Getting the Words Out

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We like words, and not just between the covers of a book (or on the screen of our e-readers). When we re-did our coffee table, we covered it with the scientific names of all the plants in our yard:

And there are other places where we’ve found room for words. I made a new gate for the backyard out of scrap wood, and included a glass panel for writing messages, always related to the garden:

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But our most public display is the poetry pole, featured in this post because we just had a iron artisan we know make a new sign for it:

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We have two plexiglass frames on the pole for slipping poems into, which I change once every week or two.

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Usually the top frame is for a more grown-up poem and the bottom for a kid-friendly poem, but recently an elementary school class from down the street took a field trip to the pole, read their poems in front of it, and dropped them all off in the plastic tube we’ve attached to the pole for submissions. So for the next several weeks all the poetry will be by children, such as the one above. I’m glad the pole has become the subject of pilgrimage. There are several neighbors in the area who walk past regularly, checking for updates.

Back to Writing, or, Building a Simple Cold Frame

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I’ve been pleasantly at loose ends, waiting for writing to grab me and demand that I return. I’ve been on Spring Break for two weeks, which is usually a very productive writing time, but instead it has been a productive other things time- hiking, traveling, working in the yard- but in a funny way I could feel the urge to write returning, getting ready to emerge. Two days ago I realized, “Oh. Tomorrow morning I will be ready to write again.” The sun rose the following day and there I was, writing, resuming a very new draft for what will be a very long book, right where I had dropped it a few months ago without missing a beat. One thing I love about writing regularly is that I am comfortable when I am not writing. I know I will always get back to it.

But that doesn’t mean I didn’t build a new green house while I was waiting!

The old one was huge, loved because it was built (almost) entirely out of found/reused/free materials, but alarmingly bowed in the middle. One problem with using recycled wood is unless someone has thrown away a really long single-piece roof beam, it is hard to build one that does the job.

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Even those windows were free. Someone had replaced all the windows on an outbuilding of their house and gave the old ones away. The whole original structure was designed around those windows and the wood we had on hand from putting an addition on our house, so was a bit of a hodge-podge. The windows were the first to go as we dismantled it.

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Then getting the roof pieces off. It was distressing how everything still in place shimmied to and fro as I took it apart. Really, that odd half-barn roof was beyond my capabilities when I built it.

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Walls are gone now. Note the chickens come to inspect.

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We saved that back wall because it was the most normal and might be useful.

Now, with the greenhouse disassembled, it was time to rebuild, shooting for something smaller, between a cold frame and a greenhouse. Again, the windows form the basis of the design. They are 5 feet wide and 4 feet tall, so the new cold frame/greenhouse will be 5′ by 5′. I will use three of the windows in the new structure, and what I can from my new pile of raw materials, the former greenhouse:

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First, use the largest boards (2″ X 10″) to build a foundation frame:

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Then clear and roughly level a square of ground where the greenhouse used to be:

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Place the foundation on the flat ground a use bricks to get the final level:

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Mind the turtle beneath the sawhorse:

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Let the chickens inspect the foundation:

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Install double-stud posts at the corners, pre-cut to make slots for the rails along the bottom of the windows and along the top:

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Mind the chicken poop atop the sawhorses:

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Add framing around windows and do a test fit (note the diagonal bracing in place behind the window; later on sheathing below the window will take that diagonal load, but I didn’t want the window frame to take it):

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Another window fitting; sheathing has been added below the windows to act as stiffening along the diagonal:

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My lovely assistant. Sheathing in place along the whole back wall. This is a north wall so windows would only waste heat instead of collecting it.

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Added studs below and trimmed pallets we had in the yard to make platform for plants in pots or starter cups. The pallets are just resting on the wood below, not attached permanently:

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The final window in place. The front frame turned out to be ever-so-slightly crooked, so I unscrewed a corner, adjusted, and screwed it back down. All the attachments here are done with wood screws, which I think hold better in old wood, and are easier to get in and out to change things. That was true of the previous structure (mostly), which made it a lot easier to take apart (and I could reuse all those screws).

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The almost-finished structure. I still need to sheath the bottom front. I had this idea for putting black PVC pipe there full of water and capped at the ends, to act as a solar-gain during the day, which would then radiate heat into the space below the plants at night, but the pipe for just that small space was $40. Yikes! Either that material needs to fall into my lap before winter comes or that space just gets sheathed like everything else. I also need to deal with the half-moon gaps under the roofing. One idea we thought of too late would have been to cover the roof with plywood first and then nail down (that part is nailed!) the roofing. I may yet go back and do that, and we have the wood for it.

