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This blog no longer exists, except in memory and illusion!

I have a new website, and with it a new blog address:  http://loislowry.com     When you get to the new website, simply click on BLOG and we will all be together and cozy again!

Please: join me there!!!

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2. I left my heart in...

...San Francisco, of course. That's where I am, visiting my daughter for a few days, then some close friends.

Here I am at the Rodin sculpture garden on the Stanford campus yesterday


Just last fall I was at the Rodin Mueum in Paris so this felt very familiar. Kind of sad, remembering being there wiht Martin such a short time ago....but also nice to reecall the many wonderful trips we had together. That day, we had lunch in a small cafe near the Rodin Museum, and were seated next to an elderly French couple whose Englsh was as bad as our French. The two men concentrated on their beer. But the woman and I got to talking, or trying to talk, and she told me (in poor English) that they had a daughter in Phoneix. I saud (in horrible French) that Phoenix is very hot. She agreed. Then I told her that we lived in Boston. She said (in horrible English) that Boston is very cold, and I agreed. We both beamed at each other as if we were accomplished linguists. Actually we sounded like Lesson #1 in a 6th grade French book.

And next month I will be in Paris again, with my granddaughter. She DOES speak beautiul French so I will be careful not to humiliate her in such a way.

I have been incommunicado for a while because of Hurricane Irene, which coincided with my leaving Maine and returning to Cambridge, and a lot of stuff to do at both ends....and because I am working on creating a new website. Actually, I have a terrific website deisgner doing the hard part, but  MY part is a steep learning curve for me, technomoron that I am.  When it is up and running...I hope next week....the blog will move there and I assume will be easily accessible.

In the meantime, my "schedule" on the current website is not working. So for those who  might be in the area, I wll be in Concord, NH, at Gibson's Bookstore at 7 PM on Monday, September 19th;  the next day (9/20) at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, VT, at 5:30 PM; and on 9/21 at the Flying Pig Bookstore in Shelburne, VT, at 4 PM.   A wonderful time of year to be in those New Engand locations (and of course ANY time of year is a good time to be in a bookstore!)


Here is my daughter on a crocodile. Actually, a wonderful wooden carved croc from Papua New Guinea (also on the Stanford campus)

I go home Thursday and start preparing for the Pats game on Sunday. The Red Sox are disappointing me badly so I am turning my attenton to football.


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3. waiting for Irene

Today is still bright and clear but I'll be bringing in the bird feeders tonight, preparing for the storm. One friend who was visiting left this morning instead of tomorrow, fearing she wouldn't be able to get out...and she has tickets to the US Open on Tuesday.  My other guest is still here...he has a flight out late in the day Monday so shuld be okay.

We will likely lose power so are well-stocked with alternative lighting, water stored for when the pump goes off, etc.  But I don't anticipate huge problems here in Maine.

I went out and picked apples...the trees are well laden this year...and then sent this photo to my brother, titled "Pie tonight"


In reply his wife sent this, titled "cake tonight"

Little Debbie

which made me A) chuckle and B) appreciate having a family with a sense of humor.  How we would get through this life without laughter???

Son Ben and his partner are at today's Red Sox game (currently 8-2, Boston ahead over Oakland).  The sky over Fenway looks ominous on TV. He called me yesterday from the train en route from Portland to Boston, to alert me to the fact that the children's tent, in a distant corner of the meadow, might blow down. Well, nothing I can do about it.  We'll do damage control after the thing is over.

Friends brought a 3-month old grandbaby by yesterday for me to take some photos. Here is an out-take: baby Ella, with Lulu

Ella 7 8-11

Just for the record, here are the 2011 hurricane names (we have Jose to look forward to next):


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4. summer's end

The score is 9-1, Red Sox over Texas, in the 6th inning so I felt that it was safe for me to turn it off and head to bed with a book. (If the score is close, they need me to sit here rooting for them)

But before I did, Alfie let me know that he despeately wanted to go outside.  Barking, running to the back door, looking at me imploringly.  Usually he is in for the night after dark...this time of year, 8 PM.  There is too much Out There, at night, as I learned the hard way when he met with a porcupine one night.

But he was really, really wanting to go out so I put a leash on him, donned a jacket (it is chilly at night now) and grabbed a flashlight because it is a moonless cloudy night, very dark outside.  We had barely rounded the corner of the house when I saw why he had been so agitated: a large deer on the lawn, looking back at us, a deer-in-the-headlights look....(make that flashlight).  A deer, even a large one, is not frightening..they all look like Bambi's mother. But Alfie was beside himself; and the deer bounded away and disappeared into the trees.  We continued our walk, Alfie's nose to the ground...there was apparently much deer aroma to check out...and then when we rounded the back of the barn, there was something else in the nearby woods: a growly/hissing sound and a lot of heavy rustling in the underbrush. ..coyote, maybe? THAT was scary, and reminded me why I don't let my 26-pound dog out alone at night.

