Saturday, July 31, 2010

So, it was 116 years ago this month that Charles & Caroline Ingalls and their four daughters were all together for almost the very last time, in this house here, this house that "Pa" built. He played his fiddle out on that porch. Laura & Almanzo, a.k.a. Bessie & Manly Wilder & their 7-year-old Rose, came to visit before heading off to Missouri in the summer of 1894. This was - did I already tell you this, Phantom Reader? This is a picture here of the Ingallses' little house on Third Street, De Smet, South Dakota, one of the stops I made on my summer junket, pretty much selling Laura Ingalls Wilder Coloring Books out of the back of my car.
This link will take you to a couple of coloring pages which you can download, samples from my LIWCB. You'll see that it's not your usual C.B., dear P. R. I promise
Still, it occurs to me that it's been 25 years now, since I got into the bookbiz, almost 21 since I quit my day job. 40+ books later & here I'm peddling self-published coloring books around the landscape and having a fine time doing it. Aiming my little red hoopie down long highways between Mankato, a.k.a. Deep Valley, Minnesota, where storied little girls of my grandmother's generation used to play. Maudie Hart and Bick Kenney [There's a Betsy-Tacy Coloring Book, too, she pointed out, with pride & a bit of rue. It really is pretty, my B-TCB, dear P. R. , no foolin' You'll be able to get one for yourself through my website or at that of the Betsy-Tacy Society. Coloring and reading a bit of well-written kid-lit is therapeutic. ] ; then over to New Ulm, that little German town, to share what I know about writing and drawing with young writers and artists. They didn't care so very much. What they wanted, understandably, was praise. Yeah, yeah, yeah, kid, you've got talent. Really. I might have told them that a god-given knack was only part of the equation, only the beginning, and the artists who once lived in the lovely old house wherein these heedless squirts were messing about surely would've agreed with me that youth is wasted on the young.
Speeding along, listening to a fine reading of O, Jerusalem by Laurie R. King. Driving into De Smet, South Dakota, on a Sunday morning. Stopping to visit the Ingalls Homestead Oh, go there, any of you, if you happen to be going thereabouts and I'd say that even if the very nice, good looking & enterprising proprietors hadn't ordered 4 doz. more of my CBs. Then drive on into town and see where Ma lived out her last years, in that grey house on 3rd St..
Shaking hands with a hardy storekeeper [ ]& thanking him for carrying my you-know-what. I sold one to a customer then and there, a good-hearted grandma.. A certain Mr. Loftus used to keep store there in that very shop, there on the main drag, Calumet Avenue, in the 1880s - no way him knowing that a teenaged neighbor, one of Ingalls' girls, would grow up to write about their town, that pilgrims & strangers would come there, knowing about him & his neighbors long after they all were in their graves.
Back into Minnesota, past rolling fields, hills, wondrous green from all the rain. Across into Wisconsin, stopping for a bag o' cheese curds & another of Fritos, over to Oshkosh - what a swell little town and what a far out exhibit of paintings by Norman Rockwell, an artist whose work I completely admire. It's downright heartening to peer up close at a master's brushstrokes, gleaming & precise.
A week ago? No, nine days, maybe it is now since I was standing on a platform in the Moravian Church at Heritage Hill State Historical Park in Green Bay, Wisconsin, [a glorious place. I'd say it and mean it even if Linda Mattson and the other marvelous, clever, and attractive people there weren't carrying my CB in the Gift Shop.] talking to folks about books, the writing [researching, drawing, painting] and reading of books, mine and Laura's. Trying w/ some success to make people laugh... According to the souvenir booklet, if I remember correctly [be dubious] the church's cornerstone was laid in 1852, when Chas. Ingalls was 16 years old. Caroline Quiner, his future bride, but 13. Later on, I'd be heading home, driving south, not so very far from where she lived once upon a time.
I think it was Garrison Keillor [oh, the acres of bleached white cardboard I have painted whilst listening to his voice over the radio] who said once that an artist may be out of a job, but she's never unemployed.
I think I shall paint a picture today.

