Don’t Regret Missed Opportunities!

“Want to go in on this?” my friend Stacey Hurlin asked in an email proposing a unique way to honor our friend, Phyllis Khare, who—on her birthday—was slated to give us a mini-tutorial on writing effective blog titles. “Any thought?” Stacey prodded.

Even though Stacey’s track record makes it wise to say yes, I thought, No, we shouldn’t do it. Stacey launched award-winning First Friday Art Walks, successful women’s crisis center fundraising events, and international small works exhibits featuring over 300 artists. For Phyllis’s birthday, Stacey wanted to surprise her during class with iced cupcakes topped with tiny posters bearing social media logos. Clever, right?

But a traumatic brain injury I sustained in a car accident four years ago skews my thoughts towards the glass-empty side. Phyllis, a social media guru, vigorously consumes every class minute trying to transmit her mercurial mind’s contents to ours. Mightn’t she feel miffed about us diverting our attention? In the cupcake photo Stacey sent, turquoise icing coiled near the curly edges of pastel paper cups. Couldn’t icky icing end up on—or worse yet inside— students’ keyboards? Stacey proposed buying healthier cupcakes than the ones pictured. No turquoise icing! But our town is marbled with foodies who embrace conflicting opinions about what’s good to eat. Wouldn’t class members regard gluten, sugar, fat, even the mere concept of cupcakes revolting?

Yes! Yes! Yes! I concluded. So I shot off a curmudgeonly, wet-blanket email to Stacey expressing my concerns.   

Ha! Stacey’s entrenched creativity easily survived my feeble attempts to dispel it. Recognizing the futility of searching for cupcakes acceptable to divergent palates, Stacey, herself, baked wheat-based and gluten-free versions. Some she topped with sugarless cream cheese icing tinted pink with beet juice.

While constructing mini-posters of social media logos, Stacey chose vivid versions. She foresaw possibilities that Phyllis later fulfilled by enticing her grandkids to play games with the toddler-friendly posters after the cupcakes were gone. Before they were gone, Stacey’s Pinterest poster towered above the rest: the P, she explained, stood not just for Pinterest but also for Phyllis, our ebullient teacher.

The silver platter Stacey grabbed from a cupboard, the one she stacked concentric circles of cupcake tiers on, turned out to be a lazy Susan. So, although Phyllis did at first protest losing precious class minutes to birthday cake frivolity, when she spotted the vibrant logos and her fingers grazed the silver platter and the cupcakes spun around, the birthday girl and all of us clustered around her sensed how magical the moment was that Stacey had made.

What if,  instead of discouraging Stacey, I’d offered to work alongside her? How much fun did my curmudgeonly attitude cost me? How much healing laughter did I forfeit to fear?

Four years later I’m nearly done grieving the changes I experienced after a drunk dental hygienist rammed my car at 11 AM on a drizzly summer Saturday while my Camry and I were stopped at a red light. Enough already with the glass-empty thinking! When you’re lucky, a red light, a solid stop, is followed by a start. One day, in a room filled with sunlight, cupcakes spun on a silver platter amid a circle of bright, happy women. And I was there. I saw that.




Social Media Marketing Students Fete Trainer Phyllis Khare with SEO-Themed Cupcake Tier

Say Yes to Creativity Every Day


Anola Pickett

Each book begins with a specific incident or memory that someone has shared with me,” author Anola Pickett reported in an interview posted on four days after her 80th birthday.

Set in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1918, her newest historical novel is Callahan Crossroads. Its main character, 12-year-old George, must decide how to react when bullies harass his elderly, widowed neighbor whose husband was German. During a KRUU interview, Anola identified how the creative impulse to write this book arose.

In 1918, when her mother was six years old, neighborhood boys made a dummy of Kaiser Wilhelm, attached it to the back of a car, dragged it around, and then burned it. Anola’s mother shared many memories with her about growing up in Kansas City, Missouri during World War I, but, for Anola, this one stood out.

“That gave impetus to exploring the negative attitude towards anyone or anything German during the war,” Anola explained.

During an earlier KRUU interview, Anola revealed the origin of Whisper Island, her second historical novel. Long ago, she and her husband attended a park ranger’s program at North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

“One shipwreck story that happened in 1913 caught my fancy,” Anola explained, “because the first person off the ship was the captain’s wife, who was very large. Instead of being grateful to the men who were rescuing her, she complained all the way off the ship about losing her jewelry, her clothes, and her fine things,” Anola recalled.

“The other thing that caught my fancy was the fact that when the captain came off, he brought his St. Bernard dog with him. Later he gave that dog to the villagers. So that gave me two little things to spring off of and develop a story,” she concluded.

An eight-year-old shepherdess inspired Anola’s first historical novel, Wasatch Summer. Anola heard the shepherdess’s story from a friend of a friend whose ancestor she was. (An Author’s Note explains that Anola made her fictional shepherdess, Hannah, three years older due to her book’s complexity.) Alone, in 1889, the real-life girl took her family’s sheep to a Utah mountain valley, where she stayed to tend them alone all summer. While there, she met  Blackfeet Indians who helped and comforted her.

Octogenarian Anola Pickett spins odd things—Kaiser Wilhelm’s effigy aflame in Kansas City, Missouri; a St. Bernard rescued from a sinking ship near North Carolina’s Outer Banks; an eight-year-old shepherdess sent to tend sheep alone in a Utah mountain valley—into engaging and historically accurate fiction for children. Why? Her curious, caring, and compassionate nature compels her to share people who shaped our past with those who will form our future. Compassion, curiosity, caring—an octogenarian’s values seem oddly quaint in our present day era of hotly contentious division. If we could look at the world through kind, cool eyes like Anola’s, would our creativity flourish? Would we? Would our nation?