In the Beginning . . .
I was born in Wenatchee, a beautiful town ringed by craggy, often snow-covered mountains in Washington State. Wenatchee is fondly known as the “Apple Capital of the World” because of the extensive apple orchards.
My parents married in 1957, when they were both in their early twenties. One child and two and a half years later, my father, Donald, taught math and science at Wenatchee High School, his alma mater, while my mother, Norma, was a busy stay-at-home mom. It was the day before the darkest day of the year when she went into labor with me. Ever practical, she hurried to finish her Christmas shopping before heading off to St. Anthony’s hospital.
I See the World
When I was two, we moved to France where my father continued teaching science and math at a U.S. military school.
During the time we spent in France, I learned to speak some French. I remember going to the opera where one of the stars of the show bent over and pinched my cheek. I said, “Bonjour, Mademoiselle!” I remember she laughed in a delighted way, as if I was terribly, terribly cute, which I’m sure I was. (This memory was so imprinted that I later used it in one of my books.)
I was almost four years old when we moved to Cockfield, England, a farming hamlet in northeast England. Our home was four hundred years old, with narrow doorways, low beamed ceilings, no central heating, and stone floors (cold stone floors!).
My bedroom at Windsor Green was delightfully cozy — with a brass bed and mountains of quilts and a tiny window overlooking the fields. (In the old days, my bedroom used to be the “cheese room,” where they made cheese and set the cheese loaves on the shelves to age.) One night, my sister, Andrea, was born in my bedroom (while I slept soundly in my parents’ bed). It was sure a surprise to wake up in the morning!
My time in England was truly happy. Together with my brother, we played Indians, rescued stray kittens, and played hide-n-seek amongst the chicken coops, barns, and sheds.
I first attended grammar school in Cockfield. I remember the hand bell signaling the end of recess, the morning’s recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, hot custard for lunch, and the bratty girl Rosemary who stuck out her tongue at me and got a spanking for it.
Back to Reality
I was five when we moved back to the United States. We eventually settled in Edmonds, Washington, a town north of Seattle on the Puget Sound coast, where I attended first through fifth grade at Seaview Heights Elementary.
It was the mid- to late-sixties, an era of civil unrest and assassinations, and the beginnings of the war in Vietnam. I remember watching some of the images on TV and being very disturbed by what I saw. I didn’t understand how people could hate each other so much. In the evenings we’d sit around the dinner table and discuss what it all meant — freedom, civil rights, and the worth of persons. My thoughts and understandings of the world were shaped through these family discussions and by our nation’s struggle to re-identify itself. Although painful, it helped birth within me a hungering for peace and justice that endures to this day.
When I was entering the sixth grade, we moved back to England. We spent many of our weekends in London, where I learned to navigate the Underground and once again fell in love with all things Brit. Even so, I was very lonely and homesick for all my friends back in Edmonds. Click on the letter I wrote to my best friend.
After one year, we uprooted once again and were off to Heidelberg, Germany, where I attended Heidelberg American High School, with 1800 other students. This time, however, rather than it being a return to an idyllic past, it was a rude awakening. In a few short months I went from an elementary school classroom setting, complete with recess and handing out Valentines, to a combined Junior High/ High School where I had six classes a day, where I weaved my way through crowded halls alongside 17- and 18-year-olds, mega-popular cheerleaders, while witnessing a bewildering array of drugs, cigarettes, and plenty of stuff twelve-year-olds shouldn’t be privy to. It terrified me.
I’d like to tell you that I blossomed into this outgoing, popular, gorgeous, brilliant teen on the fast track to everything wonderful. But the truth was I closed in on myself. I struggled with self-image, felt awkward, tongue-tied, and frequently brainless. Maybe it was the glasses.
At the same time, I devoured great literature — reading such books as Jane Eyre, Gone with the Wind, and To Kill a Mockingbird, by the time I was twelve. I excelled in science and writing, cherishing a secret wish that I wanted to be a writer, a goal I thought was totally pie-in-the-sky and not even worth saying aloud. Although there were certainly some good times, and I did enjoy living in Heidelberg, my high school years were a pitiful, painful struggle and I was relieved when they ended.
The Not-So-Boring Adult Years
After graduating from high school, I was wholly sick of school. Nevertheless, trying to please everyone, I half-heartedly attended a year of college before unwisely deciding to get married. (My parents were not happy with my marriage — but what do parents know? When one is nineteen, one is All Wise and Knowing.) Five years and many tears later, the marriage dissolved. I eventually returned to college, this time with a vengeance, earning my way by working graveyard at a nursing home. It was an exhausting few years, but I finally graduated in 1988 with a degree in microbiology and immunology. I worked in a laboratory for a few years, in addition to teaching microbiology at a local community college.
By this time, I’d met and married a wonderful man, Carl. He’s been my best buddy throughout the hills and valleys of my life. Now, twenty-some-odd years later, he’s still my best buddy.
Carl and I have three sons from my first marriage. Today, of course, our boys are all grown up and handsome as all get out. We also have two gorgeous granddaughters, plus smart and amazing daughters-in-law whom we love, and who are very patient when the rest of us start “remembering when.”
