Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I Miss You!!!!

Hello everyone there on the Internet....I miss you!!!! I know you are waiting for more installments of the Elfin Chronicles but those will be a while in coming. I'm sorry. Have some eggnog and think of me... better yet, think of Christmas Elves!

Merry Christmas!!!


Saturday, November 3, 2007

Classical Momsense

This is a Mom's version of the William Tell Overture.... I didn't laugh out loud when I saw it... it was one of those things where my mouth was hanging open in a caricature of a silent laugh and tears were streaming down my face... it was so funny I couldn't even MAKE a sound... maybe that's because my caffeine hadn't kicked in yet... anyways, here it is:

(the hyperlink feature isn't working... you'll have to cut and paste it into your browser)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sunday Morning

Hi everyone... it's me.... sneaking onto the computer on a Sunday morning when I should be working on lesson plans or paying bills. I got up early to do those things, but here I am instead.

There is no rest on the Sabbath for a mom/wife/teacher. I used to try to keep Sunday a day of rest but... forget it. There have been so many things cropping up to keep me overwhelmed and not performing my best during the past few weeks that I can't afford to take today off: the dog being sick, me being sick, car trouble, the refrigerator breaking, and so on. Nothing life-threatening but certainly stressful. I've shed a few tears this week as well. Did you know that tears actually release stress hormones from your body? I learned that this week from my sister. Yes, Carolyn, you DID know something I didn't! I can't wait to share that with my class.

So I'm sitting here with my coffee, hoping an elf will appear on my windowsill but I know it won't happen today. Too bad. We could all use an elf visit once in a while.

One of the things I am learning is the incredible recuperative power of sleep. I can't believe how much better I feel in the morning than in the evening; God's mercies truly are new every morning. (Lam. 3:23). I spent most of my previous working life feeling depressed about one thing or another; it is like the difference between night and day working now. I am "hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair" the way I used to be. (2 Cor. 4:8).

And there definitely are some bright moments. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to see some protozoans through the microscope on Friday. We collected them from some stream mud in the woods behind the school. They were just swimming around, munching on algae before our very eyes - tiny little transparent one-celled organisms. The students got tired of looking at them before I did.

The teachers I work with are an incredible bunch. One of them shared some horrific struggles she is going through right now in her family. Another nearly lost her leg this summer in a riding accident. I'm sure that there are many other untold stories. When we meet for devotions in the morning, it seems like such a small group. About a dozen or so women who are responsible for the care and education of approximately 150 students in grades K4 to 8. And yet our task is so enormous and so crucial. I am constantly aware that we are on the front lines of a battle for the minds and hearts of these children.

More than one person has criticized me for teaching in a Christian school and for sending my son to a Christian school by saying that it is "sheltered" and not "the real world." I can't tell you how sad and even angry that makes me. This life that we lead as Christians is no less real than the life the secular world lives. In many senses, it is more real because we are consciously battling the spiritual forces against us as well as the temporal. (Secular people are also battling the spiritual but don't know it.) We are watchers on the walls over our families and children; we make many sacrifices in order to provide them this safe training ground in which to form their characters before they go out into the world.

And it isn't as isolated as many people think. We get some of the students who can't function in a public school setting; who have flunked out or been kicked out. We have to welcome them with open arms and teach the children how to welcome them as well. We are a spiritual and emotional hospital for some of these kids. Also, just because many of the families are Christian doesn't mean that they don't have their own problems. You can never judge a family by how clean and polished it looks on the outside. In some ways, Christians are better at covering up their problems than others who are more "in the world." Fortunately, this school and the home church seem to be places where it's okay to fail and struggle. The principal and staff make it their mission to support every family and child. I'm very glad for that.

They have supported me tremendously, especially on Friday when I needed to vent some of my stress. I can also go into the principal's office and tell him exactly what I'm worrying about or thinking and he will give me gentle, thoughtful guidance. He feels, as I do, that we have to prepare our Middle School students to go out to any high school and succeed both academically and spiritually. We are training them to be responsible for themselves in the wider world. Since there is a lack of Christian high schools in the area, this is going to be especially critical for my eighth graders. I think that perhaps my mission here is to use my experience in dealing with the secular academic world to help prepare these students for public high school and college.

I wrote here previously that I feel as if I am in the center of God's will for me. I still feel that it is a very good - if very challenging - place to be. When I am tempted to give up, I have to remind myself of the first morning of the school year, when I stood in my kitchen and felt the anointing of God fall upon me, telling me that He has given me this task and will help me accomplish it.

He also said that about my book and I haven't forgotten. He has promised me that He will help me complete BOTH of my callings and I am trusting Him to complete the work that He has begun through me. 41,067 words worth, to be precise.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

I've received an award!!!

I've just been given the "Nice Matters Award" by my friend Michelle Gregory.

"This award is for those bloggers who are nice people as well as good friends, provide inspiration to others and are a positive influence on the blogging world. Once you’ve been awarded please pass it on to seven others whom you feel are deserving.”

First of all, I am very honored and would like to thank Michelle for inspiring me to do my own blog and encouraging me so much with my writing. And all the people at who keep this site up and running free of charge. And of course my mom and dad, who have always supported me in my creative endeavors, and my husband who doesn't complain (too much) about the amount of time I spend online. And my dog Teddy who reminds me when it's time to get up and go for a walk. And all the little people who are usually overlooked... (the elves... hee hee.)

Oh, is my time up? I'm not finished yet! Hey, you can't drag people off the stage by their hair, I'm a celebrity now! Where's my stylist? Where's my dressing room?

I don't actually read 7 other blogs, but I would like to pass this along to my friend Jen at Journeys of Life.

She is one of the most gentle, uplifting people I've ever met. So, here's to you Jen... because Nice Matters.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A Tiny Interruption

Dear Readers,

I'm afraid that I won't be able to post any more installments for the next couple of weeks. I will post on the Greenleaf forum and send an email out to those whom I know are reading it as soon as the next episode is written.

Enjoy the last two weeks of summer, everyone!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Little Thrilling Danger

The sun was up; the birds were singing cheerfully. I still held a mini-Oreo as big as a dinner plate in my lap. Nothing had happened.

Cleome stared at me in consternation. I didn't think it was possible for her green eyes to get so big. Her eyebrows shot so high that I thought they were going to fly off her face; her rose petal lips formed an astonished "o". Taffy also was staring, but then she suddenly grinned at me, squeezed her eyes with pleasure and began flicking her tail quickly back and forth.

I knew exactly what she was thinking; our part in this adventure was by no means over. Cleome would have to take me with her to the brilliancy and Taffy would have to come along as protection against snakes, ferrets and the like. Despite the dismay I felt at having to face the world from such a small vantage point, I was thrilled. It was like having your car break down at a friend's house and being forced to stay the night. Or a huge snowstorm on Christmas that means staying up late with loved ones, sleeping on the sofa beside the twinkling tree and eating leftover cake for breakfast on Boxing Day. Or being caught in a thunderstorm.

The last one may surprise you, but I love thunderstorms. They are thrilling and a little dangerous and they change the whole world, at least for a few hours. Afterwards everything is clean-washed and new. That's how I felt - I felt new. I wasn't ready to go back to my old self just yet. Nor was I ready to pass up a chance for a little thrilling danger.

I needed to reassure Cleome of this, however. She was still making her "o."

"Are you sure the spell was supposed to wear off at sunrise?" I asked casually.

She shook her head "yes." She kept shaking it until I put a hand on her arm to stop her. She squeaked, "I don't know why it didn't! I am so sorry. So, so sorry!" And then she burst into tears.

Horrified, I embraced her thin shoulders and hugged her tightly. "Please don't cry!" I said. "I really don't mind! Truly I don't." I smiled reassuringly. "I didn't want to leave you today and possibly never see you again. I want to come with you! Taffy does too."

Taffy mewed her assent and licked Cleome's cheek where it rested on my shoulder. Cleome raised her head and forced a smile, wiping her face with her cornsilk hair. "But how will we get to the maple wood now? It will take ages for us to walk."

"You still have me," Taffy said stoutly. "I can certainly carry two little things like you on my back. Not the whole way, perhaps, but when you get tired."

"Of course," I said. "We can do this together. Don't worry, we'll get you there."

She nodded and hugged me gratefully. "Thank you, Christine! Thank you."

We made our plans quickly and set to work. I pressed the power button on my computer, climbed up to the keyboard and by stomping on the keys was able to send some email. The first one was to my editor, letting her know that a family emergency had arisen and that I wouldn't be able to send anything new for a little while, but that I would be in touch as soon as I could. I then sent another email to my sister in Cleveland telling her everything, asking her to cover for me and reminding her where my important papers were if I should fail to return. I was sure my story would alarm her but not too much; she knows me well and is a very practical and reliable sort of person. (More than likely she would be jealous. She's always complaining that her life is boring and all the interesting things happen to me. What can I say? It's true.) Then I typed out a note for Bridget, my maid, giving her the same story I gave my editor and telling her to contact my sister if she had any problems.

