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Summer's Last Gasps

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Wednesday, 23 September 2009
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I just took this with my iPhone, and realized that A) you can see me reflected in the door, and B) you can get a glimpse of Alfie looking out through the door, wondering what the heck I am doing.

Photo

What I was doing was recording the annual fall spectacle of my coleus (thank you, White Flower Farm) at its so-magnificent height that the mailman has trouble getting to the mail slot (there is a second equally huge coleus on the other side of the door).  One morning soon, though, it will all have frozen, shriveled, and died.

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childhood windows

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on Tuesday, 22 September 2009
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At the conference I just attended in Idaho, Eric Rohmann talked about childhood memories. When it was my turn, I also talked a bit about memory, as I frequently do, in talking about The Giver.  I ended up, after I came home, thinking a lot about the same topic---and that led me to archives in my computer, and a couple of pictures that my daughter did when she was studying art.  (Actually, she still studies art, but these pictures date from some time ago.)  I don't know what -- if any -- the assignment was. But she did a drawing and then a painting of the view from her childhood window. So she was looking back, in her memory, probably 30 years.

The first one, a pencil sketch, is realistic in a folk-arty sort of way; her bedroom window overlooked a driveway that ended in a garage/barn.  This was in Maine, so there was snow on the ground for many months of the year, as there is in her sketch.

2x3window

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Excuse me, big WHAT?!

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on Sunday, 20 September 2009
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Here I am in Rexburg, Idaho...gorgeous sunny weather, and a terrific conference on Children's Literature sponsored by Brigham Young University Idaho.  Such conferences are always a chance to meet interesting people, and there are certainly lots of them here, all very hospitable.

So...what dumb thing did I do this time?  Well, I was speaking to an audience of 250 people, and using a Power Point---people do seem to enjoy have having something to look at, I think. And the chapel in which I was speaking had a wonderful built-in tech system which made everything so easy.

But when I was showing pictures of some of the photographs I'd done for book jackets...Number the Stars, for example...I explained that I had studied photography in graduate school, and for many years had done a lot of portraits. "Photographing children was always a big love of mine," I said.  Then I gulped.  "Ooops," I said. "I can't believe I just used that phrase---big love---in front of this audience.""

Fortunately all 250 Mormons burst out laughing.

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More Tales of the City

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on Tuesday, 15 September 2009
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On the evening of 9/11, in San Francisco, conversation at dinner turned to baseball. The question was a asked: what years recently did the Red Sox win the Series?  No one could remember. I texted my son Ben, baseball player extraordinaire, and Keeper of Sox Knowledge, and asked him but got no reply.  The conversation moved on to other things. The evening ended. We all went to bed.

I woke from a sound sleep at 4:30 AM because some kind of alarm was going off. Not a siren but a beeping. Loud enough to wake me. I sat up, confused, and then heard an enormous explosion. Lights were flashing. It was like the end of the world. (Later my friend Janet, who was awakened in a different room, said she thought immediately that it was a terrible repeat of 9/11/01)

Later my SF daughter told me that all the car alarms on her street went off.

It was a huge thunderstorm---almost unheard of in San Francisco.  I just found this amazing photo of it online:

SF storm copy

I don't know the name of the photographer but he wrote this:

I awoke last night to the sound of thunder (well actually it was 4:30 this morning). How far off I sat and wondered. 
Drove to the Marin Headlands but it was way too foggy so I went low near the Coast Guard station for this shot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Sat in my car with a remote shutter listening to podcasts. Wrapped a poncho around my camera when the rain started. Took lots of shots, this was about my fourth shot of the morning when I got lucky. You should of heard me say "YEEEESS!" when I saw the huge strike and the sky lit up white/blue with light. 


As for the beeping alarm that first woke me? It was my son in Maine, 7:30 AM there, and he had just noticed my texted question and replied (not realizing I was in California): "2004 and 2007"

I finally got to the movie "Julie and Julia" while I was on the west coast. During the late summer, when everyone else saw it, I was in Maine, and our little local theater there didn't show it. It was fun seeing Meryl Streep do what she always does so well---and particularly fun because the REAL Julia Child lived near us and shopped at the same grocery store we use, at least for meat---we have a great butcher at the (shameless plug) Fresh Pond Market.

I noticed a little oddity that the director should have avoided, though. At the end of the film, JC receives the first copy of her book in the mail from the publisher. It arrives in---and she tears open---a padded envelope, the kind we all use now, but which did not exist then.  A small error, but since they did such a good job, particularly, I thought, with her clothes...they shouldn't have let that one slip by.

2009_julie_and_julia_003


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Fatima

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Monday, 14 September 2009
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I returned from San Francisco Saturday night, arriving home yesterday morning, which meant a lost day yesterday as I napped and dozed while watching the US Open.  In SF, a favorite city of mine, I ate too much, in wonderful restuarants, with good friends and also with my daughter and her friend Steve,  Eat eat eat.  And I went shopping for things I didn't need, with my friend Janet, an artist who knows all the most interesting stores. Spend spend spend.

The reason I mentioned eating and spending is because I came home to find the packet containing information about the Afghani woman whom I have agreed to sponsor through the organization called Women for Women International.  (www.womenforwomen.org)

Fatima  is 36 years old. Married. Four children, one of whom goes to school.   She herself has no education whatsoever.  She cannot read or write. She lives in a house with no electricity or water.  She has no medical care for her children.

Fatima

I will keep her photo on my desktop so that I look into those eyes every day as I consider whether to click the "BUY NOW" button on various bookmarked websites. The world is so unfair in ts disparities. I hope I can make a small difference in this woman's life.

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Start of School

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on Monday, 07 September 2009
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A friend of mine who teaches at Harvard's Graduate School of Education asked me this morning if I had any first-day-of-school photos, and I sent her this one, which she will incorporate into her Power Point presentation for 60+ new graduate students tomorrow, at her first lecture.

School 1943 copy

What she will be illustrating, with this photo of me and my sister in 1942, and whatever very wise words she uses to accompany it, is the sense of anticipation and eager expectation with which children approach the beginning of their education...not just kindergarten, which I was starting the day of this photo, but each year, anew, the beginning of another opportunity.

I used this same photo on the website TeachingBooks.net recently, with this accompanying brief essay:

We’re starting school. First day. My sister and me: we are eight and five; second grade and kindergarten.

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Court is in Session

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on Tuesday, 01 September 2009
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My grandfather was a lawyer. My mother’s brother was a lawyer. My ex-husband is a lawyer. My son is a lawyer. My stepson is a lawyer.

 

So why have I never had the slightest desire to be a lawyer?

 

Easy. I hate arguments.

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Snip Snip

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on Tuesday, 01 September 2009
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Scissors

I was sitting here this morning, answering mail, when I happened to glance at this container of scissors.

Three cheers for whoever invented scissors. They really are quite ingenious, aren't they?  Someone, sometime, after using a knife to cut a piece of paper, must have thought: Hey, if I took two sharp edges. and then attached them to something that you could fit your fingers through...

When I was a kid, there were never enough scissors in our house. (Why not? I wonder now. Were scissors very expensive in the '40's?)  Those were the years of paper dolls. I don't think little girls play with paper dolls much anymore. But my sister---she was three years older---and I were passionate about paper dolls. Every Saturday we got our allowance. I don't remember how much it was. Not much. But paper dolls at the local Woolworth's only cost ten cents. I bought a new set every Saturday. So did Helen. Often they were movie-star paper dolls: June Allyson, Esther Williams, Jeanne Crain, Judy Garland...  You punched the doll itself---she had perforated edges---out of the cover. She was fairly sturdy, sort of cardboard, and usually wearing a bathing suit. Sometimes you got two of her, in two different poses, arms arranged differently.

Then you set about cutting out her clothes from the flimsier paper inside---evening gowns, playsuits, lounging pajamas---all of then tabbed so that you could attach them to the cardboard doll, though they never stayed on very well and "playing with" the clothed dolls wasn't fun. We rarely bothered cutting out the shoes and hats. The fun of paper dolls was all in the acquisiton, the cutting-out, the comparing ("Does yours have a fur coat?" Mine does")

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September

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on Monday, 31 August 2009
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Apples

My trees are filled with these apples, none quite ripe yet. This morning when I walked the dog at 5:30 AM, loons were calling on the lake, and a large deer in my back yard was startled into bounding away into the meadow beyond. It has been in the 40s at night. Everything feels like fall.

After reading what so many different people have had to say about the NYT article, I'll add just one more thought. Those who feel that once we get kids to "enjoy" reading by way of Gossip Girls and its ilk, they will eventually move on, on their own, to the "classics"----AIN'T. GONNA. HAPPEN.  They will move on to read popular novels, and there is nothing wrong with that. But not one of them will ever voluntarily pick up Joseph Conrad or Henry James or Virginia Woolf.  I never would have --- and I was an avid reader from the start.   I needed the incentive of good teachers, of classroom discussion, of learning to think critically, in order to appreciate classical literature.

No young reader is ever going to leap on his own from Jack Prelutsky to William Butler Yeats. That's what an educational system is for. That's what good teachers do, and why we should pay them more to do it.

School starts this week.  I hope a lot of adolescents are dragged kicking and screaming into a Shakespeare play.

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I just became passé

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on Sunday, 30 August 2009
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A week after her students left for the summer, Ms. McNeill boxed up the class sets of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” along with “Diary of Anne Frank” and “The Giver” by Lois Lowry, keeping just three copies of each for her collection. She carted the rest to the English department storeroom.

This is the concluding paragraph of a lengthy front-page article in today's NY Times, profiling a teacher who has decided to let students (7th and 8th grade) choose their own books to read instead of the assigned literature she had used for years.

At least I'm in very good company, boxed up in that storeroom!

It is hardly a new concept, or a recent revelation, that kids don't respond well to much of the required reading of the past.  I remember sitting down with a grandson, 14 at the time, who was about to give up on A Tale of Two Cities which he was supposed to read during a school vacation, and reading it aloud with him to see if that would help. Problem was, I could see exactly why he was feeling so negative. The book really had nothing to say to him at that time in his life.

Wrestling with the teaching of  literature and trying to create lifelong readers has been an ongoing struggle for teachers. I'm a little troubled by the NYT presenting this one teacher's method as a wonderfully innovative  solution—some of her students, she points out, are choosing to read Captain Underpants—but it does seem to me a sensible approach if a skilled teacher can combine such self-selection with an intelligent introduction to fine literature.  A little asparagus if you want dessert.

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summer ending

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on Wednesday, 26 August 2009
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Late August. Always a sad time for me: summer winding down; back to real life. Solitude ending. This is my last few days in Maine; I'll head back to Massachusetts next Thursday, a week from tomorrow. It seems as if I just arrived.

Here is an ominous sky; it is thunderstorm season:

Storm cloud copy

And here is the last of the basil. I just picked this and will make pesto for the freezer:

Basil

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A cause that matters to me

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on Monday, 24 August 2009
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I can't recommend highly enough the Sunday, August 23rd magazine section of the New York Times, which focuses on the plight of women world-wide. The individual stories of deprivation and powerlessness are so compelling. But the article  makes clear, as well, that there are things we as fellow humans--(in my case, fellow woman)--can do to help.  This morning I went to the website of WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL (there are many other such organizations as well) and arranged to sponsor a woman in Afghanistan, to provide education, vocational training, emotional support. This will cost me $37 a month.


I've always sent donations to organizations whose causes I believed in. But there is something about one-to-one ---knowing who a person is, knowing you are making a difference to that person, and the awareness that that person in need knows you care---that appeals to me.

23cover-395

Two days ago I bought a pair of earrings for $70 from a local goldsmith.  I didn't need earrings. But I wanted to support a Maine artisan. And I suppose I still feel that way, and am not going to throw my earrings (which I am currently wearing) away.

But I feel much better about sending support each month to a woman who has so meager a future without help.

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so---do you enjoy traveling?

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on Monday, 17 August 2009
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Well, I guess the answer to that is pretty much yes. But do I enjoy making the travel arrangements??  Grrrr. I have been sitting at my desk, on my phone, on a very hot day, getting literally hot under the collar. And here's why.


Martin and I planned to fly to Paris Thanksgiving Day. We like traveling on Thanksgiving Day because airplanes and airports are quite empty. Everyone else in the USA is busy cooking and/or eating, and they have already traveled to the place where they plan to cook and/or eat.

So we had a reservation on Air France, Boston-Paris, non-stop, and a hotel reservation in Paris.

Eiffel_Tower_by_night_s


But today I got an email message from Expedia,which is what I usually use for reservations, telling me to call them because there had been a change to our itinerary.

I got a woman with a bit of an accent. Lo-eese, she called me, and apparently she had been trained to use the customer's name OFTEN, and also to repeat what the customer says, so that when our interchange began with my identifying myself and saying, "I'm calling to inquire about a change in an existing reservation"...she replied, "I understand, Lo-eese, that you are calling to inquire about a change in your existing reservation."  Sigh. Yes, that is true. "I can very much assist you with that, Lo-eese."  And then, after an interminable wait: "Thank you for waiting, Lo-eese. Your flight to Paris has been changed. It is exactly the same flight but it is not any longer November 26th. It is now November 25th. Are you okay with that, Lo-eese?"

No, actually I am not okay with that. November 25th is a different DAY.  I would like, actually, to get to Paris on the date for which I have a hotel reservation.  Could you find me a different flight, please?

After a lot of "I understand very much that you would like to fly to Paris on November 26th, Lo-eese. Please hold."

Well, I will not continue to bore you with a re-creation of this conversation. For a while it involved her briefly booking me on a flight to Switzerland where I would wait a day before going on to Paris, and then her understanding very much that I did not want to spend a day in Zurich. 

 I guess we are still going to Paris (and from there to Germany to visit my granddaughter) but it is no longer a simple event.  Grrrr.


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Soon..it starts...

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Friday, 14 August 2009
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Images

I got an email from my friend Tom the other day. Tom lives in Richmond, Virginia and he and I have been buddies for 40+ years.  He emailed to ask advice about NY hotels because he's going there in late September to see The Marriage of Figaro at the Met. (This is, incidentally, the kind of guy friend every woman values---one who loves opera)

Anyway, we had the hotel conversation, he got a hotel, and in the course of the discussion I mentioned that I will be in NYC  twice this fall, and also SF, and at Thanksgiving I head to Paris briefly.

His reply:  S.F, Paris, NYCX2....God, Lois, how do you do it?
It exhausts me to think of your constant coming and going!

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Reading what?

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on Friday, 07 August 2009
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People often ask me what I am reading.  Lately I've been doing a lot of non-fiction reading for a book I'm working on (and am not able to talk about yet) but I also mentioned in a previous post the new biography of Agatha Christie (fairly interesting) ---and I should tell everyone who doesn't already know, about Stieg Larsson. He has, sadly, died (heart attack, age 50) so we are not going to see many more books by him---but oh my, his first one, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is soooo good; and recently I stopped into Bridgton Books and there was the sequel, The Girl Who Played with Fire. Justin Ward, who owns BB and reads everything, told me it was better than the first---hard to believe---but it is true.  There will be a third coming, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. But right now I am in the middle of the second and savoring every page.  These books are translated from the Swedish, and set in Sweden, but very different from the Henning Mankell books, the Kurt Wallender series, which I have also enjoyed.


51MU-lB8a5L._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA115_ 51zryIX7hpL._SL160_AA115_   

This info from Wikipedia:

After his death, Larsson left the manuscripts of three completed but unpublished novels in a series. He wrote them for his own pleasure after returning home from his job in the evening, making no attempt to get them published until shortly before his death. The first of these novels was published in Sweden in 2005 as Män som hatar kvinnor, published in English as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was awarded the prestigious Glass Key award as the best Nordic crime novel in 2005. His second novel, Flickan som lekte med elden (The Girl Who Played with Fire), received the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award in 2006. At his death, as well as the third completed novel, he left the unfinished manuscript of part of the fourth novel as well as synopses of the fifth and sixth in the series which was intended to contain an eventual total of ten books.

A television series based on the three completed books is in production by Yellow Bird Films of Ystad. Each book will be covered in two episodes (making a total of six 90-minute episodes). The first two episodes were released as a motion picture in February 2009, while the subsequent episodes will be released directly on DVD in December 2009. The series will be broadcast on Swedish television in 2010.

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Miss Marple's house

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on Monday, 03 August 2009
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It may be in part because I just read the new biography of Agatha Christie.  More likely it is because I am a nut about houses...not big fancy ones, but in particular small ones, the kind of little village houses that I think Miss Marple must have lived in.

Here are a couple that I found on the internet simply by googling "quaint cottages":

1773434

K1126104

And neither of these looks at all like the (real) one that I am somewhat obsessed by. I pass it whenever I go to the library, which I do often.  I don't know who lives in it, and I certainly can't photograph it and put it out here on the internet, where someone would inevitably call the owner or resident and say: Guess what.

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More Crow Call

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I can't do it justice with my camera but this—a two-page spread in the center of the book—is my very favorite of the illustrations by Bagram Ibatouilline.  He has just sent it to me, and I will take it tomorrow to be framed.

The text, which I'll quote below the photo, runs across the bottom of these two pages, in white against the darkness of the painting, and doesn't detract from the painting at all. They go together so well.

Crowcall doublespread
      It's not far to the place he has chosen, not long until he pulls the car to the side of the empty road and stops.
      Grass, frozen after its summer softness, crunches under our feet; the air is sharp and supremely clear, free from the floating pollens of summer, and our words seem etched and breakable on the brittle stillness. I feel the smooth wood of the crow call in my pocket, moving my fingers against it for warmth, memorizing its ridges and shape. I stamp my feet hard against the ground now and then as my father does. I want to scamper ahead of him like a puppy, kicking the dead leaves and reaching the unknown places first, but there is an uneasy feeling along the edge of my back at the thought of walking in front of someone who is a hunter. The word makes me uneasy. Carefully I stay by his side.

The passage seems ominous.  And therefore so does the painting...fraught with uncertainty but at the same time with this amazing, eerie beauty.

All ends happily, of course. But I love this moment, when you aren't certain that it will.

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this old house

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on Friday, 31 July 2009
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I am killing a little time this morning before leaving to drop the dog off at doggie-day-care and then to head out for a day's research on a new book which will be set in Maine.

I don't know if other people enjoy, as I do, peeking into the lives of others (now THERE'S a movie title!*) but I recently was taking photos for insurance purposes so I'll just plop some down here.  If you came to visit me in Maine, this is where we would sit to have a cup of tea or glass of wine (unless we were on the porch, which is where we mostly are, in summer):

Living room

and across the room you would see these two paintings, the first by my friend Andy Newman:

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Daylilies

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on Wednesday, 29 July 2009
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Well, I was taking a little time from my computer to go outside and weed a little. But then I had to go in and get my camera. It is the height of daylily season, and I have so many varieties...mostly thanks to Beverly Hendricks at Deerwood Farm & Gardens in Waterford, Maine (not far away)  ----  http://www.deerwoodgarden.com  if you want to take a look at this amazing place where Bev and her husband are raising 200+ varieties of daylilies. I go there every summer and always come home with a new treasure. (And it was Bev who taught me that you can add daylily petals to salads!)

Okay! Feast your eyes!

Dayllily


Daylily 3

Daylily 5

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new birdbath, new book

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on Wednesday, 29 July 2009
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After the angst of having to have a new well drilled in Maine, last January, I was delighted that everything went smoothly and we ended up with water---plenty of it---but dismayed, after the snow melted in late spring, to find we were left with an ugly well head....GREEN, METALLIC, LARGE ....poking up in the front yard. So I set about to disguise it, commissioning local genius Matt to create something. And this is what he has done:


Birdbath #2

Matt is concerned that the base is disproportionally large for the granite birdbath (local granite, nicely lichened, hand hollowed by a local artisan)---but I say what the heck, we had a lot of ugly stuff to hide in there.  

Next I'll try to get a photo of a bird actually bathing.  They do use the (also hand-carved granite) birdbath out back, so i suspect they're start fluttering into this one soon.

In the realm of New Stuff: I have just received my first copy of "Crow Call," the picture book so beautifully illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline.  It's an autobiographical story, and he had a photograph of me, age nine; in addition he emailed to ask me to describe the colors of the plaid shirt I was wearing (the photo was black and white)...and he got it all just right (including this glimpse of my father's 1939 Chevrolet):

Crow call scene


Crow call 2


The book will be out in September but I am thrilled to have this copy in advance.  

I have a lot of other things in the works but it is too soon to talk about them. Good to be back in Maine---though it was a fine week in Bermuda with my grandsons---(swimming with dolphins was a high point), and to have summer weather at last after so much rain. Martin comes up weekends, but during the week I am quite solitary and working hard. Every Tuesday evening there is a fabulous chamber music concert, and other evenings, like tonight, dinner with friends...but daytimes are quiet and undisturbed; just me at my computer, and Alfie lying on the floor nearby.
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