Oma Sue's Blog
Hi – I’m Sue Reyzlik. I recently realized my life-long dream of building a writing hut in the backyard. The writing hut serves as a creative space and home office for Oma Publishing. This blog will be intermingled with family history, varied experiences and insights on being a Grandma (Oma), creating my special backyard space, as well as, my “retirement” career as a self-publisher of children’s stories. And perhaps a little bit on the 32 years I served as Executive Director for Keep Fremont Beautiful and the wonderful people who are sharing this adventure.
When I retired from Keep Fremont Beautiful back in 2017, I knew that I wanted to spend part of my retirement, writing. I built a writing hut in the backyard and that’s all the further I got in terms of a writing plan. It was kind of a “build it and they will come” thing. What came was a series of children’s stories or more accurately – a series of stories for Grandma’s (Oma’s) to tell their grandkids.
First my granddaughter RaiLee crawled up into bed with me one night and asked me to tell her a story about three frogs. Then my other granddaughter Gracyn Mae, named me Oma Sue – we decided she must be German or something, because she recognized me as an Oma as soon as she could talk.
So, what started out as a simple story about three frogs, grew to become a retirement project, a series of books, a publishing company (Oma Publishing) and a labor of love for my sweet Gracyn - who was diagnosed as a toddler with Muscular Dystrophy. (All proceeds from the sales of the books are deposited in the Gracyn Mae Smith Special Needs Trust Fund. Those funds are designated to benefit Gracyn with her future needs.)
The “Three Frog” Trilogy is loosely based on real life events, activities and fond memories of growing up in Fremont, Nebraska and time spent at our family cabin on Big Island, as well as, the influences of a decades long career in environmental education. I’m pretty predictable, I write what I know. I write what I experience in life… I mean – the three frogs are imaginary… I guess.
To be honest, I was thinking of certain people when I first made up this story for little Rai. Rai is three years younger than her cousin Mac and six years younger than her cousin Sam. In my mind Freddy was patterned after Rai, Green after Mac and Hops after Sam. As the stories progressed, Freddy revealed herself to be a combination of both Rai and Gracyn.
The three little frogs are best friends. They all have their own personalities, their own strengths, their own interests but they still come together to form a special bond of friendship and compassion for one another. The three frogs have exciting adventures and must face difficult challenges together. They trust, respect and cooperate with one another when needed and even engage in “sibling rivalry” or maybe just friendly competition. When all is said and done, they celebrate the achievements of their friends!
In the first story, Freddy challenges her friends to build a raft from the litter left by the pond. The first one to sail across the pond will be the “Boss” for the day. Freddy makes her raft out of a Styrofoam clam shell container, a couple of plastic water bottles and strips of plastic torn from a discarded shopping bag. I didn’t realize it at the time but this story was based on a real-life event…
Back in 1957, Styrofoam was invented. A few years later huge Styrofoam crates would be used to ship cut flowers to my grandfather’s greenhouse in Fremont. Grandpa “Carnation” Joe Green was born in 1900 and lived through WWI, the great depression and the rationing of WWII – all while running a huge greenhouse operation.
He never threw anything away – he learned to “make do” out of necessity when materials were unavailable. I’m guessing that some of the Styrofoam crates were returned to the wholesalers or reused in hauling plants or bouquets – but that is just a guess. I do know for sure that a few of the Styrofoam crates were used to build a boat/raft – because in 1960, Grandpa Joe, my brother Billy and I made a couple of river crafts to sail down the Platte River. Billy got first dibs on the lower part of the crates – they were much deeper than the lids. Grandpa and Billy attached three bottom crates together with thin pieces of lathe. His river sailing craft looked more like a canoe. My craft was made out of two lids… which was, in hindsight, a totally insufficient design for a raft.
Grandpa drove Billy and I to our cabin on Big Island (the Platte River) to try out our river boat/raft thingies. I took my two-box lid raft out into the knee-high deep stream and gingerly lowered myself down onto the raft. I and the raft instantly sank to the bottom of the river bed. Billy did somewhat better and would have stayed afloat if the river had been a little deeper.
I think the failure of that raft/boat experiment had been “floating” around in my brain for decades - just waiting for an anti-sinking solution. In creating and telling the story to Rai, I accidentally hit upon the answer – increased buoyancy. Freddy was very clever and engineered a raft that utilized plastic bottles for the necessary buoyancy.
I write what I know – bits and pieces of my memories, my family, the cabin, the greenhouse, the river, the frogs, the litter, problems and solutions… it all just comes together. The stories I tell my children and grandchildren are off the cuff but they come from somewhere close – they come from what I know… The other two books in the trilogy contain real life events and familiar themes – I’ll share more information about that in the next blog entry.
Rai and I made a raft, just like "Freddy" described in the story. We tested it in the bathtub and it worked great! Back in 1960 we didn't have plastic water bottles, but if we had - I would have used them on my raft to create buoyancy and keep it afloat!