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March 2014

We had a bit of rain recently, and as I looked out at the puddles in the street, I was reminded of a time in our teaching days when we had had a lot of rain and there were toads everywhere.

We could hear them at night. It was particularly deafening at times because we lived not too far from a small ponding area I called Boggy Bottom because it reminded me of Oklahoma.

One night my husband needed to take a break from grading papers and went outside for a bit of a walk. The street lamps were shining on the puddles where toads had laid their eggs in the water, and little tadpoles were in all the puddles and wee frogs about the size of bugs were all over the ground.

He observed that the tiny baby toads were very still, barely moving, perhaps a defense mechanism to avoid being seen by the big toads which were eating whatever bug or insect happened into view. However, he noticed that if the big toads grabbed the little baby toads, they would immediately spit them out.

Then he remembered being told as a child not to pick up a toad because it would pee on you and give you warts. This led him to wondering if there was some significance to the fact that toads would pee on you when you picked them up. In an Aha moment he speculated it was the taste of the urine that kept them from being eaten! So he picked up several of the little ones, washed them off in the puddle and put them on the ground by the big ones. Sure enough, the big guys gobbled them up. If he didn't wash the urine off the babies, the toads spat them right back out.

He came back indoors and reported to me what he had learned. "And that's why toads pee on you when you pick them up. They don't want to be eaten!"

"You did WHAT?" I asked.

"Just an informal mini Scientific Experiment," he said."Don't quote me! I'll just say you're making this .... up! " and went back to grading papers.

Well, I can assure you that that I didn't pick up any frogs to see if they would pee on me when I went out for one of MY walks a few days later, although I did run into some.

I don't get out much once the weather gets very hot, but I do enjoy an evening walk once in a while. I particularly enjoy that magical moment in the desert just before the sun goes down when everything seems to freeze in place and it gets eerily silent. On this particular evening, however, the cacaphony from the canal and the small ponding area was almost deafening as the frogs (or toads; I never remember which) were out in full force. Braaack. Braaack. Braaack. And then I noticed an additional sound. Hrump thud. Hrump thud. Hrump thud. And then a twanging sound. Good grief! it almost sounded like a tiny guitar, or maybe even a banjo.

You are losing it, Wanna, I thought, but still I decided I had to check it out. And that's when I saw where the sounds were coming from.

Somebody was having a concert in the tiny Boggy Bottom ponding area formed near the headgates of the Franklin Canal!

One frog in pink shoes was playing and the others were listening, occasionally chiming in with their own accompaniment.

He certainly had a diverse audience. Twang, twang-a, twang. Braaack. Braaack. Hrump thudda. Hrump thudda. Hrmp thudda thud.

From the tiniest to the largest, everyone was having a good time.

They apparently had all taken positions on their lily pad seats to listen; one even perched atop a toad stool over the performer's head...

And another one, a strange little fellow who looked like he was still evolving from a tadpole, peered from a tangle of undergrowth. Seeing my face looming down toward him, he looked up at me with a shudder and whispered, "Please don't wash off my pee."

I was thunderstruck; first because he talked, and second, because I understood him. And then it hit me: this little guy must've beem watching when my husband was conducting his mini Science Experiment.

I rushed to reassure him. "Don't mind me. I am just a casual onlooker out for an evening walk. I wouldn't dream of touching you, hon. See, here I go, heading back to grade some more essays. "

And as I was backing away, one quite large toad made a very loud GAAALLLLUUUUMMMMPPP, and I swear he said, "Oh, go ahead! Wash off his pee!"

You know, this is the kind of thing that happens in FairyLand, but in El Paso? Who knew! And, you are not going to believe this, but I think that was a Prince at the concert, too!

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NOTES: This little setting was created when Preble McDaniel issued an Altoids Tin Challenge on the LittleEnoughNews mini group. The rules were quite flexible: Use an Altoids candy or other mini tin to create a setting.

I had been working on a doll for one of my stories about a princess who was turned into a frog because she was so selfish and arrogant, and had a collection of various sizes of frogs scattered around. When I read that challenge and saw the word Altoids, my eye hit on those frogs and I thought Altoads! And that's how I came up with my entry in the Challenge.

I needed a reason for those frogs to be together, and when I spotted a tiny frog with a guitar, he became my focal point, a performer. And every performer needs an audience, so it became a Boggy Bottom Concert! The rest of the frogs were chosen because of the variety of their configurations and the need to fit within the tin.

And, of course, I had that true story from my husband about his little experiment back in our teaching days. Fortunately, he is a good sport, and often provides me with great materials through his quick wit and puns and plays on words ...

Once I had my plan, I began working.

