Too Much Coincidence Not to be Part of the Cosmic Plan

By Trish Wilkinson

In the face of academic demands ratcheting higher, stressing out children and their parents, seven years ago, I set out to write Grade by Grade: A Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K—5. The book would be a What to Expect When You’re Expecting for elementary school. I wanted to help bring families closer in this techno-hustle world and support parents in raising well-adjusted kids.

I’d collected a boatload of convenient games for parents and children to play on car rides, at the doctor’s office, or in line at the grocery store at each grade level—activities to strengthen relationships and help kids thrive, whatever their learning environment.

After twenty-three years of teaching in the classroom, three years of reading studies and articles, and doing interviews with lots of professionals and parents, I decided I was ready to take an online class with Media Bistro to write a killer book proposal.

But once I started sending out queries and talking to agents and publishers at conferences, the response was always the same:

“It’s a great idea,but parenting books written by teachers don’t sell well.”

It didn’t matter that I’m one of the few teachers who has taught all the grades, from kindergarten through sixth, so I could speak from experience. I didn’t have a PhD or several thousand blog followers, so the book wasn’t worth publishing.

My plastic file box, jammed with folders of notes, articles, research studies, and interviews, collected dust in our garage for three more years.

When our older daughter graduated from Cal Poly, and our younger daughter was in her senior year at Williams College, my husband and I decided to move to Bend, Oregon to put 94.9 Central Oregon Fox Sports Radio on the air. To make the move from San Diego, California, we threw out eighteen years of accumulated non-essentials—including my box full of research.

But no effort is wasted.

I often remind my clients of this. Our endeavors don’t always get rewarded in the time-frame we expect. Sometimes the skills we learn on a project apply to the next one that gets the results we’ve been seeking.

Shortly after my husband and I moved to Bend, I arranged for Howard Shulman to give a presentation on his book Running From the Mirror and to teach a workshop with me on how to write a memoir at the San Diego Southern California Writers’ Conference in February 2016. His publisher, Sandra, of Sandra Jonas Publishing in Boulder Colorado, called me to coordinate promotions for the book.

And the two of us hit it off.

Sandra is an incredibly conscientious, passionate hard-worker—like I am.

After the conference, we kept in contact, and she asked me to do a developmental edit for one of her authors. This author’s novel had a fabulous premise, but the story and characters needed fleshing out—which we did, and it’s awesome now!

Watermelon Snow by debut author William Lippett, an intriguing story of scientists, melting glaciers, catastrophic egos, treacherous journeys across the ice, and a bit of romantic tension, chock-full of suspense that’s sure to keep you turning pages, will be released in June 2017.

When wrapping up the edit for Watermelon Snow, Sandra mentioned one of her other authors, Jacqueline Frischknecht. Jackie was a PhD who’d done a ton of brain research related to how function and development affect children’s education. She wrote a manuscript called Boosting Brain Power: Leveraging Students’ Learning Abilities.

“What a fabulous idea!” I said and gave Sandra my one-sentence summary of the Grade-by- Grade project, so she would know I had the background to provide whatever help she needed.

Sadly, Jackie passed away while working to develop the manuscript for publication. It still needed focus, organization, and a friendlier tone.

Jackie’s dying wish had been to publish the book, and her family wanted to see that wish granted. Sandra asked me to read the manuscript to see if I could do a content edit that would: a) make Jackie’s writing sound more conversational, b) hone the focus, and c) flesh out the work to make the book user-friendly for parents and teachers. Excited to work with Sandra on another project, I told her I would be happy to read the manuscript and come up with a plan to get it in shape for publication.

Jackie’s research was excellent and her ideas empowering.

Digital Image by Sean Locke
Digital Planet Design
www.digitalplanetdesign.com

However, to make the book an effective resource, the material needed to be geared for parents or educators, not both. Experts all over the country train teachers to use brain research to drive curriculum, such as Dr. Eric Jenkins who has written many books for educators, Dr. Carol Dwek, and veteran teacher Pat Wolfe, so I told Sandra that Jackie’s work may best serve parents.

