A-to-Z Retrospective

This was my third year participating in April’s A-to-Z Challenge.

In 2015, I posted mostly about a trip to Laity Lodge in Texas, and, in 2016, I wrote mostly about caring for my aging parents. I say “mostly” for both of those because I wandered on a few posts. Despite that, I survived and succeeded in posting through the whole alphabet.

For 2017, I decided to share a little of my “art” — collages I make from worn-out children’s books.

I didn’t post this picture during the challenge, but it sort of shows how I was feeling about tackling the challenge using my collages.

Sharing art is risky and scary.

It’s like dealing with bees. What if they sting? What if I get hurt?

But it’s also like bees, in that the rewards can be sweet. Affirmations can be like honey.

So, first, I’d like to thank all the good people who stopped by and said a few kind words, or even just hit the “like” button. You’re wonderful. You’ve been good for my soul.

Second, I did find it significantly harder this year to connect with other A-to-Z-ers. I felt like I was trying to post my link in a bunch of different places and it became cumbersome. Cumbersome to link, cumbersome to look.

Some blogs that I did discover (and love) were Finding Eliza (about research and family history), Hawwa’s Mail Adventures (featuring real, honest-to-goodness snail mail), Miss Pelican’s Perch (who used the challenge to overcome writer’s block), I Just Have to Say (who wrote about her favorite things, many of which were also MY favorite things), and, my favorite, Iain Kelly (who wrote an action-packed serial murder mystery using a children’s puzzle for inspiration). Some I had already been following who did the challenge were Vanessence and Manee Trautz. There were others that I stumbled through and can’t recall their names — someone sharing drawings every day of Disney characters, someone writing about spirituality. Forgive me if I’ve forgotten.

Third, to the organizers of this mad affair, thank you. Yes, it was different this year — but if I hadn’t done it previous years, I wouldn’t know the difference.  And the bottom line is a bunch of people blogged regularly for the month of April. You encouraged that. You facilitated that. You deserve a round of applause. Thank you.


Background from Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Woman from My Dad’s Job by Peter Glassman, illustrated by Timothy Bush

Boy from Meet My Staff by Patricia Marx, illustrated by Roz Chast

Little girl from The Silly Sheepdog by Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright

Bee ??

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Z is for Zaengle

At Christmas I made place-cards for everyone. They stood on little easels at the table. They were place-cards without names, just funny little pictures that made me think of each person.

Each member of the family is unique — just like everyone else.

I wish I had taken a better picture of the collection, but here’s who each one represents.

Row 1 (left to right): Mary — a little Richard Scarry bunny writing at a desk. Bud had just painted her walls of her bedroom lavender, the very color I had wanted the walls of my bedroom when I was a child (but it didn’t happen).

“Fred” — he’s the photographer at family events, so I found a little man taking pictures. He’s snapping a shot of a dwarf crossing a bridge.

Philip — an army man at a Sandra Boynton nativity. Philip played with those green plastic army men at my parents’ house as a little boy.  Years later, we would find a sniper hiding in a plant, or a radio guy behind a lamp.

Owen — a Richard Scarry cat catching a fish from Tikki-Tikki-Tembo water. Owen loves to fish. A dog would have been more appropriate for him because he loves dogs too — but Richard Scarry didn’t have a dog fishing picture.

My brother, Jim — he raised sheep, and may even still have a few.

Row 2: Karl — Grumpy Santa (Sandra Boynton)  standing on the porch of a house. It just made me laugh. Karl does that.

Henry, my grandson — loves Curious George.

Emily, Owen’s wife — the only one with a name on it. I knew she had to have it.

Sharon, Jim’s wife — a dragonfly because I know she likes them.

Laurel — Pooh and Piglet and a goose. Laurel wanted Winnie the Pooh in hers. I liked the way they were leaning back to look up at the goose.

Row 3: Donna, Sam’s wife — I read somewhere that a cardinal represents lost loved ones. Her mother passed away while she and Sam were dating. Plus snow because British Columbia and snow.

Bud — Bud loves building fires and sitting and staring into them. It’s a Zaengle thing. Zaengle gatherings with his siblings almost always include bonfires and just sitting around the fire talking.

My dad — he was a doctor so I found a little doctor for him.

Helen — she has always loved the beach. I even sprinkled a little sand and put some real tiny shells on hers.

Amanda, Philip’s wife — She’s Henry’s mother, and it seemed appropriate to give her a mother and child.

Row 4: My brother, Peter — he teaches science. I’ve gone with him several times in the summer when he takes kids to the biological field station on the lake where the kids look at all sorts of life under microscopes.

My nephew, Ben — he’s very musical and had just starred in his school’s middle school musical.

Sam — like hiking, works at an outdoorsy store, and the boots made me think of him.

Me — the only one I didn’t make. Mary made mine for me. I love how she put a little rabbit comforting/encouraging the tired housewife. This is my life.

Diana, Peter’s wife — two literary rabbits. She’s an English teacher and loves books as much as I do. I thought she would appreciate these two classic characters meeting each other.

And to finish it off, here’s a family photo of my family taken this Christmas. I am incredibly blessed with a wonderful family.

Bud said to me, as we were driving home from the Albany bus station after dropping Sam and Donna off so they could fly back west, “We did a good job, didn’t we?”

So far, so good.

Christmas 2016
Starting on the top step — Amanda and Philip
Owen and Emily
Sam and Donna
Me and Bud
“Fred”, Helen, and Laurel
Karl, Henry, and Mary

I love these people.

