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1. A Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd | Book Review

A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd’s sensational middle grade debut novel, begs to be read aloud and shared with an audience of dreamers.

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2. Gone Camping: Smiles All Around!

Actually, we’ve just returned from our annual weekend camping trip to Forked Lake Campgrounds. There’s something so comforting and yet revelatory about tradition. You go back, do the same thing every year, more or less with the same people, but each time feels unique. Familiar, yet changed in small ways. A big part of that is our children, growing up before our eyes. The kid you used to watch like a hawk is now out on the kayak, muscles rippling.

This year school year our oldest will be a senior in Geneseo. He missed the trip, already gone. The middle child, Gavin, enters 10th grade; he’ll begin the year on the JV Volleyball team — a new sport for him. Our youngest, Maggie, just 13, enters 8th grade.

They are growing up.

Here’s a fun snap taken in Long Lake, outside of Hoss’s legendary (Triple-S’s!) store. That’s Gavin in the Cape Cod sweatshirt; Maggie, standing beside him, apple in hand; I’m up above in gray (shirt and hair), fondling the bear; and Lisa, my wife, is on the other side in the light-blue tee and vest. Those other folks? No idea how they got in there.

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3. Home, a bracelet and the Maasi

Maasi women (photo credit : D. Burrows)

Maasi women (photo credit : D. Burrows

Some of the joy of travel is when I return home and share the fun and stories with my friends and family.

On this trip though, it occurred to me that I really didn’t have a home to come back to. Not the kind of home that I had always had. This thought kept me traveling for much longer that I had planned and would take me around the world. It was in the space of time when I left the plan behind that I realized home is no longer a place, but resides in my heart. And the heart, while fragile, has an infinite capacity for love.

Some trips shape me. Some trips change me. Some trips transform me. Some trips have affected my family and friends. And sometimes, the stories I tell and the gifts I give have reached beyond those I know and love. Far beyond anything I could have ever imagined.

This is the story of the bracelet.

Wherever I was, whether in the countryside on the outskirts of Melbourne, trekking the Himalayas, in the jungles of Java or on the shores of the Bali Sea, I had my eye out for little treasures. Unique gifts I could bring back for friends and family. As I was backpacking through the world, portability was key.

In Kalibaru on the island of Java I found and purchased a handful of beautiful handmade bracelets. For the next sixty days they would travel with me all over the world. When I returned to the U.S. I gave one to my very good friend. She loved the bracelet so much she never took it off. It stayed on her wrist as she journeyed to Wales and then to Africa.

The bracelet (photo credit: A. Burrows)

The bracelet (photo credit: A. Burrows)

And it found its way to a little village in northern Tanzania where a tribe of Maasai lived. The women of the village made bracelets to help support their families. The Maasai women surrounded my friend when they saw her bracelet. The idea of using different-sized beads on the same bracelet never occurred to them. The type of beads captivated them. The way the bracelet fastened was a curiosity. This gave the Maasai women lots of ideas about bracelets and their future designs. My friend bought one of their bracelets and when she returned home, she gave the bracelet to me.

And through my friend and the bracelet and the Maasi women, my home just got a little bit bigger.

So often in life we think that the little things we do don’t matter. We discount our influence or even our own significance, at times. But the biggest things we do can be the smallest. A smile. A joke. A well-timed call. A small gift. A simple treasure. The little things your heart whispers can bring so much joy to the world.

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4. Reread #34 Out of the Dust

Out of the Dust. Karen Hesse. 1997. Scholastic. 240 pages. [Source: Bought]

I first reviewed Out of the Dust in March 2008. Out of the Dust is a historical verse novel that I likely would have avoided at all costs as a kid. It is set in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and Depression.

Billie Jo is our piano-playing heroine. Life was hard enough for Billie Jo and her family BEFORE the tragic accident. Multiple crop failures in a row. Worry and doubt weighing down whole communities, and, not without cause. But after the accident, things are even worse.

