Thursday, May 22, 2014

Musings from My Backyard and My Book Releases in Taiwan....

I've got lots of pots starting to percolate and bubble on the stove, and in the meantime a few earlier creations are now completely baked and ready to come out of the oven. Am I hungry or what?

I just got word that my book, Lessons from the Monk I Married, will be hitting bookstores in Taiwan on May 31st. It's very strange to see my book in Chinese characters. Here's what the cover looks like:

 I wonder what the response will be halfway around the world. I am seeing people reading it on subways and buses. I see a woman, dressed to the nines, on her lunch break, diving into it over a bowl of steamy noodle soup. Maybe it makes her question what she has been doing all this time? Maybe she will suddenly get an undeniable urge to hit the road?

After my book came out in Croatia, readers from this mysterious land began to contact me via email and blog comments. Suddenly I wanted to know every thing about this place and its people. I watched a Rick Steves's show on Croatia and started to get a bad case of wanderlust again.

But my backyard is really not that bad, to be honest.

Since I live here, I don't think too much about where I am. I'm currently reading Jack Keroauc's The Dhamma Bums. There's a reason for this. It's one of the pots on the stove at this very minute that's about to bubble over. I'll let you know the details soon in another post, perhaps.

So here's Ray in The Dhamma Bums, traveling here there and everywhere, and where should the finale, the final destination, the place of dreams, the much-sought-after holy land be?

My backyard.

My digs.

The place where I grew up.

The Great Pacific Northwest, but more precisely Washington State.

You don't think too much about where you live until it is glorified in some book. And then, where you live seems to take on a whole new look. It sure did for me.

Here's what Ray in The Dhamma Bums says about where I live:

"The Northwest was a great deal more than the little vision I had of it of Japhy in my mind. It was miles and miles of unbelievable mountains grooking on all horizons in the wild broken clouds, Mount Olympus and Mount Baker, a giant orange sash in the gloom over the Pacific-ward skies that led to the world."

And that's just the start of Kerouac's description of where I live. This suddenly made me take a good, hard look at my surroundings starting with my yard. Here are a few photos of my garden and street:

Rainbow on my street the other day and towering Evergreens

My front garden fence with Japanese maples

Purple Clematis we planted two years ago now climbing the fence

Irises blooming and my reading table in the background

Then, I began to explore my neighborhood. I had no idea that less than a mile from me was an old growth forest, a babbling creek and a place called Hidden Lake, so clean it made me want to swim with the little ducklings there.

Lupus and daisies with the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound

Little ducklings swimming on the crystal clear Hidden Lake

My husband in an old growth forest practically in our backyard

Living in the one of the most wonderful place in the world! This is right in Seattle.

I can't say I still don't have wanderlust, but I will admit that I am starting to fully recognize what a dream place I live in?

Do you like where you live? Do you ever take for granted the place you call home?

Thursday, May 15, 2014


I feel a big change coming soon. Things are all up in the air in my mind, but on the surface life rolls along just as it always has. I think this idea of something new on the forefront has been on my mind for a long time, but now it appears to be a burning desire to move.

Move in a different direction.

Walk along a different path.

I feel it will all come to fruition....


We don't make things change in nature, they just do.

What I find is that when I'm resistant or fear the change and try to continue along the same road that no longer fits me, the desire to change course burns even stronger in me. It won't leave me alone.

So I decided to go out with my husband today and witness the inevitable changes in nature. We hopped in the car after breakfast and headed out to Discovery Park.

Along the path, through a tunnel of greenery, we saw that the salmon berries had decided to ripen a bit earlier than usual. All the way down to the ocean we picked these juicy gems and popped them into our mouths. It was our own garden of Eden.

When we got down to the ocean, wild roses greeted us along with daisies and lupus. Behind them, the Olympic Mountains stood majestically in the background. I felt the warm sun on my shoulders and back and realized I had forgotten suntan lotion. It's rarely needed in these parts.

