Archive for the ‘About Me’ Category

Why I Love Halloween, Christmas, and Things that Go Gray in the Night

November 11, 2013

brownies with jack-o-lantern

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been in love with Halloween. Maybe you’d think it was the treats. When I was a kid we didn’t have candy very often at our house, so it was deeply appealing to end up with a full bag of Hershey’s chocolate and pixie stix at the end of an evening of trick-or-treating. Maybe you’d think it was the costumes – I loved dressing up and we had trunks full of old gowns, hats, and props in the cellar. My siblings and cousins, like Alcott’s little women, would garb up and put on plays every time we got together. Maybe you’d think it was the celebration – the last school day before the 31st was always fabulous:  story time with the lights turned down, special songs in minor keys, and on each desk, after last recess, a collection of orange and black cupcakes, cookies, and popcorn balls that had been secreted in by stealthy moms.

But I think mostly I adored the mysterious part of the holiday. My earliest Halloween memory, the October I was three, I remember stepping out our front door after dark, dressed as a princess in a flower girl gown and fake crown, flanked by my sisters who were 9 and 11. It was wonderful. I was entering a world of shadows and secrets. Children darted by on the sidewalks dressed as skeletons and monsters. Underneath I knew they were probably just children like us, but maybe not all of them. People’s yards were thick with cardboard tombstones and pipe cleaner spiders, but when we knocked and the doors opened, faces beamed at us as sweet as those of our own aunts and uncles. There was something delightfully contradictory about that.

That weird, confusing quality appealed to me, like the darkness between streetlights where even the kids in the lightest, easiest to see costumes–white rabbits, brides, and fairies in pale dresses–would fade like ghosts as they moved down the block. I especially loved the gray moment when they were almost gone, but not quite.

winter

For much the same reason I’ve always been smitten with Christmas, as well. Yes, presents and chocolates were involved, but it was going out shopping after dark in the rain, with garlands of lights that spanned the streets transforming it into the Emerald City, that fabulous drug of sweet pine every time you open the front door—how strange is that, to have a tree in your living room? The mystery of a blazing star in the winter sky and a magic baby that even wild animals love. And something else hid behind the manger scene–winter solstice tales older than the sea.

As a kid I always wanted to expand Halloween. My best friend and I imagined a night and day that comes before Halloween, like an All Hallow’s Eve Eve. And I have always loved Christmas Eve even more than Christmas day—it’s the night that holds the wonder. A span of darkness vast enough for a world of chimneys to be explored. Really the whole time from October first to January first seems like one big mystic festival, my favorite part of the year.

I’m just figuring out this peculiar attraction I have to the holidays, but as a writer I use these shadowy areas as inspiration for details and texture in my descriptions of settings, characters, and moments. The gold of jack-o-lanterns grinning in the blackness, the stink of their burning skulls and of rotting leaves in the gutters mixed with the scent of apple cider. The dizzying tracks of flashlights like pixies, leading children over the broken sidewalks as they trick-or-treat.  And also creeping up on the Christmas tree, seeing the Escher-like reflection of my warped face, the presents below and tree branches above, all curved in the convex silver of a hanging ornament.

And as a writer I use the mystery that floats around Halloween and Christmas as inspiration, too. How much is true and how much pretend? That strange mix of light and dark, fear and hope, superstition and ritual. And there are other shadowy areas that inspire me, other unanswered questionsfull moon.

When my nephew was perhaps six, he bonded with a baby bird that I’d rescued from a busy street. He and my sister and niece made the tiny thing a bed and fed it with an eye dropper of water and a tooth pick of bread soaked in egg yoke. The little bird grew and learned to fly. At first it would flit from Nicky’s shoulder around the room and later he’d stand in the back yard and it would swoop from his hand all around the yard and then back to its boy. Then it would watch at a distance, from the far end of the yard, perched on the hedge. We saw the bird every day for perhaps a week. And then one day he never came back. That last time that little creature sat on the hedge and looked at our yard is frozen in my mind. He remembered us then. Maybe he even recalled the box he slept in or the warm salty sweetness of a little boy’s palm.  Did he wait for a moment to see if Nick would come out and raise his hand? By then the bird had already spent many an hour being wild and nameless. In his last moment of being tame, what did he think?

