Build Your Own Fairy Garden Class

Fairy Garden collage

Fairy Garden Items

Shenandoah County Parks and Rec has asked me to teach a Build Your Own Fairy Garden Class. I thought this would be a fun way to introduce, not only fairy gardens but, working in clay. Hand building clay items is relaxing and fun and a great way to experience the ceramics process.

The class is listed in the Fall Program Guide that came in the mail about a week ago. Registration for classes started on August 18th and the deadline to sign up for my class is the 23rd of September. You can download the form here…

The listing in the catalog reads as follows:

Build Your Own Fairy Garden

Fairy gardens are a fun way to add whimsy to your outside garden, porch or patio. They can also add interest to an indoor potted plant. In this class, you will build all the accessories to make your own fairy garden out of stoneware clay while leaning about hand-building with clay and the processes that it takes to make miniature items. You can assemble a fairy garden when the accessories are finished and this class will  help you do that too. There will be three total classes. During the last class, you have the option to take your accessories home to assemble your fairy garden or bring your plants along to class for assistance in assembling! PLEASE NOTE: Registration deadline is September 23 For ages 13 and over.

Saturday, September 27th, 9:00 am-12:00 pm

Saturday, October 4th, 9:00 am-12:00 pm

Saturday, October 11th, 9:00 am-12:00 pm

The class will be held in Community Room #1 of the Historic Courthouse in Woodstock, VA and the fee for the class is $59.00 per person. The fairy garden kit, in my Etsy shop sells for $120 so this is a great opportunity. Don’t miss it!

IMG_0771It is coming together. This is the quilt that I am making from the fabric, that my daughter-in-law, Belle, used in the buntings she made for the picnic when she and Thomas got married in 2011. You can read about the quilt idea here…

I have two more of these 4 squares to assemble and add a note from Thomas to Belle and a note from Belle to Thomas. I also have a square with their wedding date on it and a message from Herb and myself.

Hopefully, this will be waiting on them, on the guest bed, when they come home for Thanksgiving.




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Quilt Fever…

The Poems on My Window

Poem window

the window above my clay wedging table

A Meeting

In a dream I meet
my dead friend. He has,
I know, gone long and far,
and yet he is the same
for the dead are changeless.
They grow no older.
It is I who have changed,
grown strange to what I was.
Yet I, the changed one,
ask: “How you been?”
He grins and looks at me.
“I been eating peaches
off some mighty fine trees.

Wendell Berry

This poem was sent to me by a college friend…April Leidig

In my studio, I have a window that I have collected some items to remember John by. After a while, I will probably take some of them down and move them. I don’t want it to begin to become a shrine. The voodoo doll, he bought the summer he worked at Zion National Park and went to California to see a cousin, who took him to Mexico. The photo of him is when we took him to Oregon, a year ago this week. There is a rock on the shelf that I dated 8-22-2013 Walking with John, Grant’s Pass, Oregon. Tomorrow is the 22nd of August and that rock will go into my jar to add to the 1000 pebbles that I am marking the 1000 days to Acceptance. Today is day 165. The poems that I have taped onto the window have given me words to read to help me through my days. They are positive thoughts. They may go away after a while and I find other positive thoughts to take their place. Some days, I don’t look at them, while other days, I read them all. Today, I thought I would share them with you and to also share some insights from a book that I have been reading. Trying to understand the differences in how I, and others are dealing with our new normal.

Right after John’s death, we received a little over a hundred cards and letters of condolences. Many of them had cliche’ messages, many people didn’t know what to write so they let the card be the message and simply signed their names. Some of the cards were very pointed and told stories that really helped us to feel supported and loved.  One letter we received complimented us on our parenting and that, while they didn’t know John, except to watch him play baseball in high school, they did know us and that if we were any indication, John must have been an incredible young man. Many remembered time spent with John.

1000 pebbles to acceptance

1000 pebbles to acceptance

I have also been reading a book by an Episcopal Bishop, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” by John Shelby Spong. As an atheist, I get really frustrated with comments surrounding my son’s death and am trying to find words that will be inspirational to me but will help me to be a critical thinker. This book, written in 1998, discusses all the frustrations that I have had with religion and the superficial aspects of it in terms of today’s society. After, the death of my son, I have struggled with how religion is playing a part in how others are dealing with their grief.  I am trying not to be judgmental about someone else’s grief. Each person has a right to their own belief systems but religion and god have nothing to do with how I am dealing with my grief.

