Monthly Archives: August 2012

A Movable Wall

I shipped off a book dummy today. It’s a good feeling.

The dummy is for the book Boom Boom by Sarvinder Naberhaus that I am illustrating for Beach Lane Books. It’s a pretty minimal text, so there is lots of room for me to develop my own story line for the images.

I like to see the whole storyboard as I’m working on initial sketches. It’s easier for me to keep track of my ideas if I can see them all, but my drawing table is not that big. My story line was getting buried in mountains of sketches, which caused me frequent frustration and occasional cursing.

I decided that I needed a wall to pin everything on, but as you can see, I’m a bit short on wall space in my cozy little studio (I’m a bit short of anything space, but that’s another issue).

So I bought the biggest cork bulletin board I could find and perched it on my inking table.

I used colored tape to divide the board into “spreads” and added stickers with page numbers and post-its with the text. Ta-da! Instead of piles of sketches I have a portable storyboard wall where I can layer my sketches as I develop each spread. All there right in front of me. Much better!

Now I just have to wait for feedback from the editor. If she approves of the direction I’ve chosen I can move forward to the next step: refining the images. If not, then it’s back to the drawing/bulletin board!

A Writer’s Family Reunion

The Larios Family, Guadalajara, Mexico, late 1920’s.

My husband just got back from a big family reunion in Guadalajara, Mexico, where his extended family still lives. The photo above was given to us by my husband’s cousin Roasalba via her mother Nellie (the only one in the photograph still alive) – it shows my husband’s great-grandparents surrounded by the entire Larios family in the late 1920’s.

Last Sunday,  I headed to my own family reunion – the Culver-Garletts Gathering in the tiny town of Bay View, Washington – so I’ve been thinking lately about families and about the difference between history and memory.  I’ve also been thinking about how nostalgia interacts with memory and changes it.  A storyteller is deeply enmeshed in this whole mix.

Bay View Civic Hall is a small wooden building, one room with attached kitchen, at the corner of C Street and 4th. The waters of Padilla Bay border the west edge of town, and the great Samish River lazes through the Skagit Valley just to the southeast. This is tulip country, settled by the Dutch and by Scandanavians, and its greatest claim to fame is probably the huge Skagit Valley Tulip Festival each year. The snow geese and trumpeter swans come each winter like something right out of a fairy tale and dot the farm fields. Bay View Cemetery is just up the road a ways from the Civic Hall – that’s the cemetery where Lyman Culver (1821-1901, my great-grandmother’s father-in-law… I think) is buried, It’s about just the right size for a cemetery – about 900 souls buried there over its 150+- year history. My great-grandmother’s mother and father are also buried there – Cynthia Alice Garletts (1858-1950) and Henry C. Garletts (1877-1928.) No – wait – that can’t be right – Alice was married to Henry, but this Henry C. was nineteen years her junior, so maybe that’s her son in the grave nearby…? But that would make him my great-grandmother’s brother. I don’t think she had a brother named Henry. or maybe that’s the Henry I’ve heard about who was called Pete. Hmmm.

My Great-Grandmother – Hester Irene Culver (nee Garletts)

Lots of this gets muddy for me because two of the Garletts sisters (one was my great-grandmother Hester Irene Garletts, pictured above, the other was Myrtle) married two Culver brothers (one of them was Lyman’s son, Daniel – or was it his grandson?) Daniel, my great-grandfather, stands like a figure out of a Steinbeck novel in the photo below. I don’t mean to get sentimental about all this – my grandmother divorced him, and people’s opinions of Daniel vary according to which side of the Garletts-Culver hyphen you are on.  So there’s no sentimentality involved in how I feel when I look at that photo. There might be a touch of nostalgia – or is it regret? – wishing I knew more about this man, wishing I had memories of him.

Daniel Culver, My Great-Grandfather, near the mill in Olalla, Kitsap County, Washington

Sunday’s gathering didn’t really help me straighten out who’s who.  My brother put together a lovely display of photographs, and I tried to put faces to names – that usually makes things easier by making people feel real, something a writer tries to do by naming and painting a picture with words. But the problem is, these people are history to me, not memory. As soon as I saw a photo of someone I actually knew (for example, Nonny and her daughter, Mary Alice, who was my wonderful grandmother) then memories rushed in, and the people were real.

