We all want dessert

The Godmother of this blog left earth unexpectedly a couple of weeks ago.

I started this blog on a writer’s retreat that my dear friend Leslie Cannon organized a few times a year. During this grand tradition, I got a lot of encouragement and tips from my fellow writers on blogging. Leslie took the time to edit some of my posts and always had an encouraging or funny comment here or on Facebook. She did the same and more for me in person, the definition of a true friend.

She also made me laugh. Check out this photo:

Leslie at the Oscars

This photo is Pure Leslie. She added herself to Ellen’s Oscar selfie. (Courtesy of Meg Cannon.)

With an aching heart, I thought to myself, how do you write about one of the most witty, terrific writers, you have ever met?

I chose to ask Leslie Cannon’s fellow writers and friends Ursula Roma and Jan Toraason to share what they read at the celebration of her life. I think what they wrote is perfection.

Leslie, Leslie, Leslie

by Ursula Roma

Leslie Cannon was many things to me. She was a friend, a fellow writer, a surrogate mother, and a close confidante. After my mom died, and after some break-ups, she was one of the safest people to talk to about these relationships. She didn’t try to fix things, but gave me kind, caring, loving attention. She listened. And though Leslie LOVED attention, she was very good at being present, and giving attention when other people needed it.

We all want dessert

Occasionally for our Tuesday writing group, Leslie would neglect to bring writing, and I ALWAYS thought it was a bit unfair. Not because the rest of us didn’t occasionally do the same, there were certainly times when one of us might not have brought writing or been inspired to write. But it felt unfair, because it FELT like NOT GETTING DESSERT, the highlight of the meal. It left me with a sense of deprivation, because her writing was so good, and so rich, and funny, that it left me WANTING when it wasn’t there. And so, that feeling of wanting – well, I think she’s kind of left me with that. She’s left ALL of us with that. We ALL want more. We all want more because that feeling of laughter, that bursting out with laughter is such a healing experience. I think that’s what we’re all going to miss. She could make us feel so good.

It was worth doing

Leslie might sometimes say, “Let’s bring the conversation back to me” – and often times, we did. Not just because she PLAYFULLY INSISTED we do so, but because it was WORTH DOING. Because the laughs you could get from Leslie were pretty much irreplaceable – so it was worth giving her that extra attention. It always paid off.

I know that Leslie would love to be here right now – and I think she probably is! She wouldn’t want to miss it! So what better way to commemorate her – to keep this conversation going -with strangers, with people she knew, with mutual friends and family, than to have a T-SHIRT to encourage us to share her stories!

(At this point, Ursula opened her shirt to show her Leslie, Leslie, Leslie T-shirt.)

Ursula and Jan.

Ursula and Jan.

I think we should ALL consider wearing these shirts – and wear them out into the world to engage others in conversation ABOUT LESLIE –and to keep these stories going BACK to Leslie – as long as we can. Because we certainly aren’t going to match her WIT anytime soon. So these funny stories, these kind and crazy stories – will have to comfort us and keep her memory alive. And I think, she might just like that.

A Prayer for Leslie

By  Jan Toraason

Our Dear Leslie – friend, sister, and mother – now knows the answer to the great What’s Next. We had a conversation about it last year as a party wound down and we sat together sipping and snacking.

Leslie wanted to talk about religion. What did I believe, she asked. I gave her my usual hazy answer, and she said she thought the same: that there is something connecting all that is to the original energy. We are pieces of stars. There is something greater than ourselves, a divine mystery that set the universe to life and lives in us all.

She brought light to our lives

One thing I don’t think Leslie could know before this week was the tremendous love that all of her family and friends – everyone who was touched by her humor, her generosity, and her wisdom – what we all felt for her. I’ve never seen such an outpouring on Facebook. Our shock and grief at the sudden loss. Our appreciation for the light she brought to our lives.

We all have little movies in our head starring Leslie Cannon: images of the way she laughs, the way she enjoys life, her smarts, her self-deprecating ways, her romanticism, her quick mind, and original sense of humor.

Me and Ursula. This shirt makes me so happy.

Me and Ursula. This shirt makes me happy.

Her greatest accomplishment

I sensed in this last year or so that Leslie had come to a peaceful and gentle place in her life. She seemed sweeter and kinder and more giving than ever. She seemed to open up and breath in the pleasure of being with her family, her son-in-law, and especially her daughters and granddaughters. So many times she told us stories of their brilliance, beauty, and charm. She laughed at the startling and wonderful things they said, the faces they made. Her children seemed to be her proudest accomplishment. I know they will miss her terribly.

We all know that just as life begins, so it must end. But somehow still, the ending comes as a shock, especially when it comes unexpectedly. Of all the ways to die, though, in your sleep may be the best way, as many have said. And that’s especially true for Leslie, who always loved a good nap. That’s how I like to think of her now, in a lovely deep sleep.

We will miss Leslie’s voice, certainly, and her writing. We will remember her humor, her inventive way with words, and her fearless naming of the ridiculous. I think she may be laughing with us tonight as she transitions, just a few steps ahead of us, into the open door of a new beginning. She has entered again the river of time, of pure energy, of the stars. Yet to us, Leslie was always a star.

Yes, she was a star that we relished.

And still, she is here in us, in all our stories, and in our aching hearts even as we set her spirit free.

So we thank you, Leslie, and can just assume you are smiling at us now to say you’re welcome. You will always be with us, and we thank you for bringing your everlasting radiance to our lives.

The day I helped at the book fair

“Calvin’s mom!” “Calvin’s mom!”

My true name was revealed to me when I volunteered at the Scholastic Book Fair at my kids’ school.

“Do you like to read to kids?” asked Herr Hayes, the school librarian. (Remember,it’s a German school.)

He told me to pick out a couple of books before Calvin’s kindergarten class came in. I would read to them and then help them pick out books.


Kindergartners are squiggly. Calvin and Max with their friend Shalin. (Shalin is in Calvin’s class.)

Reading out loud to my own kids is one thing, but reading to Calvin’s class made me a little nervous.

Luckily, they were an easy audience. Or should I say, a squiggly audience. After they got the “Calvin’s mom!” out of their systems, most of them sat still and listened. (Calvin beamed at me from the front row.) There were a few in the back that couldn’t sit still but most seemed to enjoy my attempt at rousing renditions of Please Mr. Panda by Steve Antony, The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara and Mark Fearing, and The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat.

I made the rookie mistake of letting them get up when I was done but Herr Hayes rushed over and made them sit back down and listen to instructions. I guess 22 kindergartners on the loose isn’t always a good idea.

Here’s what I learned that day: my kids are pretty normal. They aren’t the only ones who squiggle, don’t listen, and tell on each other.

One girl told me a long saga about how her friend said her necklace wasn’t as pretty as hers.

Let’s pick some books, I suggested.


This book allowed me to impress little kids with my alien sounds. It was a big day!

Once they left, I was a seasoned pro and read to the first graders. I noticed they were quieter and asked more questions. I did hear a bunch of them laughing about a book that had poop in it.

More proof that my kids are normal!

And the next time I visited Calvin’s class, a bunch of the little squigglers ran over and hugged me.

More book info

Steve Antony also wrote one of our favorites, The Queen’s Hat, featured on this very blog. He also has a new book coming out, The Queen’s Handbag.

Beekle is another family favorite and Caldecott winner! Listen to this NPR piece about it.

The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot was a great new find and illustrator/writer Mark Fearing illustrated one of out most-loved books, How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans.