101 Reasons to Celebrate

Sadness surrounds us. I know. Recently my brother-in-law learned that he has a large, cancerous time-bomb (tumor) in his body.  Then, a friend’s brother died in a motorcycle accident and a beloved MN SCBWI member and her husband perished in a house fire.  These events led me to ponder the frailty of the human condition (and change my underwear and go to confession). It should have led me to finally write my will.  Instead, I imagined what I’d say from my new home if I made it to my preferred destination.

101 Reasons to Celebrate

    Number one pretty much covers the reasons to celebrate.  But I’ve never been one to summarize, so here’s a few — er — one hundred — more reasons:
  2. We’re more passionately loved than we will ever love or be loved.
  3. I did, said, and thought some pretty stupid, embarrassing, and awful things on earth, but, for the life of me, I can’t remember them anymore — and neither can God or anyone else.
  4. If we let Him, He teaches us to empty ourselves, to make room for His Love. I won’t kid you.  The emptying is painful.  It’s like giving birth — no, it IS giving birth — but, the labor pains are, oh, so worth it.  He calls our internal junk out of the stinky tomb of our souls.  I’m giving birth — to a new me! Please, be happy for me and start emptying yourself now.  You’ll thank me later.
  5. I love you and always will. In fact, I never really left you.  I’m nearer to you than ever, because I’m not distracted by my own needs. This clarity helps me to intercede and love you and accept your love better.
  6. I can finally be authentically me.  No spinning plates to impress. And, I like me better because I’m a new, improved me.
  7. All of our relatives, friends, and acquaintances are even better looking and nicer than they were on earth.  And, we get to meet people who were forgotten.  My siblings that Mom and Dad lost to miscarriage are very much alive and full of personality.  I’d tell you more about them, but I want you to be pleasantly surprised, like I was.
  8. You’ll be surprised by the things you don’t have to worry about here – like global warming, nuclear war, and hard butter.
  9. It’s never too hot or too cold here.  Like Goldilocks’ porridge.  It’s just right.
  10. You don’t have to sleep, because you’re never tired. So, no nightmares. Yet, you can rest and dream all you want.
  11. Work is optional/occasional, so no burnout.  People can volunteer to do anything they want.  One day you can be a chef; the next, a mountain climber; the next, a bungee cord tester… No one ever has to be an undertaker, a tax collector, or that guy who  puts the cotton balls in vitamin bottles.
  12. No snakes in trees selling apples.  He’s outta here.
  13. No contact lenses, glasses…We have better than 20/20 vision.  We can see into each other’s souls.
  14. Communication comes through the aforementioned process, so no cluttered inboxes, spam, or cyber viruses.
  15. We don’t have to do any gross bodily functions. Animals don’t do them either, so it’s easier to love our neighbor and his dog.
  16. But, we can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, and all we want.  You can eat just one Lay’s Potato Chip or you can eat the whole bag. Calories evaporate.
  17. Food tastes – I can’t even describe it – like heaven.  Nothing expires.  Think of the sweetest fruit, the spiciest salsa, or the freshest guacamole you ever tasted on earth.  It wouldn’t make the grade here.
  18. Everything is alive here – even the stones, the gems, the grass, the flowers.
  19. Everything smells incredible, but no one sneezes.  No one is allergic to anything.
  20. Nothing dies, so nothing stinks – not even Babe Ruth’s socks or my breath.  No need for deodorant, mouthwash or flossing.
  21. The water is so clear you can see the jewels at the bottom of the streams. And, the roads really are paved with gold.  “Eye has not seen…”
  22. Everything’s a celebration here, so the sound is of everyone’s individual expression of elation, joy and praise.  No one is off-tune here, but every soul’s voice is unique and harmonizes with the others’.  You’ve never heard anything so beautiful.  “Ear has not heard…”
  23. Everyone gets their own mansion, greater than their grandest dreams on this earth.  But, there’s no jealousy.  We all love what we have.
  24. Everyone is safe here. No one has to lock doors – in fact, we don’t need doors.
