I grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where my dad owned an insurance business and my mom was a nurse. When I was little, I loved gymnastics and my parents encouraged me by building a jungle gym in our backyard. I spent hours creating “routines” and showing them to my brother and my parents when they came home from work. One summer, they surprised me with a trampoline and my little routines evolved into flips and tricks.
After years of flipping and flopping on my trampoline and in gymnastics lessons, my mom encouraged me to try cheerleading in high school. She was a high school cheerleader, so she even helped me choreograph a cheer for tryouts. But when she ended up in the emergency room, she realized she probably should’ve stretched before jumping into the splits to show me the cheer! She never tried the splits again after that, but she never stopped being my #1 cheerleader. I’m pretty proud of her, too, as she’s battled and beat breast cancer twice. My dad also has had his battle with cancer, but it’s wonderful that they’re healthy now and have been married for over 60 years.
After making it on the high school cheer team, I met the boy that grew into the amazing man I would eventually marry. Dennis Cooke was the senior quarterback with blue eyes and a quick wit. He asked me out for pizza after the homecoming game, and the rest is history. We feel very blessed to have found our ‘forever person’ when we were so young.
I followed Dennis to Purdue University where he studied electrical engineering. I majored in computer science, but the computer lab all-nighters didn’t stop me from joining the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and cheering as a dance team member (what used to be called the “Boiler Babes.” I know… but hey, it was 1986!). When we graduated, Dennis and I got married and moved to California where he worked at a tech start-up and I was a computer programmer at Hewlett Packard.
It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize that I was in the wrong job. I was too much of a people person for a programming role. It was a hard realization after I had just spent four years studying something I didn’t even enjoy, but I just knew that I was going to have to make a change. Luckily, Dennis decided to also make a change, and we moved to Wisconsin so he could start a career at General Electric and I could pursue a more people-oriented position in technical sales at IBM.
We both finished MBA programs while we were working, and I graduated with mine from Marquette University in 1994. Shortly after that, we decided to start a family and we were blessed with two daughters within two years. Our girls became our world, so when it made sense, we decided that I could leave my job and focus full-time on raising our girls.
Babysitting as a teenager didn’t even begin to prepare me for taking care of our own daughters! I found myself reading parenting magazines and books – well, portions of books, because a new mom never has enough time to read an entire book, right?! One of the things I learned was the importance of bedtime routines to make the children feel safe while falling asleep. They needed the comfort of knowing that every night they would go to bed and follow the same routine, and every morning Dennis or I would be there when it was time to wake up.
Bedtime routines worked great for our girls, and they looked forward to a bath, comfy jammies, reading 3 books while snuggling together, and listening to the same Disney lullaby music while Dennis or I kissed their forehead before leaving the room for the night. When they got older, they had fun being the ones to pick out the 3 books. These treasured memories are the main reason I’ve begun writing children’s books myself. I believe that even in a digital age, there’s just nothing like holding your child while they’re holding their favorite book and you get to watch their little hands flip the pages as you read, smile, and laugh together.
As our daughters grew, we exposed them to many different activities so they could figure out what they enjoyed. They tried gymnastics, ballet, ice-skating, soccer, golf, swimming, tennis, violin, singing, and acting. They both gravitated toward acting and singing, and before we knew it, our oldest was modeling for Kohl’s and our youngest was teaching herself to play the guitar. Just as my parents encouraged me with my love of flips and tricks, we supported and encouraged our daughters to pursue their love for entertainment as long as they adhered to two rules: family and education. Because entertainment is quite different from most activities kids get involved in, we hesitated at times because we didn’t want the harsh world of show business to hurt our daughters. But we agreed to support their acting and singing classes, auditions, and performances as long as they maintained good grades, and as long as our family was together on the weekends. This kept our family very close even in difficult times, and we’re all so thankful for these ‘Daddy’ rules (as the girls call them because Dennis set them).
I could go on for days to tell the part of my story that involved supporting all of our girls’ acting and performing experiences, but suffice it to say, it was a wonderful time of my life watching them grow and experience amazing things. They acted in LA for Disney, Nickelodeon and Nintendo Wii commercials, wrote and recorded music with industry legends in Nashville, played their songs at the renowned Bluebird Café and many other venues across the country, filmed beautiful music videos, and sang their unique version of the National Anthem at professional sporting events including for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Marlins, Nashville Predators, and San Francisco Giants.
Between Dennis’ corporate moves and living in places for our daughters’ activities, I’ve lived in Indiana, Wisconsin, Northern and Southern California, Tennessee, and Florida. We moved to Parkland, Florida in 2011 and the girls attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for a short while. The tragedy that occurred there recently has been very tough on our community, but it has also brought it closer together. It certainly reminded me of the importance of enjoying every day because you truly never know what tomorrow will look like.
Dennis and I still live in Parkland, but we spend a lot of our time visiting our youngest daughter Ashley who’s finishing her senior year of college in Nashville, visiting our oldest daughter Jenn who graduated from college and is now working in Dallas, and visiting extended family spread all across the country. Luckily, I’ve found the best time to write my stories is on a plane!
After joining the ‘empty nesters’ club when the girls went off to college a few years ago, Dennis taught me how to trade stock options and I’m now spending my days trading and managing our family’s investments. I’m also turning my stories into picture books that hopefully young families will enjoy while making beautiful memories of their own.
Navigating through the publishing world is challenging, but as you’ve probably picked up by now – our family is all about continual learning, growing, and cherishing moments with each other. So, whether I’m writing a new story for a book or writing a text message in our family group chat, I’m grateful for each moment and I’m grateful for you as you join me in this journey by sharing these stories with your own cherished families.