Monthly Archives: April 2014

Adventures in Gardening

Danny and his avocado tree

My friend Danny is a man who can grow not only an avocado plant but an avacado tree from seed.   Ever since I’ve known him, he has lived a voluntarily simple life in a shotgun home that is also his art studio.  His home is one of several that his family has owned  since the 1940’s.  In the miniature farm that surrounds his home there are citrus trees and berry vines, onions, corn, peppers and so much more.  His garden has always been bigger than the indoor space where he sleeps makes music, prints t-shirts and edits videos.  He freely shares much of his harvest with neighborhood families.

An avocado from Danny’s big tree

Danny helped me plant my first (and up to now, my only) full-scale garden.  This was during my last year or so of undergraduate school In the front yard of my mother’s suburban Houston home.  In the front of Mama’s house, Danny and I planted flowers that I’d chosen and in the back an edible garden.   I have no words to describe what a gratifying experience it was for me to turn the soil, plant and tend this little square of land that soon, as if by magic and as if in gratitude yeilded okra,  eggplant, tomatoes– FOOD!  Since then, I’ve dabbled here and there but have pretty much shied away from real-deal gardening, meaning planting anything that I have the intention of eating.   Why?  Because– Danny’s mentorship notwithstanding– I have a brown thumb.Jared's cabbage

Spring 2014 is the season that I’ve had to face my plant-killing fear, all thanks to Big Man who to my horror delight brought home two tiny cabbage plants from school courtesy of one of the school art teachers who is apparently a master gardener like Danny (thanks, Mr. L…).    Okay.  So, maybe I’m to blame for encouraging my child to love nature.  But oh, the subtle dread I felt when he came around expecting me to help him keep his little green friends alive.    To make him happy and to demonstrate “nothing beats a failure but a try!” and all of that, off I went to Dollar Tree for two buckets and then to ACE Hardware for good potting soil.   Surprise, surpise!  See the pictures to the right for the results.  Not only have we NOT killed the plants, they are actually– what?– thriving!

I’ll keep you posted on what happens from here and will leave you with the titles of some beautiful gardening-related children’s books, one of them a modern classic and the remaining ones dedicated to two of my Green Muses.  And also one for lagniappe.



gardenerThe Gardener by Sarah Stewart and David Small


In the Garden with Mr. Carver
In the Garden with Dr. Carver
by Susan Grigsby and Nicole Tudgell
(read Google books preview here)


Seeds of ChangeSeeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson and Sonia Lynn Sadler 


Kids’ Garden: 40 Fun Indoor and Outdoor Activities and Games

by Whitney Cohen and Roberta Arenson


Sweet Music



I’m one of the legions who can’t help but move a lil’ somethin’ when I hear Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”  It’s got a Curtis Mayfield/Meters/Stevie/Motown kind of vibe with fun lyrics that still hint at the spiritual (“Can’t bring me down/Your love is too high” or something like that).  It’s the kind of music that anyone of any age or cultural background can’t help but love.  In other words, it’s music that unifies rather than divides.   Funny enough– and we knew it was coming–by now, some are saying that if they never hear the song again it will be too soon.  I can understand the complaint.   But we can’t blame the Man with the Big Green Hat if radio stations wear a good thing in the ground, now can we?  And I’d rather have that as a soundtrack for my child’s day than some of the other “musical” alternatives being offered today.

In any event, I’m sharing a segment of OWN Network’s recent interview with Pharrell.    I enjoyed the entire conversation and was especially drawn in by the brief, yet vivid picture he drew of his childhood where he recalls riding a bike through his neighborhood and music creating such a thick presence that “you could almost cut it.”   Being that I was born during the same era, I whole-heartedly relate.   He and I are around the same age, and during my own childhood in the late ’70s and into the ’80s I can remember music was a vital thing, especially in black communities. We got dressed to the selections of our favorite dj’s, rode to school and work with the radio on, cleaned house while records played, watched Soul Train, went to house parties and chilled on the weekends at parks .  Young people could get down with music that their parents grooved to– LTD, Maze, Teena Marie, Roger and Zapp, EWF and so many others.  And the “old folk” sang along to a lot of our music, too, whether it was Michael Jackson, Prince, New Edition and so on.  Like Beres Hammond sings in “Rockaway,” I miss those days!



