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November 26, 2008

Feeling Thankful

I am so thankful for my many treasures. 
My family, my friends, my colleagues and my catboys.
Fond memories of those no longer here.
For lots of love and laughing and sharing.
For all the kindnesses and courtesies.

So many thanks.

November 25, 2008

All Her Fault

Jane Flory Freedman

In the Fall of 1963, the first semester of my Freshman year at College, I chose, as part of my financial aid package, to work as a student helper in the Evening Division office instead of selling art supplies in the school store.

I had no idea how profoundly this simple decision, made only because I preferred to work after class rather than between, would affect my life.

 I remember reporting to Jane Flory, Director of the Evening School at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art for the first time January 1964 in the Registrar's Office on the 2nd. floor of the Broad & Pine building.

The pleasant woman who welcomed me, with her soft brown pageboy, merry blue eyes, wearing a denim wool jumper and red and white checked blouse, reminded me of an elementary school teacher.

Mrs. Flory invited me behind the counter introducing me to a skinny dark haired fellow student, Matt Cunniff,  fiddling with records at a desk nearby.

Early days at PCA

The work was necessary but tedious. Way before computers, we gathered data by punching holes in appropriate places on student's registration cards then passed a long knitting needle through the stack of cards. The unpunched cards would stay on the needle while the punched fell away and were counted.

The punchier (no pun intended) we became, the sillier and more outrageous our running commentary. Example; amid the the piles of hundreds of sorted cards was that of a student with the improbable surname of Milestone. Whoever got her card would inevitably remark how we had just passed a milestone, sending us into peels of laughter. You HAD to be there.

Jane was the best boss I ever had. Not only did she work alongside us doing the dirty work, having taken the measure of my character and abilities over time, eventually asked me to teach. First as a substitute then after I graduated, as an assistant teacher, then my own design class. 

I had worked in her office for 2 years before learning that she was not only an Alumna of the College's Illustration Dept. but a respected well known children's book author and illustrator of over 50 published books.

I had gone to art school to study fashion design. 
When they dropped the department, I thought about fashion illustration. 
Then that department was dropped.  
Clueless, I figured it would all work out as I signed up for Illustration.

As Jane continued to share her experiences in book publishing. 
I realized I was interested in children's books too. 
The creators of my childhood books were inspiration. 
These were also the early days of Maurice Sendak and Arnold Lobel and the other 
marvelous  authors and  illustrators of the mid 20th century's golden age.

Jane also encouraged me to write and when I showed her my first pathetic attempt she 
sensitively ripped it to shreds giving me my first professional lessons in plot structure,
active and passive voices and an introduction to Strunk & White's "Elements of Style".

Despite this disastrous effort, she still believed I could write and one day gave me 
the chance to illustrate a published book, her own RAMSHACKLE ROOST. 

Walter Lorraine, Jane's Creative Director at Houghton Mifflin, agreed to give me a go with an amusing letter saying  most author's artist friends made horrible illustrators, but I seemed an

Not only was Jane relinquishing her usual practice and enjoyment of illustrating her own book, but she was giving up the additional fee she would have received for doing the cover and inside drawings. Money she could use supporting her 3 young daughters and increasingly disabled husband.

I had no idea what I was doing to begin with, but Jane and Walter with patience and humor soon taught me the beginning ropes.
Jane and I did 4 books together, though in truth she was there cheering me on through all the books that came after by other authors as well as 4 of my own.  

Jane introduced me to the children's book community in and around Philadelphia taking me to
the Philadelphia Children's Reading Roundtable lunches, lead by the indomitable Carolyn Field of the Free Library. Members included Marguerite DeAngeli, Henry Pitz, Lloyd Alexander, Beth and Joe Krush.

Before tangents become tomes I will conclude.

Over the years I observed only one serious flaw in Jane's character. 
She was not very good at blowing her own horn professionally.

A former Dean of Faculty once condescendingly commented to her that he had heard she wrote children's stories and asked how many. 

When she replied somewhere over 50, he patronizingly asked how many had been published and was completely non-plussed when Jane replied,"All of them!"

My dear friend and mentor of over 40 years passed away on this day 
November 25, 2005, three years ago. 

Not a day goes by that I don't think of her with love and much laughter.

Experiencing the ups and downs in my career I'd often joke that "It was all her fault" for getting me involved in the first place.

November 20, 2008

Small Squirrel Tale

                                                                   (click on photos to enlarge)

Eight summers ago Mom and I were in enjoying a summer afternoon in Washington Sq.
Looking left, some fellow was trying to feed a nut to a tiny squirrel on the ground under a towering tree beside me. The squirrel baby was a fantastic miniature complete with fluffy tail. It didn't move and where was its Mum?

I tried placing it on the tree trunk, thinking that it might know its way home, no luck. It didn't go anywhere and looking down I saw ANOTHER one! Surely their Mother had left them and would be back soon. So we watched and waited three hours or so but no adult squirrel showed up.

