One of us lives on the east coast. One of us lives on the west.

One of us lives in a rural community. One of us lives in a city.

Both of us wander. Both of us witness. Both of us write.

This is a record of what we find.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Landscape of Root

We just planted our first vegetable garden…ever.

I don’t count my mother’s gardens, which I did, in fact, help weed when I wanted desperately to earn money to buy a plush banana. (Yes. I really did fall in love with a stuffed banana complete with eyes and a mouth and a peel that zipped around it. And I bought it. And had it for a long time.) I don’t count the garden Derek and I tried to plant when we moved into our first rental house in Vermont, which came with an ENORMOUS vegetable garden that we blindly, arrogantly and idiotically thought we could plant and grow. We were wrong.

So this little garden is the first. And I love it. We re-used a bunch of rocks that were around various other old pre-us gardens on the property and made six lovely raised beds. We filled them with compost, strung our peace flags, chimes and stained glass art, and then—oh then—we got on our hands and knees and dug holes, planted seeds, transplanted tiny starters, and watered them all again and again. (It was so bloody hot last week!)

There is absolutely nothing spectacular about what we did. Nothing. We planted a little vegetable garden, like a million other people do—just on my block alone, never mind all across Vermont, this country and the world.

(I am reminded of the incredible picture book A Place to Grow by Soyung Pak, which is a story about a father and daughter working together in their garden. As they work, he explains what a seed needs in order to flourish and then parallels that description with the reasons their family immigrated to a new country. Their plants look for sunlight as they looked for hope. Their plants look for good dirt as they looked for peace. They all—plants and family—needed a place to grow. Brilliant book. Read it if you can.)

Working and sweating alongside all three of my children as they lugged heavy rocks was one of the best times we have recently had. Feeling the dirt under my knees and fingernails as I patted compost over seeds and around plants was a glorious sensation. Standing with Derek in our kitchen and pointing at the tiny bean shoots beginning to poke out of the ground was better than any date we could go on. (Disclaimer: we can’t afford the time or money to go out on dates right now so, hey, we are into cheap thrills!) So maybe it was spectacular. Yes. Yes yes yes.

This school year was a long, exhausting one and we are all elated that summer is finally here. We are appreciating the longer days and the lovely light and the slight letting-go of the reins on our time. And I am intuitively and deeply feeling a need to be outside in the dirt. Not only have we planted our first veggie garden, but also we are about to get 3 little egg-laying chicks, and I cut down invasive vines that have been choking three trees in our backyard. Derek thinks I am nesting. My friend Lisa thinks I am tapping into my root chakra.

I think they are probably both right. I do feel connected to the ground right now. I feel like the dirt is home. I feel firmly rooted in the here and now. (Mostly anyway!) When the root chakra is balanced you are supposed to be able to manifest an abundance of everything you need to survive. I hope (believe?) this is true for me right now. This is exactly the time for me to create this.

I wrote on Facebook recently that I was asking the world to give me wings. That I was at the absolute edge. No safety net, no contingency plan, no going back. This is still true. But now I wonder if I was asking for the wrong gift. Now I wonder if I should have been asking for bare feet and the time to feel the earth between my toes.

Not wings, but feet.
Not sky, but earth.

And I wonder if the world gave me just what I needed.

With gratitude,

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Landscape Of Reflection And Memory

This morning I flew from San Francisco to Spokane Washington to visit my mother and to have a little writing retreat at the family summer house on Deer Lake. As I flew over San Francisco Bay, a web of dissipating clouds cast amorfic shapes across the water, like echoes of mysterious underwater continents, a map of an ever-changing world that lies just below the surface.

A three hour plane ride, a half hour taxi and then a forty-five minute drive later, I stand on the shore of Deer Lake, which reflects the pine strewn hills that rise above it, but just below the surface lies a lexicon of memories collected from the time I was in my early twenties when my parents bought the tiny one room fishing cabin with an outhouse and slowly grew it over the years to a lovely two bedroom, two bath lake house. 

