Young Ladies Writing Club

One day some of my granddaughters wanted to pretend to be in a Nancy Drew type mystery. So we started to role play and designed some characters for our story and started plotting our mystery. We went to the book store and carefully looked at the people to see which one of them was the thief in our story…You get the gist of the fantasy world we had entered.

0907_GrimesPortraits_142It gave me the idea of writing a book together having each of these five girls, all from different families, give input on a story line. We put our heads together and came up with an idea. It had to have an big  old Victorian house in it and an old lady that has been around a long, long time and never dies, and then…that’s as far as we got that night. Everyone went to their own homes, but we couldn’t wait to really get started on our book!

I set up a time when they could all come to my house and continue our story. We called it Young Ladies Writing Club, and we are having a ball!  It has no name yet, and tends to change directions the more we talk, but we did come up with our characters–based on ourselves. My name is Nancy–the girls want me to be an older version of Nancy Drew; I have four daughters Kat and Lulu are twins who are 13 years old –two years older than the actual girls who picked their names and ages.  My next daughter is Lemonie who is the same age as her real self. She’s 10 years old. The baby is a composite. She is four years old and based on on seven year old and four year old granddaughters. Their character’s name is Pookie. In this blog I will refer to the real girls by their fictional names. I hope this won’t confuse you too much. As for Pookie–I will call the 7 year old as Pookie 1 and the little one as Pookie 2.

Our book is about how we move into an old historic home in an old historic town. There are going to be mysteries in the book. One of which is the old, old lady who lives across the street.  She is a happy, loving soul, who is very active, and very wise. She looks about 80 years old, but that is how she looked 40 years ago when the mom, Nancy first saw her!

Here is part of the first chapter– I am introducing the girls. We are moving into a new phase of life, having recently become fatherless and husband-less. We are in the process of looking for a new place to call home, which we all agree should be a large old house.  Here we go:

From the book in progress temporarily known as:


A Bit of Chapter One

Nancy is the mother of four daughters.  They are on our own, meaning there is no father in their house any longer.  How they got to this state is in the past and they are determined to move on with life. There are innumerable families like theirs who have become single parent families, so we will not dwell on that part of their story.

With events from the past  year, Nancy has come into a great deal of money.  They all feel that in order to move on, they should begin a new life in a new house and a new location. They all love big old Victorian houses, largely because the mother does and has pointed them out often to the children. Nancy’s grandmother used to show her the home she lived in as a girl. It was in a quaint little town with many beautiful old homes in it, with a main street of shops and stores that were all closed and forgotten as was the whole town. The Interstate had bypassed the town by miles, the former mills that kept the town alive were gone, and slowly all moved out or died, there were no buyers for the houses and no prospects for the future, so the whole town was abandoned. Nancy’s grandmother would take her on excursions to the old town and tell her stories of when she was a young girl, and how grand the homes were and the flowering yards all around. She pointed out the ice cream store, the drug store, the grocery and general stores. In the child’s mind, she could picture all the scenes her grandmother described. She could see the town in its happy heyday with people moving in and out and all around. “Wouldn’t it be grand if this town actually came alive while we were here,” she thought with a sigh.

There were two times while on these little jaunts, her Grandma Jersey would stop in and see an old lady who was still living there, along with a few other folks who were too old to move one. This lady, Nancy couldn’t recall her name, had been a friend of Grandma Jersey’s parents. Grandma was in her 60’s at the time of these visits, and her old neighbor was 80 something, as Nancy remembered. She loved these visits. The old woman’s house was very large and seemed to have been frozen in time with the same old appliances and furnishings from even before her grandmother’s time. It became the home of her dreams–a big, old, beautiful house.

So began their quest for their own Victorian style home. The anticipation of finding such a place brightened their our recently dismal existence into a sunny landscape of hope, as one finds each year when the sun melts down old winter’s gloom and the world warms and bursts into blossom. They drove through parts of their city where old architecture was preserved. They drove through nearby towns and cities looking for the perfect home. Almost everyone they saw excited them, but somehow not ideal for them, so they continued to look further and farther.
Nancy remember hearing recently that her grandmother’s old town was being restored. It was rediscovered and artsy people were moving  into old houses and opening up shops. In mentioning that to her daughters, they decided they should at least visit the place.