 

Still, to create such a manuscript, I would have to read more recent studies as brain development has been a hot topic over the last decade in the research community. I’d have to almost rewrite Jackie’s book to make it work.

“Would you mind sending me your Grade-by-Grade book proposal, so I can get an idea of what you’re talking about?” Sandra asked.

Although I’d tossed my magic box of research, the proposal had been saved on a flash drive, so I said, “Sure,” and attached the file to an email without much thought.

A week later, Sandra called and said she loved my book proposal: my voice, the grade-by-grade progression, how I present what will be expected of kids that year socially and academically, the games, the “Real Deal” (goofy true-life stories), the tips for everything from communicating with teachers to family organization to healthy snacks on the go…

And Sandra had sent the proposal to Jackie’s family. She asked them how they would feel about me co-writing the book with Jackie; that is, using Jackie’s brain research and ideas for capitalizing on current brain development and function to my grade by grade structure, integrating my information on social development, games, tips for organization, and all the rest.

Jackie’s family liked the idea and even paid me a stipend to work like crazy for five months (in the proposal, I’d given myself a year) to complete the manuscript. I mourned the loss of the box I’d thrown out in the move, but truthfully, the more recent interviews and research will better serve parents anyway.

THIS is the book that was meant to be published.

Jacqueline Frischknecht 1932-2015

Though I never had the pleasure to meet Jackie in person, we share our passion for educating and empowering children and families. At times, I felt her looking over my shoulder, guiding my research, nudging me to include this or that as my fingers flew across the keyboard. I learned so much about brain development and the nuts and bolts of how humans learn.

BRAIN STAGES: A Grade-by-Grade Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K-5  by Jacqueline Frischknecht, Ph.D. and Trish Wilkinson will be released in March 2018.

The original release date was in September 2017, but after careful consideration and further planning, Sandra and I decided an extra six months will give us the time we need to make this book the best possible resource for helping families develop a solid mental, emotional, physical, and social foundation for kids in the elementary school years.

Parents who have children at various grade levels are reading chapters to give feedback, and we’re fine-tuning the manuscript now. But mostly they say things like: “I used to get annoyed with my daughter, but knowing what’s going on in her brain takes away the judgement. Our house is so much more relaxed than it was before I read that chapter.”

Simon Tucker, a friend and media intern at Compass Church in Bend, is working with me to develop an awesome Brain Stages website. We plan to make videos of kids and parents playing some of the games in the book as well as post all kinds of helpful hints for raising smart, happy kids, so stay tuned…

I’ll let you know when the new site goes up, show off the cover art when we make a decision, and inform you of upcoming events.

I’d say, “Wish us luck,” except there have been too many “coincidences” involved with this project.

Whatever your beliefs, providence or the cosmos,

 BRAIN STAGES

A Grade by Grade Guide to Raising Smart, Happy Kids, K—5

                                              was simply meant to be.

A Band of Brothers: Veterans Helping Veterans

obob-logo-webIn honor of Veteran’s Day this month, I’ve decided to write a series of posts about some amazing people I’ve met in my new town in Central Oregon. They call themselves “A Band of Brothers” although women have joined the organization, too. In 2006, a few World War II Veterans started meeting weekly in Bend, Oregon, and almost ten years later, the group has grown into the hundreds. U.S. Veterans include those who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Falkland Islands, Germany in peace time (that seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?), and various conflicts in the Middle East. A few years ago, retired First Responders, our “domestic protectors,” joined the organization as well.

The Band of Brothers’ mission statement: “To provide veterans and current members of the military with the opportunity to share friendship, camaraderie and assistance.”

Elk's Club in Bend, OR
Elk’s Club in Bend, OR

Who knew that WWII Veteran, Phil Bellefeuille’s idea to get a few buddies together for coffee in the fall of 2006 would give support to so many? The original group of nine veterans who met at the Elks Club had such a great time swapping stories, they coined themselves the “Old Pharts: A Band of Brothers” and started meeting weekly at various local restaurants. The Bend Bulletin heard about those guys and published an article that included an invitation from Phil for any veteran to attend.

New brother and sister veterans showed up each week. The group quickly outgrew descending upon random restaurants, so Vietnam War10724170_708747482536519_924899253_n Veteran, Lyle Hicks, stepped up to solve the problem.  Hicks owns Jake’s Diner and offered to reserve the back room in his restaurant for meetings, including a reasonably priced breakfast buffet to accommodate everyone.

By 2008, they had dedicated an American flag to the Bend Heroes Memorial and dropped the “Old Pharts” moniker to become the “Bend Band of Brothers”. The organization was granted non-profit status in 2011.

IMG_0632Today, Hicks dedicates the main restaurant on Monday mornings to his veteran brothers and sisters. Although full of good cheer, even the larger space is a bit of a squeeze.

 

 

 

When welcoming back a veteran who has been fighting cancer, Secretary, Treasurer Ray Hartzell quips:

“We’re so glad to have you back, Lanny…even if he is army.”

The diner bursts into laughter and good-natured ribbing until Hartzell blows a whistle, calling the room back to order.

The harmless flirtation from some of these guys has been a crack up, not to mention good for my ego. Others are complete gentlemen, such as 95-year-old Bob Maxwell, the oldest living recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor; Vietnam Veteran Richard Fleming, diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1966 but wasn’t told until 2013; Captain Bill Collier who wrote his memoir, The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot: Flying the H-34 Helicopter in Vietnam for the United States Marine Corps, and many more. (Stay tuned for posts of veterans’ incredible personal stories.)

As members have moved away and people from other towns have visited, new Band of Brothers chapters have emerged, first throughoutvet-salute Central Oregon and then in other states, such as Idaho and Washington. Veterans’ family members have also joined as they, too, find friendship and comfort in becoming acquainted with others who have lived through similar experiences.

Besides providing emotional support and companionship, the Band of Brothers chapters raise funds to help veterans in need, provide veteran funerals with the “Flag Line Honor Guard”, donate to projects such as Honor Flight, contribute to Central Oregon Veterans Outreach and other veterans’ organizations. Though founder Phil Bellefeuille passed away in March, 2011, he left a legacy for which many are grateful.

I hope you will join me for individual Band of Brothers members’ amazing stories in the posts to follow in the coming weeks.

Small Town Girl Makes a Big City Difference

Elizabeth Escobar
Elizabeth Escobar

Born in El Centro, California to a 17-year-old mother and a father who was barely 21, Elizabeth Escobar’s parents were too young to know themselves, much less take care of a small child. Due to her dad’s quick temper, Elizabeth witnessed a great deal of domestic violence, though she spent considerable time with her paternal grandparents. When she became old enough to go to kindergarten, school became her refuge. Learning new things excited Elizabeth and provided distraction from her harsh reality at home.

 

Then in first grade, a boy started tormenting her, constantly calling her names because she was chubby. In second grade, the bully’s taunting became worse when her teacher berated Elizabeth in front of the class for not being able to make it across the monkey bars. That same teacher continued to chide her publically in the fourth grade, stripping the little self-esteem Elizabeth had managed to hold onto. Her mom visited the school to talk to the teacher several times, but the woman refused to stop forcing Elizabeth to hang from the bars until she fell off, all the while scolding her for not being able to grasp the next rung (after decades of mistreating children, this teacher is finally under investigation, according to an aunt who still lives in El Centro).

 

During this time, Elizabeth walked into the kitchen to get something to drink, just as her father flew into one of his rages. He backhanded her in the face, giving her a bloody nose that took what seemed like hours for her and her mother to quell. She remembers her mom crying, holding towels soaked in blood. The incident gave her mother the strength and resolve to leave her dad.

