Frog and Toad, my not-so-green thumb, and a call for help

As you can see from the title, I am taking a different approach with our blog this week. I love blogging about reading and writing, but I want to include people beyond book lovers. So, my compromise is reflections inspired by children’s books. I will post every Tuesday, so I can participate in the Slice of Life blog hosted by http://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/. Hope you enjoy.

This week’s passage is from “The Garden” in Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel. For those of you who have not read the Frog and Toad books, Frog and Toad are best friends who do everything together. They are wonderfully distinct characters; in fact, whether you are “a Frog” or “a Toad” is probably an important philosophical question we should all ask ourselves at some point, but I’ll save that for another blog. In “The Garden,” Toad admires Frog’s garden and wants one too, so Frog gives him seeds. Toad runs home, plants the seeds, and then the following passage ensues:

“Now seeds,’” Toad said, “start growing.” Toad walked up and down a few times. The seeds did not start to grow. Toad put his head close to the ground and said loudly, “Now seeds, start growing!” Toad looked at the ground again. The seeds did not start to grow. Toad put his head very close to the ground and shouted, “NOW SEEDS, START GROWING!”

Reflections

A confession first: Matt, an excellent gardener, put in our garden this year because I have no idea how to do such things. He did not want a garden because he is a forester, which means he spends eight hours a day hiking in the woods often wielding heavy equipment. He (rightly) wanted to relax after work, not weed. However, in my excitement over my recent move to the country, I guilted him into planting one because who doesn’t have a garden in the country, right? I promised to tend to it but then never did. So, I will readily admit that all garden successes discussed are 100% due to Matt and all garden failures are 100% due to me.

It is probably clear by now that I am more of a Toad than a Frog when it comes to gardening (alas). Matt has been away these past two weeks, so I have taken over garden duties. Yesterday, I picked the first of our cherry tomatoes, and it was a transforming experience. Yes, I knew food from a garden was better than store-bought food, but I had forgotten how much better it was. I joyfully ate all our cherry tomatoes for breakfast this morning.

I then resolved to contact my sister-in-law, Melisa, for gardening advice (I think she has superhuman gardening talents- see below). I am already excited about my successful gardening blog next year but in the meantime, I’ve been reflecting on my mistakes this year. Not surprisingly, some are reasonable, some are embarrassing. This is what I have learned thus far:

  1. Taking measures to keep animals out of your garden is perhaps wise. At least two rows that Matt planted were instantaneously eaten by deer or some other lucky woodland creature.
  2. Some understanding of how much you should water your garden is helpful. I suspect our garden suffered from me not knowing how much water is too little or too much. I think I was guilty of both at times.
  3. The ability to identify a weed is useful. This is one I had been confident about until Matt mumbled something indecipherable under his breath when I volunteered to weed one day while he was at work. I decided I would rather have a garden full of weeds than have Matt come home to discover I had diligently pulled up everything he planted.
  4. Having some awareness of what was planted and where it was planted is both good for the garden and my ego, as it will likely lead to significantly fewer embarrassing moments. By the time I took over garden duties, seeing the plants through the weeds was difficult. I discovered our cucumbers today by complete accident. I suppose I should also add it is important to realize that garden-food can look different from store-food. The spiky cucumbers threw me for a loop, so I called Matt about it. He was confused by my spiky description: “Are you talking about the cucumbers? They’re hairy, Kate.” Spiky seems more accurate to me (another tip: wear gardening gloves), but regardless store cucumbers are neither spiky nor hairy. I also learned it is especially important to be aware of green foods, as they (surprise, surprise) blend with the leaves. When Matt asked about the peppers, I said that they hadn’t come in yet. He then mentioned he planted green peppers, so I looked a little closer and realized we had peppers galore.

So that’s all I’m willing to confess at the moment (yes, believe it or not, there are things more silly than not being able to correctly identify a cucumber!). In “The Garden,” Frog assumes his seeds are not growing because they are afraid of the dark. He spends four nights reading stories, singing, reading poetry, and playing music to the seeds. If this is what it took to have a successful garden, I’d like to state that I’d be an excellent gardener. However, I am open to alternatives. So, if any of you have gardening stories (even if they are examples of not-so-green thumb moments to make me feel better) or tips to share, I’d love to hear from you. How do you keep critters away? What do you like to grow best? Why do you like gardening? Please comment below and share with others. We look forward to hearing your stories and advice!

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My garden…really, it’s there.

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Melisa’s cornucopia!

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Niece and nephew, the next generation of super gardeners. Their skills have already surpassed mine, no doubt.

How a children’s book and two boys with special needs inspired a magical world

While Sarah and I didn’t have any creative writing experience when we started our book, we knew the key to a successful fantasy adventure series was having a magical world that kids wanted to escape to. But creating a magical world isn’t easy- at least not for me. Sarah, though, is different. She’s one of the most boldly creative people I know. That is one reason (of many) why I love writing with her. I, on the other hand, tend to worry and overanalyze, which is perhaps why it took three signs before I knew we were on to something with our magical world, Valorus.

Sign #1

We always knew we wanted animals to play a role in our magical world; we just had no idea what kind of role it would be. I happened to be visiting home one weekend and ran across a favorite book from when I was a child called, Incredible Animals A to Z (thank you mother for not throwing away our books). I took it home and excitedly starting emailing Sarah animal factoids. When Sarah visited for a book weekend, it turned out she had the book when little as well and had loved it. That was Sign #1. It led me to first ask Sarah about the idea of filling our magical world with amazing things from our world. She immediately loved the idea, but I was still unsure….

Sign #2

I worried about whether it was creative enough- it almost felt like cheating to take things from our world. I continued to think these very silly thoughts until I met Ollie. Well, I didn’t really meet him (unfortunately). He’s a friend’s son, and he has special needs. His family was doing an online voting campaign with the hopes of winning a van that accommodated his wheelchair.

While reading about Ollie’s incredible story and the way his family loved and supported him, I was reminded of my time as a therapist for an autistic child named Finn (pictured below). Finn is perhaps the sweetest and happiest child I’ve ever meet. He delighted in everything, from drawing happy flowers and “happy houses” to getting the mail each day. However, working with or raising a special needs child can also be an emotional battle. Every parent struggles with things like potty training and “use your words,” but most parents can reassure themselves that these things are, to a certain extent, passing phases. Those struggles are magnified by a million when you’re working with special needs children because part of you is always worrying whether some behavior won’t be temporary. But, the flip side is the unbelievable joy you feel at the littlest things. I will never forget the sense of elation I felt when Finn first asked for a toy in a complete sentence without me prompting him. I could see that same joy over little victories in Ollie’s website, and it moved me, which is what led me to clicking on the link to his Facebook page.

That was when Sign #2 happened. The page had a picture of a misty night with a tree decorated with glowing white lights. Across the image, there was a quote: “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” My first thought was how great it was to think of that feeling of joy in little things as magical. My second thought was, “Wow, that is exactly what I want to inspire in our book.”

Sign #3

I did a quick google search of the quote and discovered it was by Roald Dahl, another childhood favorite of mine and Sarah’s. And the full quote was even more in line with what we wanted Valorus to be about: “Watch with glittering eyes the world around you. Those who do not believe in magic will never find it.”

So there you have it. A children’s book, two inspiring little boys, and a children’s author was what it took for me to realize what Sarah understood right away: creating a world that recognizes the magic of our world isn’t cheating after all. It’s inspirational. And a little creative inspiration in your day never does any harm. 

**Because we don’t want you to have to wait until our book comes out to be inspired by the natural world, we’re starting the Jane Martyn version of Science Friday on our Facebook page (see link on left). Each Friday, we’ll post a picture or fact that we think will appeal to your imagination. We hope you have as much fun learning (and in many cases re-learning) about the incredible world we live in as we have.

Fest Finn

Finn at the Scandinavian Festival.

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Happy flowers! One of my favorite of Finn’s drawings hanging on my wall- smiles so big they’re almost full circles.

Finn mail

I swear he smiled like that every time he got the mail.