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Along with being an inexpert greenhouse/cold frame builder, I’m also an aspiring author! Check out my ebooks at smashwords.com:

 

Characters: Show Yourselves!

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“Show, don’t tell,” is my favorite admonition for writers. Whenever I catch myself ‘telling’ (“He was sad”), I rewrite so I am ‘showing’ instead (“Tears streaked his face’).

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In the draft I am working on now (too new to call my ‘latest novel’…maybe this is not the one…), I am enjoying the process of forcing myself to not tell anything about what anyone is thinking or why they are doing the things they are doing. At this point in the tale the family of my main character is on a journey, headed towards trouble (of course!). Her parents know trouble is out there, the guards they hired know there is trouble, the parents know the guards are less than reliable allies. I could say something like, “Her mother and father were afraid of losing the goodwill of the guards,” which is true enough, but that is telling. Better to show what the parents are doing to avoid losing that goodwill, without saying why they are doing it. Something like:

Her father kept joking with the guards around the campfire, not relenting until one of them cracked a smile.

That makes the reader get involved with figuring out what is going on, or keeps them interested because they are not yet sure what is going on.

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Also, it gets me involved. I didn’t realize just how much of a hapless joker my character’s father is until I forced myself to show what he was doing in reaction to the guards. I understand him better- he likes to smooth things over, gloss the issues and move ahead hopefully. I also realized how tough her mother is, and that she is actually not worried about the guards. She is paying the guards and expecting that alone to buy their loyalty. Both of them are making mistakes, and I learned a lot about them in the process of imagining those mistakes. Hopefully it makes them more interesting characters for my readers, too.

This is what I love most about writing fiction- the way you learn about the people you thought you were inventing.

South Peak From the North

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The most common way to reach South Peak is up Embudito Trail, one of my favorite hikes, but my friend David keeps telling me of a social trail a little north of the official trail, that follows the ridgeline between Embudito Canyon and Bear Canyon- so yesterday I decided to find the trail and hike to the peak along this more obscure route.

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A meadowlark greeted me before dawn as I got to the parking lot. The trail was easy to find, though like a lot of social trails there were several spidery choices cutting across the landscape, all of which eventually came together on a single trail, quite easy to follow, that wasted no time heading straight up the ridgeline. The official trail, Embudito Trail, is a well crafted route that does not waste your energy- it snakes around the canyon, going gently up and up to South Peak. The social trail I’m on follows the ridgeline exactly, all the way to each minor peak and then down to the next minor saddle. So, you lose a lot of your vertical progress with each subsequent descent- but in exchange you get more drama.

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Sunrise over the Rio Grande Valley.

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From the base of the trail, looking towards the north side of the Sandias, where the other tall peaks along the crest are.

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It’s spring! Claret Cup Cactus.

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The shadow of the mountain across the city.

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Sooner than expected the trail gets woody, more juniper-woodland than I would have expected for an open ridgeline. Nice for walking.

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The first good view of the target, once I was high enough to see over the low foothills blocking the peak.

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Looking north again, from higher up, towards the rest of the Sandias.

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A lovely tumbly-jumbly outcrop of boulders along the trail.

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Some nice flat boulders higher up- good for meditation. Some future hike, perhaps.

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Looking back at Albuquerque from quite high.

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The peak gets closer. You can see the steep granite cliffs in front of it. Embudito trail, the official trail, goes behind these. I’m starting to wonder how this trail is going to get past them.

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The view north over Bear and Pino canyons.

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Barbed wire. Bear Canyon to the north used to be part of the Elena Gallegos land grant, which was private land until a few years ago when the city bought some of it and the National Forest the rest (and some got developed, and a little is still privately owned). This former fence marks the grant’s southern boundary. I caught a glimpse of it on my left, then noticed it was on my right, and now I am crossing over it again.

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The peak. This wide-angle shot does not do justice to the way the peak is starting to loom over me. This is the view from the last ridge before the last descent into the last saddle, before the final climb.

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Even closer.

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The northern peaks. With the sun higher now you can see all the rocky cliff faces.

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Northern Flicker. The trail, which had been going determinedly east, has now turned to the south, still on the ridgeline, heading straight towards South Peak.

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This imposing cliff face is actually in front of the Peak, which is lurking behind it. To its right and left are what look like seriously steep slopes. I’m wondering if the trail climbs one of these…

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…or if perhaps it is going to climb this slope further north. A choice between killer-steep and just terribly, terribly steep. And the winner is…

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Terribly, terribly steep. The trail shifts west again and climbs this thickly wooded slope. For the whole hike I’ve hardly paused, just stopping to get drinks from my water bottles. On this final stretch I stop a dozen times to rest my legs. The trail, happily going up and down the ridge all this time, has realized that here at the last minute it has some serious climbing to do, and it does. Very steep.

