Friday, May 28, 2010


Yesterday was my birthday. It was an ordinary day. I took care of our children, cooked, cleaned and had the usual day. There was no party, no balloons, no hoopla. Yet, I felt blessed. Our children drew me little pictures of love; they "wrapped" up their favorite things and gave them to me. They picked clover and daisies from our yard and I have those in cups in our home. They sang the birthday song to me before they went off to sleep last night. Ben's angelic voice ringing out the loudest and in tune too. I opened the gifts from the gals at our ladies Bible study group and from my in-loves and my brother and sister-in-love (they live in California). They gave me the most lovely, crystal and silver necklace, bracelet and earring set. It looks Edwardian. I will feel like a princess when I wear them. I felt very spoiled. One of the gifts is from Rhonda (we co-lead together). I know she gave me a gift she had purchased for herself! It is a beautiful, hand-crafted, lined and covered box. There are mother-of-pearl flower buttons on the top and the fabric is a delicate cream silk. It is lovely. What touches me the most is the generosity of my friends and family. They understand that we can't really pamper ourselves right now (we're in our 10th month of unemployment) and so they make sure we receive these little tokens of love every once in a while.  I had so many birthday greetings on my facebook page from family, childhood friends and friends we've made along the way from California to Massachusetts. Birthdays seem to matter when we are young. We want the party, cake and gifts. Then we reach the age where birthdays don't matter as much. A well written note is special and saved to read again and again when we need to be reminded that we are loved. Then, when we're really old, the celebration starts again. Others celebrate the fact that we are still alive and kicking :)

I am now 44. I was born in Southern California to Donal and Barbara Howell. I am their fifth and last child. I was a surprise and hopefully a gift too.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Free Spirit Friday ~ Trina Schart Hyman (illustrator/artist/editor/creative soul)

In my childhood, I grew up without a TV. Books and my imagination and the variety of pets we had entertained me. In the 70's, my brother, Troy Howell (, wanted to be a writer and he sent one of his illustrated poems to Cricket magazine. Trina Schart Hyman was the art director for this phenomenal children's magazine from 1972 to 1979. She liked my brother's art work better than his poem and so he began illustrating for Cricket magazine (even doing cover art). I remember devouring Cricket magazine and I especially liked the "comic strip" at the bottom of the pages. Trina would sketch "Ladybug" and "Cricket" and other insects talking to one another about the stories on the pages. I would always seek out books illustrated by her at our library. In the summer of 1984, during the Los Angeles Olympics and the NYC garbage strike, my brother Troy took me to NYC. He was doing a show of his art at the Master Eagle Gallery. Trina was there. She had published Little Red Riding Hood (one of her favorite stories) and had won the Caldecott Honor Medal. She was also showing her original art from Little Red. I felt so happy to meet her and spend some time with her. After the three day show, I was able to meet some of her friends and agent Dilys Evans. I also met other children's illustrators (Barbara Cooney and others) at that time. Trina was warm and interested in me. She was pleased to hear that I loved her art and that I was growing up without a TV. She showed genuine interest in me. I was barely 18 at the time. It was magical meeting her. Trina was born in 1939 in Philadelphia. She grew up in a rural area of Pennsylvania and credits her mother for instilling in her the joy of books. Her father fueled her imagination with magical tales. She skipped first grade but never felt like she was a good student. She preferred to doodle and draw instead. She enrolled at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art in 1956 and found her calling in life. She married a mathematician and engineer in 1959 and lived in Boston for a while. She studied at the Boston Museum School of Fine Arts and graduated in 1960. She and her husband lived in Stockholm, Sweden for two years and this is where she illustrated her first children's book. In 1963, she birthed a daughter called Katrin. She divorced in 1968, and she and her daughter moved to an old farmhouse in Lyme, New Hampshire. She proudly admitted to not owning a "mind-destroying, soul-sucking" television and chose to fill their home with "hundreds of good books" and "take the time to read them".  She was influenced by Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Howard Pyle and N. C. Wyeth. I appreciate the romantic and magical art she created.
Trina lived with two dogs, four cats, and a herd of  sheep she shared with the neighbors across the road.  She had a duck named Dave. A poodle named Jerry and a cat named Bad Baby. Before her death on November 19, 2004, she suffered from arthritis and continued to work in her "tiny, messy" studio, "heated by a little wood-burning stove". Before her death, she illustrated her daughter's (Katrin Tchana) book, The Serpent Slayer and Other Stories of Strong Women.  In all, she illustrated more than 150 books. The Boston Globe writes of her, "Ms. Hyman's characters were the stuff of legends...fairy tale princesses and gnomes, Arthurian heroes. But she also imbued many of her characters with qualities taken from composites of her neighbors in the Upper Connecticut Valley, her friends, even her grandchildren". She died from breast cancer. She was only 65.  She once said, "It was always very clear to me and to everyone else too, exactly what I would do when I grew up. I would be an artist, and I would be the sort of artist who made pictures that told stories. It wasn't until the seventh grade that I learned about the word 'illustrator', but when I heard it, I knew that that was me."When I was at our favorite used book store the other day. I came across one of her beautifully illustrated books. It was signed by her. She is missed.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Book House

I love old books. Especially old books for children. Recently, a used bookstore opened up near us. I introduced my beloved to it yesterday and we lost track of time in the tomes.  I seek out the old book section always and come home with a treasure trove of used books. This bookstore has the best prices, only $1.29 for children's books! This is a steal. Yesterday, I found a My Bookhouse Book in perfect condition.What I love about antique books for children is the attention to details. The covers are works of art with gilding in gold. I found this bookplate in one of the books. I think it is beautiful with such detail and whimsy. If you are interested in lovely, whimsical bookplates, check out Tricia Scott's blog. She creates the most wonderful bookplates and has them for sale in her Etsy shop. You can find her at: .What has happened in our world of mass production of books? We have lost the attention to detail, of excellent works of art for our children, of personal bookplates for them. I prefer hardbound to paperback. Instead we find the flimsy, computer generated art, and lack of attention to detail. If I could build a house out of books, I would. One of our triplets, Benjamin (who is five) said to me, "I like books better than toys". This warms my heart. I hope we are introducing our children to good literature. Even the inside of these old books is a work of art. Engaging the child, and the child in me, to cherish what I hold. "Books are our friends", I tell our children, "we treat them with respect".I found a signed book by one of my favorite artists. I will profile her on my next Free Spirit Friday. Can you guess who she is? I'll give you a hint. She was editor of Cricket magazine for many years.

Monday, May 17, 2010

no more bad news

Recently I have been hearing "bad news". One of my childhood friends thought they were in remission from cancer and it has returned with a vengeance. He is a young Daddy with three children. Another childhood friend of mine just had both of her breasts removed and she is enduring chemo treatments with shots into her stomach each day. Another friend's daughter and her husband are childless, with the deep longings of the heart to have a family. They just experienced a failed attempt. I know and understand this kind of loss. We struggled for 10 years to grow our family. I imagine I have a garden of babies waiting in Heaven to meet me. With life's sour and sweets, it's nice to dream, to escape into the whimsical possibilities. Our children are dreamers. They believe in the impossible; like flying away in a hot air balloon.Looking down on the earth below. Flying with the doves and doggies and having a magical griffin lead the way.Finding a castle and drifting down, hovering above the water and landing on the perfect lawn. The air smells of lilacs and roses.  Music fills our ears and the birds harmonize each step up to the ancient doors. The light is golden and warm. We feel like we've been here before. Is this home?All we have to do is knock and speak the secret word and the possibilities are endless.
Shh, the dreamers have arrived. Let us listen to what they have to say.