James Catalano


If you’ve visited my blog before, you see that I’ve changed my writing name to Verna James. James was my brother’s first name and I’ve taken it in memory of him. I’m so sorry to tell you and still can’t believe it, but on February 9, 2022, he passed away.

That day around 3 pm, his good friend and co-worker called me at work to ask if I’d spoken to him that day. I hadn’t, and thought it was strange. We often texted and emailed all day long. 

No, I said. But I saw him last night. He had asked me to drive by his apartment because he made a new healthy pasta dish he wanted me to try. Sure thing! I said. Now I think, why didn’t I get out of the car and give him a hug? Why didn’t I go inside and ask if we could watch youtube videos? I could have been there when he needed me and called for help, or done something.

But all I did was say, Thanks! and drove off.

That last image of him is seared onto my heart. His black hoodie partially zipped up but still showed his gold chain and the anchor charm necklace he loved, and the look on his face; tired and pale. He’d said he felt a little woozy the past few days because he’d been working a lot. 

He’ll be ok. He just needs to rest this weekend and he’ll be fine.

On the phone, his co-worker asked if I had keys, she was there with police for a wellness check and they’d rather not break down the door.

I’ll be right there, I said. I texted my brother from the car.

Jim, Please!

My brother and I as kids.

He’s out on one of his walks, I thought. He walked miles every day for exercise and to clear his head. Walking meditation, he called it.

I saw the three police cars as I pulled up to his building and my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t work the keys. One of the officers took them from me. My brother’s dogs ran out and I grabbed them.

The police walked into his bedroom and came out again. 

He’s not there, I said?

Sit down, one of the officers said.

Is he in there?


I don’t remember the words they said. They called for paramedics. 

So he’s going to be ok? The paramedics are coming.

No, the officer said.

Later someone said that it’s the law in Illinois for paramedics to pronounce death. I was shaking and sat on the couch. I’m shaking now. I kept telling my brother’s friend that it wasn’t true, it’s not possible.

I went into the room, and saw my brother and best friend. Turned on his side facing the wall, sleeping like he did since a little boy. I shook him and called his name but he didn’t wake up.

This can’t be happening.

After the paramedics left, the officer stayed and said did I have a funeral home in mind to use.

No I said. I remembered one that was close by and they came to the apartment.

The stretcher with wheels.

My brother was only 50, and I asked if we could have an autopsy to find out what happened. Yes they said. The funeral home will transport him to the medical examiner.

After everybody left I sat in my brother’s apartment. I fed his dogs and took them out.  

It can’t be real.

My brother and I always promised each other we’d take care of each other’s pets. That was the most important thing. I couldn’t have dogs where I lived.

The first night I hardly slept but finally was able to close my eyes for an hour or so. I dreamt that my brother had laid out heart shaped bowls for me. And I had a flash of him already back in Spirit, with one of his guides, as an Egyptian scholar.

My brother and I believe in reincarnation. We believe that souls are eternal and when the physical body dies in one lifetime, it is merely cast away like an old shell and our soul lives on, the energy does not die, or “pass away,” but changes. And that we return.

Where do we go between lives? Where was my brother at that very moment? I particularly like the idea of a beautiful in-between lives place where there are always colorful wildflowers blooming, bright blue skies, a warm breeze, and all our pets who have already cast away their shells in earthly lifetimes are there, young and healthy, and they run to greet us as we arrive. We reunite with all of them, and other loved ones who have made this transition before us.

The first few nights afterwards, I woke up in a panic. What am I going to do without my brother?  He was my go-to person for everything. Anytime I had to make a decision, or talk things through with someone, he was the one I called. We spent every holiday together. We took care of each other’s pets. We helped each other move. We were siblings as well as best friends.

My first idea was to see if I could take over his lease and if the landlord would accept me to bring my cats. Two stressful and scary days later, I thanked God and my lucky stars that I was approved and could take over the lease and take care of our pets. I’m still thanking God for that every day. 

My first memory as a child is of him; three years younger than me and sitting in front of the refrigerator spelling out words with little magnet alphabet letters.

My brother as a cute little kid.

I remember the blue leather coat he wore to the zoo once, and the goose who chased him. I remember the  tv shows we loved and watched together as kids.  I remember how we were both sitting with my mother on her favorite blue couch when she cast off her earthly shell. I remember.

I talk to my brother all the time. I wear his black hoodie. I tell his pets that he’s watching over them and it’s going to be ok. But the panicky feeling never fully leaves me. I know that my brother and I have shared many lifetimes and we will share many more. It’s just that right now, there’s an empty place that the person of him filled.

You were lucky if he ever cooked for you. He loved to cook and was the best cook ever. Meatballs were his specialty! Also pasta, and his favorite Christmas Eve dish was probably mussels in red gravy.

I miss that every Sunday at 4, (except during football season lol) he’d come over and sometimes I’d order food. I miss his daily emails and texts, the youtube videos he’d send me, the movies he’d tell me about. His wise surmising of world events, his funny stories, his laugh. Those things are gone except in my memory. We celebrated every holiday together; he was my only family.