“Maybe we could buy the house our great grandmother lived in! Wouldn’t that be cool?” said Kat, one of the eldest girls.

Her twin sister Lulu said, “We have to study the area and schools and neighbors before we pick out a house, Kat. We have talked about this; we can’t just go buy a house because we think it’s cool.”

Kat was the romantic one in the family She is a chatterbox with a brain so full of ideas that they spill out constantly, sometimes all together in a jumble so the others often can’t always decipher their meaning. But eventually, she gets them untangled and they are always interesting. Sometimes her listeners are absolutely awed and usually very amused! She loves mysteries  and can snoop one out fairly quickly. She is a good writer and began writing stories when she was six. She comes up with some intriguing ideas, but most of them have dire endings; No one is sure why she loves drama when she is so funny. She keeps the family laughing.

—Here is where the voice changes from 3rd person to 1st person. Help with this decision!

Lulu is her fraternal twin; they are 13 years old.  Lulu seems much more mature than her years, and I depend on her as one does a secretary or assistant. She is very quiet, doesn’t like to express her plans or ideas with words around just anyone–they have to be trusted people. And just because she doesn’t speak a lot does not mean she is without brilliant thoughts and opinions. She is very opinionated and quite stubborn. She wants things done her way and goes about it so quietly that we all find ourselves following after her without even realizing it.

My third daughter just as distinctly different from the other two. She is kind and loyal and gets very defensive in behalf of anyone she cares about–especially her little sister Pookie.  Lemonie is vivacious and assertive and usually speaks her mind. She has a huge smile the lights up her face, but quickly turns it into a frown if things don’t go her way.  I’m afraid that is the trait she got from me. My mother used to tell me that I fit the nursery rhyme, “There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead, and when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid!” Lemonie is never horrid, and neither was I, I’m sure.  She is ten years old and at the in between stage where she loves to be adventurous, play outdoors and get muddy, then turn around and put on some fancy dress, play in my makeup and perfume and dance with her earbuds blocking the world around her. It is one of my favorite times of life in a little girl. I love standing back and just watching.  Her name does somewhat fit her; she can be tart in her manner and speech.

Now the baby of the family is Pookie. She is only four years old. She is just so cute, and she knows it.  She can be the most cooperative child of the group, and is usually very helpful– unless she isn’t. She’s a natural at keeping things picked up and orderly and is willing the assist her sisters in picking up their rooms– unless she isn’t . She is so full of love and joy and kisses–unless she isn’t.  She is also the most daring and knows no fear. She will climb up or into anything that looks scary to others. We have to keep an eye on her, or she will be in another predicament which will require another rescue.  Oh, and she screams–at the times that she isn’t cooperative and loving.

(temporary end of chapter one.)

We decided to base the old, old lady Mary Merryweather in our book is based on two of the children’s great grandmothers. So today, as research for our book,  we visited Great Grandma Nina to learn about her life as a quilter. She is 93 years old and is a professional quilter. She is a founding member of the Utah Quilt Guild and won the Governor’s Folk Art Award for Utah in 1986. She taught quilting  and embroidery at YWCA and Mormon Handicraft for 30 years. I took a trunk full of beautiful items she has made for us through the years, and she talked to the girls about her history in quilting, explaining all the techniques used in each piece.

Mary Merryweather  in our story  told us about elegant dinners when she was young and “coming out into society.” The girls were so fascinated, that she decided to fix an elegant dinner for the girls with her china and crystal in her ornate dining room, and would teach them etiquette from her day.

