Highlights Foundation

Boyds Mill, PA — Have you ever wanted something really badly, but somehow it’s always eluded your grasp no matter how close you come?

Well, I’ve always wanted to be in a MONSTER storm and live to tell the story!

But when Hurricane Sandy swallowed my little town of Hoboken last October, I could only watch in horror — on my computer screen, from the other side of the world. I was in China then, doing research for my next book.

Then Nemo (that’s omen, backwards) hit us last night.

The New York City area got a TON of snow. High winds. Power outages. Trains stopped. Buses stopped. People were told to stay home.

But I’d already left town on Thursday, ahead of the storm,  and here in the Pocono Mountains, where I’m co-teaching a writing seminar at the Highlights Foundation, we got five inches, maybe.

This is what it looked like at the Highlights Foundation retreat center this morning on my way to breakfast:IMG_4849IMG_4850IMG_4851IMG_4852   Beautiful, isn’t it?

I’m so lucky. I’m here to teach (and be taught!), and am learning so much about the craft of writing and feeling so inspired by all the passion and creativity around me. It’s a real honor to work with my friend Rich Wallace,IMG_4874an award-winning children’s author and master teacher, and nine talented authors, many of whom are working on their first books. Author Bruce Colville taught two sessions yesterday and today all the authors gave feedback to one another on their works in progress:IMG_4860Sue Williams Beckhorn, author of Wind Rider, still smiling after her critique:IMG_4875This is how to give feedback:

1. Read their first 10 pages.

2. Tell them what you liked.

3. Tell them what you didn’t like.

4. Run!

It’s really scary to be so honest.

But it’s super-duper crazy scary, to receive such honesty.

It takes a LOT of courage to write.

But it takes even more courage to let strangers read it.

TGTNRMUW. Thank God they’re not reading my unfinished work!!!

Anyway, all of this makes you super-duper HUNGRY. IMG_4876But that’s okay because the best thing about the Highlights Foundation is the FOOD!!! The food here is legendary. Every meal is healthy gourmet. Fresh ingredients. Local organic produce. Local everything. Yummy snacks between meals. Dining room open all night. It’s one continuous meal. Just like a cruise ship!

Here is the chef, Ben, on the left, with his sous chef, Derrick on the right:IMG_4870Thanks so much for all the super-duper yummy meals — especially the roasted tofu, the spinach, chitlin greens?, broiled salmon, veggie loaf, roasted veggies, creamy polenta, creamy salmon chowder, corn chowder, split pea and veggie soup, egg souffle … I can go on and on…. You dudes ROCK!!!

Jenelle and Martha, the other chefs, ROCK too! It was their day off today, so I didn’t get a photo of them, but they’re no less appreciated. Thank you, Jenelle and Martha!!!

And here’s the biggest ROCK of all:IMG_4880His name is Kent Brown. He wears many hats. He’s the cruise ship captain, publisher of Boyd’s Mill Press, publisher of Highlights for Children, husband, father, grandfather, barn builder, cabin builder, farmer, forester, star gazer, hole digger, truck driver, keeper of editors, nurturer of authors, guardian of all his guests, dispenser of every kindness.

If you want to become a children’s author, but can’t afford to come to a workshop, Kent is also the giver of scholarships. That means you can come and eat all the yummy food you want, sleep in your own warm cabin with your own writing desk, walk in the woods, stare at the stars, and hear what strangers have to say about your work, for free! You don’t even have to wash dishes or dig holes or do any labor camp type stuff, at least not while anyone is awake! Can you believe that??? If you think about how generous and kind this is for just a minute, it changes you in some way.

It changes all those around him.

I know this to be true because my car battery was completely DEAD this afternoon when it was time to go home.

And Ben and Derrick, who had been making meals all week, set off immediately to find jumper cables, just like that:IMG_4890

Soon, help arrived:IMG_4894

Garry, Kent’s next-door neighbor, tore up the driveway, with his beagle ahead of him.

But where was the battery?IMG_4895No one could tell!

Derrick searched on the Internet, while Garry and Ben searched under the hood. Even Laurie, the housekeeper and kitchen helper, who had made the first phone calls looking for cables, came out to supervise.IMG_4896

After Derrick found a map to my car’s innards on the Internet, Garry went to work.IMG_4902But it was more complicated than it looks.

There were more things to figure out. IMG_4904Actually, it was quite puzzling.IMG_4907

Normally, you can jump-start a car, just like that. But this was not a normal car. It’s the Toyota Prius that my friends hear no end of when I start bragging about how it gets 50 MPG, and how quick and nimble it is, how it has TWO batteries, and how I only have to go to the gas station once a month, etc.

Well, when you brag like that, sooner or later, you got it comin’. IMG_4910

But these amazing guys stayed patiently with my dead battery until they figured it out and recharged it and had my car running again.

But that was not all.

Ben and Derrick hopped in Ben’s car (filled with pots and pans), and followed me down the hilly roads and all the way down Route 652 to make sure I was okay.

Such kindness can never be repaid.

Thank you, Garry, Derrick, Ben and Laurie!!!

Thank you, Kent.

Thank you, Rich.

Thank you, every open, inspiring soul I met this weekend.

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