Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Spiderman and the Princess: Bubble Fun for the Last Days of Summer

Yes. It's true.

Summer is nearing the end. Though our thermometer does not think so. Nor the heat index.

But still, I know it's coming.

So bring on the bubbles.

Spiderman and the Princess (sans princess outfit) had a ball whipping up lots of bubbles. Cool, light, frothy, cleaning...

(HAH! I tricked them into getting somewhat cleaner. But don't tell.)

Just add a few squirts of good dish soap to water in a plastic tub. Teach how to use hand cranked egg beaters, and away they go.

It's not only good for getting clean and getting cool, it's good for fine motor skills, coordination, and crossing the mid-point.

Everybody wins.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Garden Ideas on My Dream List

A bee on lavender in my front yard

I used to look at people who gardened and think, Wow, that is so not a fun activity.

Monet's Giverny, France - Pond and bridge anyone?

"My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece."

- Claude Monet

This gardening-used-to-be-boring thinker has totally completed a 180 degree turn around. My brain neurons starting firing away and turned my thoughts in a different direction after we purchased our first home. Since then, I am indeed a gardening nut.

Selah Ridge Lavender Farm, Washington - Periwinkle chair and perfect photo backdrop!

I am now committed to gardening. I love gardens. Adore them. Visit them. Dream and plan and copy them. Compare them. Take pictures of them.

High Leigh, Hoddesdon, UK - Fountain with aging statue, surrounded by close clipped lawn and neat pathways

As I am now older and wiser, I've realized that it is OK to not have the Taj Mahal of gardens. That's quite a bit of work. Instead I can appreciate perfectly coiffed ginormous gardens and rely on the work of others to create and maintain beauty.

Without breaking a sweat.

Naches Heights Winery, Washington - Waterfall and friends!

I carry images and a healthy dose of peace and contentment in my heart from the gardens I have visited. As such, I take a small piece of each garden sanctuary back to my own plot of dirt, where ideas and dreams seed and sprout, and eventually adapt to life with me.

Paris, France - Bouffant blowsy flowers, lush beds, green aisles, archways, gorgeous building

Gardening journal - Add these to my dream garden please: statue in a pond (spouting water), bridge, wide lawns, low brick fences, flower beds, patterned plans, waterfall, resting spots, plenty of lavender, bees (plus a hive or two), mystery and enticing features . . .

"It was such a pleasure to sink one's hands into the warm earth, to feel at one's fingertips the possibilities of the new season."
- Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden

Friday, August 22, 2014

Recycle a Kitty. Or Two.

I've long had goals of recycling everything I can get my hands on. After all, we live in a world with LIMITED resources. We should do all we can to preserve those resources.

Remember? Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Three key words to remind us how to decrease the amount in landfills and the need for raw materials.

Eons ago, recycling was new. And then I went to Western Washington University. On the West side of the state. Ecology and the environment were (and are) hot topics at Western.

And now, thankfully, ecology and the environment are big everywhere. True, I may go overboard at times, if one asks my family, but so what?

If we all went overboard to reduce our waste, reuse all we could, and recycle everything possible, just think how much we could save! Natural resources, money, landfills, garbage, the environment...

And I LOVE the new refurbishing movement. Let's take the old ugly, and transform it into something tres chic and use it for another 40 or 50 years. Amen, Sistah!

I am so glad to live in a city that has recycling as a part of its waste management plant. Not glass, but let's not open that bottle of worms - for now.

Being good stewards, after all, is a part of God's Big Plan. He gave us this place. We need to take care of it.

Enough preaching.

On the personal level, I've had additional help with recycling. And destruction, but that's another subject.

Meet my new converts. Mabel and Monet, on the job, condensing my recycling box so more can be added.

Way to go, girls!

Let's not fight about it! Let's see if you can get your kitties to recycle.

The gauntlet has been tossed.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Writing Tips for Maximizing Your Creative Potential

What can you do to help your writing career?

Tips abound wherever one looks. But these are the ones that help me. Plus, they are fun and take the sting out of long bouts of concentration and writing spent hunched over a keyboard.

1. Have equipment that is in good working order.
As seen in this photo, (figuratively) duct-taping miscellaneous electronic devices may not be good for work efficiency. Splurge on current and working (!) pieces of equipment. Mine is on it's last leg. Seriously. There are portions from three different systems at work in this photo. All necessary to keep it afloat until pressing deadlines are met.

And them, BAM. Time for a new computer. That should clear off the desk!

2. Ask for lots of help.
Additional pairs of eyes can catch errors you don't see. Listening ears will hear those spots that cause readers to stumble. Listen to your critics. Let them help you mend your ways.

3. Make sure you have a comfy chair.
After all, your backside will be spending oodles of hours flattened on the seat while your brain wheels twirl and create fascinating stories. Be willing to share a tiny portion of the seat with your fans.

