The Heart of the Matter

Everyday Brave: Our Brave Little Brother October 31, 2017 09:57

My name is Molly Doyle, and I am the mother of two dark-haired baby boys: Grady is 2 years old and Garrett is 3 months old. Their blonde-haired cousin Leyton, who's close to 3-1/2 years old, is my older sister Bridie's son. These boys are blessed to have Gigi, my mother, Amy, who spoils them with children’s books for every holiday, birthday, or just-because. Recently, Gigi picked up copies of “Be Brave Little One” for the grandbabies, and honestly, she didn't even open them before purchasing. She just knew they'd be a great addition to their collection. 

The final member of our clan is their Uncle Connor, our younger brother. A child at heart, but no kids of his own, Connor loved his nephews more than anything. On Sunday, October 15th, we received the devastating news that Connor had been killed in an automobile accident early Sunday morning. He was 23 years old.

After I learned of Connor's death, I was spending time with my mom, and she mindlessly handed me the copy of "Be Brave Little One,” along with a few other Halloween-themed books, for my boys. Sitting at the kitchen counter, feeling numb inside and in a dark haze, I read your book. Immediately, I understood why it had entered our lives. It exemplified the beautiful life my brother led. 

Connor was “supposed to be” a basketball player, but he followed his heart and became a DJ. He practically lived out of his car because "the cozy of home" to him was being with the people he loved, even if it was on their couch for the night. Since he grew up with two older sisters, he learned early about expressing his emotions, following his heart, and loving others deeply. He was a romantic, occasionally a hot head, and a wonderful friend to all.  We celebrated his life on Wednesday, October 18th with hundreds of his closest friends, who came from all over, from all walks of life.

While I hadn't planned on speaking at the service, I wanted everyone in attendance to bring Connor back to life by imagining him as your brave, little character. We will forever remember our brother shining bright as the sun. 


Be Brave Little One Activity Kit! August 31, 2017 14:59

In prep for my upcoming book tour (schedule on my home page), Sourcebooks and I put together a Be Brave Little One activity kit to “start a conversation about bravery in your  classroom, library or home.”

You can download it here

And if you want to pick up a copy of the book, you will can find it right now in store at Barnes and Noble as well as  It's also available at many independent bookstore — find yours here —  as well as through

I was featured this month in Sourcebook’s Wonderland newsletter, answering Three Impossible Questions Before Breakfast. The topic? Bravery of course!  

 So looking forward to getting on the road! Hoping some of my stops are close to YOU! 

xo, M. 


Be Brave Little One -- my NEW BOOk is born! August 01, 2017 11:54

Happy Book Birthday to my newest book -- Be Brave Little One!

TODAY, August 1, is the “official” publication date, the day when it is AVAILABLE here and here and here

Sounds like a big deal, yes??  

It is. This book is the culmination of hours and hours of thinking, writing, concepting, drawing, painting, designing, printing.  

And for me, finally figuring out how to give voice to the journey of courage we all walk. It’s the message I’ve been wanting to put into the world for such a long time but didn't quite know how until a conversation last year with my youngest son, Will, who is 13.

I was asking him what it meant to be brave, pointing out how courageous he had been starting a new school in California.

“I guess,” he said, “but it's not like I had a choice about starting school. I think brave is when you have a CHOICE and you do the thing you want to do no matter what anyone else says.”


This conversation broke it open for me and had me writing this:

How far can I go?

What things can I be

When I get to choose

What brave is to me?

Brave means listening to the “truthful and wise” voice of your heart and doing what it says, no matter what everyone else thinks you should do.  
Brave looks all kinds of ways -- from the big, out-loud choices to the small, quiet decisions. 
Brave is accepting and welcoming ALL your feelings — from excitement and happiness to fear and doubt and being okay with the spectrum of feelings that makes us HUMAN and REAL. 
Brave is an everyday, start-over-if-you-need-to practice that leads to the truest version of you. 

It is my journey and yours. And because of that, I dedicated it to both of us.

Can I tell you one more thing? This book birthday — the PUB DATE —  actually feels very quiet and ordinary. There are no balloons attached to my front door or people lining up on my front step for a copy or e-mails flooding my mail box with congratulatory sentiments.

What a fitting metaphor for bravery. Our biggest acts of courage are often the quiet moments no one may know about but us. The decision to keep going or to try something new. The deep-down commitment to welcome another day and do your best.

Be Brave to be You

on your journey begun.

Let your heart lead the way.

Be brave little one!  (and grownups, too!) 

Much love!



Dad Love June 09, 2017 16:23

With Father's Day coming soon, wanted to share a couple of links.  

I created this book, simply called My Dad Loves Me, a bunch of years ago. Recently, however, it's had a surge in popularity where it's now the 5th best-selling title in the “Children's Parents Books” category on Amazon.  

Put me in the Story, offers a personalized version of My Dad Loves Me (above). recently included it in an article called 12 Sappy Father's Day gifts that dad will actually love!  Some fun ideas in there. 


As you know, I'm a big fan of gifts that come from the heart! When my kids were little, I created a Dear Dad book.  I bought a blank book and wrote a letter to Jim on behalf of the kids (because they were too little to do so) ... through the years, they added their own thoughts, and it is a deeply treasured book now.

Here is the blog post I wrote about how to make your own!

The Heart of the Matter: So much to love about dad

A short story about love May 23, 2017 11:12

My friend Deb left me a voicemail. 

Deb’s college-aged daughter, Sam, was sad.

Sam's roommate, Morgan, had just lost her dad.

(l to r: Morgan, MC, KatBart and Sam) 

Sam and her friends wanted to let Morgan know how much they cared about her and didn’t know exactly how to do that.

“Will you mail Sam a copy of your Gift of a Memory book?” Deb asked me on voicemail.  

I mailed Sam my book.

And Sam, a typical teen who loves Instagram and SnapChat, carried the book around and asked people write notes to Morgan.  

And they did.  Things like,

“Remember I am always a text or phone call away.”


“I love you so much.”


“I know how much your dad is proud of you.”

Sam gave Morgan the book and Morgan cried buckets of tears.

Tears from missing her dad.  Tears from being loved through the loss. 

The Heart of the Matter: Loss happens, giving us a chance to love. 

The Gifts of Instead May 08, 2017 11:46 2 Comments

I was scheduled for a pre-mother's day book event at The Book Passage, an amazing and popular bookstore just over the Golden Gate Bridge. This beautiful and vibrant bookstore did everything right. They made flyers. Promoted me on their website.  Shared me online. Readied the room with chairs and a microphone and a book display.  

I did everything right, too. I gathered my supplies. Set aside the time. Drove the 90 minutes from my house, ready to read and create and connect.

Then, no one showed up.

Not one person. Not one mother, dad or cute kid.

Johanna, the event host, and I waited in the big empty room for 20 minutes.  

At 1:25pm, I asked her, “Does this happen to other authors?”

“All the time,” she replied unfazed, and told me how a nationally-known author had ten people sign up for a recent event.

There was a time when Sunday’s reality would have wrecked me. The embarrassment, the internal messaging that said, “You suck at this. No one cares about your books. Find a different gig” before slinking out to my car to drive 80mph toward home where I would belabor it for days. 

Yesterday was different.  

Instead of hosting a pity party, I thought, “Makes total sense. It's a gorgeous Sunday. Families are out and about.”

Instead, Johanna and I talked for 45-minutes about family balance, mom guilt and how women find the time to pursue their passions in the midst of raising kids. I’m a decade further on the parenting journey and had some wisdom to pass along.  Her tears showed her gratitude.  She told me I was an angel for her that day?! And she suggested I connect with moms groups in Marin County.  She walked me to the cafe, bought me an amazing sandwich, and gifted me with beautiful personalized stationery as a thank-you for coming. I've never had personalized stationery! 

Instead, I sat in the cute cafe for three hours, working on other writing projects. I perused the new memoir from Dani Shapiro and dreamed of someday publishing my own.

Johanna passed by again with a stack of my books.  “I'm going to set up a Mother’s Day display in our kids section with your titles.”  Fabulous — a display with my titles!

Then, “Are you an artist?” a voice asked me.  I looked up and into the face of a woman who had sat down with tea and an oatmeal cookie. Her yoga mat rested at her feet. She had noticed my suitcase of rocks and paint. Part of my book event was to paint rocks for The Kindness Rocks Project.

“I am,” I explained and told her about my event that wasn't.  “I’d like to paint one,” she offered.  

“Please do” I said, making space so she could join me at my table.

Instead, for the next hour, Karen and I painted rocks and traded life stories, she an attorney and activist who had recently started her own soap making business called 13 Foxes Designs. “Some people don’t want to use the pretty soaps,” she laughed. “but I believe art is meant to be used and shared and replenished.”

She painted a fox on her rock. It was clearly an important symbol to her. 

I painted a rock for Johanna, my event host, that said Caring for yourself is time well spent. Karen suggested the words. 

The cafe slowly cleared out. Karen left, and it was time for me to go home, too. It’d be 8:00pm by the time I got back to San Jose. 

My ride home once would have included feelings of failure.

Instead, my heart felt full and grateful for all the unexpected gifts of the day.  

The Heart of the Matter:  I had come for one thing that didn't happen.  I left, however, with the gifts of instead.


The Great Giveaway!! April 23, 2017 20:57 161 Comments

Hello and welcome to The Great Giveaway Day!  Today I’m celebrating 20 years of authorship, 20 years of making my way in the world through my words and creativity. In the beginning, it was me creating in a spare bedroom and the knee-knocking courage to put my ideas into the marketplace. For the next 16 years, it was co-running with my husband a multi-million dollar publishing company with 12 employees and ALL the ups and downs included. And now, for the past couple years, I'm back to solo as an independent author in partnership with Sourcebooks, my book publisher and Shade Tree Greetings, my greeting card publisher. I went back and forth trying to decide if I should commemorate this milestone. Part of me said, "Meh, don’t bother” while the other, wiser part said, “Listen girl. This IS a big accomplishment. Share it with the folks who helped get you there.” This would be YOU, the beautiful souls who have bought and shared my work through the years, helping me to believe more fully in myself and my gifts.  My turn for gift-giving back to you!

Here’s how this giveaway works!

  1. I have 20 gifts for you as listed below.  
  2. If you’d like a chance to win, add a comment to this post with the “answer” to this statement: Love is ... ________________.
  3. I will use a random number generator to choose winners from all the entries, going down my list of giveaways and choosing names as I go.
  4. I will publish the winners on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 and e-mail you separately, too, to get your shipping address. At this time, you can tell me if you want your book personalized to someone (if you happen to win a book!)

I think that’s all... please share with your friends if you’re so inclined! Thank you for helping me celebrate my 20th Anniversary of connecting with the heart of you!

Love, Marianne.

Email me with any questions: 

#1 and #2:  Two signed copies of The Gift of an Angel

The two winners of this giveaway will each receive a signed book with lullaby CD.  


Danielle Hernandez

Amber Cheras

#3:  A FREE personalized book at Put me in the Story

The one winner of this giveaway will receive a code for one free book, compliments of publisher Sourcebooks, Inc



Abigail Stinson:

#4 - #7: Four signed copies of You're a Big Brother OR Big Sister

The Winners!

The four winners of this giveaway will each receive a signed book.

Desiree Jimenez 

Cassie Wendler 

Ruth Hill 


#8 - #12: A half-dozen greeting cards 

The winners!

Michelle Novara 

Jennifer Osborn 

Amanda Bair


Aeicha Matteson


#13 - #14: Magnet House Jewelry Gift Set 

The winners!

Lisa Parks 

Stephanie Dorsey

#15: Notepad + Magnet Set 


The one winner of this giveaway will receive one notepad and two magnets.

The Winner!


#16: One signed copy of So Glad We're Sisters


The one winner of this giveaway will receive one signed Dear Sister book. 

Winner:  Sara 

#17: One signed copy of Bedtime Blessings


The one winner of this giveaway will receive one signed Bedtime Blessing book. 

The Winner!


#18: One signed copy of You are my Heart

The one winner of this giveaway will receive one signed You are my Heart book. 

The Winner!

Amy H 



#19: One signed copy of I’ll Never Let You Go

The one winner of this giveaway will receive one signed I'll Never Let You Go book. 

The Winner!

Denise Luscan 


#20: One signed copy of You are my Merry

 The one winner of this giveaway will receive one signed You are my Merry book.

 The winner!


Giveaway Happening — April 24, 2017 April 17, 2017 17:13

Hello friends! It’s been 20 years since I self-published my first book, The Gift of an Angel for parents welcoming a new child. To honor this milestone, I’m hosting a giveaway — cards, signed books, jewelry ... and I’d love for you to join in!


Check back here on April 24, 2017 for all the details! 

Choosing Kindness December 19, 2016 13:18

I was tired and crabby yesterday and knew I needed to go the store for wrapping paper. Turning into the Rite Aid parking lot, I was stopped mid-turn by a teenage boy in his cute little sports car in front of me. My van and I stuck out into oncoming traffic. But honestly, I had time. 

I honked my horn.

He turned around to see who beeped at him, and sat an extra 2 seconds to really annoy me.

He succeeded and we both pulled in, of course going to the same place. It’s easier to be a jerk from the anonymity of one’s car.

I got out. He got out. We looked at each other. “You can’t just sit in the middle like that, you gotta keep going,” I said, calmly.

“My car is really low to the ground,” he explained. ”I gotta go slow or I'll bottom out.”

In that moment, I saw my own kid in this kid. He was probably the same age -- seventeenish or so. I knew if my son had his own cute little car (which he desperately wants) he’d treat it like his baby. And if some impatient lady in a van was beeping behind him, my son would be annoyed with me, too.  

“You know,” I said. “I have a teen just like you who would really like that sweet car you have.”

He brightened and we fell in step, side by side.

“Ya, I really like it.”

“I'm sorry I was impatient.” I said.  “I’m crabby today.”

“Really?” he laughed.  “I'm crabby, too.” (Okay -- what 17-year-old admits he’s crabby to some random lady??)

We both agreed we would try to have a better day.

“Merry Christmas,” he said.  

“You, too,” I replied and we did this lean-in half hug thing. Me and some random teenage kid.

The Heart of the Matter: Every day, we can escalate crabbiness or kindness. Crabbiness sometimes feels easier. But kindness always ends better.


Glowing up October 11, 2016 12:07 1 Comment

“When am I going to glow up?” my daughter asked me, sitting in the passenger seat of our van in the driveway. We had just returned from school shopping at the mall.

“Grow up?” I asked, clarifying what I'd heard.

“No, glow up,” she repeated. “You know how you did between that 8th grade picture and the one from your senior year in high school.” She was taking about my 8th grade school picture — the one in which she told me I kinda looked like a guy. I had the 1970's hair-sprayed sausage rolls down the side of my head plus braces and some army-inspired, double-shirt combo going on. By senior year, I had sprouted breasts, traded camo for angora and looked very much like a young lady with incredibly straight teeth.

Her question hung between us. Yes, I was a serious late bloomer, wearing training bras when everyone else had graduated to a cup size. I got my period and driver's license in the same year. Yes, a half a decade later than most other girls.

I thought about how to answer her question, knowing I had just a minute before the next text or Snap Chat would divert her attention.

“Believe it or not,” I said to my daughter. “Glowing up is actually more of an inside job. Every time you honor who you are, you glow up.”  

She didn't cut me off, so I went on.

“When you choose friends who value you, pick clothes that feel good or share your opinion, you glow up.  When you practice being brave or learn from your mistakes, you glow up from that, too. So basically you can choose to glow up little by little every day.”

She gave me the “wow, that was deep” look but took it in, opening the car door to go inside.

I waited in the car for a minute thinking about my answer and realized I could take my own advice, too. If we are to shine in this world  — as I know we are meant to do — we need to do the daily work of glowing up to become our very brightest selves.  

The Heart of the Matter:  Glowing up is adolescence for our soul

16 Simple Ways to Grow Gratitude October 05, 2016 11:42

Yesterday was the official book birthday of my newest title Bedtime Blessings.

Bedtime Blessings offers a peaceful way to end the day with a special child, through this heartfelt prayer of gratitude and wish for God's blessings on others, too. 

Yes, while you were going about your day, I quietly released a new offering into the world. No balloons, presents or champagne  — just the happy knowing that this book is now available to be shared with you and your little ones. You can find it here and here and where books are sold. It will also be in the Target Stores picture book section on October 18, 2016 through the holidays.

We all want to grow gratitude in our kids and families. To cultivate thankfulness for what we have versus coveting what we don't. Finding ways to actually do it a bit more challenging, however. We have enough to-do’s without adding “practice gratitude” to our list.

So I created this idea list for you — 16 simple ways to weave gratitude into your already busy day! 

1. Appreciate aloud. Give voice to gratitude and it teaches those around you to notice how many reasons there are to give thanks. On your way to school? “So thankful for easy traffic today!” Driving to soccer? “I so appreciate your coach’s positive attitude.” 

2. Turn negativity into noticing: When my kids were little, they would complain if our parking spot was too far away. I started to answer with “God gave you healthy legs! Let's use them.” They grumbled but they walked. To this day, when we have to park further than we want, I will hear them say to one another, “God gave us legs...” Complaints about errands?  “So thankful we can afford groceries for our family!” My daughter was recently complaining about a daily medication she needs to take. I told her I understand the inconvenience but feel thankful we found a doctor who knows what she is doing! 

3. Look through old photos. Inspiring a conversation of “Remember when we...” is an immediate path to gratefulness. 

4. Create a family Instagram account dedicated to small daily or weekly family gratitudes. Challenge your kids to notice the small and big things. Clean laundry. A favorite meal. A cherished stuffed animal. Older kids can capture and upload their own photos. Pretty soon you'll have a account-full of gratitude to scroll through! 

5. Check out ideas from Doing Good Together, an organization that provides tools to help compassionate, engaged children. Part of cultivating gratitude is showing our families there are many others in need of what we can give. When our kids were smaller, we gathered with 2-3 other families to make no-sew blankets, holiday cards for the military and bake pies for homeless shelters. We turned these gatherings into pot-luck dinners with a mission. So fun.

6. Light Up your Community this Holiday. My friend, Courtney DeFeo has created a list of 100 Ideas for how to Light up your Community with Generosity. Pick JUST ONE and your family will learn how good it fills to give. 

7. Get Specific with your Appreciation. Calling out the unique ways someone blesses your life helps grow your gratitude for the people in your life. “I love the way you ask about what I'm doing.” “I love how you make me coffee every morning.” “You give awesome hugs.”

8. Practice present-moment living. Get into the habit of asking yourself, “What's good about right now?” Usually a lot. You're breathing for one. We spend a lot of time rehashing the past or fretting the future. Coming back to the present can help cultivate a more grateful mindset.

9. Write Thank-you Notes. It's not passé. They can be short and sweet. Thank you for ______.  I appreciated it because ________.  I wish for you _______.  That's it. Stamp and mail. 

10. Read and Learn The Gentle Art of Blessing. This book is transformative. It offers a way of being in the world that cultivates blessing and gratitude. 

11. Add these kids books about gratitude to your collection. 

12. Deliver Meals on Wheels. This is one of the easiest, most-impactful volunteer opportunities for young kids. I did this with my young children for years.  Once a month. We picked up our food about 11:00am. before our own lunch/nap time and did a route of maybe six stops.  Even a 3 or 4 year old can carry the milk cartons or brown bags. And the house-bound seniors love seeing the little ones! 

13. Say a person's name. Easy peasy. If you grocery bagger has a name tag, use it! Say, “thank you John!" Waiter or waitress?  “Thank you Maria!” It makes a world of difference, telling that person, “I see you.  I appreciate you.”

14. Talk to Nature. Yes, I'm serious. When I'm walking, I say hello the birds and the deer, the trees and the flowers, thanking them for their gifts to the world. 

15. Watch this video by my artist friend Lori Portka. One woman's personal gratitude project may inspire yours. 

16. Create your own Gratitude Rock. Keep it on a table, in your purse or pocket as a reminder to stop and be thankful. Can be simple and unadorned and fancy and fun with ideas from this book, one of my faves. 

    The Heart of the Matter: Gratitude grows Gratitude. 


    The Gifts of Loss August 15, 2016 11:02

    One of my dearest friends from California is moving to St. Louis, and I'm sad. We discovered each other via mutual connections, both of us children's book authors and both working from home. Of course I scoped out her website before our meeting, feeling nervous but deciding yes, she looked friendly.  Our connection was immediate. We walked the five-mile QuickSilver trails together, 3-4 times a week, sharing our lives and covering every topic from kids and spirituality to aging, money, book ideas, dreams, parents, fears and insecurities. Though I've been here just two years, she's become an epic friend, comfort and blessing. 

    “What will I do without you?” I ask her, sitting in my driveway on Friday night, tears spilling. She drove me the one-block home from her going away party because I didn't want to walk in my fancy shoes. I understand the circumstances that have prompted their move, but I'm focused on how it affects me. 

    “You'll always have me,” she says through her own tears. “I'm a text or phone call away.”  I know this is true.  But I also know how time and distance change things.

    Just two years ago, I sat in Lisa’s office (my therapist) for help in dealing with my own move to California after 25 years in Minneapolis. 

    “What if I never have this again?” I lamented from her couch, referring to the dear friendships and familiarity I was leaving.  

    She looked at me from “the wisdom throne,” as I affectionately called her simple hardback chair across from me. 

    “But you’ve had it,” she replied. “And that is the gift.”

    It took a bit for this to truly sink in and cull its truth: Loss in life is inevitable. But what we know and receive and are changed by is always with us, precious souvenirs on the heart's journey. 

    By leaving friends in Minneapolis and now being the one left behind, I have known the ache of separating from people and places dear. And I have received in abundance the gifts of knowing I mattered. I have been blessed by love and friendship, conversation, truth-telling, laughter, and support. And deeply hope I have bestowed the same on others with whom I've traveled life. 

    As Lisa told me in her own way and Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson reminds us, 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. 

    As I think about Ali moving today to her new life in St. Louis, I am struck by a couple things.  First that yes, I did find it again — friendship and connection. And yes, I'm feeling loss again just two years later.  But my heart has infinitely expanded through the gifts of each. 

    How have you received the gifts of loss in your own life? 

    The Heart of the Matter:  Loss and beauty are traveling companions.  

    51 Wishes July 21, 2016 01:07 1 Comment

    In honor of my 51st year on this planet, I made this list of wishes for you — little things you can do to honor the heart of you, add some kindness to the world and connect with who you love. Feel free to print it out, share it with a friend and choose a couple ideas that will expand your joy. 

    1. Paint a rock and join the The Kindness Rocks Project.

    2. Visit the Facebook pages of five friends and leave a compliment on their timeline, telling them what you love best about them.

    3. Make a Tie Dye T-shirt... just because. 

    4. Become a Raktivist.

    5. Attend a spiritual service at a different place than your usual. (Or, if you don't go ... try one) 

    6. Grow something. (I grew beans for the first time this year!)

    7. Make a cape for Enchanted Makeovers, an organization whose mission is to transform shelters for women and children.

    8. Buy this book to understand, heal and transform your relationship with money.

    9. And this one to open your heart. 

    10. Start a club with your own reasons for existing. Me and Will, my 12-year-old started the “cuddle club.”  We meet anywhere, anytime to share hugs. My girlfriend and I created the JAMA club (Jane and Marianne Adventure club) that encourages us to get out and hike, bike or drink coffee together!  We actually have our logo and tee-shirt! :)

    11. Write a letter to someone you admire and tell them why. (I have cards in my online store or you can certainly make your own!) 

    12. Request a fingerprint kit from this company and capture the prints of your kids, husband or parents. 

    13. Interview you mom or dad about their life. Write or record her answers. 

    14. Learn your mail person’s name. Same with your sanitation workers. 

    15. Stay at a yurt

    16. Buy this kids book for yourself. 

    17. Invest in some nice photos of yourself. Or of you and your family. Your future self will thank you. 

    18. Go to a zoo and laugh at the monkeys. 

    19. Make a no-sew blanket for Project Linus

    20. Pay it forward with a Giving Key

    21. Go on a walk and say hello to every person you pass. 

    22. Print these out for FREE and share with a favorite teacher. 

    23. Make your own ice cream or popsicles

    24. Call a friend you haven't talked to in a long time. 

    25. Send someone the inspiration she needs right now. 

    26. Process a difficulty through these six questions

    27. Make a promise to yourself. 

    28. Visit your library and leave with a book, movie or CD. 

    29. Look through your own childhood photos and think about what you loved to do at various ages.  Do one of those things. 

    30. Know your go-to recipe for an appetizer, drink, salad or dessert. If you don't have one — find one. 

    31. Get a pint of your favorite ice cream. Combine with Netflix. 

    32. Paint your finger or toe nails some crazy color. Orange? Turquoise? The wilder, the better. 

    33. Learn three jokes

    34. Buy this to create a time capsule for you and your sweetie. Or something like this for you and your kids. 

    35. Donate socks to the closest homeless youth shelter. 

    36. Camp in a state park.  

    37. Sign up for this daily meditation — so good. 

    38. Fly a kite. 

    39. Just get the medical stuff done you've been putting off. Mammogram. Colonoscopy. Filling. Crown. Mole check.  

    40. Watch back-to-back-to-back Carpool Karaoke

    41. Make these for your next party. 

    42. Volunteer. 

    43. Read about how your heart and brain talk to each other! Quite fascinating. 

    44. Try a craft you've never done. Needlepoint. Pottery. Jewelry making. Glass blowing. 

    45. Join a meet up. There is seriously one for EVERYTHING.

    46. Practice speaking in front of others. 

    47. Have an outdoor adventure. White water rafting. (best vacation!)  Backpacking. (Grand Canyon! Half Dome! Do it.) Spartan racing

    48. Fund a cause you believe in. 

    49. Wear and share your heart. 

    50. Host a breakfast party for your friends or neighbors. 

    51. Look in the mirror and tell yourself THANK YOU for being on this planet and being awesome. 


    Five Miles to Somewhere July 14, 2016 10:20 2 Comments

    In three days, Michael* taught me a bunch of things about my life and his. 

    It was 2010, and I needed to sign 5000 books for Toys R Us. The timing was tricky -- we were in the midst of closing our book business and selling our assets to an outside company. “What's the easiest way for you to sign the books?” my new publisher asked. Two months earlier, I would have rallied our warehouse guys to help orchestrate the project. But I didn't have employees anymore — just a big building with lots of space. 

    “You can deliver them to my office,” I said. “And hire some temps for me.”  They agreed.

    The following week, I walked to my building to meet my team for the three-day book signing blitz. 

    On the front step I see a young black man sitting hunched over, his hoodie pulled tightly around his face. No car, motorcycle or bicycle seemingly belong to him. I instinctively feel unease and notice. I don't like noticing because my gut is telling me what I am ashamed to admit: I am feeling wary of this black man in a hoodie. “Can I help you?” I ask the downturned head.  

    “I'm here for a job,” he says, looking up.

    “Oh!" I say, surprised. “That's for me. I'm Marianne.” I extend my hand, and we shake.  

    “I'm Michael,” he says. 

    “Nice to meet you Michael,” I reply.

    “How did you get here?” I ask, gesturing to the empty lot. 

    “I walked.”

    “From where?”

     “About five miles,”  he says, not answering the where part.

    This is none of my business how he got here. He's here on time for a job. 

    I unlock the front door, talking over my shoulder, “I'm still waiting for two others.“ Within minutes, they show, and here we are: Me, two black guys. And one white guy.  

    I'm not gonna lie. It feels weird and uncomfortable. I'm feeling my white-ness and this truth: I haven't hung out with black guys much. Not growing up (except for the two black girls integrated into our elementary school from downtown Milwaukee). Not in my current social circle. Not at work. Not in our neighborhood. Not in our community which is 85% white. Apparently I am not alone

    Will we find things to talk about? Will we get each other? That I'm making this about my own comfort is insightful. We four have gathered to do a job together and race or gender is simply irrelevant. 

    The task IS big. They need to unpack hundreds of boxes of books, stack them on tables for me to sign, add stickers to the front and backs of the books, then re-pack and tape the boxes in preparation to load everything onto a semi trailer that will show up at my building in three days.

    The first hour is awkward as we all start to work side by side, trying to figure out a sensible work flow.  Michael calls me "Miss Marianne" and the others follow suit.

    “You don't need to call me that,” I tell him. “Marianne is fine.” 

    “No, Miss Marianne,” Michael says, “you made these books and because of you, I get to make some money today.”

    I'm suddenly aware that all my books have white kids on the cover and I wonder what Michael thinks of that. I ask him.

    “It's usually like that,” he says.

    I want to know more. And so while I sign book after book after book, I start asking questions. Who are these men?  What are their stories?  Over the course of three days and 5000 books, this is what I learn:

    • Michael hasn't seen his mom in a long time, so he hopped a bus to Minneapolis with the clothes on his back to find his dad who supposedly lived here.  He found him and lived with him for awhile ... until he didn't.

    • He's expecting a baby with this girlfriend in a few months and is feeling the pressure to provide. So he's working every job he can.

    • It's hard being a black guy. Michael and Charlie* tell me stories of people walking to the other side of the street when they see a black guy coming.

    Timothy* (aka other white person) and I are surprised. They assure me they're used to it.

    • Michael tells me a waiter once spit in his food before serving it to him.

    Timothy (aka other white person) and I are aghast. Charlie shrugs it off with a “shit happens” nonchalance.

    • They think I am so very white and don't understand half of what they experience.

    They are right. 

    • Michael wants to teach “Miss Marianne” to “talk black.” So he tells me that instead of telling my kids to “be quiet,” I should tell them to , “Pump. Their. Brakes.” He teaches me how to say it. The exact inflections I should use.

    We practice over and over together and the four of us laugh at the white girl trying to talk black. They tell me I'm getting better, and it's a proud moment for me.

    We talk, share, and laugh for three days. We talk about prejudice and race. We talk about parents. Kids. Wanting them. Having them. Raising them. We talk about my business that was and now isn't. We talk about making a living — the challenges and rewards. We talk about life. At the end of our three days, as we pack the last box onto the semi-trailer  pulled into my dock, I feel sad about saying goodbye to my team. I know we likely won't see each other again. But I know we were meant to be together in this place in time, no matter how brief. There were things I needed to learn about myself that they taught me in kind, honest ways. And hopefully I've left them with something, too. 

    I sign a copy of I Love You So Much  for Michael's new baby (my one book with black people on the cover).  I am changed because of them.  Our conversations shocked me at times, humbled and embarrassed me at others — and prompted me to re-examine my own beliefs, prejudice and assumptions.

    I learned this too: We all want the same things in life: family, security, love, empathy respect, understanding and opportunity. What it looks like and how we get it is different because of the way the world is. But we have lots to teach one another if we're open and willing to listen without judgement.

    Charlie and Timothy get in their cars, waving to me as they turn the corner.

    Michael stands next to me. “Thanks for the work, Miss Marianne,” he says. 

    “You're welcome, Michael,” I reply.  “Thanks so much for your help.”

    We hug. I really, really like him.

    He walks down the front step where he and I first met and turns right, walking five miles to somewhere.

    The Heart of the Matter: Keep your heart open longer than what feels comfortable because that's when change can begin.

    p.s. Six years later, I still tell my kids to Pump. Their. Brakes. Thanks Michael, wherever you are.  :)

    * names changed.


    Give dad the gift of your words June 15, 2016 10:12 2 Comments

    Like many moms, the Father’s Day gift thing always gave me trouble. How many Home Depot gift cards, tools, or tee-shirts could I gift through the years? So when my first two boys were little, I decided I would create a “perpetual gift” that we could re-give every year.

    And it’s this book – the Dad book.

    I bought a simple black book at an art store – and decorated the first page with Dear Dad.

    The first year or two, I wrote the entries for the kids, and put a picture in there. They may have added a scribble or two. I know I’ve traced a hand or two in there…

    The next year, I had them dictate to me what they would say if they could write it down.

    Eventually they started taking over the writing…

    And the letters keep getting a little more heartfelt and grown up…

    Every year, a couple days before Father’s Day, I give the Dad Book to one child – and have him or her pass it around to the others. The kids love seeing Jim’s reaction to their entries year to year … and I know how much he treasures their thoughts to him. I just know it grows more precious every year.

    Cost = $0 — so feel free to accompany it with a wrench or bottle of Old Spice (think my dad had a 10 year supply…)

    The Heart of the Matter:  Words from the heart are the best gift of all.