Not about to leave defenseless squirrel tots to deal with park predators, I put them in my sun hat, escorted Mom back to her flat then stopped off for a hamster box for safe squirrel baby keeping until I figured out what to do next.

With some shredded bedding and a small box to hide in and pieces of cut peach and grapes they settled in quickly. They skipped the water in a jar lid, but licked the juices from the cut fruit. Tired babies slept curled together in their little gift box and popped their heads out, one on top of the other when they woke.

Advice I found on the net put me in touch with the wildlife rescue, rehab and release folks at Schuylkill Valley Nature Center. They were willing to accept my foundlings if I could get them there.... tricky without a car and on a Sunday from Center City.

So with the little Squirrels in a covered basket on my lap we caught a 9 bus to the end of the line.
A woman from the Nature Center met us in the McDonald's parking lot at the Andorra Shopping Center.

Looking the babies over gently and she told me they were a male and a female, likely brother and sister. She transferred them to her carrier along with their sliced fruit and with a thankful donation for the animal rescue's good work they were off to their new home in the suburban rehab center while I waited for the bus back to town.

In later phone calls the rehab folks assured me the squirrels were well and growing and at last were released into the wild.

Hopefully, their descendents are gathering acorns for this coming winter as I write.

November 19, 2008

The Catbird Seat

Writing about city life reminded me of  the time I noticed a Catbird jumping up and down, flapping wings, chattering wildly,  making a racket at the top of a short tree that stood above and behind a solid wood fence on Fitzwater St. near 2nd. 

Glancing down the problem became evident.... a menacing yellow cat's eye watching me through a hole at the bottom of the fence.

November 18, 2008

City Life

There is something joyful about small plants sprouting from sidewalk cracks and the surprise sudden scent of Jasmine wafting through the park. Trees stark and bare in winter, spring buds, summer shade and, my favorite, colored leaves all around and falling. The stunning array of trees. 

My special favorites are the Magnolias in St Mark's churchyard with their enormous waxy cream and pink blossoms and the Flowering Pears along the streets in the Spring. Then the chartreuse leaves of the Ginko in Autumn.

Sapphire Morning Glories and bright pink Clematis on the wrought iron fence of the community garden.

Falcons, Pigeons, Crows, Starlings, Robin Red Breasts and Sparrows with occasional visits by an Ovenbird and several years ago, an imposing Raven in Rittenhouse Sq.  Their lives lived over roofs, on ledges, in trees and bushes, on pavements and in gutters. Some so small on impossibly skinny legs, who dive and grab an unshelled double peanut and then take off. 

Pigeons with missing toes and crippled feet touch my heart. 
Randy males fanning their tails and cooing, chasing the "girls" in the Spring. 

A Crow couple collecting twigs for their nest on a gray day on Camac St.

Another pair on the Farm Journal roof  commenting loudly.

Just past 8th on Locust, a sudden swoop of fluttering Pigeons descends from a roof across the street mistaking me for another woman who comes with food in her cart. 

Maybe, humans with shopping carts all look alike. 
Next time I bring sunflower seeds, but feed them in the nearby park.

Acrobatic Squirrels spend their days rummaging on the ground frequently interrupted  by chasing dogs and children and occasionally a prowling cat. Sensing danger, they hop a tree trunk all facing the same way and chatter and flick their tails in united alarm until the threat passes.

Defying gravitational logic, posed upside down on a tree trunk eating an acorn.

One morning I smile at an old man offering them treats from his pocket. As I pass he whispers that he likes the squirrels better than most people.

Cats sit in windows, silently watching the passing scene and the dogs of every size, breed, age and color walk, run, pull, chase, sniff, bark accompanied by their people (who many resemble) plastic bags over their hands. 

Always a good excuse to talk to a stranger.

Waiting by the Park for the 12 bus late last Saturday afternoon, suddenly a loud SQAWCK!! followed by a swoop of Pigeons over head. Then from the north, more shrieks.

Turns out, there is a loose Parrot high up in a tree and man trying to lure him down.

Today the bus came too soon.

November 6, 2008

He's the one!

Over 1000 top childrens book authors and illustrators joined together to urge parents, teachers and librarians to vote for Barack Obama.

And we all won!!

November 4, 2008

Squirrel Speak

Election Day. Mom never received her absentee ballot,
so after I did my civic duty I stuffed my pocket with
peanuts (in the shell)and set off to escort her to the polls.

The peanuts were for the Squirrels in her park, not Mom.

It was raining lightly and they were still busy gathering
acorns that the last big wind brought down.

Have I inadvertently learned a bit of Squirrel-speak?
I made a sort of kissing sound. The Squirrel approached.
I tossed my peanut.

Accepted with a momentary gaze of appreciation before
dashing away