Friday, July 30, 2010


"Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." Emily Bronte

So, thirty birthdays were all that were allotted to Charlotte Bronte's kid sister, Emily, born in Yorkshire on the 30th of July, 1818. I'd be willing to bet that about two jillion words have been written about Mr. & Mrs. Bronte's daughters [and their brother]. Outwardly quiet, grievous lives contrasting with their passionate words. Doesn't take much imagination to summon up images of pen scratchings, compressed lips, cold fingers, eyes glinting dark & bright out of shadowy corners. God & I know & now you know as well that I'm too distracted this very moment to wax on about those long-ago lives, except to honor Emily and her sisters. And speaking of sisters, Wolfgang Mozart had one, Maria Anna, whose fingers conjured the liveliest of glittering music from many a harpsichord. If you're reading this, you're seeing what she looked like as a spooky-precocious young musician and you probably know that she and her younger brother were just kids when their dad was hauling them all over Europe. What a piece of work old Leopold M. must have been! Anyway, today's Maria Anna's birthday, too. The Emily Bronte quote above refers to Cathy & Heathcliff, of course, but I could imagine, unhampered by any sort of scholarship & not suggesting anything icky, that Wolfgang & his sister must have shared a powerful bond, having weathered such a childhood together.
It's Henry Ford's birthday, too. Coming up on his 150th in 2013. Did he have a sister?
Don't know.
Don't much care, really....

Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 29

"Ours is a world where people don't know what they want and are willing to go through hell to get it." Don Marquis, born this day in 1878

So, Clara Bow, the girl who had "IT" would have been 105 years old today. She'd had it, I'll bet, by the time her life came to an end, rather sadly & too soon, I seem to remember, by way of a documentary I saw a long time ago.
And, according to Wikipedia, this is the anniversary of the birth of William Powell.Go to this link and you'll see how handsome he was.... If you have nothing better to do today, this hot, steamy day, one of Mr. Turner's channels is showing his films today. Right this minute they're showing Reckless w/ Jean Harlow, another IT girl, beloved by her costar, blue-eyed Wm. P., soon to have his heart busted, so the old gossip goes, when Jean dies young in '37, about a year & a half after that movie came out .... When I was a kid, old black & white movies came on after the local news, at 10:15 P.M. ....watched them on summer nights. Wm. Powell & Myrna Loy in The Thin Man Jeanette Macdonald, Spencer Tracy & Clark Gable in San Francisco. Don Ameche in Swanee River. It was a film about the life of Stephen Foster, who wrote songs & died the hard way. The movie was made in 1939, the magic year. Twenty years later found 8-year-old me, sitting in the dark with my mom, not wanting to start crying in front of her, when poor, handsome Don/Stephen kicked the bucket, too sad, too broke, too drunk, too soon. Sigh....

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


"Being an old maid is like death by drowning, a really delightful sensation after you cease to struggle." Edna Ferber (1885-1968)

I wanted to share, too, that in the course of my gallivant, I spent a bit of time in Appleton, Wisconsin, childhood home of writer Edna Ferber. Sure, she was a journalist who knew just about every big shot + many a colorful bit player in the 1st half of the 20th Century and she'd be worth knowing if only for having been a member of the Algonquin Round Table.
Stage Door, made into a classic film w/Ginger Rogers & Katherine Hepburn ( "The calla lilies are in bloom again..." ) was just one of the plays Edna wrote with Geo. S. Kaufman. She won the Pulitzer Prize for So Big, her fine little novel. I confess I'm not that much of a fan of her others, such as Giant, Saratoga Trunk, Cimarron, & Show Boat, but of the films born from them? Oh baybee.
No, the reason Miss Edna will always resonate with me is her wonderful memoir, A Peculiar Treasure. Read it and find out what it was like to be a hard-working, celebrated writer, living in a glorious, hellish time in the world.