  25. No one worries about stealing. Everyone has what they need.
  26. All souls are respected — even Rodney Dangerfield.
  27. St. Gabriel and Louis Armstrong are teaching me to play trumpet. Next, Charlie Parker’s teaching me the sax; Amelia Earhart, St. Raphael, and my guardian angel are giving me flying lessons; then, by cracky, Steve Irwin and St. Joan of Arc are taking me alligator wrestling. As you can see, we have access to infinite knowledge and an eternity to explore, learn, write, read, compose, create… The sky’s the…There’s no limit.
  28. There are no handicaps or illness.  Every part of our body functions perfectly with no aches or pain.
  29. Our brain-functions better.  I can converse with Einstein and St. Augustine without scratching my head wondering what they’re saying. And, I think fast enough to say my funny one-liners on time, not just wish I’d said them.
  30. There are no bad-hair days.  No head lice epidemics. Hair doesn’t fall out or grow, so we don’t need to get haircuts or shave.
  31. Our toenails don’t grow.  Perfect manicure and pedicure all the time.
  32. Crops and plants replenish immediately as you pick them. Grass always stays the same length, so no need to mow. Everything’s alive, so if  you want the smell of cut grass, just ask the grass. It’ll comply.
  33. Our features are perfect. No need for mascara, eyeliner, guyliner, or anything artificial of any kind. So, no plastic surgery.
  34. Travel is done by our minds.  We think it; we’re there.
  35. We never get lost.  And, we never have to ask for directions. We have internal navigation systems.
  36. We still have our distinct personalities. Yet, there’s no politics.  Everyone’s on the same, enlightened page. And we learned that no one on earth had all the answers, except our patient God.
  37. Everything good, true, or beautiful created on earth is here.  There are museums full of stuff.  That poem I wrote in 5th grade?  God liked it.
  38. We can hang with all animals.  Monkeys don’t steal your food or wipe it on you. Camels don’t spit and insects don’t bite. There are even dinosaurs, tarantulas, and snakes here, because God says He didn’t make any mistakes.  They have these sensors in their feet so they don’t step on you. (The dinosaurs, not the tarantulas and snakes.)
  39. You’d be surprised who’s here that you’d never expected – and who’s not here. But you understand that being here was each person’s choice, not God’s.
  40. All souls need your prayers.  I didn’t get into Heaven by myself.  My praying family and friends lifted me through the roof.  Their faith helped me say “yes”.  If someone’s name pops in your head, it’s probably a cue to pray for them.  If no one’s name pops in your head, pray for those who have no one to pray for them.
  41. No one needs privacy or shadows.  We like the Light.
  42. No need for translations.  Everyone understands everyone.
  43. No one’s older than 33, but we can be any age we want, 33 or younger, at any time.  Sometimes it’s nice to try things over or just to be held on Our Dad’s chest.
  44. There’s no gravity here, unless we want it for an earth-simulation experience, so no saggy body parts.  We don’t need gravity — even to travel. Everything’s alive to will itself in harmony with everything else.  Even the streets paved with gold will themselves to serve God from under our feet.
  45. Everyone’s body is in perfect proportion. No need for weigh scales or liposuction.
  46. All wounds, inside and out, are healed. No shock treatments or blaming your mother for anything.
  47. Everyone has all of their teeth in perfect alignment.  No cavities or dental floss…
  48. We can and do touch and feel pleasure in its purest form.  Cowabunga!  THIS is what God intended? Who knew?
  49. The colors here are like none we see on earth.  Even colors are alive!
  50. There’s a flash mob every moment for every new soul(s) entering heaven.  Keeps the twelve tribes in party mode. St. Michael and his archangels invented this aerial dance with OT King David.  It’s #1 on the pop charts and going viral. They can’t wait to teach it to MC Hammer and Psy.
  51. God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit really are three Divine Persons in One.  You’ll understand when you’re here.
  52. Jesus is drop alive gorgeous.
  53. Mother Mary is more beautiful than Angelina Jolie.
  54. Joseph’s a really cool guy.  So humble…
  55. Everyone’s the same religion here.
