Thursday, June 30, 2011


Pom Pom's most recent post was about things that made her glad. It has inspired me to make my own list of gladnesses, in no particular order.

1. I am glad, oh so very, very glad, to be home. Home! Dirty, messy, scrungy, scrubby, germ-laden, sticky-floored, dust-covered home!

2. I am glad to have my dog's company again. When I was in New Orleans, I saw a commercial with a dog in it. I wept like a baby. Once you are used to getting your daily dose of unrequited love, it's very hard to go without it.

3. I am glad that I'm not going anywhere for a good long while. I want to stay put--except for my trip to IKEA, which is going to happen, and soon, and how.

4. I am glad that the tomatoes are coming in like gangbusters. For one thing, it makes up for the rabbits eating my beautiful greenbeans and all the radishes and some of my pinto beans as well. (I am researching organic ways of keeping rabbits away. The Man is researching how much damage a BB gun can do to bunny.) We do have squirrels eating tomatoes, but we have so many tomatoes, it doesn't much matter.

5. I am glad that blueberry season is here (local friends, let's go blueberry picking!) and that I've found a recipe for spiced blueberry jam. Let the canning begin!

6. I'm glad I've become a zen Buddhist for the summer so that I don't have to worry about whether or not my children are happy. Jack is in drama camp this week, and I found myself overly-concerned earlier in the week about whether or not he's having a good time. Then I remembered that I am a Buddhist now. I have no control over Jack's happiness. Maybe being happy is not what this week is about for Jack. Interestingly enough, as soon as I stopped worrying about whether or not Jack was having a ripping good time at camp, he started talking about how much he was enjoying it (before, all he said was that camp was "fine").

7. Did I mention that I'm glad to be home?

All my travels were pleasant and pleasurable. There were points during our stay at the beach when I wondered how hard it would be for a 47-year-old woman to disappear into thin air and never be found again (and yet still retain use of her credit cards). Which is to say, all that family togetherness can get to a girl after awhile. But overall it was a good vacation.

New Orleans was fun and beautiful and quite exhausting. I got to attend the Newbery and Caldecott book awards banquet, met some very famous children's book authors (who were nice, because just about everyone in children's publishing is very nice), and best of all, ordered room service for breakfast. I believe one of the loveliest things about visiting New Orleans is drinking the coffee. Oh, and the natives are so hospitable they ought to be named honorary Texans.

So I'm glad to have gone, and I'm glad to have come back. It's lucky when things work out that way, isn't it?

P.S. I was in New Orleans for the American Library Association. If you follow this link, you will find a picture of me (scroll way down) with a bunch of other Simon & Schuster authors. I'm right under the picture of Molly Shannon, the latest Celebrity-turned-Picture-Book-Author; imagine that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer Report No. 2

Greetings from the Outer Banks of North Carolina! That's where I've been hiding away since last Friday, trying to get this summer kick-started.

It has been a strange summer so far. I spent the first few weeks of it revising a novel, a process I enjoy, but one that takes up a lot of space in my head. It's hard to get your summer mojo going when your brain is focused on other things, especially imaginary things that only exist in your own little mind.

(The pink house across the street from where we're staying.)

We're here on Ocracoke Island until Saturday, when we'll head back to Durham. On Sunday, I leave for the American Library Association's summer convention in New Orleans. I'll return home Tuesday evening, and then Phase II of the summer begins. I sort of hope it's the boring phase of summer, the part where I don't do much at all except learn how to preserve figs and make mozzerella cheese and eat a million tomatoes from our garden.

To recap the summer so far, for those of you keeping score at home, here is what I've done since the boys finished school:

1. Gone to a fiddler's convention in Mt. Airy, NC, where I learned that Bluegrass fiddlers and Old Time fiddlers are the Hatfields and McCoys of the contemporary age. It was a scene worthy of a master's degree thesis in sociology, group psychology or anthropology.

2. Taken a canning class over at the local County Extension Agency, where I learned more about botulism than I ever cared to know.

3. Finished revising a novel, which you'll be happy to hear my editor has accepted with open arms and says there are only three or four (or five or six or seven) tiny things that still need working on.

