To Barbara, With Love


Click either photo for Barbara’s tribute video.  (Change the tab from 720p to 360p for easier download.) Her family chose “Jackson” as her opening song because of her passionate love affair with her husband, Warren.  They did get married in a fever.  As you can see, Barbara was/is the beautiful sister. All four of us girls worked in the same restaurant, but not at the same time. Even though I waitressed almost 20 years after Barbara, people would always say, “Is Barbara your sister? She’s SO beautiful.”

I’m typing this from a motel room in Spearfish, SD, en route to the funeral of my sister, Barbara, in Missoula, MT.  She passed away on Thursday, May 16, 10 p.m.  My husband and I were packing the car for a trip to Spearfish for a family graduation and the wedding of a friend, when we received the news that she would not likely survive the week.  Over the years, her health had deteriorated to the point where we knew it would be only a matter of time.  The news allowed me to pack a few more clothes and today I’m ten hours closer to a new 20 hour destination. As usual, God’s timing was perfect.

As the youngest child of nine (eleven, if you count my siblings lost to miscarriage), I selfishly felt that I was given less than favorable odds of not having to watch my siblings leave earth — one-at-a-time. I’ve thought how much it will stink to be the last one standing — to struggle through life alone. Barbara is already the fourth (or sixth) to go.  I feel happy for Barbara and strangely peaceful.  After all, there are 101 Reasons to Celebrate.  This world isn’t the last stop of the journey.  It’s merely a training ground for the next adventure.

Lucky for the world, Barbara’s greatest accomplishments were the Barbarachildren, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren she left behind.  They are a living testament to her compassion, humor,  idiosyncrasies, curiosity, generosity, faith, hope, and love.  In light of that, I realize she hasn’t really left any of us alone.  The best of her remains — and will to the end of time.  We just need to appreciate what/who we have.

I’d better expand that Reasons to Celebrate list.

Thanks, Sis!  I love you!  See you tomorrow, in the faces of your progeny.

Strategic Spontaneity III

Cowabunga!  We are on an unexpected roll with our grandparent/grandchild dates.

January 25 I received a 2:50 a.m. phone call from our daughter-in-law that her water broke.  We rejoiced when grandchild #6 (“Spidey 2”) arrived without complications around 11:30 a.m. late that morning.

Spidey 2 came into the world only three days before his big brother’s (Spidey 1’s) fifth birthday, so we had two occasions to celebrate.  After meeting Spidey 2, birthday festivities,  sledding with Spidey 1, and helping the exhausted parents for three days, I offered to take Spidey 1 to our home for three more. This would give the parents some alone time to rest and bond with Spidey 2.

As we traveled, it occurred to me that Spidey 1 would be disappointed upon arriving at our home, because “Papa”, my husband, wouldn’t be there. He had to attend a meeting. That’s when I remembered Strategic Spontaneity.  Spidey 1 was due for a date.  After all, he was third in the grandchild line of progression, after his seven and six year old cousins.

As the Mall of America sign came into view I asked Spidey, “How’d you like to go to the Mall of America to eat?”

“No, I don’ wanna eat. I wanna see Papa. Look! An airpane!”

“Mmhmm, an airplane. You have to eat. And, you could pick whatever you want.”

“No, I don’ wanna go to the Ma of Amer-ca.  I wanna see Papa. Is that biwding a hopsital? A baby came out of Mommy’s belly at a hopsital.”

“No, that’s not a hospital. But it looks like a hospital, doesn’t it? Papa won’t be home until later.  How would you like to go on a Nanna date?”

“A Nanna date?”

“Yeah, a Nanna date — where you eat at Burger King or McDonald’s or A & W Rootbeer and go on rides.”

“Rides? I like Nanna dates.”

Spidey 1 is less complicated than the girls.  He would have been ecstatic spending the entire excursion on the escalators. But people (security) started to get annoyed.

Once he saw the amusement park, he let out a sigh like he’d seen the Great Pyramid of Giza.  He found Nirvana.  He declined the customary sibling gift shopping.  (After all, he’d already bought a Kit Kat for Spidey 2.)

