Mother’s Day Mementos

This Sunday, May 14th, is Mother’s Day, and I imagine that millions of little kids will be making something special for their mothers to show their love for them. As mothers, we get bombarded with art projects that are so precious we want to keep them all for eternity. Each has deep meaning for us and marks unique moments and insights into our child’s development. But alas, saving every keepsake for our lifetimes can become difficult.

I’ve got a scrapbook of my favorite pieces of my daughter’s artwork and a few crafts that she made for me remaining where I can visit them. Two favorites are a paperweight and a picture frame she made with plaster, beads, and broken glass. She was about 11 when she made them, and she crafted them in secret in our basement using my art supplies, which she did ask permission to use. I was sternly instructed not to snoop or bother her, and she knew what she was doing. I was shocked when I later learned that she had gotten into the plaster. I suppose she had learned how to mix it by watching me use it. And most miraculously, she never left a mess for me to be concerned with! This was my first clue that she was a fearless artist with clear visions of what she would create and determined not to let things stand in her path. I still have those two gifts, and every time I look at them, I see that delightful little girl and marvel at the wonderful woman she’s become. She’s still determined, creative, fearless, and has a clear vision of what is possible.

Last year, after my mother passed away, I spent several months cleaning out her house and packing up her things. It was such a bittersweet passage—painful to put away her life forever, but so dear in being able to remember her in every space and item. One of the things I came across was a small gift for her that my brother David made in kindergarten. It was a clay sculpture of a seal. It was so primitive and clever – just a simple thick, snake-like lump of clay with a raised head, two eyes, and a crooked smile. The glazing was splotchy white and looked like the fur of a baby seal. This happy little fellow sat in the kitchen window above the sink for a very long time. I would dry dishes for Mom after supper and admire my brother’s handiwork. My mom liked changing the décor in our house each season and often put flowers and pretty little colored glass vases on this same windowsill. But always, the little clay seal would return to his place in the window again and again. And I know this is because she loved it so much. So, as I packed up her possessions, I made sure that the seal was returned to David. I hope he realizes what it meant to her. She cherished and protected it for 52 years.

This month’s book review is for Heart Print: How Not to Foozle Mom’s Gift by my friend, Carrie Sharkey Asner, illustrated by Monika Marzec. It’s about a child who wants to make something extraordinary for her mother. You can read about it under Recommended Reads.

And for a simple but heartwarming Mother’s Day craft, check out my Twine-wrapped Heart Bookmark under the Activities section.

Rock Your World

There’s a rock in my backyard, a big mysterious pinkish rock that has a story to tell. It came with the property. And I’m pretty positive that one of the previous homeowners picked it up and dragged it home with the feeling that they’d made an important discovery. They were likely intrigued or inspired by it and determined to know its story. I know this because that’s how it has been with me and my rock discoveries. This is how it goes with rock lovers.

My love for rocks began when I was a child when my family traveled west on vacation. I was overcome with a curiosity for rocks I saw in clear mountain streams or glistening along a path. I’d heard about the Colorado gold rush, and we were passing through Colorado on the way to my uncle’s home in Utah. I was sure I could find gold, too, if allowed. But instead, what I found was pyrite, also known as “fool’s gold,” which pleased me every bit as much as any gold could. Throughout that trip, I picked up all sorts of rocks in all sizes and squirreled them away beneath the front seats of our family’s car, to the point that my father began to complain that he could feel sizeable rocks beneath his driver’s seat. At one point, he reached under the seat, pulled out some rather large rocks I’d collected, and told me not to pick up any more enormous stones, for they would eventually weigh down the car. It was hard to stop, for I had discovered granite, quartz, mica, and more! And I’ve never stopped loving rocks. 

To this day, I still need to stop at rock shops on our travels. I recently dragged my husband to a rock and gem show on one of February’s last cold wintry days. It was a fabulous escape on a windy, grey day. We watched rockhounds crack open geodes and entered a little black tent to see rocks and minerals that glowed in the dark with neon colors. We examined petrified wood and pondered wondrous fossilized fish and insects.

