Then & Now

Growing produce is a challenge! I could never be a farmer. You just never know from one year to the next what will happen to your crops, plus the biggest factor, the weather, is out of your control.

Last year the tomatoes never got their act together to produce much. This year, we are awash with tomatoes. Unfortunately most of them are still green balls.

I cannot believe the clusters of tomatoes this year.

I cannot believe the clusters of tomatoes this year.

Recently I counted the possibilities of tomatoes, there were over fifty potential tomatoes hanging. Now if only they ripen gradually, I should be set for at least a month of savory, home-grown tomatoes with every meal.

The beginnings of last year's bounty.

The beginnings of last year’s bounty.

Last year the peaches were bountiful. I was knocking at every door handing out bags of peaches.

This spring, the tree never had a chance to bloom. It was with sadness I gazed at my tree, longing for the beauty of the golden peach. However, one day I did notice there there were a few fuzzy balls beginning to form. They were difficult to see, but I kept watching, as they slowly began to take on the blush of a golden peach. Each day I would check the ground under the tree to see if any had fallen. Thankfully, they were hardy and continued to hang on until we decided they needed to be picked. The ladder was brought around and by str-e-t-ch-ing my husband was just able to pluck them. There were five and they were the sweetest peaches of the year. All the sugar from the tree must have pooled into those five peaches. Yum! There was no sharing this year.

Can you see how high up the peaches were? Aren't the five peaches a sad sight compared to last year?

Can you see how high up the peaches were? Aren’t the five peaches a sad sight compared to last year?

I wonder what my “crops” will be like next year. Would it be too much to ask for a bumper crop of tomatoes AND peaches?

Spark an Idea

10 for 10

It is time once again to comb the bookshelves for your go-to picture books. Since this is my third year, I was clueless as to what books to highlight. I approached my shelves wondering what could be my focus for this year? In the past, I’ve shared the books that I just love and have to use, but this year something different happened as I began pulling books.

I discovered that each book sparked a writing idea for me. Hence my theme was born. It may be the topic or perhaps  the structure that sparks an idea. I hope you will discover something that sparks an idea for you.

The books are listed in alphabetical order by author.

First up is A Is for Apple Musk Ox by Erin Cabatingan. musk oxThe zebra is writing an alphabet book but musk ox has perfectly good reasons why each letter is for musk ox. Sample: “Gg is for goose musk ox. Because musk oxen eat grass. And live in Greenland.” This book has great vocabulary and more facts about musk oxen than you ever thought you might need to know.

favorite animalWhat’s Your Favorite Animal? by Eric Carle and Friends would be perfect for developing opinion writing. Fourteen illustrators draw their favorite animal and explain why. Did you know that Jon Klassen’s favorite animal is a duck? He likes to watch them walk around.

The End by David LaRochelle really takes cause and effect to the-endthe extreme. Sample: “The knight fell in love with the princess because   . . . she poured a big bowl of lemonade on top of his head. She poured a bowl of lemonade on top of his head because . . .” If you want to know the answer to that, you will need to find this book.

TogetherTogether by George Ella Lyon is a beautiful poem about a special friendship. The rhyming couplets and repeating refrain are worthy of multiple readings. Sample: “Let’s put our heads together and dream the same dream.” Isn’t that what we want our students to do?

My No, No, No Day! by Rebecca Patterson is a situation that my no no dayalmost everyone can relate to. Bella’s day begins badly and it continues its downward spiral all day. Sample: “Yesterday I woke up and Bob was crawling round MY ROOM licking MY JEWELRY. . .” Now that’s the start of a terrible day!

no one sawNo One Saw, Ordinary Things Through the Eyes of an Artist by Bob Raczka takes you on a journey into the art world. Sixteen pieces of art are shown. I love to show the picture and ask what do you think Bob Raczka said? The ending is a perfect beginning, “Artists express their own point of view. And nobody sees the world like you.”

What the Sun Sees by Nancy Tafuri is a double book because tafuri bookhalfway through you flip it and you have the second part What the Moon Sees. A wonderful way to compare and contrast. Sample: “The sun sees bustling streets. The moon sees empty streets.”

where i liveWhere I Live by Frances Wolfe has a hidden answer within the first letter of each two-line verse. The pictures are amazing! They are drawn from many different perspectives. The language of the text is beautiful. Sample: “Sunbeams sparkle like diamonds on water and gulls glide on morning breezes, where I live.”

Least Things, Poems About Small Natures by Jane Yolen makesleast things you stop and notice nature. Yolen has used the format of haiku to bring each creature to life, then she gives additional facts in a sidebar. Her son was the photographer for each. Can you guess what the animal is from this haiku?

