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From "The Oregonian"

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on Sunday, 07 September 2008
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Oct. 18-Nov. 9 "GOSSAMER"

Winter Wagner, Chase Klotter and Vana O'Brien In "Gossamer" at the Oregon Children's Theatre

Adapted by the Newbery award-winning children's author Lois Lowry from her 2006 novel, "Gossamer" tells a story at once magical and wrenching, taking place on both sides of the veil of sleep. In the wakeful world, an unemployed single mother, a troubled boy and a caring foster parent struggle with the scars of abuse and loss. In the realm of night, spirit creatures gather fragments of memory from people, blend them and bestow them as dreams.

But things are not simple and safe even within our slumbers. Co-commissioned by Oregon Children's Theatre, along with First Stage Children's Theater of Milwaukee, it's a fascinating, lyrical tale that doesn't shy from life's darker truths (it's recommended for ages 10 and up) yet treats them with sensitivity and heart. Stan Foote directs a fine cast including Vana O'Brien, Gary Norman and Rebecca Martinez. Winningstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway; $16-$24;www.ticketmaster.com, 503-790-2787 or 503-228-9571

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dawnzerly light

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on Thursday, 04 September 2008
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DawnHere's the back lawn at sunrise on an early September morning. This is the best time of year here with the tourists gone home (I know I know, I'm a "summer person"myself) though it means the Lobster Pound has closed for the season and the summer theater is dark now as well.   Birds are still singing (and cawing) early in the morning, and flowers are still blooming in the gardens, but somehow things are quieter, slower, as Summer winds down and Fall moves in.


And next week I will go back to real life and to a schedule that includes too much traveling, as always. One brief trip to Chicago, though, is to an event that celebrates (wrong word)..acknowledges...Banned Books week; many authors who have been banned will be there, each speaking/reading briefly. Among those I know will be Judy Blume and Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, so it will be good, as it always is, to be with colleagues.  And we will be there together for the first (September 26th) Obama-McCain debate. Judy and Phyllis are both passionate Obama supporters as I am  (I wonder whether it will come up during the Banned Books event that Sarah Palin tried (and failed) to have books removed from her town library).

I just discovered (after checking a small fact with an educator friend, who had to call upon some other experts and finally got back to me) that I wrote an error into the February Gooney Bird book that I'm currently working on, and now my task this week is to go back, remove it, and then smooth the narrative around it. A nuisance. But better to find out now, while the book is still being written, than much farther along.

In the midst of puttering with that today I also have to take the dog to the vet for a booster shot, and make an apple pie because I volunteered to take dessert to a dinner party at the home of friends (also summer residents who have stayed past Labor Day before they return to NYC) tonight.  

Tom the Exterminator just called to say he will be here Monday with his potions intended to ward off the Fall influx of mice as they retreat from the fields and stake out their winter dwellings. Time to invoke my annual rodent poem:

Welcome to you, little mouse!
Please come in my cozy house!
Want some goodies? Take your pick:
Cyanide, or arsenic!








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End of Summer

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on Monday, 01 September 2008
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I hated writing those three words. End of Summer.  As it always does, it has gone by too quickly. I am here in Maine for 10 more days, alone now after company coming and going for the past three weeks, catching up now on neglected writing, and starting to put the house to sleep for the winter: ACs out of the windows; Adirondack  chairs off the lawn and into the barn; Furnace Guy coming for Fall furnace cleaning; Exterminator Guy coming with his ward-off-mice methods. (I feel them gathering outside, preparing their attack: "You three dozen over there, you get in under the garage door and head for the laundry room"; "You twelve big guys, you enter through a basement window, then go directly to the pantry; start with the box of Bisquick; gnaw on the lower corner" etc. etc.)


There have been some difficult times in the past month. For one, my friend Deborah who had a successful heart transplant two summers ago, had an emergency that meant that her lovely healthy heart had to celebrate its second birthday in Massachusetts General Hospital, the same place where it was placed into her chest in August 2006. But Deb - and her heart - are home now and recuperating. She and Jack (here they are) have a fall trip planned to Nova Scotia and I hope this setback won't ruin that for them.