First they added an indoor bathroom, then a kitchen, later came the master bedroom, a deck with a hot tub and then a guest room with a separate bath. Kind of like growing a family. (Or a novel.) When they first signed the papers, money was scarce and they knew it was a luxury they couldn’t afford but they stretched to make the $100 a month payments so they would have a place for family to gather in the future.

Standing here on the shore of the lake, I hear the exuberant echo of multi-generational family reunions that spilled into every corner, the happy laughter of summer birthday celebrations, the wiz and boom of firecrackers on the Fourth of July, the sound of children splashing in the water on a hot August day. I can still see the morning, 29 years ago, when my soon-to-be husband and I took the little sailing boat out on the the lake before breakfast and capsized it, losing our towels and flip-flops along with our dignity.

From the time my own children were infants, we would come from San Francisco every summer. Both girls took their first steps on the deck overlooking the lake, almost as if they were walking on water. When one of my daughters was three, she startled us all, shouting, “There’s a fire on the shore! There’s a fire on the shore!” After much concern and searching for the fire, the source of her panic turned out to be a spider on Daddy’s shorts. (She remains terrified of spiders to this day) 

We scattered my father’s ashes in the lake more than a decade ago, but his presence is still palpable, throughout the house he built, along the beach he lovingly tended and in the reflections on the water where he pulled us all behind the ski boat from one end of the lake to the other.

My children grew up, my mother can no longer navigate the stairs down and up to access the house and my sister and my life are too far away to properly maintain the property  anymore, so we have decided to put the house up for sale. But tonight, as the sun goes down, my heart is filled with a deep gratitude to my parents for the courage to dream and stretch to make those $100 a month payments that enriched our lives with summers together and gave us all memories that go well beyond the surface.

And as I use my retreat time to write, I will try to remember that novels are built 100 words at a time and do grow from simple one-room beginnings to complex structures that can house lives and memories. Word by word, wall by wall, room by room.

Take Good Care,


Thursday, June 14, 2012

One Day I Went Rambling

As dedicated wanderers, we are thrilled to have, as our guests today, Kelly Bennett and Terri Murphy, the author and the illustrator of the delightful new picture book One Day I Went Rambling.

It's the story of a boy named Zane who loves to go rambling, even though his friends call him crazy and refuse to play along. After he finds a shining star, it doesn't bother him when his friends try to tell him it's just a hubcap. Undaunted, Zane uses his finds to create a secret project that piques his friends’curiosity. After watching him ramble around the neighborhood, finding magic in the ordinary, his friends are drawn into his imaginative game.

KTE: Welcome Kelly and Terri! Kelly, could you talk about the landscape that inspired you in writing One Day I Went Rambling

KB: One Day I Went Rambling began with the limitless landscapes of imagination. Imaginations are like Star Trek Transporters. Simply holding an object can trigger images vivid enough to instantly transport us to other worlds and other times—other landscapes. Some: the way holding a shell can return you to the sunny cove on that day you found it, are reality based and maybe for that reason, understandable. But others, for example how our minds might transform that same shell into a unicorn’s horn or a mermaid’s telephone; a tree burl into a portal to a fantasy kingdom, are unpredictable and magical.

KTE: Wow! The landscape of imagination is such rich fodder. Tell us a little about how it plays a part in your story.

KB: In creating Rambling, I sought to couple that transformative power of objects with the notion of “found fun.” Children are masterful figure-outers (I’m sure there’s a proper term for it, but not in my dictionary). It’s how they learn. Children come into a world filled with objects without operating instructions, so by necessity they spend a lot of time figuring things out, which takes creativity, inventiveness, and imagination. As a result, given time and opportunity, children can transform pretty much anything into something else—and any place into someplace else.

Building on this, I created Zane, a boy whose idea of fun is to find some object, imagine what it might be, crank up his mental transformer and beam himself off on adventures prompted by that object. Thus granny’s billowing slip is yanked from the clothes line and reinvented as a pioneer’s covered wagon top, and long strand of wilted vine becomes a cowpoke’s twirling rope.  The challenge was to select objects that triggered different, distinct, visually interesting landscapes in Zane’s/my mind first, then in the illustrator’s, and ultimately in the readers.

