Free Speech

I’ve had two recent free speech issues to consider. The first involved the Cat Writers’ Association (CWA), which I belong to on Pete’s behalf.  They are having a conference in Nov. and the banquet speaker was to have been the President of the Humane Society of the United States.  TRAPPED is entered in the Children’s Book category of the Cat Writers’ competition, and I had planned to attend the workshops and the awards banquet. I had looked forward to the conference, and to hearing this speaker.

CWA came under pressure not to have this speaker, even though he had been invited months ago and was already announced as the banquet speaker, because his organization was in favor of some pending spay/neuter legislation in California, where the conference will be held.  This seemed to me like censorship, and I felt strongly that it would be wrong to remove this speaker from the conference program.

The CWA board disagreed, and voted to uninvite him.  I have changed my plans, and will not be attending the Cat Writers’ conference.

The other issue involves’s sale of magazines and books that promote dog fighting and cock fighting, both of which are cruel to the animals involved and are also illegal in most states. Many animal welfare groups are urging their members not to buy from Amazon as long as they sell materials which instruct people how to harm living creatures. Amazon says this is censorship.

So where do I draw the line? While I believe people should be allowed to read whatever they want, I also believe it is wrong to promote cruelty. In this case, I am choosing not to purchase anything from Amazon as long as they continue to encourage dog and cock fighting by selling these publications. 

I realize that I could be harming my own career by speaking out against the decisions of an organization, CWA, and a business, Amazon, with which I would like to maintain good relationships. However, I think it’s important to speak up for what I believe is right.

The kids who read my books often wonder what they can do to help animals or to correct an injustice.  One thing that you can do at any age is to speak out. Write a letter to the editor of your newspaper or put your views on your on-line journal. Talk to your friends. Point out an injustice and explain why you think it is wrong.  Words have power to instigate change. 

Foster Cat

I still have Edgar, my foster cat.  In the two months since he arrived, he has gone from hiding to being a lap cat, who rushes to greet me. 

When Pasado’s Safe Haven, the group that rescued him,  put his photo on their web site, I had high hopes that someone would adopt him.

That has not yet happened but something unexpected did:  Three people who read that story came forward and offered to be foster parents for other rescued cats.  So three of the cats who were rescued with Edgar are now also being given individual attention and socialization. 

I did not know when I volunteered to foster a cat that this doesn’t happen often. Most people who foster animals take dogs.  Even though Edgar is still waiting for his permanent home, I feel I’ve helped him and, indirectly, helped other cats.

Edgar’s room used to be my husband’s piano workshop. It was filled with antique instruments and interesting projects.  Carl built wonderful bird houses, and did some amazing wood carving projects.  After Carl died, and the space was cleared of the instruments on which he had been working, that room seemed too empty.  I wanted to use it in a good way, a way that brought life and laughter back to the space. 

Fostering Edgar has done that.  What could be more lively that a big black cat wildly chasing a yellow feather on the end of a stick?  The room has windows for bird-watching and a high counter where Edgar’s food is safe from Lucy, my dog, when she visits him.  When I stand at Carl’s workbench, brushing Edgar and hearing him purr, I know that I’ve used this space wisely. There is life and love and laughter there once more.

Polio exhibit

One of the most exciting events of my career was the inclusion of six quotes from Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio in an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.  The exhibit, titled “Whatever Happened To Polio?” was fantastic.

My daughter and son-in-law gave me a trip to Washington in April, 2006, to see it.  They went with me, as did their two children. The exhibit’s curator gave us a private tour. It was overwhelming to see my words on the walls of such a prestigious museum. When you write books for kids, you don’t expect your words to end up on the walls of the Smithsonian.

Originally the exhibit was supposed to be displayed for a year but it proved to be so popular that it was extended. When it finally closed, I felt a sense of loss. Even though I knew I would not be returning to Washington, D.C., to see it again I had liked knowing that it was there. I enjoyed hearing from readers who had seen it and recognized the sections from Small Steps.

Today I had some wonderful news. With the help of Rotary, International, the “Whatever Happened to Polio?” exhibit will be reopened in Warm Springs, Georgia, on permanent loan from the Smithsonian. The grand opening is scheduled for August 11.  I will be in Elmhurst, Illinois, that day giving a library talk so I’m not able to attend, but I am pleased that this wonderful compilation of an important part of our country’s history will continue to be available for public viewing, and I am thrilled to have had a small part in its creation.

Book Journal

I have a large spiral notebook that serves as a book journal.  It’s actually a list. Every time I read a book, I write down the title and author.  I keep track by month, so that I can see how many books I read each month.

I began doing this in June, 1990, and this record of my reading has come in handy many times. Sometimes I’ll want to recommend a book but I can’t remember the exact title or perhaps I don’t recall the author. It takes only seconds to scan my journal and find the information.

When I especially love a book, it gets a star. I’m stingy with my stars, usually giving only five or six each year. If a book truly disappoints me or if I don’t want to finish it, that book gets a minus.  Happily, there are more stars than minuses in my journal.

 My Aunt Mary, who lives in California, also keeps a book journal, and whenever we see each other we bring our journals and discuss what we’ve read since the last time we were together.  Both of us always end up with a list of books we want to read.

I wish I had begun keeping my book list years earlier. Then I’d be like the bird watchers who keep their “life list” of all the kinds of birds they’ve ever seen. I’m glad I started when I did, though. I now have a record of every book I’ve read for the last seventeen years.

friendship and inspiration

I received a wonderful card in the mail yesterday. It has a black cat on the front, and a saying about how everyone needs a dog to love her and a cat to ignore her.

