Richmond, Indiana

November and December 2019 were times of reverence in our home.

We had a deep respect and consideration for one another, and how we spent our time. We decorated and participated in holiday gatherings. We stopped while we still had energy. Which translates to our decorations were sparse but beloved, and we attended 2 delightful holiday parties.

For the first time, we did no huge meals, bought no gifts for anyone. We gave to charities, as is our tradition. Throughout the year as we found items that would delight family or friends, we wrapped and shared them immediately.

We spent each holiday in nature, meeting old and new friends. It was a rare warm December in Wisconsin, with mud instead of snow. The last weekend of the year we enjoyed the wedding of a dear friend in my hometown.

My husband and I were able to have extra days off work together. We took time for ourselves and each other. Family and friends shared time with us throughout these two months.

I smiled when talking with friends about new approaches they tried this year. One couple decided to have their adult children and grandchildren together in January instead of December for their holidays. No one had to rush from one set of family to another. When they were tired, they were able to return home to rejuvenate.

Another friend said whatever shopping was done by Thanksgiving, that was it for gifts. They had some decorations. She thoroughly enjoyed “not buying into the chaos and frenzy” this year.

May you find a balance to meet your needs for any holidays you celebrate.

Anytime Gift Ideas

Gift Ideas to ask for yourself, or consider giving to others any time of the year…

#Taking Care of yourself

AAA membership, even if the person only drives around town. It’s piece of mind to know they can call someone. Ask about annual limits of free towing per membership level just to make sure you get what is needed. I think miles towed free also varies per level of membership.

Vouchers for transportation options the person trusts.

Hire fix-it crew or handy-person to work on your to-do/ta-da lists. This is an excellent gift in many ways.

Search for adaptive equipment/tools for hobbies or chores, any activity that may be getting more frustrating or concerning for you. Or a loved one. Computer search results for adaptive hobby and chore tools have vastly improved.

Buy a few long-handled reachers to use in various places. Vertical open/close tend to work best for the kitchen, and for lower body dressing. I’d buy one with a magnet on the end, 2 sizes of divots/cut-outs on lower jaw piece (one holds pens, utensils, etc.). Often the horizontal closure reachers with circles (almost look like suction cups) work well in yards, garages, or in a storage room.

Fewer trips up a step ladder for people, especially anyone with balance, blood pressure, vision, strength issues, etc. A complete rearrange for how you want your kitchen cupboards/shelves, supply closets, or bedroom closets set up could be nice – as long as you’re involved in the process. This can be wonderful for people with shoulder, wrist, etc pain & limitations.

Ask for yourtools to be sharpened. Shovels, hand tools, all yard-work & gardening tools. Kitchen and sewing tools. If you have decreased sensation due to diabetic neuropathy, stroke, nerve damage, etc please buy cut proof gloves.

Jar openers, there are many to choose from. Tip: for anyone who has painful hands, the silicone or rubber gripping circles/pads don’t seem to help. For anyone with lower/altered vision you may need to try a few to figure out which may be intuitive/useful. The one below works well for many people.

Kuhn Rikon 5-in-1 Jar Opener, Opens Jar Lids, Beer Bottles, Soda Cans, 5Pull Tabs, Plastic Bottle Caps and Small Bottles

Shoes, vision, medications review, blood pressure are all related to falls prevention. Many communities now host Stepping On courses and other falls prevention learning.

Different memberships that people on limited budgets may need to reconsider, but that benefit them greatly. Gym or book clubs, other. Pharmaceuticals, could help contribute to that or gift card.

A bidet can be life changing for people with limited motion, skin concerns, and more.

Simple things like telescoping skin check mirrors with lights for people with neuropathy of their feet and lower legs. People with partial paralysis use these as well. The sooner things are noticed, the better.

Shower chair, transfer bench, grab bars that are well installed in the studs of the wall, hand-held shower. Long-handled lotion applicator, long-handled sponges are also well received gifts.

Adaptive writing tools can make a world of difference. The writing bird is one that many people with arthritis, or other writing challenges like. What is needed depends on the issues making writing more frustrating or harder.

Funny thing about monthly blogs, they’re every month (except July which I take off intentionally). I have many that are near ready but don’t seem finished yet, or don’t fit my current mood. So I’ll share this while I work on profound, entertaining and informative writing for next month.

I have a list of books from many areas of the globe that won 2019 Crystal Kite Awards, but that isn’t my information to put out there…so here is the link if you want to see amazing variety in outstanding books. This award is to books that represent excellence in the field of children’s literature, the Crystal Kites Awards are peer-selected, voted on by SCBWI members from local regions. Congratulations to our wonderful 2019 winners for books published in 2018, listed here by regional division. 

Ode To Clarice Jackson

As I write this, I have no clue how to create an ode, but Clarice Jackson is getting one written to her when I learn how.

Clarice Jackson was one of my first guardian angels that I set eyes on. Who knows what brought a woman of color to central Wisconsin in the early 1970’s, but as she was moving away with her family she took time to see a little white girl.

No one visited us. Our house was not open to visiting unless invited
and planned for well in advance. As a kindergartner I had full awareness
of this. I knew girls and women were less than men, extended and
immediate family reminded us weekly or more. I was third of three girls,
I knew I was wrong before I started.

Not looking like the models, not being thin, tall & gorgeous was
bad. Clarice was tall and beautiful, gorgeous in my eyes. But not thin.
And I already sensed not being white wasn’t right either. And she was
here to see me. She really wasn’t on good footing.

I’m pretty sure my eyes were as big as they could get. My young life was spent being invisible and being useful. If you’re not familiar with those sentiments, a sincere good for you. That’s not this story. So there stood Mrs. Jackson, my Sunday School teacher, right in the front hall. She came to see me. On top of that she had a gift for me. I’m pretty sure my expression didn’t hide all the “supposed to’s” she was tromping on. From her smile and graciousness, her focus only on me, as well as her insistence on seeing me herself, she did too.

Mrs. Clarice Jackson, wherever you are, thank you. You are loved, often remembered and cared about. I loved my Children’s Picture Bible. I carried and read that book that was almost as big as me, for years. I colored in that book, just a little. I still have it, and I have precious little from my growing-up years. I have never forgotten your spirit. Thank you for writing in the book, so I know you actually existed.

You might be asking, did Mrs. Jackson visit all the kids from class? Yup. I was the only child in that class at the small church. It was kind of dying out. The church was closed and torn down 3 or 4 years later.

Inspiration Abounds

These turn perceptions on their heads!

Perspective 2019

Perceptions, perspective, and hope guide my life. Participating and attending the 2019 NY SCBWI Conference greatly enriched my internal and external lives. I gained the perspective that far more time is spent in our life NOT having a book release or a book birthday, than having it. If I am in this business for 60 years I may have 378 books written (like Jane Yolen) but most of my writing will have had rejection slips and bumpy journeys to being printed. Some work will be put aside to percolate for a while, or stay silent. Whether author or illustrator, this could be true.

My journey may result in one, or many published books. Exploring bookstores in NYC strengthened my perceptions and perspective. There were entire stores of only children’s books, with shelves up to the ceiling of children’s books, ladders needed to reach them all. No wonder we need to research, and research some more; we need to revise, revise, and revise some more in order to stand out, to create our best work. Then we’ll search & search until we get a great match with an agent and publisher.

No one benefits from a mismatch. No one: no author, agent, editor, nor illustrator takes up a project hoping it fails or never sees the light of day. At 2019 NY SCBWI I listened to agents and editors all weekend share what life in the publishing world is like for them. How their hopes and dreams connected with your book (author and illustrator) flounder or die when others decline it being published. They’ve felt tingles or a spark about this project, they’ve asked difficult questions and committed to at least a year or more of living with this project. But it isn’t to be. AND they have to now tell the agent or illustrator or author, and their entire team that this one didn’t get picked.

We’ve heard of the 100’s and 1000’s of letters that cross agents and editors desks weekly, monthly, annually. No wonder so many more books are written than published, whether self published, traditionally published, or somewhere in between.

May you have a firm foundation for your life. May you explore, see and live so you have perspective and hopes. May your perceptions, preparations, perspiration, and plans be what they need to be for your hopes and dreams to be fulfilled. May you have grace, support, and hope to go on when projects are declined. May you have perspective to listen when you are told your project is good or great, but a mismatch. May you listen with your heart, mind and spirit when suggestions are given that will carry the project along to your vision for it. May you have the strength and energy to explore the suggestions to see what that end result looks and feels like. Then you, the artist, decides if that is your story or you stick with the original work.

Dreams and hopes are fluid. Mismatches happen. Not everything we create is destined for others to see. If your hope falters or deserts you, please reach out and tell someone. Ask for support. To use a friends’ wonderful analogy: sitting on the curb a while is fine. Feel, be, and breathe. Rest a while. If you find yourself slipping into the gutter or being carried down to the sewers, reach out. Others can help. We are a village. It takes a village to raise, nurture, grow, and to support an artist.

Non-Dominant Explorations

Taking Care of Your 80 year Old Self

How well do you use your non-dominant hand & arm?

Stretch your brain power and perceptions. Apply toothpaste with your other hand. Brush your teeth with your other (non-dominant) hand.

Practice with balled up pieces of paper & a garbage can, or dirty laundry & a bin. Throw a sponge, washcloth, or something into the sink or bathtub if that is a better place for you to start. Whatever works for you.

Some fun and very useful things to explore:

Throw a ball or toy to a dog with your non-dominant side of your body. For optimal body mechanics get your other foot forward, be in a good stance. For shoulder protection use your legs and core/trunk to power your throw. Really get your body’s wind-up involved, which will move & power your arm and lastly your hand. Pay attention all the way through your follow-through.