It’s like the way babies still seem able to see angels. They live in a blessed grayness that we never get to hear about since they are too young to describe their visitors. When we are first falling asleep at night and when we are first waking up in the morning, those are shadowy areas, too. We whisper wisdoms in our sleep that sound like nonsense once our ears become alert and play that losing game of telephone with the other side.  But deep waters run through these foggy areas. I try my best to pan for writing gold in these kinds of streams. I’ve often used parts of my dreams in the pages of my novels. And I know that something about that rescued bird’s last glimpse of our yard will end up in one of my stories someday.

And how I love that grayness when you are sensing a new idea for a story forming in your head, like Moby Dick deep enough to be hidden, just close enough to the surface of the water to appear as a ghostly glow.

Pardon my ramblings. And Happy Thanksgiving! Revel in the shadows between streetlights, write down the nonsense you hear when you are just waking from a dream, and tonight as you fall asleep, try and remember the angels you saw when you were two in that last moment before you were tame.

(reprinted, with slight changes, from a 2012 column in the Willamette Writers newsletter which drew on material from a 2011 post on this blog)

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Why I Love Halloween

October 20, 2011

(from an essay I only excerpted last year)

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been in love with Halloween. Maybe you’d think it was the treats. When I was a kid we didn’t have candy very often at our house – only on holidays or vacations – so it was deeply appealing to end up with a full bag of Hershey’s chocolate and pixie stix. Maybe you’d think it was the costumes – I loved dressing up and we had trunks full of old gowns, hats, and props in the cellar. Maybe you’d think it was the celebration – the last school day before the 31st was always fabulous:  story time with the lights turned down, special songs in minor keys, and on your desk after last recess a collection of orange and black cup cakes, cookies, and pop corn balls secreted in by stealthy moms.

But I think my love of the holiday was more about that magical combination of light and dark. My earliest Halloween memory, the October I was three, I remember stepping out our front door after dark, dressed as a princess in a flower girl gown and fake crown, flanked by my sisters who were 9 and 11. It was wonderful. I was entering a world of shadows and mystery (and I’ll admit I was a bit of a scaredy-cat) but with my protectors beside me, I was safe.  Children darted by on the sidewalks dressed as skeletons and monsters, but underneath I knew they were just children like us. People’s yards were thick with cardboard tombstones and pipe cleaner spiders, but when we knocked and the doors opened, faces beamed at us as sweet as those of our own aunts and uncles.

I liked the light – the laughter and sweets and playfulness of it all. But honestly, I found I  preferred the darkness between streetlights. I liked not knowing precisely who was behind each mask. I liked the corny sound effects records of moaning spirits and even the neighbors who opened their doors with wolfman masks on and made me hide my face. I loved how even the kids in the lightest, easiest to see costumes–white sheets and pale fairy dresses–would fade like ghosts as they moved down the block. I loved the glow of jagged toothed jack-o-lanterns in the blackness and the smell of burning pumpkins and wax, of rotting dead leaves in the gutters and cinnamon cider. I loved the dizzying tracks of flashlights dancing like sprites, leading us through the night.

So, I guess it’s not surprising that I grew up to write about ghosts and Fetches or that on the 31st I’ll be hosting another Supernatural Tea Party. Can’t help myself; every October I become a kid again.

I so look forward to my son’s second Halloween. Coming soon, pictures of a 19 pound, two foot high Harry Potter.   =)

What I did on my Christmas vacation . . .

January 19, 2011

Okay, I confess. I don’t have a vacation at Christmas because I don’t have a day job (other than being a novelist and a mommy.) But here’s what happened to me:

I wrangled the props again for the Christmas Revels, this year set in Spain. Wonderful, haunting show.

I had a holiday supernatural tea party where we discussed Christmas magic like Santa, elves, Jack Frost, the winter solstice, and other mysterious things of the Decemberish ilk.

To celebrate my birthday I went shopping at several Goodwills with my family finding delightful treasures, went out to eat at California Pizza Kitchen, and could hardly get enough of my Tres Leche cake. (Better start a diet soon.)

My sister hosted a brunch at our place and it was splendid to schmooze with old friends and new.

I loved having my sister Wendy and her kids visiting from California. We played games like dominoes, dressed the baby up like a shepherd and an elf, watched old movies (White Christmas, Scrooge, A Christmas Story) and took turns cooking for each other, reading out loud to each other, and using the Wii Fit.

Binny with cousin Molly

Cousins Siobhan and Dave try to convince Binny that solid food is a good idea

It was Binny’s first Christmas and as predicted he loved the wrapping and boxes as much as the toys. He thoroughly enjoyed all the holiday music and rocked out to it in his little one-year-old, head-bobbing, knee bouncing style.

And, as you might have guessed, I’m still recovering from all the fun. Hope your holidays were just as exhaustingly blissful.

Robinson’s Revels Blessing

November 18, 2010

It takes a village to raise a child and in my village (which includes my family, my writers support groups, my choir) the Portland Christmas Revels is like my church. So it made perfect sense to me that, instead of a traditional baptism, I would take my baby to the Revelers for his blessing, to welcome him into the world, to show him that God is love and that the earth is a beautiful place to live.

I brought Binny to the opening circle of the Revels first mega-rehearsal last month. We were invited into the center of the group and the chorus sang Binny The Travelers Prayer. He watched and listened as if in awe. He will probably not remember the experience, but I will never forget it. Gorgeous, breathtaking. Find the lyrics below. (If you would like to hear the music, the Portland Christmas Revels has just come out with a CD that I’m certain you will love.  To order it and/or  learn more about the Revels go to: portlandrevels.org)

My deepest thanks to my Revelers, the happy few.

The Travelers Prayer

(John Renbourn) 

Praise to the moon, bright queen of the skies,

Jewel of the black night, the light of our eyes,

Brighter than starlight, whiter than snow,

Look down on us in the darkness below.

 

If well you should find us then well let us stay,

Be it seven times better when you make your way,

Be it seven times better when we greet the dawn,

So light up our way and keep us from all harm.

 

Give strength to the weary, give alms to the poor,

To the tainted and needy five senses restore,

Give song to our voices, give sight to our eyes,

To see the sun bow as the new moon shall rise.

 

Cast your eyes downwards to our dwelling place,

Three times for favour and three times for grace,

Over the dark clouds your face for to see,

To banish misfortune and keep Trinity.

 

In the name of the waters which spring from the earth,

In the name of the rivers to whom they give birth,

In the name of the oceans, the seven deep seas,

All praise to the moon, for eternity.

 

~Happy Halloween~

November 1, 2010

My mother taught me this song — does anyone else remember it from their childhoods?

“Tonight is the night

When dead leaves fly

Like witches on switches

Across the sky

And elf and sprite flit through the night

On an eerie sheen —

It’s Halloween.”

These are a few of my favorite things . . .

September 25, 2010

One of my favorite performers is

the puppeteer Bruce Schwartz. Follow this link to see some of his magic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MLyyBWsdbXo  

One of my favorite artists is

Burne Jones, a Pre-Raphaelite painter.

One of my favorite TV shows is 30 Rock — there are five epiosdes free to view on your computer at Hulu.com.

One of my favorite foods is

the BBQ chicken salad at California Pizza Kitchen.

My favorite designer is

Eileen Fisher — comfortable, classy, mix-and-matchy clothes.

My favorite comic strip is Get Fuzzy — check it out free at:

http://comics.com/get_fuzzy/

One of my favorite places is

Disneyland (the original.)

One of my favorite movies is Gosford Park — if you haven’t seen it, try the trailer at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfokH6v4aOM

I love sharing faves — feel free to comment on some of yours.

Don’t believe everything you see on facebook!

