Sunday, April 25, 2010

tom sawyer's island & the secret of robber's cave

Disneyland in the late 50s and 60s was paradise. No crowds or lines during weekdays. My siblings and I ran amok in Frontier Land and hid from Captain Hook's pirate ship as it circled the lagoon. We caught real fish from Tom Sawyer's dock with bamboo poles & string--a photo in our family album is proof!
Lucky for us, our parents believed a well-rounded education meant skipping school now and then, for a day of playing make-believe. They dressed us in red sweaters so they could spot us from a distance and packed a sensible lunch of peanut butter on whole wheat with apples and a thermos of milk. Anaheim was a short drive from Manhattan Beach in our '55 Mercury, so there was only minor pinching and pummeling in the back seat. By the time we saw the Matterhorn from the highway, then Sleeping Beauty's castle as we pulled into the parking lot, we were ready to explode. 

Secret Of Robber's Cave (Cabin Creek Mysteries)What a blast! This photo above shows me at age ten, in my party shoes and red-plaid skirt [which matched our Thermos], camera bag over my shoulder, entering a cave on Tom Sawyer's Island. My brother, sister and I crept through the caverns and popped out from dark corners to scare each other. We jumped on the swinging bridge with delighted terror, watching for crocodiles in the river. 

Never did I dream that as a grown-up I'd be writing stories for children based on our fantasies at Disneyland. My first Cabin Creek Mystery: The Secret of Robber's Cave is about young siblings exploring just such an island and cave [cover above]. I love my parents for encouraging us to play and pretend.

When our sons were in 1st & 3rd grades, I told their teacher they wouldn't be in school the following day because we were going to Disneyland. "Wonderful!" she said. "Never let school get in the way of an education."

So the tradition continues. Thanks, Mom and Dad. And thank you, Mrs. Kimm, from Redlands Christian School.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

a scary chairlift ride & the blizzard on blue mountain

Some scary things from childhood stay with you your whole life.

Blizzard On Blue Mountain (Cabin Creek Mysteries)On one vacation in the 60s, my family skied in Sun Valley, Idaho. My little sister and I were on a chair lift half-way up Dollar Mountain when the girl in the chair ahead of ours, leaned way forward, as if trying to fix her safety strap. The next instant, she FELL 20? 30? feet, landing in a mangled sprawl on the slope. I have a vague memory of seeing blood and hearing her scream in agony, but maybe I'm making that part up. In any event, we heard later that she broke both her legs, and that pretty much cemented my fear of heights.

But why waste a terrifying experience! I drummed it up for The Blizzard on Blue Mountain, #5 in the Cabin Creek Mystery series. If you notice the cover [upper right], there's a broken chair lift. In the story Claire and her friend Sophie find themselves on the damaged chair, not realizing the danger. They hang on for their lives, their snowboards weighing them down. Their fright is what I imagined that girl on Dollar Mountain must have felt so many years ago.

PHOTO [upper left]: my brother and I getting ready to hit the slopes in Snow Valley, California. Check out our chic pants & boots.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

40 eggs for George Washington's cake

I love wandering around historical sites when planning a story for children -- from ghost towns in the West to the tenements of New York City's lower Eastside. Rangers have sublime details, such as how to load cannons or what happens when a great white shark rams a row boat.

But some of the best stuff is in the gift shops. When researching the Revolutionary War, I bought a quill pen and ink jug, an American flag with thirteen stars, and fife and drum music from Colonial Williamsburg -- I love a patriotic march! These trinkets and music inspire me when I finally sit down to write. At the cash register in a Pennsylvania store, I found a recipe printed by the Women's Committee of the Valley Forge Historical Society: Martha Washington's Great Cake.

I have trouble following recipes, but this one seemed dangerously simple:
40 eggs
4 pounds butter
4 pounds sugar powdered
5 pounds flour
5 pounds fruit
mace & nutmeg
wine & some fresh brandy

Wait! 40 eggs, really? I checked with the historical society and was told that in Martha's day these were "pullet eggs", about the size of a child's thumb. I didn't dare try the recipe myself, but thought perhaps Abigail could help Mrs. Washington in The Winter of Red Snow.

So in the story, Abby and her sister Elisabeth visit neighbors asking for eggs while Papa waits in the wagon with a crate of wood ashes in which to carry them. The next day -- February 22, 1778 -- is General George Washington's 46th birthday. Not only does he have a very fine cake, it is recorded that he was serenaded by an artillery band with drums and fifes. Some say this was the first public celebration of his birthday.

The moral of the story is to go shopping!