Inside, which was originally blank, someone had written, “Thank you for being my foster mom.”  It was signed “Edgar.”  (Yes, I still have my foster cat.)

It happened that yesterday was my wedding anniversary. It was the fourth anniversary I’ve had  since my husband died, so it was a day of remembering, and of being sad that he isn’t here to celebrate with me.

Receiving such a fun card in the mail cheered me enormously. And, since I didn’t recognize the hand writing,  I had a mystery to solve. Who had sent the card? 

First I asked Marilyn, who said she wished she had been thoughtful enough to send it but it wasn’t from her. Next I asked Mark, who has been known to send me anonymous packages containing things like chocolate carrots. He swore it wasn’t from him.

 My third guess proved right: Jenny and Jerry. Jerry’s been in the hospital for two months and I’ve been sending him a card each week so they decided to send me one. They did not know when my anniversary was and had no idea their card would arrive on that day. What a happy coincidence.  We never know when a small gesture of friendship will have a positive impact far beyond what we anticipate.

The same is true of words.  I was sad to read in my morning paper of the death of opera star Beverly Sills.  Years ago,  when I read her autobiography, one sentence jumped out at me: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

This seemed a perfect motto for a writer and I have used it as a favorite quote many times.  I never met Beverly Sills, but her words – that one sentence – gave me motivation and determination many times.

 I hope that something I write will help someone else to keep trying, and to strive to be the best that they can be.


Yesterday I bought a Wii, and I’ve been bowling on it with my grandson.  Because of the weakness in my legs and arms from post-polio syndrome, it has been years since I’ve been able to go bowling.  Now, thanks to technology, I am “bowling” in my living room.

When I was paying for the Wii, the clerk asked, “Is this for your grandchildren?”   I said, “No, it’s for me.”  She was startled; apparently not too many grey-haired grandmothers purchase computer games for themselves. 

 I think the willingness to try new things is imperative for a writer. A writer’s business is ideas; all writers need to be observant and inquisitive.  Keeping up with what’s new in the world is part of my job – and it’s also a lot of fun!

Cats and books

Edgar has been here a week and he is doing great. He no longer bolts into his hiding place when I enter his room. He purrs and rolls around on the floor and has started “talking” to me. He has quite a lot to say.

No doubt Edgar will show up in a book some day, as I seem to use all of my animals in my work eventually. 

 I’ve been trying to start a new book and the process is always difficult for me.  I have two chapters of two different books written, but I’m stuck on both of them. Today I had a completely new idea, which I’m going to develop next.  I often do this – play around with several ideas, writing a little on one and then a little on another until one seems to “catch fire” and I know it’s the one I want to finish.

I’m reading the collected letters of Ogden Nash to his family. They are an inspiration to me.  I’ve always liked Nash’s work but never knew much about his personal life. I love reading about other writers.

Isn’t it wonderful that I can be inspired by a writer who died decades ago?  He is gone, but his words live on.

When I was asked to write an autobiography, I hesitated at first wondering why anyone would be interested in my life. However, ever since I published Five Pages a Day: A Writer’s Journey, I’ve had many letters each week from writers and going-to-be-writers of all ages who tell me it helped them.  I dare to hope that long after I am gone, my books might continue to encourage young people to read, and to write.

Foster care for cats

My newest volunteer venture is to be a foster parent for cats.  I have a large room that used to be my husband’s workshop which is perfect for fostering animals. 

My first foster cat is Edgar, a beautiful black five-year-old cat who is very fearful.  He was rescued from a hard life by Pasado’s Safe Haven. My job is to help him relax, trust, and learn to love while Pasado’s tries to find him a permanent home.

Edgar has chosen to hide under a workbench, so I am spending a lot of time lying on the floor with my hands stretched under the workbench to pet him.  He loves the petting and has a deep, rumbling purr. He even rolls on his back for a tummy rub, the way dogs do.  I hope before long he will feel comfortable enough with me to emerge from his hiding place.

 I spent an hour yesterday vacuuming that room and Edgar found the only place I didn’t clean.  I have to keep rubbing cobwebs and bits of dirt out of his fur. I don’t want to vacuum now because the noise would scare him.

I got to choose this cat’s name.  He is named for Edgar Allen Poe, the mystery writer, and for Edgar Martinez, the baseball player.

New Fawn

A baby deer was born here yesterday. It is so cute! It’s the size of a small dog and can already run through the grass.  It follows the mother deer, who is alert and watchful as she grazes.  Sometimes she settles her baby in the grass, and the fawn stays put while the mother continues to eat.  Mama keeps looking back, to be sure her baby is safe.

I also saw a pair of California quail yesterday pecking in the grass near one of my feeders.  I keep four bird feeders full each day and have a variety of birds but these were the first quail I’ve seen here.  My father used to put out seed for the quail when we lived in California so these beautiful birds always make me think of him.

 I don’t watch much television. I don’t need to – Mother Nature puts on a wonderful show outside my windows every day. 

Scaring myself and others

A reader asked me why I’m so good at creating bad guys. The answer is, I don’t know.  Sometimes I scare myself.

My husband knew that if I was writing, he couldn’t just walk into the room and start talking to me because if I was writing a scary part, I would scream and jump out of my chair.  So Carl would bang his hand on the wall as he approached, to let me know he was coming down the hall toward my office. That way I knew it was him, and not an escaped convict with a knife.