4. Spent a week getting ready for vacation. Which I am now enjoying, though I am living with the underlying dread of going home and immediately turning around to go somewhere else, where I will be expected to be extroverted and charming, something I'm only occasionally capable of. And then turning around one more time (I'm getting dizzy!) to come back home and deal with the unpacking and cleaning and all that.

The best thing about this vacation so far, other than the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of one of the most beautiful spots on the eastern seaboard, has been watching Jack on his bike. We are staying in the village, which is one of the more bike- and pedestrian-friendly places I've been, and has a wonderful bookstore and plenty of places to stop and get a Dr. Pepper or an ice cream cone. Jack has been out and about on his bike for hours every day, breathing what may be his first real breaths of independence. It has done my heart good to see him thus.

I hope that starting next week I'll be a little more regular in my blogging. With any luck, I'll be back frequently updating you on my efforts at cheesemaking and preserving figs and peaches and posting many, many pictures of my tomatoes. Ah, tomatoes. They do my heart good.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Summer Report

(My wheat crop is in! I think we have enough for a cup of flour. Photo Credit: The Man)

I have survived the first week of summer. Barely.

Much credit goes to my friend Sarah, who keeps whisking Will off to the pool and the river and her backyard. I have to finish up a revision in the next two weeks, and having Will out of the house and fully occupied helps. A lot.

Jack just sleeps until someone drags him out of bed. By the way, he was measured at a doctor's appointment today, and we are now exactly the same height. I imagine he'll be towering over me by the end of the summer. I still outweigh him by thirty pounds--why isn't that a comfort?

Here are some of my hopes/plans/dreams for the summer:

1. We will all get through it physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually unharmed.

2. I will be serious about canning my garden bounty, and my children will share my obsession. We will spend many a happy afternoon in the kitchen, laughing and singing as we make blackberry jam. We might even dance a little, just because we are so, so happy about jam.

3. I will not be in any way or form tempted to sell my children to the lowest bidder.

4. I will continue to get up early (6:30ish; I'm shooting for 6:00) to read on the porch and weed the garden, and enjoy the peace of a quiet house. Moreover, Will, sensing that I'm up, will not decide that he, too, will get up at 6 a.m. so he can play computer games.

5. I will sell the computer--and all gaming systems--to the lowest bidder.

6. I will not give up on my garden in mid-July just because it's too dang hot.

7. I will not give up on my children and sell them to the lowest bidder just because it's too dang hot.

That's my list for now. I'm also pondering making this not just the Summer of Pie, but also the Summer of the Southern Biscuit, and also the Summer of Eudora Welty, whose letters I'm reading right now. It's good to have several set themes for one's summer, so that one does not lose heart.

I will not lose heart. I will eat biscuits and jam instead.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Buddhism 101

I have decided to become a Buddhist this summer. My Buddhist practice will not replace my Christian practice, but merely overlay it, like a nice piece of lace, or a veil, or a double-dose of Valium.

Buddhism, as I understand it, is the practice of letting go of expectations and judgment in an effort to diminish suffering. And since my children have already made it very clear to me that I will suffer this summer if I don't take drastic action, and since I don't have a Valium prescription, Buddhism it is.

As a Buddhist, I will focus on what is in my control and what is out of my control. For instance, today is the first day of June, and it's almost 100 degrees outside. Instead of getting anxious about it--my normal reaction to high temperatures at the beginning of summer--I tell myself I can't control the weather; it is what it is. I make no judgment upon it. I make no judgment on the radio announcers who seem almost sadistic in their excitement as they report the rising temperatures. I let go of all the negative thoughts I have about radio announcers who have never learned to simply report the facts instead of editorializing. I resist the impulse to tell them to shut up; we already know it's hot, you morons.

I am letting go. I am letting go of my children's boredom, their ennui, their stunning slothfulness, their inability to entertain themselves sans electronic devices. I am letting go.

Instead of freaking out over the fact that for the next eleven weeks, I will hardly ever have a minute to myself, I am meditating on jam. My friend Melissa generously spent last Thursday morning showing me how to make strawberry jam and can it, and on my birthday a few days ago I received a Presto Pressure Canner. So this summer, instead of suffering, I will make jam, and I will can it in those cute little jars, and I will think about all the nice folks I will give the jam to at Christmas, and I will do my best not to throw the cute little jars of jam at my children when they drive me crazy.

Because I am a Buddhist, and that's how we roll.