Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

My Mother Died on Christmas Eve

December 24, 2014

Some things you never forget

Some things you never forget

My mother, Martha Scolnick Larris, died on Christmas Eve. Tonight I’ll light the yahrzeit lamp to mark the anniversary of her passing. The same lamp she used to honor her parents’  memory. I guess some day my children will light it for me. Lovely Jewish tradition.

1994. It’s been twenty years. My relationship with my mother was often contentious and frustrating and hurtful. As much for her as it was for me, I’m sure. Takes two to tango. But we also had fun together. And there was much about her that I loved and admired including her love of books, her impressive vocabulary and quick wit, her instant rapport with every child she encountered, her self-reliance and her sense of fairness. She was a whiz at canasta and bridge and absolutely unbeatable in Scrabble. Also, my mom had a dynamite smile which you can see in this photo at the right.

I think of her often while I’m in the kitchen. I still have her coffee pot and her ice cream scoop. I still make her meatloaf, her sweet potato and marshmallow casserole, her banana chocolate chip cake. But it’s in the garden, when I marvel at my gladiolus or smell the lilacs that she comes to me most. The fact that I have a garden which gives me so much pleasure is a direct result of being my mom’s daughter. Let me tell you, that woman knew her flowers. And because of her, so do I. And so does my daughter.

This iris grows in my garden  because my mom had them in hers.

This iris grows in my garden because my mom had them in hers.

Maybe it seems a small thing to know a freesia from a forsythia, a hydrangea from a hyacinth. And who really cares if those iris bulbs I got from my neighbor seem bluer this year than ever?  I care. I can’t help it. This special awareness of plants provides me… no compels me to pay attention and celebrate color, light, form and fragrance. If I saw them all as “just flowers” I’d be missing most of the show and I certainly wouldn’t be taking photos of them every chance I get. Appreciating beauty at that level ain’t small potatoes. So thank you, Mom.

I know all moms are not always a positive influence on their children. People, including our parents, come into our lives for a reason. But even in a less than wonderful childhood there are positive lessons. Take a moment and think about those lessons. They are gifts you’ve received. Now think about the legacy you’re giving to your children. Hopeful it’s a life-affirming one.

Your comments, as always, are welcome.


Something Green

July 13, 2012

OK, we’ve gotten to Part 3 of my 4-part Bing Summer of Doing blog series. As you’ve probably heard, I’m this week’s Bing Summer of Doing expert which means I blogged Monday about Giving and Wednesday about Unplugging. Today’s word is urban gardening. I’m going on record to say that a bit of green is welcome everywhere, expect inside that container of cottage cheese I’ve been ignoring in the fridge – which I’ll ignore a while longer as I write this post.

Bing Summer of Doing - Plant it, grow it, eat it

Before you adopt a goldfish, or a cat, and certainly before you attempt to raise a kid, test drive a plant. If you start with something green and indestructible, like a pothos or a geranium, success is virtually guaranteed. A live plant in a container doesn’t qualify you for parenthood, but it does certify you as an urban gardener.

I’ve been into plants since the day my best friend, Suzy B. and I “swam” through the bushes between our backyards. Before that I’d never paid much notice to greenery. But when I side-swiped my mom’s forsythia bush, accidentally breaking a branch, the snapping sound stopped me in my tracks. If I’d been 13 I’d have stashed the evidence in a heartbeat, but my 8-year-old brain secreted magical thoughts. I heard the plant’s cry of pain and I needed absolution. So I rushed into the house carrying the severed branch. My mom glanced at the twig and told me to toss it in the trash. This was surprising considering how often she’d remind me that the forsythia’s yellow flowers were the first sign of spring.

“What if I stick it back in the ground?” I asked hopefully. “Will it grow?”

Mom laughed, not unkindly. Her message was clear: “Silly, Annie.”

The kitchen curtains parted and I had an epiphany: “When someone mocks your idea, don’t pass up a chance to show that they’re the silly ones.”

Suzy and I dug a hole in another part of the yard, stuck in the branch, packed in the dirt and turned on the hose. Then we went back to playing Mermaids in the Storm.

Every Saturday, through April and May, I watered that twig, never telling my mom what I was up to. Then one day I noticed the stick had sprouted a couple of new leaves. WOW! Because of me, something was growing where nothing had grown before. What magical power was this?!

I’ve got my own garden now with all kinds of things growing in metal tubs, wooden boxes, tea cups, hanging baskets. No forsythia, but lots of other goodies, mostly of the edible variety. Along with eating chocolate, gardening is one of my 10 Most Favorite Things to Do.  So, if you’re looking to get your hands dirty this summer, how about planting something of your own? You don’t need land, just a container with some holes in the bottom, good organic potting soil and a bunch of veggie or herb seeds. Actually, you can skip the seeds and get some plant starts (baby plants). The best part of urban gardening is that there are no rules. It’s all about doing it your way wherever you find some space. There’s also the cool factor of growing your own food. What should you grow? Stuff you like to eat!

