No photos yet but I arrived yesterday in northern Mexico (Baja California, actually) where I am staying for a week with two close women friends. Crisp and cool -- but not icy like New England -- and a beautiful landscape of tan rocky hills in the background with green flowery cacti and desert vegetation surrounding our little cottage.
Lois Lowry's Blog
Our snow had all been washed away by several days of warm rain, but yesterday it returned with a vengeance and this morning, the first morning of 2009, it is bitter, bitter cold. Here are Alfie and his good friend Sophie, who lives nearby and comes to play often, at the front door, wishing they could come in and have a cup of coffee with me and Sophie's mom.
On Monday and Tuesday,----fortunately when the weather and the roads were still clear---I was in Maine to tend to the water problems at my house there. I met with plumber, well-driller, landscaper, carpenter--- and then left them all with a go-ahead to start their work. They tell me I'll have water by February. A new well---he estimates 300 feet deep---will be drilled down through, gulp, my front yard. New plumbing in
the basement, of course, and a line going through the granite foundation which dates back to 1768, when the house was built.
I stayed at a local B&B overnight, and among the other guests there was a man whose father, born in 1909, had grown up nearby. This man remembered, as a child, helping to bring the cows in from pasture at my house, herding them into the barn (badly, he said; he never got the hang of it, and the cows disobeyed) Such a long history, that barn!
On the old maps the property is deisgnated Brigham Hill, and this man says there were still Brighams in the house when he was a boy. There are many Brighams in the small cemetery down the road. Old men dead in their 80's, and beside them a sequence of wives living only to their 20's and 30's... died in childbirth, is my guess. And of course the little headstones of their babies and children....
Well, this is more than you want to see of my kitchen and dining room but it DOES show an apple pie, freshly baked, and a lot of Xmas gifts, unopened. But that was three days ago.
Now grandchildren have come and gone after two nights here, and tonight my SF daughter will be here with friends. It is raining...snow is melting away...and now we head toward New Years and 2009.....Resolutions and Inauguration and whatever surprises, probably both good and bad, are still in store for us.
My major resolution is to finish the book manuscript I've been wrestling with for too long. I wonder if a professional wrestler ever thinks: Enough wrestling, I'm just going to break this guy's back and get it done. That's how I'm feeling.
My grandsons gave their mom a kitten---now named Roscoe--for Christmas....
This weekend dumped a foot of snow on us (and on the Arizona football team that tried to beat the Patriots in weather they weren't used to!) and this morning sunlight shining on the icicles reminds me of the crystal chandelier that hung over our dining room table when I was growing up.
so winter is really here and I'm sure my son and his two boys will be out on the slopes with their skiis and snowboards before long. First, though, they will be with me for a couple of days at Christmas, as will my San Francisco daughter, flying in on 12/26.
Christmas was magical for me as a child, and I'm sure most people my age remember it the same way. But it was never lavish or extravagant. I always received a book or two, as gifts---when I was quite young, there was always a Marguerite deAngeli book---my two favorites were "Thee, Hannah!" and "Henner's Lydia"---both of them set in Pennsylvania, where I lived.
When I was eleven, we left the United States to live in Japan for a few years, and my mother donated all of our books to the public library. She meant well. But in later years I so often mourned their loss. Then, a librarian who heard me speak of the de Angeli books when I was at a conference in Mississippi sent me ALL of them--because they were being dropped from her library's collection. What a wonderful gift!
They still held---and hold---the same magic for me that they did when I was a child. But none at all for my grandchildren....or for the patrons of that library. Times change....
Thinking of my granddaughter, as I was when I wrote the previous post, I began to think of her relationship to books. Like all of my grandchildren she had been read to from her earliest days, both in German and English (her mother is German) and she acquired both languages simultaneously. Her American father, my son, died when she was twenty months old, but his language had already become part of her knowledge, and her mother continued to read to her in English, to speak English to her often.
Here she is at two and a half, during an April visit to the United States, four months after the Christmas snowstorm visit. That spring my daughter-in-law, Margret, and Nadine came from Germany and spent two weeks with me in the United States.
Beanie, as we often called her then, was beginning to acquire language---both German and English---and she called me “Oma” in the style of German toddlers.
One evening during the second week, I volunteered to baby-sit so that Margret could have an evening with friends. It was not an easy decision for Margret. She had not left Nadine with a sitter for eleven months, not since the day the previous spring when my son, Nadine’s father, had kissed them both good-bye, gone off cheerfully on a routine trip, and never returned. Nadine was too young to understand about plane crashes or death. Gradually she had stopped asking where her papa was.
Now, on an April evening, Margret said a casual “See you later” and slipped away with her friends while Nadine and I were busy playing a complicated game involving dolls going to the potty and receiving applause and rewards....
We are expecting a big snowstorm in Boston tomorrow, the first of the season, and so I have been remembering other snowstorms (including the surprise 26 inches one April Fool's Day!) but the one that stays in my mind the most was Christmastime in 1995.
My little granddaughter, Nadine, who lived in Germany with her mother (as she still does, though she is not LITTLE anymore) was flying to the states for Christmas. Here she is, that fall, just around the time of her second birthday in late October.
Two is not an easy age to travel with, but Margret was willing to do it, to spend Christmas with us, her first Christmas---all of our first Christmases---since my son, Margret's husband, had died the previous spring.
They flew from Frankfurt to New York's Kennedy Airport---an 8-hour flight---and arrived there in a snowstorm. So their connecting plane to Boston was delayed and delayed and delayed.
At one point it took off, flew all the way to Boston, circled the airport here, and then, unable to land, returned to New York....
I was amazed at the number of people who responded to the e-mail from an outraged parent that I shared yesterday....and many of them expressing the hope that I hadn't been too distressed by her message.
No, I have become quite sanguine when I receive (fortunately, not too many) such emails. I shrug them off but with the hope, always, that the child isn't too adversely affected. Sometimes I remember specific ones that worried me because of that possibility. For example:
This was in the winter about three years ago. I had rented a house in a warm place for three weeks, and had my laptop there with me, so could receive and reply to email. A mother wrote, quite upset because her 10-year-old daughter had written me a letter ("real" mail) and had not yet received a reply. Her classmates (writing to an author had been an assignment) had all gotten letters back.
I explained to her, by email, that I was not at home, and so letters would be waiting for me there when I returned, and I would answer them as soon as I could. But it would be at least two weeks.
Indeed, when I got home, there was a huge stack of letters and I made my way through them as promptly as I could. I had no idea which one was from her daughter because of course her email had not included the actual mailing address. But apparently the child had written me a frequently-asked question, like "How did you get the idea for NUMBER THE STARS"? and so she got, in reply, my form letter addressing that question. (If you get the same question 2,000 times, you can't answer it in innovative ways. There is really only one answer. Hence, the form letter)...
Woman: What do you do?
Man: Me? Oh, I write books.
Woman: How interesting! Have you sold anything recently?
Man: Why, yes. My couch, my car and my flat-screen television.
That's a dumb joke stolen from a NYT humorous piece about whether writers should be bailed out by the Feds.
And here is a venomous (and anonymous) email I received yesterday:
But 'tis the season to be jolly, so I am ho-ho-ho-ing....
This time I was so aware that I arrived 20 minutes late last year, that I arrived an hour early. Maybe some year I'll get it right.
In any case, here are Jack Gantos and Mitali Perkins, during their presentations, and then the three of us afterward at a nearby restaurant. In retrospect I'm sorry I didn't include Jack's 12-year-old lovely red-haired daughter, Mabel, who came with him and helped with the PP technology.
Mitali said she would put photos on her blog as well so I went there to see if she had firmed up my chin in Photoshop (alas, she hadn't). But I did see one thing I want to correct on her blog (sorry, Mitali, I'm coming on like an over-eager copy editor).. She refers to my having once worn the Newbery Medals as earrings. Can't be done! They are big and heavy! What she had heard about was this:
Here is Jack with his funny blueprint of his own childhood, which incudes the place where he vomited and splattered a wall, as well as bickering spots and an alligator who made off with his dog. (Yikes, Note to self: never move to Florida)...
This morning I got up, went downstairs, opened the front door to let the dog out, and saw, to my astonishment, two ambulances parked in front of my house. Bright red vans across the street. A police car with flashing lights. What the heck? (Dog didn't care. He scampered off to find the squeaky toy he'd left in the yard last night)
So I went out to the back yard, and looked down the side street (My house is on a corner) and this is what I saw:
Fire is such a hideously scary thing. It is now a couple of hours later and the street is still blocked off, firefighters still at work, and rumor has it that they got the occupants out alive, though I did see a fireman being taken to an ambulance by stretcher.
Tonight, as I have done each year for several years, I will speak to a class at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Last year (I cringe, remembering this) I had written it down on my calendar for the wrong night, and was home, in grubby jeans, mindlessly watching TV, when I got a call saying, "Ah, where are you?" So off I sped and arrived looking grubby, and twenty minutes late....
I'm home now and have been sent some photos from the muscial "Gathering Blue"... Here (from the bottom up, from some reason) are a scene where the village women are threatening Kira; one where she is comforting Jo, the small singing girl; and a scene in The Fen, when a fen-dweller says "what'll you gimmee?" Several more---including the Singer and the robe---coming in a separate post.
Here is the final moment of the show "Gathering Blue", sneakily taken by my cell phone.
It's an incredible show. My thanks go to playwright Richard Hellesen, and to composer/lyricists Michael Silversher and Joy Sikorski., as well as director Peter Ellenstein...oh, and the list goes on, and should include, of course, all the performers.
This event in Kansas, done through the William Inge Center for the Arts, is just the beginning of the journey that the show will take. Already the composers are feeling the need for another song---replacing some expository dialogue---at the beginning of act 2.
It follows the book very closely and the book has moments that especially lent themselves to dramatization and song. There is a lovely scene in Annabella's garden, where the old woman teaches the girl the names and uses of the flowers; after each verse of the song she turns to the girl with "Say it back" and the song becomes a lovely and lyrical duet. Later: I won't even attempt to describe it here but the performance of The Singer, wearing the robe, at The Gathering, is breathtakingly staged; the reaction of the audience (which included me) was palpable---we were all stunned, I think....
