Friday, May 31, 2013

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Happy Friday everyone. It's a hot one here in southeastern Massachusetts- the temperature is already hovering around 90 degrees F at 10:30 in the morning.

One priority around here is making sure our veggie garden is properly watered so our plants won't wilt.

How is your garden coming? Have you planted one? Not yet? There's still time. Even if you don't have a yard, there are lots of options for you.

No matter where you live, rather than start a large garden that overwhelms you, plan to start small and build on your successes. Even one small pot of plants is a great start.

For inspiration, here are some photos taken in our garden this morning:

Dewdrops on broccoli leaves

Pea pod sprout

Are you looking for resources to help you get started? Check out my Pinterest board of gardening books. You'll find 'How To' books such as the Vegetable Gardener's Bible and great read- alouds for your kids such as Planting a Rainbow.

If you have a favorite gardening book, please leave it in the comments and I'll add it to my board.

And here are some of my previous gardening posts that may be helpful to you:

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Travel Tuesdays: Hindu Baby Naming Ceremony

This past weekend we had the honor of attending the naming ceremony for our friend's daughter. I poorly misjudged my ability to prepare a blogpost for today, so instead I give you this photo of me with some of the other ladies and one with my family. Yes, my son is in disguise, just because he felt like it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Poison Ivy Identification

Note: A different version of this post originally ran on May 18, 2010. Several people have recently told me they don't know how to identify poison ivy, so I thought rerunning this might be useful.

I'm super allergic to poison ivy (sometimes I swear I get it just by looking at it) so I taught myself how to identify it in every season.

Today, I offer these photos to help my New England readers avoid poison ivy. This is what poison ivy looks like now. 

Notice the differences in the color and size of the leaves. Poison Ivy can look very different even in the same area.  All of these photos were taken within roughly 1/4 mile of my house.

One thing that is consistent is the presence of three leaves in a cluster. Usually those leaves are shiny. Sometimes those leaves are mostly green.

Other times the leaves are more red. (Especially when they are first sprouting in the spring).

Sometimes it grows low to the ground like in the photos above. Other times it climbs up posts, signs, and trees as in these photos:

This one is about 3 feet tall.

This one climbs about 20 feet into the tree.

These last two photos are NOT poison ivy. This vine is sometimes confused with Poison ivy because it climbs the same way and has similar shaped leaves.
But look closely... there are 5 leaves in each cluster and the leaves are more jagged.

One final tip: poison ivy thrives along the edges. That is, in the area where one ecosystem transitions to another. For example, some of these photos were taken along the edge of a field where it transitions into forest (in partial to full sun), others along the edge of a brook (in partial sun), still others along the edge of a road (in full shade). Also watch for it along the edges of parks, paths, or trails.

Do you know how to identify Poison Ivy? Do you have any other tips?

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Raising Global Citizens

Note: I can't figure out what's causing the wonky formatting at the end of my post. Sorry.

I've been thinking about the topic of raising global citizens a lot lately. This is something that's always in my mind, but this recent Twitter conversation brought it to the forefront:

KateMessner: Inundated w/ tweets from someone who called me a "Muslim sympathizer" for recommendin this picture book: Scary world.

MCusolito: @KateMessner To your tweeter: Thanks for inspiring Kate to tweet about it again. I just ordered it. Looks great.

The picture book mentioned is Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors by Hena Khan, illustrations by Mehrdokht Amini.

The first page of text says
Red is the rug
dad kneels on the pray,
facing toward Mecca,
 five times a day.

The book goes on to describe various colors that relate to the child's religious life, such as the blue of the mom's hijab and the golden dome of the Mosque.

This book does not proselytize (Try to convert a person to Islam). It simply describes basic details about the life of a Muslim child.

I believe that all children should be taught basic facts about major world religions. They should be taught about those religions, not necessarily to believe in those religions. I believe the choice about religious observance belongs with the family, and ultimately the individual. Certainly not with a public school.

In fact, when I was in the classroom, I never revealed my religious beliefs to my 4th grade students. Many children look up to their teachers and want to follow in their path. I didn't believe it was my place to contradict the religious teachings of their parents. It was my place, however, to expand my students' understanding of our world. We had interesting conversations about beliefs of others, though, and even the students who came from devout families left just as strong in their own convictions but with more appreciation for the beliefs of others.

At one point, a set of parents demanded a meeting with me because they were concerned I was teaching their daughter "Pagan religions." Once we sat down and I explained what I was doing, shared my resources, and described the kinds of conversations we had in the classroom, their concerns fell away. Those parents became some of my biggest supporters and their daughter left my classroom a Christian, just like when she entered. But she left as a Christian who had a better understanding of the ways other people worship.

