It’s Monday! What are you reading? Dana Levy’s new book

goodstory_3Dwebres-wpcf_200x273.png“This Would Make a Good Story Someday” a perfect line many of us writers have used over and over again as we think about events in our lives.  Well, Dana Alison Levy followed up on it and wrote a humorous family story.

Levy is known for the Family Fletcher series, which I have not read but now want to go back and find. In this new book she takes us on a train ride across the United States with the Johnson- Fischer family and some new and wonderfully funny friends. We follow this train trip through the journal entries of Sara with a few added written pieces from one of her mothers, her older sister and a new “friend” who Sara wants nothing to do with.

We learn about families – the good, the bad and the ugly. We learn about places and fun facts of the United States, we learn about coming of age (the pre teen spot is hard place to be) and most of all we learn about how strangers become friends and family. This book is full of events that become adventures. What else would you expect when you put a group of strong willed people together in a confined space for long periods of time.

We also get a great model for journal writing – since Sara is writing in a required summer journal on their trip. A trip she did not want to go on. One of her mothers is hoping to write a book about this trip as well but it is clear she is having writers block and seeks to get insights and ideas from Sara. Sara is not willing to share and is not at all interesting in being part of a book about her crazy family.

The writing is quick and lively, the jokes and tales are perfect and by the end of the book I wanted to keep riding the rails with this wonderful family. I was ready to find my own train trip.

What a great idea this was for a book! Indeed this did make for a good story!

This would be a good read aloud for early in the year as you are starting journal writing and discussing how authors write about the world around them.

Enjoy this fun read!

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Layers and Layers of learning

longfellow.jpgOn a bright and hot Saturday morning I find myself sitting in an old historical house taking a botany class. It is Botany for Artists to be exact. I will not call myself an artist but I am learning to draw – plants of course. So this class is the perfect thing. I have taught elementary science for years, I have an on going love/hate relationship with my garden (don’t all gardeners) and I am learning to draw.

I will say up front it really is the perfect class but as I sit there thinking I can handle this I slowly begin to sink into the couch I am sitting on during the lecture. The terms and Latin are coming at me fast and furious. My spelling is failing me and as I try to correct my notes our teacher has now made 5 new interesting and important points that I have missed. I take notes as best I can and will review later I keep telling myself. I am now breathing fast and my shoulders are getting tighter and tighter. I assure myself it is just hot in this room.

We move to drawing and the microscopes – fun yes!!  Well, I forget my eyes have aged and the bifocals are driving me nuts. I need to work with the microscope in a new way -another layer of learning – but I got this! Right?

I return to my desk to draw and see the beautifully detailed drawing of the botanical drawing 1.JPGartists around me. (Oh yes, the comparison game is happening here.)  They have been drawing for years and are really good. I pull out my drawing pad and slowing and shyly work drawing 3.JPGin my corner of the room. See, it almost looks like the flower we are drawing – I am learning I tell myself.

As the 2 and half hours end I pack up and quietly leave with a sigh. My brain is swimming in new information, terms, ways of working and how to’s.  Layers and layers of learning were taking over. I loved it but I also noticed the fear and sadness in myself in how much I did not know. There was so much to learn in so many different directions. My self concept was pretty low. When I got home the drawing journal and notes got put to the back of my desk and I have not touched it for two days. The words ringing in the back of my head are I can’t do this. Why did I think I was so smart and could handle this class? These people are way smarter than I.

Oh, that old negative self talk can slip out of it’s hiding place really quickly. I sulked all weekend and acted like a little kid. (Aren’t we all little kids when we begin learning new things? oh please tell me it is true!!!)

On Monday I went to yoga where my instructor pulls me into her garden. “You have to help me,” she says. “What is wrong with my plants ?”

For me it was easy to see there were aphids everywhere. We talked about how to get rid of them. We walked the garden and I helped her identify a few plants and gave suggestions on what might help or where to read about the issues she was having. She was please and I was thinking I know this stuff.

