we thrived. We published LITTLE BIRD and ALL-STARS. And, thanks to Harcourt's good efforts, and now Scholastic's great support, and the support of all of you -- teachers, librarians, readers -- over the past seven years, I'm getting to take weekends off for a little while -- hope hope. We're trying it, anyway.

What I've been working on this week is shown in today's photos. The first book of the trilogy takes place in 1962. I'm immersed now in all things early-Sixties. What do you remember of the Sixties? Were you HERE? (There?) I was eight-... and then turned nine-years-old -- in 1962. This week, I've been playing music from 1962 (Big-Girls-Don't-Cry! -- sing it, Frankie Vallie! Sing it loud!). I've been culling photographs (trying to make sure I credit all of them and get permissions -- bear with me, please, this is a staggering job), studying news stories... and, as much as I love civil rights and feel close to that topic (witness FREEDOM SUMMER... and there is MUCH to write about, concerning civil rights, in the early Sixties), I'm going to reserve my focus on civil rights for the 1966 book, which I will start next, and concentrate now on two main events: the space race, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. I've started over with a school scene -- remember, those of you who were kids in the Sixties, ducking and covering under your desks? Remember how glamorous were those astronauts? Remember meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans?

Did we really look like this in 1962?

Maybe some of us did. Advertisers wanted us to think we did. The way we never were, says a friend of mine. Maybe so. But this is how I see Franny and her family, as Book One opens... this is how I see them on the surface. This is how they strive to look to others... because this was the American Dream, was it not?

And yet, in 1962, we also looked like this:

and like this:

And we were on the cusp of this:

Every ending is a new beginning... I tell my students this all the time. As the Fifties ended and the Sixties began, we were on the cusp of more changes than we could imagine. As each day, month, year ended, we barely knew what to expect as the next beginning.

I've been thinking about this in my own life lately... an end of 7-day work weeks. A beginning to weekends off (I will have pictures for you next week, of our Grand Adventure in the North Georgia Mountains!).

And another end/beginning: Today is the last day Harcourt's San Diego office is officially open. The merger between Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt is complete. Next week, the official HMH -- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt -- becomes the official caretaker of my backlist -- LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS and ONE WIDE SKY. I need to update my website calendar page to reflect new contact information. I will. And a new era begins.

In LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, Miss Eula tries to convince a disconsolate Ruby (and herself) that "life does go on." And, as Ruby learns, it does indeed.

But I can't let a new era begin without honoring what-was... and so here is a loving shout-out to everyone I've worked with at Harcourt for the past 12 years -- Liz, Kate, Lori, Robin, Mary, Allyn, Kia (Author Promotions Goddess), Kara, Steve, Roseleigh, Amanda, Vaughn, Morgan, ELLEN!, Dan, and more... I miss you already. May the wind be at your back. It was my pleasure and honor to work with you. Thank you for everything -- and I do mean... everything.

And to those staying with the newly-merged company -- Jen, Paul, Laurie, Sarah, Barb, Kathy, Jeannette, and a scattering of others I know, here's to 12 more years -- at least.

AND, finally, to all the new HM folks I've met already -- (hey, Betsy... and Linda, I've still got that photo of us with Indy...), and to those I've yet to meet, thank you for welcoming me so warmly to the new HMH family. I hope to do you proud. Here's to our good work ahead.

Here's to a great weekend as well, for all of us. See you next week, refreshed, renewed, and digging back into the Sixties.... beginning again.

Clicking on Happiness

The laptop (with photos) is in the shop, so I'm being creative with photos on the desktop this week, and here are some words, as I am thinking about mothering and mothers and children, as I write away about this chaotic family I've been creating in Book One of the Sixties Trilogy.

While I was still a kid (there I am with birthday cake), I knew I wanted to be a mother. I played house and was the best mother ever... I knew just what to do when my baby cried, just how to make her happy, how to feed her, clothe her, take good care of her.

