Monthly Archives: January 2012

Countdown to Kianna …

Twenty-two, 21, 20 … 19 days away from the most celebratory yet sacred introductions: Kianna, meet your parents, Darnell and Kishia. And meet your grandparents: Grandpa and Grammy. (You’ll probably call Grammy “Mrs. Grandpa.”) 

Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #18: Your Grammy and I haven’t always been Grammy and Grandpa. We were once Mommy and Daddy; foster dad and foster mom; just plain ol’ husband and wife; and before that — classmates. We go back a ways. Eighth grade, to be exact — both of us experiencing the divorce of our parents that year.

We’ve been through some stuff, both before we got married and after we said “I do,” which happened two months before my 19th birthday. (Note to Kianna and ALL readers: don’t get married that young. It worked for us, but only because Kelly’s/Grammy’s capacity for grace is deeper than the combined oceans in the universe).

Your mommy, Kishia, lit up our lives three years after our “I do’s,” and then a couple of years later your Auntie Natasha began filling our lives with her songs. Grammy remembers me telling her how I was so afraid that my kids wouldn’t like me. I was the baby of my family; I had no experience with little kids, except for the ever-present, energetic little kid in me.

But I think I did OK as a daddy.

For some reason I don’t have that same worry when it comes to grandfatherhood. I am so ready for this.

I’m betting you’ll like me a lot.


Filed under Family, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

Guest blog: The tale of Kianna’s cake


Cake-baker extraordinaire & City Editor, Columbia Daily Tribune

I’ve been aware for a while that my colleague Jodie was preparing to rename himself Grandpa. What with the “I love Grandpa” ties and the daily blog reminders, it would have been hard not to notice. He was so excited, I felt flattered when he asked for my help in a small way – making a cake for mom-to-be Kishia’s baby shower.

“The theme is onesies,” he said, and he brought me a blank invitation, a cute little onesie-shaped card. The rules were simple: Make a white cake that fits the shower theme and feeds 30.

I decorate cakes as a regular hobby, so I had most of what I needed – a pan large enough to cut the onesie shape from, fondant for decorations and my airbrush machine for coloring them. I drew a template by tracing the invitation and enlarging it. Then I baked my cake, cut the shape and covered it with white buttercream. (There was quite a bit of cake left – co-workers can expect to see cake balls emerging in the newsroom soon with the leftovers).

I cut fondant for the “elastic” around the arms and legs and used a tool to score those pieces like stitching. Then I sprayed them pink from my airbrush, shading a little lighter or darker for different areas of the onesie. I topped it off with a bib – “K” for Kianna, of course. With scraps, I created a rattle and block to round out the board.

The baby shower cake: Very sweet and ready to eat

For you bakers out there, here’s the recipe I used. Jodie and I have a cupcake-baking co-worker who would frown on this, as it starts with a cake mix. But I find that when I’m making a cake a couple of days in advance like this one, those kinds stay moist longer. I doubled this to fill out my large half-sheet pan; it’s written for cupcakes but can adapt to other pans.

White on White Cupcakes
(From: Cupcakes! By the Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn)
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 box white cake mix
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
3 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt white chocolate chips in microwave; stir until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
Blend cake mix, milk, oil, egg, egg whites, vanilla, and melted white chocolate with electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds. Stop scrape down sides of the bowl. Increase speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more.
Bake until lightly golden; time will vary by size of pan, but start with 20 to 25 minutes. For cupcakes, bake 17 to 20 minutes.

I made my delivery to Grandpa the night before the shower, and I trust he got it home safely. This was one of the most fun cakes I’ve created — sure, it was a cute theme, but knowing how pumped Jodie and his family are about the baby made it exciting.

I don’t believe I’ve ever met Kishia. But if she’s anything like her dad (and I don’t doubt that), I’d be lucky to know her. For now, I was just honored to create a small piece of the celebration.

Sorry you didn’t get a taste, Kianna, but if you ever need a birthday cake, just say the word.