  56. We don’t have to pick out what to wear here. And, no one’s butt looks big.
  57. Adrenaline without pain. We can do everything we wanted to do on earth, but were afraid, couldn’t afford, ran out of time…They’re called simulated earth experiences.  Earth-like things are allowed to happen – parachutes not opening, whales swallowing you, etc., but we never experience the wounds or death that comes from trying it on earth.
  58. We learn the truth about history and how God worked in it.  Like we learned that aspartame made tons of unsuspecting people sick.  And, many of the victims of the holocaust had a speedier route to heaven because the suffering they endured on earth emptied them. God evens everything out in the end, so we don’t fret the past here.  We just marvel at how God was always there with us, in control.  Nothing from the evil side thwarts the joy of Heaven.  It only makes us marvel more.
  59. We can meet anyone – from any century.  And, no one is unapproachable.  As you read this I’m hanging out with C.S. Lewis, Johnny Carson, Chris Farley, Gilda Radner, and my mom and dad and brothers, while Etta James and Elvis Presley serenade.
  60. There’s no time here, no deadlines, and no anxiety.
  61. There’s no dust or lint, so no housework or cleaning out belly buttons.
  62. No predators — animal or human. Children are safe.  Males know the color of female’s eyes and when they say they love you, they mean it.
  63. I can do a cart-wheel. So can Grandma.
  64. That guy who took credit for my idea at work?  Doesn’t matter here. He’s sorry and forgiven.
  65. We don’t have to tweeze or wax anything.
  66. No need for Kleenexes.  No boogers.
  67. No crabby cashiers, expired coupons, or stock market crashes.  Everything’s free.
  68. No problems finding parking spaces and no road rage.  But, you can drive a Roman chariot, a Lamborghini, or invent your own car, like the ones that fly in the Jetsons.
  69. One Boss. He’s the King, actually.
  70. He’s not like an earthly king.  Our King loves everyone and treats everyone kinder than fair, regardless of race, color, gender, and ball team affiliations.
  71. Our One Boss gives the ultimate bonuses – mansions and His own  life.  In fact, we think of Him as Our Dad, Our King, and Our Loving Spouse. I know that sounds weird, but you’ll appreciate this later.
  72. No scary movies here. No dead people allowed.
  73. I don’t run funny here. (At least nobody laughs.) And, I’m as fast as I wanna be.
  74. We can really see what it’s like to fly like an eagle and swim like a dolphin.
  75. No Internal Revenue Service, speeding tickets, or jails.
  76. No varicose veins, hemorrhoids, foot fungus, acne, or gingivitis.
  77. Mosquitoes and vampires don’t suck blood here.
  78. My team always wins. (Actually, not really, but, I’m happy now because when someone wins, everyone wins.)
  79. No need for alcohol or drugs to get high.
  80. No smoking, because no desire to smoke.  No addictions here.
  81. Sandy beaches without sand fleas, cigarette butts, or dog poop surprises.
  82. Magnificent forests without tick bites, outhouse anxiety, and angry bears.
  83. No inclement weather. It only snows or rains if you want snow or rain. (They make the best snow angels here.)
  84. Rainbows with or without rain. And real gold at the end.
  85. No darkness unless we need some for shadow puppets. The sun/Son always shines.
  86. I can’t kill plants here.
  87. No need for mouse or ant traps.  They aren’t annoying here.
  88. No gray hair – unless you want it.
  89. We remember only the good. Same with Our Spouse.
  90. We are always thankful.
  91. Nothing tastes bitter and nobody is bitter.
  92. You can pet porcupines, squeeze skunks, and stroke stingrays with no adverse effect.
  93. Words never hurt and we can trust our name on everyone’s lips
  94. Nothing is hidden. Unless you want to play hide and seek.
  95. No waiting here – in line, for the check in the mail, for success — ever.
  96. No time-outs, tempers, or tantrums here.
  97. My dog, Wally, and my cat, Maggie, still remember me. Your pets will, too.
  98. I get to say all the things I wished I’d have said on earth – and say them better than I would have.
  99. I get to do all the things I wished I’d have done on earth – and…
  100. No more anger, fighting, sickness, suffering, guilt, sorrow, or shame here.  Everyone is happy, contented, and forgiven – forever.
  101. This place is – Heaven!