I played countless games of house with my little sister, here standing between me and my best friend Gale, where I was the ever-good mother and she was the ever-good daughter. This game worked much better than playing school, wherein I was the ever-good teacher, but I just could not teach my sister how to read.

As I got older -- here I am in my senior year of high school -- I knew how I would make my mother-dreams come true, too. I would have seven children -- I even had them named -- and I would teach them everything from scratch... we would cook from scratch, sew from scratch, grow a garden, read together, sleep in a house near a strawberry patch, have a few chickens in the back yard and gently gather their eggs -- and we would exist in a small universe of our own making, loved by the Prince Charming I married, and be blissfully happy.

Well.... it didn't happen exactly that way. Here I am about a year and half after the above picture. I did get my wish. I became a mother, and I had four children. I was 18 years old when I first became pregnant, still a child myself, and I went scurrying down the rabbit hole of survival, trying for the next 35 years to make the dream I had had since childhood come true.

And sometimes, it did come true.

When we were at our poorest, we still took walks with a "possible bag" and gathered acorns and wooly worms and leaves and interesting rocks.

I rocked my children to sleep to my one James Taylor record, and I taught them every song I could remember from my own childhood -- we had a repertoire. I read to them and sang with them so much, they all talked in full sentences -- paragraphs -- before they were two years old.

We walked the mile to the library for the week's supply of books.

We sat on the grass by the Jefferson Memorial in D.C. and listened to the free concerts by the Navy and Air Force and Army bands.

We cooked together, ate together, even slept together at one point -- several points -- along the way.

And when we were less poor (but still, for several years, oh-so-careful) and found ourselves in the house we would inhabit for 25 years in Frederick, Maryland, there was a garden. Sheets blew in the breeze from the clothesline. There was a sandbox, a wading pool, a tree fort, and days of cooking from scratch and putting up strawberry jam, and canning green beans and tomatoes, and tents in the back yard, and trips to the beach, and stories told in the dark.

I tried to create an idyllic existence for us -- a caring, loving, joy-filled home. But I was only one person, working against great odds.

I wonder if that is even fair to say. But I will leave it. For much of the time, there were two of us, two parents. But doing one's duty (a relative term) is not the same as standing back and looking at each child and asking, "Who are you, today, and what do you need?" And, as a mother, it is all but impossible to listen for the answer, when the battle is raging within and without.

That may be too elliptical, but if you have been there, you will know exactly what I mean.

But you know... I tried. And I am still trying. And sometimes, it is idyllic, still today. Sometimes my dreams come true... and perhaps, as Comfort learns in EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS, we take the hand we are dealt, and we create our dreams out of that hand -- we find our happiness.

I certainly have found happiness. I've found delight! I have found it all along; even in the midst of poverty, there are golden moments. There are. And all along the path there is happiness, and delight, in small moments, tiny treasures, a smile, a sigh, an understanding. Uncle Edisto reminds us that we cannot have joy without sorrow, pleasure without pain, day without night. But we are promised that the cycle begins again, every ending a new beginning. I count on that.

As I read Amanda Soule's blog, SouleMama, I nod my head, over and over, at how -- at least on the outside, with the glimpses she gives us -- she is getting it right. She's doing the things that, in my twenties and thirties, I wanted to do with my children, my family, my life. She has a good partner -- that means everything -- and she will be the first to say so. I love this blog because it reminds me of all I wanted to do right -- and often did. Often did! Yes... I did. We did. I don't have regrets as I read it. I have moments of recognition and resonance. And I cheer Amanda (and her husband) on, because I know they are making a difference in the world, and certainly in their children's lives.

I read SouleMama and think, too, that if I had had -- what? Support? Love? Empathy? Resources? A few years of growing older? The ability to think for myself earlier? Smarts? Heart? (oh, no, I had heart...) Etc... I would have had the luxury of creating fully the life I see on the page at SouleMama... but you know... it's okay. It is what it is. And that's my hand. And many times, that hand was very good.

