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1. take up your happiness

Some thoughts about life, love and happiness, after a few photos from the past two weeks of research, writing, organizing my work (on a chalk wall, no less), a couple of close-by field trips, a book festival (that's my editor, David Levithan, talking with shiny new (amazing) author Will Walton), a bit of teaching, a lot of home-making, a birthday cobbler, some celebrating, lots of gathering with peeps, and the inevitable bringing-in the last of the garden.



When I was a kid, I wanted to be a mom more than anything else. I wanted to sit at a desk and play office. I wanted to scribble on a chalkboard and teach my dolls things I didn't understand yet myself. I wanted to lie on a blanket in the clovered grass, stare at the night sky, and wonder. I wanted to keep house. And I wanted a Prince Charming to come into my life, sweep me off my feet, and love me all the days of my life, and make me happy.

I got all my wishes, in an odd and amazing order that still takes my breath away when I think about it. How perfect it has been, the grime and the glory alike. How lucky that my people are in my life, and that this life is full of good work that I love, and that there is space for wondering and dreaming, still, and that people love me and I love them, and that there really IS someone to sweep me along with devotion, into the later chapters of my life.

Slowly, slowly, I have come to understand, in a deep and steady way, that home is where you make it; that people are complex, nuanced, textured, wonderful puzzles; that work is like that, too; that Uncle Edisto's messy glory is indeed the way we live; and that I am responsible for my own happiness.

Rise up, I say to myself this morning. Take up your happiness and walk into the days ahead.

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2. back to work

"Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what one is saying." -- John Updike.

I've got notes (once again) from a new-to-me editor at Scholastic, Ken Geist, on a picture book I've sold about Bobby Kennedy. It's exciting to work with a new editor -- David L. is wonderful novel editor, and now Ken steps in to work on picture books with me, and I am so glad.

So today's work is about looking at these notes and writing a response to them, and then, we hope, talking next week before I head to the D.C. area for my first school visit this fall, combined with some family time. We drive to Charleston on Sunday, to celebrate Jim's birthday with his mom and sister... I am going to write in the car. Watch me do this daring feat of amazing car writing, just watch me.

In the meantime, I have these revisions this morning, a house to clean, a class to teach tomorrow at the Atlanta-Fulton County library, a birthday dinner here on Saturday night, my favorite 4-year-old spending the night on Saturday night, and then we're off to Charleston. And... it's all what I want, in this Year of Exploration. It's all good.

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3. how I'm feeling today

Choice is important. Intent matters. Authentic power is within. Truth is beautiful.

Peace, my friends. Always peace.


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4. research: choosing scrapbook anchor songs, book three sixties trilogy

Each scrapbook in COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION is anchored by a song from that period that helps the reader "hear" that particular time-and-place, and sink deeper into the story. Book 3 will be the same.

I don't have scrapbooks done yet, but I'm keeping a hold file of possible photos on Pinterest, as well as a board with song possibilities (well.. two... maybe three.. I need to consolidate, now that I better understand what I'm doing).

Many of the songs I'm gathering will be mentioned in the narrative, but seven (or so) will be anchors for the scrapbooks of photos, newspaper clippings, and other ephemera that will help tell the story of 1969, and indeed the late sixties, as we're going to have to skip from 1964's REVOLUTION to 1969.

We'll need to secure permission and pay for the right to use these songs in their entirety if we so choose. I've only used one or two entirely -- "Dancing in the Street" and "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around" (public domain) in REVOLUTION, but we want to use as much as we want of these anchor songs, as we design scrapbooks, and not worry about permissions.

I'll cover much of the five-year gap between REVOLUTION and BOOK THREE in scrapbooks. So the songs are important -- they have to carry us through. Often I use a song that denotes the opposite of what you see in the scrapbooks so I can give you that Unity of Opposites, so you can think about what you're seeing, and about that particular piece of the story. I juxtapose Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" over the early days of the Vietnam War (before there was much protest) in the final scrapbook in REVOLUTION, for instance.

The scrapbooks are a visual storytelling device and serve as a look at what's going on in the "outside" world while the story I write gives us the "inside" story, or the narrative arc of the book, of these characters and their hopes and dreams and very human failings.

Since I don't know them very well yet, I'm working on the scrapbooks. This usually goes back and forth as the book takes shape -- some scrapbook, some narrative. But right now, I'm just empty on the narrative, so the scrapbooks are getting heavy attention.

Here are some possibilities for starting Book 3. Let's see if one of these actually makes the cut. It will have to work against photos and ephemera that span 1965-1968, which includes death (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, Vietnam), the birth of the counter-culture, war protests, and the rise of some amazing rock-and-roll.

1.  Richie Havens at Woodstock singing "Freedom/Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child"..."a long way from home." I can see this as a way to begin Book 3. But it may be too close to REVOLUTION'S beginning. Just gathering right now.

2. Jefferson Airplane, "Don't You Want Somebody to Love" from Woodstock. "When the truth is found/ To be lies/ And all the joy/ Within you dies/ Don't you want somebody to love?/ Don't you need somebody to love?/ Wouldn't you love somebody to love?/ You better find somebody to love."

I love this. I really wanted to use "White Rabbit" as a possibility, but the lyrics are too tightly focused on that hookah smoking caterpillar, and might be confusing instead of enhancing.

3. Randy Newman, 1968: "Broken windows and empty hallways/ A pale dead moon in the sky streaked with gray/ Human kindness is overflowing/ And I think it's going to rain today.... / Lonely, lonely/ Tin can at my feet/ Think I'll kick it down the street/ That's the way to treat a friend."
This is hands-down my favorite. It holds so much possibility. The song meant a lot to me in the mid-'70s when I was alone with two kids and hoping for some human kindness. Joe Cocker's version is the one I heard in the '70s. I sat in a parking lot and cried. So I worry that I'm attached to it for reasons that won't serve the story.

Those are my top picks to begin Book 3. I loved and discarded for various reasons (although they could show up as anchors for different scrapbooks) Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild," The Rascals' "Get Together," The Isley Brothers' "It's Your Thing," The Fifth Dimension's "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In," and Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth."

I'm open to suggestions.... ?

I want funk and R&B and rock-and-roll and more, but I'll stop here today. Not bad for a day's work. Along with the epiphany I had while listening to Mark Rylance read a page of the new novel THE WAKE -- which as I wrote earlier, has given me energy to begin the narrative again with a different character -- I think I can go find some supper (Jim is gigging) and welcome the weekend.

Hope you are still awake!

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5. finding ways in

The way into a story often comes in unexpected ways, as bit of kismet or synchronicity at work, I am convinced.

This morning I read on NPR ("An Unlikely Hit in an Imaginary Language") about Paul Kingsnorth's new novel, THE WAKE, about 11th century England after the Norman conquest. I was intrigued because the review talked about a made-up language. So I followed a few links to the Guardian, and one to Mark Rylance (who was Cromwell in PBS's WOLF HALL production) reading from THE WAKE.

And it was a wake-up call. OMG, I get it. My language is ALL WRONG with book three. Not that standard English isn't the way to go, not that I haven't planned to sprinkle in "groovys" and "far outs" and other counter-culture phrases... but I have been pursuing the wrong character altogether, which is why book three isn't working. Maybe.

I'm going to try a new beginning today, a new way in. Here is Mark Rylance reading from THE WAKE:

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6. research: book 3 sixties trilogy (TRIBE)

I'm gonna do occasional posts on research as I move deeper into Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy. I house research links on my Pinterest boards, but I also want to document my process, thinking, and resources here. I'll label all research posts as such.


Full disclosure: I am stuck with book three. I don't know my story. I'm frustrated. So I'm contenting myself with research, which I've been doing intensely (ebb and flow) for about a year now, which has been mostly reading, and with no real focused objective but to understand the late sixties.

I did this with REVOLUTION and COUNTDOWN as well -- I read for about a year. You can find my bibliographies on Pinterest -- they are incomplete but will be added to as I can get to it.

So I'm working on scrapbooks today -- the non-fiction pieces of the documentary novels. I need about seven songs, one to anchor each scrapbook. They will change as the story is known and changes, but I need something to get me started, and I'm wondering if listening to the songs of the late sixties might also help me with finding my way into the story itself.

I spent most of my research day listening to the Billboard hits of 1967, 1968, and 1969. I dipped into 1970 as well. I want book 3 to be (in part) about ROCK-AND-ROLL. We've not had the chance to really do rock-and-roll with COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION, so here is the chance to Go Big Or Go Home, and I want to revel in the music. Maybe I have a character who does the same (that's what I've been playing with, anyway).