Added to despair and doubt is anger and bitterness and regret. Billie Jo doesn't know how to talk to her father anymore. She doesn't know how to be in the same house with him. Things are just off between them. Both are suffering souls. Both have needs that aren't being met. Both need time to heal at the very least.

The novel spans two years, 1934 and 1935. These two years are very hard emotionally for almost all the characters. Out of the Dust is a great coming-of-age novel. I think I liked it even more the second time.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Risen: The Battle for Darracia, by Michael Phillip Cash | Dedicated Review

Risen is the third book in Michael Phillip Cash’s dramatic sci-fi trilogy, the Darracia Saga.

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6. The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier

Molly and Kip are trying to find the Windsors, their new home of employment, but the locals are not making it easy for them.  Every time Molly asks, they speak of the sour woods and tell Molly that she should stay away.  But it's not like Molly has a choice - she and her brother are far from home and without parents.  When they encounter Hester Kettle on the road, they seem to have found a piece of luck.  She is willing to tell the children how to get to the Windsors for a promise of future stories. Molly agrees and they are soon on their way.

Molly's introduction to the family is a far cry from welcoming.  Hired by the Windsor's solicitor, Constance has no idea Molly is coming and is less than pleased to find her telling stories to her young daughter Penny in the dusty foyer of the house.  Constance and her son Alistair want Molly and Kip to leave immediately, but Molly is able to use her gift of the gab to convince them that they would much rather live in a well tended house, and that she and Kip can provide it for them.

She will soon live to regret this move, as the family and the house seem to be harboring dark secrets.  While she is able to throw herself into the ample work of cleaning up the household during the day, it is at night when Molly is most afraid.  Every night since she's been sleeping in the house, she has been having terrible nightmares.  And it turns out the darkness isn't just in her mind.  She wakes to find her door open, leaves in her hair and mud on the floor.

As it turns out, the Night Gardener Miss Polly has mentioned is real.  He wanders the house and the grounds at night and has his hand in the nightmares of the household.

And he is not the only dark element at the Windsors' place.  The tree, growing much too close to the house, is more than it seems as well, and will soon ensnare Molly as it has the Windsors.

This is a deliciously scary story that will have readers up into the night to finish. Jonathan Auxier is one of those writers who seems like he's been around forever.  Not because there are a plethora of his books lining the shelves, but because he is a craftsman.  His books have a timeless quality to them and are made of the stuff with staying power.  The Windsor's legacy is slowly revealed piece by piece which helps bring the suspense level to that of a slow burn.  He explores the themes of human weakness and greed, family and loyalty with aplomb.  The setting is expertly laid out and even now as I close my eyes I can see the grounds, the stables and the green door.

Fans of dark fantasy, Victorians, and well crafted stories will be left shivering with delight.




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7. Absolutely Almost (2014)

Absolutely Almost. Lisa Graff. 2014. Penguin. 304 pages [Source: Library]

I loved Absolutely Almost. I think I loved it at least as much as Umbrella Summer. Maybe even a little bit more. I don't know. Time will tell. I don't actually have to choose between the two, right?! I can LOVE two GREAT books by one very talented middle grade author, can't I?!

Albie is the protagonist of Absolutely Almost. His narration gives the book a just right feel. It's a satisfying read about a boy who struggles with meeting expectations: his parents, his grandparents, his teachers, his own. He's never good or great, he's always only almost. Almost good at this or that. Almost ready for this or that. And this oppressive almost gets him down now and then. Not always, mind you. I don't want to give the impression that Albie is sad and depressed and unable to cope with life. Albie is more than capable of having a good time, of enjoying life, of appreciating the world around him.