28th of July

So, 81 years ago today (on Beatrix Potter's 63rd birthday), Janet & John "Black Jack" Bouvier welcomed their firstborn child into their lavish world. Dark-haired girl baby with wide-set eyes that'd see just about the best and the worst of life. Ah well, it's all over now & has been since - 1994? Can it be so long since Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died? Golly. And I just checked, which I do about everyday [go ahead: roll your eyes heavenward] & discovered that this is J.S. Bach's deathday. Uff da - can it actually be 260 years since he kicked the bucket? Yup. And somehow that doesn't seem so very unbelievable.
It happened that I had the chance to see the Wilder Pageant in Walnut Grove, MN. As soon as it looked as if the audience & cast members were not going to be thunder-stormed upon, drenched and/or struck by lightning, the pageant, entitled "Fragments of a Dream," was held not so very far from the banks of Plum Creek where Caroline Ingalls did her best to keep house in a dugout. (I took a picture of the sky, but you'll just have to trust me as to its dramatic beauty because I can't position the picture here so the sky is UP and the earth is DOWN.)
Before the all-clear, we've-got-a-field/let's-have-a-show was announced, I was perched on a hay-bale in the backstage barn, my attention torn between an electric sky full of boiling clouds, popping bright with glorious sheets & crackling, forking stabbers AND all the other people with me in the barn, hanging about its big open doorways at either end. All around me were cast members, young & old + family & friends.
More later, m'dears, honest.

I'm Ba-ack!

So, here I am with the seriously cute William Anderson, a.k.a. my friend Bill, up at the Laurapalooza. More about him and said gathering later. Meanwhile, long time, no write - not here anyway and why? Because I've been AWAY. Lovely, enchanting word hat is. Distracted. Out on the road I've been: Independence, MO > KCMO [at The Reading Reptile, the best children's book store in the land] > Clear Lake, IA, w/ thoughts of long-gone Buddy Holly, forever young > New Ulm, MN, where I conducted a bit of a writing workshop with a gaggle of 9- & 10-year-olds + a handful of teenagers (a handful indeed, let me tell you. Nearly knocked over by trouble-&-heartache vibes coming off them) in a house once lived in by Anton Ga'g, a wonderful artist who died too young, but not before fathering 7 children. He's known these days chiefly because one of them, Wanda, grew up to be a writer & artist, author/illustrator of Millions of Cats. Really, M. of C. was my introduction to children's books, thanks to Bob Keeshan, a.k.a. Captain Kangaroo, bless him, back when I was short & cute & Ike Eisenhower was in office.
From New Ulm, where I climbed 99 steps in order to look up the skirt of Hermann the German over to Mankato, a.k.a Deep Valley, MN, to the 1st annual Laurapalooza, where I met Julie of Wisconsin, who sews swell prairie dresses, pinafores, & bonnets to be worn at pageants & other occasions, celebrating the life, the stories & values expressed in the work of the Ingalls's 2nd daughter, bless her forever.
I got to meet Miss Melanie Stringer, gloriously attired in a gown of brown + swellegant straw bonnet, a la Miss Ingalls, c. 1882; my friends Barb & George Hawkins, Maria Millen,
Lona Falenczykowski, one of the Founding Mothers of the Betsy-Tacy Society as well as the voice behind the microphone at KMSU-FM on Monday nights for Jazz with Miss Lona and of course, Bill Anderson, who knows all there is to know about the Ingalls & Wilder clans. Again, more about all of this and ever so much more, later on. Too much to tell
at this sitting. For now, I must be away.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

this land is still his land, his, mine, ours

Woody Guthrie's birthday today it is.  His mother brought him into this vale of tears in July, 1912.    Yes," he'd write & sing, "as through this world I've wandered I've seen lots of funny men; Some will rob you with a six-gun, And some with a fountain pen”

I'll be thinking of that wise, rambling song-spinner today and the day will be better for it. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