September 23, 2010

If any of you got a photo of a naked lady “tagged” with my name, it was most definitely not me. I’ve reported the incident. My apologies if that photo made it to anyone’s computer. (The picture was tagged with dozens of people’s names — how disturbing!) This is more my style . . .

A well-covered girl!

Where I work . . .

September 1, 2010

I’ve heard that sometimes readers like to see (or hear about) authors’ work spaces. This is mine. My son and dog and I share a house with my sister and her daughter and their two dogs. My baby’s nursery and my bedroom are on the second floor, but my Writing Den is downstairs.

I chose a shallow card table as my writing desk because if you gave me a bigger surface on which to work I’d cover it with stuff. Small means I have to keep most things put away. I just need room for my laptop, my printer, a mug warmer, and at least 8 by 11 inches of free space to the right of my keyboard for a page of notes. The stereo’s essential (behind the desk) — I LOVE my writing music.

There’s plenty of light –  windows look out onto the front garden and beyond to the horse farm on the hill across the road. The sunsets are lovely.

French doors open into the entry way. My dog likes to see who is coming to visit. (No doorbell left unbarked!)

I’ve never been a grown up about decorating. I tend to have mismatched furniture (as you can see) because I either got the pieces as hand-me-downs from older siblings (I’m the youngest of four) or I picked them up at the Goodwill. (I love the Goodwill.) Or I inherited them from my parents, like the antique server. My den’s not huge but I have room for Max’s doggy bed and blanket and for my son, Binny’s, buzzy seat, and for my stair-step exerciser that I use sometimes while I’m thinking. (I should do that more often. Exercise. Also think.)

I separate my books into fiction and research books. (Okay, I’ll admit it – I don’t read much nonfiction unless it’s research for one of my novels.)

I keep one of every version of my published works – advanced reader copies, hardbacks and paperbacks, audio books, foreign language versions, and new printings that add groovy things to the cover of a novel like quotes from great reviews.

I keep meaning to stop, but I’m always adding treasures to my “museum.” Some of the relics are junk shop level and a few are real antiques. 

As with the museum, my walls are decorated with some fine art and some fine junk. The overall effect of my den may seem Halloweeny — actually, Halloween is my second favorite holiday, after Christmas — but I’m not at all a dark or morbid person. I write about the dark parts of the Supernatural only to showcase the Light.

 

So that’s my work space. I better get back in there and write a book.

Well . . . as soon as Binny goes down for a nap.

Robinson’s Nursery

July 24, 2010

While I waited for my son to arrive  (many more than nine months, since he was adopted) I had plenty of time to create his room. Since I loved fairies and elves as a child, I knew I wanted to make his nest into something magical. Not a frilly, cartoon Tinkerbell bedroom, but a quasi-Victorian fairy forest den.

 

I found a vintage-looking soft, stretchy brown material to cover the worn and modern chair I use for rocking Binny. We love to sing and read books snuggled there.

My niece, who had just graduated from college with an art degree, helped me paint the tree on the wall.

And I found shelves, like fairy-sized balconies, from which little toys could watch us.

At the Goodwill I bought old fashioned wooden shelves. At the Dollartree I bought tiny unvarnished bird houses, which I painted in browns and greens to fashion a pixie neighborhood near the ceiling.

I collected small things (furniture, dishes, shoes) and created little elvin rooms on some of the shelves.

 We have a box called the “Fairy Lost & Found” filled with misplaced tiny items such as hats, toys, and crockery.

High on the walls are doors that lead into pixie dwellings, I suppose, because no mouse could get up there without a ladder. You need wings.

Because I also love theater, I decorated the walls with masks and wings.

Above the closet door a line is hung with fairy laundry and the “wall” is lined with tiny flower pots. (I would buy small animals and dolls at the Goodwill for a buck each and steal their clothes, donating them back naked. And the tiny pots and flowers were from Michael’s with chewing gum as potting soil.)