Apparently, the gene for rock-loving has been passed on to my family. When Katie, my daughter, was small, I took her to a park for a hike in the woods. We only had an hour to explore before we needed to be elsewhere. I had looked forward to some time on a forest path, but instead, we spent 45 minutes in the freshly graveled parking lot, where she discovered a cache of crinoid stems – which we picked by the handfuls to take home. I also remember her spending her birthday money and allowance on coprolites and minerals at flea market rock and gem booths. My granddaughter, Jaycie, also loves rocks and has begun a small collection. Her stepfather, Reid, knows of a secret place along a creek filled with geodes, and he takes her and her mother to collect them occasionally. As a result, they have some rather spectacular specimens lined up along the steps of their porch and in the kitchen and laundry room windows of their home.

Children are naturally drawn to rocks. They love to climb them, build imaginary worlds with them, throw them at targets, and plunk them in the water. At the end of my block is a small park with a creek running through the center. The stream is lined with rocks to help control erosion. Every day, when a nearby school lets out, numerous children can be scattered up and down the stream, climbing the rocks, searching for treasures, and discovering Mother Nature’s rocky mysteries.

Rock collecting is also a fabulous hobby for families to enjoy together. The quest to find different rocks from different regions of the country makes for some exciting adventures and teaches us about the diversity of the landscape. In addition, learning about geological forces behind rock formations helps us understand Earth’s processes over time and view the miraculous results with enlightened eyes.

This month, I’ve reviewed What Can You Do with a Rock? by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Katie Kath. You can read more about it under Recommended Reads.

And for a rock-related craft activity, check out my rock collage pictures in the Activities section of my blog.

Life’s Happy Little Accidents

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s when the popular painter Bob Ross had a PBS television series. His clever witticisms are well known and have made a big comeback in recent years as younger generations discover the magic in his positive outlook on life. One of my favorite Ross expressions is “happy little accidents,” which he used in explaining that our mistakes are just opportunities for growth and discovery.

I’m not proud that I have “perfectionist” tendencies. On the contrary, I view this part of my make-up as a curse I have battled all my life, even in childhood. When others around me seemed to roll and laugh with the punches, I took perceived failures too much to heart. It has only been since my retirement that I take life a little less seriously and can laugh when things fall short of my expectations.

At this age, I’m glad, so many things didn’t go as I had initially planned, for if they had, I would’ve missed out on so much – large and small, that has become so special to me.

Many things have occurred unintended in my life – broken relationships, job failures, parenting mistakes, and the consequences of being a stubborn hard-head. But despite it all, I’m okay with it and not unsatisfied with who I am now. Of course, I could be better and will continue to aspire. But I am no longer devastated when things don’t turn out as I wish.

I’m reminded of a day when a close friend and I drove to another town for shopping and dining. One of us thought we knew a shortcut through the country and promptly became lost. My friend was upbeat and confident the road would eventually lead to where we wanted to go. But I was impatient and anxious, partly because I had a full bladder and somewhat because my gas tank was nearly empty. I grew increasingly agitated, but suddenly, we came around a curve by a horse farm. And for as far as I could see, old worn cowboy boots had been turned upside down and placed on top of all the fence posts. It was unique, personal, and charming. Someone had been raising horses and farming for a very long time. The boots may have been placed on the posts’ tops to help slow their eroding from rain, snow, and ice. But the boots also personalized the landscape and told the landowner’s story. We loved it; the image has stuck with me for several years. Being lost led to a cool sight.

Another “happy accident” I had was learning to make homemade mayonnaise. I was in a hurry and foolishly trying to prepare the recipe without wearing my reading glasses. When I meant to grab the clear bottle of white vinegar, I grabbed the clear bottle of almond extract that sat next to it and did not read the labels. My mayonnaise concoction looked beautiful, but something was terribly wrong when I spread it on the sandwich. It didn’t smell at all like mayonnaise. It was almond-flavored mayonnaise that was a disagreeable disaster. My husband has never let me forget it. And though I was embarrassed and disappointed in myself then, we have since enjoyed many good laughs over the incident. That failure led to some happy laughter, which I consider a sweet blessing.

When my granddaughter, Jaycie, was 3 or 4, I remember her trying to draw something and becoming upset because she couldn’t make the image she had in her head. She pouted and threw her pencil. I told her not to be hard on herself and that mistakes could be made interesting. To demonstrate, I took some scrap paper and had her make squiggly “mistakes” on it. Then I turned the paper this way and that and added my own lines to turn her squiggles into silly creatures. Her smile filled my heart, and I’d made my point. I then took a turn to make a squiggle and passed the paper back to her, and she put her spin on it. We went back and forth like this, inventing our own “squiggle game,” which we’ve played for many years. It became a fun way to pass the time when waiting for things, like our turn to be called at the doctor’s office or for our food to be served in a restaurant.