Filed under Guest Blog, Kianna Allene Brown, Living Write

Songs of the Seventies …

Countdown to Kianna

Twenty three, 22, 21, 20 days until I get to tell Kishia and Darnell’s beautiful newborn, “Hi, sweet Princess Kianna. I’m Grandpa.”

Memoir-in-Progress: The 70s

From June 1979 to October 1980 — from the summer after my sophomore year in high school to the fall of my senior year — I was a server and later assistant manager of the Belle Drive-In. Don’t get all excited thinking it was a movie theater (which would have been cool). It was a greasy-spoon, fast-food eatery and pinball/pool hall of sorts.

My starting wage was $1/hour. When I was promoted to assistant manager, my wage ballooned to a buck-fifty an hour.


Besides having access to all the Coke I could drink and all the nasty cheeseburgers I could eat, the only real perk was that after closing time on Sunday night, my boss, E.J. Banks, emptied the quarters out of the pinball machines and the jukebox, but left the machines open for me to play to my heart’s content.

Imagine my glee when he acquired the Drive-In’s first video game: Space Invaders.

Nothing takes me back to that time more than the music, so I offer one of my all-time favorites: “Babe” (Styx, 1979).

Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #17: Some people have wondered whether I’ll run out of messages for you. I scoff at those people. Just ask your mom or Mrs. Grandpa: There’s never a time when I have nothing to say.

See you soon!

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The star of the show(er)

Here is what all the fuss is about
Countdown to Kianna: 24, 23, 22, 21 days — three weeks from today — I will be GRANDPA.
Yesterday was Kianna’s baby shower and first-time mama, Kishia, was the center of attention. (And probably some unwanted attention, if the photo is any indication how the day went).
Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #16: I picked this out just for you, just from me.

To Kianna, From Grandpa

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Living write: Navigating the cyber clutter

Countdown to Kianna: 25, 24, 23, 22 days … until the princess Kianna Allene Brown makes a very celebrated entry into our lives — as if she doesn’t already consume our every waking moment.

Now for our regular Saturday programming …

The moment you’ve finished reading this post, do nothing else until you have bookmarked, earmarked, dog-eared or subscribed to the blogs that I’m introducing you to. You can thank me later. For now, though, focus on the profound discoveries I’m going to share. (And you already know there’s an entry for Grandpa’s message to Kianna at the bottom of the post; kind of like the prize at the bottom of a box of cereal. You know, like back in the days of 8-track dashboard consoles?)

Maybe you’ve see Hoarders on the A&E network or Confessions: Animal Hoarding on Animal Planet? I’m ashamed to say I could be a hoarder except that Kelly, by bride of 30 years, wouldn’t allow it. I tend to collect and amass “stuff.” I’m much better than I used to be, but left to my own devices and given enough passage of time, I’d probably find myself someday saying, “Huh. Where IS the front door?”

My email in-boxes are something of a cluttered mess. (At last count I had 10 email addresses, seven of which are devoted solely to Fantasy Baseball, yet another example of digital hoarding). My “favorites” box on Twitter is a hoarder’s dream.  And it’s a constant battle to keep my computer desktops from becoming labyrinths of icons.

But since you’ve tuned in to Jackson’s Journal today, that means you are interested in, perhaps even crave, becoming a better writer. And you have no doubt wondered, “Huh? I’ll bet there are myriad websites and blogs out there that could help satisfy my yearning for writing tips, inspiration and motivation.” And you would be correct.

However, I have already navigated the vast sea of such blogs and websites, and hereby present you with a few of the blogs I follow. The ones listed here are top priority, so you’re okay if you don’t add to the list on your own. Just check back here periodically – Saturdays are probably best – for new entries for your blog-reading menu.

The SINGLE BEST Twitter feed for writers is @elizabethcraig, and her website  has been named by Writer’s Digest as one of the top 100 websites for writers three or four years running. But you must follow her on Twitter. She collects all the best stuff for writers in the Twitterverse and posts it every week.

It’s kind of like having someone bring the old Shoney’s breakfast buffet right to your desk. Very nice.

Two other websites and blogs to get connected with are The Write Practice  and Mighty Red Pen. Even if you’re not currently obsessed with learning to never use passive voice again, as I am, Mighty Red Pen is a very entertaining blog/website.

It has convinced me that indeed grammar are fun. (Um, I meant to do that. See what I did?)

Two authors/writers produce daily can’t-miss content. Jeff Goins and Roz Morris are equal parts inspiration and drill sergeant. For writers waiting for someone to give them their marching orders to “GO WRITE!”, Jeff Goins is your guy. Roz, who also goes by the Twitter ID of @dirtywhitecandy, resides across the pond, as they say. Both writers are generous with their advice and encouragement.

Finally, if you’re simply looking for a brief but usually hilarious daily diversion, let me introduce you to “Riding in Cars with Goats and Other Stories” by my wacky colleague Caroline Dohack. CD grew up in Doniphan, Mo., just a stone’s throw from the Bootheel, in the poorest county in Missouri. Just a head’s up, though: frequent coarse language.

And now …

Grandpa’s message to Kianna #15: You’re going to have lots of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask them. And if I don’t have the answers, well, I’ve got the books. Really, I do. My collection includes What Makes Flamingos Pink?, Do Penguins Have Knees?, Do Fish Drink Water?, and Why Does Popcorn Pop?

And when you’re a little older, you’ll want to read Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things and, my favorite, Panati’s Extraordinary Endings of Practically Everything and Everybody.

Can’t wait!


Filed under Kianna Allene Brown, Living Write

The kind of grandpa I want to be

Countdown to Kianna: 25, 24, 23 days away, or sooner, before Granddaughter Kianna arrives. This was mom-to-be Kishia’s text today after her doc appointment: “1 centimeter dilated. 50% effaced. Baby is head down and ready to rock.”

Kelly (that’s Mrs. Grandpa) told Kishia she can’t wait to see Kianna. Kishia responded by saying she can’t wait for Kianna to be out.

Maybe soon?

Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #14 …

Kianna, I’m listening. And I’m hearing you. That’s what I want to you know when you talk to me, when you show me the latest picture you’ve drawn, when you want to tell me a story about your toys, when you are sad or cranky, when I get on your nerves. I’m listening. That’s the kind of grandpa I’ll be. As a Daddy I was too much of a shouter, a yeller — probably even a screamer at times. I used to have a bad temper. I didn’t hit people, but I could hurt them with my voice. I wish I had listened more, because I was probably shouting sometimes when my girls really needed to tell me something important.

I don’t shout anymore; haven’t for a long time. Shouldn’t have been shouting to begin with. That sorta haunts me sometimes.

I’m listening, Kianna. When you just call out of the blue to chat, when you have great news and you can’t wait to tell me, I’ll listen, and I’ll hear you. And if you’ve got something to tell — or to confess — that you just can’t bring yourself to tell anyone, either because you think it’s too awful or because it will disappoint the people who love you … I will listen and hear you. I’ll cry with you and laugh with you.

And I will love you. Always.

That’s the kind of grandpa I want to be.

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Filed under Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

Read and follow label directions carefully

Countdown to Kianna: 26, 25, 24 …

Kelly and I have 24 days to get T-shirts that say “Grammy” and “Grandpa.” (I still think that her shirt should have “Mrs. Grandpa” in parentheses under “Grammy.”)

Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #13 …

Some people say the number 13 is unlucky. Grandpa doesn’t give a lot of credibility to that, although today has been sort of unlucky. Grandpa is kind of sick because he started a new medication this morning and took too much of it — and took another medication that maybe shouldn’t have been combined with the first one.

Your Grandpa has an arthritic hip.

Grandpa writes a lot of articles about health literacy and how it’s important for people to become more involved in their own health care and to understand medical instructions, such as how to take medication.

