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.

Babies, Books, and Bonding

So, Friday this week will be a big day for my family. My daughter and her husband are hosting a fish fry with fireworks. They will reveal the sex of our forthcoming grandchild, presumably via pink or blue explosions. I’m excited, of course, and anxious to know – not that it matters because I will love the child regardless of gender.

It has been eleven years since my daughter gave birth to our precious granddaughter, Jaycie. Jaycie expresses enthusiasm for becoming a sibling but also seems to be reserved. I’m sure she is constantly listening to her mother’s explanations of what is happening and trying to make sense of the whole reproductive process. Still, at 62, I can still barely wrap my own head around it.

So much hope is pinned on these little beings. I hope for this child’s health, well-being, happiness, security, self-esteem, education, safety, and a bright future. But I also hope for a close relationship, as I’ve had with Jaycie. There will never be another Jaycie. Her birth was life-changing not just for her mother but for her grandpa and me. 

There isn’t a day I don’t think of her a million times and talk to her in my head. And my husband, who never had children, never spent time around them, and was skeptical he could relate to a child, is putty in her hands. They share an exceptional bond that has been beautiful to watch. We had the great fortune of being very involved in the first four or five years of Jaycie’s upbringing. This meant the world to me because I worked full-time as a young mother and had to leave my daughter with babysitters and daycare centers. I missed her first steps, first words, and first tooth and wept every time I’d pick her up, and a caregiver would relate the news of her significant growth achievements. Being able to help watch Jaycie enabled me to experience what I missed with her mother. I got to be mother and grandmother at once; it was a golden time.

I already know that things with this new grandchild will be different. My daughter and her family live about an hour away. She and her husband are busy people with multiple jobs and large property to maintain. Jaycie is now in middle school and active in dance classes, 4-H, and raising pets. 

Our new grandchild will go to daycare during the day. I’m sure evenings and most weekends will be a flurry of activity for their family, making it challenging for Tom and me to have bonding time with the new baby.  

Even though I accept that things with this grandchild will be different, I still think about how we will grow close and how that might happen. I was very close to my grandparents. One set of grandparents lived nearby, and I saw them every week or so. The others lived in Iowa, and I only saw them about every three or four months. Even so, I felt a bond with them as well. My brothers and I grew close to our distant grandparents by staying with them for a week each summer – happy times about which I’ve previously written.

One way this new grandchild and I can bond is through books. So I will make sure this child always has books to enjoy. When I see him or her, I will always make a point to read a book. I will give a book for every birthday and holiday. And when my grandchild comes to my house, I will always have wonderful books available, and we will make trips to the library or local bookshop.

Sharing books has been among the many ways we’ve bonded with Jaycie. And a love of reading is a gift my family gave to me. My paternal grandparents gave me and my brothers our father’s and aunts’ old series sets of The Hardy Boys, The Box Car Children, and Nancy Drew mysteries. Summers were spent devouring these. And my maternal grandparents gave us an old set of encyclopedias which I loved combing through, reading about fantastical things. Mom always signed us up for the library’s summer reading program. And we also had the weekly ritual of my father reading us the comics page from the Sunday paper. I loved sitting on his lap, studying the comics, and listening to him do the characters’ voices.

Books spark imaginations and open doors to thinking, understanding, innovation, and possibilities. Planning for a baby, of course, requires purchasing diapers, outfitting nurseries, and lining up a pediatrician and childcare. But I think we also need to plan on providing books from day one in a child’s life. I suspect I will become close to this new grandchild in several unforeseen ways. But, yes, definitely, there will be books that bind us. There has to be.

In keeping with this month’s theme of babies, I’ve reviewed a series of books on a sibling relationship by Lori Nichols that you can read about under Recommended Reads. And under Activities, you will find a matching worksheet on animal baby names. I made some fascinating discoveries researching animal baby names which I plan to develop a manuscript about. For example, a baby platypus is called a puggle, and a baby puffin is called a puffling. What fun. Who knew? Enjoy!

Memories of Summers Past

School’s out! Let the fun begin! That’s how I always viewed summer vacation when I was a kid.

