It’s Four-O’Clock Somewhere!

Evolving Balcony Garden

In the afternoon sun on my Texas balcony, the four-o’clocks on the left in the red pot are mainly closed against the strong light. In fact, they bloom in their riot of jeweled tones the most profusely after sunset!

My balcony garden has gotten off to a slow start with the pandemic restrictions, mainly limited to seeds through the mail and plants purchased at a greenhouse that takes part in curbside pickup on a limited amount of offerings. It’s slowly evolving.

Those are two pots of various herbs and leaf lettuce on the left and two pots on the right of spinach and mini sweet peppers I’ve started from seeds. Peeking out at the corner on the left, front, is a sweet potato vine. Since this photo, I’ve added nasturtium seeds in various pots, which are growing well but not yet in bloom.

Sweet Potato Vine in Bloom

Finally having a home, again, with my own personal outdoor space has been a life-saver. That has served as much more than just a pleasant diversion during this pandemic time of isolation. In addition to gardening, I enjoy reading out there, watching the birds, or just sitting for a while to view the sunset.

Not sure when I’ll actually venture out to the shops for more plants. For now, I plan to stay away from the crowds returning to the stores, since the virus numbers in my area are climbing.

Yes, I still miss my Michigan gardens of the past and always will. But, I am finding ways to take part in the magical experience of growing beautiful and nutritious plants. Having been raised by parents who maintained lovely yards and gardens, that’s a strong part of who I am!

Becky and Dad in Yard

Twisty Path of Life

At the beginning of June, five decades will have passed since I graduated from high school. How in the heck did that happen? In some ways, this seems impossible, as if it was just yesterday. In other respects, this feels like lifetimes ago, and in a way, it was. I’ve experienced several different lives since then. I’m sure many of you have the same thoughts about the passage of time.

High School

After high school, I lived life in reverse order. Before attending college, I was married and started raising my two daughters. Together, the three of us “went away to school” after a divorce changed our lives. But the direction I began in my bachelor’s degree program wasn’t the same career I enjoyed until retirement!

Ready for our Big Move

My work life after college began in office administration. I was never crazy about my supervisory position, but years went by before I took the next leap. Becoming a teacher had always been my dream, but that hadn’t seemed like a solid choice when I first entered college.

Office Supervisor

The twisty path of life finally led to a career in teaching. I didn’t take a direct route and was certainly one of the older student teachers in my college class that semester. I’ve never regretted the decision to make that change and appreciated the support of my entire family. For me, teaching was a calling. Not without challenges, it was still the perfect career for my needs.

As ‘Mrs. Wishy-Washy’ at school one Halloween!

Now that I’m retired, my wide background is certainly an asset in my writing and pursuit of freelance projects. In fact, my non-fiction piece about career change appears in How I Switched Careers. This e-book is free for a few days, so I hope you’ll take a look!

In checking out the stories in this publication, it appears more common for people to switch FROM teaching to another career, instead of turning TO teaching, as in my case. To each their own…I loved it. Most of us enjoy a chance to tell parts of our life stories, and this type of project was a great opportunity for me to do that!

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #9: Sewing Up Memories

As my regular readers already know, I adore bookstores, especially those that feature used books! To put an even finer point on that, I love the shops that carry other various types of vintage items, such as maps, magazines, product leaflets, branded recipe booklets, and the like.

One of my favorite such spots is located in Moran, Michigan, called “The First Edition, Too.” It was there where I was thrilled to come across the 1939 Singer Illustrated Dressmaking Guide pictured above. This was especially fitting, since I sewed as a teenager in Michigan on my mother’s Singer, which now “lives” in my Texas apartment. The slim booklet shows drawings of sewing strategies such as shirring, insets, and pleats. There are even sections all about sewing for infants and making “first school dresses.”

Martha Kennedy, who blogs at I’m a Writer, Yes, I Am,” wrote a great post about her grandmother’s sewing machine. This got me thinking more about my own, shown above! Martha’s appears to be older and much more ornate than mine, as a treadle machine compared to my electric model. As you can see, I still have the original box with attachments.

I found an interesting website for the International Sewing Machine Collectors’ Society (ISMACS), where I zeroed in on some info about my machine. Based on the serial number, mine is a Singer series AH model and probably purchased about 1947-48. This makes perfect sense, as that would be around the time my mom had her first baby, my older sister, Terri. She may have sewn her infant layette on that machine!