We moved inside and settled into a long yoga session of stretching and letting go and that is when I saw it or felt it – the layers and layers of learning and learners. The self concept issue dropped away and I realized once again we are all learners all the time.

Each of us at different levels at different times around different topics. I moved away from thinking that not knowing something is a failure or a lack of smartness. Not knowing is just a place to start – a beginning that builds over time to knowing.  It does not connect to ability or smartness – not knowing is just not being exposed to these ideas, concepts, processes, skills or words at this time.

You know at 65 years of age you would think I could remember this and not sink into that old pattern of feeling bad or stupid. This thinking pattern goes way back to childhood and is hard to erase from our emotional self. It takes time, reflection and patiences with oneself to remember we are all learners.

It is ok to be a learner even when you are old!

Gazania 1.jpg

Posted in behavior change, gardens, Reflection | Tagged | 6 Comments

It’s Monday! What are you reading? Laurel Snyder

I have not been reading a great deal of children’s books this summer. I have been feeding the adult side of my reading life. I have spent time with Terry Tempest Williams – The Hour of Land and When Women were Birds. I have spend long evenings with garden books like Planting in a Post Wild World and then there are the mystery books like The Bee Keepers Apprentice (a evening or two with Sherlock Holmes). It has been a fun summer of reading what is hidden in my I-Pad that I had not finished or even started.

w204.jpgI did how ever get Orphan Island from the library a few weeks ago. Laurel Snyder was a go to writer when I was teaching 3rd and 4th grade. She has lots of books but the two that I remember were Seven Stories Up  and Bigger than a Bread Box.  She is a good middle grade writer with engaging stories, books that are not to long and characters that students could connect with.

When Orphan Island showed up on my e-reader and I sat down to read I was not interested. It was fine, the characters believable, the setting and plot a bit odd but I was willing to go with it. We had an island with only children on it. They arrive one at a time by a small green boat. They are scared, young and not sure why or how they get there. When they arrive – the eldest child on the island must leave. They get on the boat and it magically take them away. We don’t know where or how. It just happens!

This community of children care for each other, take on roles to feed, clean and teach each other. They follow the island rules that have been pasted down to them from the older children. They do it without much question. It is just the way things are. Life is good until Jinny begins to wonder why. Why must they leave? Why do the children come? Why are there no parents to help? Why is their life so different from the children in the story books they share?

It is an intriguing plot line. You learn what life is like for this group of children. We see what happens when something changes. We see and feel the fear, frustration and anger of children as they begin to puzzle out the world they live in and they find they have no answers, no one to help them solve this puzzle.

Snyder leaves us with lots of open questions. So much is not answered. She leaves us wondering, seeking answers. When I finished reading I was confused. Is there another book coming? Did I miss something?  She helps us with this confusing in a blog she posted over at Nerdy Book club awhile back.


I don’t know what to think about it. Do I like it? I am not sure. It is good writing and it kept me reading, I care about the characters and I continue to think about weeks later.

Will kids like it? I think so – it is how many kids may feel about the world around them. I would love to read it with a group of children and see what they think. Are they ok with all the open questions?

Read it and let me know – what do you think?

Note: over on Good Reads Snyder has shared that she is working on a prequel  – The story of the young girl who lived on the island and left the books behind that the children now read. There is a whole world that we know only a little bit about. The adult in my wants answers, want to know about the rest of the world beyond the island. The kid in my seems to understand that are not always easy answers.

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Balloon or Bells in the garden

Years ago I was at my Mother’s home weeding her garden. She could no long care for her plants and yard – age and Parkinson’s had taken its toll. Which meant my sister and I would show up every 6 weeks or so and weed, clean, cook and spend time just chatting with her. (We both lived 8 hours and one state away from her home in Iowa.)

IMG_0038.jpgAs she sat in the shade I worked my way through the weeds looking for the plants and flowers I knew she had placed here years before. Her garden was lovely but not in any traditional way. She was a lady of color and chaos.

It was important to her to have lots of color and lots of plants. She did not plant by design. She gathered plants she liked and found a hole where they might fit. This kind of garden made for wild colors, interesting mix and matches of plants and also made it hell to weed.  (This photo from 2008 is after much weeding and clearing with lots of mulch to help keep the weeds at bay.)

I was weeding the garden beds that bordered the wall of her garage. I finished the side with the climbing roses, barberry bush and Queen Ann’s Lace and the remains of spring tulips and daffodils lay scattered as well. Happy to be passed the thorn section I slide into the shade to find another bed full of weeds. My mothers advise here was “watch out for the balloon don’t pull them out.”

balloons.JPGI looked up at her and wondered what disconnect was going on in her mind now. How had she jumped from talking about flowers and gardens to parties and balloons? Shaking my head and returning to my task I realized I was the crazy one. There before me hidden in the weeds were little purple and blue balloons. I carefully pulled and cleared the overgrowth to find a few of these balloon had opened up into a beautiful little star. She was right. I needed to be careful not to pull out the balloons.

I can only smile now when I think about those days working in the Iowa heat finding the gems she had hidden in her garden. Some of those gems are now in my garden. I have carried forward the Weigela bush, the roses, Spiderwort and of course the Balloon flowers.

The Balloon flower, also has been called the Bell flower. It come from Asia. It is Balloon flower 1.JPGPlatycodon grandiflorus, member of the campanula family.  It can have purple, blue, white or pink flowers and is hardy to USDA from zone 3 to 8. This plant tolerates both cold and scorching summer heat. It loves full sun but mine are doing well in a mixed sun/shade garden bed. It is super easy grow and spreads slowly each year. If you deadhead the flowers during the growing season they will continue to bloom into the early fall.

It is July 3rd of a cold and wet growing season here in Minnesota but the balloons are ready to open for the 4th of July. They are having a holiday party all on their own in my garden.

If you look closely you can see the green balloons growing along side the stars flowers. These balloons with slowly turn pale blue and then deep blue to purple before they spring open one morning to share their star shape with us.

2 flowers and green ballonns.JPG


Happy 4th and here is to sun, flowers and families!





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History of Gardens

I was walking the garden again this morning – noticing where the critters are still eating my hostas (they really only like the small all green hostas – an interesting story I am sure – why only the green ones?) but that was not really what I was thinking about as I checked on which plants need water and which plants liked their new locations. It was the word history that had my attention.

History of the plants – the more global history and the personal history:

  • How do these plants end up in our gardens?
  • Why are tulips just a big deal?
  • Why do I have these specific plants?
  • etc.

Each plant has its own story to tell. Most plants have a person or a group of people who found the plants to be beautiful or amazing in some way. They then began to share their love more widely. Some plants have intrigue and mystery behind them, like the story of tulips. Others have a history that comes right out of a lab or greenhouse where horticulturalists were having a grand time cross breeding to get rid of a weakness in the plant or to create a larger flower or a taller plant or a smaller plant. Some plants have a story tied to a countries history – war, financial gain and leaders of countries. (For more information see: the book All the Presidents Gardens, a book called Tulip, check out the history of Thomas Jefferson’s garden or even try reading the side boxes in garden magazines.)

There is also the personal history of plants in a garden. I began my deep garden dive about 7 or 8 years ago. The thought was to bring into my yard many of the plants I grew up with, the plants that were important to my aging mother. Over time I knew she would not ever make into my garden, her health would not allow for that kind of travel but pictures worked and it was a place for a positive focus as my Mother continued to decline with Parkinson’s.

Mother is now gone and the garden has memories of her here and there but other histories are starting to show up. The stories of why this plant in this garden.

Balloon flower.jpgI have Balloon Flowers (Platycodon grandiflorus) taking over the front garden – these are plants my mother grew in her garden and I was fascinated by the little balloon that popped open into a beautiful little flower.

There is a small peony that has yet to bloom (this is year 2) that came from a co-working. A friend who help me keep my sanity in the last years of teaching in a rough neighborhood and a rough internal political scene.

There are Delphiniums that came from the neighbor who is a master gardener. They have been blooming for weeks now. This was a tiny left over plant he didn’t want to throw away. It is now shoulder high and a wonder to look at.