So where was I yesterday when I wasn't posting anything here? Here in lovely New Ulm, Minnesota. As you might imagine, it's German founders named the town after an old Ulm over in the homeland. It is, in fact a fine university town beside the Danube River, said to be blue. I was conducting a writing workshop for and with a gaggle of little girls. Is this the work for which I am best suited? Alas, no. Yesterday, anniversary of the births of Henry David Thoreau and Andrew Wyeth [youngest son of  N.C. Wyeth, titanic illustrator] was hard. Today will be better.   By god, it had better be.  One learns a lot over twenty-some years as a middling author-illustrator.  Lots of good books out of which many a kid learned about our shared heritage.  A few stinkers. Some very fine books that lived a short life & passed away. Anyway, I know more than these little squirts do and I intend to share the joy of writing with them if it kills me. And, just for you to know, it was on this day in 1821 that wily "Wizard of the Saddle," that millionaire plantation wheeler-dealer & slave-trader & Ku Kluxer Nathan Bedford Forrest was born in Tennessee.  And it's Dave Garroway's birthday. Remember him? TV pioneer?  Genial funny broadcaster? Anybody? I do.  In fixing to write this, I discovered that he killed himself years ago.  The sadness overtook him.   

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On My Way

Greetings to you from Iowa, from Clear Lake, which is not so very far from Mason City, where Mr. and Mrs. Wilson had a son in the spring of 1902. They named him Meredith, one of those handsome names such as Beverly (For my folks, the best part of Billy Graham's programs was George Beverly Shea's singing.), Marion (John Wayne's original moniker, & Vivian (Harry Truman's kid brother) that used to be given to boys. I'm making my way to Minnesota, be heading out in the next little while, but for now it's Sunday morning, 11th of July. John Quincy Adams was born on this day in 1767, to parents who made no secrets of their great expectations for him.  He grew up in an exceedingly perilous time to be a diplomat, a constant diarist, and President, a one-termer like his remarkable dad.  I wrote & illustrated a book about J.Q.A. years ago: Young John Quincy. It was in print about three weeks, maybe a little longer. Up until recently, books have required ink & paper. They still require good luck. Ah well, a quibble, small peas, compared to the determination of the Adamses.
Meredith Wilson, I was going to say, ended up writing The Music Man, set in "River City, Iowa," but you probably know River City is Mason City.  I'll pay it a visit before I drive on to New Ulm, MN,  childhood hometown of the delightful author-illustrator Wanda Ga'g.  If you don't know her Norwegian name, you certainly know - or lucky you: you still have it to discover! -  Millions of Cats.  It was Captain Kangaroo who introduced it to me...  I'm to do some presentations there, at Wanda's house, regarding writing, researching a character, and then? Laurapalooza in Deep Valley. And, not so by the way, it's Yul Brynner's birthday today, born in eastern Russia in 1920, very perilous times there. 'Don't smoke," he warned us all, not long before he died.
Please note that a most elegant & genial writer was born on this day, in 1899.  His folks named him Elwyn, another fine name fallen out of fashion. Elwyn Brooks White.  E.B. on his books. You know them.  He was Andy to his friends. 
And please, please note that it was on this day, 50 years ago that To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's  noble book, was published.  Let's go read it. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”
So said a  brilliantly quirky genius who was born on this day in 1856.  Nikola Tesla was born into a Serbian family in what was then the Austrian empire. Much, much, ever so much had changed by the time he died in January 1943, in New York City -  in the same week that old Geo Washington Carver passed away down in Tuskegee, Alabama, right about when young Charles Hardin Holly was going about all that might occupy a 6 year old Texan with an ear for music.  
Oh well, yes: this be drivel I'm writing, here in Clear Lake, Iowa, not far from where Buddy Holly was knocked into the next world back when I was in the 3rd grade.  It's been a long day. This morning I was singing, playing my harmonica, and otherwise gassing away in front of a room full of nice people - no foolin' : they did indeed appear to be very nice people = at the 3rd annual breakfast/author-gathering at the best independent bookstore I know, Kansas City's Reading Reptile.

