Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Winchester and I will be back on New Year's Day. See you next year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Waiting for Sandy Claws

Winchester, how come you keep looking over your shoulder?

Did you hear that? It sounded like bells!

It's still daytime. Santa won't be here yet.

I hope Sandy Claws fills my stocking with Tuna Treats and Chicken Bits and Lobster Lollipops and--

Your stocking says "It's All About Meow." It certainly is. What about the spirit of giving?

I'm all for it, as long as I'm the one who's getting what's being given. Oh! and Salmon Snacks and Turkey Tidbits . . .

And to all a good night!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Writer's Present

Winchester, what's all this?

I'm wrapping my present for The Writer.

A mouse pad with your picture on it. Very nice.

Yeah. I don't know why it's called a mouse pad. I thought it would be padded with mice but it's pretty flat. What are you giving her?

The continued gift of our lifelong friendship.

In other words, you're too cheap to give her anything.

Some things you can't buy, Winchester. But I'm glad to see you're in the holiday spirit.

I just want to butter up The Writer so she'll give me a can of sardines on Christmas Day. Pass me the scissors.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Holiday Matinee

The Writer is going to Richmond today to see "The Nutcracker," performed by the Richmond Ballet. She is very excited because she hasn't seen the show in three years.

That's the show with the cool mouse fight! I want to go!

Those are rats, not mice, in the fight scene and you can't go. Sometimes The Writer needs to--

Get away from me?

You said it. Anyway, The Writer loves the story of "The Nutcracker." She plays the music even in the summer. And she's seen every production on TV. When she lived closer to DC, she went to see it at the Kennedy Center.

Her favorite production is the Pacific Northwest Ballet's with sets designed by Maurice Sendak. Even if Sendak wasn't a famous children's book illustrator, The Writer thinks his sets are the best--that wonderful stormy boat scene, those rat statues, the great big Nutcracker mouth chomping down as the final curtain. She taped the TV program once, but it's a pretty bad version. She's tried to buy a better copy. Sendak did a book based on his sets and she has that.

Wasn't one of the songs in "The Nutcracker" used in a Friskies cat food commercial?

There is no hope for you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Ellsworth and Winchester Host a Luncheon

Our first luncheon, Winchester. Look at the table! It's so pretty! This glass bowl is filled with vintage ornaments from The Writer's family.

There isn't any food here.

Not yet. You don't serve food until the guest arrives.

Who's coming, anyway?

The Writer's friend from Hollins University. She lives in Fredericksburg, too, and they are getting together to celebrate the holidays.

But the Classmate Lady really wants to meet us. Me, especially.

I think you're right, though she wants to meet me most of all.

What's that awful smell coming from the kitchen?

The lunch. The Classmate Lady is vegan, which means she doesn't eat any meat or dairy or fish. So The Writer is making things like hummus, a dip made from chick peas.

Who ever heard of a meal with no meat! Chick peas! Blah! I'll say hi to the Classmate Lady and then I'm outta here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Christmas Carol

Winchester and I hoped you enjoyed our little production of "Winchester's Christmas Carol." We based our story somewhat on the old TV program, "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." But we also used The Writer's favorite edition of the Charles Dickens' book.

This version has illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman, who is one of The Writer's all-time favorite illustrators (don't ever ask The Writer who her favorite illustrators are--she'll keep you there a week). The cover isn't that easy to see here, but it's magical with snow falling on a busy London street and those wonderful faces turned toward the joys of Christmas. The first word of each chapter has a little black and white drawing worked into the first letter. The chapters end with a black and white drawings, too. Trina Schart Hyman was a master with pen and ink. The important scenes are shown in the color plates. My favorite is the one of Jacob Marley's ghost appearing to a skeptical Scrooge.

Look for the book in your library (it was published in 1983). It makes a great read-aloud. There are five chapters so if you start reading tomorrow night, you'll finish by Christmas Eve.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Cookie Monday

Christmas is a week from tomorrow. Some people are baking cookies already. The Writer never has time to bake any more, but she remembers the goodies her mother used to bake.

The Writer's mother began "lining" up her recipes after Thanksgiving and would start baking in early December. She stored cookies in the "cold room," an extra bedroom with the heat turned off. As a little girl, The Writer would sneak in there and snick from this tin and that one, hastily rearranging the remainder and leaving a trail of crumbs.

The Writer loved her mother's cut-out butter cookies best. She would watch her mother roll out the dough with her old one-handled rolling pin. The Writer pressed the old aluminum and plastic cookie cutters in the dough--the blue elephant was our favorite! Then The Writer would roll scraps of dough with her own little rolling pin and make tiny dog cookies with her own little red cookie cutter.

After The Writer was married, her mother baked at The Writer's house. The Writer always got sick from eating too many rich butter cookies, her mother usually set the tea towel on fire, and she invariably wrecked The Writer's kitchen. Flour swirled in a blizzard, Crisco was ground into the counters, dollops of dough spotted the floor. The Writer and her mother snacked on M&Ms they chopped for M&M bars, talked longingly of the old days, gobbled cookies still hot from the oven, and had the kind of fun only mothers and daughters can share.

It has been nearly 20 years since The Writer and her mother baked together. This time of year The Writer wishes she could spend one more December afternoon making Mexican wedding cookies, pecan cookies, and those famous iced butter cookies. The Writer would let her mother make the biggest mess ever, and she'd be glad.

