Year’s End in the Forest

Things have been a-hopping in the Forest for the past week as we’ve been enjoying all kinds of family gatherings and celebrations.

We hung eleven stockings by the chimney with care (including one for each dog). No, the chickens did not get stockings. However I decorated their coop with big red bows and made sure that they had lots of yummy chicken treats. They rewarded us with eggs that made the most spectacular eggnog ever tasted in the North Country!





Queen Louise and I enjoyed our traditional screening of Elf.








My Beloved Husband did not exactly “enjoy” the movie. He tolerated it. More or less. Actually, less. He is a bit of a Scrooge about my favorite film. It’s the South Pole elf in him. But he was extremely festive about everything else, so we forgive him.






One of my favorite things this season was making a gingerbread house. Then I realized that the house standing alone looked lonely so I made a band of merry elves from gingerbread and marzipan.


(Gingerbread house recipe was courtesy of Martha Stewart.)






Here’s a close-up of the elves building a fire (foreground) whilst another skates on the pond behind them. If I ever stop writing, I may become a full-time elf creator.







I’m not sure how much blogging will happen between now and 2011, so please allow me to convey our best wishes to you and your loved ones for a healthy and happy New Year.

Peace, my friends!!

Video to bake by

The cleaning and decorating in the Forest in finally done. (Pics tomorrow!) Today I’ll be trying to make a gingerbread house and baking biscotti and other family favorites. And it’s time to make the rice pudding for the Julenisse! While puttering around the kitchen, I’ll be catching up on videos that I’ve bookmarked. Do you have anything that you think I should watch?

I have something for you. When I was in Austin for the Texas Book Festival, Vicki Smith from Kirkus interviewed me. I think it is one of the best interviews ever, ranging from FORGE to my feelings when people try to ban my books. Enjoy!


A Pause in Banned Books Week Coverage

Sit down. I have a story for you.

So we have a neurotic six-year-old German Shepherd. I generally refer to her as The Creature With Fangs. tho’ truth be told, she rarely uses them.






Isn’t she lovely?





We’ve known for a while now that she’s be a lot happier (and possibly less neurotic) if she had a buddy. (The chickens don’t count. She views them as snack food.)

We decided we needed a short-haired dog, maybe one of the breeds that provokes fewer allergic responses. Most importantly, the new dog would have to get along with The Creature With Fangs. But we are responsible adults here, very serious people. We knew that we should wait until after my book tour before we started looking forĀ  the Companion Dog.

Seriously. We meant it. For real.

Driving back from Ft. Ticonderoga on Sunday, we stopped at a super-great grocery store in Saratoga Springs, Putnam Market. As I was getting back into the car, I noticed a brand new Kong ball laying next to the front tire. I looked around. There were no dogs in sight. The only people I could see looked like cat people.

I tossed the Kong ball in the car, figuring it would be a souvenir of our trip for The Creature With Fangs.

Tuesday morning, as I was getting ready for the arrival of my writer’s group, a dog showed up at our house. A funny-looking dog. Looked like he had been built from the spare parts of several different breeds. Made me think of a chimera or a hippogriff. He was scared and hungry so we fed him and gave him some water. He had a collar, but no ID. Looked to be about six months old.

When I crouched down to pet him, he leaned against my leg.

I fell in love.

“His name is Thor,” I told my husband. Why? Because that was the name that popped in my head.

“Don’t fall in love,” BH warned. (I did not tell him it was too late.)

BH made a lot of phone calls. Turns out that this dog’s owner had ‘sort of’ left him at a neighbor’s house and forgotten to pick him up. For a month. The owner was more than happy to have us take the dog off his hands; he wasn’t in a position to care for the dog properly, but really didn’t want to take the little guy to the pound. Props to him for that.

But before we could agree to take him, he had to pass a test. We introduced the ChimeraDog to our Creature With Fangs.

We held our breath.

Or rather, we inhaled, but didn’t have time to hold our breath because they both started wagging their tails and playing as if they’d been born in the same litter.

So we have a new resident in the Forest. After much speculation, we think he is cross between an Australian cattle dog and possibly a Rottweiler. I imagine the vet will be able to figure it out.





Treats? Did someone say "treats?"



The Creature With Fangs is a very happy Creature indeed.




Our family is a little bigger and life is even more topsy-turvy than usual around here. In the best possible way.

One more thing!

We found out what the dog’s original name was. Can you guess it?

Right. His original name was Thor. And he loves that stray Kong ball that I picked up in Saratoga.

::cues Twilight Show theme::

WFMAD Day 30 – your time is your currency

My friend Susan Campbell Bartoletti has a new book out: They Called Themselves the K.K.K.: The Birth of an American Terrorist Group.

You should buy it and read it. Five reviewing publications have given it stars (so far). Sue has written a fascinating account of her research trip to Arkansas to attend a KKK Congress. (They don’t call them rallies anymore.) She wrote four blog entries from 8/23 – 26 with details of the trip.

Thank you all for the questions you’ve been sending in. I will keep answering them in the coming weeks.

I’m impressed by all you accomplish: your writing, gardening, running, and family time. Could you discuss what you give up to make this happen -or- perhaps share your typical schedule?