With that done, I powered down the computer and we set to work on more practical things. We packed up some provisions from the kitchen in makeshift backpacks constructed of little leather change purses I had purchased at a craft fair and some string. We each brought a fleece dollhouse blanket and a straw hat that would serve both as protection from the sun and as camoflouge in the open. The most difficult part was clothing. Cleome put her torn green outfit back on, but I could hardly wear my t-shirt and pajama bottoms to an elf battle. None of the clothes I had made the day before were suitable, but I found a pair of trousers I had sewn for a father doll that would do. I also robbed a Cottage Collectible bear of his sweater. My Heidi Ott doll gave up her socks and shoes. The shoes weren't much, being made of soft vinyl, but would do until we reached the brilliancy and could be properly outfitted by the elves. If we found them, that is.

Since we were unable to open the refrigerator, we breakfasted on raisins and cereal from the cupboard. Cheerios may look like miniature donuts but they certainly don't taste like them. I would have to do without my coffee, which surprisingly didn't seem to bother me. Perhaps being an elf would cure my caffeine addiction. We took some oreos and my diamond earrings, not knowing when a bribe might come in handy. Cleome was shocked that I possessed such wealth or that I would want to give it up. I shrugged and pointed out that I hardly ever wore them and if I never came back they wouldn't be of any use to me anyway.

It was nearly eight o'clock by the time we tossed our laden packs over the windowsill. Taffy jumped down, then Cleome. I took one last look at my quiet, cosy study, with the fireplace as big as a cave, then climbed down after my companions wondering how long it would be before I returned again. Our eyes were shining with excitement as Cleome and I shouldered our backpacks; Taffy's tail was twitching wildly. We were off!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Making Plans

"Of course I'll help, if I can," I said. "But what can I do? It all sounds a bit beyond my reach - in more ways than one."

Cleome leaned forward, her hands clasped together. "Ever since I escaped, my plan has been to go for help. I know that there is a brilliancy of elves in the maple woods on the other side of the village. If I could reach them, I know that they would assemble an army to help us. You are big and have ways of travelling that are faster than mine. Could you take me there?"

"Certainly, but is that all you want me to do?"

The elf hesitated. "I'm not sure. If you were to convey us all to the Goldenwood, or someplace near it, it would make our attack that much quicker and easier. I don't know if the other elfs would trust a human; it is not our policy. But perhaps, under the circumstances, they would make an exception." She gazed at me intently. "You would have to swear never to reveal to anyone the location of the brilliancy, nor the Goldenwood. Though you would never be allowed to approach either place too closely; we would come out to meet you and then ask you to leave us a distance away from the Wood. I know it may seem ungrateful, but you must understand how important secrecy is to us. And your help would be invaluable!"

I considered for some moments, trying to absorb everything I had heard. "Of course I'll take you. And the others, if they'll let me. I have plenty of room in my car and I can put you all in a basket - or several baskets - to hide you from prying eyes. But there's one thing I don't understand - the gnomes. I thought gnomes were gardeners, who loved living things and cared for them. I can't see how they would stand by and let the squirrels destroy the trees. That part of your story doesn't make sense to me at all."

She frowned, drawing her petite brows together in a deep furrow. "I don't understand it either," she said. "We've always gotten along very well with the gnomes before. But I suppose that there are good gnomes and bad gnomes, as with any other creature. These just seem to be a particularly bad lot. We've never encountered them before, however, and I can't help wondering just where they came from.

She sighed deeply. "If I could speak to my father, he might know. He knows all of the creatures for a hundred miles around and has friends among the birds and animals who bring him news of everything that moves. Surely he would know where these gnomes came from." She began to look a little weepy. "I hope he's allright. I hope they haven't... haven't... done anything to him."

I quickly changed the subject. "Let's decide on our plan, then, to get you to the brilliancy as fast as possible." We discussed this for a while, and decided that after the sun had risen and I assumed my normal size, I would cycle to the other side of the village and leave Cleome at the edge of the road by the woods. For the next three mornings I would then drive my car to the same spot an hour before dawn, with several baskets padded with towels in the back seat to convey the elves. If she was successful in convincing them to come with me, they would be waiting on one of those mornings, depending on how long it took them to prepare. If not, they wouldn't come, but she would contrive a way of sending me a message somehow to let me know how things turned out. In other words, I might not see her again. Unless, of course, they weren't there or she couldn't find them or they refused to help, in which case we would have to devise something else.

It occurred to me as we discussed all this that the modern conveniences I so often complain about as being annoying - telephones, cell phones, television and email - actually do serve a useful purpose. It's easy to forget what it was like when you spent hours searching for someone from whom you had been separated at an amusement park, for example, because you couldn't just call them on their cell phone and tell them you were waiting for them at the Ferris Wheel. Or said goodbye to a visiting relative and wouldn't know if they arrived safely until you got a letter from them the following week. If the gnome and squirrel invasion had been covered on the evening news, the Maple Wood elves would be there already to reinforce the troops and provide aid to the victims, and there would probably be a peacekeeping force of Friendly Magical Creatures sent along to uphold the truce. The world was a much more frightening place when you faced it without technology.

I shook my head to clear it. Being an elf was making me philosophical.

Now that our plans were made, Cleome seemed light-hearted, even giddy. I for one was eager to make the most of my remaining few hours in miniature. So we explored first the dollhouse then the real house together. I took her into my miniature room and we had great fun running in and out of all the different buildings I had made, including my half-scale cottage that was like a child's play house to us. We even made our way into the bizarre forest of the garden, with lilies as tall as bamboo and roses the size of automobiles. I love roses; their scent made me nearly swoon with its sweetness in the moist night air and I drank the dew from their petals with reverence. Then we went cautiously to the hydrangea bush with Taffy as our guard and Cleome showed me the hole through which she had escaped from the snake. I promised to block it up the next day so that he couldn't enter the garden, but she said "No, don't do that, for if some other creature should try to escape that way, they wouldn't be able to get out." She laughed merrily. "Besides, I don't think that snake will have been able to spit out that stone. He won't be swallowing anything again!"

She was so brave and merry and beautiful, I wanted to be just like her.

We returned from the garden and raided some chocolate biscuits (mini-Oreos, in fact) from the kitchen. As I had hoped, Cleome liked chocolate very much and it did not seem to have any deleterious effect upon her. We sat on the sofa in the office watching the sky lighten in the east, nibbling our biscuits and chatting about elfin and human cuisine. Before the edge of the sun slipped over the horizon, we hugged each other fiercely and promised never to forget our night as elf-sisters together. Then the light suddenly grew and the colors in the garden sprang to life. Although I couldn't see it for the trees, I knew that the yellow disc had peeked above the hills on the other side of the orchard. I held my breath and waited.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fostering a Sense of Accomplishment

The month of August is what I consider my "vacation" this year because I have been so busy with night school. My last class was Monday, the 6th. I handed in my final project and did a short teaching presentation in my subject area. I chose to do a math lesson using dollhouses in different scales to discuss proportion and scale. It went over very well; I was both relieved and pleased.

Today is Saturday and I feel as if I have accomplished nothing since Monday, effectively wasting my first week of "vacation." In fact, my goals for this month have little to do with resting and more to do with preparing to start teaching in September! But when I look back over the week, it was actually quite a full and productive one.

Tuesday, I puttered at home doing mundane chores and taking a well-deserved break. I didn't even leave the house other than taking DS and our dog Teddy to the ice cream stand after dinner.

Wednesday, we went to get his school uniforms. It was an hour drive to the store which is in Cardiff, NJ near Atlantic City, so since we drove all that way, we also went to the beach. This was not exactly relaxing, since it involved a lot of trekking back and forth to the bathroom and the car for various things, the heat was oppressive and the waves were quite rough which made swimming both dangerous and tiring, but I'm glad we went anyway. Getting the uniforms was an important thing to check off on my to-do list.

Thursday we headed to the children's hospital in the city for my son's ultrasound and five-year post-surgical checkup. It was an extremely long afternoon with lots of waiting. I was so proud of DS; he behaved himself so well and played quietly with the toys we had brought and the various activity cubes in the waiting areas. We didn't get lunch until four o'clock (McDonald's again, what else?) But the result was that we got the all clear from the doctor and he doesn't have to come back for any more followups. Praise God!!! I still get a lump in my throat when I think about all we went through and how lucky we are to have this healthy, active, intelligent child in our home. God is so faithful!

I also stopped at my old office to say hello to my former colleagues. We got there so late that only a few people were still there; most had already made the dash for their respective trains. I got the distinct impression that all is not well in the department and that it is a good thing I didn't decide to come back to work for them. What was really disheartening is that I waited for fifteen minutes to greet the department head when he came out of his office, a man I worked with on one of my major projects and whom I greatly respect and admire for both his scholarship and his character. He didn't even remember my name. Ouch!

Yesterday I cleaned the house, worked on my elf story and babysat three little girls all day. It was quite chaotic, but fun. We made Rice Krispy treats and they swam in the pool. In the evening, our friends came over for pizza and discussion of our joint trip to the Outer Banks later this month. I am really looking forward to the trip; partly because I know I can take my curriculum to work on and not be distracted by things at home. I'll just send them off to the beach and stay in the quiet house and do lesson plans. Heaven! I know that sounds odd, but having a solid hour or two to concentrate on anything is such a blessing!

I have two weeks until that time, and huge to-do list and a full calendar of appointments and playdates. I was really hoping to just focus on preparing for school, organizing those things I didn't get to yet (like my kitchen cabinets), shopping for fall clothes, doing some long-overdue sewing and finishing the dollhouse I bought in November. You know how it is... you set personal goals for things that you really want done but everything else seems to push them aside indefinitely.