No matter what age we are, learning to make lemonade from life’s lemons is necessary for us to develop more flexible thinking. Indeed, everything we’ve ever known is rooted in some failure. Just days ago, my five-month-old granddaughter, Hallie, attempted to reach for a toy, stretching and whimpering in frustration. Then, much to her surprise, she rolled over and was closer to where she wanted to be. She’d figured out how to roll over, albeit accidentally. But the revelation stuck. Since then, she’s deliberately and repeatedly put herself in the same position until now; finally, she can roll over at will — a significant turning point in her development that will lead to many more achievements.

This month, I’ve reviewed an excellent interactive board book on “happy little accidents” called Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg, which you can read about under Recommended Reads. And under Activities, check out my “Squiggle Challenge” worksheet to encourage your “outside-the-box” thinking skills.

Love –  Spelling it Out for Others

This month, I want to talk about something that has become a great source of sadness and a peeve for me – the demise of letter writing, particularly the sending of thank-you notes. Now, please don’t dismiss me as a dinosaur who can’t roll with the changes of a world filled with technological advances and the immediacy of sending quick texts and emojis. I keep step with it all and text and emoji with the best of them. But I miss and long for a good old-fashioned newsy letter in the mailbox. Day after day, I jump up when the mailman stops by, and day after day, I’m disappointed when I find only bills or sale flyers. 

Until about 25 years ago, I often received letters from family and friends. Great newsy letters telling of how my loved ones spent their days and any surprising news they had to share. These letters made me feel like a bug on the wall, hanging out with my loved ones and being a part of their lives, even though sometimes the news might seem mundane to others. Here’s an example. Though just a phone call away, my grandmother and mother used to write to me once or twice a month. They would tell me about new recipes they were going to try and include the recipe in the letter, or relayed news of old friends who had stopped by for visits, or report anything strange or different that had happened in the community– such as tornado sirens that woke them in the night, or a pet dog that had wandered off and wasn’t seen for days. One of my favorite letters from my grandmother was sent to me when I was in my late 20s, and she shared that an old friend of hers had stopped by to see if she wanted to go squirrel hunting with them. And she did! I knew my grandmother liked fishing with her sisters, but I had no idea she was also a squirrel hunter, let alone ate squirrels! It was a big revelation, and just when I thought I knew everything about her.

And there was more to the letters than just their thoughts and activities. Sometimes the letters carried the faint smell of their perfume. And their handwriting is forever etched in my mind. The way they formed their letters and signed their names, even the occasional misspelling of a word, were and still are as significant as the memories I have of the details of their faces. So while I no longer have access to those precious faces and voices, I still have some letters. I periodically get them out when I need to remember and feel close to people who are now far away from me.

Another thing I loved about letter-writing was receiving thoughtful thank-you notes acknowledging gifts I gave, meals I cooked, or anything I tried to do as a thoughtful expression of my love for people. It’s not so much that I needed to be thanked, as it is the happiness that such a note reveals that I made a connection, that someone saw my effort or was touched by something as the result of my actions. Acknowledgment of our outreach efforts sends the message that we did something good, valued, and meaningful. That act alone encourages us to keep doing for others. We all need to make it a practice to think more of others. There is joy in doing so and joy to be found in stepping away from ourselves. This is important to teach our children. Because, in loving others and expressing that love, we also receive love for ourselves. It’s a beautiful circle.

So folks, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Let’s write a good old-fashioned love letter to someone and thank them for being in our lives. Don’t text it. Don’t send an emoji. Instead, write it out on paper, mail it, and make it a habit. And I guarantee that simple thing will burn into someone’s heart. Check out this month’s Recommended Reads section for a review of Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note by Courtney Sheinmel and Susan Verde, Illustrated by Heather Ross. And in my Activities section of the blog, you can find a Wax-Resist Valentine Card activity that’s fun to try for all ages.

Pet Interests

This month my post was inspired by my book review for The Grumpy Goat (See Recommended Reads), about a family that adopts a rescued goat as a pet but finds that owning the goat isn’t at all what they’d hoped for or expected. Such is the journey of being a pet owner. 

Thoughts of having cute, cuddly companions to comfort and delight us can be impossibly inviting, but what happens when things go awry? Countless devoted pet owners muddle through the mayhem, finding ways to adapt, or train their pets, enriching their lives in the process. Yet other pet owners concede defeat and surrender their pets to maintain sanity. 

