I was nervous as I drove up to the Crowne Plaza last Friday. Once upon a time I used to go to conferences. I even used to speak at them. But that was a long time ago.

These days my life is pretty much lived at home. Which maybe sounds sad, except that for me it’s not. I’m a homebody at heart, happy to putter around in the kitchen and garden with Sweetpea and my husband and good friends who stop by. But even homebodies like me sometimes develop a yen for the open road, especially if it leads to a gathering of writers.

So when I signed up for the conference, I was excited — very eager to see old friends and to meet new ones, and to learn and grow as I was doing it.

But as I drove up to Nashua, all I could think was that I hadn’t seen some of those old friends for *years*. Would they even recognize me again? And the online friendships — would they pan out in real life?

So warmest thanks to all of you who set my mind at ease…

…starting with Toni Buzzeo, who greeted me with the world’s biggest hug, and the super-nice Jennifer Ward, with her terrific artist’s eye. I then stumbled across jeannineatkins as she was checking in, and I can report that she is even more wonderful in person than she is here on lj (if that’s possible). I was so sorry that I couldn’t be there on Sunday for her poetry workshop, but I did at least get to see the marvelous load of books she had brought for it. And over the next 24 hours, I got to talk again and again with Jeannine, which made up for much of my disappointment about the workshop!

When Jeannine and I went over to the registration table, I ran into lots of old and dear friends (and lots and lots more hugs): tender-hearted jbknowles, who encourages everyone around her; the kind and funny cynthialord, who inspires us all; and cfaughnan, who warmed my heart by remembering exactly when and where we’d last met up, and who gave me lots of reassurance and perspective on the whole question of writing and raising young children.

I also got to meet kellyrfineman, who is even more of a fireball face-to-face than she is on lj; anom3, who is sweet as pie; and the very friendly kmessner, whose blog features pictures of Lake Champlain that make my Adirondack heart quite homesick!

I then had dinner with some terrific people I’d never met before, many of them new to the conference, but whose enthusiasm for writing was a delight. And when dinner was over, I was thrilled to have a moment to chat with talented (and plucky) poet dianemdavis, another old friend who I hadn’t seen in far too long.

Saturday was long but fabulous, with terrific lectures and lots of meeting-and-greeting during the breaks. The highlights included Cindy Lord’s deeply moving keynote speech about the risks and rewards of writing about what you know. I was also completely wowed by Floyd Cooper’s lunchtime presentation — not just by the magic he worked before our eyes (using just an eraser!), but by his very great heart.

I also learned a lot in Jacqueline Davies’s thought-provoking presentation about unreliable narrators and — as she called it — “the gap between what is real and what we can bear to believe” (a heart-breaking phrase that has stayed with me). I also went to a great workshop on dialogue given by lurban, who was positively brimming with useful suggestions and questions and tips throughout the entire hour.

Wonderful as the whole day was, I have to admit that I missed Sweetpea more than I can say. And I was exhausted, too, having packed more into one day than I usually pack into a week. Even by lunchtime I’m not sure I was making much sense anymore, though the fabulous Nancy Werlin and saraharonson and my other terrific table-mates were too nice to say so. By late afternoon I was all but incoherent, so I’m deeply grateful to Peg Davol and Ellen Wittlinger for seeing that I got fed, and at one of the best restaurants I’ve been to in ages!

And now I’m home again, very tired and so very glad to be with David and Sweetpea again — but very glad, too, that I went. The children’s writing community is something very special. Warmest thanks to you all, and to Anna Boll and Anindita Basu Sempere and everyone else who made this year’s conference so good!