Comeback Champion

Paddling the Mississippi River, one of our greatest joys was spotting the white heads and tails of bald eagles amidst the foliage, then watching as they launched from the trees to soar majestically through the sky, escorting us down the river corridor. So, you can imagine my delight when my friend, Mary Ann, told me that her husband helped to band and track bald eagles during the years when they were listed as an endangered species in many states. In fact, Chuck Sindelar was recognized by the Wisconsin DNR as a “Comeback Champion” for his efforts to help monitor the state’s bald eagle population during this troubling time.

History is filled with stories of comebacks – brilliant returns from all kinds of adversity. Each story is inspiring in its own way and holds the capacity to teach us about perspective, creativity, optimism, hope and perseverance. But, one particular story has touched generations of Americans – that of our esteemed national symbol, the American Bald Eagle.

In the early years of our country, bald eagles were plentiful. Adopted by Congress in 1782 as our national bird, the bald eagle represented majesty, strength and freedom. As the human population grew and moved westward, however, the eagle population began to decline. Building, logging, and farming encroached on their natural habitat and eagles were often shot as potential threats to livestock and as hunting and fishing competitors.

The Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940 made it illegal to kill eagles, disturb their nesting sites, or possess eagle feathers, eggs, or parts. Widespread use of a newly developed insecticide called DDT, however, caused toxicity problems with eagle egg development. The bald eagle population declined to only 417 nesting pairs by 1963.

Last month, Gene and I had the chance to meet Chuck and to talk with him about his work with eagles. Mary Ann welcomed me with a warm hug, then did the same to Gene. “Thank you for coming,” she said. Chuck, comfortably dressed in a white shirt tucked into blue jeans, shook hands and led us into their ranch home. Photos and collections lined the walls and filled the counters, bearing witness to the varied interests of this couple during more than fifty years of life together.

After taking seats in the living room, Chuck regaled us with stories of his interest in birds of prey, including four years of osprey studies, a Conservation Degree from UW-Stevens Point, and migration studies with peregrine falcons, owls and hawks. He began recording the locations of eagle nests and banding young eaglets in 1965, just two years before the bald eagle was listed as an endangered species in 43 of the 48 contiguous states. As he talked, I remembered learning about the plight of the bald eagle back when I was in middle school and recalled my worry when they were added to the list of endangered species. “I banded young eagles from ’65 to ’89,” he said. “But I didn’t do it all by myself. Ron Eckstein and Dave Evans worked with me. Between the three of us, we banded over 3000 eagles.”

Chuck placed a stack of topographical county maps on the coffee table, spreading one out flat for us to see. Color-coded circles surrounded dots, representing nests, scattered around Marien County. “How did you find all the nests?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, settling back in his chair, “They’re a lot easier to see from the air. So, even though I don’t like to fly and I don’t much like heights, I hired a pilot to fly over each county. The nests were often five to six feet wide, so they weren’t hard to see. I liked to go best in the early spring, when there was still some snow. The snow in the nest made a big white circle that was easy to see from above. If there wasn’t snow and the eagle pair was in the nest, their white feathers also helped.”

“When I first did this, I didn’t get paid,” Chuck admitted. “My first wife -” he looked over at Mary Ann, who just smiled back, then continued, “- worked to pay the bills.”

“And to let him follow his passion,” Mary Ann added her perspective. “I worked as a medical secretary,” she went on to explain, “typing medical records. And took care of our girls.”

“She also helped type my reports,” added Chuck. “I couldn’t have done it without her. But I call her my first wife so she won’t get too comfortable.” He smiled at what I figured was an ongoing joke between the two of them.

“What kind of plane did you use?” asked Gene. I could always count on him to show interest in technical matters.

“The first pilot I hired was a fishing guide,” Chuck explained. “He had a little wing-under plane. It wasn’t easy to see past the wing, so I had to keep telling him, ‘Go lower…AND slower.” Chuck laughed. “He didn’t like that very much. Years later, when the Fish and Wildlife Service hired me and when I got a few contracts from the DNR, I got to use a pilot who flew for the government, John Winship. His plane was one of the only ones that had those belly cameras, so we could take pictures while we flew.”