I really appreciated Graff's characterization. Not only do readers come to love (in some cases I imagine love, love, love) Albie, but, all the characters are well written or well developed. Albie's parents at times seem to be disconnected, out of touch with who their son is, what life is like for him, what he wants, what he needs. But just when I get ready to dismiss them as neglectful or clueless, something would happen that would make me pause and reconsider. Readers also get to know several other characters: his nanny, Calista, his math teacher, Mr. Clifton, and his friend, Betsy. For the record, he does have more than one friend. But Betsy is his new friend, his first friend that he makes at his new school. It is their friendship that is put to the test in the novel. It is his relationship with Betsy that allows for him to progress a bit emotionally. If that makes sense. (So yes, I know that his best-best friend is Erlan. But Erlan has been his friend for as long as he can remember, probably since they were toddlers. He's completely comfortable in that friendship. Their friendship does come into the novel here and there. But for me, it wasn't the most interesting aspect of the novel.)

I loved the setting of Absolutely Almost. I loved how we get to spend time with Albie in school and out of school. I loved how we get to see him in and out of his comfort zone. I loved that we got to see his home life. We got to see for ourselves how he interacts with parents. I love how Albie is able to love his parents even if they don't really make him top priority. Especially his Dad. Albie's need for his Dad's attention, the right kind of attention, can be FELT. Albie held onto hope that one day his Dad would find time to spend with him, that one day his Dad would see him--really see him. There were moments that hope lessened a bit as Albie gave into his emotions-of-the-moment. But Albie's love for his dad always won out at the end. His hope would return.

The writing. I loved it. I did. I think the quality of the writing was amazing. There were chapters that just got to me. Their were paragraphs that just resonated with me. The writing just felt TRUE.

Absolutely, Almost is set in New York City.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

And so, the wheel turns. My eldest has moved to college. Although my Lovely Wife (LW) tells me we have to keep her room intact because she will still come home, I remember that I never lived at home after I left for college. I am somewhat sad about that, but we’ve been prepping for this and hoping she would take flight someday. It’s just hard to watch the baby condor drop off the ledge knowing the perilous plunge that awaits.

I’m taking it pretty well, actually. LW, not so much. Everything in the house seems to remind her that one of her babies has left the nest. Tears, oh there have been tears. I don’t understand tears, nor do I deal with them very well. I remind LW that she’s always got me… forever…  Somehow, that doesn’t seem to help.

After moving our collegian, we had to take our little patient in for treatment where she and mom stayed a few days. While they were gone, I happened into the pantry and realized LW must not have been there since baby condor left. If food packaging could form a face, every piece of junk food in there conspired to draw our missing daughter – even to me and I’m oblivious to the most obvious of things.

This was bad! I couldn’t let LW see this, she would cry for days. It all had to go, but the cheapskate in me said I also couldn’t throw out all of the food. Only one option remained. A 24 hour binge of Munchos and Dr. Pepper.

Have you ever read the nutrition label on those things? DON’T! You can gain 3 pounds just from holding the bag too long. They don’t list things by proportion, otherwise the label would read something like this:

Lard 70%image

Air 27%

Salt 2.5%

Potatoes 0.5%

How they bond the ingredients I will never know. Anyway, I polished off the first bag for breakfast and washed it down with three Dr. Peppers. I checked the remaining inventory and was disheartened to discover that LW must have decided to stock up to try to lure the girl to forsake college and stay with us. Either that or she suspected a Y2k15 disaster and wanted to be prepared. Our pantry was like a saferoom.

This is where having many offspring should pay off! I enlisted the help of the remaining children. When I explained the dilemma, I got more “Oh, Dad” eye rolls than the average game of nine-ball. One took a Dr. Pepper before she left, so I was down to hoarder’s surplus minus one. Alone, I dug in for the day.

In the late evening, I was sure a trip the emergency room was in order. The pantry was reverting back to a faceless state, and my stomach was screaming something in Idahoan. I was sweating a substance that looked like maple syrup, which can’t be good. I put in a call to Poison Control where a kind gentleman told me there was no known toxicity in the combination, but urged me to go to the hospital if I felt light-headed. That’s the last thing I remember before passing out amongst the crumbs of the last bag.