Most veggies are ridiculously easy to grow. Visit your local nursery for advice on what does best in your area. Little known fact: Most nurseries have a dumpster into which they toss plants that aren’t up to “retail quality” standards. I know a place with a high-end clientele. People who shop there expect perfection. If a plant has a single yellow leaf, it gets trashed. Seriously! Provided the discarded plants are still in their plastic containers and are not obviously dead or infested with bugs, go for it. I do it all the time. Just dive in and take what you want. If you feel uncomfortable, ask permission. Truth is, most people who work at nurseries would much prefer a droopy zucchini plant be “adopted” and cared for, than die from neglect in the trash and end up in landfill. Currently in my garden I’ve got several thriving tomato, squash, pea and bean plants, plus arugula, swiss chard, beets, chocolate mint, lemon balm, and oregano — all of which would have lost their chance to feed me and my family  if I hadn’t rescued them from the garbage.

The only thing better than an urban garden is an urban garden that didn’t cost you a whole lot which you can putter around in while eating chocolate.

UPDATE: We want our kids to eat more fresh fruits and veggies. Best way I know is to get them involved in urban gardening. When they grow some of the food they eat… instant connection!  I just harvested these beauties from my yard. Didn’t take a whole lot of effort on my part.

Plant a dwarf apple tree, water and wait 2-3 years.

Great for munching or for apple sauce


Fill a large old container with soil (make sure it’s got drainage holes). Throw in some potatoes that have begun to sprout.

Cover with more soil. Water and wait 6 months.

Who doesn't love potatoes?


Buy some onion sets, throw ’em in the ground (or in a large outdoor container) Give ’em room! Water and wait 3 months.

Sweet red Italian onions


Filed under: Bing Summer of Doing,Parenting — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 3:00 am

Giving to Get vs. Giving to Give

December 29, 2009

And the tomato gods had a field day

And the tomato gods had a field day

I’m a gardener and by definition that makes me an optimist. Even my farming fizzles don’t deter me from continuing to bury peach pits or old potatoes. Those of you who’ve outgrown playing in the dirt may laugh, but every so often my efforts pay off big time. Like a couple of summers ago when the tomato gods smiled upon us. God did they ever! In fact, they were still laughing their heads off a full week before Halloween. Too bad you can’t carve a tomato.

When it comes to gardening, I’m not ashamed to say that I give only to get. I shower my plants with regular infusions of compost tea and worm castings because I want something in return. I believe that I’m entitled to a major payback for all my efforts otherwise I wouldn’t bother.

When it comes to raising kids, there isn’t really a payback. Not coming directly from them to you. Of course, there are rewards along the way. Like the joy we experience when they succeed at something they’ve worked for. And the pride we feel when our children honor us and themselves by making healthy choices­–especially when we’re not around to prod them. But those perks aren’t why we give to our kids. We’d still do it even if we got nothing to brag about. Why? Because, the simple fact is that we parents are in the business of giving to give. Parenting, unlike marriage, is a one-way street.

Does this mean that you’ll inevitably raise a young adult focused only on her own needs? Hopefully not! Because a big part of what you should be giving your kids is an education about what it means to be thoughtful, loving and compassionate. Hopefully you demonstrate that in the way you treat them. Set clear expectations for the behavior you want them to exhibit and you’ll see more of the good stuff. When you do shower those young ‘uns with praise. And pat yourself on the back. You’re helping to launch a loving spirit into the world.

Now there’s a harvest worth a whole lot more than a basket of tomatoes.

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , — Annie @ 4:59 pm

Help! I’m drowning in zucchini

July 27, 2009

Neighbors at Marin Open Garden Exchange

Neighbors at Marin Open Garden Exchange

Fruits and veggies rock. Especially this time of year. Even if peppers, tomatoes, blackberries, corn and the other delights of summer didn’t taste so incredible, they’d earn top grades for being outright gorgeous. That’s why not only do I eagerly eat my 5+ servings a day, I also photograph and draw produce, just for the fun of it. And of course, I grow stuff too.

But there are times in the life of the most enthusiastic gardener when exultation ripens into contempt. As in the sight of yet another 10 inch zucchini where yesterday no zucchini grew. Or when your entire family pledges to eat 4 tomatoes a day and still there’s no discernible dent in the red mountain that continues growing on your kitchen counter. And when out of necessity you start experimenting with banana-pesto smoothies to deal with the basil that’s taking over the back deck, well, something’s gotta give.

Enter a simply yet brilliant idea: Gardeners bring their surplus every week to a central location and swap with neighbors for stuff they’re not growing at home.

The result? Expand your friendships, expand your gardening knowledge by learning the secrets of the master gardeners among us, take home (different) yummy fruits and veggies, and make others happy with the stuff you’re so eager to unload. Which of course, restores the self-esteem of the zucchini you just dumped. Wow… win-win-win!

And it’s all FREE!

Here in San Anselmo, CA our Sustainable San Anselmo group began partnering with the  Marin Open Garden Exchange 4 weeks ago. This week’s bounty included mission figs, purple carrots, eggs, lavender, lemons, pears, onions, zucchini, basil. It happens every Saturday, 9-10 AM in Creek Park.

If you’re a gardener outside of Marin, consider organizing with your neighbors to create your own Open Garden Project. If gardening isn’t your thing but you know someone who loves it… Please share this to them! This is an idea with legs… and roots!




Figs (this variety is ripe when still green)

Basil, rosemary, apples

Crazy cucumber

Pears, tomatoes

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 3:44 pm
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