Here is the recipe for The Writer's mother's pecan cookies. It stores well and isn't so sweet the kids will be tempted to nip in the tin too many times:

Pecan Cookies

3/4 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup chopped pecans

Cream shortening, add sugar, blend in egg. Sift dry ingredients three times. Add to mixture. Stir in nuts. Shape into roll, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until chilled. Slice wafer thin. Bake at 350 5 to 10 minutes.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cast Party

Winchester, we did it! We put on the whole Christmas play all by ourselves. Do you think The Writer liked it?

Never mind her. We have all the newspapers--let's check the reviews. Hey, New York actors read their notices with bagels and lox and cream cheese and fancy coffee. What have we got?

A Pop Tart and some apple juice. This is still Fredericksburg.

You can't put lox on a Pop Tart! Okay, my paper says the play was a smash hit with eclectic sets and creative direction. The cat was fabu!

Fabu! I bet you're making up that last part. The Times says the supporting cast was great but the elephant stole the show. What's The Tribune say?

Hunnh? What's a four-letter word for fish?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Keep Christmas in Your Heart All Year

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act Three
Scene Two:

Inside the Cratchit home. The children are gathered around a Christmas tree. Toys are scattered on the floor. A table is set with sparkling china.

Scrooge: Where did your father go? I just told him that he is getting a raise. And a full coal scuttle every single day.

Biggest Cratchit Girl: He fainted from the shock. Mother took him into the bedroom so he could lie down.

Scrooge: Wait till you taste that turkey! And I had all the trimmings sent over, too. We are going to have a real Christmas feast!

Little Boy: The tree is the most beautifulest ever!

Second Girl: We never had real toys before.

Scrooge: Nothing but the best for this family from now on. You see, Christmas isn't just a day. Sharing and giving is a way of life. I will be the sharingest, givingest man in all of London!

Tiny Ellsworth: God bless us, every one!

End of Scene Two

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas Morning

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act Three
Scene One:

Scrooge wakes up. He is in his bedroom.

Scrooge: I'm not dead! I'm alive!

He rushes to the window, leans out too far, and falls out. A boy rushes over.

Boy: Hey, Mister, you all right?

Scrooge: Never better! Do you know what day this is?

Boy: Sure I do. It's Christmas!

Scrooge: Then I didn't miss it after all! Is that turkey still in the poultry shop window?

Boy: The one as big as me? I should say so!

Scrooge: (digging in his pocket) Go and buy it.

Boy: What, are you bonkers?

Scrooge: Bring the turkey back here in less than five minutes and I'll give you half a crown.

Boy takes off running.

Scrooge: Ah, Christmas Day! More than anything, I am grateful the night is over so I can get out of this ridiculous nightshirt!

He goes back in his house, singing "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."

End of Scene One

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ghost of Christmas Future

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act Two
Scene Three:

Scrooge wakes when the clock strikes one again. Before him stands a figure clad in black. He cannot see its face. The figure does not speak.

Scrooge: Spirit, am I in the presence of the Ghost of Christmas yet to come?

The Ghost nods.

Scrooge: I'm more afraid of you than the other two spirits put together. Maybe it's because you look like an X-ray of a rabbit. Lead on, then.

The Ghost raises one arm. A chill wind blows and Scrooge is the home of Cratchit again. This time the family looks sad. A crutch leans against the fireplace.

Scrooge: What has happened to Tiny Ellsworth? Oh, not the worst!

The Ghost raises his arm again. This time the icy wind blows Scrooge into a graveyard. He falls over a tombstone.

Scrooge: Please, X-ray Rabbit Ghost, don't make me look!

The Ghost points. Scrooge sees his own name carved on the gravestone and falls back in horror.

Scrooge: Oh, no! Not that, anything but that! I promise I'll be good! I promise I'll celebrate Christmas! Pleeeeease!

End of Scene Three

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Books for Holiday Gift-giving

Wait a minute! How come we're not doing the play today?

We have a wardrobe malfunction. Namely, I can't find a costume for my next part. The play will continue tomorrow. We're going to talk about books to give as holiday presents instead.

The Writer collects editions of Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas by different picture book artists. This year she found a beauty with cut-paper illustrations by Niroot Puttapipat. The black and white silhouettes feature touches of red and green. Scenes transform through cut-out doors and windows. Children will love the tiny details, such as the battle between the attic mice and the toy soldiers. In the final breathtaking pop-up, St. Nick soars over delicate rooftops.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams begins with the toy rabbit in the Boy's stocking on Christmas morning. Although the rabbit is forgotten among all the other new presents, he becomes significant in the Boy's life. This 1922 classic has been called sentimental by some, but The Writer gives it to special children and always in the original edition with William Nicholson's illustrations in yellow, slate blue, and brick red. This is not a flashy book, but perhaps just right for reading with a child on Christmas night when the hectic day is over and a quiet moment is needed.

The Writer was thrilled when Leonard Marcus' Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children's Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way finally came out this fall. She only owned Golden Books as a young child and read each one to tatters. Marcus' wonderful tribute is filled with photographs, art, book covers, and remembrances. Give this book to anyone who loved their Golden Books!

A latecomer to the magic of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, The Writer was delighted to find The Annotated Secret Garden by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina. Gerzina also wrote the definitive biography of Burnett. Illustrated with art from various editions of the classic, this is a great book for those looking for their own secret garden.

On The Writer's Wish List is a book she found hopscotching around kidlit blogs: Drawn to Enchant: Original Children's Book Art in the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection by Timothy Young. Lushly illustrated, this book chronicles the evolution of children's literature from the birth of our nation to the twenty-first century. The Writer hopes to see this book under the Christmas tree.

I hope it's not a very big book. There's not much room under this puny little tree.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Christmas Present

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act Two
Scene Two:

Scrooge's bedchamber. Scrooge is in bed. The clock strikes one again. He wakes up and looks around. A decorated tree stands in his room. Presents are heaped beneath its branches. A huge spirit sits beside the tree. He is dressed in a green velvet robe with a white fur collar.

Ghost of Christmas Present: Ah hah, hah, hah!

Scrooge: Who are you? And what's so funny?

Ghost: I'm the Ghost of Christmas Present. I'm always in a good mood.

Scrooge: Really? Then those presents under the tree are for me?

Ghost: Those presents are symbols of this great day, which you never seem to enjoy.

Scrooge: I will now, I promise--

Ghost: Touch my robe.

Scrooge touches the jovial ghost's robe. Instantly he is transported into a small room packed with children and people. They are sitting down to eat.

Scrooge: That's Cratchit, my clerk. And they must be his wife and children. What's the name of the youngest one, the one who can't walk?

Ghost: Tiny Ellsworth. Notice they have only salami for dinner. See how Cratchit is slicing it very thinly.

Scrooge: A pretty crummy dinner, that's for sure.

Ghost: They would have roast goose if you paid him better wages! But they are happy just the same because they have each other.

Scrooge: And I have no one. Spirit, will you take me back now?

The Ghost waves the hem of his robe. Scrooge is back in his bed. He falls asleep once more.

End of Scene Two

Monday, December 10, 2007

Scrooge's Christmas Past

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act Two
Scene One:

Scrooge is asleep when the clock strikes one. He opens his eyes and sees a childlike ghost smiling at him.

Scrooge: W-who are you?

Ghost: I am the Ghost of Christmas past. Your past, Winchester Scrooge. Rise and walk with me.

She heads toward the window.

Scrooge: I am a mortal! I will fall!

Ghost: Just touch my hand.

Scrooge: I can't run around in this nightshirt. I'll freeze.

Ghost: With your girth, I doubt you'll ever freeze. Now touch my hand!

Instantly, Scrooge and the Ghost are standing in an old building.

Ghost: Do you know this place?

Scrooge: Yes! It's the schoolhouse I went to as a boy. That's my stool. I was a good student, you know, but--

Ghost: But what?

Scrooge: I was rather lonely. I had to stay in school over the Christmas holidays when my friends got to go home and have fun. Spirit, this place brings back sad memories. Can we leave?

The Ghost waves her holly crown and Scrooge finds himself back in bed again. He falls asleep immediately, exhausted.

End of Scene One

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Ellsworth Marley

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act One
Scene Four

Inside Winchester Scrooge's house. He is sitting by the fire in his nightclothes, eating supper. Suddenly he hears a clanking sound coming up the stairs. In walks a ghost bound with chains and dragging a money box.

Scrooge: Who are you?

Ellsworth Marley: In life I was your partner, Ellsworth Marley.

Scrooge: Marley has been dead seven years. You, sir, are a figment of my imagination. A bit of undigested beef, a fragment of underdone potato--

Marley screams.

Scrooge: (frightened) W-why are you here?

Marley: I have come to warn you. See this chain I wear? I forged it link by link, making money and ignoring my fellow man. I am doomed to wander forever. But you have a chance!

Scrooge: To do what? By the way, did you die of a toothache?

Marley screams again.

Scrooge: All right! Don't get your chain in a twist. What do you want from me?

Marley: You will be haunted by three spirits tonight--

Scrooge: No! No more ghosts!

Marley: Expect the first when the bell tolls one.

Scrooge: Why can't they all come at once so I can get it over with?

Marley moans and flies out the window. Scrooge stares outside. The night sky is filled with moaning phantoms shackled in chains.

End of Scene Four and Act One.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Tiny Ellsworth

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act One
Scene Three:

A street in London. Five children stand on a corner. They have been looking in shop windows at displays of food and toys and games. One child walks with the aid of a crutch.

Oldest Girl: Did you see that beautiful Christmas tree in Featherstone's? All loaded with candles and candy canes!

Next Oldest Girl: I wish we could have a tree like that in our house.

Middle Boy: We've never had a Christmas tree in our whole lives.

Tiny Ellsworth: Maybe we will this year.

Third Girl: Really? Do you really think so, Tiny Ellsworth?

Next Oldest Girl: How? Papa doesn't make hardly any money. Thanks to that stingy old Mr. Scrooge.

Tiny Ellsworth: Mr. Scrooge is just--close with his money, that's all. I bet he gives Papa a raise and a great big turkey, just like the one in Wallingham's window!

Oldest Girl: In your dreams!

Middle Boy: I wonder what turkey tastes like. I found a chicken bone in the garbage once. Do you think it's better than that?

Third Girl: Mama said we're having gruel, even though it's Christmas. I'm so sick of gruel!

Tiny Ellsworth: Gruel is good for us. Anyway, the important thing is that we'll all be together.

Oldest Girl: Tiny Ellsworth, sometimes I think you fell off your stool by the firelace one time too many.

End of Scene Three

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Ellsworth Cratchit

"Winchester's Christmas Carol"
Act One
Scene Two:

Inside the counting-house of Scrooge and Marley. Scrooge's only clerk shivers at her desk as she adds columns of figures. She looks anxious, as if she needs to ask her boss something important.

Scrooge: Two hundred forty-one plus nine pence, two hundred forty-two plus ten pence . . .

Ellsworth Cratchit: Er, Mr. Scrooge, sir. My teeth are chattering so bad, I can barely write.

Scrooge: . . . two hundred forty-three plus a tuppence. You can't possibly be cold, Cratchit. I'm not. It's a toasty forty-one degrees in here. Any warmer and you'd be sweating.

Cratchit: Well, sir, if you please, sir. I'm afraid my numb fingers will slip and I'll spill the ink. That would be a big waste, wouldn't it, sir? Might I have another piece of coal?