Today I’m remembering my father, who revealed that he once owned a monkey– a capuchin, I believe, like the one featured in the movie Night at the Museum. Dad was a teenager then, and his girlfriend had initially owned the monkey, but it wasn’t working out for her. He wanted to help and thought it would be cool to own a monkey, so he offered to take it off her hands. I presume this decision was much to the exasperation of my grandparents.

I know few details of his experience, but I know that monkey business ensued only for a brief period. Dad grew up in a quiet little Iowa bungalow with barely enough room for him, his parents, three sisters, and a parakeet, let alone a primate. So the monkey had to stay in the basement, which was rather large and had windows to look out but was nonetheless an oppressive environment for such an intelligent and high-strung creature. Grandma kept her wringer washing machine in the basement and had clotheslines strung from one end of the room to the other for drying laundry. The monkey played on the clotheslines, swinging back and forth. I can only imagine Grandma putting up with this for a short time. I suspect that the monkey was gone by laundry day.

The only other thing I know about Dad’s pet monkey was that it would bite — a situation that could not end well for anyone. Dad wasn’t allowed to keep the monkey for long, and though I don’t know where the poor creature went to live next, I wouldn’t be surprised if another young friend offered to take it off his hands. I hope, though, that somehow it found its way to a zoo.

You never know what kind of animal will find its way into your life and how it will change things. I’ve had many wonderful pets over the years and a few that weren’t so wonderful. One of the most enjoyable and surprisingly entertaining pets was a little red-eared slider turtle who displayed unique climbing talents and nearly escaped her aquarium. Two of my least favorite pets were a pair of roosters – Charlie and Norman, who were quite handsome but terrorized me daily when I had to collect eggs from the henhouse. I lived in constant fear of being spurred by them, and they cleverly worked together in their pursuit of me, coming from opposite sides like bats out of hell.

Besides all my family and friends who have had dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, turtles, fish, and farm animals, I’ve also known people with ferrets, a hedgehog, tarantulas, alpacas, hissing cockroaches, and camels. All of whom, I’m sure, have entertaining stories to tell. Perhaps, you, too, have amusing pet stories to share. But, no matter our experiences with pets, we can probably agree that pets challenge us and open up our worlds in ways we never imagined.

Home-made for the Holidays

I come from a long line of “makers” – a family that always made things from scratch and enjoyed creative outlets. Part of this tradition was rooted in poverty and necessity. As one would expect, my Depression-era grandparents looked at every scrap of fabric, wood, paper, etc., as having the potential to become something useful down the road.

But my family was more than a bunch of opportunistic recyclers– they recycled with style. My grandmother Johnson turned flour sacks into colorful quilts. My dad fashioned some old wooden utility spools into a backyard playhouse for my brothers and me. And I remember my mom once crafting with old Reader’s Digest magazines– carefully folding pages, spraying paint, and adding doily wings and Styrofoam balls to make “angels.” It may now sound silly, but they looked pretty cute. She also pressed flowers throughout the year and then used them later to craft pictures and cards. My brothers and I tumbled and polished rocks to make rings, and keychains and baked liquid rubber in little molds to make various toys. Watching my family craft, but better yet, crafting together, was always a joyous experience – a time for bonding coupled with developing our creative skills.

To this day, I still love making things. Even though I have the means to buy gifts or the things I need, I love giving things made from the heart. And the time I spend making things is meditative and freeing.

I sell many of my creations at occasional craft fairs and in a little booth at a nearby gift shop. While I’ll never become rich from these sales, I do make enough to keep supporting my crafting hobbies which pleases me greatly. I’ve sold my paintings, photographs, notecards, beaded jewelry, ceramics, food gifts in jars, beeswax candles, baked goods, floral arrangements, knitted and crocheted items, my self-published children’s books, and more. And every sale gives me a great feeling of accomplishment and makes me feel seen and appreciated. I also feel a connection to like-minded folks.

I know it’s a busy world, and parents are pulled in so many directions, but if possible, I urge folks to carve out time to make something with their children. Doing so will be a wonderful time for bonding and memory-making. And who knows, you may boost your child’s self-esteem as they discover their talents, self-sufficiency, and the joy of giving a gift from the heart to someone they love.

