How Mrs. Wishy-Washy Saved the Day: a former teacher’s reflections

Mrs. Wishy-Washy

Becky as Mrs. Wishy-Washy
Becky as Mrs. Wishy-Washy on Halloween at her last school!

 

When I moved back to my home state of Michigan about fifteen years ago, I jumped at the chance to teach kindergarten at a Pre-K/K early learning center. That public school was in the Upper Peninsula and part of the state’s most northern K-12 school district. My recent teaching experiences were with upper elementary students, and it had been years since I worked in a preschool or completed a short stint in kindergarten during my student teaching. To say that I was nervous is an understatement!

Imagine my excitement when I discovered a dark cupboard full of colorful ‘big books’ the first day I visited my new classroom.  Many of the titles were written by the prolific New Zealand author, Joy Cowley, whose books I hadn’t previously encountered.  During that school year, I learned to love her books just as much as my students adored them!

All of Ms. Cowley’s books are great, but Mrs. Wishy-Washy was the most popular character, hands down. Here’s some background about her:

  • Who is Mrs. Wishy-Washy?  One of Joy Cowley’s most-loved characters
  • What is very important to her?  Cleanliness!
  • Where do she and Mr. Wishy-Washy live?  In a rural area in the state of Washington
  • When does she get grouchy?  When something gets in the way of her washing
  • Why do her animals sometimes look sad?  They are tired of being washed!

Besides tales of keeping other characters and her surroundings clean, other antics involve a farm fair, birthdays, gardening, baking, and appearing on TV. The students loved chiming in during ‘shared reading’ time and then reading on their own with the small-book versions of the matching titles.

white teddy bear with opened book photo

Ms. Cowley’s books are very conducive to a wide variety of literacy lessons:  beginning and ending sounds, blending, rhyming, story elements, sequencing, building words, spelling patterns, sight words…the list goes on and on!  Beyond that, many of them also lend themselves easily to tie-ins with other areas of the curriculum, such as science, math and social studies.

It’s no wonder that I again sought out Mrs. Wishy-Washy and friends some years later, when I found myself teaching young learners in another U.P. location. In relief, I found the school library housed many of her big books for the teachers to share, and that the smaller versions were already on the shelf in my classroom.

For those of you who write for kids, this author has a wonderful book titled Writing from the Heart that I’ve found to be a great resource for my own writing. If you’re teaching or have young children and haven’t met Mrs. Wishy-Washy and Joy Cowley’s other books, you may want to check them out. I’d love to hear about your favorite picture book characters OR about your ‘go-to’ resource books for writers!

barn-no attrib. required

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What Draws Children to Certain Books?

flicka, ricka, and dicka

During much of my childhood, the public library in our little town was housed in a small area adjacent to the fire station. Each time I arrived at the library with my family, I worried that the fire alarm might sound during our visit. However, I remember a span of several years when I would hurry immediately to a certain shelf where the books by Maj Lindman were lined up, and I soon forgot all my worries.

This author/illustrator from Sweden produced several series of picture books from the 1920s through the 1960s, including those featuring the triplet boys, “Snipp, Snapp, and Snurr,” and also the set of titles built around triplet girls, “Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.” I’m happy to say that I’ve collected one from each series, which are library editions published in 1960. I see that Albert Whitman & Company has reissued many of these books (some with paper dolls, no less!); but, for me, those actually printed during my childhood mean so much more.

While looking my copies over, recently, I considered what it was that I had liked so much about them as a child. Possibly I can put some of my discoveries to use when fashioning my own books for young readers. I came up with the following factors:

  • Settings – The country’s name, “Sweden,” is stated in two out of the three books that I own in these series. Even when not mentioned outright, the setting depicted in the book feels very different from my neighborhood that was in the midst of a small town in Michigan.
  • Freedom  – Since many of the stories take place on farms or in other rural areas, the children often seem quite free to roam as they please and have many adventures that often involve animals, as well.
  • Names – Beyond the triplets’ monikers, many of the other characters have names that were also unfamiliar and interesting to me.
  • Family structure – Until I was somewhat older and a nearby neighbor gave birth to triplets, I had never known any such families. (Imagine my surprise when that trio was made up of one boy and two girls!).
  • Visually appealing – The lovely, full-page illustrations are so pleasing to the eyes, and many of the editions use a somewhat enlarged and easy-to-see font.
  • Simple stories that often involve extended families – This serves as a vehicle to get the children away from their homes and broadens the story options.
  • Surprise endings or subtle lessons to be learned – As I remember, the resolutions seemed satisfying to me as a child.