Scrooge: For pity's sake. I gave you a lump of coal just last week!

Cratchit: Sir, my fingers are stuck to the quill.

Scrooge: Oh, all right! Here! But don't come crying to me in February because this is all you're getting until spring.

Cratchit: (nervously twisting her cravat) Sir . . . there's one more thing. Tomorrow is Christmas Day. I'd be very grateful if--

Scrooge: You want all day off! With wages!

Cratchit: Begging your humble pardon, sir, but it is a tradition.

Scrooge: A poor excuse for picking a man's pocket every twenty-fifth of December!

Cratchit: (putting on his scarf) Thank you, sir. My children thank you, sir. My wife thanks you. My mother-in-law--

Scrooge: (waving him out the door) Just be here the day after extra early. Now where was I? Two hundred and forty-three plus a tuppence. Or was it a thruppence? Darn that Ellsworth Cratchit for making me lose count!

End of Scene Two

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Bah! Humbug!

Winchester's Christmas Carol
Act One
Scene One:

London, 1843. A snowy street on Christmas Eve. Carolers serenade under a lamppost. An old man bustles past them on his way to his counting-house. He is stopped by two well-dressed people.

Well-dressed Person Number One: Mr. Scrooge? Winchester Scrooge, I presume?

Scrooge: Presume somewhere else. I'm in a hurry.

Well-dressed Person Number Two: We only need a moment of your time. On this festive evening, we wonder if you would like to make a provision for the destitute and poor.

Scrooge: By provision, you mean money?

Person Number One: Well--yes.

Scrooge: Everybody always has their hand out! Are there no prisons? No workhouses?

Person Number Two: Of course, but many can't go there. And some won't.

Scrooge: Tough. Stuff the prisons and workhouses to the rafters with those useless people and leave me alone! I for one have to work for a living!

Winchester Scrooge scurries down the street, muttering to himself, "Bah, humbug!"

End of Scene One

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Winchester's Christmas Carol

"Overture, curtains, lights! This is it, you'll hit the heights. And oh what height's we'll hit--"

Wait a minute! What's going on?

We're putting on a play! "Winchester's Christmas Carol." It's our present to The Writer.

I'm the star!

You're the star. You play Winchester Scrooge.

Oo. I like the sound of that. When do we start?

Right now! Let's go over to costume and make-up--

Hold it right there! I'm not wearing any make-up!

"On with the show, this is it!"

Monday, December 3, 2007

Christmas is Coming!

In the spirit of the season, The Writer is watching her favorite holiday videos (yes, she still watches videos!). Her absolute favorite is "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol." She saw the show when it first aired in December, 1962, when she was ten. She loved it, even though she watched the color program on a black and white TV set, and she especially liked the songs. When the show was over, she went outside to see the lunar eclipse. She always remembers those two things together.

A TV show and a lunar eclipse? The Writer is weird!

The Writer always liked the story, but was glad she saw this version of it first. "Grown-up" versions of Dickens' story are scary with all those ghosts and visits to the graveyard and so forth.

Let's wind it up, Ellsworth.

Tune in tomorrow for a surprise Winchester and I are doing for The Writer!

Uh-oh. Why do I sense costumes are in my future?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Goodbye, November

A lot of writers post poetry on Fridays. It even have a name: Poetry Friday. I'm not going to join that group, but I do want to post a poem today. The Writer has always loved this poem since she first came across it in The Egg and I, by Betty MacDonald. This poem is a good way to send off November!

No sun--no moon--no morn--no noon,
No dawn--no dusk--no proper time of day,

No warmth--no cheerfulness--no healthful ease,

No road, no street, no t'other side of the way,

No comfortable feel in any member--

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds, November!

Thomas Hood

I don't get it. What does it mean? Poems are always so hard to understand. Can you explain it to me, Ellsworth? Tell me what it means. Okay?

I'm going to add a line--my apologies to Thomas Hood. No Winchester.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Cynsation-al Interview

The Writer is on a roll this week.

She's on a roll every week. I peeked when she got on the scale Monday morning. Whew!

She did an interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith, fellow author, instructor in the Vermont College M.F.A. in Writing for Children program (The Writer graduated from that program in 2004), and world-class blogger for children's literature. You can read the interview and learn more about The Writer than you ever wanted to know!

Does she mention me? Am I in it?

As a matter of fact, you are.

Is it good stuff?

You'll have to check it out for yourself, Winchester.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cybils Nomination!

The Writer doesn't just write the Time Spies books. She also writes picture books and novels and nonfiction books. Today she was delighted to learn that her fall novel Seeing Sky-Blue Pink has been nominated for a Cybils award, in the middle grade fiction category.

The Cybils are cyber awards, judged by professionals in the industry. Most of them have blogs. A few decided to create an online award, another way of recognizing children's books.

Seeing Sky-Blue Pink is based on The Writer's childhood. In the book there is a cat that can predict the weather!

The Writer put me in another book? I'm glad she's finally recognizing my talents--

She did not put you in Seeing Sky-Blue Pink. You aren't the only cat in the world, you know.

Only the best.

Monday, November 26, 2007

One More Horse Story

The Writer wrote Horses in the Wind because she loves the Seabiscuit story, but also as a tribute to racehorses. A few years ago, The Writer attended a special celebration for Secretariat.

Secretariat was born in Caroline County, Virginia, not too far from where The Writer lives. The horse was nicknamed "Big Red" because he was a big, chestnut Thoroughbred. In 1973, Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby, setting a record, and then the Preakness. The final leg in the Triple Crown is the Belmont Stakes. What happened at Belmont that year has never been seen before or since in the history of horse racing. The Belmont course is long--a mile and a half--and is held only two weeks after the Preakness. Not much time for a horse to recover from two major races.