This month, I’ve made Peppermint Sugar Scrub and bags of Holiday “Puppy Chow” Snack Mix to give as gifts. These are easy things to do with children. You can learn more about this on my Activities page. And under Recommended Reads, you will find my December book review for Little Mole’s Christmas Gift by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Sally Garland.

Celebrating a Success

Greetings Friends!

I’m a little late in posting this month. Honestly, it’s been such a busy fall, and I don’t know where the time has gone.  I’m sure many of you can relate.

This month, rather than post an essay on my musings about life, I’m sharing an interview I did with my author friend, Carrie Sharkey Asner.  Carrie and I are writing critique partners and members of Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Challenge – a group that tries to write one children’s story per month. Hedlund’s 12 x 12 website is home to many wonderful writers and offers authors the support of a community of experienced, creative mentors.

I’m so proud of Carrie because she has recently achieved her dream of becoming a published author. Writing children’s books is not an easy thing, as many presume it is. Becoming an author involves a lot of study and hours dedicated to researching ideas, writing, revising, and obtaining feedback from peers and professionals. Then beyond that, there is the entire design of the book and business end of things, which is considerable. Carrie has bravely and cheerfully tackled it all; what she has accomplished is something to be celebrated. Carrie’s debut picture book, Blueberry Blue Bubbles, is fun to read with loads of playful alliteration, delightfully illustrated, and would make a lovely gift for a little one who is just learning how to blow bubbles with bubblegum.

Below you can learn more about Carrie’s writing journey.


Hi, Carrie. Congratulations on your newly published book. I’m excited for you and want to share your success with our readers and other budding writers.  Let’s start with you telling us a bit about yourself.


I grew up on a farm in Central Illinois – the oldest of 6. I graduated with a biology degree from St. Ambrose University and then went to the University of Illinois for medical school. My Family Medicine training was in Peoria, IL, and then my husband and I moved to Rockford. I’m the proud Mom of 3 grown men and have a strong interest in STEM education.


How did you get interested in writing children’s books?


A change in jobs gave me more time than I was used to, and I was looking for a new hobby. I had a middle-grade magic story idea, but when I started researching it, I found fun facts I thought would make great picture books and revised my focus.


When did your writing journey begin, and how did you go about developing your writing skills?


I started writing a little over a year ago and realized there was so much to learn. I joined SCBWI (The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), and my local chapter told me of Susanna Hill’s course, 12 x12, and Story Teller Academy. I also read dozens of books on storytelling/writing and any free information I could find online. I joined a few critique groups and loved both the feedback and the friendship I have found through those.


You’ve recently debuted your first book, Blueberry Blue Bubbles. Can you tell us something about it?


The book is about a little boy blowing bubbles with his blueberry blue gum. The suspense grows as he blows the bubble bigger and bigger.  And we all know that bubbles can only grow so big before something happens. The book has a lot of humor and alliteration, which I think readers will enjoy.  I’m hoping it’s a story children will want to read again and again.


How did you get the idea for your story, and where do you find inspiration?


Everything I read discussed using very few adjectives/adverbs and strong verbs/nouns instead. In reaching for my inner child, I decided that “they can’t tell me what to do” and wrote a really bad draft of a really big bubble that became a really, really big bubble, etc.  It was obvious that it was not the way to write that story, and I kept tweaking it. I added alliteration. It gradually became the biggest, beaming, balancing, bouncy, bumpy, bendy, bigger blueberry-blue bubble. I also added animals and the different sounds they make to the story.


You chose to self-publish your book. Tell us about that process and what the experience was like.


There are so many little parts to learn about self-publishing. I took a 12-week self-publishing course, and even then, it was a lot to learn and complete. To publish the best book I could, I hired a couple of editors for feedback and a graphic designer to bring the illustrations and text together and format it properly. I am still trying to work on marketing and advertising.


The illustrations in Blueberry Blue Bubbles are so much fun and capture the excitement of blowing bubbles. Tell us about your illustrator and how you found him.


I love my illustrator – Marcin Piwowarski! I spent hundreds of hours looking at different illustrators on SCBWI, Instagram, Facebook, Reedsy, Fiverr, etc. I would save the ones I liked, then go back later to see if my tastes had changed. I kept coming back to Marcin’s illustrations – they had the perfect fit for the book. I finally got enough nerve to email and ask if he would be willing to work with me, and he agreed! I was so excited each time he sent a drawing. He came up with some ideas that I would never have thought of but helped the story flow.


You are also in the process of self-publishing a second book. Can you tell us a little about it?