I am leaving here next week because of commitments back home, and a trip to California coming up; but I'll be back briefly in October and then again in November.  That's when the kitten...soon, I suppose, to be called cat...will be put to the test; because fall is when the mice come in, looking for a winter home. I am planning on Lulu feasting on mouse often. Oh dear: I recently wrote a book in which all the characters were very appealing mice.  There is a discrepency here.

My book revisions (human characters, not rodents) are done and sent off to the editor and by changing font size I got it down from 465 pages to 404, whihc seems slightly less daunting.

And now I am turning this Sox game—7th inning starting—over to Jacoby Ellsbury and am going upstairs to my book.

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5. Down Shaker Road

Yesterday I left the cat and dog both in good hands and went to Yarmouth, Maine, about 45 miles from here, to have lunch with a group of old, old friends in order to celebrate the birthday of one of them.  Gorgeous day; gorgeous house on the ocean; good lunch; good conversation; a nice time all around.

Heading home, I took a different route and found myself on Shaker Road, outside of Gray, Maine, and on an impulse stopped at The Shaker Village at Sabbathday Lake. I had done a lot of research there for my book LIKE THE WILLOW TREE which is set in that village in 1918, but I hadn't been back since the book was published.  I pulled in and parked and watched a group headed out for a tour with one of the volunteer guides. I had begun my research by taking that tour, and then taking it a second time a few days later (and after that had worked in the library there, using the original documents and diaries).


I stopped in the gift shop, saw that the book is for sale there, and introduced myself to the two women running the shop...also volunteers.  The village has a passionate and loyal and hard-working group of supporters and volunteers.

To ny great joy they told me that they loved the book...but more importantly, that I got it right, that the details were accurate and conveyed the history and feeling of this place that they love. And: here is the good part: that little girls arrive clutching their copy of LIKE THE WILLOW TREE, and want to know just where each little incident took place. Not everything in the book is availble for the public to see, unfortunately, but I was told that one little girl wanted to see the room where Daniel, the brother of the protaganist slept...and was shown there. They can walk up the hill, as Lydia did in the book, and look down at the village; they can see the schoolhouse where she attended school, and some tours include the laundry room where she took her turn at helping with the laundry and learned (and hated) to iron. They can see where Lydia would have learned to weave, and the tiny cemetery with its single headstone SHAKERS, where some of the "real" characters in the book...including Sister Jennie, who was caretaker of the little girls, are buried.

It woud be wonderful if they could devise a special tour for the youngsters, maybe school groups, which would include the place where the young girls lived (not currently open to the public) and the dining room where Lydia disgraced herself---by not having learned the rules yet---on her first evening there. Because the few remaining Shakers still live in the building that houses that dining room, and they still have meals there, it is off limits. But maybe someday for special groups of young readers?

It is a daunting reposnsibilty to write about a real place and in a book that contains some "real" characters, people who actually lived and whose lives one wants to honor.  I signed all the books they had in stock at the gift shop and came away feeling very pleased that I had stopped by and found that they are happy with the book.

Shaker brick buildng

The main buiding, with more than 30 rooms, once filled with a thriving community of Shakers. There are only three left.

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6. words, words, words....

I have been spending the past two days at work on book revisions, making my way page by page through, so far, two-thirds of a lengthy manuscript, guided by insightful comments from a fine editor, and also by having been away from it for a bit, so that I see (and hear it) with fresh eyes and ears. The repetitive phrase...SLASH. The cliché description...DELETE. The murky parargraph...CLARIFY.

I love this process. It is not exhilirating the way the first blast of creativity can be. But it has its own satisfaction to it.

I am not...my guess is that few writers are...aware of the eventual reader of a book when I am at this stage of working on it. That is another, remarkable kind of satisfaction that comes much later. And keeps coming, again and again. Today, for example, I got a very moving letter from a 12-year-old girl who has been diagnosed with clinical depression. She said that in my book "Gathering Blue" she was struck by the phrase "Pain makes you strong" and she was going to try to start thinking that way instead of feeling sorry for her own incapacity.

Another letter, in the same batch of mail, was from a man. He didn't say where he was, but he said this:

Thank you for your wonderful characters and stories. They remind me that even though the world at times can be a scary place, and people don't always treat each other as well as they should,  there is always beauty and love to be found. I have found a piece of that love and beauty in your wonderful books.

I don't repeat these things here as testimony to myself! But as a reminder to myself as a writer, and to other writers if any are out there listening, that these words that we arrange and rearrange and rearrange again, on a page, make a difference to individuals. The phrases and paragraphs that we labor over and grow to love...they affect people, sometimes in profound ways.

It's important work, I think. We should take pride in doing it as well as we can.