Public schools should help children understand what other members of our country and our greater world believe. If every person had a basic understanding and acceptance of the beliefs of others, we'd have a much more peaceful world.

So back to my Twitter exchange. Following that exchange two things happened:

  1. I began building a Pinterest board to help you teach your children/students about world religions. Golden Domes was the first book I pinned. Then I pinned my favorite books from my own collection. Now I've expanded my search for resources and am adding them as I find them. If you have books, websites, or videos to recommend, please leave them in the comments or email me. michelle(at)michellecusolito(dot)com.
  2. I was contacted by an Associate Editor at School Library Journal who is writing an article on the topic. She saw my tweet to Kate Messner, so she interviewed me for the article. I'm excited that SLJ found this topic important enough to dig deeper and write about it.

I hope you'll visit my Pinterest board.  Check out the resources and let us know how you like them. (Most of the books are available through my library system, so be sure to check yours, too).

Repin the resources you love. Share my board with others via Facebook and Twitter. Let's help other parents and teachers raise global citizens.

You Might Also Like:
Picture Book Biographies
Resources for Readers: New Pinterest Boards

Friday, May 17, 2013

Welcome Spring

Spring has fully arrived here in the Northeast. I spent some time in my yard this morning, noting the changes, new growth, unfurling of leaves and opening of buds.

Here are some images I captured:


Sage bud


Bleeding Hearts

Lily of the Valley

Rhododendron bud.

Lupine buds.
When was the last time you and your kids spent time outside really noticing your surroundings? Have you looked closely at flower buds? Watched clouds roll by? Listened to birds calling?

I hope you'll make a point to spend time in nature with your kids this weekend. I'd love to hear about what you see.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Christmas Cactus

My husband's Nana died more than ten years ago but her cactus still blooms for us (albeit, a little off season).
Photo taken 15 May 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

From the Archives: Favorite Asparagus Recipe

This post originally ran on 3 May 2010. We just enjoyed our first asparagus this weekend so it seems appropriate to re-post this with a few minor edits.

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

Ok, I may have overstated that a little, but harvesting the first bit of asparagus each year is exciting for us. After a winter of dark, gray days, plucking those first green stalks from the earth feels good. Eating them feels even better!

I know, I know, you don't have an asparagus patch down the street, at your parent's house, like I do. So what's a person to do? Mosey on down to your local farmer's market and look for some! Believe it or not, those of you who live in the city may have a better chance of finding a great farmer's market nearby then those of us in the country because farmers like to go where they'll get the most business.

Be sure to take your kids with you and encourage them to interact with the farmers. Most farmers love to talk to their customers (especially kids) about what they do. Many will offer tips for growing your own veggies or suggest recipes using the ones they grow. A few years ago, I learned my favorite kale recipe from our local farmer. She had recipes printed up to encourage us to buy Russian Kale- a variety of kale new to me at the time.

By now, you know I encourage families to grow at least a few veggies and herbs, but I also know most families cannot plant more than a small plot or a few pots. Supporting your local farmer is the next best thing to growing your own. By buying local, seasonal vegetables, you help support your local economy and get the freshest, most nutrient-rich produce around. You'll also help prevent global warming by limiting fossil fuels used to ship produce across the country and beyond. In addition, even those farmers who have not been certified as "organic" tend to use less (if any) pesticides and herbicides on their crops. By asking a few questions you can learn how your food was grown.

To find farmer's market near you, a quick google search with the words "farmer's markets" and your city (or state) will likely reveal what you need. Massachusetts readers, go to Massachusetts Farmers Markets  to learn more. (You can also invest in Community Supported Agriculture or CSA. Massachusetts readers can learn more about CSAs here. In other states, try searching on "community supported agriculture" plus your state name).

Here's my favorite asparagus recipe, taken from Global Feast Cookbook: Recipes from Around the World Edited by Annice Estes

Asparagus Chung Tung
1 1/2 pounds asparagus
1 1/2 quarts water
1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil (look in Asian/ International food aisle)

  1. Cut asparagus diagonally into 1/4 inch pieces.
  2. Bring water to a boil in large sauce pan. Add asparagus. Cook for 1 1/2 minutes (NO LONGER). Drain and immerse in ice cold water to cool quickly and stop the cooking. Drain well.
  3. Meanwhile, mix the salt, sugar, and oil in a small bowl.
  4. Place asparagus in a bowl. Pour salt, sugar, and oil mixture over asparagus. Toss to coat.
  5. Enjoy!
And one final comment: For those of you who are new to eating asparagus, I should probably mention this... can I say it politely...after eating asparagus, you may notice an unpleasant odor when you visit the bathroom. Nothing is wrong- just a reaction many people have. Please don't let this discourage you. Try the recipe. I've converted many a non-asparagus person with it. You won't be disappointed.