Growing up, my family didn’t always have extra money, so traveling to exciting destinations during summer break was a rare thing. Instead, most summers were spent at home, playing in the backyard, riding our bikes, watching cartoons, swimming, and going to girl scout camp or my brother’s softball games. The days were long and lazy, spent barefoot exploring outdoors from early morning until dark. We danced in the rain, chased fireflies at night, built forts, climbed trees, faithfully participated in the library’s summer reading program, and enjoyed picnics at the public park.

Each summer, a special treat was to spend a week staying with each set of grandparents. When visiting my maternal grandparents, who lived nearby, my brothers and I were given a week to be their sole guests. And when visiting my paternal grandparents, who lived a few hours away in Iowa, all three of us kids went for the same week’s visit. I would say that most summer “vacation trips” for my brothers and me were spent in this way.

At our grandparent’s houses, we didn’t exactly do anything super extraordinary like go to movies or waterparks (which didn’t exist at the time.)  We just lived alongside them and participated in their daily rituals, which were slightly different from our routines at home. The excitement for us was imagining living in another town, among other people, in different ways. Also, being our grandparents’ shadows for those weeks meant we heard about their childhood stories and how life had changed.

We were exposed to some of their older ways of living too. Like mowing the grass with an old-fashioned, motorless push mower, picking and canning fruits and vegetables from the garden, grandpa stuffing a smoking pipe with cherry tobacco, and grandma always wearing an apron when preparing food. Today’s children might find these things boring. Still, when I was young, it was magical and mysterious, and I looked forward to time with them every year. I think it’s important to give children opportunities to stay with family or even friends to be exposed to how others live, see new places, and imagine themselves in life beyond childhood as their parent’s pets.

My grandparents have been gone for decades now, and I’d give anything to step back to those simpler days and their sweet lives. Recently, my husband and I took a trip to South Dakota, and on the way, we passed through the town where my Grandfather and Grandmother Johnson had lived – my Dad’s boyhood home.

I made a quick detour from the highway bypassing the town and turned down a hazy but familiar old road – “Wildwood Drive.” Some things had changed on this street, but much of it was still recognizable. As I drew nearer and nearer to my grandparent’s old house, my heart raced, and tears began to form. I half expected to see my family waiting for me as if I was returning from a long trip.

At last, there it was. And I nearly missed it because things didn’t look quite right. The row of privet hedges that once surrounded the borders of their property had been removed. The grand old lilac bush at the corner of the house was gone—the flower beds filled with pink and purple petunias no longer bloomed along the foundation. Grandpa’s old Suburban wasn’t sitting in the driveway. The old awnings had disappeared from all the windows. And Grandma’s little concrete donkey pulling a cart no longer sat in the side yard.

Even more shocking was that the house had shrunk. It was only a fraction of the size of the old home that had once loomed larger than life in my mind – a home that could hold up to 13 people for a Thanksgiving dinner. Instead, the home that I was looking at was an imposter house that had sneakily taken the place of something special and sacred — a magic place that seemed to have evaporated. I was in total disbelief. The feeling that the past had been better and things should never have changed washed over me. Sometimes, it is hard to reconcile a beautiful beloved past with the reality of the present and to realize the power that LOVE has in shaping our memories and defining our truths.

As I turned the car back toward the highway, I took a long last look at 423 Wildwood Drive. The house that was there was simply a placeholder – an artifact of another time. The place I’d hoped to see no longer existed. But it’s safely being cared for in my mind, along with beautiful memories of my precious childhood summers.

And so it goes — we grow up and grow older. People and things we love change and eventually go away. But the happy news is that summer keeps returning, and new grandchildren are born for grandparents waiting with open arms every day.

For this month’s Recommended Reads, check out: The Frank Show, written and illustrated by David Mackintosh (Harper Collins/2012.) I recently discovered this book about a boy that has to take his grandfather to school for show and tell with the class, and he feels his grandfather is very dull, but boy does he get a surprise. It’s laugh-out-loud funny. And for some simple summer fun with the kids, use my Summer Fun Checklist found on the Activities page.