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7. More little-town news

The weekly newspaper came out today, and my favorite section, the police blotter, included the item that a large group of geese followed the mailman down Main Street.  It is unclear why the police were notified.

When I went to the PO to mail a few things, the woman ahead of me in line was receiving a very noisy package, which turned out to be a dozen baby guinea hens. Guinea chicks, I guess they would be called.  Much chirping from the box, so she opened it and showed them to me and the postal lady.

Much chirping at this moment from my studio, and Alfie is beside himself, investigating.  There is a chipmunk, it turns out, behind a row of books on a shelf. Maybe I should call the local police?

My last guest has gone home, after a nice lunch at Ebenezer's Pub, and with a big supply of freshly-picked blueberries. I will have to go out in the morning and pick some myself.


And here is Lulu, staring intently at a hummingbird on the other side of the screen, in the morning glories.

Lulu and hummingbird

I worked most of the day on revisions to GIVER IV; luckily my guest, also a writer...and teacher of writing... was holed up in another room to work on student papers. We took time off for a nice lunch and then went back to our respective...what? I'd say dungeons, but I think we both love our work too much to think of it that way.

I'll get these revisions finished and off to the publisher by the time my last guests coe and go, and then I leave Maine (boo hoo) on August 30th. I have trips coming up in the fall (first one, San Francisco) and want to leave things completed and in order before I hit the road.

Oh! But before I go to SF, I will return to Maine for the evening of June 6th, to speak at the University of NE in conjunction with their art gallery's show of children's illustrators.  I know, I know: I am not an illustrator. But I was available, and I can talk a bit about the general world of children's books.  Info about the show and the two speakers (the other is Rich Michelson of the Michelson Galleries in Northampton, MA) can be found at  http://www.une.edu/artgallery/childrensbook.cfm

So there is much to finish, much to prepare, much to look forward to. Much to look back on as well.

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8. Bucky and I

Much excitement...and company...over the weekend to celebrate grandson Grey's 13th birthday here at the farm.  His Uncle Jon, an MD, gave him a skeleton. Now what boy wouldn't love to have that?! Bucky, as he is named, is currently sitting in a chair, legs crossed in a yoga position, in my studio. 

  Bucky yoga


But here he is on a rainy weekend afternoon:

Bucky in rain

(Yes, he does have some broken ribs. No, we didn't do it.)

But now the kids are gone (Bucky remains. he will live here. They are planning to put him, covered with spray-on cobwebs, perhaps chained to the wall by handcuffs, in the basement root cellar) and it is chilly and rainy, a good day for work. I have started revisions on the yet-un-named Book IV which will turn The Giver Trilogy into a Quartet.

As a distraction from work, I am playing three separate Scrabble games on my iPhone, which is here beside my laptop. I justify this by the fact that it is word-related, therefore vaguely literary and inspirational. And I am playing with three somewhat literary friends---does that make it better? Upgrade it from just mindless fun? Guess not.

Big item on this week's local police blotter: "Young girl hissed at by raccoon."    Monday, on my way to the bank, a deer and fawn bounded across the road in front of my car....(no danger; I was going slowly; they continued into the woods unscathed)....so you can see that here in Maine it is a hotbed of exciting mammal activity. You would not know it by my own two, both snoozing at the moment.

My current guest....(another writer; she is in a distant room, working)....brought me on DVD three seasons of "Slings and Arrows," a show I'd never seen. So far we have watched the first two and I am hooked.  Last time this sme guest visited, a year ago, she brought me "Dexter" and it was too scary for me to watch alone. But this one will suit me just fine. And I can knit or play Scrabble while watching.

Okay, back to work now. I need this done by August 25th, when new guests arrive, and after that I head back home and from there to San Francisco. So this is my uninterrupted time, these two weeks. Better make the most of them.


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9. Don't look up

Here in a very small Maine town in the summer, one of my favorite bits of reading each week is the Police Blotter in the local paper.  This is also true in reading the Cambridge Chronicle the rest of the year, but Cambridge is a city and real crime abounds. Not so much here in Maine.  There are the usual domestic abuse calls, the "fox stealing chickens" (yes, really, not a nursery rhyme), and the perpetrator-left-convenience-store-without-paying-for-gas.  But always there is one report that stands out as truly unique. 

Two weeks ago it was this: man in town calls police and tells them that someone has dropped human excrement from a plane onto his roof.  Police officer goes to check it out and reports back that actually, it was vomit.

That was my favorite so far this summer.

This week: maraudng teenagers rearranged the letters of a church sign, and spelled, instead of the religious message, "something foul."   Since the police report didn't repeat either the pious phrase or its foul anagram, this caused me to waste an entire afternoon on speculation. I had very little luck. Best I could come up with is that "only begotten son" can be rearranged to spell "teeny oblong snot."  I don't think this is what the teenage vandals spelled out.

