It Takes a Knowledge Part II

When our children were little, a neighbor gave us a round, blue, hard plastic, watering trough for them to splash around in over the summer. The trough was about eight feet in diameter and maybe two and a half feet high and the only thing my husband didn’t like about it was that we would empty the water out of it to no avail. It held a considerable amount of water and since we didn’t use any additives, it needed emptying quite regularly. We would take the plug out of the valve on the side and the water would gush out onto the grass at the side of our house and then run down the driveway till it soaked in wherever it soaked in. Our water is free, coming as it does from the creek that crosses our land, but still; my husband felt that it should go to a nobler use than just watering the lawn and the driveway.

So the second summer we used this watering trough, he decided to set it up at the top of our garden instead of at the side of our house. That way, when it needed to be emptied, the run off could irrigate the plants growing there. But in order for this to be effective, little ditches needed to be dug between the raised beds, to direct the water coming out of the pool, so that all the vegetables got a taste of the wet stuff. My husband enlisted our five-year old son’s help with this project and I remember looking out the window and seeing them both bent over, assiduously making tidy grooves in the dirt with the points of their trowels. It seemed like they were out there for hours, never complaining, sometimes conferring on where the ditches should meet up and then, eventually, releasing the water and watching with pleasure as it ran in both directions the width of the garden and continued on down the rows, like marbles in a marble maze. And I remember we had the biggest squash that season, not only in the garden but growing over the fence so everyone walking by could see the magnificent orange and deep, dark green gourds that sprang from the swimming pool water.
Gardening
Gardening 2

What impressed me most, however, about this homemade irrigation project was our son’s willingness to work on it. And it impressed me because I was never that kid. I remember hating to garden, although I can’t really remember why. But whatever the reason, it led me to tell my husband, early on in our relationship, not to expect me to help in the garden. He didn’t, and I remained steadfast in my lack of inclination until….he fed me some of the things he’d grown. Fresh lettuce, spinach, kale, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, carrots, beans… it was heaven on a plate, and lured me into wanting to protect the early stages of the produce from strangulation by weeds. Thus I relented and found myself bent over rows, allowing my fingers to get fully immersed in leafy greens and dirt.

Apparently I had to make that connection between gardening and eating in order to be part of the process. I grew up in the city in England and only remember my parents gardening for the first few years of my life so maybe that connection got lost in the time spent without a garden. My children, on the other hand, grew up picking fresh vegetables out of the garden every summer and if the way they browsed on the tomatoes (even the unripe ones) was anything to go by, they made that connection early and strong.

Fortunately there are now ways to make sure that all children can make that connection, even if they don’t have a garden at home. Farm-to-table programs are sprouting up in schools all over the country, and then there are some beautiful books on gardening that both children and adults can enjoy. One of my favorites is The Children’s Garden; Growing Food in the City by Carole Lexa Schaefer, a story about a community garden in Seattle that was originally published in 1994. Now, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, The Children’s Garden is being reissued (Little Bigfoot) with beautiful new illustrations by Pierr Morgan. Those of you who enjoyed reading my blog post It Takes a Knowledge, will really love savoring every page of The Children’s Garden with your favorite young person (people). Here’s a taste; a short description of the book from Secret Garden Books in Seattle, where the book will launch on May 2nd at 7pm, and two of the special illustrations by Pierr Morgan.
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Down the road from Woodlawn Avenue, on a street called Sunnyside, there’s a garden patch grown by children who live in the neighborhood. A sign on the garden’s gate says: Children’s Garden, WELCOME That means: Come in, please. Listen, see, smell, touch–even taste.
“In rich prose and lush illustrations, this charming picture book shows children as urban farmers, exploring the sights, smells, sensations, and tastes of growing their own food in a community garden. The story invites young readers to enjoy summer’s bounty and the hands-on experience of tending and harvesting it, while the colorful illustrations depict a multicultural community of children learning about and enjoying a sustainable, local food system.”
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Mothers Who Write.

A frequently asked question by audience members at my book events is when do I write? Usually followed by – early in the morning? some other time during the day? do I write every day? and, do I stick to a schedule? For some writers there might be an easy answer to these questions but I’m a mother. Mothers write, I want to tell them, whenever they can. How many times have I scribbled a good line down on a shopping list when stopped at a traffic light (only to throw the list away once I got home without re-reading the line!)? Or dashed upstairs to my computer mid-dinner preparations to work on a paragraph that came clear to me when scrubbing spuds or slicing onions? The up side to this is that I don’t have time to dither when I write and, as many of us know, dithering can be the curse on a writer. I have never forgotten an article I read as a teenager in England, in my mother’s Woman’s Weekly Magazine, about a writer who said she’d lived in Kenya for many years, with servants to take care of her, but she wasn’t nearly as prolific as when she moved back to England and had three children to raise while writing.

And as a mother with a job – selling my husband’s pottery – I struggle quite a bit with ‘hold that thought’ syndrome when interrupted by customers, which gets exacerbated by ‘oh, now that you’re not at your computer anymore…’ syndrome once I’ve finished with the customer. I see other writers with their lovely studios that shut out the rest of the world and I wince with envy. But I also know that life is the stuff of writing and my desk in the middle of the mayhem can often give me that zing of inspiration I need for my next piece.

So the short answer to ‘when do I write?’ is late at night, when everyone else is in bed and the house is quiet. But here’s an excerpt from the longer answer (from ‘A Day in the Life of’ letter I wrote to a friend) and, of course, it’s much more involved.

11:30 pm: I’m at my computer, working on rewrites to my play, “The Blue Light Zone.” when my eyelids begin to drop. I shake myself awake and realize that I’m really too tired to work anymore. That’s okay, I tell myself, tomorrow I don’t have to drive the boys to school in Burlington so I’ll be here all day. Plus my daughter, Annie, has rehearsal after school for the Missoula Children’s Theatre production of “Hansel and Gretel” until early evening and my son, Reed, is staying down after school to play in the band at a basketball game and attend a movie/pizza party in the band room beforehand. I have dough ready in the fridge for bread and I need to do about three loads of laundry, but that will still give me time to work on these rewrites and maybe even get my desk cleaned up.
With that in mind, I go to bed.
4:39 am: I’m awoken out of a sound sleep by Annie, shining a flashlight in my face. “I’m sorry to wake you, mummy, but I’ve thrown up in my bed.” I put her in my bed and go and change all the sheets on her bed, realizing that my loads of laundry for the day have just increased exponentially. Not to mention the fact that it doesn’t look like Annie will be going to school or rehearsal.
5:00 am: I climb back into bed and sleep until I hear Annie throwing up again about twenty minutes later.
5:45 am: The alarm goes off in our room. “Don’t get Annie up,” I tell my husband and I lie, listening to the radio for five minutes, before getting myself up. I make Reed’s lunch and his breakfast and notice that he is walking around looking glum and holding his stomach a little. I think he’s seeking a day off, so he can hang around the house like his sister, and I tell him to buck up and eat his breakfast.
6:43 am: Two minutes before Reed and I are to head out and meet his ride for the day, he jumps up amid a full-on projectile vomiting attack, throws up all over the kitchen table, then manages to get into the bathroom and regurgitate the rest in and around the toilet.
6:45 am: My husband picks up the vomit covered tablecloth as I pack Reed off to bed and throws it in the washing machine. When he comes out of the bathroom I head back in with a bucket of soapy water and a sponge to clean up the mess and start the first load of laundry.
6:50 am: I emerge from the bathroom feeling sorry for myself and sit down on the wood box opposite my husband. He looks up from his book and asks, “So what’s on your plate for the day?”

And just like that, I heard my first murder mystery.
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