All that being said, it appears that some of the books are rather long and run over 1200 words. My mother preferred to read shorter books for story time, especially since I also had an even younger brother. My father usually chose to tell us stories that he made up, on the rare evenings when he arrived home early enough from work. My older sister was always eager to read to me, though, for which I am forever grateful.

snipp, snapp, snurr

Although the type of stories that appeals to today’s children has evolved, I’m sure, I believe that there are still some nuggets of basic childhood yearnings to be found in the pages from our youth. I’d love to hear about your favorite childhood books and what it was that drew you to them!

 

 

 

 

Meatless Mondays: Vegetable Cassoulet

 

veggies pot and cutting board A commitment to “Meatless Monday” is easy for me, since I already eat that way most days. According to the website, this movement began in 2003 and is now active in 44 countries. Eating meat-free at least one day of the week is a positive for our health and good for the Earth.

Here’s one of my recipes that has evolved into a vegetable cassoulet, which is like a vegetable stew or casserole. Not sure if Peter Mayle would have approved of this version of a French classic, but I don’t even miss the meat.

As is typical for my recipes, there are many ingredient options from which you may choose your favorites. Make as little or as much as you want, so amounts will also vary according to your needs and plans.

In a kettle with high sides, brown diced/sliced onions, shallots and/or garlic in olive oil.

If you want your end result to be more like a casserole, your mixture can be emptied into a large casserole and will need less liquid (stock) than the more stew-like version.

Add desired amount of vegetable stock, along with your choices from among sliced leeks, mushrooms and fennel bulb. NOTE: Fennel has a hint of a licorice taste. You might also try a slug of ouzo or pastis in its place for the same flavor. Otherwise, a bit of white cooking wine is also a nice addition.

Add cooked/canned white beans (cannellini, great Northern, or even garbanzos).

Include your choices of the following, peeled and/or cut as required:

carrots
green beans
asparagus
Swiss chard
celery
colored peppers
eggplant
potatoes
turnips
parsley and/or thyme, fresh or dried

Adjust liquid as needed. Salt and pepper to taste. If baking, give this at least an hour at 350. If cooking on top of the stove, after your mixture reaches a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook until veggies are the desired texture.

Pair with your favorite bread and wine, if you wish.

kitchen window pixabay no attribution required

Happy B-day to Me & to Our Critique Group

flowers and computer

This is my birthday week, and I’m tempted, of course, to reflect on fond memories and post a few vintage pictures. I’m sure to do that in the future, but I’ve decided to look forward on this anniversary of my birth. Personal goals in the coming year are to form even firmer bonds with those individuals who matter to me AND to pursue further publication of my work with renewed structure and vigor.

I’m happy to say that I belong to several national and regional organizations that help to support writing and publication goals. I took advantage of local offerings and joined a writing critique group at the library soon after my move to Texas. Its members write in various genres and come from many different walks of life. We present our works for group feedback, share pertinent writers’ questions or information, and celebrate our successes.

Sometimes that meeting just once a month wasn’t quite enough to keep me motivated. About a year ago, I pursued the concept of a critique group for writers and illustrators of children’s literature, and “Write 4 Kids” was born! We also meet once a month at the library to present our works-in-progress, including books, stories, illustrations and query letters for potential publishers and agents.

In addition to providing feedback, we also share questions, information, disappointments and successes. Our numbers have grown steadily, and attendance continues to motivate and enlighten a group of local authors and illustrators. The input, friendship and support of both groups have been invaluable to me.

Another personal goal for the upcoming year is for my continued growth as an effective critique group member. Sometimes it’s too easy for one to offer a possible “fix” for a piece. The first order of business should be a focus on the positives and “what works.” I have to admit that my work as a freelance editor sometimes causes me to look for small surface errors instead of focusing on the “broad picture.”  I must remember to practice what I preach!

As always, soon after my birthday comes the first day of spring. I hope that your own season of renewal, wherever you’re located, will bring beauty, hope, and happiness.

Becky

 

 

Peter Mayle: A Life in Provence

provence

 

I was recently saddened to learn that one of my favorite authors, Peter Mayle, has died. The first book I ever bought by Mr. Mayle was Where Did I Come From?, which was purchased over 40 years ago in anticipation of telling my children about the facts of life. Decades later, when I was introduced to his travel memoir, A Year in Provence, I had no idea that this was even the same author. During the intervening years, he had published several other books for children and worked in advertising. He and his wife then took the plunge and gave up their lives in England to relocate in France.

The book was serialized for the BBC, and I came across the videos (yes, videos) at the library, while living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Filmed in Provence, the story was mesmerizing. I could relate in some small way to what he and his wife faced, having myself moved to various parts of the U.S. and adjusted to unfamiliar cultures. Those changes never required learning another language, however!

The views and vistas portrayed in the films were like nothing I have ever had access to on a daily basis, even in the most scenic areas of Michigan’s Great Lakes, North Carolina’s shores, Virginia’s mountains, or Texas Hill Country. Beyond the story’s familiar theme of moving to a different type of world, one can also find the more elusive theme of life never being too far along to try something new. This is such an important belief, and I think it resonates for many of us.

The mini-series wasn’t a critical success, evidently, although John Thaw’s portrayal of Peter Mayle was excellent. I loved it, though, and have watched it more times than I care to admit. Thanks to finding the series on the dusty bottom shelf at the library, I was led to the body of works by this wonderful author. I still remember the pleasure of cuddling up by the fireplace with a snowstorm raging outdoors and experiencing the warmth of the French countryside and the scent of lavender.

Peter Mayle wrote several successful sequels to that book, which are presented a bit more like collections of short stories. All the books contain humor, food, wine, weather, friendship, local culture and beautiful locales. How else would I ever have bumped into truffles (the mushroom-like fungi, not the chocolates), boules, the mistral, or pastis? This author wrote other enjoyable non-fiction, in addition, usually centered on various interesting aspects of French culture. To my delight, there were also his novels to devour, which portray many of the same characteristics as his memoirs, along with crimes solved, business deals conducted and wine produced. There’s some romance to be found, as well. A lovely movie with Russell Crowe and Marion Cotillard is based on Mayle’s book, A Good Year.

With regret, I have to admit that I didn’t bring the entire collection of Mr. Mayle’s books with me when I moved. I did keep A Year in Provence, of course, and I especially value my ARC (advance reading copy/uncorrected proof) of A Good Year, with the plain blue cover. This format seems just that much closer to the author’s keyboard, somehow.

Try his first book, and if you love it, you’ll have a treasure trove to explore beyond that one. I’m extremely sorry that he’s gone, but surely this author knew that his writing had affected the lives of others, as evidenced by the book sales and fans, increased tourism to Provence, and readers who sought him out when visiting the region.

Merci, Monsieur Mayle!

Cooking with a Twist

veg-o-matic
1960s Veg-O-Matic

As a kid, I loved the commercials that appeared on television around the holidays featuring people who demonstrated those “slicer and dicer” kitchen tools. Slice-O-Matic, Chop-O-Matic, Veg-O-Matic…you get the idea. Their hands moved more quickly than a magician’s, and I expected a severed finger to surely end up in with the wavy potato slices or the tomato wedges! I remember wondering why my mother didn’t have one of those contraptions, but she always just stuck with her trusty, favorite paring knife.

I’m not really one for kitchen gadgets, myself, and was surprised to find a food spiralizer under the tree this past Christmas morning. Even if you haven’t made any of these spirals, yourself, you’ve probably seen some “ready-made” in the grocery stores, with squash seeming to be one of the most popular. The end results when using this bladed tool are basically vegetables or fruits cut to look like strands of pasta.

The spiralizers evidently come in multiple formats, from various types of rotary incarnations that help the users build arm muscles, to deluxe electric models, with mine being the rotary sort. I’ve experienced mixed outcomes, but still have many fruits and vegetables to try. Eggplant turned out to be too squishy, and the broccoli stems were a challenge, but do-able. My best results, so far, have been with zucchini and summer squash. I won’t resort to calling them “zoodles” or “squoodles,” but they really do resemble noodles and taste great!