He only stopped to eat his chicken nuggets after I bribed offered the choice: eating them = more rides or not eating them = going straight home.

He even chose one more spin in lieu of ice cream.

On the way home, Spidey sat in his carseat in the dark back seat, covering his head with his favorite blanket, so he could suck on his index finger in private. I heard the suction popping noise as he pulled his finger out of his mouth. “Nanna, I like Nanna dates.  Can we go again t’morrow?”

We didn’t, but Spidey 1 didn’t notice.  Instead, he enjoyed three more glorious days of dates with me, Papa, and his aunt, uncle, and three cousins.

We returned Spidey 1 to his home and family over the weekend and assured Spidey 2 that we’d be back soon for his turn, which would involve a bottle and a diaper change — kind of like what Papa and I will enjoy in a few years.

Now, as I sit at my desk, I realize that I’ve missed some submission deadlines.  At first this made me sad. But then I consider, there will always will be conferences to attend and agents, editors, and publishers to meet, but Spidey 1 will only be seen in public with his Nanna until — um — well, I’ll keep you posted…

Room For More

I love having children in our home. Our children and grandchildren bless us abundantly, but there will always be room in my heart for more.  Therein lies my motivation to author picture books. I can write more children into the world and introduce them to our grandchildren.  I can name, incorporate family traits and idiosyncrasies, and hit the backspace when they get too sassy or unmanageable.

The other morning I awoke to a dream that my husband and I had adopted a little boy.  Before I was coherent I murmured to my husband, who was in the bathroom, out of earshot, “Thank you so much.  I LOVE him.”

Now I realize the boy I’d “adopted” is the protagonist in my latest picture book manuscript.  Like my own kids — the more I nurture him, the more I know and love him.

To add flesh to my picture book characters and story, I’ve made a dummy for each manuscript.  (A dummy is a 32-page mock book to assist in structuring a story.) Since I’m artistically-challenged, I use Microsoft Publisher to incorporate clipart.  This serves me well to create reader-friendly  stories for “test drives” with my grandchildren and others.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately — depending upon the day), there’s no clipart that truly depicts my family – even those adopted in my dreams.  Ironically, the clipart protagonist I chose (from has red hair.  No one in our immediate family has red hair. Perhaps I chose a red-head because I didn’t want anyone to recognize who he might be in real life.  Or, maybe I’m subconsiously fashioning him after a young Napolean Dynamite NapoleonDynamiteor my red-headed cousin that I haven’t seen since childhood: Bobby Bill.  Hmmm…come to think of it…

Just yesterday I tried changing the color of my protagonist’s skin and hair because I thought potential agents might be looking for a more exotic approach.  Then I realized how silly that was.  When the “real” illustrator gets ahold of my stories, the characters will look exactly as they are meant to look.  It’s like giving birth.  Initially, I won’t know who’ll come out, but I’ll trust the one/One fashioning them for life in the world.  After all, I already love my “children” before I behold their faces, because I’ve already held them in my heart.

Sometimes a character is really mini me (an older, female Napoleon Dynamite). One manuscript is about terminal tardiness.  The story line came to me after pulling on two locked doors minutes after closing time.  First, I stood at the post office door with a time-sensitive document, then at the optical office across town with old, worn contacts in my eyes.  All of the fruitless running made me late for a dinner date with my husband. I hated the feeling of disappointing him with my carelessness.

Interestingly, our daughter thinks the story’s about her brother, our oldest son.  (Sorry son – it’s in the genes.)

Our granddaughters point at the characters in a story and argue, “I’m her.”

“No, I’m her!”


“How ‘bout all of us be her?”

It’s fun to see the character(s) they most identify with – and to learn why. (Usually it’s whoever’s wearing pink.)

I’m excited by the opportunity to create new possibilities, relive lessons learned, investigate ones not learned, and ensure happy endings where they’re missing.  The best thing about writing children’s books?  The children we create can stay children forever.  And, they can live on — long after we’re gone — so our children’s children can enjoy them, too.