He sends me signs. the male and female cardinal I’ve seen and heard weekly, the white feathers along my path, the dreams, his voice I swear I can hear sometimes, his name written in cement.

His name near his apartment building. I looked down and saw it one day.

How do you sum up such a rich wonderful life? My brother, the diehard Hawks and White Sox fan, the voracious reader, the best cook ever, the big-hearted pet lover, sushi-not-liking, best meatball and gravy maker, proud to be Italian, Robert De Niro movie lover, the best brother ever. James Catalano.

#amreading #bethechange #lovingthisbook animals Arles Art Art Institute of Chicago Badger Beth Lewis books Chicago Election Enchanted fictional chatacters Fourfictionalcharacters garden green greenies Halloween kids libraries library Lizzie Look Homeward Angel Manet nature Painting Pride and Prejudice Princess Giselle Rape reading Scary self-esteem Sexual Assault Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month soul The Wind in the Willows The Wolf Road Thomas Wolfe Threefictionalcharacters Tracy Flick Van Gogh vegetables Vincent Van Gogh Wolf

#amreading #bethechange #lovingthisbook animals Arles Art Art Institute of Chicago Badger Beth Lewis books Chicago Election Enchanted fictional chatacters Fourfictionalcharacters garden green greenies Halloween kids libraries library Lizzie Look Homeward Angel Manet nature Painting Pride and Prejudice Princess Giselle Rape reading Scary self-esteem Sexual Assault Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month soul The Wind in the Willows The Wolf Road Thomas Wolfe Threefictionalcharacters Tracy Flick Van Gogh vegetables Vincent Van Gogh Wolf

Writer’s Conferences Pandemic Style

Several months ago I was lucky enough to take several vacation days and attend an online writer’s conference offered by Midwest Writer’s Workshop. Over a weekend, I attended 18 sessions and filled almost an entire notebook full of notes. Since most writers are introverts, we can adjust easily to the online format, and maybe even prefer it to in-person events.

I have some tips to offer for your next online conference.

  • Print out the itinerary. This conference was in a different time zone from my home, so I color blocked each session with my local time in bold print so as not to miss anything. I also copy and pasted a time zone converter straight from online onto each page, in case in a moment of panic I thought I had an incorrect time and day.

  • Man your battle station. My kitchen table is also my writing desk and so I outfitted it specially for the conference with everything I’d need at hand.
    • My laptop front and center.
    • To my right I kept a print out of my working manuscript in case I had to jot down a revision idea.
    • 2 notebooks. One for notetaking during the presentations. The other for ideas on my own writing. Keeping them separate saves time when transposing them later. A few pens in different colors are also fun.
    • To my left I had my water bottle along with a mug of tea. My electric kettle kept the water pretty warm during the hours of the conference.
    • Tissues and hand sanitizer.
    • A small dish of cough drops and hard candies.
    • Snacks. While we had a break for lunch, a few granola bars or cut up pieces of fruit can discreetly be eaten while listening to presenters. Be sure to mute yourself so no one can hear you chewing. 😉
    • My phone was turned off, but close by.
    • My special Zoom makeup kit! A small compact with a mirror, lipstick, and comb were at the ready.
  • Be sure to get permission before you print any materials provided by the speakers. Most of the sessions are recorded and made available to students for a short time, so don’t worry about writing everything down.
  • Don’t forget the chat window. Lots of great information can be found here; from email addresses to book titles, etc. It’s easy to copy chats and paste them into a blank document to read later.
  • It’s a good idea to have your finished manuscript on hand via flash drive; an agent might request your full. Be prepared! Also, have your synopsis, query, and first 5 and 10 pages saved and ready to send as well. You never know what could happen.
  • Network and get to know the instructors and other writers! During an intermission, open the chat bubble and list your @twitter. Ask others to do the same so you can follow each other and make friends. Ask questions.
  • Have fun and enjoy the new things you’re learning. It will be just the boost you need to start your new project or begin querying.

Great Books I’ve Recently Read

All four of these books have stayed with me long after I’ve read them. I hope you will give them a try.

Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten

Set in a private girl’s school in NYC, Kate is a scholarship student whose single goal in life is to attend Yale. She’s overcome many obstacles in her life; she’s people savvy, street smart, and is determined to level-up and be successful in life. She’s also very hard-working; in addition to her perfect grades, and work study assignment, she secretly holds down a job.

When Kate meets Olivia, who returns to school after a semester off due to health issues, they become fast friends. Olivia has the connections, family pedigree, and looks that pave an easy road in life. Despite her initial shady intentions, Kate comes to view Olivia as a sister, and suspects that a new faculty member who shows his own interest in Olivia is up to no good. With plenty of plot twists, and secrets, this book kept me guessing until the very end.