When I came to, it was time to go and pick up LW and the youngest. I used the shower squeegee to remove the syrup-sweat and when I arrived, they were ready to go. The trip home was uneventful, I successfully hid the tick and slurred speech caused by sugar intake. While I was unloading the car, LW stopped me.

“Where are the snacks for the party?”

I shrugged my shoulders and grunted. I didn’t ask ‘what party’, I’m sure I’d been told.

“The pantry was full of them.”

“I dunno,” I replied without making eye contact.

“Well, we need more for the party Saturday. Can you go to the store?”

“Uh, sure.”

They say never go to the store hungry. I went full! And I bought $57 worth of Dr. Pepper and Munchos, feeling bloated and quite resentful. Even after all the sweets, this was a bitter pill to swallow.


Filed under: It Made Me Laugh

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9. She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

And so, the wheel turns. My eldest has moved to college. Although my Lovely Wife (LW) tells me we have to keep her room intact because she will still come home, I remember that I never lived at home after I left for college. I am somewhat sad about that, but we’ve been prepping for this and hoping she would take flight someday. It’s just hard to watch the baby condor drop off the ledge knowing the perilous plunge that awaits.

I’m taking it pretty well, actually. LW, not so much. Everything in the house seems to remind her that one of her babies has left the nest. Tears, oh there have been tears. I don’t understand tears, nor do I deal with them very well. I remind LW that she’s always got me… forever…  Somehow, that doesn’t seem to help.

After moving our collegian, we had to take our little patient in for treatment where she and mom stayed a few days. While they were gone, I happened into the pantry and realized LW must not have been there since baby condor left. If food packaging could form a face, every piece of junk food in there conspired to draw our missing daughter – even to me and I’m oblivious to the most obvious of things.

This was bad! I couldn’t let LW see this, she would cry for days. It all had to go, but the cheapskate in me said I also couldn’t throw out all of the food. Only one option remained. A 24 hour binge of Munchos and Dr. Pepper.

Have you ever read the nutrition label on those things? DON’T! You can gain 3 pounds just from holding the bag too long. They don’t list things by proportion, otherwise the label would read something like this:

Lard 70%image

Air 27%

Salt 2.5%

Potatoes 0.5%

How they bond the ingredients I will never know. Anyway, I polished off the first bag for breakfast and washed it down with three Dr. Peppers. I checked the remaining inventory and was disheartened to discover that LW must have decided to stock up to try to lure the girl to forsake college and stay with us. Either that or she suspected a Y2k15 disaster and wanted to be prepared. Our pantry was like a saferoom.

This is where having many offspring should pay off! I enlisted the help of the remaining children. When I explained the dilemma, I got more “Oh, Dad” eye rolls than the average game of nine-ball. One took a Dr. Pepper before she left, so I was down to hoarder’s surplus minus one. Alone, I dug in for the day.

In the late evening, I was sure a trip the emergency room was in order. The pantry was reverting back to a faceless state, and my stomach was screaming something in Idahoan. I was sweating a substance that looked like maple syrup, which can’t be good. I put in a call to Poison Control where a kind gentleman told me there was no known toxicity in the combination, but urged me to go to the hospital if I felt light-headed. That’s the last thing I remember before passing out amongst the crumbs of the last bag.

When I came to, it was time to go and pick up LW and the youngest. I used the shower squeegee to remove the syrup-sweat and when I arrived, they were ready to go. The trip home was uneventful, I successfully hid the tick and slurred speech caused by sugar intake. While I was unloading the car, LW stopped me.

“Where are the snacks for the party?”

I shrugged my shoulders and grunted. I didn’t ask ‘what party’, I’m sure I’d been told.

“The pantry was full of them.”

“I dunno,” I replied without making eye contact.

“Well, we need more for the party Saturday. Can you go to the store?”

“Uh, sure.”