Today Grandpa didn’t practice what he preaches.

That sort of approach has never produced good results.

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Filed under CoMo Health Beat, Kianna Allene Brown

Singing all four verses … a capella

Time for Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting, but first a reminder that the Countdown to Kianna is at day 25. I’ll have a word for my first granddaughter in a few minutes. For now, it’s time to revisit one of the antiques in my storehouse of memories: Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting.

I’ve mentioned previously that I developed somewhat of a fondness for Sunday night and Wednesday night church services — or at least I have fond memories. Those services were typically less structured, less rigid and not as formal as the Sunday morning service. We had printed bulletins on Sunday morning that listed which hymns to sing, who was “bringing the special,” and who was preaching, reading scripture and things like that.

But often on Sunday night and always on Wednesday night, the hymns weren’t pre-selected and listed. The music leader would ask for requests. The older folks naturally requested older hymns and, on the off-chance that the pianist wasn’t familiar with the song, we’d sing it a capella, assuming that at least one or two folks knew it well enough to get it started. Remarkably, those non-instrument numbers were typically on-key.

I think that’s where I learned to love dozens of old hymns. By the time I reached my mid-teens, I occasionally had the opportunity to lead the singing on a Sunday or Wednesday night. I preferred an a capella approach and was even known to break one of the oldest, unwritten rules of Baptistdom: Sing the first, second and last verse of the hymn. I’d say, “All four (or five) verses.”

I was a rebel even then. All four verses; no piano.

So we’ll wrap up Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting with a hymn — a capella, of course — and a more modern tune.

Sweet Hour of Prayer

The Potter’s Hand (Darlene Zschech and Hillsong. The audio and video are barely out of synch; be sure to turn up the volume. Enjoy.)

Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #12 …

You’ve got a rich musical heritage. Your mommy can sing beautifully, even though she won’t admit it. I can’t wait to hear your voice. Everyone in my family and on my side of the family plays one or more instruments. It’s been a while since we’ve had some brass.

In case you’re wondering, Grandpa really likes the sound of a French horn. But we also need a percussionist. How about a drum set?

I’m sure your daddy will let you set it up in his man cave. Right, Darnell?

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Filed under Family, Inspiration, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress, Old Time Religion

Countdown to Kianna: Grandpa eats crow

My brain is best wired for blogging/noveling at 10 o’clock at night. The main drawback to that schedule is that Kelly is usually deep in slumber by the time I finish the next Jackson’s Journal entry. That makes it hard to ask things like, “Hey, honey, I should remember this, but how long were you in labor with Kishia?”

My last JJ post mentioned that Kelly was wheeled into the delivery room on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 1985, to end 20 hours of labor. If I had said, “Twenty hours of labor that day,” it would have been closer to accurate, because Kishia was born at 9:30 p.m. That was the end of 22 1/2 hours of labor that day.

Kelly let me know (see her comment on the last post) that she’d been in labor for a period that covered five days. The Friday before Tuesday’s delivery, her ob/gyn, Dr. Philo Su, did something during an exam that caused Kelly to go into labor. (What few details I remember about that “something” makes me feel faint and queasy, so I offer no further explanation). She went into labor late that day, through the weekend and into Monday, and then finally delivered Kishia a few hours before midnight on Feb. 26. “Labor” meant consistent, increasingly more intense contractions and probably dilating, but let’s not get into the faint-and-queasy details, shall we.

One of the biggest concerns about Kishia’s arrival was how late it was — by as many as three weeks late.

I also want to convey a more accurate “Countdown to Kianna,” so we’re going to include two days of counting with this post. As I said, I normally write this at night and my dedicated followers/subscribers get it via email right away, but probably don’t read it until at least the following morning. That means that if you’re reading “Countdown to Kianna, Day 28,” which was Sunday’s post, you probably read it on Monday (today), which was actually Day 27. (We’re counting down, remember?)