Where I Live Now
I admit I like to move around a lot. After about five years in any one place I start to get itchy feet and want to move on. Currently I live on Fox Island, Washington. As the crow flies, our home is nearby the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and overlooks the beautiful Puget Sound.
Fox Island is close to Tacoma and Gig Harbor, yet quiet and still heavily wooded. There’s a convenience store/gas station, a friendly neighborhood post office, and a boat launch in disrepair. There’s a museum, a fire station, a community center (that used to be a one-room schoolhouse) and plenty of people out walking or jogging with a dog or two leading the way.
It’s just Carl and me now, rattling around with our aging calico cat, Sheba. We each have our home office (Sheba would like her own office, but must share mine). If you want to learn more about Fox Island, click here.
Adventures in Travels
When I was two years old and we moved to France, we flew on an airplane with propellers (no jet). It was a twenty-two hour flight. Back in those days everyone dressed up for the occasion. My mother dressed me in a frilly dress, with lacy ankle socks and black Mary Jane shoes. Somewhere in the middle of the flight, I wet my pants and filled my shoes. Twenty-some-odd years later it was payback time when I took my almost two-year-old son, Aaron, on a flight from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Frankfurt Germany. Besides the fact that Aaron didn’t sleep at all and cried and fussed until I thought they’d toss us out the door without a parachute, I had accidentally packed all of his diapers in my check-in luggage! Needless to say, that was one nasty, stinky flight.
Thankfully, I’ve become a little more of a seasoned traveler. I’ve traveled to about thirty countries, and there are still many countries on my wish list.
Some of my more interesting adventures include:
17 years old: Taking the London Underground by myself to visit my grandmother, with only her street address to direct me. Upon arriving (late at night), I discovered it was the wrong street, and a spooky street at that. I did not have enough money to return back to Kensington. A London cabbie kindly drove me clear across London to the correct address, and refused all payment from my grandmother. (What kids will do!)
Being stranded at the airport in Bangkok, Thailand, without the proper visa to return home via China. (Panic time!)
Being pick-pocketed on a train in Milan, Italy. I felt a tug on my fanny pack (fastened in front of me), looked down, and a young scrubby woman had my passport, credit cards, cash, airline tickets, etc., in her hand, and was in the process of stashing them under her coat. I grabbed it away from her and started shrieking (dare I say cursing??) at the top of my lungs. We created quite a hubbub.
Swimming with sharks and stingrays in the Caribbean.
Eating chicken toes and hog throat in China (once is enough, thank you).
Standing in the Roman Coliseum while a choir from Norway sang Ave Maria.
Cooking in an African kitchen – over a charcoal fire, by the light of a kerosene lantern, with everything on the floor (including me – sitting on an overturned bucket).
Scrubbing the flagstones of a castle courtyard all by myself, while everyone else was on tour. (Why, you wonder? – Because my youngest son had just splattered vomit all over the place; they simply handed me the scrub brush and the bucket of water.) It was a Cinderella-esque experience.
My Work With the Orphans and Widows in Africa
My hungering for peace and justice took me to Tanzania in 2007. There, with Carl and our dear friend, Liza, we volunteered at the Marilynn Orphans Projects, a grassroots organization whose goal is to educate some of the 2.5 million orphans in Tanzania, and to provide opportunities to widows so they can become self-supporting.
Upon our return home we were inspired to form our own nonprofit charity called Orphans Africa. We partner with the Marilynn Orphans Projects in helping them to achieve their goal of educating orphans and empowering widows. In just the short time we’ve been established, we’ve made amazing strides. I invite you to visit our website at www.orphansafrica.org. Asante sana! (Thank you, in Swahili.)
The Reader / Writer Side of Me
I have always had a fascination with words and the power of language. When I read a beautifully-crafted sentence, I savor the words like one might savor a piece of chocolate. Combine the craft of language with fabulous story-telling, in which the characters are beloved (or hated!), where I can hardly put the book down long enough to feed the cat, and-sigh!-I’m in heaven.
I feel most aligned with the universe when I am actively writing; the art of language is embedded in my soul. When I’m writing, the hours fly by and, come the end of the day, I’m pleasantly weary. My writing has been an incredible journey. Go to FAQ to read more about my journey, plus my thoughts and advice on writing.
P.S. My sister, Andrea, is also a writer (and illustrator, which I am not). In my humble opinion, she is smart, gorgeous, and very talented! You can visit her website at www.torreybalsara.com.
Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives
1. The Case of the Gasping Garbage (2001)
2. Case of the Mossy Lake Monster (2002)
3. The Case of the Graveyard Ghost (2002)
4. The Case of the Barfy Birthday (2003)
5. The Case of the Crooked Carnival (2010)
6. The Case of the Terrible T. Rex (2010)
Chronicles of Courage
1. Voyage of Ice (2004)
2. Voyage of Plunder (2005)
3. Voyage of Midnight (2006)
Bottles of Eight and Pieces of Rum (1998)
Sisters Unto Death (1999)
To the Edge of the World (2003)