Looking through old pictures, I was pleased to find one from when I was about six months old. My mother’s Singer sets next to the couch behind me. Although Mom sewed quite a bit when her kids were young…clothing, doll clothes, and items for the household…I think she used it mainly just for mending in later years. I’m sure happy my mother hung onto this machine, since it brings back such sweet memories for me.

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’ll share one more photo, showing my maternal grandparents (Rudolf & Frieda Witzke), Mom (Ella Witzke Ross), Aunt Frieda (Mom’s older sister), and my older sister, Terri. This photo was taken in Tawas City, Michigan, on my 1st birthday, and I imagine my father, Philip Ross, was the man behind the camera. Now I’m wondering if Mom sewed those cute, gingham kitchen curtains on her Singer!

 

 

Three Ring Circus and Publishing News!

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World Circus Day falls in April. The concept of a circus appears to have begun in ancient Rome, in seated arenas where spectators viewed various types of sports and games. Traditional circuses of more modern times were often traveling shows that included performances with clowns, acrobats, and trained animals.

In my small town, a dilapidated circus caravan arrived each summer and set up tents in the ball fields near the local school. As a kid, a visit to the circus filled me with a mix of excitement and dread. I looked forward to the fruit-flavored snow cones Mom and Dad promised when the show ended. I always hoped that would be the year I could buy a too-expensive, feathered Kewpie doll from the vendors. The trapeze artists and tightrope walkers showed off amazing skills. But what if they fell? I wasn’t fearful of clowns, but the ones made up to look sad concerned me.

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The worst part was the poor animals. Sometimes we saw them, pacing in their small cages, between shows. The view across a field often included elephants with legs chained to metal stakes in the ground.

I clearly remember the summer when I was about eight years old. I sat under the hot circus tent with my family, listening to the applause from the crowd directed at little dogs riding tricycles. A trio of huge elephants then lumbered into the ring. The trainers put them through their paces to the sound of music, but one of the giants didn’t comply. A circus worker wielded a hooked pole. He jabbed at the elephant with the stick that seemed as though it could tear the animal’s papery ears. I wanted to cry. I wanted to run. Trainers finally led the elephants from the tent, and I was glad it was over.

Later that afternoon, a neighbor told us that circus workers had walked the elephants to the nearby creek for a drink. The animals escaped up the other side! A mix of fear and relief washed over me. The elephants were free! But what if they walked down our street and bumped into our house? I waited nervously, wondering what would happen. My parents assured me the circus workers would find the elephants. Was that what I wanted?

elephant bathing

In the evening, we learned the elephants had walked through my grandmother’s garden! She was away from the house, but neighbors spotted them. When Grandma returned, she found footprints and smashed vines in her garden as proof!

That same week, a little dog wandered the sidewalk of a house across the street. The family took it in as their own and discovered the animal was eager and willing to do a variety of tricks. They named her “Trixie” and always believed she was an escapee from that same circus.

Trixie

Thankfully, the use of animal acts for entertainment in circuses has now decreased, and that type of exploitation in many countries is now almost non-existent. In 2016, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival highlighted five major circus disciplines: acrobatics, aerial skills, equilibristics, object manipulation, and clowning. It also showcased the occupational culture of circus artists but didn’t involve exotic animals. That was a wonderful step in the right direction! In fact, numerous circuses that have been around for years are now closing. Other circuses have evolved or begun as animal-free entertainment.

I’m pleased to say that my children’s story, “Freedom,” based on that ‘great elephant escape,’ now appears online in Smarty Pants Magazine for Kids. My alter ego, Becca, is much braver than I remember being as a child. In the fictional ending of my tale, her feelings about the imprisoned animals empower her in a humorous fashion. Hope you will enjoy reading my story, which is linked above!                             ~Becky

elephant river

7 Eco-Friendly Actions for Kids During the Pandemic: from EARTHDAY.ORG

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from EARTHDAY.ORG:

“The COVID-19 outbreak has drastically altered daily life. For millions of students and parents, that means homeschooling.