We decided that we should have a dinner similar to the one in the book, using best china and dress formally. Well, before we could attend such a fancy dinner, we had to do some shopping! To find gowns nice enough to wear to a that kind of experience we started at the thrift store. We found a pair of “glass” slippers that fit Lemonie perfectly, and she was in heaven from then on.  She then found a black velvet dress to go with her glass slippers, but of course everything  would look gorgeous with those shoes.  Lulu didn’t find a fancy dress she wanted to wear–largely because she never wears a dress–a skirt is as dressy as she can stand.  Kat found a pretty white dress that was probably a wedding dress, but for our purposes, it was a formal evening gown. Pookie 1 decided to wear a dress from our dress up box that is an old dress, but tiny size that fits her.  Giving Pookie 2 a chance to choose her dress, was a problem. You should see the dress she picked.  There were lots of fancy dresses to choose from, but she found a cotton sun dress –two sizes too big–with bright flowers on it that she fell in love with. Presenting her with other options induced screams and  whines from her, so I bought the flowered thing and also a black velveteen dress previously from Old Navy that looked brand new in her exact size–both priced the same $3.00. Thrift stores are the best for things like this.

At home Lulu agreed to wear a red, ruffled formal, hoop skirt dress from our old prom dress collection (In our story these really came from  the old, old lady’s attic) as long as she could wear her navy blue T-shirt under it.  So our elegant dinner hour came, and everything was very posh! We ate with silver on china with cloth napkins; crystal candle sticks cast a glow on the table, with classical music playing in the background. And after dinner, as our research for the book continued,  Grandpa danced with each of the young ladies. We discovered  that Lemonie is a princess (although she has always known it, but just informed the rest of us) and can never remove her glass slippers.


Secret Garden Camp*******


Mary and Dickon finding the door to the Secret Garden. Actually my grand kids at Thanksgiving Point  Secret Garden.

One of my favorite Grandma’s Camps was Secret Garden Camp, which of course, was centered around  the book by Francis Hodgson Burnett. I love the book and the movies as well. Not many of my grandchildren had read it, but we watched the movie and talked about the parts we loved. (Actually my pre-teen boys hated the movie, but they had a lot of fun with the camp.)

There are three parts to the book A Secret Garden that I wanted to use:

  1.  1-Gardening:  Mary discovers the Secret Garden and needs permission to go into this garden that has been shut up for 10 years. She simply asks her uncle for a “bit of earth.” He tells her to take it anywhere, so she takes that as permission to care for the secret garden.  At this camp I wanted the children to learn about gardening, participate in it, and enjoy nature.

    Mary and Dickon discovering the Secret Gardenparticipate, and enjoy nature.

2-Character Traits:  There is “magic in all of us” is a lesson the children in the book learn that comes through positive thinking, believing in ourselves, and being likeable.  Mary and Collin are often described as being unpleasant and rude. The servant Martha, in fact, says Mary is “as tyrannical as a pig” and that Collin is the “worst young newt as ever was.” At camp we talked about why  both of these children were so ill tempered. No one liked to be around them. Would we like to be like them? How did they turn their attitudes around? The gardener Ben Weathstaff told the children, “Two things cannot be in the same place. Where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow.”  Perfect teaching point.

3-Mystery: There are a couple of mysteries in the book. Mary found a key and hunted for a secret door to a walled garden. There are a couple of other mysteries in the book, so  I wanted to include a mystery in our camp. We had a treasure hunt with clues. I always have a treasure hunt, but this one started with a key and finally found the box that it fit.

Planning and Planting their “bit of earth.” There is a waterfall with a little ditch running to a pond in this garden. See the two little ones (4 & 5 years old)  playing in the ditch? They are supposed to be helping.

  • Buckets with garden gloves, a spade, a garden fork, and a package of seeds were given to each child.
  • The children were paired–one older child and one younger one–into gardening teams to prepare, plan and plant their portion of the garden.
  • Turn the soil and mix some mulch into it, and find artifacts that their spades turned up.  I had previously buried some items into the areas they would be digging. One of the teams dug up anold fork; another team, a tube of lipstick.(Remember the lipstick in the movie/book Holes?); But one of them dug up an old envelope that had an
    Secret Garden Envelop


    other envelope inside with a key and a cryptic clue.


    Finding an old envelope buried in the garden.