But it did lead my thinking next about combining the two criminal events, and wondering what would happen if an airplane dropped teeny oblong snot on someone's roof.


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10. Black Cat returns

My daughter is in the middle of moving and she just sent me this snapshot of something she unearthed in the process. This is a collage I made from torn paper back in 1978, and it shows my daughter with her/our cat ... long dead (cat, not daughter) ... I had forgotten this cat. But my new kitten, Lulu, is almost identical. Not that it couldn't be argued that if you seen one black cat you've seen 'em all.

Collage kris and cat

Here's Lulu yesterday, on a hot day, lying on her back on a wicker couch on the porch

Lulu on back

Actually, of course, I see now that Lulu has a white beard and feet; and the earlier cat...whose name was Sebastian...was completely black.

After a hot weekend and some good company (and thanks to Betsy, who went home and emailed me a rhubarb cake recipe when she saw that I had some leftover rhubarb here. I just made it, and just tasted it Yum.) it was cloudy and cooler today, and I was at my desk all day long. I had typed page 410 when I quit for today. Each time I stop work, it is with questions in my mind...plot things...and I find that overnight I think about those things, partly subconsciously...and often the solutions to them appear in the morning.

In the past, I have found that sometimes, before going to sleep...or on waking...I willhave a thought, only to find later that I can't remember it...only that I HAD it; not a clue what it WAS.  So now I have put pen and paper beside my bed and have been sometimes making notes. I live in fear that I will die in my sleep and someone will try to make sense of those notes.

One says: She is embarrassed by her feet.


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11. Not me, but thanks for the fan

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Lafayette resident Lois Lowry enjoyed some much needed relief from a hot Indiana summer day on Friday. Lowry has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and said she doesn't get out much, especially in the heat. A fan to help keep the cool air circulating was a much needed item.

"It will be more comfortable," Lowry said.

Lois was stop number one for employees from Lowe's delivering fans Friday morning. The store donated 50 fans to the Area IV Agency for Aging and Community Action Programs.

"The store itself, our store, has the ability to designate funds that are given to us, for what we consider to be a worthy cause," said Human Resources Manager Dennis Del Carlo.

That worthy cause was giving Area IV clients like Lowry a break from the hot weather.


Actually,  I am in Maine, not Indiana, and the weather is lovely...sunny and in the 70's...but I'm glad to hear that my namesake, or counterpart, or doppelganger, is being taken care of.

I am SO CLOSE to the end of a very lengthy manuscript...longest I've ever written. And though certainly it will need revision—this is its first draft—it always feels good, no matter what the length of the book, to type THE END. Not good in a "whew, glad that horrible task is done" sense....but good because I can stop wrestling with plot details. Next, after typing "the end"...which I expect to do in the next week....I will print it out, close to 450 pages, I expect, and then sit down and read it: first to myself, silently; then (still to myself) aloud. That allows me to hear glaring errors or even small lapses in fluidity. Then I'll make a batch of changes, print it out again, and send it to the editor. The next round of questions and comments will come from her.

I have a friend visiting who is also working—she's a professor (yes, they do work in the summer!)—and has often visited here. Our dogs play together and she and I work in separate rooms and meet for wine and dinner. Luckily her dog, a German Shepherd named Sophie, in comfortable with cats, so Lulu is just fine with this round of company.

I got a phone call a little while ago from grandson Rhys, age 10, on his way to the airport, headed for a long weekend in Washington DC with his family. "Just checking to see how Lulu is doing," he said.

Lulu is great, I assured him.

She seems to like windowsills.

Lulu July 15

Lulu windowsill


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12. Little Lulu

I had been thinking for a whle about getting a cat. Or more precisely: getting Alfie a cat. Alfie loves cats, (when we go to my friend Kate's house, where there are two golden retrievers, Alfie ignores the goldens and runs upstairs looking for Amelia, the 16-year-old cat) and I thought that a cat would be company for him when I have to be gone from the house...he's been missing Martin, I think.

So I had paid two visits to the Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in Fryeburg, Maine, which is a wonderful clean and happy place.  But as I explained to the people there, I needed to be certain that any cat I took home would be okay with a dog. They pointed out that most of their cats are strays; they have no idea whether they are dog friendly. And no, they couldn't let me take one home for a trial, nor would they let me bring Alfie in for a private introduction. They suggested that my best bet would be to get a kitten, which would not have had time to learn to be hostile to dogs.

So yesterday I took my visiting grandsons, 12 and 10, to the shelter. I told them their task was to choose a kitten, and they should base their choice not on beauty or cuteness but on temperament. We needed a mellow, laid-back kitten; and I said a female, becaise I read someplace that females are better mousers than males. Here in the country there are always mice to deal with.