    A different kind of award night May 27, 2016 11:31

    For once in my life, I have something in common with Justin Bieber. On his Instagram post (yep, I'm a follower!) after the Billboard Music Awards, he said this:  “I don't know about these award shows ... I don't feel good when I'm there nor after." His reference was to the format of recognition for performance.

    I kinda get it. 

    My oldest son and I attended the Senior Awards Night last night and sat through two hours of accolades for some majorly high - achieving kids. This is Silicon Valley after all. Their collective accomplishments are amazing. Stellar GPAs! Hundreds of community service hours! Three sport athletes!  Tutors of the underprivileged! Teachers heaped praise about students' sterling character, luminous spirits, unwavering work ethic and impact on them personally. They deserve every ounce of congratulations, my own kid included.

    AND YET.

    My mind naturally drifted to my second son who will likely never attend such an awards night. His GPA just doesn't cut it. And he's more interested in spending his Saturdays shooting hoops at the community park than serving food to the homeless. And studying? Not really his gig. What IS amazing, however, is his GPA without studying. And funny?  OMG yes. Best dog walker?  By far. Ketchup on Cheetos?  Yep, an individual. But not awards-night material. As parents, our challenge is to help navigate a path for this type of kiddo, too,  for whom the traditional four-year college may not be the next best step. Which is FINE ... it's just a less clear-cut path. And one that takes more looking, seeking, trying on.  And one I find parents (myself included) explaining and defending. Perhaps because it's not a celebrated path in the traditional, end-of-year sense.

    Perhaps there should be a second awards night for those show-up-every-day-average students whose skill set falls into categories not usually recognized at year end.  And I have some ideas:

    • Most flavorful snacks brought to Film Studies.

    • Impressive wood shop project that might sell on Ebay. 

    • Funniest banter in 6th-hour Chemistry.

    • Impressive 3-point shot during lunch hour basketball game.

    • Most clever hiding spots for food and homework in bedroom.

    You know... just for starters. Because these accomplishments represent some serious creativity and inventiveness, too.

    I'd clear my calendar for this second awards night. Hell, I might even be co-chair and bring extra cookies.

    The Heart of the Matter: Let's expand our definition of what's award-worthy in the life of our kids. 


    Appreciation is Good for the Heart March 28, 2016 11:40 2 Comments

    Let's be honest. It’s often easier to criticize the outcome than appreciate the effort behind it.

    This past weekend, my daughter holed herself up in room for hours on Saturday, making a poster for her drama classmates. The big spring musical was that night and she wanted to give them a memory, a tribute. She painstakingly depicted each of the 30 kids as cartoon caricatures, inspired by their role in the play. Proud and excited, she brought the poster to school and hung it on the wall backstage. It didn't take long before several kids wandered over and began critiquing her drawings. “Julia, you made me look so fat,” one said. “OMG -- look at that hair. I look like I'm bald,” said another. My daughter started to tear up, hurt by their inability to appreciate her efforts in favor of their own self-absorption, albeit totally natural for most 13 and 14-year-olds.

    Thankfully Josh, a sweet boy who can totally rock a man-bun, saw what was going on and came to her rescue. “You guys,” he implored, “Julia worked really hard on this.” Emboldened by his encouragement, my daughter said, “Ya, I made this for all of you and I don't care what you think.”  But she did. Deeply. And it hurt that no one noticed the tremendous work she had put forth. 

    As a parent, of course, my heart hurt as I saw her pride excitement about her poster end somewhere between embarrassment and self-doubt. She's a pretty confident kid who I know will bounce back, but still, I cringed at the wound to her tender spirit.

    We talked about it later.  “People are quick to find fault and we can't control their responses," I said. “Try to focus on happiness you felt making the gift.” 

    We focus a lot of our kids' accomplishments and activities. These events, however, remind me I need to double down on appreciating the effort behind the outcome and trying to grow my children to be compassionate, kind and supportive. And who can recognize and appreciate in another the tremendous effort it takes to show up in life. 

    The HeartMath Institute in California, a nonprofit research and education organization, has actually proven that individuals who intentionally focus on appreciation or other positive emotions can boost their immune system and change their heart rhythm patterns from chaotic to smooth and rhythmic, like ocean waves. . 

    Institute of HeartMath Frustration, Appreciation

    These actual heart-monitor readouts contrast the heart-rhythm pattern of an individual experiencing frustration and then appreciation. We know that appreciate feels good but know we also know sincere appreciation actually makes us healthier! 

    It takes a lot of courage to show up and be seen. Let's give each other the gift of acknowledging the effort. 

    The Heart of the Matter: Appreciation is good for the heart — literally. 

    Blog Archives May 14, 2015 17:34

    When I created this new website, I could not carry forward my previous blog. This link connects you to some of my writings and reflections through the years.