Critical thinking is the basis of this book and Bishop Spong’s advice is to try to find new answers to many of the practices that are out of date from biblical times. He takes the scriptures apart and points out the histories behind them and how the world was very different than what it is today. One of the reviews on the back of the book says that …”he sounds a rousing call for a Christianity based on critical thought rather than blind faith, on love rather than judgement, and that focuses on life more than religion.” I want answers. I don’t want to just think that my son is floating about. With space travel, we now know that the earth is not flat, as what was thought, when the bible was written. Women certainly play a completely different role now than they did in biblical times. Embryology was not even known until the 1700s how a woman’s egg gets fertilized and that during biblical times, she was just property. Men had more than one wife, they had slaves, they were supposedly told by God to go in and kill people. These are just a few of the topics that Bishop Spong addresses.

Prayer is something that he says we need to take a hard look at. How can some prayers be answered while others seem to go unnoticed? Again, critical thinking is something that we need more of. We now have weather radar that can tell us that storms are not part of God sending us signs. We know that space is growing larger and larger with more and more new discoveries. We know that we evolved from a fish. Much of the world was not even know to exist when much of the bible was written. I would highly recommend this book to all christians. I need to point out that Bishop Spong is a believer but calls himself a believer in exile. As an atheist, I respect the christian views to love one another, have respect for all and to care for others who are less fortunate than ourselves, but I think, like Bishop Spong, we need to revisit many of the stories in the bible and add history and realistic science to the stories, putting them into a new perspective to see if they really are words that we want to live by and to understand just how insignificant we really are in the universe. I think that inspiration can come from the beauty in the world around us and from the words that we send and share with each other. I can’t get that inspiration from the Bible and I don’t believe in a supernatural being.  So, below is some of the simple inspirations that I am looking to each day to guide me through my day and to help me resolve my grief.

The 125 cards that we received were all very moving in each of their own ways. The sheer numbers of cards gave us the knowledge that we are loved and are being thought of at this difficult time. In addition to the cards, friends have made us aware that they are there for us, whenever we need them. Some people sent money, not knowing what else to do. That money has been used to put a memorial garden in our yard so we can remember the thoughtfulness of those kind offerings. Being private people, we have accepted some of these invitations and not others. That isn’t to say we don’t appreciate the offers, we just need to deal with small bits of our sadness, sometimes alone.

There is a scholarship fund that is being set up in John’s name through the Shenandoah Community Foundation and when it is complete, I will post about the details so that some other adventurous individual may have the opportunity to experience life fully the way that our son did.

Thank you to each and everyone that has reached out to us.


Inside a card from Walter Elliott: Walter was a friend of a friend who went kayaking several years in the early summer with John, Herb and several other guys. I never met him but I feel this really says that he knew John very well.


I share in the sadness from John’s death. He seemed to enjoy so much. The simple things that others discard or take for granted. Watching him eat leftover food or recycle it into a delicious snack was a pleasure. He made the task of building and tending a campfire into an expression of art. May your grief be lessened by the gifts he gave us in life.

Thinking of you,

Walter Elliott

A poem that my friend Claudia sent me: Claudia sent me this as a way to start my day.

We rise today with,

The light of sun

The radiants of moon

The splendor of fire

The speed of lightning

The swiftness of wind

The depth of ocean 

The stability of earth and the firmness of rock.

Several folks sent this poem but my friend Abbe Kennedy printed it onto a separate sheet of paper:

I don’t think John is in these things but the poem is lovely and the change that I would make to it is that I think John is now stardust rather than the starlight at night. With his ashes being scattered all over the country, I think that stardust is more fitting to his situation.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep,

I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow. I am the diamond glint on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush, 

I am the swift, uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circling flight.

I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep. 

I am not there, I do not sleep. 

Do not stand at my grave and cry.

I am not there, I did not die!

My friend Mona, sent me a card with a wonderful Thomas Merton quote written inside:

The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves,

and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise, we love only the reflection of ourselves

we find in them.     Thomas Merton

Mona also wrote…. what a great thing that John was his own man!

A poem that I found for myself and sent a copy of it to Erin:

After a While

After a while you learn

The subtle difference between

Holding a hand and chaining a soul

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning

And company doesn’t always mean security.

And you begin to learn

That kisses aren’t contracts

And presents aren’t promises

And you begin to accept your defeats

With you head up and your eyes ahead

With the grace of a woman

Not the grief of a child.

And you learn

To build all your roads on today

Because tomorrow’s ground is

Too uncertain for plans

And futures have a way

Of falling down in mid flight

After a while you learn

That even sunshine burns if you get too much

So you plant your own garden

And decorate your own soul

Instead of waiting

For someone to bring you flowers

And you learn

That you really can endure

That you are really strong

And you really do have worth

And you learn and you learn

With every good-bye, you learn.

Veronica A. Shoffstall

My Valentine poem from Herb, my wonderful husband:

Valentine for Susie

They’ve got it wrong

It’s not an arrow through the heart,

a fire blazing bright

or even a red, red rose.

Once I thought it was a butterfly’s flight

a chance blessing shared,

Later a puzzle worked and fit seemed right.