Yes, Heart Print – How to Not Foozle Mom’s Gift is with the graphic designer. It’s a sweeter story with some fun elements. It’s about a child that makes multiple attempts to make her Mom a birthday gift, but each time the present gets foozled.  Then she makes an accidental discovery that leads to simple fun and a free way to show love.


What are the most significant things you’ve learned about the self-publishing experience?


I have learned that writing the book is the easiest part. I am happy for the freedom to hire the illustrators I wanted since that was important to me. There is a tremendous self-publishing population online, and they are always open to help.


What have been the biggest rewards of your writing journey?


I was surprised that I had made such good friends online and especially in my critique groups. People genuinely want to help others. I have learned so much, but I have to admit holding an actual book of my story felt amazing.


Where can we purchase or learn more about your books?


Thanks for asking! You can order my book through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Thank you, Carrie. Congratulations on achieving your dream of becoming an author.

– – – –

To learn more about Carrie and her books, check out her website at:

Fall Writing Frenzy

One of my favorite writer’s contests is underway, The Fall Writing Frenzy, hosted by author Lydia Lukidis and literary agent Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez. Each year children’s authors are invited to write a fall-themed story of 200 words or less that ties into a GIF provided by the contest organizers. Winners of the contest receive fabulous prizes, such as personal critiques from published authors or literary agents. Participation in the contest is a wonderful way to connect with other writers and grow one’s writing skills. Plus, it’s just plain fun. Best wishes to all contestants, and a special thanks to Lydia and Kaitlyn for organizing this event and all of the prize donors! To learn more about this contest, you can check out Lydia’s blog at: or Kaitlyn’s blog at: . Below is my entry and the GIF image I selected to accompany it.

Pumpkin Fun

by Julie Lerczak


When autumn winds begin to howl,  

and alley cats with arched backs yowl,                                 

when black bats swoop and flit about,          

let’s grab our friends and head on out.         


We’ll tromp and tiptoe, twist and twine,      

through fields of prickly tangled vines,         

and find a Rumbo jumbo patch,                     

of perfect pumpkins, we can snatch.              


Some may be round and very small

or dented, leaning, strangely tall.                 

They may be smooth or wear big bumps.     

Their stems could curl or look like stumps.   


We’ll cart them home and use our tools      

to make them monsters, spooks and ghouls. 

We’ll draw and scoop, then carve and shape

designs that make us gasp and gape.


We’ll stack them high and place just so.       

Get ready, set… now see them glow!           

Each gruesome, drooling, grinning face       

will razzle-dazzle this old place.                    


With jack-o-lanterns shining bright,              

we’ll pumpkin party through the night,        

by roasting seeds and gulping juice, 

then trick-or-treating on the loose.              


By crack of dawn, when we are done,                      

all tuckered from our pumpkin fun,              

the neighbor critters join for feasts              

devouring our pumpkin beasts.         


Wild Ways

I just finished reviewing a delightful children’s picture book called Moon by Alison Oliver, which you can read about under the Recommended Reads section of my blog. The story reminds us that everyone has a need to be a little bit wild. What “wild” means from one person to the next, no doubt varies considerably. For me being “wild” means having new adventures with few or no boundaries, exploring my imagination, and enjoying challenges that teach me what I’m made of. Everyone needs self-knowledge, self-reliance, self-confidence, and self-love to feel good and happily function. Such things are derived from making time to discover our “wild” selves. And, of course, an excellent place to get in touch with one’s inner wildness is in the outdoors.

So what is wild about you? How do you make time to nurture your wild self? And when did you first experience a feeling of being wild? For me, it began between the ages of four and ten in those ancient times, the 1960s, when children were encouraged to play outdoors whenever they weren’t in school. I’ve previously written about these wonder years and how they fostered my love for nature. This period of youthful outdoor play also did much for my psychological development. It was my time to explore the world alone and test my bravery or discernment, unsupervised. More importantly, I learned what makes my heart and life feel full.