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Following a deer up the trail. Even the deer gives up on this trail a little further up.

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Lingering ice and snow.

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This is either the top visible through the trees, or one of those tops where you clear it and go, oh, just three more of those to go. I stop to rest twice more before getting to this clearing…

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Which is the top! The crest is far more open close to South Peak- lots of grassy meadows and scrubby oak woodland, all still dormant. Spring has not yet come to this altitude. The peaks to the north are covered in Spruce-Fir forest.

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The trail gets to the crest a little north of the peak. Another half-mile to go. Views from the top:

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My reward- a fat chocolate muffin.

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Heading down the south side now, towards Embudito trail.

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Gets windy up here. This looks like a low-country picture, but I am still on the crest at 9,000-plus feet.

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The turn-off from Embudito trail to the spur leading to South Peak. Easy to miss.

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The slope to the peak. Not so full of cliffs and drama as the route from the north.

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Oso Pass, a notable landmark, where Three-Gun Spring trail meets Embudito trail. Years ago it was marked by four tall, dead trees. 20 years on, just one still stands.

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One is half-standing.

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One is down…and the other I could not find.

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Leaving Oso Pass on Embudito trail.

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The peak behind me.

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My buddy Chris calls this thickly wooded stretch of the trail Mirkwood. It’s a north-facing slope with a stream at the bottom of the canyon, cool and moist for the desert.

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Murky-woodyness.

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Awesome Ponderosa Pine. Smells of Butterscotch.

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Mountain Chickadee

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An old blaze for the trail.

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A favorite spot, where the trail crosses a dry stream in an open Ponderosa woodland. This is the closest the two trails get along the route, besides meeting at the top. The northern social trail is just a short walk away.

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The last good view of the peak.

More spring in the desert:

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And a last view of the peak from the bottom, barely visible between foothills:

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Then it was back on the bike for the ride home. All downhill!

 

 

Seedlings

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Whoa…I finished the final draft of my book, posted it to Smashwords, and dropped out of the internet for a while. Went hiking. Went biking. Actually, went hiking and biking together. Went to San Francisco checking out the art school my son wants to go to. Went out into the garden and planted some tomatoes. All this instead of promotion, as in promoting the book, which is the next step after publishing it, which is why I have sold two copies thus far.

But I like to think planting some tomatoes will help.

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And beans.

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And check out those potatoes

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And this, the one lowly carrot that has deigned to push itself forth from the ground, of the hundred or so seeds I planted

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Oh, and I’ve been doing what any author would do when the time has come to promote their book: worked on my invented language! Here’s how to say ‘Goodnight! Goodnight! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say goodnight until it be morrow':

Yezhlavkha! Yezhlavkha! Dhí nelthirr ais yidhaymúfzhídh dhayn ais lezhíl oní haythwais oní hiludhoní.

That’s in Everi, the language I made up for my first eBook, Silent One.

Alright, alright, I’ll do some promotion:

Check out my latest book, Orphan Spirit, a ghost story for all ages, the tale of a young girl struggling to come back to life after years of wandering in darkness. Available in numerous eBook formats at Smashwords.com, and for Nook at Barnes and Noble- just 99 cents!

Also available is my short novel Nightfall in the Kingdom of Winter…free!

And my giant fantasy epic, Silent Onethe one the invented language was designed for. Fairies like you never imagined them before!

Now What?

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Spring is here, my proofreading is done, so I can appreciate the apple trees now. Let the appreciation begin:

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Ok, not an apple tree. This is a chicken caught laying eggs in the ivy. Sneaky beast- there were 6 eggs hiding here.

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Ok, not an apple tree either. I love these guys!

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Not technically an apple either- this is a pear tree, planted in a big pot. I had two pear trees in the ground, and they hated the soil. Now they are in pots and happy. The blossoms smell gross.

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At last, an apple, of the Niedsvetskanya variety, which have these lovely purplish blossoms, and red flesh once ripe. They smell the best, just like roses.

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Apple again, a ‘Cinnamon Spice’. A large and very tasty variety.

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Granny Smith- always the first to leaf out and blossom.

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Bee working the Granny Smith.

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The mama dove who has moved into the crook of the Locust tree.

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The cats…can you guess which one has their eye on that mama dove?

I have several more fruit trees, at less exciting stages of budding, but they are sure to get some blog time in later. And I would be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that MY NEW BOOK IS OUT! Yay! It’s a ghost story I’m very proud of, just 99 cents on smashwords, available in many formats, and yearning to be read. Feel free to check out my older books as well (here and here)- they want to be read, too.