You Must Not Miss by Katrina Leno

Magpie’s life falls apart her senior year in high school. Her dad has an affair and her mom starts drinking again. Her best friend stops talking to her after a party they both attended.

Magpie’s main solace is the world she creates in her yellow notebook; land called Near, where she is protected and nothing bad can happen to her. But Near soon comes more real than her actual life.

This book explores friendships, sexual assault, and family trauma in a clear honest manner that is never sugar coated. I still think about Magpie and you will too.

Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir by Janice Erlbaum

When her mom allows her abusive husband and Erlbaum’s stepfather back into their life after another physical assault despite promises that she was finished with him, 15-year-old Janice left home for good. From homeless shelters, to the foster care system, she tries to find a better life in NYC. With her close group of friends, she navigates the hard streets with its drugs, and everyone-for-herself mentality while trying to survive. This book reads like a novel and is one you can’t miss if you love stories of people overcoming the odds.

How to Make Friends With the Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

I still think about this book, a month after reading it. Tiger is a character who will always be with me. Tiger and her mom have always had each other and when her mom dies, Tiger is utterly alone. She never knew her father; and out of the blue her sister appears to take her, “home.” Tiger doesn’t want to leave the small cottage she and her mom shared.

The exploration of depression and grief after losing a parent, and the fear of the great unknown that comes next is beautifully painted on these pages. I will never, ever forget Tiger, the white dress, her mom, and all the people who helped her along the way.

One of the best books I’ve ever read about grieving a loved one. One of my all-time favorites. ❤

Life in Quarantine

Hello loves! Sorry it’s been such a long time. How are you? I’ve been shelter-in-placing since March 17. The first book that came to my mind was, The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. It’s one of my all-time favorite books.


Our story is narrated by Julia, a middle schooler, who tells us that the days are slowly becoming longer than 24 hours. No one noticed at first, that

“if you didn’t hear the news, the landscape looked unchanged.”

But gradually, everyone became aware of what became known as, the slowing, and the earth took longer and longer than 24 hours to complete a day. Gravity is also affected, and people are able to jump higher, run longer…

Everyone is scared, and not sure of what is going to happen. No one has all the answers. Time is needed to study the evidence and create a new way of living in a, “new normal.”

Julia’s father is a doctor and tells her not to worry, that humans have solved all kinds of problems for thousands of years, and they will solve this one too.

This beautiful book will give you hope, please read it!

It’s good advice for us now too. We need to follow the advice of doctors and scientists. We need to wash our hands, socially distance ourselves, and stay put.

Don’t be afraid. It’s going to be ok.

Summer is Here!


When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for summer because all I would do all daylong is read scary books! After a trip to the library every few days, I’d bring home my stash and savor them like Halloween candy!

Stephen King was always my #1, and I’m always on the lookout for more horror books and movies! What are your faves?


Loved This Book!


Helena lives in the beautiful and vast wilderness of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with her parents, in a cabin with no electricity, heat, or water. All she has to read are old copies of National Geographic . She is 12 years old when she first sees another human being.

Over time, she learns that her mother was kidnapped as a young girl and has been a prisoner of her father all this time. While he is often violent, and cruel, Helena still loves her father.  One day she and her mother have a chance for escape.

This is a great book! It is expertly written and a serious page turner, I read it in one day. Karen Dionne skillfully describes the isolating loneliness Helena feels, how she is often town between her parents and how she longs for the outside world once she has a tiny taste of freedom.  Read this book!



I loved this book as a kid, and I recently purchased a copy to own so I could reread whenever I wanted. It scared the patootie out of me back then! I loved scary books and movies more than anything.

It’s everything in a scary book that you can hope for; a haunted house, a love story, ghosts, creepy dead relatives, creepy living relatives, fancy gardens to take a turn in, pillowy, dusty velvet drapes that fall from floor to ceiling, doesn’t that sound great!  I hope you will give it a try and let me know what you think.

Halloween is my favorite time of year and I’m so looking forward to the

new great scary movies opening soon:

Stephen King has always been my #1, and this book is really scary!!! I can’t wait to see this  new movie. The clown already gives me nightmares…

This movie looks really great too! What is more scary? The evil of people or supernatural evil? Or both at the same time? I have a feeling this movie explores the latter and I can’t wait to watch.

Also, because I’m a simple girl I can’t wait to have my first #psl of the year…

And purchase new candles and body products from Bath and Body in the new Fall scents:

and bake my first loaf of pumpkin bread of the season ( yes with chocolate chips!)

and eat my first bowl of chicken noodle soup!

And cuddle up with a soft blankie, safe from the windy chilly air outside.

What do you love best about Fall?



June 8 Is World Ocean Day!


Learn more about our earth’s oceans here   Take a stand and help oceans by reducing your use of plastic.   Use cloth shopping bags, drink from a reusable water bottle, and no more straws! It’s that simple.

Visit Project Aware and see how they work to protect our oceans.

Become aware of the effect that climate change has on our oceans.

Learn about ocean acidification and its debilitating effects on coral reefs.