This is the kind of day where I have 24 windows open online at once and jump back and forth between YouTube and Wikipedia for lyrics and cursory information about The Rascals, Chicago (can only use their first album), Buffalo Springfield ("For What It's Worth" is perfect, about the Sunset Strip riots in 1967 -- I can use it for larger meaning), Jefferson Airplane (which leads to a lengthy side-trip down the "San Francisco Sound" tunnel), The Fifth Dimension, The Isley Brothers, Steppenwolf -- yes, I can use "Born to be Wild," now that I have moved book 3 from 1968 to 1969.

Last year, anticipating the long flights to Hong Kong and back, I invested in Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and they are perfect for this task. I'm listening a lot right now, trying to find a way in, and pulling out a line here, a line there, of select songs (not scrapbook anchors) for inclusion somehow -- don't know how yet. I'm going on faith here that I'll figure out a way to do this, and if I don't, it's not time wasted.

Delicious lines like "It appears to be such a long long long long time before the dawn." Know it? "And the beat goes on." "The past is just a goodbye." "All the world over it's easy to see, people everywhere just got to be free." And many more.

I've been wondering if I can put more of myself into this book, like I did with REVOLUTION and COUNTDOWN. I've said I'm going to the Bay Area for book 3, but I lived in Charleston, South Carolina in 1969, my dad flew into and out of Vietnam, our high school was integrated - in spite of Strom Thurmond's defiance - by the National Guard, boy picketed to grow their hair long, girls picketed to shorten their skirts, and I loved Crosby, Stills and Nash and the Beatles and many more... the music was fresh, new, energizing, and amazing.

I was 16 years old and wanted to see the film Easy Rider. I didn't have the $3 it cost for a movie ticket. My dad said, "I will not give you three dollars to support Peter Fonda's drug habit." He forbid me to see Easy Rider. So I told my parents I was off to somewhere or other on a date with Jim (that took care of the $3, and besides, it was JIM), and instead went into downtown Charleston, South Carolina to see Easy Rider.

It. Was. Thrilling. Imagine sitting in the theater, a sheltered child of strict Southern, military parents who didn't even want rock-and-roll in the house -- I'd had to "audition" rock-and-roll in order to be allowed to play it -- I chose my 45 of "We Can Work It Out" by the Beatles and got a reluctant okay.

Imagine this kid sitting in the theater and watching Easy Rider unfold. Born to be Wild indeed. Here is the beginning of the movie with Steppenwolf's signature anthem (if you can call it that):

That's it for today. I've listened until my ears hurt. And we've got to get myself back to the garden....

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7. dispatch from mississippi: belonging

I was born in Mobile, Alabama, while my dad was stationed at Brookley Field. He had gone off to the Korean War in 1951, just after he and my mother married, and now here I came, in 1953, on the heels of his return. We lived in Mobile for five years, until the Air Force transferred us to Hawaii. I have always claimed Alabama as the land of my birth, and I also claim Mississippi as home, as it was the land we returned to over and again as I grew up, and as my own children grew up, as my people were there. And so was my heart.

My mother was born in Mississippi and grew up in West Point, MS. My dad was born in Jasper County and grew up there. I grew up there, too, with the wacky grandmother who became Miss Eula in LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, and the three maiden aunts who become Ruby's chickens, and all the cousins and aunts and uncles and a decaying town that is even more of a ghost today than it was when I was wandering its one main road and its cemetery and crossing the railroad tracks to visit Aunt Mitt and playing piano in the unlocked Methodist church.

Mississippi doesn't claim me, though. According to book committees who decide these things, I didn't live for five continuous years in Mississippi, so I am not in the club, even though I am a Mississippian by blood and by words.

This is a long story and one I hope to write about at some point, so I can figure out how I feel about choosing home. Home is in Atlanta today, of course, but home will always be where I've hung my hat: Hawaii, Maryland, D.C., South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia.... and Mississippi as well. "What you know first stays with you." I am a Southern Girl, through and through. I am a human being with stories to tell. What does that mean?

Here's what it meant this week, as I took part in the first-ever Mississippi Book Festival, visited that family I love so much (Uncle Jim is our patriarch now, about to turn 92), and that place that defined me as a child -- and as a writer. Photos below of what becomes Aurora County in my books LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER; EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS; and THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS.

And then there is my first book, FREEDOM SUMMER. I have never before posted pictures of the pool and roller skating rink that closed in 1964. The forest is claiming it now. I have taken photos there for many years, and have documented this abandoned place as it goes back to forest land. I wrote FREEDOM SUMMER -- and REVOLUTION -- to understand what happened. To keep this time and place alive, so we remember our history. So young people will know what it was like then. What it is like now.

Dispatch from Mississippi:

Picking up Kerry Madden along the way
downtown Jackson, Mississippi. My folks retired to Jackson after a long military career, and I kept coming to Mississippi with my own kids as they grew up... Mississippi has been a constant in my life, all my life.

With Ellen Ruffin at the Eudora Welty house on Friday night at the author reception
Kimberly Willis Holt, moi, Chris Barton, and Karen Rowell of USM.
Jamie Kornegay and Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi has been such a staunch supporter of my books. Jamie's new novel is SOIL. "It has saturated the South!" Jamie says.
Kelly Kornegay, who (among other things) reads and buys children's at Turnrow. She heard me whining about not being recognized literarily as a Mississippian and said, "Debbie, people who have lived here all their lives are trying to ESCAPE Mississippi!" which made me laugh and gave me perspective. She also said, "Your books are THE quintessential books on what it means to be from Mississippi, to be a Mississippian. You're IN." hahaha.

Fuzzy photo of a bunch of us including Lori Nichols, Ellen Ruffin, Greg Leitich Smith, Susan Eaddy, Kerry Madden
taking in all in. What a lovely evening.
We had to turn people away, in Room 113 of the State Capitol, for the Young People's Literature panel. It was that way on all panels, all day. The turnout was tremendous. HOORAY!
Pontificating. Which I am very good at.
This is what it's about at a Festival.
And this. Clara Martin is the children's book buyer at Lemuria Book in Jackson. Last year on the REVOLUTION tour, she had me sign her copy of LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER that she has had since she was a fourth grader. "My favorite book!"
Chris Barton signing Shark vs Train and John Roy Lynch in the Lemuria tent.
At dinner, Saturday night, with my loves.

My son Jason with his Great-uncle Jim. Both of them jesters.

Two more Jims: mine, and the cousin I have always called Bubba.

If you're a RUBY fan, you recognize this sign!

My grandmother's house, The Pink Palace, in RUBY, Snowberger's Funeral Home in LITTLE BIRD, House Jackson's home in ALL-STARS, and Young Joe's home in FREEDOM SUMMER. This was my world every summer, and the place I longed for when I wasn't there. Still do, I guess.
The back kitchen. Sloped ceiling, lightbulb on a string, Nanny eating buttered toast and milky coffee at the enamel table, closthepins in a bag hanging on the door, a pan of green beans waiting to be snapped. I did dishes in the deep sink with my Aunt Evelyn, who we all called Goodness. Once, when my mother sent me in to dry while Aunt Evelyn washed, Goodness waved me away with, "Go play. I let God dry the dishes."
My friend Howard now lives in Rhiney Boyd's house, across the road from my grandmother's. Rhiney had a son named Luther Rhinehart Boyd, which is where I took Mr. Norwood Boyd's name from in ALL-STARS.

Kerry listens to Merle's stories. Merle now owns my grandmother's house (The Pink Palace, in the background).

I adore Lois. She has just entered the Witness Protection Program. I think she got dressed just for us. "I used to wear all black and brown, but now I wear COLOR all the time." You go, Lois. Go on with your colorful self.
This is where I'm sitting this morning. Back to the pink chair and back to work. Knowing that it doesn't matter if Literary Mississippi claims me or not. I claim me, and those people who are, and who once were: moments, memory, meaning, as I always say when I teach. 

I will never live long enough to write all the stories asking for my attention. They claim me. And for that I am grateful.

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8. heady stuff

OMYGOODNESS life is on and on and on this week. Next week is an off week, where I'm writing, so there will be lots of sitting in the pink chair by the (cold) fireplace, and putting words to paper, before we head to Mississippi for the first-ever Mississippi Book Festival. More on that next week. In this week I have visited Scholastic Book Fairs' Southeast Regional Office; I spent some time at re:loom gathering stories; I worked at Georgia State's College of Education doing a video podcast for NCTE's Language Arts, and I hung out with some wonderful folks at the Georgia Center for the Book and DeKalb County Libraries for the event "Books Every Georgian and Every Young Georgian Should Read." Met Congressman Lewis, who has written MARCH, a graphic memoir, made new friends, met old friends... celebrated stories all week long. A few snaps with captions:

Laurel Snyder, writer extraordinaire, and Joe Davich of the Center for the Book.
Meeting John Lewis
Signing books to each other.
At the Square Pub in Decatur, reception for the book event, with Pearl McHaney, Lisa Wise (The Initiative for Affordable Housing and re:loom), and Kelly Bingham, another writer extraordinaire (Z is for Moose)
In which I brave a terrible picture of myself in order to show a beautiful picture of a writing hero of mine, Mary Hood.
Terry McVoy, Laurel Snyder, Moi, at The Square Pub
Selfie of same
catching my breath....
Heading to Georgia State to work with Laura May (NCTE's Language Arts) and Brian Williams, professor and director of the Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence.