Deb&JackJuly2006

Alfie has had a series of dog visitors, including his German Shepherd friend Sophie, and (here shown) his big Newfie friend, Bear. He went (with his humans) one August Saturday to New Hampshire to lunch with the family of his corgi frend Charlotte, and afterward had to write a note of apology: "Dear Charlotte: It was a lovely visit but I must apologize that I peed in your house. It was the excitement of being with a beautiful female." Later Charlotte replied in an understanding way, saying "I am currently in New York and just peed in an elevator. It happens to the best of us."


Bear & Alfie

One thing I am waiting for before I go back to Cambridge is the return of a painting that is out on loan to an exhibition. It's a large oil done by my friend Bill Manning many years ago and I value it especially because he no longer paints in this style. The exhibition is a retrospective of his work, and though I like his current work very much, (and will also include a current work of his, a piece that many would like to call sculpture, but Bill prefers "standing painiting") still I am nostalgic about the early oils.

Manning

The 3-dimensional piece, incidentally, is in front of a painting by another favorite contemporary painter of mine, Lloyd Martin.

Manning #2

Okay, this is more than you wanted to know about my house, about my art collection, about my dog's social and urological life and my friends' medical crises.  And I haven't even (yet) mentioned the DNC ( great speeches by Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama) or the Olympics (closing ceremonies: the most astounding tasteless excess I've ever seen. Just when you thought —after the dancing people leaping from the London bus—there could be nothing left to throw into the awful mix, the giant panda appeared. Martin didn't even watch because he is a wise man with a sense of maintaining one's dignity. Me, I'm the person who leans out the window to peer at  car wrecks on the highway; and with the same can-this-really-be-happening look on my face, I watched to the very end, the last  lip-synch, the final firework.)

Now that I am alone here, I am watching on DVD the first season of "Mad Man"...which I had missed; and also "Dexter" ...which my partner-in-crime, writer Susan Goodman, brought me when she came to visit a couple of weeks ago.  That's in the evenings (and Dexter is kind of scary in the evening, when you're alone except for a dog who is as vigilant and protective as a teddy bear).  In the daytime, I am re-opening and re-writing and re-thinking the two manuscripts I've been neglecting. Sometimes work benefits from temporary neglect.  You notice things when you come back to it: things badly done, needing change, things unclear. So I will work hard in this next ten days, then return to Cambridge, I hope with a feeling of things really-in-progress. But also I return to a brutal schedule of upcoming trips: Connecticut, Milwaukee, Chicago, Orlando, Nebraska...

Back to work now.


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It's me again....

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on Thursday, 14 August 2008
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...and I've been away from this blog longer than I'd like.  Much company here at the farm...women friends coming and going, and overlapping, last week; then Martin came up Friday and stayed till yesterday (Wednesday) and while he was here some good friends form Brookline,MA came for three days.  All of that is TMI, as kids say...too much information...but it is also an apology for ignoring the blog, and also ignoring working for too long.  I am alone here, now, and getting back into the routine of writing.

Thanks to Oprah for including THE WILLOUGHBYS on her "Recommended Kids' Books" list!

It has rained continuously for two weeks, though finally...FINALLY.... the sun has been out for two days. Here (below) is one of those miraculous moments that happens sometimes when you are about to scream. Can you see the rainbow? It's a little faint because it took me some time to run and find my camera, and the original brilliance had begun to fade.

Rainbow

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Blueberries for Sal.....

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on Monday, 04 August 2008
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...and for Kay, and Mara, and Middy, and Jean, and Susan...all women friends who are coming up to Maine this week for a visit.  It is the height of blueberry season and these came from a twenty-minute stint out in the field behind my house.


BlueberriesThe hardest part of blueberry picking is not the picking, but the cleaning afterward...all those teeny twigs and leaves!

But here is the outcome:

Blueberry dessert
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country stuff. A rescue!