 

At age nine, Elizabeth moved into her maternal grandparents’ house in a smaller town. The first week at her new K-8 public school, a girl with a reputation for picking on people chose Elizabeth for her next target. Elizabeth couldn’t believe she’d captured the attention of yet another bully. At the end of the day, the girl and her group of minions stared at Elizabeth walking toward them from outside the school gates. Elizabeth knew the smirks on their faces meant trouble, so she turned around and headed back to her classroom. As she was about to escape inside the door, the bully caught up and punched Elizabeth in the back. Her new fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Murua, heard the commotion and took off to find the attacker. The occasional grumbles from other kids, accusing Elizabeth of “snitching,” had been worth being left alone from that day forward.

 

Elizabeth flourished after that rocky beginning. She met some of her all-time favorite teachers at that neighborhood school.

 

“Mrs. Mura protected, mentored, and saw something in me. She…was my angel…who changed my life…followed by Mr. Galindo, Mr. Colunga, and Mr. Lozano,” Elizabeth recalls. “Thank God I had teachers who looked out for me!”

 

Elizabeth graduated from the eighth grade as the class valedictorian.

 

In the meantime, her dad got help to learn to control his anger, so her parents got back together, and her home life improved. Her mom went back to school to become a licensed vocational nurse (LVN), and her dad enrolled in the Correctional Officer’s Academy.

  “What I went through during my childhood made me realize…an education was so important because no one could take that away from me,” Elizabeth explains. “It was the only way I could become independent.”

 

Elizabeth did well in high school and attended the local community college. She held two jobs to support herself and to pay for classes, since her parents didn’t have the means to contribute financially. At one of her jobs at a fast food restaurant, her sociology professor used to show up and sit at a table near where she’d be cleaning. “You are too good for this,” he would tell her. “You need to leave the [Imperial] valley.”

 

In three years, Elizabeth earned an Associate of Arts degree with honors and had decided to take her professor’s advice. Although the Criminal Justice department at San Diego State University (SDSU) was severely impacted, she applied anyway – and she got accepted to the program!

 

She attended SDSU part time and worked full time until she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice in 2004. During her senior year, she completed an internship with the County of San Diego Public Defender’s Office, where she works today.

 

Elizabeth with her Hermanita, Erika
Elizabeth with her Hermanita, Erika

In the Public Defender’s office, Elizabeth had mentioned her desire to help kids, especially girls, “not to get caught up in the system.” One of her co-workers saw an ad in the Union Tribune asking for mentors to participate in the Hermanitas® (Little Sisters) program in 2006, an affiliate of MANA, a nationwide Latina organization.

 

That was almost eight years ago.

 

Since then, Elizabeth has been mentor for up to three young Latinas at a time.

This year, Erika, Elizabeth’s Hermanita since sixth grade, will graduate from high school, so the two of them are busily planning SAT dates,

Elizabeth and Erika on the field at Petco Park
Elizabeth and Erika on the field at Petco Park

revising Erika’s personal statement to apply for colleges, and making lists of possibilities for the institution where Erika will begin her next education adventure a year from now.

 

And Elizabeth has become the Director for Hermanitas®, determined to give as many girls as possible the tools and support to succeed in today’s world.

 

Elizabeth has powered through adversity and found dreams were attainable if she stayed focused and moved through her fears. Along the way, mentors helped her to create a path for her future. They provided advice, and most of all, they believed in her. Now Elizabeth returns that support and love to others, so they, too, will find themselves living successful, fulfilling lives.

 

We’d love to hear from you! If you or someone you know has a story of success through grit and determination, or you have something to say about our small town girl who touches more lives than she’d ever imagined, please write a comment below, and share this with your friends. J

Young Latinas, Full Speed Ahead!

Hermanitas Graduation (2)Latinas, ages 12 to 18, enter the Hermanitas® program and find themselves on paths to futures they never dreamed possible. An affiliate of MANA, Hermanitas® meets once a month and provides one-on-one mentors, professional women who support the girls in reaching for the stars with the “Sí. Yo puedo.” or “Yes. I can.” attitude that gave me the idea for writing this blog.