We were so caught up in the camraderie and good work and richness of conversation, we didn't take one photo of ourselves.
Trust me, though... it was an amazing afternoon. You'll be able to watch the podcast in January.
I'm heading from these heady events to Chuck E. Cheese tonight, to celebrate with my favorite four-year-old her first full week in a new school. Pretty heady stuff for a four, and for her grandmother, too. Can't wait. Happy weekend friends, wherever your travels take you. A little bit of out-there goes a long way for me. I'm going to hunker down and stay home and quiet this weekend and all next week, before the next round of traveling begins.

I crashed into bed and slept 10 hours last night. Ha! I'm patted together and good to go. Tea with a friend today, then back to the page.

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9. out there

Mostly photos today. I'm entering the "out there" time with work, and consequently less writing time, so I'm up early to get in some hours with stories. And we're still taking field trips to find some water to float in, some tomatoes to stuff sandwiches with, and some time away from hours on the page, time to turn off all noises and disconnect.

I visited Scholastic Book Fairs' Southeast Regional Office last week for lunch and stories, and we had a blast reconnecting at the beginning of this school year. Long love affair there. Jim and I got away over the weekend to Rabun County, Georgia, to the north Georgia mountains, to float in Lake Burton. And I'm doing some work with the Initiative for Affordable Housing in Atlanta, and their re:loom program... more on this as time goes on.

I know how lucky I am to have a home, to have good work to do, to be able to take a day off to float, to buy peaches and pickling cukes, to think about thinking, to write stories to share with others, to watch the sun come up while I work, to visit people who partner with me, to have family living near, to know I am loved, and to have lots of love to give. It doesn't get any better than this.

And we got a little rain. Happy August, friends. Every little thing counts. Every little thing.

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10. 48 days, day 48 (and beyond): liftoff

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.
Day 48 was a travel day. We had four days in California and spent it with monks and in monasteries in Trabuco Canyon and in Hollywood; with our son and his sweetheart; and at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles, where I made a little speech as I accepted the Golden Kite for fiction, for REVOLUTION. I am still so giddily happy about that. I'd never been to the Summer Conference before, either -- an amazing experience.

Met with my agent, too, and got all strategic about the rest of my Year of Exploration, and roughly mapped out the next ten years. More on all that after some photos, so I can remember:

Sweet Southern Breezers at SCBWI, breakfast Saturday morning. Love y'all.
Bodhi tree at the Hollywood Temple, Vedanta Center of Southern California
Two monks, more or less.

Vespers at the Hollywood temple
My son Zach lived in the Trabuco monastery for a year. Now he has a music degree from the University of Colorado and has moved to L.A.
Hollywood Temple, dedicated in 1938

non-gmo treats only! distilled water only!

lovely Megan and lovely Zach

What I learned in my 48 days is that I can work on more than one thing at a time, but I am still not good at multi-tasking, if that makes sense. If I'm deep into the work, the house is a wreck. If I'm deep into the garden, the work gets set aside. If I am deep into the work, the kitchen and all I love to do in it, lies dormant, which is a shame this time of year. I didn't buy one peach this season, and peach season is about done.

So my balance is still off, or maybe I'll never have it. I like long, luscious hours stretching ahead, to immerse myself in something. It feeds me. So I dunno... I guess in this 48 days I learned that I could work on picture book projects and have four or five going, but forget everything else. It was good to set everything else aside and concentrate, joyfully.

Everything else still needs attending, and part of the attending was looking critically and dispassionately at how I make a living, which is what I did with my agent on Monday before Jim and I hopped a plane home. Long and short: I can't get off the road and just write. That's my biggest practical take-away of the Year of Exploration so far.

That's fine. I like the work I do in schools, at conferences, teaching and speaking. I just need a better balance, so there is time for the writing. So that's what we worked on, getting to that better balance. We. Have. Plans. For now, "Don't give up your day job" is my reality once again, and I choose to embrace it. Bring it on, I say, and let's get to work.

I've had my 48 days of continuous writing, and now it's time to be back out there again, and living in the world in that lovely out-there way, which teaches me so much and gives me plenty to write about.

So. We have liftoff...

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11. 48 days, day 47: celebration

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.
We don't have a picture of us in the sixties. We met when our mutual friend, Jimmy Murphy, who lived down the street from me and drove me to school in his family's Corvair, asked me one morning at pick-up, "Can we go by and get my friend Jim?" and I said sure.

Turns out, Jimmy and Jim worked together (if you could call it that) at Biff Burger in Charleston, South Carolina. My dad had been transferred to Charleston in 1968. He spent two years mostly flying C-141s into and out of Vietnam while my mother held together a family of three kids and a dog and teenager-hood in the late sixties.

As Jim loped out of his house, trombone case under one arm, spiral notebook spilling papers out of the other, I knew my life was about to change. You can't even define it that way -- it's a feeling you understand only later, looking back. I got out of the passenger seat and crawled into the cramped back seat, not because I was a girl and that's what girls did, but because Jim was 6'6" tall and I knew he wouldn't fit in the back.

I don't know where the trombone went. Maybe there wasn't a trombone.

"Hi," was all I managed. "Hi," he said back. He had gigantic lips (good for kissing, it turned out). He smiled with his whole face, hiding nothing, including how amazing he thought I was, this creature who occupied the front seat of his friend Jimmy's car.

And that was the beginning. Things went very fast. I was a good girl. He was a Billy Graham good boy. But we were very good explorers, and we became inseparable, and such good friends, too. He was a good listener. I was a good talker. For the first time in my life, I had someone to really listen to me, to intently listen, looking me straight in the face, paying attention. It was heady stuff!

The music in his life became the music in mine, as I sat at football games in the bleachers in freezing November, watching the sousaphone player at halftime marching in the St. Andrews High School Marching Band. He loved band, he loved the piano (his strength, still today), and he loved rock and roll.

My dad was transferred to the Philippines in 1970, and through a series of events too long to go into here, Jim and I lost touch for a few decades. When we reunited in our late forties, he still looked at me with that grin and those lips and those eyes so intent on my face, listening. I was so far gone before we even got started again. "I can't believe you never got married," I said, "that you never had kids..."

And do you know what he said? "I waited for you." Well. Here I am, me and my decades of living, my four children all grown now, who have been folded into Jim's heart, too, a heart that has room for anything Debbie loves. It's downright inspiring.

I am pouty, where he lets go. I am critical, where he is understanding. I am self-centered, where he is selfless. I could go on. Perhaps I have him on a pedestal. Perhaps he puts me there, too. Maybe that's as it should be.

We are two artists trying to make our way in a world that is not sympathetic to artistic temperaments and making a living. We manage. We like being together and say that's what counts. We both like simple, silly adventures. He makes me laugh. He likes my faces. He likes my snoring. "I can't sleep until I hear you snore." He will go with me to France one day -- a dream I had even when I knew him in high school.

Is it all good? We both find brown sugar cinnamon frosted Pop Tarts hard to resist. There. Something not so good? Nah. It's all good.

Today is our 8th wedding anniversary. We'll spend it getting ready to leave on our trip that begins in tomorrow's wee hours.

This song was number 50 on the Billboard Top 100 for 1969. I'm listening to a lot of late sixties music in preparation for writing Book 3 of the sixties trilogy. I'm looking for anchor songs for scrapbooks, and for story inspiration. This song reminds me so much of that amazingly innocent and yet powerful Charleston time we had together in 1969. Here's to you, Sweet Jim, to the 14 years we've spent together again. I hope we get 14 more.

(the hair! the suits! the dancing while playing guitar! the lip sync! where are the trumpets? hahahahaha. oh, sixties, you are so weird. thank goodness.)

The Spiral Starecase
More Today Than Yesterday

I don't remember what day it was.
I didn't notice what time it was.
All I know is that I fell in love with you.
And if all my dreams come true,
I'll be spending time with you!

Every day's a new day in love with you.
With each day brings a new way of loving you --
Every time I kiss your lips my mind starts to wander...

I love you more today than yesterday
But not as much as tomorrow!

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12. 48 days, day 44-46: almost time

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

It's that no-man's place where I've got one foot in the work I'm trying to do, and one foot in my suitcase, trying to make sure I remember to pack everything I'll need in California this weekend... not very effective for doing anything requiring concentration, but it is always like this before travel. We leave Friday morning and return late Monday night. Then it is August. How did that happen?