This is an awesome question. And it has a partial connection to Sue.

Sue Bartoletti is one of the friends with whom I’ve had ongoing conversations (for years) about how to balance writing with life. And how to balance life with life.

If I do – occasionally – have my life in balance, it is because of friends like Susan, and Betsy Partridge, and Deb Heiligman, fellows writers and travelers on the creative journey who share my values. Lesson One: Seeking out kindred spirits is one of the most important things you can do for your own spirit and for your writing.

The second piece of my balancing act happened on September 21, 1981. That was the day that Sandra Day O’Connor was confirmed as the first female Supreme Court Justice in the history of the United States. If you are younger than 40, this probably does not seem like a big deal. It was HUGE.

I heard the news when I was driving home from my community college classes. I was 18 years old. The news was so shocking and amazing and world-changing, I pulled my car over to the side of the road and cried. In an interview later, Justice O’Connor said (paraphrasing here) that women can do everything, they just can’t do it all at the same time. I think that applies to both men and women and I think it is advice that applies throughout our adult lives. Lesson Two: Most of the time you can’t do everything that you want. So you have to be really clear on what your true priorities are.

The third piece of my balance started on a very scary night in a hospital about 12 years ago. My life was completely out of balance at that point and (not surprisingly) I was sick. A lot. One lung infection got out of hand and landed me in the hospital, jacked up on meds that made breathing easier and sleeping impossible.

The old woman in the bed next to me couldn’t sleep either. She spent the entire night talking to the very patient nurse’s assistant who held her hand. The old woman talked about how she regretted all the mistakes she made in her life that had brought her to that point. She was dying and none of her children or grandchildren would visit her.

I kept watching the second hand whirring around the clock on the wall. By dawn, I decided to change the way I’d been living. Because, Lesson Three: You’re going to die. So you might as well take charge of your life while you can.

It did not happen overnight. I was very good at taking one step backwards for every two steps I took forward. But I started to write more. To read more. To vent in my journal. To think about the kind of life I really wanted to live. I exercised. I explored art. I made peace with some broken relationships.

What did I give up? I gave up the bullshit. I stopped volunteering for causes I did not truly believe in. I stopped watching most television. I stopped trying to mold my life into the plastic suburban dream that I had deluded myself into believing would fit me.

And somehow I wound up here.

How you spend your time tells you as much (if not more) about your life than how you spend your money. If you have to dedicate 40 or 50 hours a week to a job that pays the bills, or to the care of people who depend on you, or to your education… or a combination of those three things, then I hope you have the integrity to pour the right amount of energy into those tasks.

Most of us squeeze our writing into the cracks of time that appear around the edges of our major responsibilities. Your time for your writing is precious and rare. How can you protect it?

I promise I’ll post about my daily schedule soon. Right now, you need to get to work.

Ready… “I’m a rewriter. That’s the part I like best…once I have a pile of paper to work with, it’s like having the pieces of a puzzle. I just have to put the pieces together to make a picture.” Judy Blume

Set… find a quiet place. If you keep a calendar, pull it out. Just for the month of August. After you read the prompt, turn off the Internet so you can ponder in peace.

Today’s prompt: Answer the following questions:

In the last month:

1. How much time, on average, did you write every day? Every week?

2. What did you have to give up to do that writing?

3. Do you wish you wrote more? What could you have done to make that happen?

Looking forward…

4. Who are your kindred spirits? How often can you get together with them?

5. What are the essential priorities in your life?

6. What habits steal time from your priorities?

7. In anther ten years, which of those habits will have brought you a deeper sense of satisfaction in your life?

8. What do you need to change to create time and space for writing (and other art) in your life?

9. What is holding you back from making those changes?

10. How do you feel about that?


WFMAD Day 15 – Better Late Than Never

I’m late. I know. I should probably hang my head in shame. But I’m not going to.

Our weekend was filled with camping with friends and then today we had some family stuff that took up most of the day, which was way longer than I thought it would.

I don’t regret one second.

There are some things that you probably don’t want to allow to interfere with your writing. Like game shows. Volunteering for things you don’t believe in. Hanging out at the mall because you’re bored.

But in my book, making time for family and friends is of the highest priority. And if you are fortunate enough to have great relationships with your family and friends, they’ll understand how important writing is to you and they’ll cut you a lot of slack when you need it.

Balance always sounds simpler than it is, I know, but it’s worth aiming for.

Housekeeping – We’ve made it halfway through the WFMAD Challenge (congratulations, btw!) and I imagine that a few of you have questions for me. Please post them in the Comments section and I will try to get to them in the next two weeks. Thank you!

Ready… “The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day in and day out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising.” Stephen King

Set… After you send me a question, you can turn off the Internet and phone

Today’s prompt:

1) Make a list of the five things that you or your character are most afraid of.

2) Circle the one that makes your heart race and palms sweat.

3) Write a scene in which you or your character has to confront the scary thing in a very public place – filled with people – so you (or the character) can’t freak out and run away screaming. You have to interact or avoid the scary thing, but in such a way that no one else will notice you are afraid.

4) Do all of the above without using the word “afraid,” “fear,” or “scared.” Show the emotion instead of telling the reader about it.