So here’s my solution: I’m scheduling email release and public posting of JJ for 6 a.m. each morning, which means that the Countdown chronology will match the day of release/posting. For instance, I’m writing tonight (Monday) for Tuesday, so when you see this on Tuesday, the Countdown will be on track with Day 26.

So here we are: 28, 27, 26 … days until Feb. 19 and the arrival of Kianna Allene Brown.

And here we are, probably more confused with my time-element explanation than by simply continuing as I was.

You can expect Jackson’s Journal to (loosely) follow this schedule, with Countdown to Kianna taking priority at least until the countdown is over and I begin overwhelming you with photos of Kianna and stories about how she’s the best baby ever.

Monday: Memoir-in-Progress, “Lost in the 70s.”

Tuesday and Thursday: Guest posts. (Except for today/Tuesday).

Wednesday: Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting

Friday: Memoir-in-Progress, “Big hair, big dreams: The 80s.”

Saturday: Living Write. (Geared toward my fellow fictionistas and writing/journalism followers, and eventually a way for  you to get a glimpse of my novels-in-progress, “Chasing The Devil” and “Gone.”)

Sunday: No set topic at this time.

Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #11 …

You’re going to hear it or see it soon enough, so I’m just going to tell you: I’m a little bit quirky. For instance, I have a little-kid-at-Christmas fascination with snakes and lizards, but I’m terrified of spiders.

Other than that, I’m really normal.

(All comments on my claim of “normal” will be heavily edited).

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Filed under Family, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress

Countdown to Kianna …

Thirty, 29, 28 days from today, Sunday, Jan. 22 — assuming the gestational calculations are correct and that she cooperates with said calculations — Kianna Allene Brown will grace Creation with her smile. The arrival date is Sunday, Feb. 19.

When Kianna’s mom, Kishia, was born on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 1985, we’d been watching the Grammy Awards and timing contractions. (Grammy Awards not to be confused with Grammy — the grandparent monicker Kelly prefers — which is why I think Mrs. Grandpa will be less confusing). The awards show that night was a big coming out solo act for Tina Turner. Her song, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” was the song of the year. Watch a recording of that performance here.

Ironic name for a song that Tina Turner belted out just before a nurse wheeled Kelly into the delivery room for the big moment to end 20 hours of labor. It’s possible — just possible — that maybe Kelly said some things that made it sound as if I was entirely to blame for her discomfort.

(Note to Darnell: Sometimes a woman in the throes of labor might say threatening things that she normally wouldn’t say at any other time. It might sound as if the continued or future use of specific body parts could be in question. YOUR body parts. Considering that Kishia is A LOT like her mom, you’ll want to keep that in mind. And whatever you do, do NOT say something like, “Baby, if I could, I’d trade places with you right now.” I repeat: Do NOT say that.)

Grandpa’s message to Kianna, #10 …

Mrs. Grandpa and I made sugar cookies today for your baby shower this coming Saturday. You’d be proud of me — I ate only two. Someday we’ll eat sugar cookies together. (Shhh. We probably shouldn’t tell your mom and dad — or Mrs. Grandpa).

Later, after the cookie-baking was complete, Grammy — I mean, Mrs. Grandpa — came into the spare bedroom to interrupt my NFL playoff viewing to announce that she’s decided how to decorate the room for “the grandkids.”

It’s a really good idea, but I’m gonna keep it a secret for now. I’ll let that be something Grammy tells you about. Of course, I’ll have to be sure the new room decor won’t interfere with future football-viewing. In fact, you and I will watch some games together in there, just remember to pretend that you don’t really like football. That will make Mrs. Grandpa very happy. You can tell her that you’re watching it because Grandpa is watching, and that whatever Grandpa watches is really cool because, well, Grandpa is really cool.

Note to Kishia and Darnell: Grammy did say “grandkids,” as in plural, more than one. Just sayin’.

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Filed under Family, Kianna Allene Brown, MIP: Memoir-in-progress