I took 7 weeks this summer to write, just write, and to see what it might bring me to have no outside obligations or travel. I haven't read back through these entries, but I will at some point, and I bet I'll see a trajectory of some sort.. something that happens when we give ourselves the time it takes and aren't pushed by deadlines of any sort.

Life still happens, of course. This last few days it has been hard to concentrate on anything for long, so I sat with my work -- all these stories I've dragged out in this seven weeks -- and said, "what would just plain make me happy?"

A story about a little girl who is full of the joy of living -- that's what grabbed me. And so I began playing with her story. One morning when I woke at three, wide awake, I went through old mss and found her. It's been so long that I've been writing about her -- let's call her Cambria -- that I'd forgotten all the little vignettes and all the beginnings and all the possibilities I'd sketched out for her over the years.

I still love her. So much! And so she has been keeping me company today, while I write a while, pop up to put in a load of laundry; write a while, go get the dry cleaning; write a while, clean up this section of my office; write a while, go water the tomatoes.

The days are also somehow filled with Vaporwave music, bathing caps, goggles, and ear muffs and laughter. It's all good. We have beans, sweet peppers, tiny tomatoes, and new haircuts.

It's almost time to go. Almost. Almost...

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13. 48 days, day 41-43, we are stories surrounded by stories

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

Wesley, my granddog, hoping for scraps.

My friends at Turnrow Books in Greenwood, Mississippi always wrap my books in brown paper. I love that.
I am surrounded by the stories behind the stories as well...
The past three days were full of good writing energy. And, as so often happens when you prime a pump, not only did I work on the two mss that were full drafts, I worked on Rachel and the ms that wasn't (isn't) finished and is made up from whole cloth (let's call it PAPER CHAIN, as I am getting confused on the blog, at this point), AND I worked on an old biography idea that was sketched out and abandoned (let's call it SONNY).

There was also brunch with my youngest girlie -- a treat -- and the first squash of the season in our yard, and the last of the beans, and the sunlight that filtered through the blinds and onto the dusty banjo in the corner, showing me how long it has been since I played it.

This last three days has felt like play -- go figure! And I want more play. I talked with a writer friend over the weekend about this very thing. Next month, I want to take two art classes (I mentioned them here), and I want to dust off my banjo, and I want to finish -- and submit -- some of these stories I've worked on in this 48 days. That's the plan.

We leave for L.A. on Friday. REVOLUTION has won The Golden Kite Award, and we're heading to L.A. to accept it, and to teach a workshop on structuring your novel, and to soak up our peeps who live there... I am beginning to turn my energy and attentions to travel now. Here's a Q&A I did with Lee Wind and the lovely SCBWI folks about REVOLUTION.

My writing energy will be dissapated this week with the travel planning, but I can still work. I've just picked up my library's Emily Jenkins holdings. These are the books of hers I don't have on my shelves, and I want to study her work. I am captured by how she writes about everyday life, how she has a different illustrator for each picture book, and how she now has a picture book to go with the  TOYS GO OUT chapter books trilogy. I'm intrigued. What is she up to? What can I learn from her?
I could ask her, I guess. But I'm much more interested in studying the work on my own. I have learned that there is so much to discover when I immerse myself in the work. Mine and others.

Writing them, reading them, living them: I am surrounded by stories, and the stories behind the stories... we are each a living story, you know that, right? Our job is to sing them, dance them, write them, draw them... to tell our stories and to listen to others tell theirs. As I tell kids in schools all the time: It's hard to hate someone when you know her story.

We are stories surrounded by stories. 

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14. 48 days, day 39-40: a welcoming

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

The Year of Exploration is here.
On Being a Late Bloomer is here.
My speech at Vermont College (moments, memories, meaning) is here.

Ha! The joke is on me. I have two manuscripts, here in my enormous trove, that are finished, that are revised multiple times for different editors (editors I no longer work with and who have changed houses as well), that went to committee at two different publishing houses more than ten years ago, that still seem (to me) relevant (even more so!), and that I now understand, as I read through the many editorial letters and scratches on manuscript pages, what the heck they were talking about 15 years ago. I just couldn't see it then.

Why aren't I working on these?

So that's what I've been up to, yesterday and today, days 39 and 40. It took me over a month to realize that I've got two amazing stories sitting right here, complete stories, with notes from two fanastic editors all over them, with editorial letters suggesting changes, asking questions, championing me from a far-away desk in a long-ago time, but still -- there it is. The stuff of story-making.

What was I waiting for?

I think I needed the way to clear, the dust to settle, the noise to stop, the heavy (emotional) lifting to quiet, the movement to cease, the push-to-publication to give up and allow me to find what feeds me. I thought it was going to be some sort of rhythm or discipline or focus or habit or hours of having my head down and plowing through, creating brand-new. It's none of those things.

Instead, it's a welcoming. 

40 days in, I see that I needed the do-the-work train to come into the station and empty itself out. I don't have to push so hard. These two stories came twinkling down the steps -- they've been in plain sight all along, waving out the window -- as my engine stops gunning and quells the I have to get this done; I have to make this up; I have to find my way; I have to hurry;  I have to do do do do do from scratch; oh why can't I do it better and more and more, hurry up, there are only X days left.

I love these two stories so much.

Let it be about the work you love. 

Squash growing in the back yard where a maple tree (split by lightning) used to be. There are suddenly so many ladybugs on it! I like to think they are doing the work they love... or at least that they aren't trying so hard, they're just doing what they do...
We've been trying to identify this plant that has suddenly shown up. Guesses (on FB and IG) have been the obvious (ha!), hemp, castor bean, buckeye, and names I can't pronounce. We'll keep watching it. It's the only plant like this in the yard, a volunteer, and it is happy here. I think it got off some train...
A surprise present from my kids! An Appalachain pack basket, hand made, with I hope lots of love. It surely seems that way.

All the drains are working! We want to move water along on the property, not let it sit, so we've got drains installed that lead to the creek, but we also want to sink some water and let it recharge the ground. This will eventually be a little frog pond. We already hear the frogs at night and see dragonflies hovering nearby. Lovin' it.
flowing into the creek.... water doin' its thing...
doesn't look like much now, but this is a low point in the yard that we'll turn into a second small pond or wetland. we're listening to the land and doing what it asks us to do... doing what it loves. Okay, enough making a point! Off to do what I love.

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15. 48 days, day 37-38: the beating heart

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}

Taken at Tallulah Gorge in the North Georgia mountains a few years ago... writing is kind of like this... looking for the best view to tackle the story.
Well, it rained again, and I slept again, and I got to work again, and I ate a PopTart. All good.

I'm back to Rachel and also back to another picture book I've worked on, off and on, for about five years (maybe more). There's nothing to say I can't work on this new/old idea, too, is there? No, and honestly, it feels easier to me right now.

Easier meaning... doable. Totally made up out of whole cloth. The sky's the limit! This is an idea that came to me that I fiddled with, got some words down on paper, fiddled some more, left to simmer, came back to add a little, left to stew while I wrote other things, traveled, looked at it from time to time and felt that tingle... yes, I love this idea... keep it. With an idea that has no tie to a real person, place, or event, there are no borders, no boundaries, no stops. I miss that.

I have spent several years writing historical fiction, which has taught me so very much and has stretched me as a writer. I'm grateful for it. It occurs to me now, as I am able to be home and pay attention to my days, that I miss the relative ease of realistic fiction, of fantasy, poetry, essay, memoir, myth.

It's all hard, but there is an element of who cares what the history says, write whatever you want! in these mysterious genres, and whenever I'm working on this new/old book I feel the little thrill of discovery, the zing! of contentment, thee lightening of the load, the giddyness of aiieeeeee! this is fun! I can go anywhere I want! It's like bumper cars! Bang! Oops! Back up! Bang! hahahaha!

Of course I can't go anywhere I want in the end, but in the mess-making phase, I certainly can. Oh how I have missed it!  ONE WIDE SKY is a book I wrote in rhymed couplets, 88 words, about the joys of the natural world, a counting book. My research was just outside my door. The Aurora County books were cut from the whole cloth of my childhood summers in Mississippi.

Maybe that was part of my malaise... it can feel burdensome to be tied to a timeline of years or events or facts or figures... or all four at once, and for such a long time. (There is also a very useful and helpful structure offered up when tied to those things -- another story for another time.) So I am working on Rachel, but I am largely letting her go when I stumble on research holes, and that's when I unburden myself, and give myself to this new/old manuscript where anything goes. Anything!