The internet is awash with related recipe ideas, but I came up with one based on ingredients that I happened to find in my refrigerator and cupboards, so I’ve included it, below. Feel free to share your favorite spiralizer recipe in comments. In fact, one lucky commenter will be chosen at the end of February to receive a $5 Amazon e-card! Hmmm. Now I’m thinking about a cold spiralized beet salad for Valentines Day…

 Seafood Casserole

2 firm zucchini
2 firm summer squashes
Cooked fish, shrimp, or other seafood of choice (any amount you wish; canned works well, too)
Olive oil
Scallions/green onions (the leafy part, which is easiest to cut with kitchen scissors)
Garlic paste (optional)
Shredded cheese of your favorite type (optional)
Pimento slices, mostly for color
Bread crumbs

Spiralize your vegetables with the peel left on and spread out in an oblong casserole that has a bit of olive oil in the bottom. Add your seafood, onions, and garlic paste, if desired. Drizzle about two more tablespoons of olive oil into the mixture. Mix with a fork. Sprinkle cheese, if wanted, and bread crumbs over the top. Bake at 350-360 for 30-45 minutes until heated through.

Cataloguing a Life

 

sears 1957
1957

 

When I was a child, the thick Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog was a staple in most homes. It contained sections for just about everything you could ever want to buy, it seemed, and offered another option for families who lived in more rural areas, like ours, with limited choices for shopping.

The large catalog came in handy for other things, too, like a “booster seat” for the tots who had outgrown their high chairs, but couldn’t quite reach the dinner table on their own. I remember a particular “snow day” from school when my sister and I had fun making “paper dolls” out of the previous season’s catalog. We carefully cut out the main figures and then found clothing on other pages that could be trimmed to fit. The joys of a simple childhood.

Years later, as a young mother with a child of my own, I saved “trading stamps,” which were given out by many of the grocery stores according to how much you spent. I pasted them into small booklets and watched the stack grow. Top Value was the main type I saved, and I spent considerable time perusing their mail order catalog to decide on the wonderful “premiums” that would be my goals. One of my older daughter’s first dolls, a sweet Kewpie in one-piece pajamas, came to live with us, thanks to Top Value stamps.

Penney's
1972

 

Around Thanksgiving, the J.C. Penney Christmas catalog was always a welcome sight in the mail. I spent hours poring over the pages to decide which gifts my daughters just couldn’t do without. This was also a great way to get ideas for grandmas and grandpas! Even though we had a few stores in our small town that carried toys, it seemed that the Penney’s catalog offered a much wider selection of brands, such as Playskool and Fisher Price. Playtime was better than ever with the likes of Happy Apple, Milk Wagon, and Chatter Phone. Our small house became a virtual village of Little People homes, schools, and farms. Pleasant memories.

Time marched on, and my children were nearly grown. By then, I’d finally earned my teacher certification and would have the opportunity to help other people’s youngsters learn and develop. I remember the excitement of securing my first teaching position and having the secretary hand me Lakeshore and ReallyGoodStuff catalogs to order materials for my new classroom, since we were located hours away from the nearest teacher supply store. It seemed too good to be true after all those years of study. I did, in fact, order some “really good stuff.”

Over the years, it seemed that I always ended up back in a remote area with very limited shopping. Fall typically brought the new catalogs from L.L. Bean and Lands’ End. Buying that new winter jacket at the END of the season when it was on sale was a much better plan, of course, but it was still great fun to look. The most welcomed catalogs in our part of Upper Michigan were the early spring arrivals from plant and flower companies like Gurney’s, Burpee, and Michigan Bulb. Those indicated that we WOULD, indeed, make it through another winter! I spent a great deal of time sketching ideas for our flower beds based on choices made for the local growing zone. Sometimes we bought through mail order, and other times we visited our local nursery. Either way, having those catalogs for handy visuals and information was priceless.

Life has a strange way of leading where we don’t expect. A few years ago, I found myself living on my own in a more populated area with every type of store you can imagine in close range. One rainy afternoon I was retrieving my umbrella from the floor on the passenger side of the car and noticed some papers under the seat. Pulling them out, I saw a grocery store flyer from my previous life, along with a Plow & Hearth catalog sporting my former husband’s name. I then remembered leaving for what ended up being our last road trip together. We had stopped for the mail on our way out, and I just shoved it under the seat to be forgotten. My only “hearth” nowadays is artificial, and I have no garden to dig in, much less “plow.” Quite the reminder about the changes in the fabric of my days.

The holidays have now passed for another year. Several weeks ago, I was surprised when I visited the bank of mailboxes in my apartment building lobby to find a Burpee spring catalog mixed in with the rest of my mail. It was actually addressed to me and not just to “current resident.” They found me! Guess the nice folks at Burpee don’t know, or care, that I currently have no need for plants and seeds, or any of the related supplies. I’m hanging onto it, though, and won’t admit just how many times I’ve peeked at its pages. Who knows what the future may bring.

chipmunk garden flowers