What's your favorite asparagus recipe?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Dear Mom of a Premature Child

Note: I modelled this after an essay written by Kathy Lyn Harris titled “Dear Moms of Adopted Children.” I first read it on Thursday and then shared it among my friends. It’s been on my mind ever since. (Kathy’s post was inspired by Lea Grover whose essay titled, “Dear Less-Than-Perfect Mom” ran in the Huffington Post on April 30th). Kathy’s post made me think about moms like me whose path to motherhood was complicated by premature birth

Dear Mom of a Premature Child,
I met you in the NICU. I met you through Early Intervention. I met you at my daughter’s school. You were my massage therapist. You are my neighbor. I met you on purpose. I met you by accident.

I knew you right away. I recognized the uneasiness, the fear, the wondering.  Because everything about your situation was out of your control. You could not stop the premature birth of your child.

Maybe someone told you it was in God’s plans for you to have a premature child and God never gives us more than we can handle. Maybe someone told you about what happened to their friend’s preemie. Maybe they told you there was nothing to worry about because medicine has come so far- your child will be fine. Maybe they were wrong.  Maybe they were right. Maybe you ignored them.

Maybe you were on bed rest for months. Maybe you carried twins. Maybe your water broke early for no reason. Maybe a car accident induced early labor. Maybe you conceived through fertility treatments. Maybe conception occurred easily.

Your child was born eleven weeks early. Fourteen weeks early. Sixteen weeks early. Your child was early but healthy. Your child was born with a heart condition. Your child was born with her intestines outside her body. Your child died after only two days. Your child spent her first six months in a hospital. Your child nearly died on Mother’s Day. Your child went home after only four weeks.

I know about all the books you read. The ones everyone reads that tell us what to expect- but you never expected this. You also read about dealing with lengthy hospitalizations, disabilities caused by premature birth. Facing the death of a preemie.  About cognitive delays, language deficiencies. About preemie support groups.

I know how you got up every day and faced that day with determination. How you kangarooed your son for hours. How you loved your daughter from behind glass. How you flinched every time the alarms sounded to alert nurses that your son stopped breathing. How you held your breath as you watched him turn blue and prayed the nurses could get him to breathe again.

I’ve seen you in front of the hospital watching the pregnant woman wishing you were still pregnant. I know the pain of losing the future of a full-term pregnancy. The loss of a “normal” birth. The scars of a classical C-section you never wanted to have. The pain of having to pump your breast milk for months on end instead of nursing your child who lays there in an incubator fed through a tube.

I know the fear of loss. I’ve seen you look down at your newborn infant, wondering if she’ll survive.

I know the never-ending tests. Head ultrasounds, eye exams, heal sticks every day. You avoided caffeine your entire pregnancy only to learn your preemie was being pumped with caffeine through his IV.

I know about the friends who don’t know what to say to you. “Congratulations?” But your child may not survive. This child before you who is still covered in lanugo hair and has undeveloped nipples.

And then, for many of you, I watched the day your child went home for the first time, 7 weeks, 14 weeks, 22 weeks after birth. You brought him home, happy to have your child in your arms, yet afraid he might stop breathing. Again.

I know that bliss laced with fear. That guarded, yet hopeful moment when you were finally together as a family.

I’ve watched you cringe as others brush off your lingering anxieties only to tell you everything is fine because, “Look at her now!” Everything’s wonderful. Except it isn’t. You were traumatized. You still live in fear.

I’ve seen you worry when your child is evaluated for Early Intervention. Is her language delayed? Will he ever walk? Is he learning disabled? You dutifully complete every task, exercise, language activity the experts give you hoping to avoid long-term disability. You cry yourself to sleep at night with worry.

I’ve seen you answer all of the tough questions, the questions that have to do with why her head is shaped funny, or why he needs a hearing aide, or why she can’t walk even though she’s already two. I’ve watched you field perhaps the hardest question of all, “Why was she born so early?” A question you cannot answer because you still blame yourself for the betrayal of a body that couldn’t complete a basic human function.

But most of all, I want you to know that I’ve watched you with your child. Seen your fierce determination to get him the services he needs. Watched you read aloud to her every single day since she entered this world. Watched you help him transition into school life with the least difficulty possible. Watched you help her learn to jump after hours and hours of practice so she can play with the other kids.  