    Click the photo for Nicholas David’s goose-pimple inducing rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Voice-2012.

Disclaimer:  Much of this comes from the tiny, presumptuous imagination of Anna Marras; it’s not THE GOSPEL.
Qualifier: The Bible gives us genuine reasons to celebrate.

1 Corinthians 2:9: “But this is just as it has been written: The eye has not seen, and the ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those who love Him.”

My One Thing

Author Sarah Stewart recommends that writers for children cling to one thing from our own childhood for inspiration.  (See her one thing.) In my search for my one thing I finally uncovered a treasure — this tattered, torn, and taped Fun at the Beach book by Gloria Trachtenberg; illustrated by Dagmar Wilson.

MY one thing.

As you can see, it’s old and outdated.  But, that’s okay.  I’m old and outdated.

The Tiny Tales book, copywritten in 1960, made me relieved that books — and their owners — don’t have expiration dates.  And, it made me happy, because I had my one thing from my childhood.  The feel of the little book’s soft pages and even its smell brought me back in time to my mother’s cozy lap, fire crackling in the fireplace, and Pa playing the fiddle.  Oh, wait, my dad didn’t play the fiddle. Okay, the harmonica.  Oh, wait, my dad didn’t play the harmonica. Nevertheless, the book made me happy…


We were rebels. Notice: no seat belts or car seats.

…at least until I photographed the book for this blog post.

This book belongs to…BOBBY? I wonder if he wants it back?

I’ll have to contact Ms. Stewart.  Can a book, borrowed from my cousin half a decade ago, count as my one thing?

2012 Iowa SCBWI Conference-Heather Alexander

In my awkward unpublished stage, still unsure of my children’s book-writing ability, insecurity causes me to contrive misconceptions about agents, editors, publishers — all who seemingly hold my future in the palm of their hands —

  • that they will be stuffy.
  • that they own hard, plastic rulers to whap stupid writer’s knuckles.
  • that they have a secret society where they laugh together about writing endeavors that are off the mark.
  • that they are too busy to care.

Heather Alexander is as nice as she looks.

Heather Alexander, editor of Dial Books for Young Readers, a division of Penguin, dispelled my assumptions with a welcoming smile.  The thorough nature of my manuscript review indicated that she had not only read my manuscript, but she’d devoted plenty of thought and consideration into improving it.

She didn’t know it, but she verified everything  Linda Pratt (also not stuffy, ruler-bearing, etc.) had said the week before — even though they reviewed different manuscripts.  How could I not feel honored?  Two pros cared enough to honestly and constructively help me in my craft. Heather provided  confirmation that I had work to do — and she gave me additional tools to make my work work.

Ms. Alexander further dispelled the “too busy to care” misconception in the next day’s open mic sessions.  If you’ve never participated in one, a writer reads his/her manuscript for a set time.  During the reading the audience jots down comments and critiques.  When others read, I barely find the time to say, “Good job!”, “Loved that squirrel!” or  “You’d be good at voice-overs, too.”

But, among my critiques came a five-line note, signed by Heather, referring back to our review and reinforcing her advice.  She remembered.  That meant a lot to me.

Putting the ball in my court dispelled another misconception — that agents, editors, and publishers hold our future in the palms of their hands.

We hold our future.  They just help us carry it.

Thanks, Heather for the “hut, hut, hike.” It’s up to me to see how far I can run with the ball.

2012 Iowa SCBWI Conference

Four of us converged in Brooklyn Park, MN, to carpool to Des Moines for the three-day 2012 Iowa Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference.  On the way home, all four agreed that the eight-hour round trip was worth every mile.

Minnesota party crashers: Randy Holland, me, Cynthia Weishapple, Elise Hylden.

The journey started one year ago when my new writing partner, Cynthia Weishapple, (the stranger who sat by me at the 2011 MN SCBWI Conference), happened upon the web site of Jan Blazanin.

We followed the cyber trail to Jan’s Magical Writing Group friends (Eileen Boggess, Sharelle Byars Moranville, and Rebecca Janni) and vowed we, too, would one day attribute our success to our writers group sisterhood.  Our vision paid off in the spring when Elise Hylden and Kristi Herro joined us. (See My Writing Friendspage.) With four invested in each other’s success, the group is magical, as promised. Like Jan’s group, we hope to inspire other writers, who will inspire other writers…

Iowa inspiration. Magical Writers Group: Jan Blazanin, Eileen Boggess, Rebecca Janni. Not pictured: Sharelle Byars Moranville.

Creatures of the Night.

Yes. We Midwesterners know how to party.

Conference organizers gave us three opportunities to share our work: a Friday night peer review workshop, a Saturday manuscript review, and a Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning open mic session.  They also orchestrated table assignment mixers and a Creatures of the Night Tour of downtown Des Moines.  All could come away with new insights and new friends. No one would come away a stranger.