Not wishing for what might have been is an important step in growing up, coming to terms, accepting, moving on, creating anew. Working with what is, and what might yet be -- that's where it's at. That's where authentic power lies, too... in letting go of what wasn't.

This letting go and embracing what IS, has brought me a healthy measure of forgiveness, both for myself and for others, and it has brought me, surprisingly... happiness. I love that I tried so hard even though I was so ignorant, that I got better and better as I tried, that when I stumbled (often) I picked myself up and started over again, and that I can look back on those years of raising children -- and myself -- and know that, at every turn, I did my best with what I had to work with. I'll bet you did -- do -- too.

I can live with that. I know you can, too. It's all we can ask of ourselves.

I am always learning, always at the beginning (beginner's mind, the Zen masters tell us), and because I want to learn, I know there is always a new understanding, there is always healing, there is always another chance to grow beyond where I am. And I love the learning. The Zen masters say we will even grow to love the pain. I'm waiting on that one. So is Comfort.

In the meantime, I read SouleMama each week, and here are the other blogs, related to my current studying and longtime interests and comfort reading, that I am clicking on:

Little Homestead in the City -- when I was a teenager in the late '60s and early '70s, I wanted to live off the land, not in a commune, but I wanted to be self-sufficient, with Prince Charming and our kids, and I thought that was the way to save the planet and live a wholesome life, with my granola recipe and a lotta heart. It didn't happen that way, but the Dervaes family is making their living-off-the-land lifestyle work, in Pasadena, California, in the middle of their neighborhood, and 100 yards from a freeway. I find their blog fascinating, and I read it weekly just to see what they are harvesting and eating, but also for ideas for my own homestead, here in Atlanta, as I work toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

101 Cookbooks. Y'all have heard me talk about Heidi Swanson's blog before, especially her Lively-Up Yourself Lentil Soup recipe. Most cooking blogs are for-reading, for me, but I actually make many of the recipes that Heidi posts.

Wish Jar. Keri Smith's blog. Keri doesn't post as much as she did before her son was born, but I love her take on creativity and art.

There are more, but this will do for now... just wanted to connect this week, as I work away on the next book, and think about the days when I was ten, and when my own kids were ten, and remember what I loved about those days.

I'm re-creating them in the Sixties Trilogy, and also in real life. When the workers are done in three weeks' time, I will have a sewing room downstairs, into which will go all I've been saving and storing all over the house, squirreling away for literally years, working at a card table or kitchen table, waiting for just such a room.

Now there will be a structured place for the fabric, notions, yarns, quilting supplies, knitting and crochet needles, paints, brushes, construction paper, glue, patterns galore, buttons, and more... daughter Hannah and I are excited about the possibilities. There will be space for a desk for Hannah and a long work table for me.

There will also be a storage room for future jars of jam, should we get so industrious again. There will be an official laundry room as well -- indispensable! I sewed some of each child's clothes years ago -- I will make a quilt with the clothes I've saved. I'll make more clothes. I'll make... the list is endless. To create....

Today, as I come off the road frenzy and enter summer, the garden grows outside, the canoe waits on its sawhorses, and maybe I will even make a sandbox... my staff comes over every day to visit, and she tells me she needs a sandbox. Maybe I'll pull out that wading pool, too. It's never too late.

It's never too late for dreams to come true, to choose to live in that caring, loving, joy-filled home that is the reality I've worked toward all my life, to continue to ask my now-grown children, "Who are you, and what do you need today?" and be able to listen, listen with the perspective of years and experience and beginning again, over and over... and from a place of happiness and safety and purpose I have created for myself and those I love (that lovely, extended family of chance and choice)... with a Prince Charming thrown in for good measure. Who knew? Who knew. Who knew.

To Create....

One of yesterday's Google daily quotes was from Thomas Edison:

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.

And, I would add, a good staff:

Dig those shoes! And those pigtails! Emma is the flower girl at her uncle's wedding next weekend, and we are practicing "Here Comes The Bride" (Jim plays it on the piano) while Emma strews pink petals from her basket and walks "down the aisle" -- well, so far only her mother is walking down the aisle, but we're going to keep at it. Some would say this sort of activity is distracting. I call it part of the pile of junk. Or is it part of the imagination?

I would also add that creativity needs a good lunch. Here's what we found at the farmer's market this week, and a sample of lunch times (our big meal of the day) at our home, where Jim and I work, live, sleep.

My notebooks are full of grocery lists. Right in the middle of working out a story, here comes a page with eggs, celery, broccoli written on it... or to-do lists. Last week, I had written, right across the top of the page in all caps: PAY QUARTERLY TAXES!!


Self-employed people pay twice the FICA, since we are employer and employee (if you work for a company, that company pays FICA taxes to the IRS, just like you do and in equal amounts), and I can grouse about that, but mostly I consider it part of the price I pay to be my own employer, which I love.

I can come to work in my pajamas (I'm in my pajamas right now), sit with my laptop anywhere I want (I'm sitting in the family room, in the pink chair, looking out at the back yard), and work on whatever I choose (I'm blogging now; later I will work on the novel). I can invent to my heart's content, and stop to make a midday meal, to work in the garden, to practice the wedding march with a young friend.

I'm pretty sure Edison was talking about inventions of the mechanical, electrical, or physical kind, but what I heard as I read that quote was "create" in addition to "invent." To create, to invent, requires more than that pile of junk and imagination.

It requires a degree of safety, too,
and stability... unless you are in one of those movies where time is running out and necessity is the mother of invention and survival -- but that's another story.

For me, creating, inventing, requires a fairly stable life, a sense of safety and community, a pretty good diet of friends and food and music and laughter and also solitude. Balance. Willingness. Desire. Perseverance.

Also, perhaps, a room of one's own -- my entire living room (the living/dining room) is my office. When I shut the doors, no one enters, no one even knocks unless he is on fire or bleeding. Well, not really. But I can squirrel myself away in my office for hours on end, and just... write. And I do.

And a muse -- creativity requires a muse! There sits my muse, with his hand drum, trying to keep time while Cyndi sings us a song. My office door (one of two) is right behind Jim's right arm. It's closed, but I'm not in it -- I'm enjoying the company... and the music.

And lastly... I need a place to retreat to that has nothing to do with writing. A walk up Stone Mountain. A red chair in my garden. A place where the writing rests, although it bubbles underneath, and I can focus on nothing. Or something else -- weeds, say. Or neighbors. The cat. The lunch in my lap. The sun on my face. The world at my fingertips.

What do you need to create? To invent? Do you have it? How can you get it? What would your list look like if you headed it "To Invent..." or "To Create...."

See you next week. I'm off to create.

Summer Reading, Writing, and Renovation

This is the 11th year for the Brookwood Cluster Children's Reading and Writing Inititative in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and I got to participate this year -- yesterday, as a matter of fact.

I have long been skeptical about my teaching-writing abilities with kindergartners. I'm great in assembly -- we sing, we dance, we talk about how stories have beginnings, middles, ends, and I use ONE WIDE SKY and my back yard as an example of telling a story -- a personal narrative -- that comes from what you know, feel, and can imagine. But the actual teaching of writing... that's another animal, and one I am not trained for with Ks and first graders... and they were my first group yesterday.

And... they surprised me! What sponges they are (this never surprises me), and what they connected to! Here they are, getting ready to write after a scintillating talk by me, and a singing/dancing together of ONE WIDE SKY.

These Ks were full of enthusiasm, ideas, and scribbles -- "One thing I can feel and see in my yard, but only early in the morning, is the dew on the grass."

Whoa! Write that down immediately! What memory do you have of that dew? Did it surprise you when you first saw it, stepped on it? That's a story! And a teacher followed up with, "Have you ever seen dew on a spider web?" to which another K answered, "Oh, that is so beautiful -- shimmery!"

Write that down! And on we went.