I love making this mess. I remind myself that this 48 days was for experimenting, so experiment all you want right now, Debbie -- you'll have to settle in soon enough, make a firm decision when you're back from California, and begin to plow forward. And it will be okay. You will have had your breathing space, I say. Right now: B-I-C. Butt In Chair. Put in some hours. Make a mess. GO.

That's where I've been for the past two days. It feels good. The rain has helped with the watering. I want to talk at some point about the ordering of energies and time and how much we have in a day to give to any one task in front of us. Another day, though. I'm going back to the page.

Let's call the new/old picture book "the Merton book." There is this line by Merton I have long loved and am working with: "There is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun."

Right there lies the beating heart of everything I write.

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16. 48 days, day 35-36: what helps, 10 things

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm!}}
What helps you through the sludge? Putting it here so I remember. Ten things this weekend:

1.  Time. Two days off to listen and rest and try to believe (I do) it's a good thing to do for myself. Staring at the wall in the quiet.

2.  Journaling. Writing about it. "I write because I don't understand what I think until I read what I say." - Flannery O'Connor

3.  Activity, half-mindless. Organizing the office on more than a surface level has been on my list for years. My office serves as overflow whenever someone spends the night (or visits, depending), and it catches EVERYTHING in between visits. It's a big space -- my living/dining room in this house. I've pulled everything out to look at it and I've got boxes ready. Keep, toss, save for one day, give away, etc. It feels good. I couldn't do it until now, for some reason. And the going is slow. But it's going. It's like emptying out my mind to look at its contents and putting everything back in order... or letting things go.

4.  Podcasts, old movies I don't have to really pay attention to to enjoy, music -- depending on my mood. Usually while doing #3. Mostly I prefer silence, though.

5.  Sleeping in. Napping.

6.  Connecting with people I love who love me right back. You can tell, can't you? You can feel it. That's good medicine.

7.  Eating good food. Eating bad food. Special thanks to frozen strawberry fruit bars and the beans from the garden (not at the same time) that are inspiring me.

8.  RAIN. We finally had some decent rain yesterday. Last night we went to bed listening to frogs. Frogs! The gardens are making me happy, and now they are happy, too.

9.  Not writing.

10.  Feeling like writing again.

So here I go. Thank you for all the mail of the past two days. I've tucked all your good wishes into my pocket, where I touch them like they are wishing stones.

crazy, amiright?
right down to the drawers and shelves (not shown) and closet (ditto)
The garden is coming in. These are our green beans. This is the first garden we've had in so many years... already making plans for next year.
I'm loving apple cider mixed with fizzy water over ice. Jim and I are using our old standby coasters: the back of the old Methodist hymnal for me, and the back of an old Dr. Seuss for him. It works.
I'd like to think I can go through the entire house with my box system. But I'm trying to stay in the present and hope I can finish the office. That would be a major coup.
Saturday breakfast. You should have seen it smothered in almond slices next. Because I could.
Our tomatoes are slow to come in. Next year we'll be here in May (so she says) and have more time to get the garden in. I have traveled for 15 years and not had a garden, and I have so missed it. I am determined...
Come on! You can do it! Grow, grow... this tomato is on a berm in the back (water management project) along with six or eight others, in an experiment to see if we get enough sun in the back now to grow tomatoes. I think not. The tomatoes in front yard are exponentially bigger. These guys got into the ground at about the same time, the first week in June... we'll see. They are scraggly... grown from seed and too long in their little cups, I fear...

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17. 48 days, day 34, integrating losses

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

So I thunked. I sent off the proposal, all 13 pages. I've already heard back from my trusted readers (it's a draft; how can I make it better?) and from my agent, who says, "let's talk." hahahahaha. You know, that's fine. We will meet in Los Angeles at the end of this month when my 48 days is up and the next travel starts, and we will hash it out. And this way, he has it in advance and can mull and stew, just like I will. I got good comments from my readers as well, and I have some ruminating to do on this project... it will be fine. I FINISHED SOMETHING. It only took me 33 days.

And that brings me to the next thing. My 48 days of chronicling my writing process ends in just 15 days. Gosh, I would have killed for 48 straight days ahead me to write when I had four kids swirling around my ankles, when I had a full time job, when I was traveling like a maniac (which is the past 15 years, pretty much). So what gives? Why haven't I burped out War and Peace?

I'm thinking this morning (maybe because I'm operating on only a few sips of coffee) about what lies beyond our immediate consciousness when we make our decisions... why is it we can't seem to get going, or feel low, or bang our heads against the wall in frustration?

i.e. Why is my office such a mess? Why am I so reluctant to go buy the dirt, put in the window a/c unit, clean the kitchen, sweep the basement floor, fold the mounds of laundry (at least it is washed and dried), make an appointment to get my hair cut before L.A., pull weeds, cook supper... finish my Rachel revision, get Book3 off the ground, finish the essay, tackle the other writing projects that stare at me: you said you were going to pay attention to us!

Why does it take an act of congress to get me going these days?

I believe (as we've discussed) the fear is part of it. The canvas-wafting that comes with the fear is real, and I wrote about that here. I also think that sometimes we don't even know what's slowing us down until we really think about it some and examine what's going on. Sometimes it takes a friend or a partner to help us see. Sometimes it's helpful to acknowledge the sludge.

So what is it? A good friend and I had a ComeToJesus moment yesterday afternoon, after I thunked and felt so good to have SOMETHING off my plate, and then (immediately, because that's what we do) discounted how glorious that was and started talking about all that I haven't done in this 48 days and that I set out to do. There must be some sludge in there, I said.

Have you thought about the fact that you're dealing with a good deal of death and loss? she asked. Have you thought about how you've tried to be there for your children, through their loss, and you haven't really acknowledged how this loss has affected you? But that was two months ago, I said. She laughed. Two months! Two months! And you were married for how long? We weren't married for the past 15 years, I countered. You had how many children together?

I talked about that loss here, in a speech I gave at Vermont College in 2004. It's been not quite 15 years since I became so suddenly single (as I like to call it). I thought I had dealt with that. I have a wonderful life that I cherish, and I have watched my children come through the fire to claim their own good lives as well. But when someone dies... I don't know. It brings up all the ancient mariners.

I mentioned that loss here, on day 1 of the 48 days, in a perfunctory fashion, and I don't want to belabor it now, I just want to say that I am partly angry that this loss is slowing me down, and I partly feel like it's an excuse, and partly I want to be very nice to myself through this, because mostly I know I will integrate this loss and the malaise will pass.

And what about your therapist retiring? That was a real blow, wasn't it? It's only been six weeks since you said goodbye to her... someone you really came to love and do good work with. Well, yes, it is a real loss. I have felt it keenly. I cried more in her office, leading up to our last session together, than I cried in years and years. I know I was mourning All The Losses, I know that.

I have mostly tried to ignore that feeling of loss, because it saps energy and I'm trying to Get Stuff Done. But it creeps into the psyche, like any loss, asking for attention, sucking up more energy than it would if I would just acknowledge it. I didn't realize I was hiding it from myself. Now I do.

And earlier this year, there were great disappointments, remember them? And you have learned from them, worked with them... and remember all that travel from January through June? You were gone more than you were home. You went to HONG KONG for heaven's sake. And yeah, you loved it all, it was good work, it is allowing you to be home now, but be honest -- you must be exhausted! Yes, yes, yes, and yes.

It's enough to kill a horse! hahahahaha. She always says that after she makes her points. It always makes me laugh.

So I began to think about it all. Not to dwell on it (heaven forfend, because maudlin is the last thing I want to be right now -- it's hard enough as it is), but to acknowledge it. Sometimes acknowledging the sludge is the beginning of a path through it.

And not that I own these additional things, but they touch me (and should) in these 48 days: The Charleston Shootings. Claudia Rankine's NYTimes essay about same (it haunts me). Ta-Nehesi Coates's essay. Harper Lee's Watchman and the swirl accompanying it. Sometimes I think, the whole world is a mess. But it isn't. "Look for the helpers," as Fred Rogers' mother told him to do.

And it gets better. A story:

When I became so suddenly single, I didn't write another word for over two years, which is why there is a four-year gap between RUBY and LITTLE BIRD.  I called my editor, Liz Van Doren at Harcourt Brace, and told her that I couldn't write anymore, that I was too devastated to write, that I was going to have to go be a greeter at WalMart or something, because I was good at greeting but had few other marketable skills, and I needed a job.

Liz told me, "You are forgetting you are a writer. A writer writes. I want you to promise me that you will sit at your desk every day and ask yourself, what can I write? and write that." I promised. And what came of that promise was EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS. I wrote it through the death of a long-years marriage, the death of my mother, the death of my father, the loss of my home of 25 years, and the loss of full-time motherhood as my youngest of four turned eighteen and graduated and we moved to Atlanta, just as I turned 50.