There is a welcome sign near the door with the words “enter with love” written in fairy. (Well, symbol font, anyway.) A few tiny books on the shelf are also in “fairy” and when decoded say things like:

Up the airy mountain

Down the rushy glen

We daren’t go a-hunting

For fear of little men . . .

(by William Allingham)

and

Up and down, up and down

I will lead them up and down

I am feared in field and town

Goblin lead them up and down

(William Shakespeare from A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream)

There is a grasshopper with a saddle and a praying mantis pulling a wagon.

 Under the changing table teensy dwellings hide.

A little white window frame looks out (in?) at other fairy houses.

I took the Pluto and Mickey Mouse toys off the crib mobile that I bought and replaced them with a squirrel, a pixie, a bee, and a moth. (The moth might be ugly, but I made him myself.) I found leaf material and hired a friend to make the crib’s dust ruffle and bumper. I liked to pretend the bed was made by the elves from leaves and twigs gathered in the forest.

Binny has a small TV with a VCR, a hand-me-down from my mother, but I found a piece of medieval looking tapestry cloth to make a cover for it so it fits in better with the decor. The room is strewn with little chairs and silk flowers and vines. I discovered flameless votive candles and hid them around the shelves. It looks enchanting in the dark with the tiny fairy lights glowing.

More fairy houses . . .

Fox keeps watch from a stump . . .

Well, I’ve gone on too long, but I do love the nursery. Binny seems to love it, too. But, on my honor, I will let him redecorate the room himself when he decides robots or dinosaurs or trains are more his cup of tea. (Hmmm, maybe I can turn him on to Harry Potter. Hogwarts sounds like a fun theme.)

New Mommy Brain

May 17, 2010

(Notice the Min Pin nose in center bottom -- Max tries to get into most photos with his boy.)

I LOVE being a mother and I ADORE my son. I do have to get used to certain things, though. I used to be Miss “Johnny on the Spot” — I arrived early to rehearsals and appointments, I kept up with sending family and friends gifts and cards at birthdays, I had my rooms organized, I answered fan emails the same day I got them, and I could write a list of thirty things to do each day and get twenty of them done.

Ever since my son was born, however, I’ve become embarrassingly disorganized about certain things. Sure, I steam his bottles and always have plenty of diapers and wipes and powdered formula on hand. But I’m still just sending off the last two of my thank you notes for a baby shower that took place two months ago. I do laundry but never seem to put it away – I just keep dressing baby and me from the stack of clean clothes. It took me over two months to send in some paperwork that should have taken one afternoon. I write a list of thirty things to do each day and do four of them! What’s the matter with me???

Apparently, I have New Mommy Brain. It’s not just a chemical phenomenon that afflicts women who give birth. I adopted my son, but as you can tell, I’m suffering from an acute case of NMB. Not that I’m complaining – becoming a family with Binny is the best thing in the world – my favorite part of life. No, I’m not complaining – I’m apologizing.

I apologize to the two websites that I forgot to send guest blogs to and to the two that I meant to send donations to. And to the Give-Away winners who had to wait until I got back from Chicago to get their prizes mailed out. And to my friends and relatives who watch patiently as I try to get ready to go somewhere. Much harder to get out that front door with a baby. (And, seriously, if you sent us a baby gift and I never sent you a thank you note . . . PLEASE email or call or drop by and ask how we liked the gift. I know we loved it! I want to thank you! I do!)

And Thank you to all the patient people in my life as I figure out how to organize my things, my work, my time. Thank you, people I said I would call and haven’t yet, for being so nice. Thank you, Binny, for being such a good sport about Mommy’s flustered moments. Thank you to my dog, Maximus, for waiting, being quiet, making room for baby, and being so sweet when left at home as Binny and I drive off for errand trips on which you were once invited. Thank you to the calm doctors and nurses who listen to me and answer my questions. Thank you to everyone who cheerfully helps me out when I say, “I know you sent me that info before, but could you possibly resend it?”

You are all angels. Bless you. And I vow to get my act together. This evening is about picking up my space. I’ll keep you updated. Wish me luck!