By the time I entered Junior High, those times exploring outdoors fell by the wayside as I began socializing with friends at dances, skating parties, and afterschool sports. It wasn’t until my early 30s that I again longed for wildness. It began with a desire to garden and raise my own vegetables, which led to an interest in canning and pickling. Growing my own flowers led me to cut fresh bouquets and dry, press, and craft with flowers. Growing herbs led me to experiment with cooking with them. In my 40s, my interest shifted to water gardening and raising koi, goldfish, lilies, and lotus flowers. This interest led to my noticing lotus and other plants in native wetlands. Learning about wetlands interested me in frogs, turtles, shorebirds, and waterfowl. My interest in these things led to an interest in animal hibernations, migrations, and impacts on their habitats. As one interest beget another, I looked forward to each season with greater anticipation. But anxiously awaiting the magic of each season also makes me realize how quickly time goes by. There will never be enough days to see, love, and absorb all the wild I crave.

The older I get, the wilder I want to be. I want to go barefoot daily, let my hair grow to the floor, forage for food, paint, draw or photograph nature, and sit and listen to the insects and birds around me.

Of course, I can’t do all this, but I can nurture the wild me in other ways. For example, in my pottery classes, whenever I shape a pot from a lump of clay, I think, “the earth and I made this.” Though I no longer live in the country, I grow many vegetables, herbs, and flowers in tiny spaces and still enjoy harvests and bouquets from May through October. My husband and I raise bees with staff from the local park district. We do it not just to harvest and sell honey but to interact with the bees and witness the intricacies of their lives. I even forage a bit for wild foods. Most recently, we found a giant “hen-of-the-woods mushroom,” and just this week, we ate a paw paw fruit, both of which were splendid treats. And daily walks almost always include interesting wildlife sightings.

I will never be as wild as those who swim with sharks, climb Mount Everest, or even hike the Appalachian Trail. But I’m wild and determined like a dandelion growing between the cracks of a sidewalk. And I love that part of me. The “wild” part of me has gotten me through many tough times and led me to even more wonderful times.

Everyday Heroes

Recently I was asked to review a new children’s book, Tell Me a Story, Babushka, by Carola Schmidt. You can read my review under the Recommended Reads section of this blog. The story is very moving and relatable and has inspired this month’s essay topic – everyday heroes.

In this age, theaters are constantly debuting movies about superheroes who overcome evil and adversity with magical abilities. While these stories have great entertainment value and often have good messages, it makes me wonder, who are your heroes? Who is mine? And how might our children answer that question?

To me, there are many types of heroes. Some are obvious, like those who fight crime and save lives. But, of course, many others help keep our world, our businesses, our country, our communities, and our families afloat. Many go unnoticed in their efforts– including the quiet, unsung heroes beneath our noses who share a roof with us.

Heroes can be found in every family. Perhaps even you are one. Real heroes don’t wear red capes or have superhuman strength. Instead, their powers are perseverance, patience, faith, and forward-thinking vision.

When I think about my own family members, I see a hero in every one of them. Their heroic actions are both small and large. For example, my husband is a daily hero for providing constant love, kindness, companionship, and support in our marriage.

And my daughter is an everyday hero in being a nurse, a mother, a wife, a homemaker, and a community leader. My neighbors are heroes. One helps her husband with his complex health issues. Two others care for beloved pets struggling with end-of-life problems.

Then too, there are those very young heroes in our world who’ve survived traumatic childhood events. I’m now thinking of Ukrainian children trying to make sense of the senseless attacks on their families and villages. And for that matter, all the child heroes, in all countries, throughout time, who have suffered, endured or survived warfare, starvation, separation from family, rape, injury, famine, homelessness, and so forth.

In my own family, there have been many heroes. One of my great grandmothers witnessed a fight between two men that resulted in a murder. Fearing for her life and her child’s, she took her baby and ran off in a horse and wagon, seeking safety. Later she would testify in court and become a hero in helping to put the killer behind bars.

And both of my grandmothers were child heroes who endured great poverty and illness during their childhoods. Still, they managed to survive to become loving wives and mothers, nurturing others to grow, succeed and be their best, despite their own deep scars.

My family tree is filled with heroes — Irish immigrants fleeing famine, European immigrants fleeing religious persecution, and soldiers protecting and defending freedom in virtually every war. The list goes on and on.

Fred Rogers once said that his mother told him that when he was afraid about things happening in the world, to “look for the heroes.” Doing so is important because the brave acts of others give us hope and reassurance and mirror how we can proceed through tough times. Heroes believe there is something better out there and are willing to take risks to achieve such things for themselves, but more so for others and the greater good.

So, tell me, who are your heroes? And when you search for them, remember not to discount children or little old ladies and men who walk with canes, have poor eyesight and hearing, and frequently repeat themselves. A hero can be anybody, and all deserve to have their stories remembered.