There is the wild Jack in the Pulpit that now grows knee high in three places in my yard. It was transplanted from a dear friends property in Wisconsin about 15 years ago. We were gathering a few wild flowers to add to our gardens here in town. The Jack in the DSC05072.jpgPulpit loves the location and with the help of birds finds a new place to grow every few years.

At this same time my friend and I moved May Apples which bloom in the spring and they too have found a good home and have spread. They are at the point of my needing to move a few on to another garden just so they don’t take over. These plants bring stories of climbing through overgrown woods, dealing with Poison Ivy or ticks or crazy dogs and nights by a spring fire.

The hostas, all different colors and sizes, have come from another master gardener up the block. She redid her yard years ago and I gathered their discarded plants to fill in holes around my yard. Those hosta plants have been divided many times and are doing well. (All except my small green hostas, darn rabbits!).

There are the Husker Red (Penstemon digitalis) which was grown at the family farm and my mother’s house. They reminded me of the farmers for some unknown reason. They are now 8 or 9 years old and fading. They need to be moved and refreshed but I love seeing them each spring and early summer.

DSC05085.jpgThere is the Blue False Indigo that my sister gave me when I started this garden after an illness. It is now large beautiful and also beginning to spread it’s wings and grow in so many new places.

Some of my garden will hold these memories but it is also changing. I am adding new and interesting plants – some I have purchased, some I am working hard to have the patience to grow from seed and others I have gotten from friends and neighbors. Each plant has two stories to tell. The story on the more global market – its own history and second a more personal story of how it came to be in my garden.

These stories are what give my garden soul. It is what makes it interesting and what makes it important to me even if it is not a show garden. It is all in the story.

Do you remember the stories for your plants? Have you read the history of some of your plants? If you are looking for a quiet task some hot summers day reading about the history of your plants is a fun thing to do.

One last story – these lovely Begonias ( below) were started from a seed pod of some kind last year. They grew and then died never really making much of a splash. I threw the soil in a pot disappointed and this winter used that soil to root a Christmas cactus. Over the months this other plants began to grow. I had no idea what it was but with time I realized the begonias were making a come back. Here they are with their first set of flowers for the season. They are strong, growing like weeds and setting flower buds. Another story of growth and having patiences and making history!  begonia.JPG

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Sorting my history

Our history collects around us and gathers dust as we walk by it each day on our way to the future. We can’t quite let go of it but we are not using it, looking at it or reflecting on it. What do we do with all of this stuff?

There is the pillow that Aunt Inez made to match a quilt. There are the glass candy dishes DSC04976.jpg– why did they need 5 of them and why do I keep all five? There are pieces of furniture, photos and more photos (no not digital real paper photos – boxes of them).

In the last few years we have cleaned out my Mother’s house and are still in the process of cleaning out the old family farm that goes back generations. (Maybe that is why there are so many cut glass candy dishes – one for each generation.) The stories remembered and many forgotten or unknown sit gathering mold and dust. We have handed out as much as we can out to family members but more remains. Uffda!!

Once home I decided I needed to begin to clean out my house of dust and stories but the act of physical cleaning once again was a bit overwhelming so my physical life belongings sit gathering a bit more dust. But – I also found a new age history that is collecting no dust and there is no lifting, no hot and smelly attics to deal with. There are stories, items I can’t remember why they were saved and items that are way out of date and talk about duplicates. There are so many in different files.

Ah, yes files! This gathering history is on my computer. It is the documents, photos, power points and more that are sitting in folders on my hard drive. This cleaning and sorting started innocently enough when I sat down to clear off my computer desktop and the “Working on Folder” I keep on the desktop during the school year. The file that I think makes it easier to find things when I am way to busy to dig deeper into the dark corners of my computer.