They say never go to the store hungry. I went full! And I bought $57 worth of Dr. Pepper and Munchos, feeling bloated and quite resentful. Even after all the sweets, this was a bitter pill to swallow.


Filed under: It Made Me Laugh

7 Comments on She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, last added: 8/21/2014
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10. To Kylie, the Strongest Person I Know

What is strength? I don’t mean muscular strength, I am wondering about the use of the word to describe a mental and emotional strength. Strength of the heart.

The dictionary defines strength as moral power, firmness, or courage.

I’ve recently seen several quotes about strength. This one stands out:

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only option.

-Author unknown

We quote scripture to help us with our strength. Beautiful verses come to mind such as:

But those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 43:1

&

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

 

I have been given many more. We read them in times of need and feel their comfort. I don’t mean to minimize the impact of the Word – it is all-sufficient. But it isn’t always a quick band-aid overcoming the darkest struggle. Slap this on and feel strong, as it were. I wish it were that simple. In the best of circumstances, most of us need to be reminded time after time before things sink in.

While the concept of strength might be an easy one for you, it has troubled me of late. You see, I am trying to care for my daughter who is fighting cancer. Actually, to be honest, right now she is fighting the chemo that is fighting the cancer. She is only twelve and should never have to deal with any weight so difficult. This road would buckle the knees of some of the world’s strongest men, yet she trudges on.

She puts on a brave face and true to her nickname, smiles to most. But at night, with her mother, her sisters, and me, she often falls apart. The thing I hear from her most often is that she isn’t strong enough – she can’t do this. I wish there was something I could tell her to change her situation, but I can’t. There is no choice, no option, no plan B. The chemo regimen must go on. I wish I could break her cycle of self-doubt, but it is her cycle. I can’t change it. I can only encourage and hold, assuring her of my presence and love.

That leads me to my present dilemma: What is strength? Does she have it? If not, where can she find enough to continue when there is no other way?

I think back over her history and wonder if she’s had to rely on strength in the past. She has run two 5k races with me and had to reach down deep to finish each one. That took some strength – but not the kind I am looking for. I need her to have strength to say, “This life is worth living and I will fight for it.”

*     *     *     *     *

My wife has been asking me to add a picture CD onto her computer so she can look at them. After putting it off for too long, I finally complied. The pictures I saw reminded me of simpler times and I enjoyed scanning them as they flashed across the screen. They were from our school’s play, Anne of Green Gables, in which Kylie had a part. She barely made it through the performances because of the pain in her leg caused by the cancer soon to be diagnosed.

Wait… what are you showing me, God? Is that strength?

Back up – let me look again.image

I see a little girl who was crying herself to sleep every night due to a growing tumor inside her knee. Yet in these pictures she is singing, moving, dancing, and hiding the pain behind a range of her character’s emotions so she wouldn’t disappoint in the show.

I see a little girl who wouldn’t stop dancing until the director forced her to use crutches in the final two performances – and she was mad about that!

I see a girl who collapsed after the finale and couldn’t attend the cast party because the pain was simply too great.

Isn’t that smiling little girl playing a part on stage the same one who lay in a hospital bed in a medication-induced sleep just a week after the curtain fell?

When told she had cancer inside of her, instead of crying out in anger at God, isn’t this the girl who simply said “God must have a great, big plan for me”?

Is that precious, animated child the same one who, when she began to lose her hair to chemotherapy, decided shaved it herself to deny cancer the pleasure?

That is incredible strength! Undeniable strength.

What about now? If we agree that this girl is a strong girl, has four months of treatment changed her? How would a strong person face chemotherapy? Should she charge in, laughing in the face of the toxins that wreck her little body time after time?

Or is it okay to cry, yet move on?

Is strength found, not in the tears leading up to a hospital stay but in the gritting of her teeth when she allows the nurse to access her port one more time, knowing what will soon flow into her veins?

How much resolve allows a transfusion that scares her to death without saying a word?