The tide was way out due to fact that the moon is currently full. We walked out where clams were squirting and half-devoured crabs lay mangled on the sand. The seagulls had obviously had their lunch.

Yoon plopped down in the dry sand near a pile of driftwood and I followed. I sunk my bare feet deep into the warm grains and rested my head on a log. I felt light and happy and assured that I didn't need to push things.

Change will come, whether I like it or not. Nature is evidence of that. I just need to fully feel each day, each sight, sound smell, taste, attention to the bees working their way from flower to flower. Watch the kids on the beach joyfully searching for sea creatures.

All in due time.
All in due time.

I feel it will happen sooner rather than later, but I'm not going to wait for it. I am not going to wonder about it anymore. I'm just going to enjoy my day.

Are there any big changes or shifts you are also currently experiencing?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Student-Centered Learning or How About Cheesecake in Class?

"Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn."—Benjamin Franklin

I'm teaching several different types of classes this quarter and have close to 100 students! I teach at a local community college.

This quarter, I'm teaching everything from a Prep for Small Business Ownership class for immigrants and refugees as part of the ABE ESL program to a new class I created as part of the Arts Now program called Blogging and Journaling: Freeing the Writer Within.

I'd like to say that I'm not just teaching, but allowing students to become the center of their own learning process and development. I can give instruction, information, ideas, materials, stories and share my own personal experiences, but the students must take the extra leap and apply all these things to their lives.

For real learning to take place, experience is necessary. 

The classes I remember most from school are the ones where the teacher was more like a guide and it was up to me to take these ideas and materials and put them to use.

So what does this all have to do with cheesecake, you ask?

In my Prep for Small Business Ownership class, I had the students read an article from 2005 Small Business Resource Guide (A supplement to Business Examiner). It was a little magazine that is chocked full of interesting "real life" stories about people who took the plunge and started their own businesses.

The article they read is called Agencies Can Provide Sweet Deals and it's about a woman named Danelle Bentley who loved to cook delicious cheesecakes for friends, family, neighbors—anyone she could think of. Many of them, after tasting her creations, said, "This is the best cheesecake I've ever eaten—you should go into business."

She didn't take it seriously at first, but before long she had transformed her garage into a commercial kitchen and later opened her own shop, Dee's Licious Gourmet Cheesecakes, and was selling to a restaurant chain and even sold a product at Costco.

After reading the article in class, I said, "I wonder if she is still in business? Maybe you all could Google her and find out."

One student took this very seriously and managed to track Danelle down. She even went to her place of work and interviewed her and came back to the class to report what she discovered.

At first I was a bit surprised and even thought maybe this was a step too far, but the student had a very pleasant experience chatting with Danelle about her cheesecake business and this gave me the opportunity to contact her and ask if she'd come to the class as a guest speaker.

Even though Danelle is no longer in the cheesecake business, her experiences—both positive and negative—about operating a small business were invaluable to my students.

Besides that, what an amazing journey it was for my class to read an article in a 2005 supplemental magazine and then have that person show up in class with arms full of mini cheesecakes (a secret recipe) for my students. They were so thrilled and had so many questions.

It was one student's very keen interest in finding this woman that brought her to our class. This made our class experience and the learning process much more interesting for the students because they were involved in this process.

The entire class came up with questions to ask Danelle and I compiled those questions into a list and emailed it to her.

I know this was an experience the students will never forget. At the end, we all clapped and thanked Danelle for coming and took a picture with her.

Students in my Prep for Small Business Class with Danelle who formerly owned Dee's Licious Gourmet Cheesecakes

Perhaps, after years of being out of the cheesecake business, the enthusiasm of our class sparked that interest and passion in her again. At least I know it did for the time she was in our class and we were so lucky to hear her stories.

Was there ever a time in school where you were excited to be part of the learning process? What were you doing? Do you have any specific teachers you remember very well?