Tag Archives: Character Building

Climbing Stone Mountain

mr. ali and us

It’s Throwback Thursday, and I thought I’d share these photos from June of last year when Big Man and I climbed Stone Mountain.  Our guide was a former colleague of mine whom I’ve adopted as a kind of surrogate grandfather to Big Man.   We’ll call him Go-Pa.  Go-Pa used to teach Math, build houses and did a stint in the Army back in the ’60s.   Now retired, he is an avid nature and still-life photographer who regularly swims, bikes, travels and climbs. 

Though I like to consider myself a bit of a “nature girl” and was actually the one who asked to tag along on Go-Pa’s hike, there were times during our adventure that I silently (and Big Man quite audibly) wanted to retreat to the cabana-covered picnic tables that we saw on our way up.  Pretty sad since the hike took only about an hour.  Yet my elder friend’s experience and patience (he didn’t seem to mind that our joining him doubled the time it would have taken him to climb solo) helped see us all through patches of woods, up slippery slopes and to the summit where we were able to see treetops and vistas of Atlanta. 

One of the reasons I wanted to go on the climb was to teach Big Man a lesson– one that he’d feel in his muscles and bones– about endurance and pacing.   I also wanted him to have a solid image in his memory bank of an active, intelligent and creative elder so that he knows that in time he can be that, too. 

That said, below are a few of the other photos that we took during our climb and our grubbing on pizza at Fellini’s afterward. 

mr. ali and us 3


mr. ali and us 2

climbing stone mountain

mr. ali and us 4


mr. ali and us 5




Every night just after saying prayers, I have Big Man take a moment to name simple things that he gives thanks for, things that make his heart happy.  I think that cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” will serve him well as he grows, because though it’s no news flash, I think that too many things in society encourage children and adults alike to downplay what we do have.  We’ve got to take care to protect ourselves from Want More Syndrome (a tip of the hat to the Wailers) that can eat us alive if we aren’t careful.

So, how cool was it for me to take my usual stroll down the library aisle and see that the lovely library elves had put Pat Mora’s Gracias/Thanks in my path.   Finally, Big Man could see proof that other people also see giving thanks as an important practice and that his mom is not torturing him with some pointless ritual.   Aside from the fact that it’s gorgeously-illustrated (not to mention bilingual), it’s one of the few spiritually-oriented books I’m aware of with a male child of color as the protagonist.

8-1/2"x11" jacket mech.

gracias thanks pat mora 3
“For the ladybug that landed on my finger, a little red flying surprise, thanks.”


“For the worms that brought the big fish to tug on my line, thanks.”

Big Man already has a natural love of the Berenstain Bears and owns a number of their DVDs, including The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies which is a wonderful complement to Gracias/Thanks.  Ditto for Can I Pray with My Eyes Open?.

gracias thanks 5

gracias thanks post

 So, what are you and yours thankful for?

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

A Taste of the Caribbean at Christmas

As I mentioned in the previous post, last week Big Man’s Cub Scout pack had a Christmas Around the World-themed meetng.  The month’s theme was respect in a global community sense and the idea was to showcase food, games, stories or traditions from elsewhere to put this idea across.  Being that Big Man’s dad is from Ghana, I began with the intention of sharing some unique Christmas tradition from there.  Dad couldn’t think of any off the top of his head.  What kept coming to mind for me were two holiday expressions from the Caribbean, the first being the parang bands of Trinidad and Tobago (read about it here and listen to it here) and the other being sorrel, a drink enjoyed all year around but that is especially popular at Christmas.  As is the case with Brazil, I’m not of Caribbean descent.   That does nothing to diminish the connection I feel to parts of the music and culture that I’ve learned about over the years.  But I digress.Image

Big Man put his penmanship to work in writing out some of our labels and really enjoyed playing the part of ethno-botanist and food guide.  He also got to participate in the meeting’s opening presentation.

There were about three other families who set up displays.  To our right was a family from Mexico, and to our left were families representing Germany, Italy and Greece.  At the final table two mothers shared trivia about how the holiday came to be observed in the manner that we know it today in the U.S.

Our display consisted of a presentation board with a map of the Americas (with Georgia and Jamaica pointed out), some trivia about the flower and a few visuals.  We also had fresh ginger root, allspice and dried sorrel on display for our visitors and, of course, a dispenser with a batch of the punch and miniature cups for those willing to give it a go.   Thanks to the intensity and unfamiliarity of the spices, the eyes of some of our young tasters did grow wide after they took a few sips.   A number of others (mainly grown-ups) came back for seconds– and in a few cases, thirds.



A few titles on spices and Christmas around the world:

spice alphabet bookThe Spice Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta and Leslie Evans

tales from the island of spice

Tales from the Island of Spice by Ricardo Keens-Douglas

legend of the poinsettia

The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie de Paola


Christmas Around the World by Mary D. Lankford