“I am green as grass,

Green as moss, miracles, morn,

Green as a moment.”

It is a lizard.

I, Dokoi, doko the tale of a basket by Ed Young allows us to experience a lifetime and a lesson from the point of view of a basket. Students could take on the voice of an inanimate object as it observes their life.

I hope these titles and bits from the books sparked your interest.

Thanks to Cathy Mere (Refine and Reflect: Building a Learning Community) and Mandy Robeck (Enjoy and Embrace Learning) for creating this special day in August.




Plant Envy?

One evening I was checking the progress of my tomatoes in my minuscule garden plot when a spot of red appeared through the feathery ferns of the asparagus. My heart beat a little faster. My mind already planning when and how to eat the juicy tomato as my hands eagerly reached through the greenery that tickled my hands. Oh yes, it was a tomato that had developed all on its own while hidden by the asparagus. It was ripe and just ready to be picked. So I did.

A hidden tomatoe!

A hidden tomatoe!

Then I wondered if there were any more. Gently my hand separated the fern fronds. My eyes scanning and seeking a bit of red. Ah ha! Red! But as I moved aside the green, this red was simply a red berry produced by the asparagus.

The asparagus wants to get attention too.

The asparagus wants to get attention too.

I thought that perhaps the asparagus was jealous of all the attention the tomatoes have been getting, so it decided to produce its own version of  a round red fruit. However, I have investigated and discovered that the female plant produces this berry as a seed. The plant’s yield will be reduced due to the energy put into developing the seed. Therefore, I must get out there and pluck the seeds so I will be sure to have lots of asparagus next spring. No plant envy here.

Still waiting on the ones front and center to begin the process of turning red.

Still waiting on the ones front and center to begin the process of turning red.

A Mystery

I don’t normally use the front door or sidewalk to get in and out of my house, so I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to the front landscaping bed. This area has mostly perennial plants, which allows it to maintain the same look year after year.

The Polar Vortex of this past winter was not kind to the ground cover in this bed. The low growing greenery did not survive. My husband dug out the old and dead (which included a mass of tangled roots) and planted new vinca ground cover. Slowly the vinca will fill in the space and we will be happy once again.

However, the other day I walked by and a small grayish rock caught my eye. Where did this come from? How did it get there? I found my husband and questioned him on his knowledge of this rock. He had noticed it too, but had no clue where it came from either.


We know it was not there when he replaced the ground cover earlier this spring. There are no rocks in this bed except for the large ornamental rock. Could this be a chip off of that rock?

This rock has been living in this bed for ten years. It's been all alone.

This rock has been living in this bed for ten years. It’s been all alone.

Did it somehow manage to break away from the big rock and roll down to this location? Did some animal carry it here and drop it? So many questions and no real answers.

See the little rock by the sidewalk? Where did it come from?

See the little rock by the sidewalk? Where did it come from?

I’m thinking this is a mystery that won’t be solved. I guess I will have to make up a story to explain this. Any ideas?

A Mix-Up

In May Stenhouse had a blog tour  of the second edition of The Daily 5 by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser, AKA “The 2 Sisters.” All you had to do was leave a comment on the blogs and you would be entered for a signed copy of this book.

Any chance to win a book, I’m in. I’ve been known to make a comment every now and then, even with no carrot dangling. :-) Lucky me! I got a Twitter message from Mandy Robek at Enjoy and Embrace Learning that I was a lucky winner! (Thank you Mandy!) Woo hoo! All I had to do was send her a message with my address. I did, so now I began waiting for my book.

About six weeks after winning, the book arrived from Stenhouse. Excitedly,  I opened the package. Did I just dream that it would be signed or was it? That was what I wanted to check out first. There was a lovely note from Chandra Lowe and she even spelled my name right! (see photo)

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Then I quickly flipped open the cover, turned a page and there it was, signed by the Two Sisters! I am smiling to myself and thinking how cool this is. While I’m looking at the inscription, my friend is peering over my shoulder. She asks, “Who’s Maureen?” (see photo)

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Now my brain begins to process. I had noticed the name Maureen, but it didn’t register that it was the wrong name. I began to laugh. Somewhere, someone has a book inscribed to LeAnn. Apparently things must have gotten busy at the Stenhouse offices and there was a slight mix up in books. Now I have a funny story to share with teachers as I introduce them to the Daily 5.  :-)


Birthday Celebrations!

The weather this past week has been spectacular! I’m all for the Polar Vortex in July. This just made the birthday celebration just perfect.