It seemed fitting that writers conference attendees would gather in Des Moines’ Pappajohn Sculpture Park’s Nomade.  Jaume Plensa, Nomade’s creator, imagined the letters as building blocks for words and ideas, like human cells for the body.





Thanks to the Magical Writing Group and 2012 IA SCBWI conference committee members: Connie Heckert, Lisa Morlock, and all conference volunteers.  You shouldn’t have been so nice, because we’ll probably be back again next year.

Life-changing Words

Words.  They come in and out of us from every direction.  Today our minds are saturated with them.

Remember the ones that changed your life? Usually they come like brain-or-heart-embedding arrows.

As a young adult, I complained to my mom about the ineffectiveness of a leader in our small community.  She said, “What are YOU doing to make (the situation) better?”

In one verbal punch, Mom knocked me on my keester to teach humility and walk-a-mile-in-another’s-shoes-empathy.

Recently I asked a young Canadian, Jacinta, “What’s your goal in life?”

She startled me in the profound simplicity of her answer: “To love better.”

In three words Jacinta lifted my vision above the clutter and taught me priority.

Words. Use them well.

2012 MN SCBWI Conference-Linda Pratt

Linda Pratt of Wernick & Pratt Agency

I hugged the computer when I received the official email message that Linda Pratt, agent of Wernick & Pratt Agency, would review my children’s book manuscript at the 2012 MN SCBWI Conference.   Her name had risen to the top of my Agents-I-Think-I-Could-Clique-With List even before she made the list of conference speakers.  Lists like mine should probably give agents the willies.  We unpublished writers keep files on agents — everything we can find on-line and in publications.  Who do they represent?  What books do they like?  What movies?  What do they find funny/inspiring/annoying? TP over or under — soft or strong? (Just in case they come to our house to sign the contract.)

Lo and behold, I found the most comprehensive information about Linda on their Wernick & Pratt Agency Q & A with Linda Pratt web page. Linda’s a woman of my own heart.  She loves LUCY, CHOCOLAT, and Anne Lamott’s  BIRD BY BIRDShe represents fabulous illustrators and authors, like Denise Brunkus and Augusta Scattergood. And, Linda, too, thinks Mr. Darcy of PRIDE & PREJUDICE is — um — not bad.

When we met for the critique, the petite powerhouse impressed me with her warmth.  She inquired about a memoir project I’d mentioned during David Small‘s Q & A session and commiserated about my family’s trials.  Seems Linda and I had some family skeletons in common. Then, when she advised how to develop readers’ empathy, I thought “Linda Pratt knows about empathy.”

During an effective critique, the writer is told what he/she should hear, not necessarily what he/she wants to hear.  Linda gave me an effective critique.  She said, “When I first began reading, I initially thought it was a young chapter book before I noticed the genre designation…”  [This observation would be confirmed by Penguin/Dial Books editor, Heather Alexander, a week later at the Iowa SCBWI Conference (upcoming blog entry).]

The manuscript I’d submitted for review had too many characters, lots of dialog, and even a subplot.  Not a picture book, as I’d designated. Linda corrected me with encouragement.  I’d read about writers who didn’t thoroughly understand children’s book genres on Linda’s Q & A page, but I didn’t recognize myself.  She states clearly: “…if it’s a novel for all ages, or it could be a middle grade or YA, or it’s a picture book for 5-8 year olds, these are signals that you’re not clear on the market for your book, and the work itself is likely ambiguous, as well.…”

Sure, I was disappointed at first that she didn’t jump up and down, gushing,  “This is the best picture book since Where the Wild Things Are.” And, I did have that bad dream about another writer stealing my main character and my thunder while I revised.

The good news?  During her conference presentation, Linda assured us fledgling writers not to give up.  But, revise, revise, revise, before we submit, submit, submit.  Linda initially rejected Augusta Scattergood’s Glory Be.  Augusta revised it, an editor revised it again, and –badda bing, badda boom!

My manuscript review experience? Humbling?




I’d jumped off the diving board prematurely, but without direction I could still be flailing in the wrong end of the pool.

Thanks, Linda!  You’ll be hearing from me again — but not until I revise, revise, and revise.  Then, when I think it’s perfect, I’ll revise some more.