Here are first graders (rising second graders) on the floor with their notebooks -- I have students bring their notebooks to assembly now, all the time. They doodle, they write down connections, and I am very directive now -- "Write that down! Put it in your notebook!"

Yesterday went so well -- and I could see that teachers were enthusiastic and skilled and ready to take the nuggets their students had started and help those writers turn those nuggets into stories. Still, I know my teaching strength (and my training) lies in grades 3 and above -- and my sweet spot is grades 4 and 5.

So when I moved on to grades 2-5, I felt even more at home. In this photo, if you squint, you can see Kathy McKinzey in the background. Kathy organized this Institute, and hired me to come work yesterday. Thank you Kathy, and thank you, teachers, for your students!

In the foreground with moi is one of the Institute teachers, Debra Ferguson, smiling and wearing that stunning yellow headband. Turns out she was Flannery Williams's third-grade teacher, and Flannery is my friend, too, the daughter of Jim Williams, who is doing the fabulous remodeling at my house.

You can see Jim Williams on the left, peering out the window openings he has just cut in the new basement room, where we will eventually have a sewing room and husband Jim's renovated studio.

Husband Jim is on the right, holding a drill. Says Jim Williams, laughing, "He's trying to pass!" Yeah, he is -- we all laughed. But Jim didn't try long. He went back to his piano, where he doesn't have to pass -- he's king. Each to his own talents, I say. Thank goodness there are so many of us with such varied talents and passions. Yesterday's young writers had a passion for story, which helps so much when it comes to writing. How many of us have to "pass" with writing? It's not everyone's "thing," is it? One reason I have students bring notebooks and tell them to feel free to doodle, is because I know some of them need to do this. Some need to sing -- so let's sing in assembly. Some need to move, so let's move in assembly. Etc. I'm still learning, always learning, and every time I stand in front of students and teach, I am humbled. I learn more.

So. Each to his or her talents -- hooray for discovering what we love and developing that talent.

Here's Jim Williams, installing the windows. Notice the mother of all hydrangea bushes taking over my back yard!

Finished. Beautiful good work.

On to the bamboo floors in Jim's studio. We've already got so much more light in the basement. Light is good. Work is good. Dew is good. Stories are good. Ways to tell stories are important. Pictures tell a story. Jim Williams's renovation is a story, happening right before our eyes.

And you are stories -- thank you so much for your check-ins! Thanks for all the lovely congrats on my book news -- I'm still reveling in it. And thanks for telling me what you're up to: travel and study and family and nothingness figure largely in your plans this summer. Cool. Writing, too! I'm so glad. I'm sitting here at Mighty Joe Espresso, finishing this blog entry, and now turning my attentions to a new chapter one for Book One of the Sixties Trilogy. I need a new beginning. Sigh. SIGH.

S'okay. Will do. Each ending is a new beginning, as I tell my students, as I told the K-5 kids yesterday in their writing institute. I will practice what I preach, and get to work this morning.

Two Very Good Pieces of Book News

Aside, before I get started: Here's a shout-out to my teacher and librarian friends in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids -- let me know you are okay, will you? JulieL? Cindy? Connie? Anne Marie? Becky? Barb and Paula? And Treva -- where are you? Check in, check in.

Here I am, here I am, early on a Monday morning, to jump on the bed and shout:

EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS has won the California Young Reader Medal!


Thank you so very much, California Readers! None of my books has ever won a state award, although LITTLE BIRD has so far been on 24 state lists, and RUBY was on 26!

And I truly understand and believe that the nomination is the cake -- it's tops. My books have been blessed to be on these state lists, voted on by children. The lists have increased the visibility of my books and have gotten them into the hands of young readers, which is what it's all about. I have been blessed by having my books on these lists, too -- because I've had a book on state lists, I have been invited to speak in these states, to visit schools and conferences, and I have met so many wonderful folks I never would have met otherwise -- my life has been enriched.

So. State Book Award Lists. A Very Good Thing. Thank you so much to librarians and teachers and young readers in all states who make up these lists and read read read -- and vote!