I still plan to do a few of those but I have to remember that as much as I would like to focus on my own priorities, I'm part of a family dynamic now. I can't just barge through life with my own agenda the way I did ten years ago. I also have to recall that God has placed people in my life who are important to care for and who care for me, so it's not a bad thing to make time for them once in a while. A couple of my appointments in the coming week are "catch-ups" with friends of whom I have seen much too little this summer.

Anyway, I have accomplished a lot this week even if it wasn't quite the things I wanted to. I have learned to focus on what I have actually done rather than what I didn't do. Visiting my office made me actually feel a little guilty for leaving the rat race and taking this teaching job! But I know this is God's plan for me and that makes it right.

I have been very stressed-out about the school year but now that my own classes are over and my teaching presentation went well, I feel that a great weight has been lifted and am actually looking forward to the experience. In a way I feel a little guilty for having this wonderful job in such a supportive environment. It feels like a great blessing and a gift, after all the struggling and uncertainty I've experienced over the years.

It's been a long time since I've had the satisfaction of knowing that I am right in center of God's will for my life. It's a very good place to be.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Cleome tells her story

"You did what?" I cried. "Permanently?"

The elf's green eyes widened in alarm and she hastened to reassure me with fluttering hands. "No, no, it will wear off at sunrise. I just needed some way to communicate with you and this was the only way I could do it."

I exhaled heavily, suddenly aware that I had been holding my breath. "Well," I said, trying to calm down, "I suppose I should be glad that you didn't turn me into a cat."

"And just what is that supposed to mean?" purred a loud voice from behind and somewhere above me. I jumped up to see Taffy, as big as an elephant, peering around the corner of the dollhouse, her huge golden eyes luminous with amusement. She grinned at me and I was suddenly aware of how large and sharp her teeth were, like ivory daggers, not to mention the claws that had done so much damage to my furnishings during her kittenhood. It is rather an awesome thing to be faced with a domestic pet that is several times larger than you are. Suddenly one is aware how much of the dynamics of the relationship are based on relative size.

She brought her face right up to mine, sniffing curiously, and I took an involuntary step backwards, afraid of being poked in the eye by her whiskers - which were as long as bulrushes to me now. She inspected me for several long moments, then sat back on her haunches with her head cocked to one side. "Well," she said finally. "It really is you. Remarkable." She nodded towards the elf with an approving trill. "Quite impressive, really. Who would have thought it?"

The elf preened a little. "Thank you very much!" Then she turned to me. "We haven't been properly introduced. My name is Cleome Oakenhall." She curtsied gravely. "I am the daughter of King Oakenhall of The Goldenwood, and have come through great danger to your house. I can only believe that it was fate that brought me here. My people are in terrible trouble and in desperate need of help."

"I am just Christine Hardy, I'm afraid." I bowed my head a little, not from lack of courtesy but from a complete helplessness at curtseying. "A writer of books and stories, and builder of miniature houses. And friend to this excellent cat." Taffy looked pleased. "I will certainly help you in any way that I can."

Cleome Oakenhall looked relieved. "Then let us sit down where we can be comfortable and I will tell you my story." We went into the dollhouse, bringing the little chairs and the teapot with us and leaving the door open for Taffy to hear. I was afraid that the cat would feel excluded, but Taffy seemed content to crouch down on the table with her paws tucked beneath her white bib and watch us through the doorway. I reminded myself that whatever Cleome had to say, Taffy had already heard.

The little house was lit with that marvelous green sunshine emanating from the fireplace. It was odd to see such a thing indoors however; everything seemed "inside out," so to speak. But it was cozy, nonetheless. The light glistened off the miniature tankards and dishes I had displayed on the mantle and shelves, and illuminated the little bunches of dried herbs and grasses hanging from the beams. The furniture, so expertly made by attentive Chinese and American hands, looked quite wonderful when seen "full sized." However, I was aware as I looked around of all the small gaps in the woodwork and smears of glue that my clumsy big hands and eyes had missed during construction. Overall, though, it wasn't half bad really, and I felt a little surge of pride. I was especially proud of the curtains, which I had sewn by hand and trimmed with lace, and the needlepointed cushions.

Cleome curled up in one corner of the red jacquard sofa, twisting her fingers nervously, and I took the armchair. It occurred to me that I was sitting in my bathrobe next to an elf princess in the living room of my own dollhouse. Whatever would happen next?

Cleome took a deep breath and began to tell her story.

For hundreds of years, my people have lived in the Goldenwood. It lies about fifteen miles from here, in the deep forest that covers the foothills of the mountains. It is a very secret and magical place, composed of a dell surrounded by giant and venerable oak trees that drop enormous golden acorns in the fall. These are not ordinary acorns such as you would see in the gardens of Big People, which wear a fine, golden-colored coating that rubs off with your fingers, but actual golden acorns. Not all of them are golden, of course, most of them are ordinary though still great in size. But every ten years, one of the trees will bear a crop of golden acorns. As you can imagine, these acorns are greatly prized. We guard them carefully and use the gold to make many beautiful things to trade with the fairies, gnomes, sprites and other magical creatures. The leprechauns, of course, are always trying to get their hands on them but we have no dealings at all with leprechauns if we can help it; in fact it's been several decades since we've encountered any so perhaps they've given up and gone back to Ireland.

In any case, we are not just the harvesters of these trees, but their caretakers. We tend the trees, pruning back the branches and feeding the roots, making our homes in the great cracks that appear in the boles. We never damage the living material, but as the trees age we carve out additional rooms, spending much time on their decoration. If only you could see the beautifully carved and gilded elfin homes in the trees! We have gardens on the ground, and fish for minnows in the pond that sits in the bottom of the dell. We harvest the regular acorns as well as the golden ones, using them for food and planting them as needed to maintain the forest. We trade many of them to the squirrels. There are huge black squirrels deep in the woods; noble creatures, most of them, but some are quite bad. Black-hearted through and through!

Here she paused and sighed deeply. It is the squirrels that are the problem now, she continued. Their population has grown while ours has dwindled. They have lost respect for the ancient territories and have invaded the Wood, seeking our acorns for food and for trade. Gold is of no use to them - they do not work or shape it - but they love the glitter and power of it. We do not have the kind of magic that will withstand direct assault; our powers are powers of healing and making and hiding, if needed. The squirrels are several times bigger than we are - bigger than even Taffy here - and very malicious and strong. They have driven us out of our homes and taken them over, destroying our beautiful handiwork with their gnawing, impatient teeth as they seek to enlarge the rooms for themselves. They are also damaging the trees. They have allied themselves with some of the gnomes and the gnomes have taken us hostage, forcing us to work underground in their mushroom farms. Horrible damp, dark places away from sunshine and air!

She paused, hiding her head in her hands, stifling a sob. Not only that, but the Squirrel King - or so he calls himself, a great brute named Filbertkin - has taken my father prisoner and is keeping him at the top of the highest tree in a great nest guarded by four of his biggest ruffians. They won't let him go until he agrees to leave the Goldenwood and give up his right to the trees forever. Of course he won't do that, and my brother is gathering together all the fugitive elves that have escaped, and all the friendly creatures that are willing, to try and rescue him and win back our homes. But the odds are against us; I'm afraid it is a futile effort and that they will die in battle and our people will be forever enslaved by the gnomes.

I myself was underground for a long time in one of those horrible, suffocating farms. But one day I found a back tunnel and managed to escape. It was dangerous and full of spiders; I wandered hopelessly underground through many old tunnels and burrows and I was nearly caught by a ferret, but finally I managed to reach the surface. I have been travelling for weeks, running from owls at night and cats and foxes during the day. I was dragged underground by a snake and I thought that would be the end of me, until I found a rock which I shoved into his throat just as he was about to swallow me whole. I escaped through a tunnel that ended just beneath your hydrangea bush.

I lay there exhausted for I don't know how long until Taffy found me. I thought that was the end for I was too weak to resist, but to my surprise she picked me up and brought me here. Two tears rolled down Cleome's cheeks. I simply must help my brother rescue my father from Filbertkin and free our people from the gnomes. Not to mention save the Goldenwood from destruction. Please, please will you help me?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Another Surprise

Anyone who lives with a cat will know how truly irritating it is to be wakened from a sound sleep by the moist thrust of a cold nose in the ear. The ingratiating purring and ear licking that follow do little to alleviate the shock, especially when one has been kept awake past the usual hour by the nocturnal conversations of overenthusiastic treefrogs.

Therefore, I was quite annoyed at first when Taffy awoke me in her usual impertinent manner... until I recalled our visitor and bolted upright, suddenly awake. She jumped down from the bed and trotted toward the door, mewing and twitching her tail plaintively. I grabbed my robe and hurried down the stairs after her, fearing some catastrophe. Probably the elf has gone home and Taffy is simply missing her, I thought to myself.

When I entered the study, I stopped in the doorway, confused. It was nighttime and the sky outside was a deep indigo lit by a silvery half-moon, but sunlight seemed to be coming from the little house on the side table. It was as if green, filtered sunshine was pouring in from the other side of the dollhouse and coming out through the windows and the front door, which stood open. But it couldn't be because I had blocked up the other side with foam board, not to mention that it was night.