This was the first gathering of the descendants of the Culver-Garletts union, though there have been many Pioneer Picnics in Bay View which were not specific to a particular family.  Relatives came to our reunion that I’d never met, and I saw photos I’d never seen before, and there was an abundance of fried chicken, lemonade and multiple versions of macaroni/tabouli/jicama/potato salad – Italian/Levantine Arab/Mexican/German cuisine – we’ve gone global. One of my sons, Josh – interested in genealogy – attended. My cousin’s daughter went, too, so we had a sprinkling of Gen-X-ers from our side of the family tree. [Gen-X – I wonder what Lyman would have thought of cell phones and blogs and iPads??] To take history back even farther, many of us are related to Nicholas Vance Sheffer, (1825-1910), a certified pioneer of Washington State who came out by wagon train to the Oregon territories. Or was that his father? Why can’t I keep this straight? They shared a name, and as you can tell, I get confused. For Christmas not too long ago my mother presented my brother, sister, me and all of our children with Pioneer Certificates issued by the State of Washington during its Centennial Year. If I’m counting right, my mother’s side of the family has been in this part of the world for seven generations – actually eight if you count my grandson. For the kids and for me, there is history in those pioneer certificates, but no memory. So I try to show them family photos, like the one below of  the Culver side of the family gathered many years ago near their home in Olalla.

The Culver Family

The reunion in Mexico gathered together about 80 people; yesterday only about 30 family members came to Bay View. We hoped there would be some lawn outside so we could play bocce, an old Italian game using heavy silver balls tossed like horseshoes. Bocce balls came over with Italian immigrants, along with the immigrants’ memories of (and nostalgia for) home.  As I write this, I realize how many countries and traditions come into play whenever a large American family gathers together in this new millennium. Imagine at the turn of the 20th century, with so many new immigrants to America, how the longing for home – the origin of the word “nostalgia” – must have permeated everything. Photos were among the few items people had to remember home.

As writers, we try to turn history into story, pulling from both memory and imagination to put faces to names. I loved historical fiction as a kid – because those stories felt possible, felt as if the writer’s imagination could fuse history and memory and make them a single engine rather than two machines on more-or-less parallel tracks. Fantasy didn’t have that kind of heat for me. Of course, history is one thing – at its purest (though is it ever pure?) history is “Just the facts, Ma’am”, and memory is a single perspective on those facts. Toss in nostalgia (originally considered a physical disease) and you’re in dangerous territory – facts and memories get distorted by wistfulness, and suddenly all the lines blur. When nostalgia seeps into fiction – especially into stories for kids – it can be suffocating if not handled carefully, since nostalgia is usually an artifact of age.

History (those irrefutable “born” and “died” dates underneath the pictures of so many of my ancestors) tapped at the windows of the Bay View Civic Hall yesterday, and memories floated around waiting for someone to pluck them out of the air. Combine the tapping and the floating with nostalgia about red barns and snow geese and the Old Country, and it was quite a day for a writer. Below is a picture of my little side of the clan. I remember the day it was taken, on the beach near Gig Harbor. Neighbors came and gave us some of the oysters they had gathered that day. My cousin Randy paddled in by kayak. We toasted marshmallows…maybe I can write a story about it. Maybe my grandson will share this photo with his great-grandchildren. Maybe they will look at us and wish they had known us.

The Unofficial Larios – Hofstrand Family Gathering

Putting Our Best Paws Forward

Right from the start, our dog Izzi has had a special quality of patience. Shortly after she came to live with us, I started to think she might be a good therapy dog and we might someday volunteer in the Reading with Rover project.

John reads to Izzi.

Reading with Rover’s mission is to: “Inspire children to discover the joy of reading while developing literacy skills and confidence in a safe environment, using Reading with Rover dogs.” The dogs are willing listeners for child readers at schools, libraries and bookstores.

Our Izzi turned six this year. We signed up for a pet therapy training class this summer. She is one of five dogs – with two great Danes and two labs – who gather for weekly sessions at MyPuppyNanny near Snohomish to prepare for the Reading with Rover certification test.

