My Four Bloomers - the Original Inspiration
As a published children’s book author, people have often asked me how I came up with the idea for my book series, Bloomers Island by Rodale Kids, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. Most people don’t know that my stories are based on my own children from many years ago. It all started with my daughter, Sophia.
When Sophia was in preschool she had two best friends, Rosie and Lily, whose names were not as ubiquitous as they are today. I thought, how sweet, they are like little flower girls. Around the same time, I hired a babysitter named Iris. She was older, single and childless and not the warmest or most fun babysitter, but with four kids and only five years between the oldest and youngest, safety and control were more of my concern.
My kids didn’t really like Iris. She made them eat their vegetables, take their plates to the sink after dinner and take a bath before bed. I LOVED Iris. I always knew that with her iron rule, there was little chance for any mishaps. I was right.
I started thinking about a make believe, little group of flower girls and tree/plant boys, that had to tolerate a babysitter that they thought was mean. Her name was Iris, and she wore a live snake boa, and had a swarm of pet bees. She foisted all kinds of arbitrary and unfair tasks, rules and chores on them. Some of her more egregious assignments were scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush and then brushing their teeth with it after. Or they had to eat manure (cow poop) — which is fertilizer for plants, but … did it taste good? Or being drenched in cold rain without an umbrella! While I probably broke many of the commonly accepted maxims of parenting in these stories, you have to understand that I tried to make the list as onerous as possible to make my chores and my rules seem not-so-bad in comparison.
Of course, my kids knew that I was a complete pushover and they were entertained by my stories without taking them too seriously.
Over the years I drew pictures of these characters and came up with a fantastical place that they were from; an island which was far, far away in the South Pacific Ocean where no human had ever been. On this island, evolution took a different turn and plants became the intelligent species instead of mammals. Plants learned to move in order to find what they needed, richer soil, more water, and brighter sunlight. They had petals instead of hair, leaves instead of hands, and roots instead of feet. They learned to laugh and make friends. They learned to read and tell stories. These curious creatures became known as “the Bloomers”, and I named their home “Bloomers Island”.
I used our four children, Cassie, Alex, Sophia and Mac as the inspiration for the original four Bloomers –Lilly, Big Red, Rosey Posey, and Bud Inski. I wove their personality traits into their namesakes, their loveable qualities, eccentricities and ever endearing shortcomings.
At the end of the original Bloomers Island book, the little kids who were listening to the Bloomers’ story, hugged their mommy. They were grateful that she was fun and nice. She closed the book and informed them that she and their daddy had to go out for the night. Just then, the doorbell rang. When the kids answered the door, they were stunned to see none other than Iris at the door with her hissing snake wrapped around her shoulders and her pet bees swarming around her petals.
Eventually, the stories evolved so that instead of “Mean Iris,” it became the wise and wonderful Professor Sage who ran the Tree House School and dispensed sage advice to all his Bloomers. At school, the Bloomers had to learn to grow and eat their veggies where the tomato plants happily handed over their tomatoes, and the pumpkin plants their pumpkins. The lettuce heads were always happy for a trim. This was one of the things that encouraged my kids to eat their vegetables. When we visited Grandma back on our family farm, my kids harvested vegetables in her garden, looking for the Bloomers under the potatoes and peeking out from behind the cucumbers. That is when they learned to eat the fresh vegetables because they harvested them and they tasted even better than the vegetables from any grocery store. And obviously, fresh vegetables are much tastier than manure.
Ultimately my story became a bigger story in the sense that grownups care and parent in different ways. Some are laid back and permissive like I was. Some are more orderly. Some are more restrictive. Some parents don’t allow any television. My kids all had a T.V. in their rooms.
I think, after raising my kids and interacting with hundreds of other parents over the years, I realized that kids are resilient and it doesn’t really matter that much how you parent, as long as you’re not too extreme and your parenting is done with love. And that was always the main theme in my books; caring for oneself by eating healthy, taking good care of our children, and loving our planet. I hope that comes across successfully. Let me know what you think. I love hearing from my readers of all ages.
Kids (Almost) Grown Up
You Should Know How To Do A S.W.O.T. Analysis, Part 2 — Strengths & Weaknesses
Let me tell you a story about someone I knew.