I must be dreaming, I thought. Yet I knew I wasn't dreaming. The carpet was rough under my bare feet and the blank face of my computer monitor, which had been abandoned the previous day, stared at me with a reflected green glow reminiscent of my publisher's face if I didn't get back to work on my book.

The elf was standing in front of the house in the nightdress I had made for her. She had brought out a little table and the two Windsor chairs, and placed the blue teapot and cups out. She curtsied prettily and then with a flourish she poured some of the brew she had made into one of the cups and held it out to me. I was quite touched by her hospitality; she seemed to feel the need to return the favor of the previous morning and provide me with tea. So I bowed and took it with trembling fingers, fearing I might drop and spill it.

The cup naturally held only a few drops, but the liquid inside glowed with a tiny yellow lights like fireflies dancing on water. I must admit, I hesitated a long moment before drinking it. I didn't want to seem ungracious but I certainly had my doubts as to what effect it might have. After all, I didn't know anything about this little elf other than that she seemed appealing. How did I know that she wasn't up to mischief? What if this were some kind of poison or malicious spell?

The elf lifted her tiny, pleading face upwards and said something I couldn't understand. Taffy made encouraging noises as well, twining herself around my feet and looking up with eager and impatient amber eyes. It was Taffy's eyes that convinced me to go ahead and drink. After all the years we've been together, I still can't refuse Taffy when she looks at me that way. She has been the best companion I could possibly have, and since she and the elf seemed to understand each other, I decided to trust them.

It tasted a bit like flowers; not perfumey (which is awful) but like nectar (which is lovely). If you have ever sipped the nectar out of a head of pink clover you will have a good idea of what it tasted like, only more so. The lights in it seemed to sparkle on the tongue, which was an odd feeling until you got used to it. Then they seemed to dance into my limbs and make my hands and feet and even my hair tingle with magic.

I began to feel slightly giddy, so I closed my eyes for a moment. There was a rushing sound in my ears. Then I had the very odd sensation of falling inside myself, as if I were folding like a telescoping umbrella. I reached out for the table to steady myself and found myself falling upon it, but rather than knocking it over I fell right into the arms of the elf, who had caught me.

She smiled into my face, which was suddenly full-sized. I could see now that she had little freckles spattered across her nose and a dimple in her chin and that the tips of her ears were slightly pointed. She set me down gently in one of the chairs. The rest of the room loomed around us, as cavernous as the big train station in the city. The computer monitor looked like a shiny billboard on top of the desk.

"It worked!" she exclaimed. "I didn't think it would, but it did!" Her voice was clear and soft and I could understand every word.

I searched for my voice and finally found it. "What happened?"

"I'm so sorry to surprise you like this, but I didn't have any way to warn you. Taffy said that you would want to help if you could, but you couldn't understand me and I couldn't think of any other way." She looked at me rather wistfully. "I'm in a desperate situation. I hope you won't be angry with me. I've turned you into an elf!"

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Cleome makes tea

"She's really quite intelligent and good natured for a human," said Taffy, unconsciously echoing my own comments about herself. "I'm sure she would help if she could."

"I'm not sure she can," replied the elf softly. Her name was Cleome, for elves love botanical names and usually name their daughters after flowers. She was sitting on the windowsill with her knees drawn up under her chin, staring out at the moonlit garden. It was ten o'clock and the tree frogs were making a tremendous racket in the humid air, as if they had been waiting all day for the sun to go down so they could catch up on their socializing. Cleome's hair was combed down her back and she was dressed in a white nightdress that her hostess had sewn from a soft cotton hankerchief. The seams were too large and the garment billowed out from her awkwardly, but she had tied a blue ribbon around her waist and it didn't look half bad. At least it wasn't ripped. She would have to do something about mending her own clothes in the morning. She would be picked off at once in the forest in garments as brightly colored as the ones she had been presented with that afternoon, though she was deeply moved by the generosity that prompted them. She wondered briefly if the woman didn't think of her as a kind of pet, like the cat, and would try to keep her there permanently. She didn't think so, and Taffy had quickly quelled that idea once it was expressed.

"Why not?" pressed Taffy, a defensive light in her amber eyes. "Why couldn't she help?"

"Well, you know how it is," replied Cleome soothingly. "Humans are just so... well... big. And they don't have the senses we do. They blunder around so. It's not their fault at all, but they just can't move quietly or quickly the way we do. It's just.... difficult."

Taffy didn't reply to this, but jumped up suddenly to bat a moth that had fluttered against the window, attracted by the reflected moon. As it was on the other side of the glass, all she could do was play pat-a-cake with it through the pane until it fluttered away. She settled down again with a dissatisfied twitch of her ears.

"Well, I'll help you," she said. "You know I will. I may look like a comfortably flabby tabby but I assure you, I am quite the fighter when roused. My teeth and claws are as sharp as knives and I'm not afraid to use them." She hissed and displayed her front claws proudly as if to prove it, catching them on the sofa. A few embarassing moments followed as she tried to extricate herself; when she had done so she began to wash the offending paw in an offhand manner, avoiding the elf's gaze.

Cleome had the courtesy not to laugh at her new friend. Instead, she puckered her brows thoughtfully. "I've got to find a way to save him. I simply must. And the longer I wait the harder it will be." Suddenly she stopped and lifted her head. "There is one thing. I'd almost forgotten. I've never tried it before. I wonder if it would work?"

Taffy stopped her washing and jerked her head up. "If what would work?"

"A potion. It's a very old recipe, one that hasn't been used in a long, long time. But quite simple." Cleome glanced into the garden at the flowers growing there. "I think I could find the ingredients, if you help me."

"Of course," said Taffy. "But what would the potion do?"

"I'm afraid to tell you," said the elf, "in case it doesn't work. But let me ride on your back, would you? It will be quicker."

"Of course," said Taffy proudly. "Anything you say."

Cleome scrambled up on Taffy's back, then lifted the latch on the window and held on as Taffy jumped lightly down. Some time later they returned with two bunches of leaves and flowers - one in Cleome's arms and another in Taffy's mouth. Then then took all this into the dollhouse and Cleome spent some time separating and pounding the juices of the ingredients. She then lit a fire in the little fireplace. If you had seen it you would have been alarmed, for the dollhouse is not a real house and the bricks in the fireplace are only made of sand and paste painted onto cardboard. However, this was a magical fire that didn't actually burn. It gave off a queer greenish glow like sunlight sparkling through leaves on a summer's day. The juices in the little copper saucepan began to glow with a golden light, giving off a wonderful flowery scent. When it was ready, she poured it all into the blue teapot.

"Now," said Cleome. "Can you wake her up? She needs to drink it."

Taffy sat straight up and puffed out her chest. "Can I wake her up? My goodness, that is my specialty. Just leave it to me." She sprang away, running lightly out of the room, along the hall and up the stairs. Cleome sighed and curled up tensely in her chair, waiting and watching while the magical green light flickered in the fireplace.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Taffy has a conversation

I had no idea that Taffy could understand Elfin. Or Welfin. Whichever it was. I don't know if this is something that all cats are born with or if she was simply a fairy in disguise living off my generous hospitality. I have heard that fairies can do that - take animal shapes, I mean. But Taffy, though unusually intelligent and good-natured, has always seemed perfectly cat-like to me so I think that she is probably just what she appears to be. Besides, our life together is so boring that I can't imagine a fairy sticking around this long.

In any case, our visitor turned to Taffy and began to speak directly to her. Taffy cocked her head and twitched her tail and made all manner of encouraging noises. She seemed to understand everything. Then she replied in a series of mews and trills. The two of them carried on this conversation with great earnestness for so long that I finally became bored. I decided to leave them to it and clear away the breakfast things, then prepare a meal for myself. All I had had since waking was coffee and excitement, both of which leave one feeling rather hollow.

I fixed my breakfast and brought it on a tray into the study to eat at my desk. Taffy and the elf were gone but the casement window was open and I could see Taffy's striped back as she loped through the garden to the hydrangea bush. The elf must be showing her something, I thought, feeling very left out. When I was finished eating, I went back into the miniature room, dusted off the Sugarplum Cottage, furnished it and then covered the open backside and roof with pieces of foam board. It was a makeshift fix but would give the occupant some privacy. I must admit that I felt less satisfaction than I had expected at finally having an occupant for the little Tudor-style cottage. Initially I had been so proud of my creation, but suddenly everything looked crude and clumsy. Nevertheless, it would have to do.

Gingerly I carried the cottage into the study and placed it on a little table. The elf returned with Taffy, looking decidedly weary from all her adventures. Taffy's face was drawn up into an expression that I wouldn't quite describe as a frown - for cats can't frown - but rather a brown study. She was certainly chewing on something in her little brain, and every few moments her tail would twitch like an injured snake.

Our visitor, upon seeing the house, jumped up and down with glee, clapping her little hands and uttering her thanks profusely. Taffy was clearly not impressed; she began to wash her hindquarters with deliberate preoccupation. The elf went up to the little front door, pushed it open and went inside. I could barely restrain myself from peering in the windows like an ogre, but I could see her moving around. Then she didn't move at all. I waited a few minutes, then looked as discreetly as possible through the upstairs window. She had fallen asleep in the bed with the white crocheted coverlet. Her little hat had tumbled to the floor; her eyes were closed and her mouth was open. I don't mind admitting that I felt tears pressing behind my eyes at the sight. To see one's miniature house occupied is the secret dream of every miniaturist.