Thank you for taking the time to read our blog today. We hope you enjoyed it and ask you to pass it along if you think others will enjoy it too.

What’s your favorite reading memory?

Since last week I wrote about some of my favorite reading memories, this week we decided to share our friends’ and family’s reading memories. Receiving people’s responses has been a lot of fun, and, in keeping with last week’s blog, it seems that many people’s reading memories are also memories with family and friends. Please take a minute to read the memories below.  What resonates with you?  Do the memories sound similar to some of your own? Comment below and let us know or share a reading memory of your own!

1.         James Miceli: My mom was an English major, and growing up, she always read to my sister and me.  Particular favorites were the Little House on the Prairie memoirs, especially during the years we lived in the Midwest.  We always wanted to hear more- the frontier adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder always fascinated us and put us right to sleep, as a good family book will do.

2.         Carrie Crum: When I was 4, I tried to teach my best friend to read. We sat down with Green Eggs and Ham, and he patiently went through the book page by page, sounding out the words under my tutelage. He then went on to read the entire thing from cover to cover. I was so excited I had taught him to read! Until I handed him another book and quickly discovered he just knew Green Eggs and Ham by heart and couldn’t read after all.      

3.         Niki Lynn Frazier: Some of my earliest memories are of my mother reading stories to me in her room. She kept a pressed four leaf clover tucked in to the pages of her copy of The Secret Garden. Although the book had very few illustrations, which at first seemed boring, I would curl up next to her in bed and listen, getting sucked into the story but all the while waiting to see that clover.

4.         Bridget Galvin: The first novel I remember loving was Charlotte’s Web. I remember asking my dad what “manure” meant, although I pronounced it “manyure.” He told me it was pig poop…I couldn’t believe it! That book proceeded to break my 8 year old heart.

5.         Eve Richards: I loved myths, especially Greek Myths and someone gave me a gift of the large (9 X 12) book of D’Aulaires Greek Myths which had these great colored pencil illustrations. My favorite was a family tree with Zeus at the top. Medusa was a close second. I would just get lost in those myths and read them again and again. Another thing I remember is my Dad making me sign a reading “contract” at the beginning of the summer so that he could basically force me to read because I had signed the contract. It wouldn’t have been that hard because I loved to read but one of the stipulations was that he got to choose a book for me (just one). He always picked the hardest books! I remember they were worth it in the end but they required a lot of thought, not like what I was choosing, which didn’t require much at all. One book was Black Elk Speaks, another was A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. Both amazing books but a far cry from Nancy Drew which was my book of choice.

6.         Joanna Bopp-Yarnell: One of my most vivid memories of early reading when I truly devoured a story was a series recommended to me by an amazing friend, Marisa Keller Bailitz. The title of the starting book of the quartet is Alanna: The First Adventure written by Tamora Pierce. The main plot in this book is that a set of boy/girl twins, Alanna and Thom, are told they have to soon begin their lives in their respected trades learning the art of magic and the other becoming a knight. Of course, siblings always want what the other one has so they decide to switch places in their assigned destinies. Alanna soon realizes that this becomes exceedingly complicated and not only does her physical self betray their secret but, like so many of us growing up, she also discovers hardships and the cruel reality of betrayal from those thought to be friends. The biggest influence this reading experience had with me was witnessing such a strong character not just prove that she could do as good as her male peers, but going beyond any competition to really be herself. As a preteen girl then and a “grown-up” now, I really appreciate any example of someone, male or female, being able to live a life they forge for themselves successfully and unapologetically against the status quo. There a so very few opportunities to see those examples in other forms of media that it makes me so very grateful to have been encouraged by family and friends to be an avid reader.

7.         Sarah Martyn Crowell: I do have a favorite memory, or general memory:  my parents reading the Chronicles of Narnia to me before bed.  I remember every night falling asleep as I pictured the various animals, children, and scenery.  It was like my doorway into dreaming.

And enjoy the pictures of some our family and friends’ babies reading. Collecting the pictures may have been a little more fun than collecting the reading memories….but only a little.

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