February 7, 2013

In January, I spent two weeks visiting my son, Glen, who is teaching English in Huzhou, China, this year. What an amazing experience.

The first week, we stayed in Huzhou, and Glen showed me the places he loves there. We walked a lot: climbed Ren Huang Shan (Humane Emporor Mountain), strolled in several beautiful parks, dodged traffic in the city center, and went up the steep stairs of Feiying Pagoda. We ate in little street-side cafes, in lovely restaurants, and at a Chinese Pizza Hut.

I learned to count to 100 in Chinese, though I never quite mastered the tones, which are important, so I’m not really sure what words I was saying when I thought I was saying numbers! Glen, having been there for five months, was able to understand quite a lot, and make himself understood in many situations. (I learned that gestures are not necessarily the same in all languages, so you have to be a little careful with that.)

And I learned that when you are in a country where you don’t speak the language, it’s important to have written directions, in the local language, not in English, to give to a taxi driver (wouldn’t you think I would have figured that out long ago, and not needed to learn it now?). Though knowing how to say numbers was very helpful in such situations. And, as I find everywhere I’ve ever been, people are willing to help, and interested in communicating, and it can be fun to converse across languages.

A few things I loved right away:

People in many different public places, drawing, singing, dancing, teaching and learning different kinds of movement. All ages and body shapes. Dance seemed to be for good health and pleasure, not for performance, a sense of community about it. (We also saw several dance performances, but I loved the feeling of joy and dailiness of this.)

Tea–the way it is served in glass glasses sometimes, the green tea leaves floating on the top at first, then slowly sinking. Like drinking a garden. And it comes with a thermos of hot water that seems to say, “You can stay here and enjoy your tea in this beautiful place for as long as you like. Just keep pouring hot water over the tea leaves and your tea will last forever.” Not quite forever, of course, but a good long while.

Chinese breakfasts–rice porridge with pickles; hard boiled eggs with soy sauce in the water (shells cracked just enough to let the soy sauce flavor the egg); dumplings with a variety of fillings.

Noodle shops–quick, delicious, inexpensive, meals.

After a few days in Huzhou, we were in Hangzhou for one day, most of which we spent walking around West Lake, famous for Longjing “Dragon Well” tea. Beautiful lake, and as Glen remarked, “Everyone here seems happy.” Sort of a vacation place–that might have been part of it, but also a certain joy in the landscape that people were part of, or became part of as they (we) walked there.

Then we went to Guilin for four days. An elegant city, surrounded by beautiful karst mountains. The city planning has been such that no tall buildings obstruct the view of the mountains, so everywhere you look, there is beauty. We went on a river boat ride at night, through the city, and another, longer one during the day, out into the countryside. Each time, we saw cormorant fishermen, reminding me of “The Story of Ping.”

We also went on a road trip out into the mountains, up into a village surrounded by terraced rice fields. It was not growing season, or harvest season, so the fields were brown, but still, I found them beautiful. We had lunch in the village, delicious and plentiful, again accompanied by green tea.

I’ve only touched on this whole experience. I did not experience any jet lag at all when I arrived in China (a 13 hour time difference), but since I’ve been home, I’ve found that I get sleepy at odd times, intense and sudden. And now I’m having trouble keeping my eyes open…

oh one other thing–the day I returned home, the bluebirds were here, as if to welcome me. Travel is good, and home is wonderful.

December 27, 2012

Today I’m looking out at a beautiful new snowfall, and at the birds that find their way to the feeders in such weather–this morning there were finches, sparrows, starlings, a woodpecker, a nuthatch, a pair of cardinals and a tufted titmouse, all within ten or fifteen minutes of each other.

And just a week ago, we were walking through the ruins of ancient Mayan communities, admiring the craftsmanship of walls, temples, and large (ten-foot tall) masks, as well as that of contemporary artists (woodwork, embroidery, painting, and musical instruments).

We were in Mexico and Belize around the time that the end of the Mayan calendar had been predicted, though when we learned more about it, we realized the 5,125-year calendar would have turned to a new cycle on August 11, last summer, rather than the December 21 date so many people were talking about.

The possibilities of such travel in the world we share are amazing and wonderful, though I am increasingly aware that my enjoyment of such travel is a big part of my contribution to climate change, and I am thinking about what adjustments I need to make.