Also, on the topic of music, I wanted to share some photos from a fairly recent visit I paid to Big Man’s class.   Off and on since the beginning of the year,  his teacher has left the storytelling seat open to me and any other parents who want to share books.  The title that I most recently shared was Wynton Marsalis’ Squeak, Rumble, Whomp!, Whomp!, Whomp!  There’s really no story line, but still I love the imagery.  And just like Pharrell’s Happy, this book is just fun.    Since it was shortly after Mardi Gras, I took with me Mardi Gras beads and a king cake that I divided into tiny pieces (so much sugar!).   We did a short second line around the classroom to brass band music from Youtube.    I had the kids yell, “Throw me something, Mister!,” to which Big Man responded by tossing strings of beads.


And rounding out this post “Picture Books That Focus on Music,” of an awesome array of titles that I found on a blog titled Between the By-Road.

Us at the Alif Institute

Big Man with cookie crumbs on his mouth and Browngirl chewing (and clutching) awesome baklava

A couple of weekends ago, Big Man and I attended a concert of Middle Eastern music at the Alif Institute, a small organization that promotes understanding of Arab culture here in the U.S. through film screenings, language classes, concerts and festivals.  We were invited by a former co-worker of mine, a scholar and classically-trained composer who is culturally Jewish and who embraces (and teaches) a wide variety of musical forms.

As much as my budget and imagination allow, I’ve sought out opportunities to give Big Man a sensory exposure to the world.  At this point, it comes largely through books and film, and when we’re lucky through real-life cultural events that happen in Atlanta like the Atlanta Peach Caribbean Carnival to the Dragon Boat Festival.  As for Middle Eastern traditional music, a lot of what draws me to it is its poetry.  Never mind that I can’t understand a word.  It still manages to communicate its beauty.  I’m also in love with the oud, an instrument that (thanks to books like Love’s Alchemy) I understand has for centuries been a kind of golden thread linking music to literature, especially poetry.

But back to the concert.


It went on for about an hour and a half and was performed by an ensemble of students and seasoned musicians.  In truth, Big Man spent most of the time playing with a friendly older child sitting next to us who took turns letting him play games on her smart phone, which made him all but forget the slinky and little ball that he’d brought along.  Though he did grow restless with the whole affair, I think that some of the music filtered in.  I know that one of the best parts for him were the cookies came at the end of the program.   Being a picky eater, he passed on the baklava lady fingers, probably because he saw green nuts (pistachios) sprinkled on top of them.  I didn’t.  They were light, not too sweet and so delicious I couldn’t stop raving about them.  Which, of course, made Big Man think twice about having turned up his nose.  Which, of course, was my intention.

So, here are some books and films that complement our Middle Eastern music experience:



The Nightengale
by Jerry Pinkney



The Secret Message
by Mina Javaherbin (based on a tale by Rumi)



Traveling Man: The Journey of Ibn Battuta
by James Rumford



Deep in the Sahara
by Kelly Cunnane and Hoda Hadadi



Azul and Asmar 
A film by Michel Ocelot


Spring is Here (And So Am I)!

from pam hogeweide blog What to say after so long an absence? How about breaking the silence with a laundry list of what we’ve been up to?

In the three or four months that I’ve not posted, Big Man had a major ear infection followed by pneumonia for him, bronchitis for me.  Then a couple of weeks ago was some weird stomach flu that went from Big Man to me then on to his dad.  Aside from that it’s been the usual. School. Work. My continued job (transition) search. Signing up for Affordable Health Care (a very involved process, to put it mildly). Cub scout meetings. Soccer practice.  Me trying to keep up, in general.   Sometimes feeling like I’m getting pretty close, other times feeling like I’m totally missing the mark.

On the creative front:  I “discovered” the work of Dhalma Lllanos-Figueroa and got to hear Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  speak about her book Americanah.  I enjoyed both very much.  And though there’s still a good possibility of self-publication, one of my projects that got shelved for a while but that I have been earnestly chipping away at for the last year or so is under consideration by an agent.   An exciting and terrifying prospect.   We’ll see how things go.   I also went on a day trip to South Carolina to photograph and visit one of my sheroes, Vertamae Grosvenor, whom I’ve mentioned on this blog and also am featuring in the project.  That eight hours behind the wheel wore me out much more than I expected, but it had been in my plan for many months, so I’m satisfied.

What, now, have you been up to?