Debra Darvick

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Costco-Inspired Messy Mat

File this under Two Birds with One Stone.

Bird one: for my art classes, I needed a better table protecter than a thin plastic garbage bag.

Bird two: as much as I acknowledge Costco’s upsides, and despite their talk of moving to less plastic packaging, there is still too much. Last Wednesday inspiration struck.

Stone: washed, cut apart and taped together, all that “trash” can be turned into sturdy, portable, and reusable messy mats. Make them any size. Just keep taping together your cut packaging until you have a size to suit your project.

If you make one, send me a pic and how you’re using it.

Homemade Games

There are oodles of incredible games and toys out there.  We’ve gifted our granddaughters with many of them. Yet there is something wonderful about making toys and games for our kids and grandkids. So far I’ve made the girls a few. I’ll describe one now and share another in the future. (I have to snap some photos of it first.)

For now, here’s a “People Who Love Me” game.
(Ages 4-7)

You’ll need:
photos of friends and loved ones (3″x3″ works well)
card stock/posterboard
clear packaging tape
black marker
adhesive magnetic squares
metal cookie sheet, rimmed
plastic soap box with lid

Here’s what to do:

For the cards:
1. cut your posterboard into 4″x 6″ cards
2. affix one photo per card, close to the top edge
3. Below each image, draw one line per letter of person’s name









For the magnetic letters:
1. Grid a section of posterboard into 1″ squares
2. Cut squares apart and write names, one letter/square
3. For sturdiness, wrap each letter with clear packaging tape
4. Affix a magnetic square to the back of each letter





Playing this on a cookie sheet keeps everything in one place.
Let your grandchild choose a person and help them sound
out the letters of their name. For younger kids, let them sound out the first letter and you can complete the name.
Which people’s names begin with the same sound? Who is wearing glasses? Who has a beard? Who goes with whom?
Arrange your family photos into a family tree and play “Tell a Story.” Have your grandchild choose a person about whom you can share a story. Does your grandchild have a story to share as well? 






When you’re done, put the letters in the soap box, put it and
the photo cards in a ziploc® ’til next time. You can also make a similar set featuring common household objects.




Sibling Compassion

From Cain and Abel to the March sisters, sibling relationships run the gamut. While I’m not well versed in siblit (sibling literature, anyone?), a recent encounter between our two granddaughters surpasses anything even Louisa May Alcott could write.

Because of Covid, fourteen-month-old Leah has not had the kind of social interactions a second sibling would’ve had by now. No Mommy-and-Me events at the library. No trips to the market. No playdates. Throughout Leah’s short little life she has been away from her mom for two hours max. By pandemic standards, we have seen her a lot — three one-week visits plus a mad-cap weekend when our daughter married last November. No matter; when they came for Passover earlier this month, Leah kept her pudgy-licious body Velcroed to Mommy. She peered at us curiously, as if trying to figure out why we were larger than our FaceTime personae, but would not venture too close.

With competent adults in their midst, my son and daughter-in-law took a much needed break. Their good-bye wave was preceded by copious hugs and kisses. Leah was distracted by four-year-old Olivia’s antics and a lot of shielding on my part. She was fine until she wasn’t. When the moment of realization dawned, Leah stood stock still as if testing the air for her mother’s scent. She looked around, didn’t see the one-who-is-always-there, and began to scream as only a bereft and furious toddler can.

Before we could even attempt to console her, Leah threw herself at Olivia, knocking her to the carpet. She lay atop her big sister and keened. Olivia, pinned beneath this tiny bundle of grief, patted her sister on the back and whispered, “It’s OK, Leah. It’s OK. Sister is here. Mama will come back.” Olivia wasn’t disturbed by Leah’s cries. She didn’t push her away. Secure in her own self, confident in her role as big sister, Olivia simply lay there embodying compassion. Leah wailed a bit longer as Olivia kept up her patter of comfort. Soon enough, Leah hopped up and she and Olivia began to play.

The kids returned from their errands. Mother and daughter were reunited, none worse for the wear. Martin and I remain awed by those moments of sisterhood. It was one of the most extraordinary interactions of love I have ever witnessed: Leah bereft and launching herself toward the one remaining soul who could comfort her; Olivia, calmly offering just the right words and touch.

Daily, we are bombarded with the worst that humans are capable of.   I wonder if instead we were offered a steady stream of similar acts of compassion? What a a world it could be.

With thanks to Martin Darvick for the photograph (circa 1988) of our kids.

Who is Darla Door?

