Posted in Artwork

Having a Ball

6×6″ mixed media (vintage photo and papers; acrylics; found objects)

Posted in Articles

Meet Annie: She’s a kid like you

Annie is a little girl who is just like other kids. She has a family – a mom, a dad, a big brother, a big sister and an uncle and grandma, too. And she loves them very much.

Annie is more like kids her age than she is different. That’s the message Heather J. Scharlau-Hollis, the author of the children’s book, “Meet Annie,” was trying to get across.

The character of Annie was inspired by her 2-1/2-year-old daughter, Annika. Annika has Down syndrome.

“I wrote it as therapy for myself, but it ended up being more than that,” Heather said. “I wanted to educate people.”

Heather said she had no idea what life would be like when doctors told her that Annika had Down syndrome.
“It took me about two to three weeks to get over the initial hump of depression,” she said. “I felt like I was living someone else’s life…it was like watching a Lifetime movie – only I was the Lifetime movie.”

“Now I look at it and I think I shouldn’t have been so upset,” she said.

Heather wrote the book while waiting in Annika’s hospital room after one of Annika’s multiple surgeries – she has undergone 10 since birth for an assortment of physical problems, from hernias to a rare heart deformity. Annika is tube-fed, and takes numerous medications every day.

Heather said most of the materials she read about Annika’s condition were rather dark and depressing.

She was given a “big, thick book” on Down syndrome and learned that age range for walking could be 9 months to 6 years. That children who have Downs have an 80 percent greater chance of getting leukemia than a child who does not have Downs. Then there was the huge list of physical problems that accompanies the condition.

“I thought, ‘Can somebody just tell me something good?

“There’s not anything out there (that’s positive),” she said. “It’s all sad stuff.”

That’s when Heather came up with the idea for “Meet Annie.”

She said she thought, “It would be nice to give parents a book like this – something positive for the future.”

In simple language, and with the assistance of colorful drawings by a Tate Publishing illustrator, she describes a day in the life of a typical little girl. Annie loves, eats, gets messy, needs help, gets mad, gets scared and – yes, she even gets in trouble.

“(Annika) still gets in trouble like my other kids,” Heather said. “She knows what she’s doing, even though she communicates it in a different way.”

Heather has taken copies of her book to schools in her hometown of Beloit, Wis., to share her story and hopefully help kids understand that kids are just kids, no matter how they look, learn or understand things.

She said it was difficult to take Annika out and about – but now she does it anyway.

“People used to stare continuously,” she said, adding that parents who have children with special needs often “just don’t go anywhere.”

“We do a lot of things. We go to the mall, we go out to eat,” she said.

Her family life is a learning experience every day. “There’s no book to tell you what to do,” she said.

Heather said publishing the book was almost a fluke – she sent it to five publishers, and Tate Publishing and Enterprises agreed to publish it.

“It was surreal to me,” she said. “(And) if this one goes over well…they’ll ask me for my second book.”

“Meet Annie” is available through,, or directly through the publisher at

Those who purchase the book can download a free audio book from the publisher’s Web site as well. Heather’s 10-year-old daughter narrated the book.

Posted in Columns

Tonka trucks and tears

Cleaning out the garage can be an emotional experience. I spent Sunday afternoon helping my husband sort through the remaining boxes, crates, bags and other stuff that has been piled in the garage since we moved. He thought it would be nice if we could fit a car or two in the garage, since that would be its original purpose.

While he was involved in sort-ing and alphabetizing his tools and electronic equipment, I started pulling things out of my old toybox. Parked at the bottom were four mud-caked Tonka trucks. I set them outside, hooked up the hose and started spraying them with water to loosen the dirt.

Then I started to cry. Really. My brain took that motherly path from gee-I-remember-when-our-boys-were-little to oh-my-gosh-they’re-graduating-from-high-school-this-year. I could see my sons at three or four sitting on the dump truck, hurtling themselves down the driveway. Now they’re both over six feet tall – I doubt they’ll be riding the dump truck any time soon.

Then there was the time we had a septic system dug at our previous home. The guy was in the yard with his backhoe, working steadily to install the maze of pipes. At the same time, my two boys were playing in the front yard with their trucks, carefully digging their own trenches with a miniature backhoe that loaded sand steadily into the dump truck most of the afternoon.

It’s one of those things about parenting. When the kids are little, you can’t wait till they get big. When they’re big, you wonder how that happened so fast. I almost want to turn the clock back, or at least put it on hold so I can savor each moment – although given human nature, I doubt the savoring would last very long. It would be like final act in Thorton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” in which Emily revisits her 12th birthday after she dies. She watches everyone, especially her mother, hurry through life, not thinking, not really taking it in. Finally it is too much, and she returns to her seat in the graveyard, frustrated and disappointed.

I try hard not to hold on to things, so we won’t be buried in endless clutter. But there are some objects that bring up so many memories, I just can’t part with them. I’m not sure whether my boys care if we saved their Tonka trucks or not; however, they will be parked in their plastic bin garage in the basement until someone wants to play with them. My old toybox with its scratched paint and faded circus images will sit and wait. My dad made the box for my sister and I, and every time I look at it I can see the two of us pulling out every toy we owned so we could climb in and sail off on some sort of imaginary adventure. It’s a simple box, but even as it stands empty, I see it as full because of the memories it holds.

Who knew cleaning the garage could become such an emotional experience. All we really wanted was a place to park the cars. Instead, I took a trip through time.