In book news: STEP GENTLY OUT is stepping beautifully into the world, with many people of all ages expressing appreciation for it. Rick and I have recently learned that our next collaboration, SWEEP UP THE SUN (a book about birds), will be published by Candlewick in 2014. It is exciting to see it take shape.

The new paperback edition of KEESHA’S HOUSE is now on the shelves, and response to the new cover appears to be enthusiastic.

And I now have Advance Readers’ Copies of SALT. I love this moment when I first see a book “on the page” and can imagine the finished book. It will be here before we know it!

Thank you for finding your way to my website. I wish you all the best for 2013!

October 4, 2012

It is a beautiful time of year. As I write this, the late afternoon light is filtering through just-turning leaves onto a palette of reds, oranges, and yellows (butterfly bush, zinnias, tomatoes, and a bright red miniature eggplant that looks more enticing than it tastes). I’m treasuring these last few days before the temperature falls below 32 degrees–the colors will fade, the tomatoes will freeze, and the goldfinches will lose their remaining gold feathers. Already, the monarchs have all begun their journey to Mexico, and I believe we have seen the last of the hummingbirds this year. I wonder if the sandhill cranes have started coming back yet–I’m listening for their distinctive call.

Twice, in recent weeks, I’ve received letters from young readers who have almost finished HIDDEN and want me to write a sequel. I remember that feeling, when I was a child, caught up in a story, wanting to know how it ended and wanting it to go on forever, all at the same time. I’m touched at the thought that a child would stop reading and take the time to write to me, to let me know about that feeling.

Wherever you are, whatever the season, I hope you are taking time to see and hear whatever is around you.

June 5, 2012

Garden planted, space for vegetables and flowers.

Time for reading AND writing this summer.

May 31, 2012

As news of Peter Sieruta’s sudden passing has spread across the internet, I have been struck by how much pure love is being shared–love for Peter, love for children’s books, and, in a way that Peter would have found delightful and perhaps surprising, love for one another.

Several people who never met Peter in person, upon learning that I had the privilege of meeting him at a recent book event, have asked me what he looked like. Others have commented on the fact that there are no photographs of him online (or maybe there is one from his early childhood), and asked his brother if he might post a picture. It’s an interesting question for his family to answer. I can see good arguments on either side.

As for what Peter might have wanted, I’ll share a brief moment: As he was leaving the bookstore that evening, I asked if he’d like to be in a picture (with me and several other authors). His response was an emphatic NO!!! (I heard it as, “I got myself here. I had a good time. Don’t push your luck.”) We laughed a bit about the intensity of his reply, and I teased him just a little, and wondered later if I shouldn’t have–it was clearly personal to him.

He described himself as very shy, but there’s something about that word that isn’t quite right. There was a deep and conscious choice, partly based on the difficulty (pain) he experienced in social interactions, but more to it than that–a positive side of keeping a social distance, protecting something of great value, and knowing you are doing that.

It’s clear that his qualities of intelligence, kindness, humor, caring, and thoughtfulness came through loud and clear in all his online interactions. We all have a lot to learn from him about expressing questions about a book, or anything else, with a dose of humility so genuine that the questions generate further conversation, and are not hurtful.

I will say a bit about what he looks like: someone you might pass in the aisles of a bookstore or sit beside on an airplane and never know how enriching a conversation with him might be. Brown hair, average height, above average weight, and–I think but I’m not sure–brown eyes. I’m not sure because it’s not the color I recall. It’s the dazzle of knowledge behind them, the quick decisions about how much of that knowledge to share, the delight in learning something new.

I wonder if he knew how beloved he was (and is). I think he probably did, but maybe he didn’t want us to know he knew.

Because then we might have been scared of him, and that would not have served him, or us, well.

May 30, 2012

It has been a long time since I’ve written anything here–busy spring with lots of travel, launching STEP GENTLY OUT, and finishing a novel, SALT: A Story of Friendship in a Time of War–to be published by Frances Foster Books/ FSG next spring, probably May, maybe a little earlier. I love this feeling of anticipation when my part in the book is mostly finished, and now I get to wait to see what the jacket artist and book designer will do to bring it to life.

Time to plant vegetables and flowers and slow down a bit for a month or so.

February 3, 2012

Bluebirds, again!

On January 1, a cold snowy day, we had three bluebirds at our feeders, the first time I’d seen bluebirds since last spring when a pair of them apparently lost their argument over nesting sites to the house sparrows.