But, now I think I know. 

Our love is a quilt, pieced and stitched 

by our life together.

Defying pattern, colors without caution, 

sewn together with thread from our souls.

And finally, something that I have had on my wall for a while that I find inspirational and try to follow it…. I don’t always do this, but can only strive to do these things.


The Four Agreements

Be Impeccable with your Word

  • Speak with integrity
  • Say only what you mean
  • Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others
  • Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love

Don’t Take Anything Personally

  • Nothing others do is because of you
  • What others say and do ias a projection of their own reality, their own dream
  • When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering

Don’t Make Assumptions

  • Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want
  • Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
  • With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best

  • Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick
  • Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.





New Kiln Equals Business Growth


programmable L&L kiln

During the holiday season last year, I felt that I couldn’t get all the work fired that I needed to fire. I think part of that is knowing how and when the clay is ready to process and not to push it too fast. But, I also didn’t feel that I had the kiln space to push the work through. So, I have ordered a new kiln from The Kiln Doctor and hopefully, in 2-4 weeks, I will be up and running and working harder to fill it up.

The kiln that I currently have is over 35 years old. It has, and continues to serve me well but I feel that I need to upgrade to a programmable kiln and to give myself a bigger goal to work toward. The old kiln will still be used for smaller firings or to do the bisque work. It will continue to be in the basement. I inherited this kiln from my mother-in-law, many years ago, after she tried her hand at ceramics as a hobby.

Originally, the plan was to add a small building to the upper side of my studio to house the kilns. Due to money constraints, I am needing to add the kiln before I add the building. When we renovated the studio, we had the electrician run the wiring for the future kiln and those wires are available on the upper side of the studio, in the wall. Hopefully, he can extract those wires from the building and extend them out to the building that we call the “garage”. The garage has a concrete floor and a good size space to accommodate the larger kiln and then the next upgrade can be a new building so that I am not having to carry work between buildings for the different phases of the process. I can also put the glaze compressor in the garage and get it out of the garden pump room where it currently is. For now, the kayaks and the mower will have to find a new home until we can afford a kiln room addition onto the studio.

The new kiln is now going to be three times the kiln that I currently have and so I hope that, with my skills improving, and my desire to make larger items, that I won’t have any trouble filling this larger space. Growth is good and this is part of the process of growing the business.

My Apprentice, Kara Bowman



Kara, working on her dad’s Father’s Day gift.


For the past several months, I have had a wonderful helper to help with all my fairy garden items. Kara Bowman is 14 and will be a freshman at Strasburg High School this fall. Kara loves history and is an avid Disney fan. She also is a crafter of wonderful duct tape items, wallets, flower pens and tri-fold wallets. She lives with her family in Maurertown, VA and lives on the Shenandoah River. Kara LOVES everything JMU (James Madison University) and hopes to attend school there in 2019 studying as a  physician’s assistant. She just finished a medical camp at Shenandoah Memorial Hospital learning CPR, dissecting a human eyeball, and touring the operating room. You can read more about this camp here. Kara loves getting paid with Dairy Queen blizzards but has been a real asset to helping my fairy garden inventory grow.

In the photo above, Kara is decorating a bowl that we made for her dad for Father’s Day. He is a big Baltimore Orioles fan.


I put the above text in my newsletter about Kara but, I want to add a full posting about her in my blog. Kara is a very kind and caring individual and during the past 6 months that I have been dealing with the grief of my son John’s death, she has been a wonderful companion to have and to sit with me in the studio. Kara’s mom, Cathy knew that this would be good for me, and also for Kara, to work with me, as an assistant, of sorts.

Kara is good about doing what I ask of her and is a quick learner and has a good eye for detail. She has really enjoyed doing the butterfly chairs and has looked up wonderful butterflies on her phone to replicate the colors and really enjoyed doing birdbaths. This was her first assignment and was very attentive to the different birds that she could add to the birdbaths. After the birdbaths were done, you could definitely pick out the orioles from the cardinals because she wanted them to look like the real birds.

I have introduced Kara to some new forms of music and movies and she has introduced me to everything Disney…. sometimes a bit too much Disney… but we try to share and enjoy each others tastes.

I would like to personally thank Kara, for being independent enough to be trusted and to know that it is okay to ask for something to eat or drink. I am not sure that she will come away from this experience wanting to pursue a career in ceramics but I hope this has added some depth to her education and the understanding of crafting as a business.

Kara has agreed to help me out with the Empty Bowls this year. I plan on teaching her how to make the frogs so that we can pledge a larger amount of bowls this year. The Alliance for Shelter in Shenandoah County lost a vital piece of their real estate to fire earlier in the Spring and hopefully our bowls that we contribute will help the homeless to have better shelter in the future. Kara has a caring heart and that is an organization that she holds dear so together we will do our part to help others.