Instead of an Altoids tin, however, I used this one. It was doubly good, because I got to eat the chocolate, too!

This is the original Altoids tin label.

The first thing I did was to redesign that label. I put it aside, however, until I was through working on the interior, knowing that I would probably mess it up if I glued it in place too soon.

Next I traced around the tin to make a pattern. To make it fit the inside, I cut away a bit within my pencil lines. Rather than work inside the tin and mess up the paint, I would use that pattern to plot out my design first, then glue things in place when I had it all figured out.

Then I gave the tin's top and interior a coat of green paint, and propped it up to let the air circulate so it would dry sooner.

Here is my work tray with the various bits I planned to use in making my little setting.

I had two of these clusters in a plastic box; not sure when I got them, although I believe they have been in my stash for years. This, I decided, will make a good platform for my guitar playing frog, and I plan to have the other frogs all facing him as if they are listening to his performance.

Unfortunately I could not fit the guitar player onto the existing base, so I placed him on a bit of florist clay, which will be glued to the front of the original flower base.

I had tried to cut it apart, but that base is hard as a rock, almost impenetrable. Instead, I decided to pull out various blooms to work with, but they were solidly glued in there and easy to break, so I decided it wasn't prudent to pull on them too much. I wound up using the whole thing as is, figuring I could cut off blooms as needed from the other piece.

 

Well, let's see, I thought. Maybe I can fit the thing in the corner of the tin as is. Here I have fitted it on my pattern, and have cut some layers of floral clay to fill in at the back. I can disguise it with moss and grass.

Oh, there's another fellow hopping up; I guess he wants to be there, too!

These wee little mushrooms - or toadstools; not sure which - were in my stash. I gave them a dirty water wash to tone down the shine a bit.

I used some of my grassy weedy mixture to coat the dried moss that was on the original base to blend it with the new addition at the back.

I didn't want the base on the frog to show, so here I am applying glue and will add the grass/weeds to it, and then blend the whole thing into the edge of my grassy bank overlooking the tiny pond.

Not a clear picture, but a better result. Actually, the colors look distorted here; they are not as bright as they appear; perhaps it was the light when I was taking the pictures.

 

Here I have added the new corner piece at the back and two toadstools and have glued my guitar player addition to the front. Later I will add more grass and weeds to blend it all together.

I selected these frogs/toads to form his concert audience, giving them all a dirty water wash to tone down the brightest plastic colors. I also repainted their eyes to make them show up better. (One thing I notice here - this is the best picture I could get of the crown on the biggest toad. It looks distorted in my other pics, but trust me, it IS a crown that has had red painted inside for some reason. I don't know why; it's been in my stash for a long time.)

I guess I am on a roll with frogs, because in addition to the arrogant princess story, I had previously done another story, The Frog at Giverny, after my best friend Pat had visited Monet's Gardens at Giverny in France. In my Frogs stash was a printout from the early days of working on that project. It was a hazy version of one of Monet's paintings of a lily pond, and was perfect for suggesting the murky environment where my concert would be held.

Here I have used my pattern to cut the base.

I have also cut a piece of plastic to go atop the pond bottom for my water and will add it when I have everything ready to glue in place.

With the bottom of the pond ready, I cut out another section from the printout for the lid, to suggest either water or sky, depending. I put the tin aside while I worked out everything on my pattern.

I wanted my frog audience to be seated on lily pads atop the water, so from one section of the printout I cut some pieces for the lily pads. When I gave the back a coat of green paint, I decided I liked the brighter color better to contrast with the "water," so the backs became the fronts. I indented some veins with my stylus and did a bit of cupping from the back to give a bit of contour for the edges. I planned one lily pad for each frog in the beginning.

I had thought I might use this little fence, but it is too much for the tin, so it goes back into the stash. Instead, I decide I am going to use some of those flowers from the second piece in a smaller section on the right side and will again use floral clay to build it. It will provide a bit of balance and give me a place to put another one or two of the frogs who won't fit on a lily pad.

At this point I have formed a small section from florist clay to go in the right corner, using three of the daffodils and a few pink blossoms that I laboriously cut and pulled from the second cluster. I have added two toadstools and one frog. I also added another of the brown toadstools to the cluster on the left.

I am not sure now exactly when I added the label to the top of the tin, but I think it was about at this stage.

Having glued in the plastic water and with everything else in place,

I used sprigs of this greenery to establish the line at the top of the arrangement, forming an arc to the right.

And that's how I came up with my entry in the Altoids Tin Challenge - the Altoads Boggy Bottom Concert. I had such fun with this. My thanks again to Preble McDaniel for the Challenge!

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