To have a book that has won a state book award -- I don't know what to say! Thank you, of course... and then... I can't wait to see you in February, during the awards ceremony in Santa Clara -- can't wait to thank you in person. It's a humbling experience to be part of the same list of award winners with Sharon Creech and Kate DiCamillo and Christopher Paul Curtis.

California, here I come. February 22.

Very Good Book News #2:

ALL-STARS has been nominated for the SIBA BOOK AWARD! Be still my heart. Southern booksellers nominate their favorite books for this award each year -- and again, it is such an honor to be nominated! RUBY was a SIBA nominee in 2002, and now here comes a nomination for ALL-STARS, my newest book, all about two boys who want to play baseball, in Halleluia, Mississippi on the same day the county plans to celebrate its 200th birthday, with a pageant full of children whose Mamas insist they participate -- and that goes for the ballplayers, too.

ALL-STARS is a book about baseball, Walt Whitman's poetry, and all kinds of literature: OUR TOWN by Thornton Wilder, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee, GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Dickens, and more. Not to mention a lot of laughs -- Frances Schotz, age 14, is in charge of the pageant. She has been off to boarding school, has taken too much French and too much drama, and has renamed herself Finesse. She is responsible for having broken our hero's pitching arm the year before, when she collided with him in the midst of an interpretive dance. There's an old man with a secret. An old man with a past. And a baseball game that, I hope, will have you on the edge of your seat, wondering what happens next.

To have this book honored by SIBA -- Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, is such icing on the cake -- chocolate icing, to boot. Thank you, SIBA! I am in great good company this year, too. Two friends: Kerry Madden's LOUISIANA'S SONG is also nominated, as is SOMETHING ROTTEN by Alan Gratz. I'll meet the other two nominees that I don't know -- see the list here. We'll be together on Labor Day weekend, when the award is ... awarded... at the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, Georgia.

Can't wait for time with book buds. For now, my head is down and I'm plowing ahead with Book One of the Sixties Trilogy, as well as a picture book project that has grabbed me by the ear and won't let me go. I've also started an essay I want to finish today -- here's the first line:

"So far the Obama For President Campaign has cost me $56 and a macaroni and cheese casserole."

I'm not on the front lines, like my daughter is, but I'm listening to her stories. More on writing soon, as well as a look at my lunches this week. I know you can't wait.

Big congratulations and kudos to Walter Mayes on finishing his grand run as THE Man of La Mancha in San Francisco!

Back to work. It is finally glorious summer. What are you working on this week?

Tampa Teachers Today

Hey there. Me 'n this sandhill crane are in Tampa, on my last official trip of this school year, where I'm working with Hillsborough County Teachers -- 800 of 'em. Hillsborough County is the 8th-largest school district in the United States. Literacy Compass sets up this conference, and this is my second year participating. It's great good work, and lots of fun, to boot.

I do two breakout sessions this morning, and the closing keynote this afternoon, me and Pam Munoz Ryan. We're having fun reconnecting... last time we worked together we were in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. RobinH, we both send you our love and admiration!

Conferences stretch me, teach me, and get me together with colleagues and friends -- often we live so far away from each other, we'd never see one another otherwise.

I have book news. But... I'm late for work this morning, so I'll post it tomorrow -- how's that? Whoo-hoo, two posts in one week, be still my heart.

I'll be talking about the Sixties Trilogy today (we sang Beatles songs at dinner last night -- Steve Swinburne and Mike Shoulders led the way with a room full of teachers, but I had to keep them straight on lyrics -- my specialty). I'll also talk today about a favorite teacher, Mary Farrell, who taught music at Camp Springs Elementary School in Camp Springs, Maryland in the early-to-mid Sixties. My dad was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base and we lived in Camp Springs for seven years -- unusual in an Air Force career, but oh-so-wonderful for a kid growing up from ages 8 to 15.

