I remember my best friend when I was little. Her name was Mary Ellen, but I called her Obea. Don’t ask me why. It’s one of those crazy toddler language things.
Before I moved away from Poughkeepsie, NY, Mary Ellen (on the right) and I were inseparable. I was the brave, adventurous one, Mary Ellen, the meek one. Even though she lives in Florida with her family and I live in California, we’re still great friends.
I remember moving into this house in Vermont in February 1966. The road was dirt, but the house was brand new. My mom had to drive me to the bus stop on my first day of first grade in my new school. We were living in a motel until we could move into the house. See the trees all around the sides and back of the house? My dad and I planted every one of them! My parents still live in this house.
I remember moving from upstate New York to Vermont when I was in first grade. My friends and I constantly dreamed up contests. Who was the best at Red Rover? Who could save the most eraser crumbs? Who was the tallest? Who was the fastest? For a long time, I was the tallest girl and the fastest runner. Now, I am neither of those things.
In middle school, I was considered a nerd. Translated: I loved books and I was smart. I liked French, chorus, and playing the guitar. I had my first boyfriend in 8th grade. We “went out”. We never actually went anywhere because we had no money and neither of us could drive, but we “went out” just the same. Middle school was the first time we had to change for gym class. I remember one-piece, knit gym suits—light blue shorts with blue and white horizontal stripes on the top. Good grief!
I found sports during high school—field hockey, track (where I learned I was no longer the fastest girl), and tennis. I tried out for the basketball team, but was cut when the coach figured out I couldn’t do a lay-up. I still can’t do a lay-up.
I spent three weeks in France on an exchange program. I lived with a family and spoke French all the time. After supper one night, I wanted to say, “Thank you. I am full.” I translated it literally—“Merci. Je suis plein,” which means “I am pregnant.” It might surprise you to learn I was the recipient of the French Department award.
At Cornell University, I blossomed. I took Italian, French literature, children’s literature, plus all the required classes for my child development major. I student-taught a fourth grade class and a second grade class. I loved everything about college—even the weather. (During my freshman year, it rained every day in October!) I didn’t want college to end, and still read the summer course catalog for fun classes to take.
I also met my husband at Cornell. For our first date, he called to tell me I’d won first prize in a contest—dancing with Ken Newman. I asked him what second prize was. Luckily, he has a sense of humor. He’s funny, charming, and a great card player. Unlike my first boyfriend, Ken and I could drive and we had some money. On dates, we usually spent his poker winnings, and each time silently thanked his fraternity brothers for being such lousy card players.
Right after college I taught remedial math to high school students in rural Virginia. During my eighth grade homeroom, I wrote my name on the board (I’m 100% Italian with a difficult-to-pronounce maiden name) and talked about homeroom etiquette. One brave soul raised his hand and said in his thick southern drawl, “You have the prettiest brown eyes, but we can’t understand a word you’re sayin’.” Another child asked me if I was a Yankee. After two years of rock-bottom wages, I started work as a programmer for a computer software company. I traveled everywhere fixing computer problems and selling software—Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, South Dakota, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, even Alaska in January. Somewhere in the midst of all that traveling, Ken and I got married and moved to California. I reunited with Cornell as the Assistant Director of its western regional office, visiting with prospective students, asking alumni for money, and planning alumni activities. I stopped working when Elise was born, and started writing after Scott was born.
I’ve written about a number of different topics, and feel fortunate to have a terrific writing support group. First, my critique group partners read everything I write—even this bio. Next, my agent submits my manuscripts to publishers who will (hopefully) buy them.
Volunteering in Elise and Scott’s classrooms provided excellent raw material for fiction and nonfiction. I use their gossip, their teachers, their friends, their projects—nothing’s safe! I love molding ideas into stories and articles for kids. I wrote during Scott’s karate class and during Elise’s tennis lesson. I think about writing almost all the time. I usually solve story problems in my sleep or in the shower. My desk is always a mess. My file drawers are filled to bursting with ideas and manuscripts. Children’s books are piled everywhere. But I wouldn’t have it any other way!