 

An Hispanic girlfriend suggested I join MANA, the largest Latina organization in the United States when she found out the main character in my YA novels is a Latina, because, well, the character had to be; I couldn’t write her any other way. Hermanitas® gave me a venue for contributing to an awesome group of girls and allowed me to learn enough to develop my Latino characters with respect. Yep. For these past 5 years I’ve largely been the only white chick mentoring Hispanic girls. At times, I’ve felt a bit out of place, but the lovely ladies who run the program and the incredible young girls we mentor have mostly made me feel like I belong on their quest for success, right along with them.

 

On June 6, the Hermanitas®  Graduation at the University of San Diego celebrated fifteen Latinas’ admissions to community colleges, universities, and even the Ivy Leagues. Maria Mendez was the recipient of the MANA President’s Award and received a scholarship for her college education. Maria Olea was the Hermanitas’ keynote speaker and will be attending Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the fall. She told the audience: “…I stayed [in Hermanitas® ] because there were people who saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself, and they provided the ‘how’ [to succeed].”

 

Director Celina Caprio received a standing ovation for her tireless service to Hermanitas as she passed the baton to Elizabeth Escobar for the coming year. “Everything I am is because I am loved and someone believed in me,” Caprio told the girls. “In the 9 years I have been fortunate to be a part of this program, I’ve witnessed shy girls finding their voice, goals taking shape and dreams…come true, [and] I want you to know…I believe in you. We believe in you.”

 

 

We have another 80 girls working hard in school with big goals and dreams. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor or contributing to the program visit http://www.manasd.org/. In the coming weeks, I hope to feature some of the mentors and hermanitas. You’ll love their stories. These feisty females are total badasses.

Writers’ Retreat Workshop: the Ultimate Experience to Develop Your Writing Chops

Are you doing anything May 8 through 15? This is last minute notice, but if you’re a writer, you should know the Writers’ Retreat Workshop

Me at WRW a couple years ago.
Me at WRW a couple years ago.

(WRW) has a few spots left for the upcoming annual event that will change your life. This year, it’s being held at Purple Sage Ranch, just outside of Antonio, Texas.

Here’s how it works: A fabulous professional editor, agent, or bestselling author gives a workshop. Then everyone goes back to their rooms and uses their shiny, freshly acquired new tools to write or revise their butts off. Then you share in whole and small groups to give and get feedback to revise some more. The pros also view your work to give direction to take your writing to the next level. With all this guided practice, you and your fellow WRW writers provide some of the most amazing feedback in critique groups anywhere. Another bonus is the connections you make with writers from all over the U.S. and often from other countries, such as Belgium and Australia.

And there’s partying along the way for those who wish to join in the fun.

When you rejoin the real-world after your week-long reprieve with awesome, like-minded, creative people, WRW adds you to the list serve. WRW participants since 1987, many of whom are successful, published writers, post news and personal events through the site, available to members only. Any alumni may participate in any conversation. I’ve made friends through the list serve and on Facebook that I’ve never met personally.

Purple Sage Ranch: Home of WRW 2014
Purple Sage Ranch: Home of WRW 2014

The 2014 instructors include: bestselling thriller author Grant Blackwood (Briggs Tanner Novels, Fargo series with Clive Cussler), Literary Agent Mary C Moore (Kimberley Cameron agency), YA and romance author Emily McKay (The Farm, The Lair), writer/editor Les Edgerton (The Bitch, Hooked), director and instructor Jason Sitzes, co-founder and author Gail Provost Stockwell.

If you’re a writer who is ready for an intense upgrade in your craft, your understanding of the publishing industry, and the how-to of marketing your work, don’t miss this chance to become the writing professional you want to be!

If nothing else, you owe it to yourself to check out this amazing writers’ experience, so here’s the link: http://writersretreatworkshop.com/events.html

 

Happy writing!!