Interview with Author Anika Denise and a Baking Day at Grandma’s Giveaway!

Anika_photoAnika Denise is the author of “Baking Day at Grandma’s,” (Philomel, 2014) “Bella and Stella Come Home,” (Philomel, 2010) and “Pigs Love Potatoes” (Philomel, 2007.) In 2016, HarperCollins Children’s Books will release her forthcoming title, “Monster Trucks!” Her books have been praised by Parents’ Choice Foundation, The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews and the Rhode Island Center for the Book. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Barrington, Rhode Island. For more information about Anika’s books, visit her website at, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or visit her YouTube channel.



I have the great fortune of presenting to you today an exclusive interview with, fellow Listen to Your Mother Providence alum and children’s author Anika Denise. I’m also lucky enough to offer you a chance to win a signed copy of her newest release, Baking Day at Grandma’s, and eight gift tags for treats made and shared!



How did you come upon the idea to write Baking Day at Grandma’s?

Baking Day at Grandma’s was inspired by my grandmother and my mom. Both loved to bake. And both welcomed kids and grandkids into the kitchen while doing it. Quite a bit of the baking was done around the holidays, but we never needed an excuse to get in the kitchen and start in. My mom would visit and she’d be browsing through my cookbooks and say, “Girls, let’s try these lemon cookies!” Before you knew it, the mixer was going and the kids were covered in sugar and flour.

We always made a mess, but there was also lots of joy and laughter. My girls loved it. It got me thinking that a baking day with grandma would make a  great premise for a picture book. So, I wrote one!


Did you incorporate any personal childhood memories into the book?

rose_3_fullYes, this book is basically a love letter to my childhood. I grew up in Queens, but spent summers and holidays at my Grandma Rose’s house in the Adirondacks. My grandmother is pretty much the standard to which I hold all things domestic. She had seven children. She was excellent cook. She understood the importance of a family sitting down together each night for a meal, and she set a nice table—even if the meal was grilled cheese and tomato soup. She knew how to sew and bake, and encouraged her kids and grandkids to do both. For her, food was joy. . . and sharing food was love. I should also point out she did all this and worked for many years at the restaurant she owned with my grandfather. Whenever I’m exhausted or feeling overwhelmed with juggling mom stuff and work stuff, I think of my Grandma Rose and the grace with which she lived her life—and kept her home—and I snap out of it.

rose_2_without_borderThat’s why I wanted this book to have so much of my grandma in it—including her recipe for chocolate cake! The cubs tromp through the snow to Grandma Bear’s house; they put on aprons and help mix the batter. Grandma lets them lick the spoon… then Grandma Bear makes them hot chocolate while the cake bakes. In the end, the cubs wrap up their treats to share, not just eat. That’s a direct homage to Rosie, and all the cookies and treats she delivered in little tins to family and neighbors.


What age child do you think would enjoy this book the most?

The book is written in bouncy verse, almost like a song, so little ones ages 3-5 will enjoy hearing it read aloud. But I notice with my husband’s art, slightly older kids will pick up and read our books, too. The illustrations are lush and inviting and there’s lots to pore over and enjoy. A good friend bought the book for his wife because she loved baking with her grandma as a child. I’m a firm believer that picture books are for all-ages!



Do your own children read your books? Do they share their ideas? How are they involved with your process?

They are my first readers, generally. It helps to have a built-in test audience. Sometimes they give me feedback or ideas for making a piece better, and sometimes unwittingly they inspire an idea for a book. My second picture book, Bella and Stella Come Home, is based on my daughter. It’s about a little girl whose stuffed animal looms large in her imagination. When the girl moves to a new house, she brings her friend with her to explore, and to help her get over the newness of it all. That came right from watching my daughter hop around the empty rooms of our new house with “Spotty Dog” in tow.


Was an author what you wanted to be ‘when you grew up’?

No, I wanted to be a famous actress or a pop-star. But I get stage fright and I’m tone deaf, so writing was a better choice. I wrote poetry and short stories when I was a kid, and continued to write in college, but I suppose  I never seriously considered it as a career until I met my husband Chris, a children’s book illustrator.


What do you enjoy most about being a children’s author?

Hmmm. Good question. I think it’s the process itself that makes me happiest. It can be frustrating some days, when it’s not flowing or a writing session seems more struggle than spark. But when it is working, and I hit upon something truly interesting, it’s a great feeling. Conjuring characters and stories people care about and connect with is the closest thing to magic I can think of. Storytelling is fun. I can’t imagine a better job, really.


What can we expect from you next?

Up next for me is picture book called Monster Trucks releasing in 2016 with Harper Children’s Books, as well as a fourth collaboration on a picture book with my husband Chris. It’s about a middle kid. (Middle kids need their own book.) Please also expect a novel from me in the near future, if you wouldn’t mind. I’m working on one now, and if I know you’re expecting it… well… then I have all the more motivation to finally get it done. <grin>


Now it’s your turn! To win a signed copy, please follow this link to Facebook, and click the ‘Giveaway’ tab. You will have several opportunities to enter! Valid email address required to enter, must be a US resident, giveaway ends on September 25, 2014 at 6pm ET. A winner will be drawn and the winner notified via email, Stephanie Bernaba’s Blog Facebook page, and Twitter. Winner must respond within 24 hours or a new winner will be drawn.


Baking Day Interior Copyright Christopher Denise, 2014



Philomel, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-03992-4244-1

“A rollicking, rhyming salute to the grandmother-grandchild bond. . . . While the cake is baking, there’s hot chocolate to drink and frosty windows to draw on. ‘Old-time music, soft and sweet, / Skippy notes and tapping feet. / Learning songs that Grandma sings— / When the kitchen timer rings!’ But this cake isn’t for eating; the siblings carefully decorate and wrap each piece as gifts.” –Kirkus Reviews

“This gentle story will leave children feeling warm and fuzzy. It’s perfect for individual sharing, storytime, baking time, and pretty much any time.” –School Library Journal

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Customer Disservice 2: Playing God

A few years ago, I wrote a piece called Customer Disservice, talking about everyday annoyances like phone customer service reps hanging up on you, or transferring you to nowhere, leaving you to have to call back, frustrated, multiple times. I also discussed customer service employees texting, chatting, or otherwise engaged when dealing with customers, and wondered when (or if) it would all change.

Little did I know, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Three years later, I realize the problems consumers face are much larger, and much more potentially harmful, than they’ve ever been. In fact, I’d now give my left arm for a customer service person to be simply texting or chatting.

The first issue that sits on my chest like a lead weight is the auto industry. Safety recalls, refusal to issue recalls on equipment that can hurt or even kill you, and too-little-too-late apologies and corrective action taken after several people have died, have left a bad taste in my mouth.

Some companies get called on the carpet very publicly, being brought before Congress and dragged all over the national news. Other companies issue silent recalls, or ‘service bulletins’, that are taken care of swiftly and with little ado inside the walls of a dealership service department. In most cases, the consumer has no idea there’s anything wrong with his car. Why? Because it saves the automaker face and money.

Now, I have to admit, I had high standards before I had kids. I voted with my feet. If I felt a company wasn’t up to par servicewise, I would simply leave and find another place. After I had kids, though, I became every company’s worst nightmare. The slightest whiff of danger sent me into Mama Bear mode, and it still does. Granted, it doesn’t make me the most popular kid on the block, but if that’s what had to happen to keep my family safe, that’s the way it has to be.

One would imagine this strategy would work. You’d go in, explain that you need something, that you brought appropriate currency for an exchange, and it would become so. You’d get that thing.

No dice.

And last night, I caught a 20/20 (I always seem to catch these things) where employees from a large, well-known coffee chain admitted that they basically make their own decisions with regards to what they serve to customers.

English: Caffe Latte

English: Caffe Latte (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Overtired and cranky? You might just get decaf. Not a great tipper? How’s about an ‘F U’ written in your steamed milk instead of a heart?

Since when did customer service personnel attain the right to play God with consumers? You walk in, with your own hard-earned money, seeking an exchange for a particular product, and it’s essentially up to the person who waits on you whether or not you receive it. Or up to the mechanic who determines whether or not you ‘know anything about cars’.

I’m not just talking about big coffee chain or auto mechanic here. I’m talking about restaurants (ever hear of the old spitting-in-the-food trick, or the host/hostess telling you there are no tables when there are?), major retailers (uh oh, another security breach!), and fast food places (how many times have you driven away with something you didn’t order, or missing something you did?).

And what will people tell you? “That’s life.” and “You can’t trust anyone.” and “Well, what did you expect?”

So, is that it? Is that life? A consumer who reasonably expects to walk into a place of business and receive their chosen product, is simply not guaranteed that product? That it is up to whoever’s working that day, and their mood, to decide whether/how much you deserve it?

What ever happened to accountability? Do these people have supervisors? And do those supervisors have supervisors? When I worked in customer service, many moons ago (do I sound old yet?), we were secret shopped, we were rated based on our level of customer service, and we sure as hell were not permitted to independently determine how we would treat each individual customer.

I had many a woman pick up drapes, only to find that two were backordered, and they’d been waiting for them for months. Sometimes I got flack, sometimes they expressed their displeasure, sometimes they cancelled their entire orders. But did I go in the back and blow my nose, or wipe my ass, on the available curtains as an act of revenge? I did not. And I would not.

Today, we’ve found insects, rodents, fingers, and bodily fluids in fast food. Hidden cameras reveal employees doing unspeakable things with your food, your cars, and your merchandise, overcharging/falsifying invoices for the very thrill of it, and this is what we’ve come to expect. And it’s sad.

I’d say my customer satisfaction rate, overall, is about 60%. That means that almost half of my customer service transactions are negative. And they can cajole and bribe you into as many customer service surveys as they can jam on a receipt, but have you seen things change for the better? They’ve only gotten worse.

Oftentimes, we do find something better. We will find a store, or restaurant, or auto shop that will treat us well, but how much time, money, and aggravation must we spend to get there?

And why does no one care? I really thought things were getting bad when associates were inattentive. Now, however, it’s a completely different ballgame. You must smile, flatter, tip, not ask for too much, and basically wait and hope you will get what you paid for. You’re on constant alert of being screwed, and you waste way too much time trying, in vain, to obtain the items your family needs.

My daughter quotes an episode of Peppa Pig all the time, where Peppa was pretending to be a princess. She says, “You must bow when you speak to me.” I feel like that’s where the service industry’s got us. On our knees.

The unemployment rate is still high in this country. Why aren’t appropriate people being brought into these positions? Are those people never held accountable for their behavior? Have consumers simply given up?

I don’t know any of these answers, but knew things needed to change three years ago. They really need to change now.

A Word About Vaccines

You may agree with me, or you may respectfully disagree, and, quite honestly, I’m fine with either.

Just a few days ago, I turned to my husband during one of those ‘outbreak of previously extinct illness’ reports on the news and said, very matter-of-factly, “It kind of blows my mind that those who oppose vaccines for their children, received them as children, and turned out just fine.”

Sure, that’s oversimplification, and not incorporating all the facts, and ignoring the outliers. I realize that. But, good or bad, that statement is the basis of my discussion.

When I began graduate school (again, take this how you will), I interned at Planned Parenthood, counseling patients with respect to procedures. Now, before you get your motor running, this is not a discussion of abortion or reproductive rights, either. That, as you will see, is clearly a secondary issue.

Almost twelve years after my internship, I managed only to remember the patient who received a vaccination prior to a vacation, learned she was pregnant, then decided to terminate her pregnancy based on having received that vaccination. She came in well prepared. I’m not sure what she was expecting, because our job was to counsel patients through the process, not into or out of it, but with her she hauled a pile of neatly-stapled internet research to substantiate her decision, research about autism that, after a certain number of years, was found to be false.

That woman stuck with me, because, in my head and heart, I knew vaccines didn’t cause autism. I knew that a disorder of the most recent generations could not possibly be caused by the same medicines that have been given to decades of perfectly typical human beings.

But, as a counselor – or budding counselor, as it were – it was my job to be supportive and non-judgmental while guiding her through her experience. I continued to think of that woman over the years. Would she have had a child without health issues or autism? I don’t know. Was her action even necessary?

I knew back then (around 2002), that we, as a culture, would begin taking issue with the very concept of vaccination. We’d become complacent that the diseases being prevented were permanently eradicated in the developed world, and we were exposing our children needlessly to substances to which they never needed to be exposed. We questioned the side effects, and provided armchair causation for other diseases or illnesses. We protected ourselves with the iron shield of internet research.

And guess what happened?

Mumps virus, negative stained TEM 8758 lores

Mumps virus, negative stained TEM 8758 lores (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These “dead” diseases began creeping back. Measles, mumps, pertussis – highly contagious diseases, the complications of which almost always listed death, started taking hold around the country, and around the world.

And that made me think. Why, when something is not broken in this country, must we always attempt to fix it?

Vaccines were developed to keep children from needlessly dying, to inhibit the presence of sometimes debilitating diseases. Vaccines were a gift from science to us, a gift of life where life was once precarious. If that's not reason enough to vaccinate our children, I don't know what is.

I also find the controversy surrounding the HPV vaccine a bit questionable.The issue of safety, providing our children prevention from the human papillomavirus, which, in some cases, becomes cervical or throat cancer, has become a moral issue, and, for all intents and purposes, it is not. Most people will engage in sexual activity during their lifetime. A vaccine is not an admission ticket to the adult playground, yet parents are holding their children back from receiving the HPV vaccine based its classification as a sexually transmitted disease.

We get our children flu shots, don’t we? Does it matter how the flu is spread? We don’t want our families sick and suffering.

I will end my discussion here, because I was lucky enough to catch this week’s NOVA on PBS, Vaccines – Calling the Shots, and I think they definitely provided a perspective worth hearing. I hope you will watch if you haven’t. If you’re one who harbors doubts about the utility or effectiveness of vaccines, I can nearly guarantee this episode will help alleviate them.

After all, it’s science. And you can’t argue with science.

MEAL PLANNING 101, A Guest Post by Sarah Borger at Gastro-A-Go-Go

S.Borger GGGSarah has been eating and enjoying food for over 30 years – recipes and adventures are relayed weekly on her blog Gastro-A-Go-Go. When she’s not unwrapping Luna bars or cooking frozen pizzas, Sarah can be found doing advocacy work for people healing from sexual abuse and violence, watching awesomely terrible reality television, or hosting evenings full of board games. Connect with her on Twitter and Pinterest.



Making lists is my jam. Checking off check boxes causes an Olympic adrenaline rush in my soul. You bet your bottom dollar one of my relaxation go-to’s is organizing my Google Calendar.


So, weekly meal planning should be a no-brainer for my Type-A tendencies. And yet, I find the idea daunting for some reason. The number of inspiring Pinterest pins I’ve seen, promising me time and money saved, AND mega health points earned, has finally gotten the best of me.


Meal Plan via on Pinterest

Photo Credit: Adventures of a DIY Mom

Photo Credit: Adventures of a DIY Mom on Pinterest



Photo Credit: on Pinterest


I decided this was the week the magic was going to happen. Time to check those zen/healthy/planful checkboxes (cue adrenaline rush).

Here’s where I started Sunday:

PIC 5 (1)

Here’s where I ended up on Saturday:

Meal Plan gone awry

Fair enough.


What I would change:

Being able to edit my list more cleanly would have been ideal.  For example, on Thursday there was no way I was turning down breakroom donuts for my planned handful of almonds. Being able to erase previous almond-y plans and discretely substitute “donut” would make me feel less spastic/totally addicted to all things sugar.

I shouldn’t have bought all the groceries in one fell swoop on Sunday. Those berries and avocados were such sad little fruits by the time I got around to them on Friday, that I ended up apologizing to them out loud.


What I would keep:

Carrying around a list at the grocery store added to an overall sense of accomplishment and purpose (and lessened the time I needed to mumble to myself “Hummus, hummus, remember the hummus,” like I do under my breath every week).

I dusted off some recipe books and paged through them when making my plan. Did I use any of them? Nada. BUT – I *thought* about it, which was pretty exciting.


I actually ended up liking this whole meal planning thing more than I thought I would. Like most things, it wasn’t the Pinterest-perfect way I imagined it would be (maybe if I had my hair in a fishtail braid and ate the meals out of blue mason jars?). But I’m a total fan of taking what works and leaving the rest, and enough worked here to start making me a meal planning believer.

If you have any awesome inside tips on how you rock meal planning, let me know – my purple pen and I are always poised for action.

Come Visit Me Hither and Thither!

Just poking in to let you know I’m over at Scary Mommy today, talking about the Top 5 Inventions for Modern Motherhood — you know what I’m talking about, the modern conveniences we never knew we couldn’t live without.

Come see me here and share the ones YOU can’t live without!


Also, we’re getting geared up for Halloween! If you haven’t yet seen my post about Halloween treats — the ones we love, and the ones that, well, suck, please visit me at Redbook, where I’m sharing Tricks or Treats: Which Will You Choose? You don’t want to be THAT house, now, do you?


Stay tuned! Guest posts and giveaways coming soon!


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