Monday’s tasks included walking calmly through an area of busy people, sitting, and staying. Then came the task that our instructor, Annemarie Kaighin, called “the deal breaker.” She would bring in another of her dogs from the adjacent kennel. The five dogs being trained must remain quiet as the new dog entered the room.

Izzi barked. My heart fell.

But all is not lost. Annemarie coached me to train Izzi not to bark at strange dogs. So Tuesday, Iz and I hung out at a nearby pet store. Every time a new dog came in I gave her treats. She seemed indifferent to the dogs but loved the chicken bits.

Wednesday, we walked around Green Lake. At first I gave her treats each time we saw and passed another dog. Pretty soon she’d see a dog and look to me for the treat. Mostly she ignored the other dogs or sniffed toward them with interest. Apparently she thinks dogs in pet stores and dogs on the walking path are not bark-worthy.

How can I replicate an indoor situation where strange dogs come by and I can treat her for not barking? We are both scratching our heads, and not because of fleas.

Meanwhile, Izzi and I are working on all the other stuff. She sits reliably at my side when I pause during our walks. She walks well on a leash. Whether or not I am able to teach her not to bark at new dogs, it is truly fun to work with her to sharpen our skills.

And I still hold out hope that our patient pup will pass the test. Stay tuned.

Izzi waiting for John to come home with her best friend, Hudson, our daughter’s dog.


For many years I have enjoyed doing yoga. I like to feel my feet on the ground,and the breath in my body. This summer I have really been savoring my yoga classes so I decided to revisit Twist:Yoga Poems , a book by Janet Wong that I illustrated several years ago. Here are a few of the pictures with Janet’s poems.                                                                                                                                                                    


Crow depends on his elbows.

You cannot always fly.

You need somewhere to rest

the weight of yourself.


Trees watch.

This is why

they grow tall,

this is why they bend and sway,

so they can see around a house,

over a hill,

beyond a fire.

Look, not just on a windy day.

See how they move.

At the tip of each branch

there is an eye.


A warrior

takes his stand,

feet planted sturdy and strong.

Before long, he sees

he is heading the wrong way.

He turns and

takes his stand,

feet planted sturdy and strong.


I looked at many Indian miniatures while I was working on the book. I was inspired by the colors, the patterns, the delicacy of the painting and the way the space was divided.  (An interesting fact I learned is that the beautiful yellow paint was made by feeding mango leaves to the cows then collecting, drying and grinding the cow urine into pigment.)

In yoga class I always felt like a phony when I used sanskrit words like drishti or namaste. But this summer a teacher explained that when you use the foreign words it slows you down and you can understand the meaning in a different and more thoughtful way. That makes sense to me. In that same way I am always trying to understand the art that inspires me and to look at it closely; the act of translation helps me twist and stretch. I want to use foreign words or imagery but still speak my own language.


Revisiting Another Realm

“Birds and Woman’s Face”-Kenojuak

I visited my parents recently, and while I was there I spent some time looking through the books on their shelves. Most of them are the same books I grew up looking at when I was a kid, sitting in the living room of our house in Southern California. It was comforting to peruse them again, like looking at old family photo albums.

Some of my favorites are from my mother’s collection of Eskimo graphic art books (the proper term is Inuit, but her books are all from the pre-pollitically correct 1960s), and wouldn’t you know, these images that I’ve always liked so much were made using printmaking techniques – first introduced to the Inuit in the late 1950s.

“Two Men Discussing Coming Hunt” -Kavagawak

There is a great deal of humor in these images, but also great power and beauty. They are a vision into another culture’s world view – with high contrast and a wonderful use of negative space. Perhaps this is what happens when you live in a realm of ice and snow.

“The Arrival of the Sun” -Kenojuak

The Enchanted Owl-Kenojuak“The Enchanted Owl” -Kenojuak

This one below reminds me of Peter in The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats (one of the most perfect children’s books ever made).

‘Seal Hunter” -Niviaksiak

And looking at these books again, I realize this art likely influenced the direction my own work eventually took, although I didn’t see it until now.

“Polar Bear and Cub on Ice” -Niviaksiak

Image for Hello, Arctic!, 2002