So the boys held, and talked to, and played with, a variety of kittens and then chose a 3-month-old female. On the 10-mile drive home, with small meows coming fron the carrier,  we discussed names...flower names, since it is garden season. Lily? Rosie? Daisy? Lacey, for Queen-Anne's Lace? Holly, for Hollyhock? Daffodil. Lilac.

Remembering Miss Rumphius, we settled on Lupine, and began to call the kitten Lulu.

As anticpated, Alfie was thrilled and curious and fascinated, when we got Lulu home.

Lulu&Alf 7:11


(The reason Lulu is looking UP in these photos is not that she was praying for heavenly deliverance from this dog...but because she was fascinated by the ceiling fan).

Late in the day, the boys left, and I was on my own with the menagerie. All went well, though I had forgtten the laments of Writer Friends with Cats who find their manuscripts interrupted by phrases like wenc194uc-1uv7632exnpew as a cat walks across the keyboard unexpectedly, something a dog never does.  And I realized that a kitten is certanly a source of entertainment. Last night I was watching the Red Sox game but at the same time watching Lulu leap and twirl and dance as she tried to catch a moth.

And I even slept fine, after I adjusted to the loud purring and the occasional pouncing-on-toes.

But now it is Morning #1 of Life-with-Cat-and-Dog, and here is the first unanticipated problem. Alfie refuses to go outside. He wants to be beside Lulu at every second, and there is no way I am sending a tiny kitten into the outside rural world of hawks and owls and porcupines. Right now the two of them are curled up at my feet. One has politely and fastidiously used her litter box. The other...well, the other has done nothing since he woke up this AM except stare besottedly at his cat.

I suppose this will sort itself out after a while. 

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13. Collage

My grandsons are visiting the farm and Grey, age almost 13, has just been examining this framed collage of my life  made for me by middle schoolers at the Elizabth B. David Middle School in Chester, Virginia, two years ago.  I should have mentioned it back when they gave it to me! But better late than never. So I'm going to let Grey describe some of the things  that he found in it:


This is Grey speaking:

Hi, so here I am in Bridgton Maine apparently describing what I see. I see a great drawing  right in the SMACK middle of the collage of the Newbery award and there is fabulous artwork of some of the many amazing novels my grandmother ( A.K.A. Oma of Omar, don't ask!) has published. Also I see my uncle who sadly perished due to a mechanical error in his aircraft called the F-15 Eagle. I am named after my beloved uncle whom I was never introduced to. Also I saw a drawing with the date "1768", so I then proceded to ask Oma what it meant, and then she told me that is was when the farmhouse that I am sitting in was made.

And now this is Oma speaking, or Omar (I am named, by the boys, for Omar the Tentmaker, because I got them a tent from LL Bean's...and that is where they often sleep in the summer).

Here is Grey, with his brother Rhys, age 10

Grey and Rhys 7:11

In the fall they will be in 8th and 5th grades.

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14. A rose by any other name...

This morning I received a reply in response to a previous blog post, one in which I had talked about Martin and music. This reader pointed out that a Phyllis Naylor book, one of her "Alice" series, was dedicated to "Martin Small"...and, knowing that Phyllis and I are friends, the reader wondered if that could be "my" Martin. Indeed it was. Martin had helped her out with some chamber music information for that book (and Ithink she named a musician character for him)

Later, my brother, a doctor, provided some "field amputation" information to Phyllis for a book called "Blizzard." So Jon (who actually did once have to amputate a leg caught in a farm tractor) is in the acknowledgements.

Later still, Phyllis allowed me to use an old family photograph in my book "The Silent Boy," which is illustrated with old photos. So she appears in the acknowledgements, along with her husband (whose family photo it actually was).

Earlier, and just to show that it isn't only Phyllis and me who play this back-and-forth game, I dedicated a book, "The One Hundredth Thing about Caroline", to Michael Small from People Magazine. Michael, who was Martin's nephew, appeared (with his permisison, and People's legal staff's permisison) in the book....

...and so it goes.  Two of the second graders in the Gooney Bird series (Beanie and Chelsea) are named for my granddaughter and the illustrator's granddaughter.

I imagine almost every writer in the world has named book characters for people they know, or are related to. And of course then there are the innocent coincidences, like the time I named Anastasia Krupnik's nerdy friend Robert Giannini...and then heard from the Rev. Robert Giannini, who ws not at all upset, just curious.

Speaking of names. Two friends have newborn grandsons. One is named Dash. The other Milo. I have known golden retrievers with both those names.



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15. Jeff and me


Yes, that Jeff.

The word is out...someone put out a press release, I suppose....that Jeff Bridges is once again trying to get the film of THE GIVER made. He has been trying to for some years! Things in Hollywood get stalled for all sorts of reasons, most of them having to do with money.   But over these past years, with The Giver floating around out there, I have gotten to know some wonderful people who genuinely care about the quality of the movies they make (or don't end up making, as happens frequently). Jeff Bridges is one.