Do go to Pete & Deb's website and see who all else was there, author-wise.  Well, maybe you'd better not. You'll just feel badly for not having been there...

Friday, July 9, 2010

"A well-informed mind is the best security against the contagion of folly and of vice. The vacant mind is ever on the watch for relief, and ready to plunge into error, to escape from the languor of idleness."

So wrote Ann Ward Radcliffe, who was born on the 9th of July, in 1764. In time she would write gothic novels. She was, I come to discover, a pioneer in the genre. She was 25 in 1789, the best and worst of times, when she published The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne. The books she wrote thereafter had glorious titles: A Sicilian Romance. The Mysteries of Udolpho.
Somehow it cheers me to imagine women turning away from the news of violence & bloodshed in Paris and upstart Americans electing General Washington as their first President to lose themselves in Mrs. Radcliffe's tales of innocent maidens and sinister goings on, wondrously imaginary. Far, far, far away from the mutinous struggles going on above & below decks on the HMS Bounty, far, far away from Americans' earnest, furious, fearful arguments over a list of civil Rights to be added to the U.S. Constitution, full-skirted ladies were turning pages, reading Mrs. Radcliffe's novels by the light of cool grey daylight streaming into English parlors and bedchambers.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lucky Day

Another lucky day, one of four in the calendar year, being as there the Beatles were a quartet, each of them having a birthday, each of them having lifted the heart of my wretched 13-year-old self, long ago and far away, stuck in a messy old house full of little brothers + one little sister and a pair of miserable parents limping along in the chiggery, wasp-buzzing, weedy boondocks down around Chilhowee, Missouri.
February 25. George
June 18. Paul
July 7. Ringo (70? Can this be true? Yikes.)
October 9. John


Tuesday, July 6, 2010


Oh my. According to, it was on this day in 1942, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, that Otto Frank & his family, including precocious daughter Anne, went into hiding.

Happy Birthday, Dalai Lama, born this day in a lost world [aren't we all, after all], in 1935. Happy birthday, glorious, tragic, passionate artist, Frida Kahlo, born in 1907. Happy birthday, naval hero John Paul Jones (6 July 1747), fierce political wife Nancy Davis Reagan (1921). Happy birthday Sylvester Stallone, Pearl Bailey, Ned Beatty - and to goofy, cranky me.

So much for astrology.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Greatest Showman on Earth

"Money is in some respects life's fire: it is a very excellent servant, but a terrible master. "
Phineas Taylor Barnum

or how about this one:

"Whatever you do, do it with all your might. Work at it, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now." P.T.B.

or this:

Man oh man oh man, more than once and without success I've tried to convince editors to give me some of their company's money in exchange for my writing and illustrating a book about P. T. Barnum, showman, publisher, vaudevillian, museum-monger. Who would better personify 19th Century America? Hardly anybody! Here he's pictured with his greatest discovery, Mr. Charles Sherwood Stratton (1838-1883), better known, in fact, known around the world and presented to Her Majesty Queen Victoria as "General Tom Thumb."
Think of the multitudes plunking down two bits to enter P.T. Barnum's American Museum (in lower Manhattan, NYC, from 1841 until 1865, when it burned down) to see every sort of attraction, human and otherwise
Think of the thousands of Victorians who flocked, meandered, and swarmed to see Jumbo the Elephant or the "Feejee Mermaid," or to see and hear "The Swedish Nightingale," soprano Jenny Lind (1820-1887), in America for a thunderously successful tour arranged by impresario/promoter extraordinaire, P.T. Barnum. Think of the millions who came to and are still coming to the circus that he began: THE circus, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, now to be found under the name of his rivals, at
Oh well, yes, don't I know that it's all editors can do these days to keep their heads above the roiling, oiling waters of the 21st Century? Ah yes, so consider here for a moment the remarkable, colorful life of Phineas Taylor Barnum, who was born in Bethel, Connecticut, 200 years ago today, July 5, 1810.