4. Adopt desktop editors.
Give them ample work space and easy access to your work. Every extra set of eyes, ears, and paws that peruses your documents provides invaluable insights.

5. Evaluate your work station.
Do you need a bulletin board? A document stand? Speakers? A foot rest (essential for short writers)? External memory drive? Wireless mouse or keyboard? What makes you super productive as you write? Adjust your work area accordingly.

Regardless of where you do your best work, take a few minutes to proof it for comfort, efficiency, and availability of essential work tools.

And then, no more excuses. Get writing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pepper, Anyone?

Pepper. The spice of life.

Apparently the lid was not screwed on beneath the plastic seal. After I peeled off the plastic, I dumped the pepper grinder (FYI - Trader Joe's) upside down to add some fresh ground to our dinner salads.

Except the entire lid came off and instead I added hundreds of whole peppercorns.

The sound was magical. Kitties came running, as they thought it was dinner time. Kevin arrived just behind them.

What could you do? Laugh.

And start sweeping up the floor mess (before the kitties had a spicy bite) and hand picking peppercorns from the salads.

I love pepper.

But not that much. If that had happened yesterday, a day I do not wish to ever relive, I would have cried. And possibly thrown the whole dinner in the trash.

But God is awesome. He had me open that new pepper bottle today, when my skies were much sunnier. He's good that way, isn't He?

Pepper, anyone?

P.S. Check those caps!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Bees Have It

Bees are fascinating.

B's, as in the insect, not the letter.

After the movie that came out a few years back about bees and ecology and the importance of their diligent work, I have attempted to plant and grow more bee-friendly plants. I want to supply bees with a pesticide free garden, water, and plenty of yummy flowers.

So far, so good.

After our neighbor moved, taking his hive with him, I noticed a dramatic decrease in the number of bees visiting my flowers (which include fruit and vegetable blooms). I was concerned to count a total of three bees the next day following the moved hive.

But slowly the numbers and varieties have increased. Have you noticed how many different types of bees there are? Black, yellow, striped, tiny, fat, long and skinny, short and wide, huge, fuzzy, and plain. It's fascinating to watch them work.

Right now, what's hot in the bee kingdom?

Squash. Flowers. Tomatoes.





And sunflowers. Lots of sunflowers.

Short of having my own hive, I think I am doing a pretty good job of hiring bees as my tiny little personal gardeners.

Hip, hip, hooray, bees!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Birds of a Feather

(Adapted from Chara! 365 Days of Joy, a work in progress)

Cedar waxwings enjoy backyard fountain

Bird watching never used to be on my radar.

Sure, I could chase chickens with the rest of the kids or tell you that there were three crows staring at us from the power lines. But that was about the extent of my interest. Oh, and the partridge in the pear tree. I've always liked that bird.

But now. I am a bird of a totally different feather. It all began as I spent hours in the passenger seat looking out the windows while my husband drove us to various locations, near and far. I started noticing birds. Different colors, shapes, sizes, and activity levels of birds flocked to my attention. I transformed into a bird watcher with cat-like aptitude to (mentally) crouch and take notice of anything that flitted or landed.

American goldfinch devouring my sunflower seeds (out of many, only ONE photo offered a bird that was slightly recognizable)

And out came the bird identification guide.

It lives in the passenger seat door pocket, all 340 falling-apart pages held together by the hard plastic of the door. Many an hour has been spent scrutinizing bird silhouettes, flight style, body shapes, sizes, colors, and habits, all while riding side seat to my personal chauffeur. Birds are fascinating creatures, both timid and easily put to flight and aggressive to the point of defending nest and offspring against all foes, regardless of size.

The kitties think they should help me ID birds! They haven't yet figured out that they can hunt the birds.

Adult birds sheltering nestlings beneath their wings is a dear picture. That same image, written by the Psalmist in chapter 91, verse 4, was clearly intended to illustrate our feelings of security and well-being when taken under the wings of God. Considering that God the Father is the protective and sheltering parent, under whose wings we may take refuge, it is indeed a comforting image. I find peace and joy knowing that He is there.

I am a part of His flock and under His wings I shall take refuge.

Psalm 91

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Writing Tip: Outlining is a Big Deal

“If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[ pasdlgkhasdfasdf.”
- Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

I've come to realize that while randomly writing is great fun, it sometimes leads to disaster, or at the least, much more work later on when it comes time to edit.

Outlining is the trick.

Careful, detailed outlining, with lots of arrows, highlights, and references, sets the path clearly before the writer. I've found outlining to be a huge boon when I am zipping along, adding this and that. It helps me to not forget those clever ideas I had once upon a time when I was brainstorming.