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on Sunday, 03 August 2008
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Last weekend, in Maine, I began hearing sounds in an unused chimney that runs behind the kitchen stove. At one time, obviously, there had been a woodstove there because there is still a (covered) opening where a stovepipe had once been connected.  I was afraid, though, to take that cover off because I was afraid an entire family of trapped squirrels would leap out at me if I did. The noise...chirping, chittering, skittering...was periodically very loud, other times completely silent.  Finally I called Tom, my exterminator, who previously had had to deal here only with the ubiquitous mice, plus once with powder-post beetles in the barn. He said he'd come Friday.


Then I went to Cambridge for three days, for a dental appointment and to do a reading at a writers' conference.  A friend had told me how squirrels—or maybe just one squirrel—had gotten trapped inside her country house, and had chewed through all the window frames in an attempt to escape before dying of starvation on her bed. I worried a bit about my trapped squirrels in their desperation pushing open that stovepipe cover and destroying my house...but when I returned here, Thursday, the opening was still closed, but the noise in the chimney was still substantial.

Tom came Friday morning.  Here you can see him at the opening over the stove...he had a mirror and a flashlight, but couldn't see what was obviously lower down inside the chimney.  So he went around to the back side of the chimney where it goes through the laundry room, and you can see him there (with Alfie's head, watching)  Finally, after having identified them with his light and mirror, he carefully lifted out two young birds. My guess is that they fell from a nest up on the top of the chimney. The mystery is what they had been living on for 10 days or so. They were chubby and feathered but unable to fly.

Tom laid them under a bush by the back door. When we went to check on them later, they had staggered out and limped/fluttered into the driveway and one onto a stone wall surrounding a garden. I lifted the second one into that garden and the first one made it on his own.  Where they are now...whether they survived..I don't know.

I do know that if I had been eight years old, I would have made a nest in a shoe box and put worms into the Cuisinart and given them names. The birds, not the worms.

Tom, above stoveTom & AlfieBird caughtBird on wall
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The Blues Sisters

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on Saturday, 26 July 2008
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I have actually been at my desk today for six hours straight, working, writing, with only a few internet excursions...one, to look at trips to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), a place I have always dreamed of going. Most people say, "you want to go WHERE?"  but finally I have a friend who says she'll go with me if we can both find the time, etc.  My own schedule is pretty self-defined because I am self-employed, but of course I have a ton of conferences and speaking engagements on my calendar.  And my partner-in-crime is a university professor so she has to work around that.  But I bet we can do it...sometime....if we put our minds to it.


Here is another comrade, this one my daughter. This snapshot was taken at her 50th birthday party in February, but it was just given to me. We look like the female versions of John Belushi and Dan Akroyd. She was born shortly before my 21st birthday (I had married at age 19) and was not an over-indulged child because her brother was born 12 months later, and then two more siblings in the ensuing two and a half years. Busy times!  But she was a fun and interesting child....and still has those qualities as an adult.

I think we look very cool here, as if we are up to mischief.

Lois and Max
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Taking the Rabbit

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on Friday, 25 July 2008
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OKay, this is procrastination of the worst kind.  I should be working.  But I sat down early this morning with a cup of coffee and the local weekly small town paper.  And the NY Times, as well; I went to the store at 7 AM, when it opens, to get the Times; I can't get it delivered here, the way I do at home.  But somehow on a summer morning in rural Maine, it is the local paper that holds my interest.


First, a wonderful obituary for Peter Terry, who built my pump house several years ago, to cover an old well we re-activated in order to provide gardening water. Miraculously Peter built the little pump house, which is behind the barn, to match the lines of the barn, the same slant to the roof. He was a lovely man, greatly cherished by his family, and after he was diagnosed some months ago with terminal cancer, he remained at home with hospice care and round-the-clock devotion from his wife and children and grandchildren.  Just before I left for Montana  two weeks ago, his daughter called me and invited me down to be among those listening as Peter's brother, Brad, a well-known clarinetist, and his protegé, a young Polish pianist, played for Peter, who was listening from his bed. It was a lovely hour, not at all sad despite the circumstances, with great music and with Peter smiling. And now he is gone, as so many good people are, leaving wonderful memories for a lot of people.