"Whatever you do, do it with all your might. Work at it, early and late, in season and out of season, not leaving a stone unturned, and never deferring for a single hour that which can be done just as well now.' P. T. Barnum

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, President Calvin Coolidge and to many another and to the nation.

"This is the Fourth of July?" so said Thos. Jefferson on [or close to] his death day, at Monticello, July 4, 1826.

"Jefferson still survives." John Adams, his last words, uttered that very day, at Quincy, Massachusetts.

Lousy stinking of me to suggest commerce [below] on the Glorious Fourth, but I wanted to post images of the jackets of the books I wrote & illustrated about these two rivals/brothers in revolution, but I don't know how. Just bright enough to write a book, too lame to show you pictures of them.... ah well, Long Live the Republic!

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Wasn't he beautiful? Oh baybee. Please note that the handsome, comely fellow in this painting and the artist who painted him were one and the same: John Singleton Copley, the finest American painter of his day. Portraiture was his specialty, just for you to know, and today's the anniversary of his birthday, in 1738. To learn a bit more about J.S.C. and to see some of his work, go to

The Fatal Third

"The sacrifice of life on that blood soaked field on the fatal third [of July] was too awful for the heralding of victory, even for our victorious foe, who I think, believe as we do, that it decided the fate of our cause. No words can picture the anguish of that roll-call—the breathless waits between the responses. The "Here" of those who, by God's mercy, had miraculously escaped the awful rain of shot and shell was a sob—a gasp—a knell—for the unanswered name of his comrade." Major Gen. George E. Pickett, CSA

Heat. Blood. Smoke. NOISE. Man oh man oh man, how can we even imagine the pain, the thundering terror, the pure, sheer bravery experienced and exhibited that rotten day at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania? Sublime in its nastiness. I could blather on, but no. Just tipping my hat to soldiers, then and now.
Let there be peace on earth & let it begin with those who send young folks to war.
With that, away I go to display my Stars & Stripes out front, come in and fix a glass of iced tea. Close the windows against the heat of just another summer day, made possible by a multitude of miracles.

Friday, July 2, 2010

July, No Lie

"The Summer looks out from her brazen tower through the flashing bars of July."
- Francis Thompson

Yikes! Where was I yesterday, not writing a lick all day on the 1st day of July, a day absolutely vibrating, resonating with all manner of commemoration? Painting, that's where & what or else I'd have noted here that s sublimely hideous & horrific battle began at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on July 1, 1863, as the long, uncomfortable, dreadful of Vicksburg, Mississippi, was grinding to an end. And too, speaking of the wretched & grievous, the Battle of the Somme began, July 1,1916. On a far & away brighter note, yesterday was Olivia de Haviland's birthday. The great lady of the movies completed 94 years of life. And today? The 2nd? Had John Adams vision of the future been realized, this day, "the second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epocha in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore." And why? Because it was on that Glorious Second of July that J.A.'s fellow delegates at the 2nd Continental Congress, agreed with R. H. Lee's resolution, that the "United Colonies" ought to be free & independent States. But it'll be the day after tomorrow when my little dog will be all a'tremble over the racket hereabouts because it was on the 4th that the delegates agreed on the final draft of the D. of I. So there you go. Long live the Republic.
James A. Garfield survived childhood poverty and the Civil War, but not his Presidency. It was on this summer day in 1881, that he walked into the big train station in Washington, DC, no idea that his assassin was waiting. Some years later, July 2, 1908, a future Supreme Court Justice was born: baby Thurgood Marshall. Does the knowledge of these factoids alter today? Perhaps not, but those long-gone suffering soldiers and courageous delegates in Philadelphia are worth remembering. And perhaps remembering is its own reward.