Combatting the Crisis in Literacy

Leslie Williams helps children love reading.

If you can read this, you are probably not among the 32 million adult Americans who can’t. Adults who read at less than an eighth grade level, have difficulty understanding essential information to function successfully in society. Low reading skills result in lower incomes, lower quality jobs, and low self esteem. But literacy is a journey that starts when adults are young. If children fall behind in elementary school, they never catch up.

Leslie Williams volunteers with first graders as part of the Read2Succeed Program in Orlando, Florida. The program is sponsored by the Foundation for Orange County Public Schools. Volunteers work to improve reading comprehension by building vocabulary.

Leslie introduces three new vocabulary words to her first grader each week. She reads a picture book aloud and her student follows along and highlights the words in the text. Together they craft a sentence using one of the new words. Then the child illustrates the word in his journal. At the end of the session, the picture book goes home with the student. This process is repeated for twenty-four weeks. By the end of the school year the first grader receives a total of thirteen picture books.

“I believe Read2Succeed is a huge benefit. The program gives them one on one attention, and they feel special. This is my fourth year as a volunteer and I love working with the kids.” Leslie commented.

A retired teacher who comes from a family of teachers, Leslie has fond childhood memories about reading. “My siblings and I always got a book from Santa every Christmas. My mom read books to us every night before bed. Charlotte’s Web was her favorite book and became one of ours as well.” Today, Leslie considers herself a reading advocate. She belongs to a book club and reads at least one book a week.

I asked Leslie if she felt if ebooks would make printed books obsolete someday. “Gosh, I hope not,” she responded. “Nothing can replace the look and feel of a new book.”

Leslie agrees the internet and social media have shortened our attention spans for reading. “My daughter teaches first grade and complains that it’s hard for books to compete with video games. However, when she reads aloud to her class the children are engaged because she includes sound effects.”

May is “National Get Caught Reading” month. Many classrooms display posters of celebrities reading a book to encourage students to read for pleasure. This post acknowledges all those who make a contribution to further the goal of literacy. I am thankful for teachers who impacted my life and the many volunteers who work with children.

People Who Can Read, Should

Take time this month to enjoy a good book. Reading is a great way to unplug and relax. Leave a comment and share some of your favorite books.

In Search of Fannie Farmer

“Precise measurements guarantee success.”

Thursday is waffle day at our house. It began when I gave my husband a waffle maker last Christmas. Over the years I’ve noticed Herb always orders waffles whenever we eat breakfast out. In fact, he always chooses to make his own waffle at any hotel with self-serve breakfast buffets. I thought I was so clever to give him something he would really appreciate.

Of course, I knew I would still need to be involved in the waffle making process. Christmas morning I announced I would mix up the batter every week, but the actual baking of the waffle would be his job. After all, he had more experience.

Our first few attempts at waffle making were very successful. Then all of sudden something went wrong. The waffle stuck to the waffle maker. Finally, Herb managed to scrape the waffle from the grid piece by piece.

Our waffle disaster!

To this day I’m not sure what went wrong. Since I cut the recipe in half, I may not have added the right amount of oil to the batter. My math skills might have let me down. What is on half of one third cup? We started over again, and our second attempt came out great.

The waffle disaster peaked my interest in Fannie Farmer. Did you know Fannie is called “the mother of level instruments?” As the author of The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook (1896), she made a more scientific approach to cooking popular. In her day cookbooks included recipes which called for “a handful of flour” or “a pinch of salt.” Fannie believed scientific cookery would elevate the human race.* Her cookbook encouraged all cooks to purchase standardized utensils to measure ingredients accurately.

Fannie’s Bio

Unlike many people who lived in the 1850’s, Fannie’s parents wanted her to attend college. At age sixteen a stroke left her paralyzed and she was forced to stay home. By age thirty she recovered and enrolled in the Boston Cooking School. The school emphasized laboratory precision in the kitchen, especially regarding measurements. Fannie excelled and eventually became principal of the school.

After Fannie Farmer wrote and published her cookbook, she became a culinary celebrity. Later she founded a cooking school that bore her name, lectured widely, and wrote food columns for women’s magazines. One of her main interests was the preparation of food for invalids, born out of her own experience of being bedridden for years.

By the time Fannie died in 1915, over 350,000 copies of her book had been sold. Continually revised, Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook can still be purchased. What a legacy!

Have you experienced any culinary disasters? Leave a message and tell me about it.

(Additional Reference: *Discovering America’s Past (1993)The Reader’s Digest Association.)

Climbing Mountains

Mountains tell us what we’re made of.

Mountains have served as a source of spiritual revelation throughout history. The ancients believed their gods lived on Mt. Olympus. Moses met with Jehovah on Mt. Sinai. Mt. Tabor in Galilee was the site of the transfiguration of Jesus. Mountains lift our gaze upward and beyond our mortality.

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his trip to the mountaintop the night before his death. From the mountaintop God enabled him to see the Promised Land of equality for all people. Mountaintops provide a bird’s eye view of our surroundings. From there we can gain new vision and direction.

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”—John Muir

Like John Muir, I’m intrigued by mountains. The first time I saw a snow covered peak in Colorado, I was hooked. Since then, most of our family vacations include hiking in mountainous regions. I hear them speak. “Come on, come up here. You know you’re not satisfied where you are.” Unlike the ocean, which always changes, mountains remain constant.

Jon Krakauer describes the dangerous world of mountaineering in his book, Into Thin Air. Those who decide to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, must be prepared to sacrifice their bank account, and their life. People were simply not meant to breathe at a height of 29,000 feet. Mountains not only inspire us, they challenge us. Putting it another way, mountains tell us about ourselves. They reveal our physical and emotional weaknesses.

My most frightening experience in a high place occurred at Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park. Angel’s Landing is a unique fin-like formation that juts out from the canyon walls. The landing’s elevation of 1500 feet might not seem very high until look down.

In order to access Angel’s Landing, hikers follow the West Rim Trail from the base of the canyon for 2.4 miles one way. (mostly up). I’ve hiked the West Rim twice. Both times I came to the same conclusion. I’m a weenie. When the trail levels out at the main rest stop I freeze up.

The path upward for the final viewpoint of Angel’s Landing.

The final viewpoint can only be reached by traversing a narrow rocky path bordered on both sides by steep drop offs. There is a chain “guard rail” to hold on to, but if your hands are already wet with sweat from fear, it doesn’t seem safe. In fact, as recently as last week a hiker fell to his death from the final viewpoint. This trail is very dangerous when wet. Two way traffic also complicates everyone’s progress.

Like I said, a mountain can tell us what we’re made of. I’m proud of my husband, Herb, for making it all the way to the top. Kuddos!

Herb’s feet dangling over the side of Angel’s Landing.

It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe. —Mohammed Ali

Angel’s Landing taught me about myself. My dreams are often bigger than what I’m capable of. Even so, I’m happy to enjoy the mountains just the same. I’ve let go of my desire to conquer them.

Enjoying the view of Zion Canyon from the “resting place.”

Have you come to know yourself better through outdoor experiences? Leave a comment.

Signs and Wonders

A poem about following God.

If I were a Hebrew

enslaved by Pharoah’s reign,

would I follow Moses

or labor just the same?

Oh, the great achievements,

our works of brick and stone,

traded for a lowly tent

in landscape so unknown.

Would I trade the coolness

of shade along the Nile,

for the sizzling desert

extending out for miles?

Would I question Moses

as I packed unleavened bread,

take along my animals

unless they could be fed?

Would I flee from Egypt

in the dark of night,

awaken all my children

before the morning light?

Would the signs and wonders,

the sacrificial lamb,

ease my hesitation

to trust the great I AM?

Have you ever felt like you were on a journey through new territory?

I imagine that’s the way the Hebrews felt when they decided to follow Moses out of Egypt. Passover marked their exodus from slavery.

But what if the Hebrews felt comfortable as slaves? After all the book of Exodus states that they lived in Egypt for 430 years. (Exodus 12:40) Slavery was familiar, freedom was not. What if God didn’t provide for them in the wilderness?

Following God usually leads us out of our comfort zones into new territory. I’m fascinated by the miraculous way God protected and provided for his people. He divided the water of the Red Sea so they could cross on dry ground and escape the Egyptians. He sent a cloud by day and fire by night to lead his people through the desert. He gave them manna and quail to eat. The wilderness tested their faith in God. Those who continued to trust and obey him were admitted to the promised land.

Are you afraid to follow God’s leading? Do you desire familiarity and comfort instead of the unknown? Following God is not always easy or popular. This week marks three special holidays, Passover, Good Friday, and Easter. I hope my poem inspires you to reflect upon your faith and relationship with God. Let go of the past and trust him to lead you out of doubt and fear. He will never leave you or forsake you. You may not witness miraculous signs and wonders, but you can know the peace of his presence.

My poem Signs and Wonders first appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Time of Singing.

To read another of my favorite poems click here The Secret of the Cereus.

Musings from My Garden

Growth is the result of forces working together…

I’ve waged war with killer snails. I’ve celebrated the birth of marigold seedlings. This is my first backyard experience growing Sunpatiens and the plants are out of control.

True to their name, Sunpatiens love sun. They also like heat, humidity, and lots of water. All of which are abundant in Florida. I planted my little crop last fall. They thrived all winter. April is here and they continue to bloom like crazy.

Originally, I placed a pot of Dianthus in the center of my flowerbed to add a colorful focal point. About a month ago I placed bricks under the pot to elevate the pink blooms because I could barely see them. Now the Sunpatiens have grown even taller. What a terrible problem to have right?

If I apply this story to my writing life I can see a correlation. The fulfillment of a hoped for success brings new challenges. An author succeeds in publishing a book. The release of the book demands sales. It’s now up to the author to spend time marketing the product. All of a sudden I’m running a new business involving book signings, publicity, and sales tax.

I’m not sorry I planted the Sunpatiens. Nor am I sorry I wrote a book. Life would be quite boring if we never followed our passions. If conditions are right, flowers grow. I planted the seedlings, but the increase was due to nature. Honestly, I haven’t done much to encourage them. They took off on their own. In the same way if my book speaks to readers, they will share my message with others.

Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together. —James Cash Penney

The forces which work together to encourage the Sunpatiens to grow are light, heat, and water. Location also enabled them to grow to their magnificent size. Sometimes we forget about the part of a plant we can’t see. A tree used to stand in my garden. The tree grew too big and we had to cut it down. Instead of covering the area with more pavers, we left the dirt in place for a new flower bed. The rich soil allows the roots of each plant to grow deep and spread out. Roots need space to grow.

Space is important for writers to grow as well. Most people work better when they have a block of uninterrupted time to create. I used to think writers created their masterpieces in charming little cabins in the woods. What a luxury. Here I am at my dining room table looking through a window at my patio garden.

Back to the Sunpatiens. They seem to be happy. The power is all mine to let them live or pull them out and plant new seedlings. I’ll wait to see what the forces of nature do next.

Enjoy more stories about my garden by reading “The Majestic Marigold.”

Get more info about my book here “Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street”.

Rain Song

Take a poetry break.

The rain continues its steady rhythm.

A musical pattern arranged by God.

Not concerned where or when it falls

Every drop completes its part

in a cycle of simple obedience

bringing life to earth.

My thoughts abound with little effort.

Where one thought ends another begins.

Like raindrops

descending to a final destination

Ultimately voiced in the garden of self-expression.

Bringing meaning to a blank page.

Friends,

The past month has been a whirlwind of activity for me, as I’ve involved myself in the promotion of my first book. Today I felt like taking time out and getting back to my roots. Returning to poetry helps me get in touch with the joy of creativity. It’s a wonderful feeling to just write.

I hope spring affords you the time to refresh your spirit.

The Invention of Pawz Dog Boots

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Art and science are closely related. I used to think of creative people as those who paint, write, or arrange music. My definition of creativity expanded when I heard about Gary Friedland. Who is he?

Gary Friedland is a retired art director who became an inventor. One day he tapped into his artistic talent to create Pawz dog boots. Here’s the back story (no pun intended) of how I came to learn about Pawz.

Our dog, Buddy, drags his feet on the pavement. Pawz boots help him walk without developing painful sores. We learned about Pawz from the physical therapist who worked with Buddy after he had back surgery. His red boots have become a conversation piece on the street. In fact, he’s wearing them on the cover of my new children’s book.

In the process of launching Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street, I contacted Andrea Friedland, manager of customer relations for Pawz. Andrea was happy to learn their product helped Buddy lead a healthier life. She was delighted that our beagle is shown wearing his red boots on the cover of my book. Now I’ve partnered with Pawz and the company is providing free samples of dog boots for my book signings.

Buddy meets Andrea Friedland, customer service representative from Pawz.

Buddy, Herb, and I met Andrea while she was in Orlando last week for the Global Pet Expo. During our meeting we learned all about the creation of Pawz. Andrea’s father in law, Gary Friedland, enjoyed taking his dog for walks in New York City. He wanted to protect Huckleberry’s feet from the salt and chemicals used to melt ice on city sidewalks. Every dog boot he tried had problems. Some boots fell off and disappeared in the snow. Other boots were not comfortable for Huckleberry. There’s an old saying, “necessity is the mother of invention.”

Gary designed and patented a rubber dog boot that stayed on Huckleberry’s feet. Unlike other boots, Huckleberry did not fight wearing Pawz because he could feel the ground when he walked. In 2005, Gary teamed up with his son, Michael, to form the Pawz company. Today their product is distributed by 8,000 independent retail stores in 26 countries.

I’m inspired by Gary’s story. For most of his life, he probably never thought of himself as an inventor. Now he is known for creating a new product that helps dogs live healthier lives. Opportunity knocked for Gary. Instead of thinking, “This is out of my wheelhouse.” He opened the door.

“The reason so many people never get anywhere in life is because when opportunity knocks, they are out in the backyard looking for four-leaf clovers.” —Walter P. Chrysler

First, Gary wasn’t fearful of trying something new. Next, he turned to family members with business skills for help. Finally, he didn’t try to avoid the hard work necessary to succeed.

For information about my first book signing click here.

Buddy the Beagle on Blueberry Street is also available on Amazon.