Mary Farrell changed my life. As I journaled about her in my notebook, in preparation for writing today's speech, a flood of memories came back to me, things I hadn't thought about in years. Mary Farrell... she wore silk stockings short (well, right above the knee) Jackie-Kennedy-like dresses. When she sat down next to me at the piano, I could see that she didn't shave her legs above her knees -- I noticed things like that then. Maybe because I so desperately wanted to shave my legs and my mother wouldn't let me.

Such a small memory, but it's important to the whole picture, it helps to complete it. "God is in the details," who said that? I don't remember, but I do know that a good story lies in the details.

What teacher changed your life? How did he or she do it? Mary Farrell translated love. That's the title of my talk today: Translate Love. Miss Farrell loved music so much, was so passionate about it, so excited to share it, that we fell all over our ten-year-old selves wanting to know what she knew, wanting to hear more of that classical music, wanting to sing out those tunes from the Great American Songbook -- in four-part harmony, no less! -- wanting to please her, wanting to master what she had to share with us. Miss Farrell was a force of nature. And when she first walked into my fourth-grade classroom, she was 22 years old, just out of college.

"How did you do it?" I asked her, when I met her again many years later.

"No one told me I couldn't," she said.

This is a model for our times.

Slow Motion, Fast Forward

The past three weeks -- has it been three weeks already? Yes, it has -- the past three weeks I've moved along like a swimmer underwater, in a surreal place "in between." Between one life and another, although of course I am still living the same life. But... it's different, somehow, knowing that my girl is graduated, there is no more tuition, no more financial aid, no more lots of things... but brand-new other things, such as these novels I'm writing for Scholastic that are getting some good attention from me, finally. It's amazing to think of months ahead of me -- months! -- to sit down every morning with the next story and just... write. What a treat. In the meantime, I have finished up spring travels, which held lots of treats of a different kind. Here are lots of catch-up photos, all taken in the past three weeks.

Went to Gainesville, Georgia and worked with my good friends at Scholastic Book Fairs, got to meet fabulous Hall County teachers -- here we are, gathered together after a high tea we all attended. Thank you, teachers, and thank you, SBFs -- such a pleasure whenever I get to work with y'all.

Met Joe Davich of Georgia Center for the Book, and friend Elizabeth Dulemba at Little Shop of Stories in nearby Decatur, at ArtWalk, and the opening of the exhibit of original art by local children's book illustrators.

Lots of good work in Columbia, Missouri, with 1200 fourth- and fifth-graders and their teachers and parents.

Four local school visits. This was my lunch one day:


And these were some of my lunchmates, at E.J. Swint Elementary School in Jonesboro, GA:


I had a blast at E.J. Swint -- wonderful students, well-prepared by their teachers and by Trish Vlastnik, Media Specialist Extraordinaire. Thanks to all of you for the special day.

I've been home now for a week, sitting around in a fog, recovering, readjusting, realigning myself for summer.

Now, lunch looks like this:

and this:

And the landscape of daily life changes.

Here are two baby bunnies that Cleebo brought to the back door. He wanted to keep them. We found a wildlife rehabilitator to take care of them until they are old enough to be released on their own.

Here's Gus the cat, recovering from the May 10 party.


Jim Williams and Stoney Vance have returned. Now they are renovating the basement, to give us a studio for husband Jim and his music.

Found this '50s couch at Kudzu; it will go in Jim's new studio.


This is my studio now...

Birthday Boy -- today is son Jason's 34th birthday. Happy Birthday, Jason.

And this girl? Here's the graduate. She's got a history degree with a minor in art history. She will help me research this summer, as I work forward on the Sixties Trilogy. I have her attention until June 14, when she goes to work for the Obama campaign here in Georgia. Oh, to be 22 and in love with the world of possibilities! This is good.

Well, I'm 55 and in love with the world of possibilities -- this is good, too.

I'm a bit like Gus the cat, still recovering from April and May -- maybe that's why there is that underwater feel to the days now. I can feel some energy seeping in around the edges of my weariness. It's good writing energy -- I will need it in the days and weeks and months to come. Where is my notebook?