When The Writer attended this celebration, she met Penny Chenery, Secretariat's owner, and Secretariat's jockey. But she really didn't know much about the horse, so she watched the video taken of that historic race. She sat on the floor in the dark auditorium and could not believe her eyes. There were only 5 horses in the field that day. Secretariat overtook them all, even his rival, Sham. He had won the race before it was half over. But the horse didn't stop running. He ran and ran and ran. His jockey didn't pull up or ask anything of his horse. He let Secretariat go. The horse was running because he could. When it was over, Secretariat had won by an astonishing 31 lengths (a length is the length of a horse, the unit of measurement in horse racing). And had set a world record of 2:24.

Secretariat is listed number 35 in ESPN's Top 100 Athletes of the Twentieth Century, one of three horses. (Man O'War, considered to be the greatest racehorse ever, is 84 and Citation is 97). Secretariat was a big, beautiful, powerful animal. Go, Big Red!

You know, I can run pretty fast myself.

Only when somebody turns on the can opener.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving, Everybody!

I am posing with a few of The Writer's vintage turkey salt and pepper shakers. Winchester has a little stuffed turkey, which will describe us all at the end of the day. We wish you a happy day with family and friends!

Eat lots! I know I am.

Winchester, it's not time to pull the wishbone yet.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Winchester's Favorite Holiday

Okay, I'm writing the entry for today. Guess what my favorite holiday is?

Does it have anything to do with tomorrow?

Yes! It's the most wonderful day--food being cooked and crumbs dropping on the floor and food being served in the dining room and morsels falling from the table. And the best part of all--that yummy really good kind of chicken! Ummm! Kiss, kiss!

You mean turkey? I can't tell one Butterball from the other.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Old houses often have interesting lives, just like people.

A house can't have a life. It's not alive.

I think houses are alive, in a way, as long as people live in them. Anyway, the home of James and Dolley Madison, Montpelier, had several lives after the Madisons were gone. But in 1901, the house was purchased by William duPont, of the famous duPont family. He made a lot of changes, like I said yesterday. His two children, Marion and Willie, roamed the 3000 acre estate, helping with sheep shearing and milking. And riding horses. Marion loved horses. See, Winchester, there is a horse connection to The Writer's new book, Horses in the Wind.

Then how come there is a picture of you sitting by an old fireplace?

I'm getting to that. Marion grew loving horses more than anything. She was a strong-minded girl who rode astride at a horse show in Madison Square Garden. In 1915, girls were supposed to ride sidesaddle. When she grew up, she stayed at Montpelier, which became one of the most important horse-training centers in the country. She married a movie star, Randolph Scott. And she started the famous Montpelier races, which has steeplechase and flat track racing every November. The Writer went once. It was very exciting!

When Marion died in 1983, she left Montpelier to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She wanted the house returned to the way it looked when the Madisons lived there. Her father had saved doors, windows, fireplace mantles, storing them in barns and attics. He even saved a section of the original roof so it could be redone exactly the way it was originally.

I'm sitting by one of the Madison fireplaces that had been covered up for 150 years. Those are really old ashes next to me--maybe as old as 1844.

Awww. Poor little Ella-Cinders.

You're just jealous because you never go anywhere cool. The Writer and I will go back to Montpelier in 2008, when all the renovations will be finished.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ellsworth Goes to Montpelier

Last week I went on a research field trip with The Writer.

Where? To Tara in Gone With the Wind? Tell The Writer somebody already wrote that book.

No, silly. We went to Montpelier, the home of James and Dolley Madison. James Madison was the fourth president and is known as the Father of the Constitution because he was the main architect of that document. His wife Dolley is known as the first First Lady. They lived in Orange County, Virginia, on a 5000 acre estate. At first the house was really small. Then they added on to it. And then added on to it again until the house had 22 rooms. I'm standing on the front porch by one of the columns. The yellow door with its fanlight and sidelights is called the "Presidential Door."

What's this got to do with the price of tea in China?

The Writer is starting a new Time Spies book in a few weeks. I can't say what it's about, but we went to Montpelier because The Writer needed to find out something for the story. If you don't mind, I'll continue with my own story. Anyway, after Dolley Madison sold Montpelier in 1844 (James Madison had already died), the next several owners began making changes. They covered the brick with pink stucco. They changed the staircase. Stuff like that.

In 1901, William duPont bought Montpelier. He made a lot of changes--added rooms and wings until there were 55 rooms when he was done. The house looked very little like the house the Madisons built. Montpelier stayed in the duPont family until the last owner died in the 1980s.
I'll tell you about her tomorrow. She did something really cool!

I still think this entry should be called "Ellsworth Goes to Tara."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Horses, Again

Please finish this story today! I'm so bored!

Winchester, you don't have the patience of a newborn gnat. I'm finishing it anyway, and not because you asked me to. Well . . . The Writer kept taking lessons right up to her 50th birthday. She checked out trail rides, but then . . . she decided she wanted to do something else for her big birthday. It would still be horsey, but also involve children's books. She and her husband went to Chincoteague Island, one of The Writer's favorite places on earth.

The Chincoteague Pony Center is part museum, part gift shop, part riding center. Riders put on a show with tame ponies, some the descendents of Misty of Chincoteague, who was a real horse and not just a character in Marguerite Henry's books. On her 50th birthday, The Writer climbed on a black and white pony (one of the bigger ones) and rode around the ring! She looked ridiculous, but she was very happy! Normally when she posted, her rhythm was up-down, up-down. On a Chincoteague pony, her posting rhythm was updownupdownupdown. She joggled all around the ring and loved every second.