I spent the next several hours in my workroom, trying to piece together some garments for our visitor from the softest, lightest fabrics I had. Taffy dozed in the sunshine, her tail still twitching at intervals. I couldn't help wondering what she and the elf had talked about for so long. What had happened to this tiny visitor and how long would she stay? It was clear that she was in some kind of trouble. I wondered what it was and if there was any way at all that I could help. But unless I learned to speak Elfin or feline, or unless one of them learned English, I doubted that I would ever find out.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Breakfast fit for an elf

Something warm and sweet is good for treating shock, I'm told, so I brewed some chamomile tea and laced it with honey. Then I went into the Miniature Room. No, not a teeny-tiny room, but a room full of teeny-tiny rooms. That is, the room where I keep all of my miniature dollhouses and furniture. I dug out the little blue English tea set with its round, serviceable pot, washed it and filled it with tea for the welf. I also washed a plate, cup, saucer and the round blue tray with the piecrust edge that goes with the set. Then I tried very hard to think of things that a wood elf would like to eat for breakfast.

I sliced a blueberry up like an apple and put it on the tray. I thought she would like some kind of biscuit, so I gave her a little piece of shortbread as well. Then for protein I added a slice of slivered almond from my baking supplies and a shred of grated cheddar cheese. I threw in a little slice of bread and butter for good measure. I considered a chocolate chip but thought it might make her sick. I ate several myself instead. She wasn't the only person in the house suffering from shock! And chocolate, as we all know, is highly medicinal.

I placed the teapot, teacup, plate and tray of food on a full-sized saucer and was about to carry it all into the study when I recalled that I could hardly expect her to eat and drink on her knees. So I went back into the miniature room and fetched a little windsor chair and table for her, cleaned them off (I'm ashamed to admit that room gets rather dusty when I'm working on a book) and put them on a tray with the saucer. All of this then I took back to the study. Taffy refused to stay corralled in the kitchen; I could only hope as she ran ahead of me that she wouldn't give the poor little elf a heart attack. If she were still there, which part of me doubted.

However, she was there. She appeared to have fallen asleep under the washcloth, but opened her eyes as I entered. Taffy sat beside her on the sofa cushion with her paws tucked under herself, purring contentedly. It was quite a pretty domestic picture.

I set the miniature table and chair on my desk, on top of my mouse pad which is designed like an oriental rug. Then I laid the table. I wished I had a tablecloth for her, but anything I could have used would have stuck out stiffly and gotten in her way. I bowed and guestered for her to eat, then went to sit in my armchair on the other side of the room so as not to intimidate her. I was afraid that Taffy would jump up and sniff all the food, get her whiskers in everything and upset the table, but for once she stayed where she was, though she watched the proceedings with interest.

The welf sat up, wide-eyed, then slowly and stiffly crept to the little breakfast table. She kept glancing at me, then at Taffy, then back at her breakfast. She sat down and cautiously sipped the tea. It seemed to agree with her, for she cupped her tiny hands around the blue teacup and drank the rest in one long gulp. Not very elflike, but I'm afraid she was very thirsty. I watched her, fascinated, as she tasted all the food in turn. The blueberry she consumed right away of course, but the other things seemed unfamiliar to her. The cheese she rejected, though the bread and butter disappeared quickly, as did the shortbread. The thing she seemed to consider the greatest delicacy was the almond sliver. I realized that while walnuts are plentiful here, almonds don't grow in this part of the world and the flavor would seem quite delicate by contrast. I myself am not all that fond of walnuts. She nibbled contentedly on the slice, washing it down with tea, until both were gone.

Then she sat back reflectively, as if unsure what to do next. I quite understood her feelings. She seemed so out of place in my study, sitting so tiny and delicate on top of my desk in the spindly chair. The sun was shining cheerfully by this time and I wondered if she wouldn't like to go home, wherever that was. She gazed out the window for a few moments, then she turned to me and pushed the little chair away from the table. Rising, she bowed her thanks. Then she began to speak.

I couldn't understand a word that she said, but the language was beautiful and flowing. I had a feeling that Elf language was a bit like French, in that it falls so pleasantly on the ears that even an insult sounds like a compliment to those unfamiliar with it. Not that I thought she was insulting me. On the contrary, she seemed to be making a very pretty speech of gratitude and explanation in her thin, clear voice. Her hands were held out to me as if imploring my help. But I couldn't make the least sense of it. She realized this, but seemed to feel the making of the speech important in itself and continued to the end. I looked at her sadly and shook my head.

Taffy, however, seemed acutely interested. She sat up with one of those trilling noises cats make when their interest is piqued.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

An Early Morning Visitor

I'm sitting here in my study sipping coffee in the early morning. There is real cream in it, not the powdered stuff and it slids down my throat like warm ambrosia. The garden is still damp from yesterday's rain and the sky is overcast, but it will clear soon. I can tell from the quality of the light and from the latent heat in the air that today will be a scorcher. I should be working on the latest installment in my best-selling mystery series, but I can't bring myself to focus just yet. I wonder if there are any blueberry muffins left that Bridget, the maid, baked Friday. We've been using the berries up at a surprising rate. Perhaps I can go pick some more this afternoon, after church.

My fantasy is briefly interrupted by 37 pounds of sleepy offspring shuffling into the room and climbing into my lap. Apparently I woke him up when I made the coffee, but after a few pleasurable minutes of cuddling I convince him to go back to bed. Now, where was I? Oh yes, blueberries.

One of my favorite children's stories was "The Blueberry Pie Elf" about a little elf who left blue footprints on the tablecloth after he helped himself to some pie. I've tried to find it since then, but it appears to be out of print, as well as one of my favorite fairy tales "Greenwillow" by B.J. Chute. The writing in that little book is so beautiful it made me want to cry. It's a genius of a story - a brilliant kind of old-fashioned, modern tale based on rural American life. If you can find it, read it.

Taffy the cat comes into the room while I am thinking about all this, actually getting tears in my eyes from thinking about Beatrice Chute's little book. (How many of those tears are from sentiment and how many from envy, I wonder?) Taffy has been out in the garden prowling around, which surprises me because normally she doesn't like to get her paws the least bit wet. I saw her a little while ago under the blue hydrangea, tail twitching as if she had found something interesting. I'm not too worried, though. She would rather ask a mouse to play with her than eat it, and has been known to guard baby birds until their mothers find them.

She usually doesn't bring things into the house, however, so I am surprised to see her with her mouth full of something that looks like a frog or a very large grasshopper. She is holding it gingerly, the way cats do. Rather than coming straight to me at my desk, however, she lights on the sofa and sets the creature down on the cushions.

"Taffy!" I scold gently. "Don't put that there."

She gives me a distressed look and mews pathetically. I've never seen her this upset before, and especially not over a frog. I get up and go to see what it is that she has brought into the room.

There on the flowered cushion of my sofa is a little green person about five inches long. Not actually green-skinned, but dressed in green leggings and a little green tunic, like a miniature Peter Pan. Her outfit is embroidered with microscopic stitches of shimmering thread, she has neat little brown boots on her feet with tiny buttons, and her cornsilk hair is braided back from her face under a little round hat that looks like an acorn cap, but is obviously made of something soft and water-repellent for the rain is beading on it, as on her little cape of the same material.

She looks as if she has been through some kind of accident (or perhaps an On Purpose), for she is battered and scraped and her clothes are torn. I suspect that she is a welf, or wood-elf, that has somehow ended up in our garden. She is terrified, huddled in a little ball on the cushion, eyes darting back and forth, clearly thinking that she is about to be dissected by one or both of us.

"Don't be frightened," I say very softly, afraid of hurting her tiny eardrums with my Big Person voice. I have no idea whether she understands me. I leave her with Taffy for a moment, who is anxiously guarding her like an injured kitten. I fetch a clean washcloth from the linen closet to use as a blanket (fortunately I have some new ones that are very soft and fluffy) and bring it to lay over her. She seems to relax a little, closing her eyes. I think she is in shock and should be left alone, so I pick Taffy up and take the cat firmly into the kitchen, shutting the door so that she can't return. I put the kettle on to boil and give Taffy a treat of leftover fish. She eats it quickly then sits by the door, clearly unwilling to abandon her charge.

And now I'm afraid I must leave off ... it has taken me an hour to compose these few paragraphs and there are morning duties in my real life to attend to, including the five-year-old who did not go back to sleep after all. Tune in again for the next installment....

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Deadhead me

Deadhead vt. to remove the spent blossom of a flower in order to encourage reblooming

I have been trying for the past two hours to clean out my office and have made a little headway, but not much. I can't think anymore about anything. My brain is dead. I have no idea why it is so exhausting to go through all these papers and things, but it is.

Would someone please cut off my head so I can grow a new one?

My Back Room

It's been an exhausting and stressful week, so today I'm going into the back room of my cottage. This is the little study where no one disturbs me except the cat. I have a sweet, beautiful little orange tiger cat with white socks to whom I am not allergic. Her name is Taffy and she keeps my chair warm, but she magically does not shed so my clothes are never decorated in orange and white hair.