The past few years have found us far from home and discovering new parts of the world during this birthday week. So it was surprising to find us home. That just would not do. Especially for this birthday into a new decade. So we made a plan and escaped from the realities of chores and mundane life at home. Where did we go? What did we do? Read on to discover . . .


We arrived in the city mid-afternoon, just in time to check into our hotel, the Ivy Boutique Hotel. What a snazzy place to stay! We had a sitting room, bedroom, and a bathroom which had a hanger of directions on how to operate the rain shower head (plus a huge soaker tub and a TV in the mirror). Like I said, snazzy. :-)

We were only a few blocks off of Michigan Avenue, so we set out to explore and wander the Magnificent Mile. We walked up one side, down the other with a brief stop at the Bean and Garrett for a bag of Chicago mix (caramel corn and cheese popcorn). We thought we might eat that as we walked, not possible as our hands turned orange very quickly. By this time we needed to find dinner and return to our room. I had walked a blister on the bottom of my foot. (It never fails, no matter what I do, I seem to always get a blister. :-( )


The next day was the big birthday and we were registered for a Bike, Bites, and Brew bike ride from Bobby’s Bike Hike at 11:30. First order of business was breakfast. Dunkin Donuts was close and we don’t have one in Springfield. We enjoyed a jalapeno cheese bagel with bacon, egg, and cheese. Next order of business was to find the bike shop. Success, but we were early, so we wandered around Navy Pier for a bit. Unfortunately every day camp in the city was converging on the Pier to attend Seussical the Musical. I celebrated that I was not in charge of a group of children. Back to the bike shop to begin our tour.

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Alex was our guide for the day, she was full of interesting stories. First stop was Gino’s East for a piece of spinach deep dish pizza. I must confess, it was not my favorite. I prefer thinner pizza. Next stop was Lincoln park where we rubbed Lincoln’s foot for luck. The bonus was a heron was watching us the whole time. I’m sure it was thinking, “What silly people.”

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A short ride took us to Swirlz, a cupcake place. So many flavors to choose, it was a tough decision. We rode through several neighborhoods to get to our next stop, Murphy’s for a Chicago dog. What an interesting combination on the hot dog!


Now we have pedaled to Wrigley Field and around back was Murphy’s sports bar. We were given two beers to sample. They tasted pretty good after the spicy pepper on the hot dog.

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Last stop was RJ Grunts for another beer sample. We had reached the end of our consumption portion of the tour. Now we took the path along Lake Michigan back to our starting point. Four hours and fourteen miles later we were back and ready to claim our car from the hotel’s garage. It had been a great day and just what Mike wanted for his birthday.


We drove out of the city with lovely memories of this special day.



Late Night? Early Morning?

The heat covers me like a blanket, so heavy that it brings me out of my dozing state. Eyelids flutter, trying to open and focus on the time of day. It is 3:00 in the afternoon, my eyes close again as my thoughts drift back to only twelve hours before.

Twelve hours ago, I was driving towards St. Louis, following my husband who was driving our neighbor’s car.

Flashback to late afternoon, we get a call from Dave, “I’m taking Sue (his wife) to the emergency room. I’ll let you know what’s happened,” he briefly explains.

We are concerned, Sue had a kidney transplant in the fall. Has something happened? She was fine yesterday. Late evening Dave calls back, “She is being transported to Barnes Hospital (in St. Louis). They think there is something blocking one of her tubes. I’m coming home to pick up things.”

Mike checks on Dave when he arrives, Dave is in no frame of mind to drive three hours to St. Louis. Mike offers to drive him and I will follow so Dave will have his car. We can spend the night at my father-in-law’s house (near St. Louis). Quickly we throw together items we will need in the morning.

There is a delay, Dave has to return to the local hospital. The hospital will not release Sue until a bed is assigned in St. Louis. The time ticks away. I returned home to wait. They do not leave the hospital until 12:15 a.m.

I dozed a little while waiting for them, I only hope I am up to the task of driving at such a late hour. The miles are eaten as I am focused on being alert to all traffic. Eventually we arrive at an exit where Dave will take over driving and we head for the house. The last time I’d seen 3:30 in the morning, I was on an international flight. I fall into bed exhausted, but yet sleep eludes me for a while.

By 8:30 a.m., we are up and ready to begin the journey home. It was a short night. Once home, a nap is required after lunch. I move to the patio. It is warm, but there is a slight breeze that allows me to drift away, until I begin to suffocate under the blanket of heat.

Update on my neighbor: Many tests were run on her. The test with positive results was related to a tick bite. We have no idea when or where she encountered a tick. She is still in the hospital, but hopes to be released today.