Since then, we’ve seen them three more times (two one time, three another, and yesterday, four of them!). It makes me so happy, whenever I see them. I’ll put the nest boxes out again, hoping they may prevail this year.

December 24, 2011

When I was a child, this was the day that my dad would take each of us (ten kids in all) to the “five and ten cent store” so that we could buy gifts for one another. The gifts would be small and, as I look back on them, maybe a little amusing: a box of bandaids, a set of barrettes, a box of paperclips… We loved receiving these things; when you live in a house with so many other people, there’s something very cool about having a hundred paperclips of your very own.

What impresses me now, is that my father was able to keep track of all the gifts–he remembered who had purchased what for whom, so that we didn’t receive ten barrettes and no crayons, for example.

Wrapping the gifts was highly secretive and fun, and opening them took hours. We opened gifts on Christmas Eve, one at at time. Our parents usually bought us clothes, our grandmother made pajamas for each of us, one of our aunts gave us a box of Fanny Farmer French Mints (to this day, that is the taste of Christmas Eve for me).

Whoever you are, reading this, I thank you for visiting my website, and hope you have good memories of your own childhood. I love the connections we make through our reading and writing.

November 5, 2011

A week ago I received an award. This is what I wrote to try to share the special flavor of that evening:

At my table at the awards banquet, I’m surrounded by friends and family, and we relax in the light of the white floating candle on our table. The conversation is gentle, easy, quietly celebratory.

When my name is called, I step up onto the stage to receive the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award, one of three that will be given on this elegant evening. I look out at the banquet hall, holding in my hand a small paper with my notes of people to thank, a few remarks on what this means to me, maybe a small joke.

But the podium is dark. I can’t read my notes, and I am dazzled, as the lights of all the candles shine up at me from the round white tables in this room which is not usually a banquet hall, it is a library–the old, beautifully modernized, Central Indianapolis Library. The moment has such deep presence: the presence of these three hundred people who have come together out of a shared love of books, who write books and read them and care deeply about them. And there’s the surrounding presence of the books on the library shelves, and all the people who have written and read them, all the librarians who have helped make connections between writers and readers.

I am surprised to discover that I am completely at ease among all these friends, known and unknown. I have no anxiety about saying the wrong thing, or forgetting to say the right thing. I find words to accept the recognition this award represents, and my words are in turn accepted: I belong in this world. And I am aware that this feeling, unusual though it may be, fully belongs to each of us, in every moment.

Later, as if in confirmation of this glimpse of truth, a young woman approaches me and asks me to sign one of my children’s books. She tells me that she was on the selection committee for this award, and that she’s from Winamac, a small rural town that I remember from a long-ago poets-in-the-schools residency. Might this woman, I wonder, have been a teacher or a librarian and have met me at that time?

No, she tells me, “I was in elementary school, and you came to my classroom. I have a signed copy of your first book of poetry.”

So many circles and spirals. Such deep and ongoing connection.

September 18, 2011

I haven’t seen very many monarchs this summer–no eggs or caterpillars or chrysalises. I’m not sure why–others have noticed the same thing.

I had a funny idea this week–funny only because it’s so obvious and took me so long to see it. Whenever I do a school or library visit that focusses on MONARCH AND MILKWEED, I take milkweed seeds and encourage the children (and adults) to plant milkweed for monarchs. It’s been a somewhat laborious and messy process: 1. let the milkweed pods dry and split open

2. take the seeds out

3. shake out as much of the fluff as possible (but there’s always some left)

4. put the seeds in little plastic bags, trying to guess the right number of seeds for individual children or for a classroom.

So–the other day I was picking milkweed pods, intending to gather the seeds for school children, and I LOOKED at what I held in my hand: a perfect container for milkweed seeds, nicely zipped up and probably just about the right number for a class of 25-30 kids to have ten or so seeds each. The pod itself is the perfect container!

So now, before they burst and send their seeds flying all around my neighborhood (I suspect my neighbors think I’ve sent enough milkweed seeds their way over the past ten or fifteen years)–I will put each pod in a plastic bag, left open so the pod can dry, but not exposed to wind, so the seeds will stay contained until I give it to a teacher or child.

And school custodians everywhere will thank me when they don’t have to vacuum up milkweed fluff in the wake of my visit.

Though I know I won’t be able to resist blowing just a few seeds out into the audience, always such a fun moment, when the kids scramble for the flying seeds as they parachute down.