She was a single mother with four kids in daycare, an out-of-work partner, a very tenuous job situation, a boss that hated her and she didn’t have the money for a week in summer camp for one kid let alone a down payment for the house she wanted to purchase. Those were her weaknesses.
Those were my weaknesses. That person was me.
What were my strengths? I was making a good salary and had an aggressive loan broker recommended by a colleague. She said she only “claimed” $25,000 a year in income and that if he could get her a $1,000,000 house in Los Angeles then he could get anyone a loan, even me with a zero down payment. And he did! I got a first and a second for the down payment. In hindsight, I suppose I was one of those “sub-prime borrowers” that ultimately contributed to the crash of the economy. But I’m happy to say it worked out well for me (and my bank).
My weakness: not having money for a down payment. My strengths: my network of colleagues, the loan broker, my high-paying job. What I achieved: I bought my house.
This is Part 2 of my original article, “You Should Know How To Do A S.W.O.T. Analysis,” published in Medium, October 3rd. As a part of that article, you might remember that to do your S.W.O.T. Analysis, you should start with what you want to achieve. I want to sell 100,001 books in one year’s time. Last month I covered the O.T. part of S.W.O.T., Opportunities and Strengths. This article focuses on S.W. or Strengths and Weaknesses.
As I continue on in my career journey, I am reminded more and more how much of my success is based on just believing in myself and not taking no for an answer. And isn’t that really about recognizing my shortcomings and figuring out how to fix them, go around them, over them or through them? Or looking at my strengths, owning them, and using them to achieve what I want to achieve?
Let’s start with owning your strengths. If someone asked me if I was a good writer a year ago, I probably would have said no. Wait. I am a published author of five books with Random House Children’s Books. Of course I’m a good writer. In my defense, maybe I denied that because I was turned down a million times. Okay, not really a million, but it felt that way.
One of the things we did in our first meeting of our Masterminds (see Part 1 of my S.W.O.T. Analysis article), was to write down fifty things we do well… your strengths. If you’ve never done that, it’s a worthwhile exercise and can be quite revealing. It’s based on a business school idea that if you want to come up with a winning vision strategy, you should start with something you do well, because you will probably enjoy doing that. Furthermore, why start from ground zero? If you are focusing on something you already do well, you will come up to speed much more quickly and therefore reach a level of success much faster.
It has to be at least fifty. Why? Because anything less just isn’t enough. You have to trust me on this.
The interesting thing about this assignment is that initially people protest that there is no way they can come up with fifty things. I always have to reassure them that they can and if they come up short they can always put down that they are a good parent or child or sibling. People usually think of skills and don’t really think about personality strengths. Are you optimistic? Outgoing? Empathetic? Organized? Those are all strengths. I had more than one younger woman list that they were a good dishwasher loader. Okay, it’s the small victories. Go ahead and list them.
Finally, narrow down your strengths to those that are relevant to what you are trying to achieve. For me, it was to sell 100,001 books.
1. I am a good writer
2. I am disciplined
3. I am not afraid to ask for what I want
4. I am an extrovert
5. I am good at technology
6. I am relentless
7. I have a good network of friends and family
8. I already have a licensee I’m working with who manufactures my gardening products
9. I like to travel and I am in a position to do so
How do I leverage my strengths:
1. Keep writing. Keep creating content. Use this in marketing.
2. Come up with goals and work at them diligently every day.
3. Ask my publisher for help. Ask my followers for help. Ask friends for introductions.
4. Plan and go on a book tour.
5. Launch my website, develop email marketing campaigns, social media, little videos, etc., to increase my engagement.
It is important to recognize our weaknesses because if we’re going to improve, we need to overcome or work around them. Paradoxically, I think that weaknesses are easier for people to list. Most of us are hard on ourselves. However, some of us are in denial or simply haven’t yet recognized what our weaknesses are. Many of us, myself included, aren’t adept at honestly evaluating ourselves. Here are some helpful suggestions:
1. Talk to someone who knows you well, whose opinion you trust. Ask them what they think your weaknesses are. Buy them a cup of coffee and tell them you’re doing a S.W.O.T. analysis. Ask your spouse or boyfriend or girlfriend, mother or mentor. I asked my daughter. That was the motherload (pun intended) of information. It amazes me that most people have never asked their own children how they are doing or how they did.
When whoever you’re asking tells you, don’t be defensive. Listen. Take notes. Remember, they’re taking time out of their day to help you. You may not agree with everything they say, but if everyone is saying the same thing, then you’ve probably got a legitimate weakness on your hands.
2. Another thing I recommend is evaluating what part of your job or daily routine you don’t like. What tasks drain you? Those are probably your weaknesses.
3. Take a test. There are many personality tests out there. Myers Briggs is well-known. They can tell you what your weaknesses are.
4. Self-evaluate. Identify negative patterns in your life and ascribe what weaknesses may be contributing them. You’re don’t finish what you start. Why do you think you do that?
5. Therapy. Find a good licensed therapist.
After making notes, observations and evaluations sit down and make a list of your weaknesses. Edit it to reflect the things that have relevancy to the goal you are trying to achieve.
Ultimately, more important than the specific ways to overcome your weaknesses is the idea that you CAN overcome or work around any weakness you acknowledge. This is not an exercise that is meant to bring you down. Everyone has weaknesses. It shows strength that you are able to look honestly at your situation and then think of ways to improve upon it.
What are the best ways to overcome your weaknesses? Education, research, practice, affirmations, trying anyway, using a partner who already possesses the skill, hiring someone, subcontracting tasks to outsiders. There’s always a way. Always.
In regards to my goal, (selling 100.001 books) these are my weaknesses as I see them:
1. I get easily distracted.
2. I am impatient.
3. I don’t have a lot of followers.
4. I am not good at prioritizing.
5. These are my first books — I don’t have a track record or a reputation.
6. I am uncomfortable in front of the camera.
7. I don’t consider myself good at marketing.
8. I don’t have the time to do everything I need to do.
Overcoming my weaknesses:
1. Daily to-do lists. Pick the top six things I need to do every day to move me closer to my goal of selling 100,001 books. This helps me to keep focused and to prioritize.
2. Build followers. Spend more time on social media. Have contests. BECOME RELEVANT.
3. Utilize influencers to help me get the word out about my books. Offer them a tradeoff (I will market their products or services). Give them free books.
4. Set up affiliates with the Amazon affiliate program.
5. Get more reviews on all the websites that are carrying my books and other sites such as Goodreads.
6. Get more press: television, magazines, newspapers. Practice talking and filming myself. Make sure I am comfortable in front of the camera. Practice good posture.
7. Work with regional booksellers to book school events. Make a parent brochure to send home with the children. Work on my presentation. Make it great!
8. Establish myself as a thought leader in healthy living for children — speak at relevant symposiums and conferences.
9. Continue to read marketing books to educate myself.
10. Utilize outside experts in marketing and subcontract time-consuming tasks when possible.
11. Continue to learn about the business of publishing. Reach out to other successful authors. Talk to booksellers.
In closing, my most recent S.W.O.T. analysis was incredibly helpful to me. I have already incorporated many of these ideas and tasks. I started with the goal of selling 10,001 books and accomplished that within three months. I therefore increased my goal to 100,001 books.
Do your S.W.O.T. Analysis! I look forward to hearing back from you on your progress toward your goal. I will keep you posted on mine. Follow me on Medium or my RSS feed here for updates.
A couple weeks ago, I read with dismay a new report from the U.K. that showed child obesity rates continue to rise there. Likewise in the U.S., obesity rates amongst children remain stubbornly high and perhaps even more disturbing is that 13.9% of preschoolers are considered obese. While the levels of overweight children have plateaued, and even fallen a bit in some areas, the prevalence of extremely obese children continues to rise.
This, of course, has enormous implications for healthcare systems in all of the developed world because obesity is associated with many kinds of health problems: higher levels of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, not to mention expensive health conditions such as knee and hip replacements, and other morbidity and mortality issues. And the bad news is, once a child or adult is overweight, it has proven to be extremely difficult to lose the weight and maintain the loss. According to the American Heart Association, obese kids have an eighty percent chance of staying obese their entire lives.
This begs the question: what is going to happen to these children when they become adults? As an economist, I ask, who is going to pay for their health care costs?
As stewards of our children and therefore, our future adults, we must be vigilant about really helping them to be healthier eaters. And here is the simple truth I refer to in my title:
We have to start when they are young.
We must help our children to not become overweight, because if they do, it is going to be a battle they will have to fight their entire lives and usually with little success.