I’ve seen your love. Your undeniable, mama-bear love. You will do whatever you need for your child. You love this child with an intensity no-one can break. You are the mom of a preemie and you are fierce.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Friday, May 10, 2013

From the Archives: Planting Time

This post originally ran on April 11, 2010. Since it's planting time again here in the Northeast, I thought I'd re-post it. (Note: I made some edits to reflect the date).

Several Aprils ago, when my kids and I gardened with their friends, the weather was an unseasonably warm 90 degrees. We started by choosing what to plant.

Not surprisingly, the kids wanted to plant pumpkins, so I explained that we have to wait until it's consistently warmer, even during the evenings. For all of my friends in the northeast who may think summer is here because of the amazing weather we've been having...don't be fooled into planting your whole garden. There's still a risk of frost. For now, you can plant things like pea pods, spinach, kale, swiss chard and other greens. Wait until around Memorial Day for those heat loving plants like tomatoes, basil, squash, peppers, eggplant, and watermelons.

In preparation for the boy's arrival, I used a pitch fork to turn over the soil in the section we would plant. Then, I had the kids help me rake the area smooth and remove any visible rocks.

Next, I showed them a little trick for planting pea pod seeds. We laid the seeds out in a zig zag pattern on top of the soil, close to the wire that will support the plants when they grow. By doing this, we could see where the seeds were and move them around as needed. Once the seeds were set, we poked them into the soil using our fingers. By going as far in as their second knuckles, the seeds are at just the right depth.

We planted the pea pods in the middle of our three foot wide raised beds, near the wire frame. On the north side of the supports, we planted spinach and on the south side of the supports, we planted mesclun mix. Spinach and mesclun seeds are much smaller and harder for little hands to control. If you plant with young children, it's better to stick with large seeds like peas (and later watermelons, pumpkins, sunflowers, and beans) that they'll be able to handle. I know our spinach and mesclun seeds didn't all end up in rows along the outer edge, but I don't mind a little chaos in my garden. It's more natural that way, anyway.

Once the seeds were planted, we watered them gently.

And, we got a little silly! Why not... this is supposed to be fun, right?
All photos by Alison Noyce

Have you started gardening with your kids, yet? If not, think of how you might start a small project this weekend. If you live in the city or have a small yard, check out this post on gardening without a yard for suggestions. 

If you haven't done so already, check out my Pinterest Boards. They're loaded with resources for you.  I'm building a new board of Gardening Books for Kids and adults.

Related Posts:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

On the KidLit Community and Following YOUR Dreams

This past weekend, I attended the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in Springfield, MA.

I've been attending this conference each spring (except one) since 2008. I attended my first conference alone. Walking into a giant ballroom filled with strangers was a bit intimidating. But I went because I wanted to be a children's author and I knew SCBWI was the organization best suited to help me follow my dream. I attended workshops, took loads of notes and soaked up every bit of learning possible. The second time I went, I met more people, then more and more. Soon, I could count many people in the KidLit community (shorthand for people who write/illustrate books for children) as my friends and cheerleaders. This year I was a member of the "faculty." When I looked out into the room I realized I knew at least 10 people sitting there and I felt more at ease.

So why am I telling you all of this?

Because I want you to find your "peeps."
The people who will support you,
encourage you
and push you to be your best.
The ones who will encourage you to follow your dreams no matter what.
The ones who will tell you when you do something wonderful
and help you pick yourself up when you fail.
The ones who can't wait for your success
and will shout it from the rooftops when it comes.
The ones who will offer a shoulder to cry on when you fail
and then give you a gentle shove when it's time to get back on the horse.
Your peeps.

I am so lucky to have close friends and family who are my peeps. But I also have a broader group called NE-SCBWI- my KidLit peeps. Yep, I said it, MY peeps. I'm still "Pre-published" (How's that for a euphemism?) but that doesn't matter at a conference. Everyone smiles at you, says hello, and offers encouragement in random places like the elevator, or dining room, or even the bathroom.

They are the best peeps a writer could want.

Who are your peeps? Who supports your dreams? If you don't have a support system, how could you find or create one?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Giveaway Winner

Drum roll please...

And the winner of April Pulley Sayre's Book Touch a Butterfly is...

Hooray Loree Griffin Burns! You're our winner! I'll be in touch about shipping.

Readers, Loree Griffin Burns writes wonderful non-fiction science books for kids. If you don't know her work, be sure to check it out!

Wordless Wednesday: Dewdrops on Lupine

Photo taken 17 April 2013