Most people (well, I haven't done a statistical study, but this is my impression) list The Big Lebowski as their favorite JB movie. My own personal favorite is a lesser-known film called The Door in the Floor. But when Crazy Heart was released, I came close to changing my mind. I loved Crazy Heart. I wrote Jeff at the time that when I saw The Door in the Floor I related to it in many very personal ways.  I could believe in the main character (played by JB) because he was a children's book writer obsessed by grief after the loss of two of his children. I had been there. I was a children's book writer who had lost a son and had to navigate that territory myself.

But then (as I told him at the time) I saw Crazy Heart  and he made me believe in that character as well. And that was more of a feat, because I had never been down and out, never been a drunk, never been as desperate and lost as Bad Blake. I thought Jeff was amazing in that film (for which, of course, he deservedly won an Oscar).

Anyway: I hope he can get this project off the ground this time. He has a fine screenplay and a lot of --- oh my goodness, I never thought I'd ever get to use this phrase --- street cred. Fngers crossed for The GIver. For Jeff Bridges. Hooray for Hollywood.

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16. The jury is still out

No, I am not talking about the Casey Anthony murder trial.  It's the reading-in-bed-with-a-flashlight question. If you look at comments to the previous post, you'll see the verdict is not final and maybe never will be.  I think, though, that it may be a generational thing. I was a child in the 1940's. Some months ago I wrote a post about my scissor fixation...the fact that today there are scissors EVERYWHERE in my house, probably because when I was a kid there were never any scissors available when I wanted to cut out paper dolls. Mother wouldn't let me use her sewing scissors. Dad wouldn't let me use his medical scissors. My sister and I were always looking for scissors. Now I can't walk through Staples without buying yet one more pair.  My visiting brother recently said, while looking in my kitchen for a screwdriver:  "Why are there six pairs of scissors in the junk drawer?"

Same, I think, with flashlights. If there was a flashlight in my childhood home (and there may have been, but I don't remember one) it would have been regarded as a serious and expensive implement (somewhat like scissors), not something for a child to fool around with. But today there are flashlights everywhere in both my houses. Flashlights are cheap.



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17. a cynical word about flashlights

No child was more passionate about reading, and books, than I was. I took books with me to summer camp. I read during meals and baths and bus rides and recess and church; and I remember remaining in the back seat of the car, reading, when the rest of my family got out to climb an observation tower on a scenic trip once. And of course I read in bed.

But never under the covers with a flashlight.

Maybe that was because my mother never forced me to stop reading and turn off the light. But also, thinking back, even if she had...where would I have found a flashlight? It wouldn't have been an easy-to-come-by item in my house. Certainly not something readily available to the kids.

But here's the thing. It seems that every other bookloving adult in the western world reports that as children they read under the covers with a flashlight.

I am thinking about that this morning because I went to a website to read an interview with a writer friend of mine, Pat Lowry Collins, (good interview, by the way: http://historicalnovelreview.blogspot.com/2011/06/interview-with-pat-lowery-collins-by.html) and after I finished reading it, as a way of not going directly back to work, I clicked on other, random interviews....and there, once again, yet one more person describes reading over the covers with a flashlight as a child.

And now I have come to a conclusion. This is an apocryphal story. I do not think all these people actually did that. I think they feel they should have, or might have, or could have, and that they should include it as part of their description-of-bookish-childhood.

But I think the actual number of people who read under the covers with a flashlight (which, incidentally, would not be easy, having to balance the covers and aim a flashight and also turn pages) is very, very few.

Sorry, folks, but I think this is a false memory.



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18. Music hath charms

This morning I had to drive twenty miles to Windham, Maine, because that's the nearest branch of my bank and I had to deposit a check that had been sitting around undeposited for too long.  It was yet another rainy morning, kind of sad for this area of Maine which depends on beach-going, canoeing, hiking tourists for its summer income and excitement (but nice for residents like me because there was no traffic).

Radio reception here is not very good so I poked my CD buttons and listened first to the soundtrack from the Almodovar film "Talk to Her"...one of my favorites....while I drove.  Then when it finished, it moved along to the second CD in the player, which was a homemade one, recorded (but later rejected in favor of a different set of songs) for Martin's memorial celebration.  I had, prior to the day of that gathering, sat at my computer and put together various combinations of his favorites. (Tough to narrow it down because he had so many).

Anyway, what began to play this morning was Billie Holiday singing "I'll be Seeing You." The lyrics are very familiar to everyone over, say, 40; but here, as a reminder:

I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar places

That this heart of mine embraces all day through

In that small café, the park across the way

The children's carousel, the chestnut trees, the wishing well


I'll be seeing you in every lovely summer's day

In everything that's light and gay

I'll always think of you that way

I'll find you in the mornin' sun

And when the night is new

I'll be looking at the moon

But I'll be seeing you


Oh my. First, the haunting Holiday voice. (Martin's favorite of her best-known songs, because of its searing civil-rights message, was "Stange Fruit.")  But then the lyrics, which so captured the poignance of saying goodbye to someone who has been such a part of one's life. I was literally driving past all the old familar places...the cafés, the parks, the chestnut trees (averting my eyes from McDonald's and Tru-Value).

I did not have to pull over and stop. Instead, I hummed along. But as the CD continued....through Judy Collins singing "Amazing Grace,"  Pete Seeger singing "Turn turn turn," Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World", and Yo Yo Ma playing a Bach cello suite...I was awash in a mixture of sad and happy nostalgia.

It is not, however, a lovely summer day and I will not find Martin, or memories of him, in the mornin' sun because there ISN'T any. But he is there in the music.

The final collection that we used at the celebration was narrowed down (with difficulty) to only four selections: Richard Stoltzman, Judy Collins, Willie Nelson (Martin used to say, "Sing it purty, Willie"), and Louis Armstrong:

I see trees of green, red roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.


I see skies of blue and clouds of white

The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.


The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky

Are also on the faces of people going by

I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

They're really saying I love you.


I hear babies cry, I watch them grow

They'll learn much more than I'll ever know

And I think to myself what a wonderful world

Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.


The bright blessed day. Yes.  Even when it's raining.

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19. ..and Joyce Carol Oates, and Joan Didion, and, and....

I realize that I fall into the new category of "widow."  New for me, at least; not for many of my friends: Middy, Jean, Betsy, Jane, Carmel, so many others. We women do seem to outlive our men. Once it was war that made that equation unequal. Once seafaring (hence "widow's walk")  Now it is so often cancer.

But like many of today's women, I am accustomed to being independent, to traveling alone, to doing things with women friends...even when Martin was alive, he simply rolled his eyes and waved goodbye as I went off with my pals to yet one more obscure, depressing, sub-titled movie. And it was Martin who encouraged me to head to Easter Island last January without him (and Sumatra, back in 1996; and Costa Rica before that)...he had no interest in going to some of the places that facsinated me.  Nor did he spend much time, just occasional weekends, in Maine. But he was always interested to hear about the movies, the trips, the Maine garden. Again and again he carried my suitcase upstairs, me trailing behind yammering, "so then we...."

Now I am in Maine once again (yesterday's sightings: oriole, cardinal, rose-breasted grosbeak, wild turkey, and two deer), this time with my friend Margaret, who returns next week to Minnesota. Other friends will come and go, as they do each summer. And I will at last turn my attention to the neglected manuscript that has been here waiting.

I have trips scheduled for fall: Idaho; Paris for a week in October (I'll be there doing things for my French publisher, but my German family will then come to Paris for a few days, so that will be fun); Kansas City for the opening of The Giver opera in January; possibly Patagonia with my friend Kay in the winter as well.

But for now it is summer.


Peonies 2


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20. Maine days

I head back to Cambridge tomorrow, to prepare for the memorial celebration next weekend (friends coming from as far away as Minnesota, California, Florida!) but it has been a lovely few days here, with friends for dinner Thursday night...

Rhubarb pudding

Here is a rhubarb bread pudding which was delicious for dessert. (Dinner was baked salmon stuffed with fennel).

And my brother is with me. (Here he is):

  Jon in kitchen

Everyone should have a meticulous brother who likes to fix things. Martin was a great guy and a wonderful companion but not Mr. Fixit. (My friend Susan refers to such men affectionately as "Jews with Tools")  Jon has busied himself at the Cambridge house and now, in Maine, he has taken on the problem of the old butcher block in the kitchen and its many years of accumulated crud. After solvents, sandpaper, elbow grease, and mineral oil:

  Butcher block

Not to mention the new flat screen TV that son Ben and his partner Lori gave me for my birthday, installed here at the farm...Ben left me instructions for several remotes which left me whimpering. No problem, said Jon. He has now combined everything on one remote so that even I, when I am alone here, which I will be for most of this summer, will be able to find things and watch things and mute things. Or so I hope and assume.

(But could my brother recall—and sing—the words to all the old Gilbert & Sullivan operettas, the way Martin could?  Nope, no way)


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21. Life is still there and you still have to live it

A friend has sent me this photo of Martin and me....

Hawk Mountain

...taken at the top of a smallish mountain Mountain, not far from our Maine farm. Martin, in his younger years, had climbed many of the New England mountains, and skiied Tuckerman's Ravine, the mecca for stalwart and sturdy skiiers... But though those days had passed, he still enjoyed the outdoors and these small treks to places where we could look down on lakes and sky and beyond.

Our trips over the years had often been to places where the scenery was monumental—the African grasslands; the fjords of Norway; the blue-gray splendor of Antarctica. While I remembered Austria for the cafes and strudel mit schlag...he remembered the bright yellow fields of wild mustard. When we bought the farm in Maine I lamented briefly that it wasn't on the coast, that we couldn't watch the ocean and its changes minute to minute---but he pointed out the sky, so vast across our hilly meadow, and how it changed in the same way.

Friends and family will gather on June 12th to say our goodbyes, through some favorite readings and some rememembered anecdotes...and music, of course; Martin's life centered around music.

Then I will head to Maine and settle into some neglected work. The book that I had hoped to finish by June 1st —and couldn't, when Martin's illness intervened—will come back to life (I hope) and maybe the delay will have been good for it: a chance for some re-thinking.

Obit Martin

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22. Requiem


This is one of favorite photos of Martin. It happened to be in central Iceland when we spent some time there a few years ago. But the geography doesn't really matter. What matters is that he was in a desolate and beautiful place, going from one place to another, all alone.

I felt that the same thing was true yesterday morning when he died. The dog was lying on the floor beside the bed. I was sitting by his side. Rain was falling on the skylight above him.  He had been with children and grandchildren who came and saw him over the weekend. But then it was just the two of us in a desolate and beautiful place from which he would go on alone.

May he rest in peace.

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23. Coming Home

A friend kindly sent me this photograph of my driveway in Maine. It was a long winter there, as it was everywhere in New England, and I have not been able to go to Maine since Christmas, so it is a treat to see my daffodils in bloom, such a reminder that May does follow the cruelest month, and that things are renewed again and again.


I have been mostly silent on this blog because for 18 days I have been spending hours each day in the hospital at Martin's bedside and have been wrung out by evening. Friends have stopped by again and again, bringing food and wine and conversation and sympathy and yes, even laughter , such an important commodity in tough times.

Tomorrow he will be discharged and I will take care of him myself with help from Hospice nurses and aides. It won't be easy. But if it's possible, people should be in their homes, with their famliies...and dogs! Martin is so eager to see Alfie!...as their lives come to an end.  Hospitals are astonishingly noisy; privacy is a lost cause; the food sucks; and there is never a parking place. Aside from that?...well, the doctors and nursing staff are dedicated and compassionate (though overworked) and the technology is state of the art. There is much to marvel at and to be grateful for.

But now it is time to come home.


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24. Mothers' Day...

Today would have been the day that I flew to Orlando, for IRA.  My thanks to those authors who are filling in for me there.

And this coming Wednesday I would have been speaking to the annual meeting of the New England Child Psychiatrists/Psychoanalysts, but I have had to cancel that appearance as well.

Instead, I am spending most of each day by Martin's hospital bed and oddly being grateful for that (mostly) uninterrupted time to sit and reminisce about some of the extraordinary adventures we have had together.  I think it was at an IRA convention many years ago in Anaheim, where we found ourselves in a hotel elevator with a group of the New Orleans Saints football team...it was, we realized, like standing in a redwood forest.

It was 1985 whe we spent time in Africa, 1992 when we spent time in Antarctica, 1995 when we were in rural Japan....and when, just this week, they looked at a chest x-ray and commented on some healed rib fractures...we remembered the rafting trip down the Colorado River---who knows what year!---when he fell on some rocks, broke some ribs, and then had to continue for the remaining 3 days (of 9) thudding down the river...  Ouch.

Yesterday I received these photos from rural China

Chinese kids


These are college students; and that's their teacher, Daniel Peterson.

There is currently an Opera convention in town, and when I left the hospital late yesterday afternoon I went and had dinner with Paula Winans from the Lyric Opera of Knsas City and Jamie Anderson from Minnesota Opera Co.  The opera "The GIver", by composer Susan Kander, will open in Kansas City in January, St. Paul in April.

from her website   www.SusanKander.net  —


October 2010

The Giver , by Lois Lowry - soon to be an opera near you.

Minnesota Opera and Lyric Opera of Kansas City have commissioned me to write libretto and score for a 75 minute opera adaptation of this blockbuster children's/young adult book. There is already terrific excitement in both cities for the premiers in 2012, and interest from other opera companies for further productions. The Giver, Ms. Lowry's first Newbery Medal novel, is read by nearly every middle schooler in the country and tells the story of a utopian community that turns out not to be so utopian. Ask any kid 26 or younger about The Giver and you'll get a strong response. The opera will have a chamber orchestra of 10 players and feature video projections. Both companies hope to have the funding to do workshops prior to its premier, which would be really wonderful and very unusual in the opera world.


So it was a nice distraction from days in the hospital to sit and talk music and books and kids.



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25. Not running for office. But...

...just for the record, here is my (long form) Hawaiian birth certificate (and please note that I was labeled "legitimate"):

LL birth cert



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