Ahoy Mates, time’s a-wasting.
Climb aboard! Let’s sail away.
We’ll explore the world together,
Finding adventure along the way.”

The story ends with an invitation for readers to play along: “Hey! What’s that?” You might call it my litmus test. If I’ve done my job well, readers crank up their mental transporters and beam themselves off to other times—other landscapes.   

KTE: I’d say you’ve done your job extremely well—I’m ready to hop on board! Terri, as the illustrator,could you tell us about a landscape that inspired you while visualizing the images for this story? 

TM: Thank you for the unusual prompt to describe the landscape of One Day I Went Rambling. It was fun to think of the book in these terms.

There are a variety of landscapes in One Day I Went Rambling as the action takes place over several days, but the predominant one is cityscape. The thing I found so exciting when I first got this manuscript was that Kelly never mentions where all the action takes place. She relates the objects the kids find, like a cowpoke's twirling rope, a spanish dancer’s fan, and sparkling stone...then leaves it up to the illustrator to imagine where these may be found. I felt like I was on a delightful ramble myself when I first sketched this out.  Ultimately Zane adventures take him from the backyards of his inner-city neighborhood, to front stoops, to garage sales, the zoo, the  beach, and back to the neighborhood.

There is a certain gritty beauty and dignity in older less-affluent neighborhoods. The sidewalks may be cracked and the weeds overgrown in places, but a child’s imagination can turn these into roadmaps and an alien landscape strewn with treasures waiting to be discovered.

KTE: Kelly and Terri, thank you so much for stopping by today. I think your visit will inspire a lot of people to go out rambling.

Kelly Bennett writes books for children, both fiction and non-fiction, mostly picture books. She creates stories that celebrate imagination, families, friends, pets… all that goes into being a kid. You can visit her at

Terri Murphy is an illustrator for children’s media who finds more opportunities to connect with kids and books as a youth librarian.  She also runs art workshops for children and adults and in her spare time likes to ramble with a sketchbook or camera in hand. Visit her at

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Inhabiting the Landscape

Luc, my eleven-year old, was part of a social studies presentation last night. His brilliant teacher had her kids each pick one of the explorers who they had studied and become that person. Or, to be more precise (and I just love this) become the wax museum figure of that person.

It was awesome.

Luc picked Henry Hudson. (I had no idea that his crew mutinied, finally, and left Hudson, his seventeen-year old son, and a few sick and/or loyal sailors to fend for themselves in a tiny boat never to be seen again.  Ack…kind of rough, eh?)

Back to the Wax Museum exhibit.  It truly was awesome. Magical, even. The lights were dark, orchestral music floated in the air, and the explorers were frozen in two and three person tableaux around the periphery of the classroom with floor spotlights shining up eerily on their faces. Honestly, I felt like I had walked back in time when I stepped into the space the kids had created. I was in something, not just gazing at it. I was mesmerized. Tavia, my four-year old daughter was mesmerized. Everyone was. 

So how did they accomplish that? How did they successfully create a whole and full world that was both strange and encompassing? This is what I am trying to achieve in my stories after all. Of course part of the answer was in the sensory details: the melancholy sound of the violin, the pinpoint of light on a tight, pursed mouth, and the real (uugghh) stuffed beaver hanging from Samuel de Champlain’s clenched hand. But part of it—and this is what took me a while to figure out—is a two-parter. Firstly, the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The effect of all of the tableaux woven together with the lights and the music and the props was strong and deep. But the reason it was strong and deep was because, secondly, each part (each kid) fully inhabited his/her explorer. I’m telling you, you could feel the belief and imagination humming through each and every kid—and then out into the room. As we walked through the space we were literally breathing it all in.

This is what we need to generate in our stories. This vibration of belief and imagination. And we do this by fully inhabiting each part of the story. Each character, each object, each bit of landscape. This is sort of obvious, but it is sort of not too. I think most of the time I manage to inhabit a lot of my story, or almost all of my story…but rarely the whole entire thing.

Something to strive for.

Joanne Rocklin does this in One Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street. Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee do this in All the World.

What other stories do this?