Hopefully you are using your entire body for tossing and throwing, for supporting yourself through the following explorations. That would be why I chose the title I did, this involves your perceptions, mind, nervous system, musclo-skeletal systems, motor planning, and more.

Next time you’re filling a vitamin or pill container explore using your other fingers. Pair other fingers with your thumb, not just your index finger. Explore using your non-dominant hand.

If there are no safety consequences, explore using your non-dominant hand & side of your body for cooking tasks such as stirring or adding ingredients. Make and eat your breakfast using the other side of your body. I don’t recommend pouring hot water, dealing with hot oil, or other health & safety hazards.

Changing things up helps our brains, vision, and coordination. There are plenty of research summaries and resources out there these days about brain plasticity and other topics if you want to read more.

I recommend exploring doing things in a different way for the added benefit of if/when something happens to your dominant side you’ll be more aware of what’s ahead. You will have had some practice and hopefully that will help lessen your frustration. There is often “enough” frustration & pain with whatever situation put you in need of using your non-dominant hand.

What do I mean? Sprains, fractures, wounds, stroke, carrying something in that hand and can’t switch it. Maybe someone dear needs a hug but one arm and hand are full.

Some places tether a computer mouse or trackball so it can only be used with a right hand. What if you have an amputation? Many farmers, machinery workers, and other people have missing digits or parts of arms.

It may take months to feel proficient using a mousepad/mouse/trackball with your non-dominant hand & upper limb but there are many benefits for long-term health. It can also help with over-use syndromes.

Perhaps notice what standardized things occur due to right handedness as ‘the normal’ in our society and thus is catered to. Some examples: opening doors to buildings, scissors, car controls and more. Ever wonder what other “normals” are catered to, to the detriment of others?


Greetings and Salutations! A key theme for my Taking Care of Your 80 year-old Self blogs is exploring what you have the interest, time, and energy (money & abilities) to do. Alas, to make more time for writing & revising manuscripts which will hopefully turn into books, I will be posting blogs once a month. I wanted to post the four NY 2019 SCBWI Conference blogs in a timely manner. Another goal was to have a healthy start for all the blogs on my newly created website. Thank you for visiting and please return as often as you like, we’ll be here with new authors and artists in the spotlight, new blogs, and more!

Update: George’s party for his 101st birthday was a great celebration! We enjoyed making rootbeer floats for attendees. The live jazz combo was excellent, and George sang Stardust for us! Amazing day. If you want to know more about George, please read Taking Care of Your 80 year old self blogs.


We’re at SCBWI NY Winter 2019. This is my fourth & final blog on this topic. Please also see my guest blog at Wisconsin SCBWI.

Sunday morning we’re back in the main ballroom. Lin Oliver is moderator for a panel of editors and agents. Again, we hear the heart and soul editors and agents put into their work. Their commitment for the writers and illustrators they work with is eye-opening. No matter the genre, they have hopes and dreams as well. They have disappointments, intimidating conference rooms and meetings to get through as well. Each of us is a part of a larger whole. We are encouraged to write because we love to write. Exceedingly few people get rich in the children’s publishing arena. Our definitions of success, our goals and dreams need to be based in reality. We can do this, together!

I wait on tenterhooks for my Sunday morning session. Writing a Series is presented by Matt Ringler, an editor who has many successful book series. Key words for this session are feelings and fresh, delving deep, character development, reality check, and celebrate frequently.

Mr. Ringler leads us through great exercises exploring ourselves, character development, plot, and many other topics. He explores the word success and encourages us to develop our own definition. He helps us understand the process for creating a book series. The people involved, their preparation, sweat, ideas, and tears.

He helps us understand and explore expectation management. It is interesting to hear an example of a small print run of 10,000 books, with a need for a reprint. It can be seen as a huge success! However, if you take the 20,000 that sold as a small print run & reprint. . .if 100,000 were printed but the market fell out and 80-90% are returned, different perspective. There is no magical number=success. It’s all dependent upon the situation.

The “give comparative titles, or not give comp titles” question is answered. Comparative titles are crucial to editors, they need it for their sales pitch to the entire publishing team. (I realize this may vary per publishing house, but this helps my understanding.)

This weekend has been mind blowing, as well as mind opening. Key words for this conference seem to be. . .Perspective. Perceptions. Understanding. Teamwork. Strength and hope (needed from within, and from without). Heart and soul. It takes a village to raise a writer. Perhaps many villages. We can do this. Keep writing!


Matt Ringler is a senior editor at Scholastic specializing in chapter book, middle grade, and YA fiction. He works on the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, The Puppy Place series by Ellen Miles, and the Two Dogs in a Trench Coat series by Julie Falatko. His YA list include New York Times best-selling author Goldy Moldavsky’s Kill the Boy Band and No Good Deed, plus It’s Not Me, It’s You and The Date to Save by Stephanie Kate Strohm.