Y is for You

“Friendship… is born at that moment when one man says to another, What? You too! I thought that no one but myself…” (C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves)


Background from Catch Me, Catch Me! A Thomas the Tank Engine Story. illustrated by Owain Bell

The two girls, I’m sorry to say, are from books that I can’t identify. The girl in the foreground is from a pop-up book that I salvaged a few pictures from and promptly threw away. The girl facing us is a victim of my bad memory; I have no idea what book she came from.

X is for “eXcuse me!”

“Excuse me. Do you need a hand?”


Yesterday, the baby-faced checker turned around and offered his help to the woman at the register behind him. She was in one of those scooter carts and couldn’t reach the groceries in its basket.

Obviously people had helped her throughout the store. The eggs were safely placed at the back of the basket along with some produce.

“Be careful with those,” she said, as he put the eggs on the belt.

“Handle them gently,” she cautioned, as he picked up a bag with tomatoes in it.

He apologized to me when he finally turned to start scanning my groceries. He was a big boy, tall, broad, with round cheeks and curly hair. I’m sure this was his first job, and it was obvious that he had been raised right.

“No worries,” I said. “I’m glad you could help her.”

We are always surrounded by people who need help. Sometimes they ask — like the lady who asked me if I knew anything about clams, again at the grocery store.

“Umm, no, I really don’t,” I told her. “Sorry.”

She sighed a heavy sigh. “The recipe calls for littleneck clams and he doesn’t have any.” She nodded her head toward the man at the fish counter. “He has other kinds, but he admitted that he doesn’t know the difference between them.”

“Let’s ask Siri,” I said, pulling out my phone.

Siri and I are besties. My children groan when I ask her questions. I was glad none of them were with me.

Siri pulled up a webpage about clams — and, at the same time, the man at the fish counter had my order ready. I handed my phone to the lady so she could read the information and went to get my order.

“Wait –” Laurel said, when I was telling her the story. “You handed your phone to a total stranger?!”

“She had a little girl with her,” I said, “and I was standing right there.” I wasn’t terribly worried about my phone.

My friend Amy, the one organizing the trip to Bosnia, told me how her Bosnia connection had begun. Many years ago she and her husband had seen a family huddled together at one of the New York airports wearing colored tags that identified them as refugees. “Can we help you?” they asked — and thus began a lifelong friendship.

I have a friend traveling today to Haiti with her husband, one of many steps in their long road to adoption. I hope people help them along the way — as they themselves go to help.

Sometimes people need physical help. Sometimes they’re lost. Sometimes they’re just knackered and need a little encouragement.

The world is a better place when we look for ways to help.


The collage above is only two pictures — the little girl from Humpty Dumpty’s Holiday Stories illustrated by Kelly Oechsli, and the old man from A Boy Who Wants a Dinosaur by Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura. They just seemed to belong together.

W is for Wait

Whoa! Hold on! We just wandered in here from another book!

There should be a solemn pause before we rush to judgment.
Thomas Erskine


Knight from Saint George and the Dragon, retold by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

Railroad workers from Catch Me, Catch Me! A Thomas the Tank Engine Story. illustrated by Owain Bell

Floor from Farmer Enno and His Cow, written and illustrated by Jens Rassmus

Castle from Anno’s Twice Told Tales by The Brothers Grimm and Mr. Fox, illustrated by Mitsumasa Anno

V is for Vocabulary

Even though they were very wise, the owls had a limited vocabulary.


I often walk into the living room these days and find my father with the dictionary in his lap.

He still does word puzzles — the daily Jumble and crossword — every day, although he comments often that they’re making them harder.

He needs help with them — sometimes (often) by asking me or anyone in the room, and sometimes by trying to look words up in the dictionary.

As a kid, I can remember asking how to spell a word, and he would say, “Look it up in the dictionary.” Of course, that didn’t make total sense to me because I needed to know how to spell it to look it up. Somehow it worked though.

Dictionaries have always been important to my father.

When he left for college, he was given a dictionary that he still has today. It’s tattered and worn and not the dictionary I find on his lap.

He gave me a dictionary when I went to college. I still have it.

I gave one of my sons a dictionary when he went to college — not an electronic one, but a heavy hardcover one, where he could feel the weight of all those words.

Dictionaries were a fertilizer that fed my roots.

Having a good vocabulary is a gift from my parents, one for which I am continually thankful.


Teacher from A Boy Who Wants a Dinosaur by Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura
Fence from Catch Me, Catch Me! A Thomas the Tank Engine Story illustrated by Owain Bell
Owls from Mother Goose Treasury, 2009 Publications International — it has a long list of illustrators and I don’t know which one did the owls

U is for Unknown

Sometimes I wish I knew what lay ahead —
What will each new tomorrow bring my way?
Why must I always feel so in the dark?
Or, at the very least, so in the gray?

But, if, one day walking, I should chance
To find a crystal ball that could reveal
My future with one touch, one glance –
Would I dare to look, its prophesies unseal?

Indeed my trembling hand would rise, extend —
Heart-pounding in my breast – loud, hard, fast —
And yet a greater force would apprehend
And stop me seeking this, my own forecast.

For the newness of each day and its unknowns
Are gifts. Yes, they are treasures, don’t you see?
Every day is its own celebration
Full of presents* to be unwrapped by me.

*presence?


Man is from Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

Crystal ball from The Mapmaker’s Daughter by M. C. Helldorfer, illustrated by Jonathan Hunt

Background from The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda William, illustrated by Megan Lloyd

Not sure where the building is from