The fire is burning low in the fireplace to keep out the damp of this rainy summer day. It is a soft rain, gurgling in the gutters and dripping outside my diamond-paned windows. I have a comfortable sofa between the window and the fire, where I can curl up with a cup of tea or a book. My desk is in the corner, made of rosewood, as is the bookshelf covering one wall of the room. The low-beamed ceiling makes everything feel close and comfortable; oil paintings of landscapes decorate the walls and a copy of "The Shell Seekers" hangs over the fireplace. Outside is my garden, which I tend every day so there are no weeds at all. It is enclosed by a little white fence and behind the fence the land slopes up to an orchard covered-hill. On the other side of the hill is a pond where I can fish and beyond that, standing patient and watchful over the rest of the rolling countryside, are the distant mountains, though you couldn't see them today for the clouds.

I live in a wonderful neighborhood. All of the most delightful cottage dwellers are nearby. Mrs. Bloxby lives near the church and Agatha Raisin is just around the corner on Lilac Lane. Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Farm is visible from the top of my orchard. Miss Marple lives just around the corner in the other direction. Miss Seeton is across from the post office. James Herriott takes care of my cat. I can take the bus to Lochdubh as well.

Besides all this, I can go to the Shire and have a cup of tea with Sam and Rosie any time I wish.

It's really a lovely way to live.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Gentle Reader

"Can it be - it must be - that you are that embodiment of the incorporeal, that elusive yet ineluctable being to whom through the generations novelists have so unavailingly made invocation; in short, the Gentle Reader?"

-Henry James

I came across this quote today. I had to look up "ineluctable." It means: "not to be avoided or escaped; certain; inevitable."

I have been browsing in bookstores during the past week, reading the first pages of books that look interesting to me or similar to what I'm trying to write. I'm trying to get ideas for the opener of my book. I have to admit I've been feecing a little discouraged. It seems that most authors try to grab the reader's attention with something shocking or violent. Even Christian authors. "Perhaps this is the only kind of thing people will read anymore," I have been thinking. "Perhaps this is the only kind of book that publishers will print. Perhaps my vision is simply unpublishable."

I had to remind myself that from the beginning, this project was an attempt to write what I would like to read. Every time I stray from that and try to conform to what I think is publishable, I get discouraged and frustrated. This little tidbit from Henry James is a gentle reminder that it's okay to be gentle. That readers like myself are ineluctable. That they are out there, waiting for me to finish my work.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Halfway there

It's official... my first draft is now 41,067 words. Halfway to 80,000.

Of course I'll probably write significantly more than 80K as I edit and rewrite, but still... it's a milestone. The earliest file I have was created Feb. 26, so it's taken about four and half months to get here.

I have confidence.... sort of?

I had another of my education classes last night at the community college. Were were talking about classroom management - establishing rules and procedures, discipline, etc. I woke up with this song running through my head from "The Sound of Music."

So let them bring on all their problems
I'll do better than my best
I have confidence they'll put me to the test
But I'll make them see I have confidence in me

Somehow I will impress them
I will be firm but kind
And all those children (Heaven bless them!)
They will look up to me and mind me

- "I Have Confidence" by Rodgers and Hammerstein

My favorite part of the song is near the end, where Julie Andrews (who has been skipping and singing all over town) finally approaches the gates of the huge Von Trapp house and sort of swallows her voice and says "Oh, help!"

I know that's how I'm going to to feel on my first day of teaching. I'm starting to feel a lot more sympathy for that poor little new Kindergarten teacher I observed at the public school this fall who could barely keep her class in order. However, the program I'm going through this summer is excellent. It's a crash course in Teacher 101.

I just picked my books up for the rest of the program, which runs from September through May. I knew it was going to be $353 dollars, so I parked near the bookstore. I didn't want to carry all those heavy books too far. Well, the cheerful assistant went to fetch my books and when she came out she was holding a shrink-wrapped bundle about the size of a shoebox. I know it's been a while since I was in school, but this thing looked like a stationery set and was about as heavy. I feel kind of gypped that I didn't get a free pen with it!

My biggest problem in these classes is that I can't shut up. I am starting to annoy myself and probably everyone else as well. I don't know if it's because I am so personally invested in this lifeline for my survival in the very near future, or because I so rarely get to be in a room without any Thomas trains in it. But I'm having a very hard time stopping myself and if I were teaching me, I'd probably put my name on the board. I was racking my brains for a creative way to help myself overcome this and came up with the idea of a red piece of string tied around each wrist. Okay, I know that sounds really weird, but I need some kind of a visual cue for myself so that when I see my hand going up, I stop. I've already earned my participation grade for the whole course in the first four classes.

It's a side effect of being an extravert. Everything I'm thinking, I just have to share or I feel like I will burst. The good news is, it really helps at parties when silence falls among a group of strangers. I can make conversation about the tablecloth, if needed! I actually had a shy person at a business conference come up to me after a really awkward dinner and say "How did you DO that? I thought I was going to die in there." Bless her. I thought they were going to kill me.

Friday, July 6, 2007

A Dream is a Fickle Thing

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost... For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish."

-Luke 14:28-30 (New International Version)

This book, even the first draft of it, is not likely to be completed any time soon. Thank you for your support, friends! But I am feeling very foolish and seriously doubting my abilities. If it weren't for my healthy fear of the Author of my faith, I'd probably just tuck the whole thing away in a dark corner and pretend I'd never thought of it. However, I am well aware that the Author and Finisher of my faith is also the author and finisher of ME!

A dream is a fickle thing.
It sits a while and then takes wing
Taking the thread of hope it wound
Around the heart it found.

A dream is a fickle thing.
It's better not to let it sing.
For once the world has heard
You can't disown the bird.

- Christine Hardy 2007

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Writing Fears and Challenges

Hey there, everyone! I was just thinking about some of my greatest challenges and fears as a writer. I thought I would post a couple and invite you to do the same in the comments section.

1. The fear of not making my male characters masculine enough. In many books by women authors (especially romances) I find that the male characters think, act and talk a lot like women. I don't know whether this is really because of faulty writing, however, or just because I'm sexist and I think men should seem different. Because they are from Mars.

2. The beginning. I think all writers struggle with this. On the one hand you have to set the scene without boring the reader with details, but on the other hand action that takes place in a vacuum is confusing and boring as well. I really don't care who is stalking Esmerelda as she approaches her car if I don't know who Esmerelda is, where she is, what she is doing there or where she is going next. Putting her in imminent danger on the first page makes me feel manipulated. On the other hand, too much detail is boring too. (For an excellent example of this, see my "Prologue" below.)

3. Keeping strong physical (or emotional) action from seeming overdone. Sometimes I find that when I'm describing a busy scene, it comes out looking silly on the page. I find it helps to read these sections out loud and to try cutting about half of the original description. It's easier to add more if needed than to keep shaving little bits off. Unlike carpentry.

4. Feeling foolish when I see my prose. Sometimes even after I've done several edits, the whole thing still just seems invalid. I have come to realize that this is a side effect of looking at my own writing on a computer screen rather than seeing it in print. Other books seem to have an authenticity about them because they are actually books! Imagining the text of my favorite novel as it would appear in a Word Document helps a lot.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


I revised the prologue for the book. I thought this was really great, but the feedback I have gotten is that it's just not terribly interesting for an opener. So, I'm going back to the drawing board with the prologue. What you see here is really a synopsis of the background for the story. Kind of like those words that scroll through space at the beginning of Star Wars. I had deleted it after the first posting, but decided to put it back up for those of you diehard friends and family members who are wondering what the heck the story is all about.

"Long ago, when the mountains were newer and the seas younger, there lay between the Cobalt Sea and the Dagger Mountains a kingdom called Belhanor. It was ruled in those days by Elmoran the Great in the white fortress at Tor Aden. It was said that he knew much of the deep things and of magic. He had a brother, Synedd, also wise in the ways of magic, who struggled against him for the throne. Synedd was finally defeated and driven into the mountains. That struggle was known as the Gryphon War. It was a dark time for the people of Belhanor, but also a time of great heroism and wonder, when the golden gryphons appeared as they had in the very early days and fought alongside men and unicorns and many other creatures.

"Following the war, peace came and the land prospered. The King married and produced two sons: Melbrinor, the elder and Raynor, the younger. While Melbrinor remained at his father’s side and learned to rule the kingdom, Raynor was restless and turned his eyes to the mountains. In ancient times their ancestors had passed through the Daggers seeking refuge from war and hardship. Finding a sheltered, fertile land they had remained there until their origins had passed out of memory. No one had crossed the mountains since; the peaks were steep and treacherous, the old ways lost forever. But it burned in Raynor’s heart to discover what lay beyond them. After many failed attempts, he sent a message to his father that he had found a way through. He was never heard from again.

"The King’s heart longed for his son, as did Melbrinor’s for his brother. Melbrinor led many forays into the mountains to find the path that Raynor had taken, but after two years was forced to give him up for lost. Greatly saddened, Elmoran occupied himself with affairs of state but he was not a young man and his years seemed to weigh upon him. It was whispered that he slept little and ate less, and spent many long hours staring into the fire. There were stirrings among some of the lords that Elmoran had grown weak and that more power should be given to them.