I hardly remember the publication of LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER and FREEDOM SUMMER in 2001, because I was too busy trying to wrap my head around what had just happened to us as a family, and to me as the one abandoned.

That loss and grief fueled the writing of LITTLE BIRD, which ended up on so many state book award lists, ended up winning the Bank Street Fiction Award and the E.B. White Award and was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2005... none of which I even thought about as I wrote. I wrote about my grief and loss. I sent the book to Liz in chunks. She sent it back with revision notes, in chunks.

The book took a year to write -- that's all. It poured and poured out and Liz helped me shape it. And so I know I can write through my pain. I know I can write through my loss. I was concerned with my very survival in those LITTLE BIRD years, and in the welfare of my children.

So what to do about sludge, or malaise, which seems to rise up from a different place? It's not a place of survival. It's a place of relative safety, with a sheen of sadness over it. I don't know. I've started swimming again. Last summer I swam almost every day, and it helped in more ways than I can list. Maybe that's a help with the malaise that hangs over every project I look at this morning.

My mother would tell me I'm just feeling sorry for myself. Years ago I would have believed her and honestly, maybe there is some of that. But I don't think so. I am just a tad lost in the thicket of sadness. It will pass. I have learned that. It's hard to trust it, but it will pass.

So I am doing little things to nurture myself. I'm going to lunch with my eldest son today. Thai food! Son! Love! Lovely.

All to say that, if you are sad, if you feel as if you're walking through the sludge sometimes, come sit by me. You are not alone.

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18. 48 days, day 32-33, fried okra focus

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Well, the new project won out. Doesn't it always? It's actually an old project that I have been batting around with my agent for at least a year and a half, saying I'm going to propose, and that I have shied away from tackling because it will take dedicated time and focus.

But it's new in that this proposal must be written from the ground up, a structure figured out for it, and a persuasive argument made for it, cogently and smartly. It's a professional document that must include all pertinent facts, history, goals, sales information, curriculum connections, and arguments for.

And it was doable yesterday because I understand what it entails, and because it's finite. Sometimes, when you are stuck, trying to create art out of whole cloth, it helps to tackle something concrete.

Writing the proposal required me to make decisions after all the "what-if" I chewed on for so long with my agent and with trusted friends. It's a relief to make decisions and close doors, even for this eternal processor. Putting words to paper and understanding my motivations better helped me clarify just what it is I want to do with this project, and what it is I want to offer, and what it is I want to write.

I spent many hours intensely focused on this yesterday, and frustrated, too, because I am so disorganized that it's hard to find the photos I want, the statistics I want, the comparisons and the sources I need. But I got it half-done, maybe 3/4, and I could see the shape of the proposal and how it could be effective, before I knocked off for supper with friends.

I had to MAKE MYSELF GO TO SUPPER, which is a clear sign for me that I'm on to something. Whether somebody else thinks so or not, well, we'll see. I was excited to get back to it this morning, and I've been working all day on finishing. I took a break for okra fried by Jim (I loooooove fried okra), and will spend the rest of the afternoon on this proposal, then go swimming (a story for later).

My goal is to have this proposal off my plate and onto my agent's by the end of the week. Which is tomorrow. I can do it. I am almost there. By the end of the day I will have it in shape enough to go swim on it, work in the garden and then sleep on it, and then -- VOILA -- I will be able to say I have FINISHED something. Halleluia, Mississippi! (That is a hint!)

It's mostly spinach. But some days you just really need some fried okra.

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19. 48 days, day 31-32, rabbit holes, dreaming

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

For the past two or three weeks, I have had dreams that involve a whole lot of people in my life doing a whole lot of weird things. I've been doing some intense therapy work for four and a half years now, and I know what's going on: an integration of the many parts of myself. This is good news.

It doesn't surprise me that these dreams are coming -- every night, now -- in part because I am bringing up ancient stuff in working on a family essay that takes me into dark territory. But I must go there. I've been saying for years that I'm going to write a memoir. And now it's asking for attention. But working on this essay has shown me that I'm not ready for that rabbit hole to consume me, but that I might be able to break it into tiny bites... a poem here, a list there, a vignette or essay at some point.

This is maybe more than anyone wants to know... I just want to mark it here, as I'm the only person who will read through these entries many years from now and say, "oh... I remember that... that was the time that..." etc. So here you go.

In writing news, it's butt-my-head-against-the-wall time. I rush to the page to scribble a line that's in my head as I wake, as I shower, as I pull weeds or pick beans. I now have pages of these lines, and I see what project of the many I'm trying to work on here (experimenting) they relate to, but I don't have a way to connect them yet. The fascia is missing... something like that.

So I wander (because that's what it feels like -- arrrrgggghhh!) between the essay, the picture book, the start of the novel, the research, the new project I'm excited about (naturally), the biography I want to write, and I feel as if I'm wafting from palette to palette, brushstroking and sighing on. It's frustrating. Nothing is finished.

The alternative is to put all but one project away (my usual way of working) and focus on that one project to the exclusion of everything else. And I've been afraid to do that because of the rabbit-hole effect I mentioned here (well, hmmm... I didn't mention it there, just mentioned the project/essay possibility... but I felt it). And here (wow, way back in 2008). And here (in the very wise comments). And here (about Countdown). And here, about tracking down sources. I am wary of the rabbit holes, even though I know I survive them. We all do. Right? Still.

I am wary because... what? I am wrung out at the end? I focus to the exclusion of everything else in my life? I am afraid of what I will discover? My wee heart/mind/psyche doesn't want to go there? I know the time it takes? The toll it exacts? Yes. To all of it.

So I wander from canvas to canvas. And I dream.

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20. 48 days, day 29-30: time off

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Instead of another field trip, I took the weekend off while Jim gigged. The only time he had off was Sunday morning, and he used it to hang with granddaughter Abby, who came to spend the night on Saturday night, after a comedy-of-errors family movie date we put together for Saturday.

We did end up seeing INSIDE OUT with Abigail, complete with snacks smuggled in by Grandma and chicken tenders, quesadillas, pretzel bites and french fries ordered and eaten during the show, something I would never normally do. Heck, I've never even been to a theater experience with tables and a restaurant, but it's what we could find on Saturday, and in the end, I was glad we went.

By the time we had worked out all the strategic details for people in three different towns and zoomed around between three counties -- found we were at a sold-out show, then piled in one car and bought tickets for another show while zooming to it, only to find out we'd bought tickets for the wrong venue, sneaked in anyway (my specialty), and then cooler heads prevailed (not mine) and we realized this show was going to be sold out, too, and there were assigned seats, so we fixed it at the ticket counter and got the last available seats --- well, by then we were starving and exhausted and hanging with a very patient but insistent four-year-old.

I hardly remember the movie. hahahahaha.

Still, after the movie and the long trek back to Aunt Hannah's car, we went to Aunt Hannah's house to chill. A walk to the Chattahootchie, a walk through the nearby forest, a dog to romp with for a few... it was perfect. Water, woods, air, earth.

I didn't write a word. It was all glorious.You?

A few more thoughts in the captions below. Here's to a good writing week! xoxo

Makes me want to put my canoe in the river. I brought it down here from Maryland when we moved 11 years ago, and it hasn't been in water since. I miss those days on the Potomac...

... but these are good days, too.
Visiting the sunflowers that she planted with Grandpa by the mailbox a month ago -- they are taller than she is now.
What the bathtub looked like... after.
The green beans are exploding! There a cucumber plant in there, too, and some marigolds and cosmos. Finally we have sun in our yard...
This is how she sat with him in the morning, waiting for breakfast and telling him everything we'd done the day before without him.
"Warm toast with a great deal of butter." Abigail forgets nothing. I hate to admit to All This Butter...  but it was good. Now it's a morning tradition here, ever since reading Mercy Watson by Kate DiCamillo.
...and then you can read me books, and...
One of Abby's favorites, by our friend Lita Judge. Red Sled.
I was crushed that Lilly didn't make a fair impression on Abby. Maybe she's too young. She and Grandpa didn't finish this book. Maybe another day. I listened and thought about how languid the opening is (which I love), and which might not fly today... unless you are Kevin Henkes. The PB Intensive I did in May is giving me new ways to look at PBs.

I've collected buttons for years. Abby wanted to make ornaments with my mother's buttons from her button box, but I don't want to use those -- they stay in the button box. So we came up with an alternate, acceptable plan.

Seven button ornaments made for this year's Christmas tree. Project cooked up by Abby, way to make it happen cooked up by Grandma. I happened to have large safety pins, and we spent a happy hour selecting buttons and making ornaments, then packed them away for Abby to take home.

This week's writing plate is full. That's where my attentions are going... right now, Monday morning, day 31. One month in. More later --

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21. 48 days, day 28: w.o.r.k.i.n.g.