I love seeing what my phone hears when I dictate Hebrew or Yiddish in a text.  Today it turned the Hebrew words “dor l’dor” (from generation to generation) into a woman’s name—the titular Darla Door above. The more I thought about it, I realized my iPhone’s translation was pretty savvy. We grandparents can be the doors to so much in our grandchildren’s lives: love, comfort, safety. We open doors to learning, to adventure, to new ideas and elder wisdom. We are a door to the past, retelling stories of their parents as children and passing on family traditions and stories. My granddaughters have re-opened doors to childhood delights: stomping in rain puddles, fingerpainting, silly rhymes, reading beloved books from my own childhood.

If we have become grandparents, we are blessed with having seen a goodly portion of our children’s future come into being. It will likely not be the same with our grandchildren’s future. I give thanks that door’s closing remains unknown. Until then, I’m a Darla Door all the way: a two-way portal to past and present.


photo credit “Open Door” by desertdutchman is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

Grand Books to Share

One of the best perks about being Olivia’s, and now Leah’s, grandmother is luxuriating in children’s books. Here are three recent faves:

Hello Lighthouse
A flea market cutaway illustration of the interior of a lighthouse inspired Sophie Blackall to write this charming tale of a lighthouse keeper and the lighthouse he kept.  The story is straightforward and poignant. The illustrations are clever and felicitiously detailed. This lighthouse keeper brings his wife to the lighthouse. The illustration of them reaching for one another as she is hoisted to him winch by winch is delightful. The author shares her love and knowledge of lighthouses in a bonus section at the end. Lighthouses are now mechanized. Gratitude to Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall for capturing and preserving a bygone way of ilfe.

Grumpy Monkey
A friend urged me to read this hysterical book to Olivia. Jim Panzee, the eponymous grumpy monkey, wakes up “one wonderful day to discover that nothing was right.”  Jim’s fellow creatures try to cajole and exhort him out of his grumps. He’s not having it. I loved this book’s message because it honors feelings (and the monkey feeling them) we so often try to chase away in ourselves and in others. The text is great fun to act out, especially as Jim’s frustrations escalate each time a friend offers a cure. Author Suzanne Lang‘s text rings true and compassionate; Max Lang’s accompanying illustrations perfectly capture Jim’s frustration. We all have our moods. Grumpy Monkey reminds us that we have a right to our mood and more importantly, that they shift.

Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
I love Kevin Henkes. Just to name a small fraction of this award-winning author’s work: Kitten’s First Moon, Chrysanthemum, Owen, and now Lilly’s Purple Plastic PurseWe all have known a Lilly; indeed we may have been a Lilly once upon a time. Henkes’ Lilly is a darling prima donna. She’s spunky, exuberant, confident and utterly unable to contain herself the day she brings her new purple plastic purse to school.

Mr. Slinger is the kind of teacher who inspires his devoted students to follow in his footsteps.  Especially Lilly. Until the morning he has to curb her irrrepressible urge to share her newest treasure. What follows is a beautiful lesson in confronting our missteps, suffering and atoning for them, and being forgiven. Like I said. I love Kevin Henkes.


Each of the above titles is hyperlinked to their page at

Children’s Books — Not Just For Kids

IMHO, no personal library can be complete without at lease one shelf of children’s picture books. Children’s books, good ones anyway, are works of art for the eye and the soul.

 A children’s picture book author must distill deep human questions into the fewest words possible. The illustrator must render universal emotions and experiences into artwork that enhances the text while not overpowering it.

 For years I collected children’s picture books to read with the grandchildren I hoped I might have one day. Now that I do, it’s not only a delight to share my treasures but I discover new treasures each time I visit.  Here are my three most recent finds:









I adore Joyce Hesselberth. Her artwork is charming and in pitter pattern her illustrations were ingenious invitations to discover patterns page after page.

Anthony Browne is a new one for me. Any reader can identify with Browne’s eponymous Willy the Dreamer, who envisions himself as an actor, a painter, a scuba diver.  Browne’s artwork is a trifecta of cleverness. There bunches of hidden bananas, visual puns and
best of all for the art-wise adult, homages to Magritte, Dali and Henri Rousseau among others.

I didn’t get to spend enough time with Oliver Jeffers and the book he wrote for his newborn son. Here We Are, Notes for Living on the Planet Earth. Jeffers’ illustrations become increasingly complex as he moves from the Earth’s atompshere and the solar system and weather systems to life here on earth. These are the kinds of illustrations that take time to enjoy, the kinds that reward the reader the more carefully and deeply she explores the pages. This two-page spread of humanity entranced me as much as it did Olivia. After this most recent visit with Olivia, dedicating another shelf in my office to chidren’s picture boks just might be in order.