And the point of all this is . . .?

I was just trying to tell you why The Writer wrote Horses in the Wind. She loves horses and she knows how to ride them. Sort of.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Writer Rides Again

The Writer suddenly loved all things horses. She bought horse jewelry. She bought a pair of pants with horseshoes printed all over them. She read Seabiscuit. She went to the famous Montpelier steeplechase race. And she took lessons at another barn down the road, Quad J Farm.

This time the horse was tacked up already, but there were no ponies. She got a chestnut Thoroughbred with three white stockings and a white blaze down his nose. The horse's show name is Forgot My Sock, but his barn name is Ty. Ty had one purpose in life--eat. He wanted to live in his stall and eat or graze in the pastures. He did not like being a school horse. When the trainer brought him out, The Writer said, "Do you have anything smaller and narrower?" What she should have said was, "Do you have anything that moves?"

Riding Ty was hard work. The Writer had to kick him to get him to budge. She didn't like kicking the horse. She was afraid it would hurt him or hurt his feelings. That was The Writer's trouble. She wanted to be buddies with the horses. She also thought riding a horse would sort of be like driving a car. She found out fast that horses have minds of their own. After six months of private lessons, The Writer still could not post to trot! She felt like a failure. Ty was probably laughing. Who couldn't learn to post?

Okay, okay, she finally does learn to post. The end! Tell a cat story next!

Don't be rude, Winchester. The Writer did learn to post. She stayed with her lessons, though she never was able to gallop. Next I'll tell you what she wound up doing on her 50th birthday. Remember, she wanted to go on a trail ride.

I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Writer Takes Up Riding

Okay, it's been a few days, but I want to write some more about Horses in the Wind, the newest Time Spies book. Why did The Writer do a book about Seabiscuit? She grew up with horses around her, but was never horse-crazy like a lot of girls. When she was 49, she thought about what she wanted to do on her 50th birthday. Every day when she drove to Jazzercise, she passed two stables. The Thoroughbreds would often be out a pasture, their coats gleaming in the sun. The Writer decided she would learn to ride! And on her 50th birthday, she would take a trail ride!

This has disaster written all over it.

The Writer went to Hazelwild Farm, one of the stables nearby, and signed up for beginner's lessons. The trainer assured her that adults often took beginner lessons. On the first day, The Writer pulled into the parking lot. She was the only one who drove to Hazelwild. All the rest were tiny 8-year-old girls. At this barn, the students have to tack up their horses. The herd was rounded up before the lesson, which meant dealing with high-spirited ponies. The Writer was usually given Jake, the biggest pony.

Every week, she went into the stall to do battle with Jake. She would beg a different, tiny little girl to untangle her bridle and put it on Jake, or pick Jake's hooves (his legs were like cement pilings), or put Jake's bit in his mouth (he nipped), or tighten Jake's girth. The tiniest little girls would throw their tiny shoulders into Jake's middle to make him blow out the breath he was holding, while the great hulking Writer stood around.

When it was time to ride, the little girls settled into the saddles light as leaves and raced around the ring. The Writer bounced all over the place because she couldn't learn to post (this is Virginia and you learn English style). Jake liked to brush her off on the fence. Once he nearly broke her little finger. At the end of the 8 weeks, the little girls could ride like centaurs and The Writer couldn't post to trot, or even walk very well. She decided to move on to another barn.

You mean there's more to this ridiculous, boring story?

Monday, November 12, 2007

One More Week!

Next Monday is the Big Day! The first week of auctions for Robert's Snow begins! This is the final week of illustrators being featured on various blogs. To view the schedule, check out Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

You'll also find a complete list of all the illustrators who have created snowflakes for the auction and links to the blogs that featured each of them. The interviews are great! The Writer has read them all so far and now she wants to be a children's book illustrator, too!

She has enough work taking care of me.

True. Even picking you up, Winchester, is a big job. The snowflake featured here is by Wendell Minor. It's adapted from his recent book, Nibble, Nibble, with poems written by Margaret Wise Brown, who is one of The Writer's favorite people. She loves Wendell's work, too! Check out the snowflakes and get ready to start bidding next Monday!

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Newest Time Spies Book!

It won't be officially released until November 13, but I want to tell you about the newest Time Spies book now! It's called Horses in the Wind. The story is all about the historic match race between two of the greatest Thoroughbred racehorses ever--Seabiscuit and War Admiral. The time was 1938 and America had been in the Great Depression for years. They needed a hero and they got one. A horse!

The race was only between Seabiscuit, the horse from California, and War Admiral, the son of the greatest racehorse ever, Man O'War. It was held at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland. People all over America were stirred up over this race! Which one was the fastest horse? The only way to find out was to race them together. Find out what happens in the book!

I'll write more about horse racing in later entries. But look at this cover! I'm smack dab in the middle! Way cool!

Those horses may have been fast, but the fastest animal on the planet is a cat. The cheetah. So there.

You're just jealous, Winchester, because you're never on the cover of the Time Spies books!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Winchester's Closet

Winchester has a love/hate relationship with the closet under the stairs. That's where his dry food is kept, but also the vacuum cleaner, mops, and broom.

Hey! Those things can be dangerous! Especially that hairy mop thing.

The Writer keeps his dry food in a plastic bucket with a lid so Winchester can't get in it (he's been known to chew through bags). The bucket says "Deli-Cat" but the food inside is really diet cat kibble. The Writer didn't have enough stickers to spell out "Winchester" on the lid, so she put "Mr. Big."

Yeah. That' s me.

Half the time The Writer drops some kibble when she scoops it out. Winchester likes to duck in the closet and scratch around for those old, linty kibbles.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. Are you going somewhere with this?

Yes. The Writer is also watching her weight. She gave away all the Halloween candy she bought for herself the day after Halloween (half price). But this morning I saw her open the candy drawer (now empty). She spotted a tiny box of Milk Duds stuck way in the back. She looked just like you as she clawed it out, cackling with glee.

That just goes to show that people and cats aren't that different after all. Do you think you can open this bucket for me?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ellsworth's Scrapbook

I finally finished my scrapbook! I went scrapbooking--or cropping, as we say--with The Writer and finished the last two pages. Here is the cover. Isn't it pretty? I used paper that has tiny little elephants on it. And the three buttons each have three little stick-on jewels in the center. That was my idea!

My scrapbook is 2 inches by 2 inches and has 10 pages with pictures of me when I was a young elephant. The Writer used to draw pictures of me when she was a little girl. She still has some of those drawings. She color-copied the drawings and reduced them 25 percent. The photograph of the inside pages of the scrapbook isn't very good--The Writer was too close or something. Look! I'm wearing the same headscarf! That photo was taken in 1962. I love my scrapbook!

I want a scrapbook all about my life. On the first page I can paste yesterday's newspaper article.

Will you give that newspaper story a rest? Sheesh!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Newspaper Story

Winchester! The Free Lance-Star is here!

LOOK! I'm mentioned first!

Let me see. Oh, for heaven's sake, you are.

"Winchester the Cat had been given a bath." Well, that part can't be helped, but the Reporter Lady was so impressed with me, she used me to lead the story. And you are--where are you in this story, Ellsworth?

I'm in the next paragraph. It says I was nestled in my small wicker basket. Which I was. The poor Writer! She's isn't mentioned until the third paragraph, if you don't count the subtitle under the title: "Local Writer Cherishes Writing: Candice Ransom is a prolific children's writer, very dedicated to her chosen craft." I hope she's not mad.

Why should she be mad? The title should read "Local Writer Cherishes Wonderful and Terribly Smart Black Cat." If she was more dedicated to me, maybe she would have been mentioned in the first paragraph.

The only reason you got top billing was because you carried on so much!

What can I say? The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Next time don't be such a goody-goody, sitting in your little wicker basket. Move over, I want to read about me again.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Getting Closer!

The auctions for Robert's Snow are getting closer! Every day five new illustrators' snowflakes are posted on different blogs. Everyone has worked so hard to help raise funds for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The first auction is November 19, two weeks from today. Oh, there are some gorgeous snowflakes to choose from. Go to Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and check the schedule. Then go look at the snowflakes and make a list. Don't forget--more snowflakes will be posted each day. And not all the snowflakes are featured on the hosting blogs. You can see all of the snowflakes at Dana-Farber.

Ooo. I like that snowflake!

Yes, isn't it lovely? It was painted by Ellen Beier and illustrates the Hans Christian Anderson story, "The Little Match Girl." That's one of my favorite fairy tales. Ellen illustrated one of The Writer's picture books, The Promise Quilt. Click on the snowflakes! Pick out your favorites! Bid!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Bed Whiskers

Hee-hee! Look at Winchester! Two of his whiskers are bent. Did you get up on the wrong side of the bed?

I don't think it's very nice to call attention to it. Do I ever say anything about your worn spots?

I'm sorry. The Writer will lend you her flat-iron if you want to straighten those whiskers.

Very funny.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Winchester, it's finally Halloween! And we're all ready to go trick or treating. I have my trick or treat bag and you have your trick or treat pumpkin.

And this is my perfect costume? All those moments of suffering and torture trying on outfits comes down to this?

Yes. You see, costumes often represent a person's real, true personality.

So you are really and truly a witch?

No, I just like the purple cape with bats on it. And the hat is neat. But everyone knows you really are a devil. Look at those spooky jack o'lanterns! Let's hit the next bunch of houses.

Hey, you have more treats than I do. No fair. Share!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Perfect Pumpkin!

Winchester! Look! I found it--the perfect pumpkin!

That's a pumpkin? Are you sure it's not an acorn painted orange?

It's a real pumpkin, all right. The shape is just right. Not too tall or too round and it's not lopsided. I'm going to carve it right now. Do you want to help me?

And get my whiskers covered with yucky pumpkin goop? Eww.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Presenting . . . Winchester McNibble

Those ears! That little pink nose! That--is that a tutu around your neck?

When I get out of this get-up, you're going to get it.

Sometimes a picture truly is worth a thousand words!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Back to the Pumpkin Patch

Winchester, today I went back to the pumpkin patch. What do you think of these pumpkins? You can't say these are too small or "mediumish."

Whoa! Be careful or one of those bad boys will roll over on you. You'd be an Ellsworth tiddlywink.

Hmmm. Maybe they are a little too big. What are we going to do? Halloween is in a few days. I haven't found the perfect pumpkin and you haven't found the perfect costume. Well, we still have four more days--I see you sneaking out!

Maybe the Great Pumpkin will rise up out of the pumpkin patch and carry that annoying elephant off somewhere!

Friday, October 26, 2007


I won't be doing my Saturday library book tomorrow either. Last weekend, The Writer was away and the weekend before that I was at the haunted bed and breakfast. And tomorrow, The Writer will be at a conference.

Neglecting us again!

You hardly look neglected. Let's just say you are not a "mediumish" cat, to use your own word. Anyway, I thought I'd share a picture The Writer took on our way home from the pumpkin patch. She saw those four black buzzards perched on the roof of that old house and had to stop. Unfortunately, The Writer didn't know where the zoom button was on her camera (she's a little slow on the uptake sometimes), so it's not the best picture. The vultures didn't like her staring at them, so they kept moving along the rooftop. Finally they got disgusted and flapped away. But aren't they truly Halloween-ish?

The one on the chimney looks like my cousin Pyewacket.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Winchester in Distress

Winchester, I think this costume is you!

Really? I agree--NOT. What am I supposed to be? A scrubbing pad with a princess complex?

You're a damsel in distress, like in a lot of fairy tales. You have to kiss the Frog Prince to break the spell. Then he will rescue you.

You've got to be kidding. How about if I get rescued from any more of these ridiculous costumes!

Halloween is almost a week away. We still haven't found the perfect costume for you--one that reflects the real Winchester.

I wish it was November already. I'm going to rip the page off the calendar!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Ellsworth Goes Back to the Pumpkin Patch

I still haven't found the perfect pumpkin for Halloween. So today I went back to the pumpkin patch. Winchester, what do you think of these pumpkins? Will any of them make a good jack o'lantern?

Hmm. They're all kinda mediumish.


Yeah. You want to make a statement with your jack o'lantern. A really big pumpkin makes a statement. And so does a little pumpkin. But not a mediumish pumpkin.

Sorry I asked for opinion! Mediumish. Sheesh!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Winchester and the Reporter Lady

Winchester! The Writer is mad at you for misbehaving when the Reporter Lady from the Free Lance-Star was here. She was interviewing The Writer, who was trying to be writerly. But you acted up! First you jumped in the window and scared her. Then you lay on the rug and clawed it and the you ripped up the newspaper. The newspaper she works for!

It was lunch time! I was trying to get The Writer's attention. Who has an interview during a scheduled meal time?

Lots of people! If the world ran according to your stomach-clock, nothing would ever get done. The Reporter Lady was so eager to get away from your carrying on, she ran right out of her shoes and she left her reporter notebook!

The newspaper is nothing but bad news anyway. Don't you think she thought I was kind of cute?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Snow Time Again

Guess what day it is, Winchester?

Pick On Cat Day? So far today I've been run over by a vaccum cleaner, chased by your ex-friend Xenia, and cornered by The Writer who gave me a bath!

You need a bath. A reporter is coming over tomorrow to interview The Writer and we all have to look our best. But no, it's Monday and that means Robert's Snow Day. The weekly schedule of illustrator snowflakes and features are posted on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Last Monday, more than 160 blogs mentioned Robert's Snow before noon! This week should be even better! The illustration is from Grace Lin's book Robert's Snow, the original story she told her husband while he was having treatments back in 2004. Check out the gorgeous snowflakes that are a tribute to Robert Mercer and think snow!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Where is Winchester?

Winchester? Where are you? The Writer has been gone for several days, visiting schools in Massachusetts. She told me to keep an eye on you. Ever since she decorated the wall with silhouettes of mice and mouse holes, you have been ripping off the mouse's tails and chewing off their paws, especially that mouse that sits on the outlet. Winchester? Winchester?


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ellsworth Goes to a Haunted B&B

This past weekend The Writer took me to The Bell House, a bed and breakfast in the little town of Colonial Beach. We love bed and breakfast places, or "bread and breakfasts" as Sophie Chapman says. The Chapman kids in the Time Spies books live in Gray Horse Inn, a bed and breakfast started by their parents. In the first book, Secret in the Tower, Sophie sees a ghost horse! It's the ghost of the horse of Captain Jack Jouett. You'll have to read the book to find out more.

The Bell House was built in 1883 by the son of Union General Burnside, who met defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg in 1862. The house is right on the Potomac River. The next owner was Melville Bell whose son was Alexander Graham Bell. The Bells used to fly kites from the balconies as science experiements. We stayed in the Melville Bell Room. The Writer worked and I looked for ghosts. The house is haunted by two spirits. People have seen the face of Melville Bell, with his white hair and beard, at windows. The other ghostly visitor is Bertha. Bertha lived in the house for 50 years. She knew Melville and Alexander Bell. People have found Bertha's old-fashioned hairpins on the floor.

I didn't see Bertha or Melville Bell, but I did have a good time sliding down the long bannisters. One time when The Writer was staying at Bell House, her cell phone turned on. The Writer always turns her phone off. She figured it was Bertha, wanting attention. She said, "Bertha, I have a lot of work to do so knock it off." Bertha didn't bother her any more.

The Writer is like that with me too! Always telling me to knock it off. While you two were living it up at the bed and breakfast, I was starving at home!

The Writer left you enough food for three days. We were only gone a day and a half. Is it my fault you gobbled up your food before we were out of the driveway?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Let It Snow!

Winchester! Wake up! It's snowing!

Wha--? How long was I sleeping? When I took my nap it was 75 degrees and a sunny October day.

It's not snowing outside, silly. But it's snowing all over the place in children's book blogland. Today is the first day that people can read about the snowflakes and the illustrators who created them.

What's all this about again? I forgot.

The only thing you remember is meal time. Robert's Snow is an event to help raise funds for medical research at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. Nearly 200 children's book illustrators have hand-painted wooden snowflakes. The snowflakes will be auctioned off in three groups:
November 19-12, November 26-30, and December 3-7. You can look at all the snowflakes and read the story of Robert's Snow at the Dana Farber site.

And now you can read interviews about the illustrators. Five will be featured each day on different host blogs. Check the coordinating blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast for a daily schedule.

Wow. All this snow talk makes me want to go make snow angels.

Be an angel and view the snowflakes. Bid on one!