Social distancing is a necessary and effective measure to keep us safe, but it also commands widespread school closures, which can make for a challenging transition for many children. Home from school, many children are feeling anxious about the future, unsure of how to help.

For many climate-minded young people, the feeling is familiar. They’re already concerned about the Earth’s future in the face of climate change — now the pandemic is compounding these emotions.

Fortunately, many inspirational kids are also leading the fight for a greener planet and safer future. Young people around the world have the power to make a difference, even from their homes.

Below are some at-home activities that students can do to beat boredom, stay positive and create a climate-friendly future:

1. Attend or host a virtual teach-in

Since the first Earth Day in 1970, teach-ins — or educational lectures and discussions on important public interest topics — have been a valuable tool for environmentalists to inspire community action. This year, as Earth Day goes digital, teach-ins can still prompt meaningful community responses to ongoing environmental challenges.

Encourage your student or child to attend one of these virtual teach-ins or follow Earth Day Network’s guide to create their own. They can livestream a nature walk or backyard exploration. They can also ask viewers to find what species live in their backyard and explore how they can protect local habitats.

2. Download the Earth Challenge app 

Download Earth Day Network’s new Earth Challenge app to gather air quality and pollution data in your community. The app empowers citizen scientists to monitor their local environment and offers tools and tips for environmental protection.

3. Try some delicious plant-based cuisine

There’s no better way to spend time at home than trying new recipes. Fortunately, your family can both eat delicious food and reduce their carbon footprint by adopting a more plant-based diet. Help your child research plant-based recipes or recreate family favorites with plant-based ingredients.

If they’re craving something sweet, try these easy swaps to indulge in their favorite desserts. Your child can even livestream a plant-based cooking lesson for family and friends or create a cookbook of their new favorite recipes.

In addition to mastering new recipes, students can learn food preservation techniques, such as canning, pickling, drying and freezing to enjoy fruits and vegetables year round and minimize food waste.

4. Make a plan to cut down on plastic pollution

Ask your child to help audit your plastic use at home by counting how many plastic containers, wraps, bottles and bags you purchase for your kitchen and bathroom. Encourage them to research products that have more sustainable packaging for your next grocery trip or online order. And when you order to-go meals from restaurants, make a note asking for no plastic utensils and limited plastic packaging.

5. Learn new ways to protect our species

If your child is interested in protecting biodiversity, learning about different species is the best way to start. Watch an environmental documentary or animal show and learn how individuals can help protect endangered species. Many zoos and aquariums are offering free teach-ins and livestreams, so tune in to learn about different species and their habitats.

Customize your species education by researching what pollinators need are native to your area and what plants they rely on. Learn how to make a thriving habitat for pollinators and help your child design a pollinator garden for your yard or community.

6. Create eco-art

Creating art is an excellent way to spend time indoors and still connect to the Earth (not to mention, reduce stress). Repurpose materials from around the house, and encourage your child to create something new, like jewelry, bags or plant holders. They can even transform trash into treasure by creating a sculpture out of recyclables. Gather some inspiration from Earth Day Network’s Artists for the Earth gallery.

Creating art is also a great way to get outdoors while practicing social distancing. Supervise your child as they gather items like leaves and pinecones from your backyard and create an innovative art project.

While you’re outdoors, encourage your child to pay attention to nature and wildlife. Students can write short stories or poems about what a bird sees as it flies or what a squirrel thinks about as it climbs trees.

7. Join EARTHRISE and make an Earth Day Poster

Amid the pandemic, the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day is still as important as ever. Join the digital EARTHRISE movement and show your support for climate action today and into the future.

One way to show your support is with an Earth Day poster: Provide your child with supplies to design an Earth Day poster, and put it in your home’s window for neighbors to see. Make sure to tweet your poster to @EarthDayNetwork.”

by Lindsay Steinberg

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As an avid reader and writer, I’ll add that reading books related to taking care of our earth or writing related stories and articles are also great ways for kids (and adults:) to take part in Earth Day this year!                         ~Becky

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Lockdown in Portwenn

Doc Martin’s Home and Surgery in “Portwenn”

One of my favorite television shows of all time is Doc Martin, starring Martin Clunes. The story is set in fictional “Portwenn,” which is actually Port Isaac, Cornwall. The good doc works as a general practitioner and has a fear of blood! Yes, there’s humor, but also suspense, friendship, romance, and drama. The show began in 2004, provides 9 seasons (I’m hoping for more) and can be viewed on Acorn, Hulu (select seasons), and Amazon.