  • Each team was given some money, and we went shopping for plants and garden “things.”  I had separated some flowers in my yard that they could choose to plant in their garden and they had seeds, or they could buy all new plants and flowers. Two of my grandsons decided they wanted to buy things instead of flowers. They would use the plants at home, and that way they could spend their money on more manly things like an ornamental garden squirrel and a cactus. The other teams picked their favorite flowers, or flowers in their favorite colors, etc. At home again, each plot was planted and signs placed in each garden telling whose garden it was. They were adorable!
  • As the gardening proceeded, more clues were discovered and eventually they unburied a  treasure box that held tickets to the play/musical “A Secret Garden,” which meant a field trip to the city with other activities, including visiting the Thanksgiving Point Gardens, where there is a Secret Garden. (The boys Did like the play-whew!)

    Treasure finally found


Fitting the key to open the treasure.

MAGIC! Activities with a Life Lesson

  • Collin said to Mary, “’Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,…but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen. I am going to try and experiment.’ It made her think that it was curious how much nicer a person looked when he smiled. She had not thought of it before.
  • Being kind and nice to others and believing in yourself was another project for this Grandma’s Camp. Smiling was a good place to start.
  • The Smile Song: For the smaller children we sang The Smile Song   (Children’s Songbook, 267) and do the actions below. Invite the children to join you. (from
  • The Good In You:  Pass slips of paper to the children. Have them write something good about each of the other children–put it in a basket and draw them out and read them to the children. Then have each child write something good about themselves. Attach these to their journals.
  • Are you a Dipper or a Filler? The kids each had a small bucket with a few pieces of candy in it and a scoop. They stood in a circle, with two or three judges on the outside. They were to talk to each other and tell each other something they liked about them. When a positive thing was said (“you are a good friend to people”), the judge put a few more candies in that person’s bucket. When a snide comment was heard like (“yeah, sometimes”). The judge scoops out some candy from that bucket. As it keeps going, the kids begin talking over each other, but unkind comments disappear. Then is a perfect time for a discussion about two kinds of people–some fill others buckets and some dip out of people’s buckets. Mary and Collin were dippers until their attitudes and actions changed. Which are we?  The Internet has a lot of ideas about using this book. See BUCKET FILLERS, INC.

Journal Grandma’s Camp–This can be purchased or made by your or the children.

  • Give each child a journal; Take time around a table or somewhere to let them write their favorite things that day in their journal
  •  Put all the notes from the activity about, in their journal on a page  “I Believe In Me.” There are many scrapbook items to clip things to the journal.
  • Give the children bags to put souvenirs in such as seeds they planted, rocks, artifacts they found while digging their garden. Attach these little bags to their journals.

Resources for Secret Garden Camp:

  • IMG_2592-001The Secret Garden,Classic Starts, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Retold by Martha Hailey,  2005, NY, NY.
  • TIMG_2593-001he Secret Garden Activity Book–15 Gardening and Nature Project Based on the Classic Story, illustrated by Graham Rust, 1997, Silver Dolphin Books, San Diego, CA
  • IMG_2591-002Great Gardens For Kids, by  Clare Matthews, photographs by Clive NichIMG_2619-001ols, 2005, Octopus Publishing Group Limited 2002, London.
  • This book is full of backyard ideas for kids. We also did the spider web in our yard during this camp.
  • Have you filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids, by Carol McCloud, illustrated by David Messing, Ferne Press; 1 edition May 15, 2006, Northville, MI.
  • IMG_2590-001The Secret Garden, Garden Magic, A pop-up book, for younger kids, retold by Andrea Stacy Leach, Illustrated by Joel Iskowitz, 1983, Ottenheimer Publishers, Inc. Hong Kong.
  • IMG_2589-001
  • One Small Square Backyard, by Donald M. Silver, illustrated by Patricia J. Wynne, 1993, Scientific American Books for Young Readers, NY, NY.

Breslich and Foss makes a pop open book where you can create the whole Secret Garden by opening001opening the book and tying the front and back covers together. It is an amazing book. I don’t even know if you can still buySecretGardenPop-up it.

There are many online sources that offer ways to teach A Secret Garden to children. One I used is for a  teaching source that has good ideas on how to teach various aspects of this book: