Thursday, April 17, 2008

If winter comes...

...can spring be far behind? Oh yes, definitely. I remind myself that Western Washington is blessed with a mild climate, that we are so much better off weatherwise than many people, including my daughter in Fairbanks, Alaska. But still, here we are half-way through April, and they're predicting snow this weekend. Many local people have warned me not to plant before May 1, and I'm happy I took their advice.

Oh, there are plenty of signs of spring. The trees are blossoming and putting out new leaves, and the daffodils and hyacinths in my front yard seem to perk up again after each frost. And of course the neighborhood deer are out nibbling everything in sight.

Speaking of deer, we've decided that the only way to protect the garden and our baby fruit trees is with eight foot fences. We found they jump six feet easily, when there are tasty green beans or baby apples on the other side. Son Jon is adding poles and stringing wire to get our protection high enough. Maybe we'll get to eat a few apples and cherries this year.

The soil here is rocky, mostly glacial gravel, so not conducive to growing root vegetables. Oddly enough, the ubiquitous moles plow through it with impunity. The plan to solve both problems is to make raised beds--big wooden boxes with chicken wire on the bottoms. We're setting the boxes in the orchard, between the trees. I have a pretty good pile of compost going, and will fill in with purchased topsoil. It seems a lot of time and money to invest for a few vegetables, but I'm hoping that once the system is in place, it can be easily maintained.

I'm already dreaming of crisp cucumbers and vine-ripened tomatoes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Second Graders are terrific people.

What an ego trip!! I made my first classroom visit last Thursday, April 10. The kids treated me like visiting royalty, and didn't seem to want me to leave. In fact, I spent so much time in the first classroom that I had to re-schedule the second visit I had planned for that day. After visiting a second classroom Monday and a third today, I can conclude that the teachers in the Rochester (WA) Primary School are doing a great job. The children were polite and attentive, asked intelligent questions, and were in general a delight to talk to.

These children are already learning the basics of writing a story or other composition, as well as becoming critical readers. They're full of ideas and enthusiasm. I can only hope that their great beginning will continue through their school years.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Do it scared

As you know, if you've visited my web page at, I'm an author currently working on a children's chapter book series, The Hall of Doors. The books are about a little girl (Sammy) who follows her cat (BB, for Princess Buttermilk Biscuit) up a moonbeam to a magical world. Book one, The Mountains of the Moon, is in print, and book two, The Door in the Sky, will go to the publisher shortly.

I have a wonderful online critiquing group called Critters ( that provides me with lots of feedback on a work in progress, but from an adult viewpoint. Wanting to get a child's-eye-view as well, I enlisted the aid of a local school. So today, I get to play "visiting author" in a couple of second grade classrooms. That might not seem like a big deal to some people, but for a shy, reclusive introvert the whole process has been fraught with anxiety. I only managed to set it up by taking the advice of my character, Sammy. When you decide something needs to be done, don't sit around thinking about it, just do it, and do it scared if you have to.

Maybe it will help if I think of it as just a practice run. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

An oldie but goody?

When I set up my personal web page, with much help from daughter-in-law Patty, I intended to start blogging regularly. Needless to say, life got in the way. Besides, I didn't like the way the blog pushed my Amazon hot buttons out of sight on the page. No doubt that's an easy thing to fix, for those who know what they're doing (a category which definitely does not include me), but I decided to simply move that entry to this site instead. So here is my dissertation on sand tables, dish gardens, and other points of possible interest, originally posted Friday, September 7, 2007 at

Fun stuff for kids, or grownups who still are kids inside

The evolution of dish gardens--Art project, therapeutic play, spiritual aid, or maybe all three…

Nearly six decades ago, my mom brought home a sand table the church didn’t need any more. It rapidly became a magnet for all the kids in the neighborhood. We subdivided it into individual ‘building lots’ with the understanding that we each kept within our own boundaries, unless invited by a neighbor to share a project. We spent many happy hours building our own private worlds, adding accessories such as rocks, twigs, leaves and flowers. Some built raceways for tiny cars; others made mountain or beach scenes or planted fantasy gardens. It was day-dreaming made visual.

Some years past that time, an artistic aunt showed me a miniature ‘bonsai’ tree she had made. She embedded a piece of twisty manzanita in plaster in a little Japanese bowl, sprinkled the plaster with rock salt to simulate gravel, and glued tufts of plastic pine needles to the branch tips. I wanted to make one of my own, and even went so far as to accumulate the materials, but never followed through.

In many years of teaching Sunday School off and on, I had worked up several simple craft projects that would adjust to almost any age group. One, sometimes used for such occasions as Mother’s Day, usually consisted of a bouquet of artificial flowers planted in playdough in a small container, such as a detergent bottle cap. When my daughter joined Girl Scouts and I was asked to lead a craft project, I combined all of the above and we made dish gardens. I furnished containers (mostly margarine tubs), lots of home-made playdough, and an assortment of materials: twigs, rocks, shells, buttons, bottle caps, plastic flowers and greenery, fir and alder cones, aluminum foil, and other odds and ends. I explained the basic concept: choose what you want from the materials provided and make a miniature version of some special place, real or imagined. Then I stood back and left them to their own imaginations. The results were varied and delightful.

One little girl made the heart-breaking pronouncement, “I’m not creative.”

Had her home life or school already stifled her natural creativity at so early an age? I told her, “Of course you’re creative. Maybe you just haven’t been allowed to make a mess. It’s okay if we make a mess here, because we’ll clean it up afterwards. Now just imagine you’re really tiny, and this dish is part of your world. How would you like it to look? It can be anything you want.”

When she proudly showed me her beautiful little garden, complete with a small pebble path and flower beds, I felt like I’d struck a blow for humanity. Not creative indeed!! What sort of dead-from-the-neck-up stodgy adult would tell a child such nonsense?

A few years ago, my friend Anita asked me to substitute in her Sunday School class. I explained to her that I had mostly worked with mixed-age classes, and found the best teaching technique for me was to get their hands busy and then sneak in the lesson. She was okay with that, so we made dish gardens, but with a spiritual twist. We talked about prayer and meditation, and I asked the kids to think of a place where they felt safe and happy, somewhere they could feel closer to God. I told them that when they had problems, when they were having a bad day, they could make things better by closing their eyes, imagining that special place, and pretending they were there for the moment, like a mini-vacation. While they were there, they could talk to God about whatever was bothering them, and He would listen. They could also tell Him “Thank you” for all the good things in their lives.

Special places and memories varied from a fishing trip with Dad to a spot at the beach to their own back yard—or the yard they wished to have. Even the youngest seemed to understand the concept of making a visual representation to help them “be there.” Kids have a special knack for entering into imaginative play. Working along with them, I made an image of a spot at Double K Ranch where I had gone on a women’s retreat, and told them what a special time that had been for me. They all shared their stories as well


Just recently, Anita asked me to do dish gardens again, but with the women’s group she leads. They had just as much fun as the kids, and the ‘play’ atmosphere helped them to open up and share their stories. I showed them the little garden I had made with the kids, which had been to California and back with me, and had helped anchor me as I dealt with my mother’s Alzheimer’s and all the challenges of being so far from my children and grandchildren. One lady made a representation of her baptism in the Jordan River, which was obviously a deep emotional experience for her. She said later that explaining the image to her husband had also helped her communicate her feelings to him.

All that from a little playdough and odds and ends. Try it.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The time has come, the walrus said... talk of many things, such as why am I blogging and why did choose the dragon title? Tea With the Black Dragon is actually the title of a book by R.A. MacAvoy, featuring a Chinese dragon who takes on human form. I've always been intrigued by dragons, and like the thought of being able to chat with one. I intend this blog to be a collection of my thoughts and experiences, such as one might share over tea with a friend. On the other hand, I do have ulterior motives, such as hopefully promoting my writing.

I had intended to start a blog on the web page my daughter-in-law created for me, but everyone tells me this is the place to be seen, so here I am. Now if I can just get myself motivated enough to keep it up...