Well, I have been in Texas today, and Tulsa, and now I am in Kansas. Tonight I will have dinner with the playwright, composer, and lyricist of the musical "Gathering Blue."
Adaptation is such an intriguing art. And in the past two days I have had emails of inquiry about an opera based on THE GIVER, a film of NUMBER THE STARS, and a dramatization of "Fabulous Gooney Bird."
I have also, today, en route, had a cell phone conversation telling me that we don't just need a new pump in Maine; we need a whole new WELL. And the well-diggers have all retired to Florida for the winter. Grrrrrr. Maybe someone could set THIS problem to music and make it entertaining.
I'll try myself, after dinner. I will go have some wine first. It will help.
I was chatting by email last night with Stan Foote, director of the Oregon Children's Theater which produced my play "Gossamer" this past fall. Stan said he is currently working on a musical of CLICK CLACK MOO which will open with the farmer shoveling manure (while dancing and singing, I suppose) ; he said they were in the process of designing the manure: " insulation foam, sprayed with glossy brown paint and and a few dabs of green here and there to and add little contrast, they are pooptastic."
Ah, the splendor of theater.
Me, I am heading tomorrow to Kansas, where I will see the first producton of a musical based on my book "Gathering Blue." Since I didn't write this one, I have no idea how they went about it---what is left in, what was taken out---but at least we can be sure there will be no dancing cows. I can see in my mind what it would be like if I HAD written it---can visualize what I would have kept, and how the set would be designed (I know, I know, if I learned anything from doing one play, it is that the author doesn't design the set!) but of course everyone has different visions, and it will be fun to see what these people have done.
I have just signed the contract for film rights to "The Willoughbys" and though of course nine times out of ten, the film you sell an option for is never made, still it is fun thinking about that one, too, how it would be done. I picture Peter Ustinov (is he still alive?) playing Commander Melanoff ---or maybe, alternatively, Paul Giamatti---and let's see: how about Frances McDormand as the Nanny? It's always pointless to try to think of kids for roles because by the time the picture is actually made, the kids you thought of have have grown up.
Okay, instead of designing sets for a musical and casting a movie, I will turn my attention to my real work, the one thing I DO get to do: writing. I am plodding along too slowly on my current project, possibly because the plot--the main character, actually--- has entered a fish hatchery, and though I have done the necessary research and know, now, how to strip fish eggs and mix with milt (I once knew a guy named Milt. Wonder how he feels that his name also means fish sperm)--- frankly, it is not fascinating to me and that is probably why I am dragging my feet, writing-wise....
We had a good-sized bunch here for Thanksgiving, with lots of food, of course and also a birthday to celebrate: twelve year old granddaughters Schuyler and Gabrielle. They are really my STEP-grandaughters but their original grandmothers have both died so I am the default Grandma and honored to be so. In addition to pumpkin, pecan, and aple pies brought by my son Ben, stepson Andrew brought a birthday cake so there was no shortage of dessert. Or gifts. I gave the girls each two books---but because of the fact that I can't remember every title*, I won't mention any and thereby shortchange any authors. Enough to know that books are always a welcome gift in our extended household.
I remember the day 12 years ago these twins were born very well because of the circumstances---I was in Mass. General Hospital (very sick with aftermath of flu) while my daughter-in-law was in labor with twins down the road at a different Boston hospital.
We all survived and now the twins----Martin's youngest of five grandchildren---are in sixth grade, quite tall and pretty (I mentioned that to a friend who said: "Good, they can become models." Oh, puhLEEZE!)...and they have just moved back to Massachusetts from Florida so we can see them and their family more often.
Martin and I went to see Sean Penn's amazing performance in "Milk" Sunday afternoon and now I have the documentary "The Times of Harvey Milk" coming from Netflix. Bet anything SP watched it over and over.
I have been trying to add this to the schedule which is on my website and for some reason can't get it in. So I will just announce here that at 11:30 AM on December 6th (Saturday) I will be speaking at the Civic Center, 400 N. Penn, in Independence, Kansas. 11:30 AM, free to the public, with book-signing afterward.
Recently I received a pdf copy of an article I had written back in 1989 and which will soon be republished in THE WRITER. I had given my permission for that re-publication, of course, but maybe a little casually; there was maybe an "Oh, sure" quality to it. When they sent me the article, which I barely remembered after all these years, I began to read it a little nervously because it occurred to me that I might no longer agree with what my younger self had said.
What can I say? I have just been in Germany, visiting my 15-year-old granddaughter and her family, and she took this photograph of me at dinner.
It is very early morning and I am having tea in Schipol Airport (Amsterdam) between flights...I will fly to Luxembourg from here in an hour, for a four-day visit with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter. I usually come over here this time of year to see them, and often...as today...with an old suitcase filled with Xmas gifts...they can later throw away the suitcase, and it beats the nuisance and expense of mailing things to Europe.