I caught wind of a heartwarming video put out by the cast and crew during this challenging time. If you’re a Doc Martin fan, I think you’ll love it! If you haven’t already met these quirky characters, you might want to give this show a try!

Something I wasn’t aware of when I first saw this charming video was that the creator of Doc Martin, Dominic Minghella, was recently very ill and hospitalized with symptoms of coronavirus. Happily, he has recovered.

Portwenn (Port Isaac), Cornwall…who wouldn’t want a fictional place to get away right now???

 

Fantastic Find at the Bookstore #8: Delivered to Your Door

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Written by Jessica Potter Broderick and Illustrated by Jean Tamburine

Home food delivery from grocery stores and through a variety of home meal services  has made a resurgence in the last few years. With the current needs for social distancing and quarantines related to the coronavirus, this practice will likely become even more common.

From my childhood in Tawas City, Michigan, during the 50s and 60s, I have a clear memory of our milkman from the local dairy, Nelkie’s. He was a handsome, dark-haired chap named Tony, who wore some type of white jacket or uniform. I don’t remember his vehicle, however. In my mind’s eye, I can still see several glass bottles of milk set into the frosty snow on the top step near our front door.

Time went by, and one day I realized that Tony the milkman had disappeared. The dairy remained, but home delivery must have been suspended. Evidently that was common for the times, as mentioned in this interesting article about the history of  home milk delivery. Yet another nostalgic piece of our past that no longer exists.

Some people collect Little Golden Books, while others seek the Junior Elf BooksI love both and often look for them when I visit used bookstores. When I saw the Junior Elf Book pictured above, Milkman Bill, it brought back so many childhood memories and sensations. Surely you can see why it was a necessary purchase? The original price tag still stuck to the cover says 15 cents. I paid a bit more, but it was certainly reasonable at $1.00.

The story centers on a little boy, Dickie, who’s been sick in bed for three weeks. The doctor has told Mother that Dickie must drink more milk to get better and stay strong. If only staying healthy was really that easy! Dickie has many questions for the milkman, and the reader learns about the entire process, from cow to home. The book ends with Milkman Bill promising Dickie and his family a tour of the dairy the following week. This slim volume, published in 1960, smells exactly the way an old book should!

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Dick and Jane had a milkman, too!

Talking with Kids about Coronavirus

From NPR Comic Based on a Radio Story by Cory Turner – Malaka Gharib/ NPR

NPR: Coronavirus And Parenting: What You Need To Know Now

NOTE: The printable comic for kids is linked through this enlightening article.

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Kids Books Haven’t Prepared Us for the Coronavirus: from Fatherly

Things to think about for the youngest, along with a strong book suggestion: Llama Llama Home with Mama, by Anna Dewdney

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Picture book by Steve Mould

“Meet a glowing squid, traveling fungus spores, and much more in this dynamic and engaging book all about bacteria, viruses, and other germs and microbes. The Bacteria Book walks the line between “ew, gross!” and “oh, cool!,” exploring why we need bacteria and introducing readers to its microbial mates–viruses, fungi, algae, archaea, and protozoa.

 

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From the Indianapolis Public Library:

Fact sheets and FAQs designed especially for use with children are available from kidshealth.org:

 

Women Building Art!

From CNN’s Good Stuff:

The dramatic University of Engineering and Technology campus in Lima, Peru. Credit: Iwan Baan

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara are the winners of the 2020 Pritzker Prize for architecture. The Irish pair are just the fourth and fifth women to claim the coveted prize in its 41-year history (The Pritzker is essentially the Nobel Prize for architecture). Farrell and McNamara co-founded the Dublin-based firm Grafton Architects, and they are known for their work on educational buildings. The pair have an affinity for dramatic yet metrical structures made of sturdy, uncomplicated materials like concrete and stone. The prize’s jury said the women are “beacons to others” in a largely male-dominated profession.

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Yvonne Farrell, left, and Shelley McNamara Credit: Alice Clancy
Note from Becky:
As extra inspiration for our budding architects, here are some great children’s books about this artistic form and more from Celebrate Picture Books!