Young Eaglet with Leg Band

Chuck went on to explain that he’d make two flights over each nest in the spring of each year: one to find out which nests had eagle pairs incubating eggs, and a second time to determine how many of the eggs hatched. Then, when the eaglets reached the right age, he would locate the trees on foot, don spiked lineman’s boots and climb as high as 125 feet to band the young eagles. “About three weeks old was the best time to band,” he explained. “Earlier than that, their feet could slip right out of the bands. But any later, and they’re harder to catch. Sometimes the babies hopped right out of the nest onto the tree branches and a few  even tried to fly!”

“What if the parents were in the nest?” I asked.

“We didn’t climb up until they left the tree to get food for the chicks,” Chuck explained. “If they returned while we were in the nest, they’d just land in another tree and wait until we left.”

Some eaglets were sent from Wisconsin to help populate other states.

After the US banned DDT use in 1972 and Canada followed a year later, bald eagles started an amazing comeback. Wisconsin did so well that sometimes, other states would request young eaglets to help establish populations in their states. “If there were three eaglets in a nest,” Chuck said, “once they were old enough, we’d sometimes put one in a wooden box to send it to another state.”

Chuck found it satisfying to see the increase in breeding pairs and see how far his birds traveled. “Take a look at this,” he said, placing a small map in front of me. Lines originating in Wisconsin radiated out in all directions to locations around the country. “When people find banded birds,” he explained, “they report it and I get an email that tells me who found it and where. I keep a record of each one.” A lot of them are in Wisconsin, but this map shows the ones that traveled farther.” I noticed that the lines on the map reached as far south as Texas and Florida and as far west as Idaho.

Chuck stopped banding in 1989 when the state took over the program. in 1995, the bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species lists and in 2007, was removed from Threatened Species lists in all states. “I read that as of 2014, there were over 10,000 nesting pairs,” I announced.

“They think there are a lot more now,” he said. “More like 18,000 pairs, I think. But they don’t study it anymore, so there’s really no way of knowing. It’s just a guess.” Just the fact that the eagles are secure enough not to need continued monitoring felt, to me, like a huge win.

“Thank you for spending time with us,” I said to Chuck, as we prepared to leave. “And for all you’ve done. You have such wonderful stories.” Another hug for Mary Ann, and we turned to leave. In what seemed like no time, two hours had passed, listening to the stories of this man – a central figure in one of the most significant wildlife recoveries of my lifetime. A man who loved eagles enough to sacrifice time with his family and financial reward to help increase our understanding of them and to identify, document and protect their nests and young. I will be forever grateful.

(Background information used for this story was obtained from the following websites: http://www.dnr.wi.gov, http://www.nationaleaglecenter.org, and from an article written by Paul A. Smith (1/18/2012) for http://www.jsonline.)

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Book Trip #4: Reconnecting in La Crosse and De Soto, Wisconsin

This September, we spent time in one of our many favorite areas of the Mississippi River, La Crosse, WI. Upon our arrival, the very first thing we did was (You guessed it!) take Kupendana for a paddle. With no responsibility to keep track of mileage or to take pictures, it was a delightful dip into nature’s pool. We saw cormorants, ducks, herons and a bald eagle who majestically surveyed it all from its lofty perch – not at all intimidated by our intrusion. We stopped near a sand beach to chat with other kayakers, sharing an easy camaraderie and remembering all the things we loved about this amazing section of the mighty river.

Nick Radner, Director of Development, and Jim Petersen, Director of Planned Giving, take time from their meeting to welcome us.

We visited the Salvation Army and found that, while some of the names and positions changed, the organization and the people we met were as strong and compassionate as we remembered, offering help in so many ways to the residents of La Crosse County. While Nick, the Director of Development, was busy with meetings, Kelley helped facilitate an interview with Channel 8 news, for a short segment about our book and a signing later that evening at the Valley View Barnes & Noble.

Dan, Mike, and Nate take time for a picture and a chat after the lunch rush.

Later, we sliced potatoes to help prepare the evening meal while a group of volunteers from the community served lunch. Dan, now retired and two architectural firm employees, Mike and Nate, made up the Friday lunch team. “They call us the A Team,” Mike said, “but I suspect they say that to all the teams.” Ranging from two to six years of experience, I had no doubt this lunch crew was an experienced and dedicated bunch.

Gene thanks Doug, Kitchen Manager at the Salvation Army, for having us (again).