Let me make a distinction, I am not talking about baby fat here, I’m talking about obesity. If you have a question about this, look at the Body Mass Index (BMI) charts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We must be vigilant to help our children and here’s the thing — it’s a lot easier to do when they are young, because of course we control the type and amount of food that we buy and prepare for them.
My life’s work is about teaching and inspiring children to lead a healthy lifestyle. As a part of that mission, I help parents understand ways that they can encourage their children to be healthier. One of the main ways to start a child off on a good foundation, is to help them to eat more vegetables. Nine out of ten children, after all, still don’t eat enough.
Because I’m a geek and I’ve done a lot of research on this, it might help you to know that human beings are hard-wired to not like vegetables. Way back when humans were in the hunter/gatherer stage, sweet foods such as fruits, were much less likely to be poisonous than savory foods.
That makes it hard to succeed in getting our kids to eat more vegetables. I get it. That’s where I come in. There are many tips and suggestions I give to help you along. But, as a broad stroke, we have to start thinking as a society and culture how to improve our children’s relationship with vegetables and fruits and other healthy foods, and to use the science that already exists to help us do that.
One of my favorite books that I’ve mentioned before is “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything,” by Kerry Grenny, Joseph Maxfield, David McMillan, Ron Switzler, and Al Patterson. They make the point that to change anyone including yourself, you should start by looking at what works. Find someone who has done and succeeded at the thing you want to do, and then study their methods.
The book makes a case that usually only two or three things account for success and therefore focus on just a couple things. This tidbit of information makes any task seems much less daunting. I mean, who can’t change two or three things? (They have tips for how to change behavior too.)
And here’s the cool thing about researching and finding successful methods: in this day and age, chances are someone has already studied what works and written about it. (By the way, this is an excellent book to read whether you’re running a corporation or a household, trying to change a reluctant customer’s mind or a recalcitrant teenager’s behavior.)
Back to our kids. Here are three already researched and proven methods to get your child to eat more vegetables:
1. A 2007 study suggests that persevering in offering children a particular vegetable can help them develop a taste for it. In a study with young children, it was explored if kids would accept a vegetable into their diet if they did not previously like it. What was found is that toddlers can be made to like a new food by introducing it five to ten times. It might take a little longer with preschoolers, up to fifteen times, but you can still help them develop a taste for it. Eventually more than 70% of the young children liked the tested vegetable. The cool thing is that nine months later, 63% of the originally tested group, still liked it.
When I am doing book readings at schools, I tell the kids that they have to taste a vegetable seven times, and if they do, they will like the vegetable. They always love this. It’s as if I have given them some kind of valuable secret (which I have), and a way to removing the nagging and actually enjoy their meal.
2. Researchers at Texas A&M University, looking for patterns in food consumption among elementary school children, found an interesting quirk about when and why kids choose to eat their vegetables. After analyzing plate waste data from nearly 8,500 students, it seems there’s at least one variable that tends to affect whether kids eat their broccoli, spinach or green beans more than anything: what else is on the plate. In short, kids are much more likely to eat their vegetable portion when it’s paired with a food that isn’t so delicious it gets all the attention.
Try this: put a vegetable on your child’s plate (make sure you do a good job cooking it for Pete’s sake), put the plate in front of the child who is waiting for his dinner and tell them that they can get started and the main dish is almost ready. That way the vegetable is not competing with the chicken nuggets or french fries. Or try pairing it with liver or baked fish.
3. My company, Bloomers Island, has found that over 90% of the thousands of kids we’ve worked with will eat a vegetable if they’ve grown (or are growing) it. This is based on our own metrics. So we set about to make growing a vegetable as fun for kids and as easy for grownups as possible.
Growing is a long process that also improves children’s delayed gratification skills, but in the meantime, while you’re waiting for the vegetable to grow and ripen, you can take your child to the grocery store and tell them that this is what they’re growing. You can buy it, ask them to help you find a recipe they might like, and then help you cook it. These are all important steps to establishing a healthy vegetable relationship.
There are other scientific ways discussed in the studies linked above, that work. You can read about them and try your own interpretations based on the research, but remember to try only two or three methods at once.
I’m not saying that if kids eat more vegetables they will not have to worry about being overweight or that childhood obesity will be cured, but … it is a good first step.
What successful methods have you used to get your kids to eat their vegetables? Please share in the comment section below.