I started moving things into my hard drive documents folder and there I found folders titled:

  • Pictures or pictures or images -these folders hold pictures that I pulled from I- photos to use in blog posts or to send to friends or use in a ppt for a project.
  • Gardens or 2017 gardens or plants or tomatoes – these folders hold garden plans IMG_1230.jpggoing back about 5 years, lists of tomatoes ordered by myself, my daughter and her friends for the last few years, garden journals started and abandon – garden journal writing is now being saved in One Note – just another place for copies
  •  Archive file – this holds seven years of work with a program called Arts for Academic Achievement. Here I found budgets, ppts, documents, grants, meeting notes, images, permissions and contracts …
  • Writing – poems, stories, starts of manuscripts, articles about writing …
  • Books – book lists – kids and adult, notes from book clubs, list of books I have read …
  • Recipes – winter soup file, Thanksgiving dinner file, cakes, cookies, anything pulled from the internet that I thought I might make some day …
  • Teaching – files current and long ago documents created for students in my classrooms …

These files go on and on. It is an amazing collection of my life on the computer. It does not tell everything but does tell stories about my work life, my passion for gardening, and my IMG_1225.jpgobsession for taking photos of plants (I have not even begun to count how many photos of tulips I have in I-photo and in other files stored through out my computer.) It is my history without the dust and mildew.

I know what to do with the dusty and mildewy physical stuff of my family. I can easily sort and throw out items from old kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms. We don’t need 20 bars of soap left from 1954 but what do I do with electronic files?

These digital files take up a little amount of space but they are not molding, they don’t smell – so do I just leave them?  Will anyone ever want to look back through this computer and read over the files? Is there a throw out date  –  every file created before 19– should be trashed? Will I look back over the teaching files to find documents or are they now so out of date it just does not matter?

I am slowly looking at each big folder and finding items I know don’t matter – health information from past insurance companies – 2004 and older are trashed, my daughters 2010 book order – trashed, my son’s middle school paper I helped edit for a science class – trashed, a digital receipt for a pair of jeans from Eddie Bauer – trashed!

OMG so much stuff!

I am keeping my writing, the book lists, the articles I find interesting.

The photos I don’t have a clue on how to being sorting, organizing and deleting – so all those tulip photos are staying for now! purple double tulip 2017.JPG

Have you looked at your computer history? Do you have a great way to sort and let go of old files? Tell us how you clean out your digital history!






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It’s Monday! What are you Reading? middle grade fiction

I have returned to reading middle great fiction. I love reading books at this level. I think because it is where I did most of my teaching and know this age of children so well. I also love the leap of writing that authors can take.

download.jpgThe language is still mid range, the plot not to overly complicated but the concepts and ideas take a step into deeper thinking. It is a time when kids really are beginning to understand the world around them and are looking for more information. They are seeking to understand and explore the issue and problems they see around them in the news. This is where you can find books that take on more conflict. The story line can become more complex and not everything needs to be answered in black and white with happy endings.

The story of Saving Wonder by Mary Knight fits this perfectly. She gives us the emotional life of a young boy living in the Appalachian Mountains of Wonder Gap, Kentucky. A boy who has lost all but his Grandfather because of the coal mining business. Curly and Grandpa are making their way together but Grandpa’s health is not good and changes in the mining company may take away all that is important to Curly.

Knight is able to walk the thin line between the coal industry and the environmentalists who are hoping to save the mountain from being mined, mountain top removal. She builds strong characters that you care about and real issues that are important to us today. She sets up a great read for students but a wonderful book to teach from.

This book not only provides you with topics for kids to research, issues to debate – coal vs environment, but also the personal issue of a friendship turning into a girlfriend and what happens when a new kid steps into that relationship. Grandpa and Curley also have a vocabulary game going throughout the story that provides a great teaching tool as well.

As a teacher, I can see all the teachable moments but they don’t side track the story line. It is still a book to be read with interest and wonder.  It would be a perfect read aloud as you begin a unit on social issues or researching. This is a book that brings facts into a fictional story to help us understand that the struggle between coal and the environment has many points of view. She brings forth the lives of those who are are involved on each side making it a story to be thought about deeply.

This is Mary Knights debut novel. I look forward to see what comes next.


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