When I looked through the photographs on my computer...and did indeed find one of Peter constructing the pump house, with his grandson Will helping....I also found a photo (unfortunately a little blurred; I took it at a party and had either too little light or too much wine, maybe a combination!) of another much-loved local man, too soon gone, Bob Dunning, craftsman extraordinaire, who died very suddenly last fall. I remember him bringing a group of people here last summer as part of a tour he led of "old New England barns"....he described to them the construction of this barn 200+ years ago. Now a wooden covered bridge is to be constructed, lovingly designed by local craftsmen, and it will go over  the small river that runs through Pondicherry Park, the wilderness park that enhances this little town through the generosity of landowners who donated the land to make it happen. Canoeists and kayakers will glide under Bob's bridge, some of them I suppose not knowing who he was, but all of them the beneficiaries of his memory.

Peter Terry
Bob Dunning


I suppose it falls into the sublime-to-ridiculous category that I then turned to the local police blotter in the paper, always a source of bemusement because each little notation is a hint at a larger story.  For example: 

2:10 PM   A caller on Beaver Creek Farm Road reported that some guys in a dark blue extended cab Chevy with Florida license plate tried to sell him some food at a very cheap price.

2:37 PM A woman from Walker Street reported that she would be in to the police station to make out a complaint against two neighbors "for going into the house and taking the rabbit and giving it away."

(Could these two incidents be related? We'll never know, but it does invite speculation, and I like to think that both Peter Terry and Bob Dunning would have laughed at that thought).




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Of course they read!

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Boys reading

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Monsoon Season

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I saw off my German family last night at the airport....Nadine, age fourteen, goes back school early in August, I hope with some very happy memories of Montana. She was practically glued to the saddle; on our last day there, she rode 17 miles on a trail in West Yellowstone.  Now she says she prefers Western style to English, which she has ridden since she was six, but it would be tough to find Western type riding in Germany.

Today I drove back to Maine with Alfie....one of the worst drives I've ever had up here: torrential rain all the way.  Usually a 3 hour trip, it took close to four and a half. But here we are, and happy to be here, although it is still pouring and Alfie does not want to go outside.

Tomorrow I will start back to work for real. I have five unscheduled, no-company days until next week when I  drive down to Cambridge in order to do a reading at a summer literary conference at Lesley University. I can do a lot in five days if I don't have to cook, do laundry, smile, be sociable. I have two projects in the works and have neglected them both for many days now. Sometimes, actually, time away from a manuscript is good. Your brain works on it while your fingers rest. At least you HOPE your brain does.

Here, from Montana, two sweet photos of my grandsons delivering a surprise gift of wildflowers to me:

Montana-OmaFlow…-bigreveal1Montana-OmaFlow…s-bigreveal
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All kinds of narrative

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Yesterday afternoon, here in Montana, my two grandsons and I hunkered down by the small stream that flows past my cabin. Using stones and twigs and sticks and plants, we built a miniature village with a wall around it, a sacred gate, a totem pole, two dwellings, a fire circle, and a path to the huge river, over which we built a bridge. We composed a chant involving the village crane (he was paper origami, nesting in a tree we had built from a forked stick) and then, chanting, we flew him to the river and let him sail away on its waves.


A large worm appeared, suddenly, in our little village, and was immediately dubbed Beast of the East.

It was all intriguing and exciting. But today it wasn't, anymore, and the boys went off to other things.

Village 1Village 2Village 3Village 5
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Yee Ha!

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I have been in Montana for this past week, with children and grandchildren...and laptop...thinking I would get some work done (WRONG) while they were all off riding, etc...but instead it is all I can do to answer my email each morning.


One email yesterday alerted me to the fact that THE WILLOUGHBYS will be #5 on the New York Times best-seller list on 7/27 (they calculate these things well in advance). Hence the doctored photo I'm attaching here, ho ho.

This is such a fabulous part of the country. My German family--Margret, Juergen, and Nadine (my only granddaughter, age 14)--- had never been in the Northwest before, and they are astounded at the natural beauty as well as the wildlife.  

Oddly, yesterday my son Ben was out riding in the mountains with a wrangler/guide, who got a walkie-talkie call alerting him (her?) to the fact that a movie was being filmed in the area and there was a fake Bigfoot roaming around as part of it. Sure enough, they rounded a bend, and there was Bigfoot running across a meadow.. They had to beat it out of there because of the danger of the horses being spooked by such a startling phenomenon. 

Today Ben, Margret, Nadine, and Juergen are all on an all-day ride down in Yellowstone. So I am tending the two little boys who are tired of riding at this point...if they had their way, we would be white-water rafting again. We did that day before yesterday. But Ol' Grandma is not up for a re-run of the white-knuckle experience. One of the people in our raft (there were seven of us), fell out while shooting some rapids and though I was sorry for him (he was quickly rescued) I was glad it was a Kansas City orthodontist and not one of the two little boys from Maine for whom I was responsible.

We are staying at a guest ranch and one of the guests....an orthopedic surgeon from Antwerp, Belgium who is vacationing here with his wife and daughter....says he remembers my Anastasia books...in their Flemish translation... being popular when he was a boy...  All his female contemporaries were reading them. Him? "I just read about pirates," he said.

Here's son Ben and his two boys on a canoe trip:

Canoe trip#5
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Widgeon Cove

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Last weekend I was over on the coast of Maine, visiting my friend Middy, and she and I went to The Gallery at Widgeon Cove in Harpswell, home and gallery of very gifted artists Condon and Georgeann Kuhl.  Here's a snapshot of the view from their front garden, and another of the pendant made by Condon which I bought. Their website is http://www.widgeoncove.com/


Maine is filled with artists and no wonder...just the scenery alone is an inspiration. On the Kuhls' website you can see a photo of a rainbow over the cove. I was there on a more ordinary dat, though wiht such a view, no day is ordinary.

Kuhl's garden Necklace
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Toot Toot Puff Puff

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Yesterday---Sunday----we took the grandsons, 7 and 9, up to the top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire by the steam-and-coal operated cog railway.  Mt, Washington, at 6000+ feet, is the highest mountain east of the Mississippi and has a reputation for brutal weather in winter. My friend Monroe Couper, a composer who shared a residency with me (and others) at the MacDowell Colony in 1980-81, died on Mt. Washington in the winter of 1994---froze to death when climbing in terrible weather. But on a summer day it seems benign, even at the top, and the view over the Presidential Range is spectacular.From our property in Maine we can see it, in clear weather, in the distance: snow-capped through June, usually.  One startling thing yesterday was that our train car contained several Hassidic families, the little boys with their side curls, mothers with their heads covered...fathers with beards, black suits, and fringed prayer shawls over their shirts and under their vests.  In addition...and very startling...was an Elvis impersonator. All of this made a mountaineering expedition seem a bit like a Fellini movie. I kept expecting nuns and dwarves to show up.


Rhys on trainView from train Because I was off on the mountain trip, I did not hear the NPR interview with me that was on yesterday but I heard this morning from a number of listeners. They did a nice job of editing (I listened to it this morning by going to the NPR website) but took out the funny dispute Liane Hanson and I had about the pronunciation of "wizened."



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channeling Lady Bird Johnson

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on Wednesday, 02 July 2008
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A couple of years ago I planted wildflower seeds across the border between my mowed lawn and my meadow..


Ta DA!

Meadow border Wildflowers
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Number the Stars

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This morning I answered an email from a teacher who is about to start using "Number the Stars" with a group of boys and wondered if I had any additional information that would enhance the experience for them.  I suggested that he? she? (can't remember) research Kim Malthe-Bruun, the young resistance fighter who was executed in Denmark by the Nazis, and who was the model for Peter in the book.


I remember first encountering Kim's story in Denmark when i was doing research for the book. When I saw his photograph at age 18, I took a deep breath because he so reminded me of my own son, Grey, at that age.  This morning I looked for the high school graduation photo of Grey that gave me that feeling of recognition, but unfortunately it is on my computer at home...I am using a laptop here in Maine.  Nonetheless, here is a photo of Kim Malthe-Bruun;  and I also found, in my search this morning, some excerpts from letters that Kim wrote from prison, which I will insert here.   

 

(1) Kim Malthe-Bruun, letter to Hanne about his experiences of being tortured by the Gestapo (3rd March, 1945)

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Other People's Gardens

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on Monday, 30 June 2008
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My friend, writer Kathryn Lasky, lives in Cambridge, as I do, and summers in Maine, as I do, but quite a distance from me.  Recently she emailed me a photo of a piece of sculpture made of found objects - created by a sculptor who lives near her in Deer Isle.  Kathy is the author of the owl series: The Guardians of Ga'Hoole (which I may have spelled wrong, Sorry, Kathy) so her owl sculpture is quite appropriate.


Owl sculpture

I am not the author of anything having to do with sheep. But I do love that kind of folk-art stuff; and so I went to the sculptor's website and ended up buying a sheep made from an oil can and some flattened auto parts. When I told Kathy she insisted that i need TWO sheep because ... well, just because. And I obeyed. Or maybe I obaaaa-ed.

So now I have a pair of sheep on their way to me here.

Gas can sheep 003

I was actually up in Kathy's part of Maine, or close to it, over the weekend when I signed books at Left Bank Books in Searsport...a wonderful bookstore  way up the coast.  On the way home, I stopped overnight in Brunswick, Maine, to visit my friend Middy, who illustrates the Gooney Bird Greene books. Middy does not have an owl or a sheep in her garden, but she does have a wonderful garden:

Middys garden Now I am back home after the weekend, and at work on some manuscript revisions (too soon to talk about that book yet) and when i take a break from work at the computer, I am snipping off the over-the-hill peonies, hundreds of them, lining my driveway.  Alfie is sound asleep, having exhausted himself at a kennel over the weekend (How? not a clue. He was just in a pen all by himself)

My brother has an African Gray Parrot. Don't ask me why. Every now and then he sends me Parrot News. The most recent:

Freda (my brother's wife) came home alone after dark one night. As she entered, she heard an unfamiliar man's baritone say  "Who IS it?" twice.
She was terrified. Until Kuzo laughed at her from the bedroom. 
 



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it's for the birds

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on Thursday, 26 June 2008
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Pileated woodpecker in the apple tree.  Evening grosbeak on the bird feeder.  Two wild turkeys just strutting around. An average day.


IMG_1444 IMG_1442 IMG_1784
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more about the play

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Now that I am back from New York, the play is off and running and in the hands of the two directors, Stan Foote in Oregon and Jeff Frank in Milwaukee  This morning Jeff sent me sketches of set design and costumes..all of the behind-the-scenes, before-the-show stuff is so interesting!  The final readings in New York went smoothly and the audiences at the three performances had lots of comments. Me, I can see how it begins to come together and jumps off the page and into a whole other realm.  I'll see the final version in its opening in Milwaukee September 19th, and then...different version...in Portland in late October.


Back here in Maine, I am working on a book manuscript, and it's amusing to see how I now begin to picture the characters and setting on the stage since I have been so consumed for the past ten days by that genre. I was writing this morning a scene set during a storm and I began to think about sound effects and how they would, backstage, produce the wind and rain sounds. When I described, on the page, a drenched silk dress, I started worrying about the costumes and how they would deal with soaking a dress each performance... Gotta stop thinking that way!

This evening I will go to a party down the road, for people who have donated to the little town library. Little, but lively and wonderful, and such a vital resource for the people of this small town year-round, not just us summer folk!  Here it is, in all its splendor!Copy_of_fallext01

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Tasteless fantasy

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on Tuesday, 24 June 2008
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Well, this is irreverent, I know.  But I am picturing an interview show in the afterlife, with host Tim Russert having two guests: Tasha Tudor and George Carlin.


Ss-080613-tim-russert-tease.vsmall Tasha Default
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