"In order to distract his father from his grief as well as satisfy the desire of his own heart, Melbrinor declared that upon his thirtieth birthday he would marry Lady Pelwyn, daughter of the Delfenward of Glenholm. Pelwyn was gracious and lovely, and perceived by all as an excellent choice. The King and the entire country prepared for the wedding with great joy.

"However, rumors reached Tor Aden that the King’s enemies were plotting to use the occasion to their advantage. While the lords loyal to the King were gathered for the wedding, his enemies would attack and occupy their lands, refusing to release them until their demands for power were granted. A warning was secretly issued so that the insurgents might be caught in a snare. But even as all these things unfolded, the King’s heart was still with his lost son and he turned his thoughts ever towards the mountains, searching for an answer that was hidden from him. This in itself was perplexing and he wondered why his sight was frustrated and by what power."

Monday, July 2, 2007

Refuge under golden wings

One of the things that has plagued me about "The Golden Gryphon" is whether it is even worth taking the time to write. Not because I don't think it's a good story, but because I doubt the value of writing it at this particular time in my life. Of course, as any author knows, an idea left to stagnate is usually as good as dead, so if I don't write it now it will probably never be written.

But is it really worth all the stress it is causing me, as I struggle to keep on top of my chores at home, my schoolwork and making my husband and son feel valued despite my constant preoccupation? What eternal good is being gained from it? Why not wait until later, when my child is grown and my husband is retired and things are less hectic?

My new online friend, writer Michelle Gregory, sent me some very encouraging words on this topic. She described a conversation with her husband about her book, Eldala, also a medieval fantasy.

Is this important? This was the question my husband had to answer more times than I can remember.

"Yes, it is important."

"Why?" I would ask.

"Because it's your heart."

Which refers back to question one. It's just a fantasy story I made up.

"Yes, but it's in your heart to write it, and if you don't write it, you'll have to shut down your heart."

I found another quote, also referenced on Michelle's blog, by James A. Garfield:

"Tell me…do you not feel a spirit stirring within you that longs to ...hold before you some high and noble object to which the vigor of your mind... may be given? Do you not have longings like these, which you breathe to no one, and which you feel must be heeded, or you will pass through life unsatisfied and regretful?... They will forever cling round your heart till you obey their mandate. They are the voices of that nature which God has given you, and which, when obeyed, will bless you and your fellow men."
~ James A. Garfield, in a letter to a friend

I knew I liked him. I've visited his home in Mentor, Ohio several times and was particularly impressed by the library. Now I know why.

This morning, I opened my Bible for a brief look while the house was quiet. I have been finding things there that strangely support this unusual and possibly ridiculous task I have undertaken - to write a novel about a conflict between a great and good King, and a great and evil one, in which supernatural beings play parts on both sides. The beings on the side of good are the angelic and powerful gryphons who assist the heroine, Elinor, and her friends on their journey. The beings on the side of evil include great black lions - huge black panthers or mountain lions - called Nightstalkers by the peasants because of their tendency to attack at night. One of the themes of the book is the treachery of appearances and the need to judge the heart, as well as the power of steadfast faith and perseverance.

Anyway, I opened my Bible and the page that I saw was Psalm 91:

4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day...

8 You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked...

13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

Am I claiming that God told me to write this particular book? No. But it was a good reminder of the universality of certain themes and symbols. Storytelling is one of the best - and oldest - ways to teach and to understand the world. Even Jesus taught using stories to illustrate spiritual truths. In modern times, fictional stories both explain and in some ways define a particular culture at a particular point in time. Just think of the impact of Harry Potter, for one. I can only hope that in some way "The Golden Gryphon" will add just a little to that definition.


A friend of mine with four children once gave me her definition of torture. She said it is to give an intelligent, capable adult a certain number of tasks to complete in a day, and then interrupting her every five minutes as she tries to complete them. This was said in response to her husband, who questioned her about why she never seemed to get anything done even though she was home all day.

Being a writer compounds that torture, although thankfully I have only one child to deal with, because the interruption is not every five minutes, but rather a constant stream of narrative in my head. It goes something like this...

"Oooh, look at that photo of a mountain on that magazine cover. That would make a great setting for that part of my story where they climb up to discover the... NO! Focus. What was I doing? Why am I standing here holding dirty clothes? Oh yes, going to the basement... "

(I go down the steps, passing the bookshelf.)

"Hey, vacation photos over there. Don't we have some great shots of the Alps? And that castle we visited, I should see what the sleeping chambers were like. But that was a later castle, a Victorian fake, really. What century would my story be comparable to? Do they use gunpowder, for example?... NO! STOP! FOCUS! Should I do whites or colors first? What are we doing tomorrow? What clothes does my son need? I can't remember!"

(I go back upstairs to look at the calendar, clothing still in hand.)

Yesterday I made a field trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to look at armor. What a fiasco! Because of the Welcome America activities, I didn't drive for fear of getting stuck in hellish traffic and took the train from New Jersey instead. I had to drive 20 minutes to the train station, catch the PATCO train across the river to Philly, then transfer to the subway, get off at City Hall and trek seven diagonal blocks up the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum. I left my house at 1:00 and arrived at 2:50. I couldn't believe it! I kept looking at my watch trying to calculate how the minute hand could have possibly gone around two full rotations since I left the house. I had to be home at six. So I gave myself exactly an hour and twenty minutes in the museum.

What I found when I went to the armour room is that princes and dukes and such could afford really, really nice armor. They even had - get this - armpit protectors. Their horses had nice armor too. The collection at the museum is mainly presentation armor. It looks really nice and is highly decorative, but is not very useful for helping me figure out how the average foot soldier kept himself from getting chopped to pieces on the battlefield, or what he did his own chopping with. I did find out however what a brigandine is. Basically, it's like high fashion Kevlar - a coat of mail with a decorative fabric covering. Those were cool. And they had a bunch of helmets (though they weren't call helmets but some fancy French name that I can't use because my story doesn't take place in France) that looked like long pointy bicycle helmets worn backwards. Anyone wearing one of those would look like a bird. Or an orc.

By this time I was feeling dehydrated and in great need of a place to sit down, so I hiked another couple of blocks through the museum, from the second floor of one wing to the basement of the other wing to the cafe, had a salad and a Frappachino (my first - what a wonderful thing Starbucks has invented!) and then hiked back up to the European collections with a little quick detour through the American furniture and pottery (my favorite part). I then made a very quick circuit through the period rooms - peeking into the Tudor room, the German kitchen and the Dutch room with the bed in the wall behind a red velvet curtain - and looked at a few paintings to see what the soldiers were wearing in the battle scenes. Not much armour, mostly just helmets and breastplates. Then I started the long trek home, about fourteen dollars poorer but not much richer in knowledge than when I started out.

At least I got some exercise! But I was so tired this morning I woke up late and didn't do any writing, and now my day has taken off again, barging through the hours like a stampeding elephant with lists of things to do and an essay to write before my education class tonight. C'est la vie! Or perhaps I should say, as my heroine Elinor would, "Gryphon feathers!"

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Convergence, Part 1

There is a concept in mathematics called convergence in which elements of a particular kind of sequence, no matter how scattered they may appear at first, will eventually draw closer and closer together until they meet at a single point.

I have the odd feeling of approaching a convergence in my life. It is quite strange and even disorienting to realize, as I look back, how all the elements of my past seem to be converging toward an inevitable point. In Greek mythology, this would be called Fate or Destiny. In a universe ordered by a Master Designer and Mathematician, it is convergence.

It appears that I will most definitely be teaching Math, Science and Bible in a Christian school next year. When I look back at the course of my life and all of the decisions I felt drawn to make, it truly amazes me how they have uniquely prepared me for this undertaking. My decision to study mathematics rather than English in college. My dual major in Math and Physics (which became Math with a physics minor). My summer internships at NASA Lewis Research Center. My two years of classroom teaching as a T.A. in graduate school. My clinical trials experience. Even the dollhouse that a friend gave me when she moved, launching a hobby that contains multiple examples of how to use simple ratios, algebra and even a little geometry. The chemistry and biology that I use everyday as I garden and cook and maintain our backyard pool.

When I first started teaching fourteen years ago, my students would ask "When are we going to use this in real life?" Now I can tell them.

Being called upon to teach Art Camp and Vacation Bible School, which exposed me gradually to being around kids - something I hadn't really done up to that point, being too busy studying and working. Teaching various Bible studies and giving presentations at Mothers of Preschoolers meetings. Teaching 4-and-5-year-olds in MOPPETS this past year. The first time I ran that class, I was completely exhausted after the two hours. By the end of May, I was loving it!

Clearly, a divine appointment had been made when my husband and I walked into Principal Watts' office last October to discuss enrolling our son at his school, and walked out with an application for a teaching job. Teaching middle school was the last thing I would have thought of doing, but clearly God had other plans.

"What just happened here?" my husband asked. "We went there to interview them about enrolling our son, and he ended up interviewing you for a job!"

It was convergence.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Name of a Name of a Name

I was in high school and working on my first novel when my dad saw a baby name booklet in my room and had a minor heart attack. My mom, who is also a writer, laughed and told him he was not about to become a grandfather, it was for naming characters in my story.