Doug, the Kitchen Supervisor, zipped about, but took time to answer our questions and tell us more about the food program. “We have plenty of volunteers,” he said, “but right now, we’re looking for a full-time weekend cook to supervise the food program on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. The position comes with benefits, but it’s hard to find someone who has weekends free to work.” If you live in the La Crosse area and would like to know more about this open position, please email Doug, Kitchen Supervisor, or Abbey, Director of Operations.

Prairie Plantings in Autumn Bloom

Our next visit was Myrick Park, where we spent time during our trip at the Myrick-Hixon Eco Center. Unfortunately, we learned that the Eco Center is no longer operational and several elements of the park have been removed. Water no longer tumbles down the hillside, and the Forest Scramble playground has been relocated to a Boy Scout camp nearby. But, the beautiful prairie plantings have been expanded and still line the long walkway that we weeded during the day we spent with them years ago! Many of the plantings are maintained by the Buff County Master Gardeners, and were spectacularly decked out in fall color.

WisCorps Display

The building is now leased by WisCorps, a 501(c)(3) conservation corps dedicated to “engaging youth and young adults” in three different areas. Crews of 4-6 young adults, age 16-25, complete conservation projects throughout Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest. They are supervised by experienced leaders and are paid for their work. As they construct trails, manage invasive species, build retaining walls, bridges and boardwalks, stabilize prairies, restore stream banks and clean up storm damage, the youth gain skills and knowledge about and appreciation for our natural resources. A second employment opportunity is through WisCorps WORKS. Students gain longer-term work experience and classroom training which prepare them for the world of work.

Stephanie holds Foxy the Ornate Box Turtle

The third component of WisCorps is one in which the Eco Center was also highly engaged – providing nature education programs. Stephanie, the Education Manager and the only employee still there from the Eco Center days, told us, ” We’re still here, doing a similar mission.” Just finishing up a teacher training, Stephanie introduced us to two student assistants, as they cleaned up the room lined with aquarium habitats for live fish, snakes and turtles. Holding Foxy, the Ornate Box Turtle gently, she told us about fostering appreciation and stewardship for our environment through school and public programs, day camps, playgroups, and even a “critter-mobile”, which brings interesting animals out into the community.

David and Rachel enjoy the Karen’s Classroom Outdoor Seating Area

Before we left, we walked outside to the new semi-circular seating area with stepped concrete benches overlooking the lake.  Two students from UW-La Crosse, David and Rachel, joined us for a study break. Together we watched bicyclists pedal along the paths around the lake and caught glimpses of ducks, muskrats, and sunning turtles. Even though the place we loved has changed, it is still a gem in the community and a lovely place to learn, relax, and enjoy the outdoors.

After a quick dinner and change of clothes, off we went to the Valley View Mall, where Barnes & Noble graciously hosted us for a Book Signing from 6-8. No lines around the block, folks. But, we did have some great conversations with readers and shoppers, telling the story of our trip, handing out bookmarks with our website address, and selling and signing a few books as well. Our friends from Waukesha, Terry and Donna even brought Donna’s brother, Bob and his wife, Liz to see us. Thank you, Barnes & Noble, for making us feel special with your advertising and your incredible hospitality. We signed some books to leave in the store, so if any of you are in the La Crosse area and don’t have yours yet, or want to pick one up for a gift for an adventurer you know, stop out at the Valley View Mall!

My First Tractor Ride on an Antique Massey-Ferguson

If you’ve read Paddle for a Purpose, you know we stayed with Terry and Donna at their retirement home on the family farmstead during our paddle. Well, it made sense to them to have us back during our book trip to La Crosse. Who were we to argue with that? We enjoyed the beautiful country, the small town De Soto life, and rides along the river. Reminiscing about the tractor pull we attended our last time in the area, I mentioned that, although I grew up in Wisconsin, I never rode a tractor. I was hoping Terry would give me a ride, but instead, he taught me how to drive his antique Massey-Ferguson all by myself! We finished our Wisconsin Mississippi visit by visiting a craft fair in Ferryville and watching Harness Races and a Demolition Derby at the Vernon County Fair. Thanks, Terry and Donna, for another wonderful visit!

Our last book trip along the river will be the Twin Cities in December. We’ll be appearing at Subtext Books in St. Paul, with one of my favorite authors, Jim Landwehr, doing a joint book reading and conversation. Jim is the author of two memoirs (Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir and The Portland House: a 70’s Memoir) and two books of poetry (Written Life and Reciting From Memory), with more coming out soon. I’m honored to be appearing with him. If you’re interested in what else we’re up to, check out the Appearances tab on our main page. We wish you a blessed fall.


Barb and Gene


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Book Trip #3: Reconnecting in Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee

Southern hospitality. We felt it on our paddle through this area of our country, and again during our most recent gratitude tour.

Gene looks at historical murals covering the sea wall in Paducah, KY

Our first stop was Paducah, KY, where we volunteered with Paducah Cooperative Ministries, an organization formed through the cooperation of area churches. PCM “seeks to do God’s work with human hands by bringing together individuals and resources to respond to basic human needs and conditions in McCracken County.” You can find out more about them here.

Heidi Suhrheinrich, Executive Director of PCH, welcomes us to the Moonlight Ride

PCM’s Moonlight Ride fundraiser was the reason we planned our southern trip for the dates we did. In fact, we found out later that these Wisconsinites were the first two riders to register in the event! We weren’t about to miss this! Two of our River Angels, Kenneth and his wife, Lottie, decided to register and ride with us – but they didn’t have bikes. So, Kenneth bought one and Lottie rented one for the day!

Ready to ride with Kenneth and Lottie, our Moonlight Ride partners

648 riders set off at 10 PM under a nearly full moon, bicycles decked out in colorful lights. Our dollar store light sticks were no match for the new-fangled LED strings of bicycle wheel lights adorning many of the local two-wheelers. We weren’t in a hurry, but we probably packed more conversation into ten miles than any of the rest! We arrived home a week later to several packages from Kenneth – new flashing tail lights, flashlights and handlebar mounts, and four sets of multicolored bike wheel lights. I bet Kenneth and Lottie might be the first two registered for next year’s ride!

A new memorial added to Veteran’s Park, honoring those who lost lives in the War against Terrorism

While in Paducah, we also made a stop at Hooper’s, a downtown sporting goods store, to thank them for storing Donna while we were in town. We checked out a new tribute to those who have lost lives to terrorism, and of course, visited the river. A special thank you to Chris for hosting us for a signing at Paducah Books. We enjoyed meeting his customers, signing a few books, and finding several titles that we couldn’t resist buying for ourselves.

In Fulton, MS, our first destination was the Itawamba Learning Center to visit with Elizabeth Triplett, founder and tutor. We learned the organization is continuing to thrive and to change lives through education. Greg, a new member of the team, has helped enormously by taking on the role of grant writer, increasing both their financial resources and their impact.

Our reading and signing took place at the Itawamba County Pratt Memorial Library, where we were welcomed by the librarian, Jeffrey, when we stopped in early. He was holding a summer class on robotics, where we met some brilliant young programmers.

With Judy, tutor and quilter, and Elizabeth, co-founder of Itawamba Learning Center

At the reading later that day, we renewed friendships with members of the Learning Center staff we met on our trip as well as new additions to the team. We congratulated Gwen, a student who went on to graduate from the area college, and met her mother, whose picture is with Gwen’s on the quilt Judy made for us. The Blake family River Angels, who hosted us at their home during our trip, even trusted me to read their section aloud before they had yet seen it. I laughed to discover that Alan actually HAD been watching when we got hung up on a stump upon leaving after our stay there! On our way out of town, we stopped at the Itawamba Times to say “Hi” and “Thank you” to Adam, Times reporter and photographer, for his excellent media coverage of both our visits and the Itawamba Learning Center’s work.

We had no book events in TN, but stopped at the Tennessee River Museum in Savannah to thank Vicki for her assistance with logistics, and Kent, for storing Donna for us while we were in town. We also drove (this time) to the office of Dr. Gallien, the kind dentist who found me great relief from a toothache during our trip. Aware that we were taking up his time during his work day, I hastened to shorten our visit, when he comforted, “Right now, you’re the only thing that’s important to me.” What an example of courtesy that seems endangered today – focusing entirely on those with whom we are having conversation. I asked him about his goal of working fifty years before he retires. “I’ve changed my mind about that,” he confessed. “I’m planning on working ’til my toes point up.” A smile on his face, he held his hands out with his fingers bent upward. If that’s so, his patients are the lucky ones.

Daughter, Cassie, and granddaughter, Ellie

Our last visit was with Gene’s daughter, who drove out to the river to meet us during our trip. “Do you realize how much has changed in your life in the last five years?” Gene asked her, as we strolled the mall. “New job, a wedding, a baby?”

Cassie glanced at her husband, Adam, and hugged her 7 month-old daughter, Ellie. “Yes,” she said. “I’m so happy.” Gene beamed, too – happy for her.

We’re back in WI for August. It’s nice to be home for awhile. Lest you think that the author life is all glamping and travel, our August calendar is filled with meetings, work, cataract surgeries for Gene, and unanticipated kitchen remodeling due to an unfortunate dishwasher flooding incident. Yep – we’re just everyday folks!

‘Til next time,

Barb and Gene




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Book Trip #2: Reconnecting in Northern Minnesota

During our second week of gratitude visits, we traveled to Minnesota, where we spent the first five weeks of our paddle in 2013. We had the occasion to visit and thank many of the river angels who helped us in so many ways – offering us meals, shelter, boat storage, transportation, and even help with repairs. It was nice to reminisce about the trip, but also to catch up with all that’s happened over the last few years. To those whom we didn’t get a chance to see, we are forever grateful for your kindness, and hope to catch up with you in the future!

A special thank you to my brother, Dave, and sister-in-law, Karen, for hosting us in your home on the way up north and on the way back down to Wisconsin. It helped make our drives easier, and gave us a welcomed chance to visit with their family and with Mom!

Our next trip will be south, to Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Stay tuned!

All the best,

Barb and Gene


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Book Trip #1: Reconnecting in Iowa and Missouri

Gene’s truck, Lucy, loaded down for fun in Iowa and Missouri

Our first Book Trip ended up being filled with wonderful experiences – better than we ever expected. And, it had very little to do with selling books. Once again, it was about the people that we met, and those with whom we reconnected.

Our first studio experience, Talk of Iowa, on Iowa Public Radio

Sure, Gene and I got to be on the radio for the first time ever: Iowa Public Radio’s program, Talk of Iowa, with Charity Nebbe. With her bubbly personality and excellent interview skills, she calmed our newbie jitters in no time. I almost forgot other people might be listening. Well, except for the cool headphones, the microphones and the brightly-lit “On Air” sign.


Sue Davis, owner of River Lights Bookstore, welcomed us warmly and found a spot for Paddle for a Purpose on her shelf!

We also got a chance to meet Sue Davis, owner of River Lights Bookstore, who arranged for us to do a reading and signing while we were in Dubuque. Friends, new and old, attended to hear sections about our service with The Open Closet clothing ministry of St. John’s Church and about the day we spent on the river with the ever-ebullient Connie Roling. (You can read about Connie and her husband, Dave on pages 194-199 of Paddle for a Purpose!) Connie brought several members of her family to listen, Paul and Carol, in the area from Waukesha, surprised us, and we even met some new friends who heard our interview. If you live in the Dubuque area, be sure to stop in and browse at River Lights. You’ll even find Paddle for a Purpose on the shelves!

Staff and Volunteers at The Open Closet

While in Dubuque, we reconnected with Pastor Jay Ilten and volunteered again with The Open Closet. We helped with preparations on Friday, and with Open Closet hours on Saturday, when over 330 customers came to choose free clothing while their children were invited to create painted frames for their silhouettes, drawn by an on-site artist. Ruth, the director of The Open Closet, and her husband, Richard, hosted a lovely dinner where we met even more people involved with the awesome ministries happening at St. John’s.

Gwen, Executive Director of Almost Home, ministries of St. John’s Lutheran Church

Speaking of awesome ministries, Gwen Kirchoff, our host in Dubuque and director of Almost Home, St. John’s title for the umbrella of ministry services, explained more about the new community partnerships they have developed since we were last there. “St. John’s is involved in so many things that benefit the community,” she said. “We’re known as the Little Downtown Church that’s Doing Big Things.” New initiatives include:

* expanding the existing 12-bed Guest House men’s shelter by creating 6 transitional living apartments
* partnership with Habitat for Humanity to construct the apartments and remodel the kitchen
* Path to Employment program provides intense case management, mentorship and monitored linkage to employment to prepare homeless individuals for living-wage employment and housing
* Partnership with North Iowa Community College provides classes and vocational coaching
* Partnership with Greater Dubuque Development Corporation researches jobs that are needed in the Dubuque County area
* Partnership with Resources Unite connects men to job coaches
* Let’s Put Daddy to Work program uses grant money to hire homeless fathers so they can afford to pay child support
* Homeless men are hired to work at the Guest House
* Free bus passes are provided for necessary transportation to interviews
* Dress for Success area in The Open Closet stocks business attire, such as dress slacks and white shirts suitable for interviews and employment
* McDonnaugh Foundation and Mercy Hospital provide scrubs for individuals working in health fields
* Black Hills Energy Company provides used heavy construction clothing
* New steel-toed boots are provided for those going into a construction program
* Claire Cares makes lunches and delivers them for men to take to work, puts on a Christmas dinner, and makes winter care bags
* The As You Grow consignment store donates children’s clothing that isn’t sold or picked up, and J & J Consignment does the same for adult clothing
* Holiday Inn, Best Western and Divine Word Seminary donate gently used bedding and towels
*The Open Closet provides sweats and new underwear and socks for health rooms at six elementary schools
* Sleeping bags and tarps are given to homeless during the winter, and the church is opened up as a cooling center during extreme summer heat
*The Red Basket program provides feminine hygiene products and Depends for older men and women
* Pre-assembled emergency bags are assembled for specific boys’ and girls’ sizes can be given out whenever needed
* The Open Closet is available on special nights for women from the area women’s shelter, so clients who may have lived through trauma can feel safe. Only women volunteers assist during these times.
* The Alliance for Opportunity helps people who are behind on rent or utilities to go through case management to get vouchers written out to landlords or energy companies
* The Open Closet gets volunteers from surrounding colleges, the Dubuque Eagles Eyes on the Future Youth Leadership Program, Mary’s Inn for pregnant women, Catholic Charities, Hills and Dales program for the disabled, Capable Volunteers (Part of Resources United), and the Living on the Outside program (women from the Elm Street Correctional Facility)
* Thrivent Action Teams help with special projects like providing shelving, totes and baby products
* Wartburg Seminary sends seminarians for field work at St. John’s to learn about working with area businesses, other non-profits, and the city government
Thank you, St. John’s, for your example, seeing the needs in your community and making connections which help make the greatest possible impact, serving those in need and accompanying them on a path toward independence.

A morning hike group selfie with Professor Joe


In Hannibal, our last stop, we got a chance to catch up on five years of family news with Professor Joe Coelho, from Quincy University, as we hiked together through a nature preserve. We not only got some exercise on a sweltering day, but learned more from Joe about the flora and fauna of Missouri. One thing that gave us a chuckle is that chipmunks are a delightful rarity in those parts. We offered to send him a box of them from our yard in Wisconsin. (You can read about Professor Joe on pages 221-224 of Paddle for a Purpose!)

We can’t wait for our trip to northern Minnesota this July. If you want to schedule a book event, or just get together to say hi, we’ll look forward to seeing you!
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What I Learned from “The Friendliest Group on Facebook”

When I began writing my memoir, Paddle for a Purpose, I felt a need to immerse myself in the world of memoirs, in order to more fully understand the genre. I read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, Dirty Shirt, by Jim Landwehr, and – Packers fan that I am – The LeRoy Butler Story: from Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap, among others. I also joined the Facebook Group, We Love Memoirs. They billed themselves as “The Friendliest Group on Facebook.” Why not check it out? I thought.

We Love Memoirs has a strict policy against self-promotion, which didn’t matter to me – I didn’t have anything to self-promote. I did, however, get acclimated to the group, which was rather small at the time, but had members from all over the world. I participated in the conversation threads, contests, and sometimes quirky games. The conversations were not just about reading, but also about the people’s lives in the places where they lived. I met people (authors and not) from all over, including Europe, Australia, South America, Canada, and various states here at home. This group lived up their self-appointed moniker. I even saw posts of WLM members meeting up with each other as they traveled to other places around the world!

Before long, I noticed that the admins promoted many books by member authors – when they were newly-released, or if they were free or on sale. And, once in a while, special party days gave authors a chance to talk about their own work. But the rule against self-promotion (and Clarissa the Crocodile, who gulped down offending posts) kept things from getting out of hand. I soon discovered a companion group as well, We Love Memoirs Authors Group, which offered writing and marketing advice with a side order of well-earned wisdom. I turned to them occasionally with questions, and found them eager to share advice with a newbie like me.

On most Sundays, WLM highlights one author with a Sunday Spotlight. At any time during the day, members can ask questions of the Spotlight author – not just about their book, but about anything. I met some awesome authors this way – by popping in and asking some questions about their books and their lives.

When WLM finally got to announce the release of Paddle for a Purpose, I was congratulated by a group of now over 4000 memoir enthusiasts, many of whom had become FB group acquaintances. I asked about having a Sunday Spotlight and was given the date of May 20th. (Thank you, Julie Haigh!)

Nowadays, an author is expected to help “market” their book -which basically means to put yourself out there. A publisher can help with ideas, visibility and encouragement, but the book launch, readings, signings, appearances, and the use of social media are expectations if you want the book to do well. After an amazing book launch with wonderful friends from all areas of our lives there to share the excitement, Gene and I have been enjoying appearances and loving the creative pictures you’ve shared of yourselves reading the book. But, we’re finding that marketing can also be old-fashioned, time-consuming hard work.

My Sunday Spotlight reminded me of something we learned during our trip. On the river, we soon developed a motto, “It’s not about the paddle; it’s about the people.” During Sunday’s conversations, I communicated with people from England, Maine, Canada, Ireland, Uruguay, Sweden, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado, and France. We talked about my memoir and our trip, but also about kayaking, canoeing, bicycling, and Mark Twain. Authors and readers shared their experiences navigating with barges and living on barges. They shared their experiences with volunteering for charities and their bucket list travel destinations. It occurred to me that memoir writers and readers desire most to share each others’ life experiences, and that sharing them with one another is one positive way we can learn to understand each other more fully and care for each other more deeply. I plan to remember that my true marketing goal is to share our story with people who are interested to read it. After all, “It’s still about the people.”



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One of the most awesome things about living here in Waukesha is the support that I’ve found from area small businesses. When it comes to donating prizes for fundraising, space, time, and money, the businesses in this community never fail to come through. But during the past month, I have been especially grateful for the way that some of our favorite places have supported home town authors like me.


On April 27th, the Book Launch for Paddle for a Purpose was held at Le Caffe Bistro, located at S30W24896 Sunset Drive. We chose it partly because of the warm and cozy atmosphere, but also because it is where much of the book was written (and revised) from an armchair by the fireplace,  a sugar-free mocha and a warm scone or fresh wrap by my side. The staff never failed to make me feel welcome, and continued this tradition when I inquired about having my Book Launch there. Sherri’s planning was meticulous, her staffing, baked goods and special drinks flawless. With a packed house, she saw to the details so that we could just enjoy our evening. Thank you, Le Caffe Bistro, for your support!


From the moment we told the owners of Martha Merrell’s Books, Norm and Eve Bruce, about Paddle for a Purpose, they were “on board” with the story of our service kayak adventure. Located at 231 W. Main Street, they became the first bookstore to order Paddle for a Purpose to display on their shelves. They offered to host readings and signings as well.

A former second grade student, Kari, now a teacher herself! 

Less than a week after our launch, Martha Merrell’s held a book signing event for us during the Art Crawl. They took care of selling our books inside, so we could sit outside on a beautiful day, concentrating on greeting customers and signing books for readers. And at the end of the day, they even donated to the charities described in our book. Thank you, Norm and Eve, for your kindness and over-the-top generosity!




I can’t end without mentioning another excellent coffee shop that continually supports area authors – Cafe De Arts, located at 830 W. St. Paul Avenue. The atmosphere is creative, eclectic and friendly, and the staff is always welcoming. I’ve worked on my own writing there and attended many Book Launches for colleagues. They also host Friday Night Free-For-Alls several times a year, when the public is invited to hear students and staff of the AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, as well as a special guest author, read selections in a variety of genres. Thank you, Cafe De Arts!

Do you have businesses in your towns that welcome and support authors? If so, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below. And, don’t forget to frequent their businesses and thank them for supporting your communities!

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New Page for Readers’ Photos!

Paddle for a Purpose, displayed in the WI section of Martha Merrell’s Bookstore in Waukesha

Now that Paddle for a Purpose has officially been released, we’re finding it popping up now and then – on social media, in messages, and even at my favorite hometown bookstore, keeping company with such books as Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. As a first-time author, this is humbling, anxiety-producing and exciting, all at once. I hope the stories that inspired us during the river journey in our little wooden kayak, Kupendana, will be a source of encouragement to  those of you who read them.

It is with this mind that we decided to start a Readers’ Page on our website – a place where you can view each others’ photos, comments, and stories. We hope the page will be dynamic, growing and changing with new ideas related to service and/or travel. But we are starting with a photo gallery we call, “Paddle for a Purpose Sightings” You can find it on the main page, under the tab with the same name.

If you would like your picture to be included on the page, just send me a photo of yourself with Paddle for a Purpose anywhere you happen to be. Include your name and location, and I’ll post it on the page for other readers to see. (You can send it to bgeiger1@gmail.com, or tag me on my Barbara Ann Geiger Facebook account.) Check in, every now and then, to see all the places we travel together!

At the end of May, we’ll have a random drawing to choose two winners of gift certificates to my publisher’s website, http://www.electiopublishing.com. Good luck! Let’s see how far we can go!

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And…We Have a Cover!


Three days to release, and Paddle for a Purpose has a cover design! The process was longer and involved more emails (and less sleep) than I anticipated, but I love the final look. My publisher took all our ideas into consideration, and tried a couple different designs before we settled on this one. I love that when you look closely, you can see a map behind the title! The back cover will have a synopsis, three author recommendations, and a short author bio, over a faint background of Gene and me in the kayak. I hope you like it, too. It sure will be easy to find on bookstore shelves. Thank you, eLectio Publishing!

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It’s About the People

“It’s not about the paddle; it’s about the people.”

Early on in our journey, this quote became our motto. I can’t take any credit. It was originally coined by Gene, in response to a quandry brought on by an accident in the headwaters. After repairs were made, we faced a choice between foregoing some river miles or missing one of our planned service stops.

Our new motto became a litmus test whenever we considered a change of route or a modification of our itinerary. We thought of it when people emailed us to ask if we could stop and have lunch with them, or invited us to stay in their home to talk with their children about service to others. We considered it when people asked us to stay overnight to meet their friends, or paddle a few miles out of our way to meet the spouse of a volunteer we met during a day of service. You see, each morning we asked God to put people in front of us that God wanted us to meet. We learned when you ask something like that, you’d better be ready for an answer!

The greatest joy of the trip, even better than the amazing river, the spectacular wildlife, and the peacefulness of daily life lived in the outdoors was meeting interesting, kind and generous people all along the way. Since we’ve been home, we’ve kept up with some of these friends through emails and social media. Jason and Jeni, who since helping us overcome a river crisis, have gotten married, bought a home, and had a beautiful baby girl. Jennifer, who started After School Adventures in the neighborhood by her church, left that flourishing program in church hands and with her family, relocated to Texas to serve with Pioneer Bible Translators. And Elizabeth, who recognized a need, began a GED tutoring program in her town, and, with dedicated volunteers, is still changing lives.

Handmade Quilt sent by the Volunteer Staff at the Itawamba Learning Center

Elizabeth recently sent us this beautiful quilt, handmade by Judy, one of the Itawamba Learning Center volunteer tutors. Among other pictures, it has a photo of a student we met, who went on to attend the area college.

The photo shows her with the Itawamba staff on her graduation day, her mother on the far right.



This summer and fall, we look forward to several book tours along the Mississippi and Tenn-Tom waterways that will give us a chance to visit and catch up with the amazing folks we met on our trip. We plan to be in the St. Louis, Hannibal and Dubuque areas in June; Brainerd, Bemidji and Little Falls areas in July; Paducah, Fulton, Savannah and Demopolis areas in August; and the La Crosse, Ferryville and Twin Cities areas in September. (If you are from these locations and know of libraries, bookstores, or churches that might be interested in meeting us, we’d love to know.) As we arrange programs, readings, and/or book signings, we’ll list them on our website. Look for the “Appearances” tab on the main page.



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