The Book is Here! The Book is Here!

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I’m very excited to announce that my newest book Orphan Spirit is now available! It’s a novel for all ages, a ghost story, something I’ve been working on for a long time. I first thought of the idea years ago driving with my family in Croatia when my wife and I taught overseas. Originally it was meant to be wacky and silly, a humorous tale of an orphanage haunted by a ghost, but it turned into a story of love and friendship instead, with a healthy dose of scary haunting as well. It took until now to really understand the ending well enough to finish the book, and here it is at last.

My son, Simon Young, heading to art school in just a few months, did the cover. I love it.

He said I could put out a shingle for him and his art, so if you need a book cover done, or some other artwork, you could send him an email and discuss it with him.

This makes three books I have online now. I hope you’ll check them out, and if you enjoy them let me know (and leave a review on Smashwords!), and tell others you think might enjoy the books about them. They’re available in all eBook formats, as well as PDF files and plain text, or you can just read them on Smashwords. The older two books are available at Barnes and Noble online, and the new one should be soon.

It’s a big day! Finally sending this baby out into the world. My son read the first draft back when he was nine, and now here he is heading off to college- another baby going out into the world. Yikes!

My books:

Orphan Spirit (**new**!)

Silent One

Nightfall in the Kingdom of Winter

Now What?

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Spring is almost here, but not quite yet. The peaches are blossoming, the apples budding. It rained last night, and this morning it is foggy, which almost never happens in Albuquerque. This is my ‘golden hour’, when I get the most done- everyone is still asleep but me; there is only the cat trying to sit on the laptop. But nothing is getting done.

Available Soon!!

Available Soon!!

For months now these mornings have been full of my draft for Orphan Spirit, but the draft is done, my wife is reading it, the cover is almost ready, and I am sitting here in the early morning, stalled. I’ve been all about getting the proofreading complete, getting the formatting prepared to go online. What’s odd is that while that was happening I had all sorts of ideas for other stories, and was making notes while finishing up Orphan Spirit, but none of those stories are yet ready for the writing to begin. They are at the stage where I need to be doing something else- gardening, hiking, cleaning- while the outlines of those books hum along in my head, spitting up ideas for me to take note of when I least expect it. It is not yet time to write.

But on a foggy morning in not-quite-yet spring, it’s also too early to do anything else. So I will pet the cat, let her sit on the laptop, and go to the bakery when it opens. Perhaps on the way ideas will come, and I will write them down before heading out to the garden, or to the mountains, or some other elsewhere.

The Ghost in the Classroom

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I’m reading the final draft of my novel backwards, a last search for spelling mistakes and such. The computer spell-check is an interesting thing. It highlighted the word ‘looked’ in the sentence ‘the door looked closed’, and suggested locked. I thought that was clever, though ‘the door locked closed’ sounds a bit odd. But it didn’t highlight ‘fraidy’, as in ‘fraidy cat’. I notice as I type this blog entry that the spell checker for WordPress definitely has a problem with ‘fraidy’. My chrome word processor seems to have quite a comprehensive dictionary. (note: the spell check also highlighted ‘WordPress’, until I remembered to capitalize the ‘P’)

Available Soon!!

Available Soon!!

My upcoming novel is a ghost story, and just this week in my classroom (I teach 1st and 2nd grade) a funny thing happened. For years my students and I have joked about our classroom ghost, whose name is Rebecca. If something falls off a table or the door rattles in the wind, it’s Rebecca. Because I have 1st and 2nd grade, and therefore get my first graders back the following year as second graders, the story of Rebecca has legs. It gets passed down year after year. A student from another classroom just got transferred into my class, but of course it never occurred to me to explain Rebecca to him. But she is everywhere; the kids talk about her casually all the time, know what her favorite books are, where she likes to sit. A casual visitor to the classroom would think she was the most popular student in the class, loved by everyone. After a week in class I was reading with a child and overheard the new boy turn to another boy and ask, “Ok, which one is Rebecca?” Poor guy- here he’s been hearing all this stuff about Rebecca, trying to learn everyone’s name, and he can’t figure out which one she is.

The other boy didn’t even bat an eye- right away he told this quite detailed story of Rebecca, our classroom ghost, and how she died. I’d never heard any of it before, but Rebecca has quite a history. It’s been a few days now since this happened, and the new boy is clearly onto it (he never asked me about it, by the way). He talks about Rebecca, talks to Rebecca, seems to be well aware of what is going on.

Though you can never be sure just what a first grader’s grasp of reality is, in a classroom where Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are still real people. Maybe he’s just hedging his bets, not wanting to offend our classroom ghost.

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