I have never been great at coming up with either titles or names on my own. Right now I am really struggling with the name of the fictional country where the story I am writing is taking place. (The book itself is called The Legend of the Golden Gryphon which isn't terribly original either.) Thank God for Google... it turns out that several of the names I had so painstakingly thought up are actually in use by a role-playing game or are a brand of something. I did find a fantasy name generator on line that is pretty interesting, but I want a name that actually means something, not some random arrangement of consonants and vowels. I also want to avoid unintentionally swearing in another language.

Everything I think of sounds stupid, but I keep reminding myself that Narnia, Gondor and Rohan must have sounded stupid the first hundred times someone said them, too. I'm starting to think that, like Tolkein, I'll have to invent my own language just to come up with new names, but then I don't want things in my book to be too wierd or unfamiliar. I want the book to be comfortable and easy to slip into, like a favorite robe.

Actually at one point I had toyed with calling it Croatan (or some derivative) and having it be the place to which the Roanoke settlers disappeared, but abandoned that idea. Though, actually, it's not a bad concept now that I think of it again - what if the settlers had created an improved monarchy based on their English roots, rather than the representative republic we now have? But I can't call it Croatia, for example.

Anyhow, some of the names that are NOT taken are

Celadon (a lovely shade of light green), which could be transformed to Celadonia, although it sounds a lot like Caledonia which is a real place

(based on Mount Airy, New Jersey, get it?) which is also a postal district in Portugal but I don't think they'd mind

Halduran - which is composed of the Norweigan root "Hal" meaning rock and the Latin word "duran" (enduring), (which is similar to Aldaran, the planet Princess Leia lived on in Star Wars, probably based on the same linguistic roots - ironically the "enduring rock" was blown up by Darth Vader)

I really like the "enduring rock" idea, and thought of just calling it Duran or Durin, but then again Durin is the name of one of the Dwarf Kings in Middle Earth. Tolkein beat me to it. The balrog of Moria is referred to as "Durin's Bane". Duron is a brand of house paint.

See the problems I'm having here? Any ideas, people? Anything at all?

Now I know why Thomas the Tank Engine lives on the island of Sodor. I always thought that name sounded really stupid, but at least no one can confuse it with something else.

P.S. As I was composing this, I found a feminine name meaning "Rock" on a baby name website - Sela. So, I thought, what about Selador? Guess what, I googled the word and found a reference on Wikipedia to a famous interview with J.R.R. Tolkein discussing how the words "cellar door" could be transformed into a name - you guessed it, Selador. So everyone would think that I stole it from him!

Do you see the brick marks on my forehead? I'm beating it on a brick wall.

Time to go braid some yarn for dollhouse rugs. I need something mindless to do - I've had it for today. Maybe I could just call the place Dalharug and be done with it. Or better yet, how about Yarnia?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Good News about Copyrights

I have had a very frustrating morning, but finally found some good news! I have been agonizing over the fear that if I use a name that also happens to be the name of a product of some kind that I will be violating copyright laws. After a while I decided to see if I could find any information on copyrights and names, and discovered that according to the U.S. Copright Office...

Names, titles, and short phrases or expressions are not subject to copyright protection. Even if a name, title, or short phrase is novel or distinctive or if it lends itself to a play on words, it cannot be protected by copyright. The Copyright Office cannot register claims to exclusive rights in brief combinations of words such as:

Names of products or services
Names of businesses, organizations, or groups (including the name of a group of performers)
Names of pseudonyms of individuals (including pen name or stage name)
Titles of works
Catchwords, catchphrases, mottoes, slogans, or short advertising expressions

They do say that trademarks are a different matter, but that would only apply if I was trying to sell a product under a name that was already trademarked.

What a relief!!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Stranger than Fiction

Yesterday I watched the movie "Stranger Than Fiction" starring Emma Thompson as a previously successful writer who is struggling to overcome writer's block, and Will Ferrell as her hapless main character. He starts to hear her voice narrating his life and realizes that she is going to kill him off by the end of the book. In a strange twist (he works for the IRS) he is able to locate the reclusive writer and actually visit her, begging her to save his life. I won't tell you the end.

The movie was not the crazy comedy that the previews made it out to be. It was actually a very moving commentary on the meaning of life and art. The fine supporting cast included Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah, whose acting skills blew me away in "Chicago". Like Will Smith, hers is a major talent that is destined to go far beyond rap music. Emma Thompson gives a marvelous, sarcasm-riddled performance as the anguished writer and Will Ferrell absolutely nails the dramatic role of Harold Crick, the sleeping soul that is about to wake up. Like Jim Carrey, there is more to this comedian than meets the eye. It is definitely a movie worth seeing, especially if you are a writer.

The whole thing was funny and tragic and more than a little surreal. It ties into this wierd sort of double life that authors live. I find myself wondering sometimes what the definition of reality is. Is it simply those things which have tangible evidence? Or is the creative power which our Creator has shared with us powerful enough to create valid people and places in our imaginations? Certainly dreams have a reality of their own, jumbled though they may be, and God speaks to us at times with great clarity through them. The power of the "waking dream" of fiction is just as undeniable; we all have felt that haunting loss or those tears of joy at the end of a great book or movie. This is an experience we seek again and again; it allows us to both escape from and enrich our "tangible" lives.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Harold walks into Karen (the writer's) office and she sort of crumples in amazed awe in front of him, murmuring "Your hair... your eyes... your shoes!" She stares at him the way a mother stares at the fingers of her newborn child, amazed that the thing that has been growing inside of her actually has the very shape she recognizes and expects. He says "I'm Harold Crick" and she replies reverently "I know."

I've tried to "cast" certain actors in my book, looking for the right person to play the parts in my mind. But the truth is, they are themselves and no one else. I can't say exactly how this happens, but it does. It amazes me. Elinor, the heroine of "The Golden Gryphon" and Ginger, the young widow in "Tea by the Sea" are so real to me that I half expect to meet them on the street one day. During the time I was working really hard on "Tea by the Sea," I made a trip to Ocean City, NJ as I often do. I found myself experiencing a sense of loss that the tea shop and its proprietors don't really exist and that I couldn't visit them. It was very surreal and poignant. Am I crazy?

How does this happen, this ability to create in one's mind? I have no idea. It feels very much like a little bit of the God-breath breathed into me. Part of the plot in "Stranger Than Fiction" involves Harold trying to figure out whether the novel he is living is a tragedy or a comedy and whether it is plot-driven or character-driven. What amazes me is how much the characters in even a plot-driven book can influence the action by their choices.

I wrote the following on Tricia Goyer's blog recently, when I was struggling with how to stay motivated to write when I'm not sure anyone will ever publish the book - meaning it will never be read by anyone else. One of the authors there responded that if I could answer that question, I could write a best-selling book for Writer's Digest and be set for life. My response was this:

I think the "Writer's Digest" answer to this question is this: I don't care any more if it's publishable or not. I am writing this manuscript because if I don't it will eat me alive! I have to know what happens to my characters... and so do they. They deserve to know if they will live or die, succeed or fail, be loved or be betrayed. It has taken on a life and existence of its own that cannot be denied now.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The End of All Things

Okay, it doesn't really feel like the end of all things, as in "Its's good to have you with me Sam, here at the end of all things," but it does feel like the end of several things.

Today is my last MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting. Ever. For those of you who have never heard of this indispensible organization, it is a fellowship ministry for mothers of young children, to help us get through those difficult early years without jumping off a cliff. I have made the best friendships of my life at MOPS and hope that we will be able to keep in touch as our children scatter off to Kindergarten.

Some of my friends have been able to reproduce again, which has the added goal of not only bringing a new person into the world but also to maintain membership in MOPS. I have not been able to do that and since I have reached the decrepit age of 36 (my eggs are ageing every second, I can just feel them wrinkling in there), I have started giving away all those little clothes I so painstakingly saved for the next child. As well as that stash of brightly colored summer maternity garments I ordered from JC Penny. So this is the end of my childbearing years as well.

My husband and I are on a diet. This is truly the end! The end of feeling young and calorically invincible. The end of cinnamon rolls on Sunday mornings and lovely golden fries at McDonald's and Friday-night pizza. Perhaps I've been reading too many "Agatha Raisin" books but I feel distinctly middle-aged. I suppose I'll feel better when I drop a couple of sizes but right now I just feel frustrated and hungry.

What is the definition of middle-age anyway? I mean, if you assume a person will live about eighty years then the first third of that would be 0-27, then 28-54 would be the middle and 55+ would be in the last tier. Ew. I don't like that definition at all, but it does explain the concept of "55 and older" communities. As in, "If you move here you are on the downward slope of the hill so we're going to keep young people away so as not to remind you." Forgive me, friends, who feel that I am making you old before your time... I'm being mathematical here.

At least we're leaving for the Berkshires tomorrow. Like I had any idea what "the Berkshires" were before this vacation was handed to us. It sounds cool though, like "The Hamptons" or "The Outer Banks". It's someplace in the mountains in Massachussetts, on the border of New York. We won a weekend at a time-share in a drawing. I hope they're not too upset when they realize we have no intention of purchasing one.

So, now it's time to get ready for MOPS. I need to have some more coffee. Try not to think about the preschool graduation yesterday *sniff*, pack up the dog and all his things to stay with a friend, don't wear mascara because it's just going to run when I say good bye to all my friends at MOPS. Think about the summer and the beach and long hours of writing about "The Golden Gryphon." And stop reading Agatha Raisin, as much as I love the dear grouchy detective.