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Working today in between bouts of watering new grass in July (crazy). I leave you with this by Jonathan Franzen, from his interview in The Paris Review, because it mirrors how I feel as I write today, as I have shifted gears almost completely to the essay about stock car racing/demolition derby I mentioned here, and because it has grabbed me with such fervor that I'm already thinking, where can I send this? Premature, but an indicator that this piece has sunk in its teeth. Hard.

I understand better how much of writing a novel is about self-examination, self-transformation. I spend vastly more time nowadays trying to figure out what’s stopping me from doing the work, trying to figure out how I can become the person who can do the work, investigating the shame and fear: the shame of self-exposure, the fear of ridicule or condemnation, the fear of causing pain or harm. 

And this from Linda Ronstadt, to keep me grounded, when I worry about my to-ing and fro-ing and how many things I'm interested in, what captures me, what asks for expression, and how I sometimes (as in this 48-day experiment) allow myself to follow it:

Interviewer:  How would you describe your career? 
Ronstadt: Turbulent, I suppose, and eclectic mania. But there's a reason why there was all that rampant eclecticism in my work; it wasn't arbitrary. All those kinds of music I did were in my living room in my family's house before I was 10.  Mexican music, rock and roll, country music, American standards, Gilbert and Sullivan... it seemed perfectly natural to me... I learned a lot of my politics from music...Pete Seeger about the labor movement, civil rights, human rights... there are reasons for us to use our music, to make people understand what it's like to have somebody else's experience. It's a great mirror to hold up to the culture and it's important to use it that way.

This is on YouTube from an interview with Ronstadt last year. I listened to it like it was a podcast, while I cleaned my office.

Back to work, but first.... can you see these tiny baby beans? Be still my heart, I think we are going to have BEANS! It's been so long since we've had sun enough to grow a garden. I don't even LIKE green beans. hahahahahaha. Well, I like them fresh, and we're gonna have tons of 'em. But maybe I speak too soon. Shhhh... they are just babies. BABIES. Little tiny swords, growing and becoming. Just like my little baby essay with its pointy little teeth... hmmm....

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22. 48 days, day 25-27: deep in the thick of it, warriors

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

The thick of it for me means daily life and daily work, right here at home:

:: Scribbling, scribbling, working on five different projects, a line here, a thought there, allowing the stories that bubble up to dictate where they want to go. There's Book3 of course, always book 3. Trying openings. None are working. I don't get bent out of shape about it. I move on. I keep reading and researching and trying to find my way IN.

There's also, in those five projects, an essay about the demolition of the family I grew up in, a story about Rachel Carson, another about Virginia Durr, and a revision of a picture book ms. I wrote many years ago that went to committee at two different publishing houses after several revisions with two different editors. It has been over 10 years since I've seriously looked at this story, and now I can see what was wrong with it, and what my editors were trying to tell me. Can I revise it well enough to sell it? Let's see.

A sixth project is creeping up on me, has been waiting for years, so I'm writing about gardens and food and hand work, for.... I don't know what yet. I call it "the home economics project" right now, and I've long been labeling photos on Instagram that way. I've got a chapter of something. I have inklings, and right now I'm just following where they lead me. I've created a Pinterest board for them as well: This is Cambria Bold.

ALL OF THIS IS COMING FROM SEEING -- and believing -- THAT I HAVE A VISTA OF HOME AND WRITING TIME AHEAD. Honestly. When all I can see is the tangle of travel and time away from home, I shut down the creative part of me that needs time time time. I turn on the warrior part of me that needs to prepare for teaching and speaking and traveling and meeting and navigating and the demands of being present and "on" at all times.

It's hard to express how grateful I am for that work, and how much I need it, in order to pay my way in the world. I am good at it, and I know that, too. It's just as hard to express how much I miss the creative space. I'm grateful for it, too, in this year of exploration.

:: Listening to Krista Tippett's Feb. 2015 interview w Mary Oliver. I knew she had had lung cancer (Mary) but did not know she was still smoking. Her voice and her energy sounds so very different from her poetry! And I love her work so much. She reads several poems in the interview.

Also listening to this Playing For Change rendition of "Ripple" by The Grateful Dead. Friends are trying to help me appreciate The Dead, since I am writing about 1969 in Book3, and I can't seem to "get it" about The Greatful Dead. I don't know that I ever will -- don't hate me! But I do love this, and am glad to add it to my ongoing effort.

:: Ordering a slew of books from my library systems on audio, ebooks, and hard-copy. After listening to Mary Oliver, I want to read more about Lucretius, so I ordered THE SWERVE, a book I tried to read a couple of years ago but never got to. For work, I've ordered PRIME GREEN: REMEMBERING THE SIXTIES by Robert Stone, and Lisa Law's book (I mentioned her here on day 17) FLASHING ON THE SIXTIES. I'm reading about bugs in the garden (and capturing some doozies so I can figure out what they are). I've downloaded NIXONLAND many times as an audiobook (and hard-copy book) and listen to it when I'm driving. It makes me crazy and I yet know what it posits is important. Sometime I will quote from it here.

I love my libraries, and cannot say it enough. My open letter to DeKalb County Libraries resulted in our truce and my paying the foreign-national fee for my card (you'll see that my protest was over something else entirely, but it got conflated with the fee which I continue to protest as well) and I am happily checking out books at the Tucker branch one mile from my house, now, in addition to using the Gwinnett County system ("my" system) which is almost 9 miles from my Tucker house. Insane but true.

:: Reading online some amazing writing. This essay (excerpt from his new book) by Ta-Nehisi Coates is shattering. It's long. And it's worth your time. "Letter to my Son." As I said on Facebook, it makes me ask myself what I can do, as a writer, as a human being, and it leaves me desolate, and yet with gritty hope. Somehow. Because what alternative is there?

I am a huge fan of Longreads, do you know it? I follow them on Twitter and on Facebook, and I love a good long read. A recent long read was Sally Mann's piece (which I think I linked to earlier) in the New York Times Magazine about the cost of photographing her family so intimately over the years. I love her work. I am on a long hold list at both my library systems, for her memoir HOLD STILL. (I have a long hold list, always.)

:: Attending a birthday party for 7-year-old Elvis, who you may remember in long-ago posts as Andy or BeBop. A long story with a beautiful ending. He was my dog in 2008 and then he was my son Jason's dog, and now he belongs fully and wholly to Jason's daughter Abigail, my 4-year-old muse, who planned the party and called each of us to give us our marching orders for the event. Limbo, cake, ice cream, pizza, presents, exhaustion. Dog and kid. And grown-ups. I love that I've chronicled Elvis's little life-trajectory here on the blog, with photos.

:: Remembering that I have been blogging for ten years, ever since I went on book tour with EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS in April 2005. Back then, blogging was so new, and Harcourt asked me to keep a journal of the tour, which I did, on email, no photos, and we sent it out to folks in the children's publishing industry at the end of each day. The whole thing is archived on my website, here.

So. My first blogging in 2005. Then, when ALL-STARS was published in 2007, I began a blog with photos, at Harcourt's request... they helped me set it up. I didn't know enough about blogging at the time to know I could have just continued with that blog to today... so I started this one, and left that one behind... but you can find it here. Some day I want to consolidate them, but I don't know how right now. That last entry directs you to this blog, and gives you some photos of the real Aurora County, Mississippi I write about in RUBY, LITTLE BIRD, ALL-STARS and FREEDOM SUMMER.

:: Watering the garden and the new grass we foolishly planted in late May/early June. Trying to keep everything alive. Making notes about what-grows-best-where, now that the 14 trees down have opened up the sky in our yard and the sun shines on the ground, drying it up for the first time in years, and I am able to garden again.

The routine is to work inside, writing and researching and even napping during the heat of the day, then going out at dusk, when there are a couple of hours of light left in long summertime, to water and pick and plump and whisper and encourage and champion and nurture and clip and coax.

The outside work is like the inside work, come to think of it. All good and all welcome and all hard at times. I am so lucky. I know I am. I have come a long way in the world, even for such a late bloomer.

Long may I be able to do the work I love, surrounded by the people I love, in a place I have come to love. A place -- metaphorically, physically, spiritually, emotionally -- I fought for and didn't even get that at the time, and didn't understand I was fighting against, sometimes. If that makes sense.

I think we are all warriors, even peace warriors, staking our claim to live our lives in some meaningful way, with enough ease and enough safety to create and exist in whatever way our hearts ask for expression. Ta-Nehisi Coates. Mary Oliver. Abigail Wiles. Lisa Law. The Grateful Dead. Sally Mann. Me. You. Shanti, shanti, shanti. Peace, peace, peace.

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23. 48 days, day 23-24: halfway

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

The writing pump gets primed with something else, and then -- voila -- I can go back to my revision.  Yesterday I worked on an essay that may or may not ever be finished, but I got lost in the world I created, and looked up hours later, blinking.

Today I'm back with Rachel and working on the revision that has sat since DAY 4!, when I wrote that I had a crummy draft. I haven't seriously looked at Rachel since that day. But today -- somehow -- I can fill in the blah-blah-blahs and the description heres and I can look more critically at the structural problems I couldn't seem to face 20 days ago. Or two days ago.

I've got a story about a recalcitrant four-year-old, a stormy night, a walk to the beach, the wonders of nature and how it soothes and calms, and somewhere in there is Rachel and some science. I have two stories. Or do I? That's my challenge right now.

I'm also back to writing at my desk, instead of sitting in my green chaise or in the pink chair. There's something about a change of venue that I know you all know about. There's also something about routine and rote that's useful. But that's another post, for another day. Or not.

I've got the blinds closed against the brilliant summer heat. I've got lots of water to drink. I've got Rolos and Boulder Potato Chips, and a huscat who made a fantastic lunch just now: cabbage potato soup (in this heat! yes, it was fabulous!), broccoli and brussels sprouts, sweet potato -- I put everything into my soup.

So I'm back to it, fortified for an afternoon shift (after which I will water water water outside) and I'm not alone. The days that led to today have kept me company and have helped me begin a revision. I am halfway through my 48 days of writing. What have a got to show for it?

Don't let's measure success in words on paper and finished drafts. Success is the willingness to stick with it. I've got that in spades.

I'm also cleaning my office. One thing primes another thing. Suit up and show up. Do what you can do, that's what I say. Do what you can do and let that be enough.
lots of document windows open right now, moving between them in an experiment, a little wisp here, a sentence there, fooling myself that I'm really writing. Or maybe I am. I think I am.

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24. 48 days, day 21-22: what's asking for expression

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Jim: "We are ready for an ice age."
Jim's brunch at Homegrown this morning with family.

out-of-focus bean blossoms. too excited to focus well. bean blossoms!
the cosmos! the cosmos! the cosmos! -- not carl sagan
jelly bean tomatoes growing in the front yard flower bed. WE ATE THEM. yes we did.
moving ferns to the rocks next to the new walkway. to the right is that ice-age of wood. it is stacked in such a way that I can take a shower outside and use the wood as one of my shower walls.
john mullin and jim discuss matters of great importance.
 Shhhh. Finally. Let me not torture myself with why it took me three weeks to settle into words, lots of words, on the page, lots of hours at the page.

Let me not ask why-oh-why I am not writing Book 3 or revising Rachel, but am instead writing an essay about growing up in Mobile, Alabama, where I was born and lived until I was five, and going, at night with all the lights shining in the inky dark, to a tiny dirt track in the middle of nowhere with my father, mother, and brother, to the stock car races.

Let me not question good writing energy. Oh, let me just gather it to me and go go go. GO GO GO. It feels so good to be creating something. Something that didn't exist before this moment. What power that is, what empowerment, to pull from thin air (moments, memory, meaning) something that makes me lose track of time.

I must remind myself that nothing is wasted, that it all connects, somewhere. You wouldn't know it to hear me tell it:

1. We got our last cord of wood from John Mullin and spent the drizzly morning stacking it and visiting with John. John -- who services our cars and grows the best tomatoes and sells firewood and god-knows-what-else -- was 21 and in the Navy in 1969, stationed at Floyd Bennett Field in NYC. He was on one of the many helicopters that landed near Yasgur's Farm and delivered food, water, and medical supplies to the revelers at Woodstock. Our conversation ranged from Woodstock to NASCAR to barbecue to water management to soil sweetness. By the time John left, the sky had cleared and we had beautiful weather for the Fourth -- and I didn't have to water.

2. I started reading about Woodstock and segued into Los Angeles in 1969 (since I will BE in Los Angeles at the end of this month), got off on a tangent about "courtyard housing" which is coming back in L.A., which led me to thinking about the courtyard housing I lived in when I was single and poor and raising my first two kids, and that led me to A PATTERN LANGUAGE by Christopher Alexander, one of my favorite books in the world, and the book I used extensively as I renovated this house (and yard).

3. I decided "Courtyard Housing" would make a great name for an essay. Or a book of essays. Hahahahahahaha.

4. I wandered back to NASCAR -- John will watch two races this weekend while he eats his bbq, sitting in his garage, watching his big-ol' television, bay doors open front and back, fans whirring, nobody's car to fix, Happy Fourth! I can hold my own, in the early talk of NASCAR. I spent two years in Charleston, South Carolina in high school, and all the boys talked about was the Yarborough family, especially Cale, and the Allison Brothers and Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

5. Didn't I go to the races as a little girl? I did. I remember it clearly. I might have pictures somewhere. The last race of the night was a demolition derby. They'd wet down the field for it. Where was that? Mobile? Outside of Mobile? ::check for dirt tracks around Mobile in the late fifties::

6. "Demolition Derby" would make a great title for an essay. From the beginnings of the family I grew up in, to its rather spectacular demise. I cut my writing teeth on essays and memoir -- it's all I wrote, when I started out, and I have a file cabinet full of clips from magazines and newspapers, a bookcase full of inspiration.. ::pull my favorites off the shelf::

E.B. White, Noel Perrin, Russell Baker, Sue Hubbell, John McPhee, John Burroughs, Donald McCaig, Pat Leimbach, Betty MacDonald, Barbara Holland, Anna Quindlan, Donald Hall, Andy Rooney, Erma Bombeck (Yes. She was good.). This is the kind of essay I wrote, full of love of the natural world, home, family, kinship, connection, and belonging. Sounds like my fiction....

7. So this is what I began to write in earnest on Saturday, with Rachel right beside me, staring at me.

Shhhh... I whispered to her. Let me not question this. Let me write what's asking for expression.

What's asking for expression right now?

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25. 48 days, day 19-20: field trip, unwrinkling

{{ I am chronicling 48 days of writing before my July 31 travel. If you are chronicling your summer writing/days and would like to share, please link or comment so we can all cheer one another through. Strength to your sword arm! }}

Two days off. I'm took my Fourth vacation early. Jim and I plan to work through the July Fourth weekend. We often do this sort of thing in order to avoid crowds, and because it often works better with our schedules, the writer and the musician. I've always told my kids that I'm not particular about celebrating holidays on a pre-arranged culturally-approved day (although I do love birthdays!), and I like making my own holidays.

Although I must say, I loved all the Fourths we spent at Antietam Battlefield with the National Symphony Orchestra, and the Fourths we spent at Baker Park in Frederick, MD., and even the Fourth I spent with Lisa and Jason on the George Washington Parkway in 1976, with thousands of other stranded motorists hoping to get downtown on the National Mall for the Bicentennial Fourth. We did go to the Mall for years, for concerts, for Fourths, when my first two kids were little and we lived closer to D.C. Oh-so-many years ago.

On Wednesday (day 19) we said goodbye to Roger, who has worked here -- off and on -- for almost a year, doing odd jobs and necessary jobs and major foundation work and much-needed water management on our little property. We worked with Roger on Wednesday as he finished a brick walkway so we could get from the front to back yards with a wheelbarrow (and on foot), and we moved mulch and bricks.

There's still a lot to do here, but Roger got us started, the trees are down (still plenty up), sun shines on the yard, the water flows away from the house, and we can keep going with the edible landscape project now. We'll see Roger again this fall.

Yesterday we went out out OUT. My mind needed a rest. So after we put our bodies to work on Wednesday in the yard, we took off on Thursday and went berry picking and then swimming at Hard Labor Creek State Park. We've been to Hard Labor Creek before, and remembered it as a sandy-bottomed lake with good floating. Still is.

The heavens opened up as we slid into the cool lake water, and we got drenched as we ran out and gathered our things, waited out the storm in the van, and then, when the skies were sunny again, got back in the lake for a long float and chat and swim and silence. Almost no one else was there.

We took back roads on our trip, so it took us a long time to wend our way home. We had a good meal at the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle before our blueberry picking at Hard Labor Creek Blueberry Farm, and we had breakfast for supper on the way home at a diner that caught our eye. We got lost in Jersey, Georgia, in the middle of nowhere, where our Waze app took us down dirt roads. But I got that great capture of "Final Draft" that's on the masthead now -- whatever this place is... there are winches and contraptions out front that make it look like a construction or equipment repair place. I've been looking for a new photo for the blog, FB, and Twitter, now that REVOLUTION is well-launched, so getting lost was a plus.

Today, day 21, I'm back at work on Rachel, mind rested, words on the page. Let's see if I can get to the end of a revision. I'll bet I can. Sometimes you just need to get away, to unwrinkle your mind. And this is our favorite way: pick a place and go. Field trip!

Happy Independence Day to all! xoxo

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