Part of my writing pursuits involve creating curriculum for the teachers of young children. As a result of this passion, I work from the mindset of brainstorming. And the only way to organize my wild and fanciful ideas is to plot them in the middle of an outlining chart.

Yes, there are many formats for outlining. I regularly change which form I am using for different purposes. Grids, numbers, alphabet letters, index cards, wall charts, spread sheets, sticky notes . . . An outline can take any shape the writer requires for specific projects.

Outlining = Planning

Some tips for using an outline:

~ Find what works for you. Adjust to fit. Many times I've taped four pieces of typing paper together to create the size of outline chart I need for a particular unit.

~ Make it fun. Use fancy paper or colored sticky notes.

~ Highlighters work wonders for coordinating important features. For instance, for curriculum, I must include a certain number of resource kit items. Highlight away, Angie!

~ Work in pencil. Right now, I love the neon-colored mechanical pencils I found at Costco. Plenty of lead, plenty of erasers.

~ Jot source page numbers right into the outline. I also place a sticky note on specific pages in the resource book and keep those books I am using in one pile until I am ready to make copies.

~ Organize your outline according to the master plan. My units involve a month of Wednesdays. Each Wednesday has to have specific activity areas. Those are all labeled for ease of use.

~ Don't feel confined by your format. Mix it up or cut and paste. Literally. My type of one-page outlines often have notes all along the margins. The occasional mix of sticky notes are haphazardly attached where needed.

~ Sketch! I always scribble in images of my ideas. The back of the outline papers usually contain stick people drawings for activities, games, and projects.

~ An outline lets you notice holes in your plan. I just found several missing bits by glancing at my outline.

~ Make your outline work for you. It is a tool to make our work easier.

The old saying, "Failing to plan = Planning to Fail" is certainly true for some, if not most, forms of writing. Even if plans are not on paper, isn't it true that there are plans and ideas bouncing around in your head?

Alrighty then. Get planning.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Turn the Radio On

Our radio wave reception at school was somewhat unique.

Out in the middle of the Yakama Indian Reservation, coverage - by air waves, cell towers, internet, satellite, television, radio - anything that travels invisibly through the air - was intermittent and many times non-existent.

But sometimes, when the stars, clouds, wind, sun, moon, weeds, tall trees, and traveling motorists were all in alignment, we could enjoy music and making calls on our cell phones.

It didn't happen often, but when it did, it was a "Hallelujah!" day.

I have fond music memories from walking down the hallway. When the invisible wires, waves, and receptions were all in place, I could often hear five radio stations going at once. Some would be on the same fuzzy station, but there were always at least two different channels, fraught with varying degrees of static.

If I timed it right, I could walk out of my room, singing with whatever song was playing on my station. Humming along to the music in my head, I would walk into the continuation of the same song, playing on a different device. Or I would jump into the middle of a new song and adjust my mental channel to play that song. This continued for each room I passed or walked into.

If, occasionally, I could not get reception in my room, there was usually at least one other person who could receive signals, and therefore, music.

Long-distance enjoyment and singing were side effects of this phenomenon. Harmony, debatable in its quality at times due to the interference of walls and time lag, was often produced. But all the more beautiful and interesting, right?

It was like visiting a music practice studio where little cubicles were filled with a musician or soloist, each performing a different song or musical piece. Only in the hallway could you enjoy the variety and choose one or the other to join in with and hum along.

I totally loved the fluctuating musical performances. We became quite adept at filling in the blanks caused by our placement in the reception grid.

Good reception is overrated. Any reception is awesome.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Zucchini Tugboats

Crispy brown cheese atop juicy tender zucchini tugboats. Just add sour cream and salsa.

It's zucchini time! The time when, just this morning there were no fully grown green garden jewels, and this afternoon, well, surprise -

a lurker the size of a small tugboat.

Stuffed zucchini, one of my favorite summer treats, lends itself well to stuffing. Each year I stuff, bake, and devour zucchini boats. And every year I include different ingredients in the stuffing. Tonight I even had stuffing leftovers, which shall be transformed into stuffed peppers tomorrow night.

Or we could just use up the other discovered tug zucchini and have a repeat. Hmmm. Choices, choices.

Zucchini Boats

Preheat oven to 425.

1 large, overgrown zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise and scooped out (leave end caps on to contain stuffing)


1 tube spicy sausage
olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 grated and blotted red potato (use paper towel to absorb liquids)
broccoli, cut into small pieces, about 1 cup
cauliflower, cut into small pieces, about 1 cup
fresh green beans, broken into one-inch pieces (precooking will make sure they are not chewy like mine!)
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 cup roasted corn
water (about 3/4 cup, just enough to make stuffing a little saucy)
2 T. cumin
2 T. chili
2 T. oregano
1 T. Mrs. Dash
fresh ground black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes

grated cheese (your choice)

Toppings: sour cream and salsa

1. Cook sausage, onion, garlic, and potato in about 2 T. of olive oil. Stir often. Potato tends to stick.

2. Add all remaining ingredients except cheese and toppings. Stir often. Cook until blended and bubbling.

3. Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper and arrange zucchini boats in the middle. Fill with stuffing mixture. I smash it down and let it overflow. Top with grated cheese.

4. Bake about 40 minutes, or until fork easily pierces skin of zucchini. Keep watch over toppings to avoid burning.

5. Cut in half to serve. Top with sour cream and salsa.


Tip: Use leftovers to stuff peppers or a second zucchini tugboat. Sometimes I add brown rice to the stuffing mix.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Pool

I love freebies.

This summer, we have been plagued by heat.

Long, sweaty stretches of heat. Miserable heat.

Usually, the grands and I break out the little plastic wading pool. The three of us barely fit anymore, which is just as well. Since it bit the dust. We had one good use early on, then crack. A goner.

Enter said friend from the post yesterday about getting a free book. While on a rubber stamping trip to her home, she remembered that she had a pool.

An inflatable, bigger, deeper, plastic pool. For free.

Granted there were no guarantees on seaworthiness. But it was worth a try.

After picking off snails and earwigs (it was in storage, after all, in a damp climate), I popped it in the trunk. Upon arriving home, we spread it out to dry and wait for the grands to appear.

Oh, joy! A POOL.

Totally excited, they didn't care if we needed to add dish soap to help scrub the bottom while playing. Actually, I almost lost the whole bottle of concentrated Dawn when the younger decided to help speed things along.

The pool, large enough for even Papa to join us, works perfectly! Well, the sprayer umbrella thing is broken, but since sister is afraid of it, no biggy.

Summer, I can actually bear your heat.

I can even do some gardening. As long as I am in my Nana swimsuit and can take cool-off breaks, it's all good.

Thanks, friend.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Writers Promo Idea - Found While Camping!

We writer's have to stick together.

Good ideas need to be shared and are our machetes to combat the jungle we face when promoting our books.

A friend and her daughter were recently camping in the Wallowa area of Oregon. Due to circumstances, they could only reserve two separate campsites for their stay. Which required moving mid-stay. Luckily, the move was to the site immediately next to their first place.

It went down like this. My friend interacted with the couple residing at the future camp site by offering to share firewood. She let them know of the site transfer which was to occur on the following day. Later, my friend noticed the couple sitting in chairs, savoring the quiet outdoors time to read books.

Wouldn't that be great if they left a book for me to read? she thought.

Next morning, just as she crawled out of her tent, she saw the neighbors leave, heading towards their next destination. After a trip to the loo, she noticed something on the table.

It was a book! They had left a book, just as she had hoped.

But not just any book.

The book was his book. He was the author and distributor (while camping) of the book. His inscription was clever and made reference to their chance encounter.

Now why didn't I think of that?

Always have my books on hand.
Read them while out in public.
Add clever messages and sign them.
Give them away as the opportunities arise.

Whack, whack! Take that, you Jungle-of-Book-Promotion.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Kicked Out

It's true. I have been kicked out of a restaurant.

Not all by my lonesome. Thank You, Jesus. But with a group of friends and fellow conspirators. I mean choral members.

Picture the night. It was balmy and perfect (as opposed to dark and stormy). Dinner was being served at a local seafood establishment. Spirits were high as per the requirement that young people always exhibit high spirits and joyful glee with whatever life tosses in its path. Chattering and, dare I say, noise filled our booth. And several of the booths surrounding our table.

Time to pray and give thanks for the meal.

Except we decided to sing our blessing. In the form of an inspirational song based on Numbers 6:24-26, "The Lord Bless You and Keep You."

A beautiful and fitting song, we had it memorized and often sang it acappella to conclude concerts or as a benediction following times of worship or church services.

Each choral section was represented that night - soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Our blend was never more harmonious, the words never uttered with such perfect diction, our breathing and focus intent and in concert with each other. "The Lord Bless You and Keep You" was offered as both a blessing and a gift to fellow diners.

Until a manager approached and asked that we cease our song and retire from the building.

Bah-humbug! Someone had complained about our singing (and most likely, the content of our singing). No, others did not appreciate our attempts at singing for our supper, or at least singing before our supper. It was a rainstorm of complaint attempting to rain on our praise parade.

I'm sure there were some who enjoyed our song that night. We did not let criticism ruin our joy. Instead, we met in the parking lot, continued our song and regaled the heavens with blended voices and sincere hearts.

We can't please all the people all the time.

Sometimes, someone will not like something we say, do, sing, make, or think. But that's alright. Be true to our own hearts.

And be willing to be kicked out for the right reason.