What measure of courage is there in quiet submission to a treatment that is nearly as bad as the disease?

An immeasurable amount!

The frail body of my daughter holds enormous strength and when this treatment is over, I pity the boy who would try to hurt her or the obstacle that would stand in her way.

I have always been big and thought myself strong. I have pushed large objects and run long distances. Yet I realize I am weak in comparison to my frail, eighty pound daughter, who day after day pushes on through this hell.

She is my hero.

Every morning that she wakes up and greets the day adds to her resolve. There may be tears, angst, cries of terror, and fits of rage – yet every day also contains smiles, kisses, hugs, warmth, joy, praise, and enough laughter and love to beat back at this enemy on her terms.

Oh, she is strong!

My little girl is strength personified, even if she can’t see it.

 

sometimes


Filed under: Dad stuff

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11. After Isaac, by Avra Wing | Book Review

This deeply felt, emotional book is a beautiful glimpse into painful family dynamics, and how a sixteen-year-old boy can come to terms with the complexities of love and loss. An excellent read for teens and adults alike.

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12. Books Strengthen Family Bonds

DSC00616Lydia sat with her two children in the waiting room. Her eldest read aloud from his new book, pausing every now and again to teach his mother and younger sister how to say the words in English. His little sister beamed with pride when he let her turn the page.

Andrea Gatewood of the Nassau County (NY) Department of Health knows that providing new books to families like Lydia’s leads to priceless interactions. For the past ten years, she and her colleagues at the Nassau County Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program have been giving books from First Book to the local low-income women and children they serve.

Traditionally, WIC programs supply women who are pregnant or recently gave birth and children up to age five found to be at nutritional risk with supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education. But at five WIC sites in Nassau County, families also receive colorful new books.

teen parenting program 3“The books from First Book teach children how to count, the alphabet, the importance of family, other languages, colors, different foods and incentives to promote physical activity,” said Andrea. “They strengthen family bonds, promote diversity and improve literacy.”

Andrea takes great care in selecting books that are both engaging and culturally relevant as nearly 100 percent of the children she serves come from minority households.

“We have distributed books at Christmas, Halloween and to kick off the school year. Our goal is to reach as many children as possible,” Andrea shared. “The partnership between First Book and WIC has allowed thousands of children to receive brand new books and will have a lasting impact on an individual and community level.”

Over the past ten years, the Nassau WIC Program has received approximately 20,000 books from First Book, thanks to grant funding made possible by members of the First Book – Long Island volunteer chapter and the Guru Krupa Foundation. The Foundation, based in Jericho, New York, funds initiatives related to education, health and basic sustenance of underprivileged children in India and the United States, and has helped First Book provide more than 51,000 books to children in need in the greater New York and Los Angeles areas in the past two years.

DSC00612“We at Guru Krupa Foundation believe that education is a cornerstone for future success in life,” said Mukund Padmanabhan, president of the Guru Krupa Foundation. “Supporting initiatives that bring the benefits of education to underprivileged children can lead to enormous future dividends, not only for the children but to society.”

Join the Guru Krupa Foundation in supporting program leaders like Andrea by making a gift to First Book. Just $2.50 provides a brand-new book to a child in need.

The post Books Strengthen Family Bonds appeared first on First Book Blog.

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13. The New Phone Book’s Here

In the immortal words of Navin R. Johnson:

image

Things are going to start happening to me now!

Yes, due to life, it took a long time to arrive, but that lovable scamp Virgil Creech is back in Virgil Creech Sings for His Supper.

 Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00063]

 

 

Even the idyllic little town of Portsong isn’t immune to the coming depression. What will our favorite family of eleven do when their chief bread-winner is left without a job? Enter the youngest son, Virgil Creech, who discovers an unlikely talent that may just keep the family afloat.

Meanwhile, half the world away, town grocer Harland Gentry discovers the truth of the ancient proverb, Pride goes before a fall. On the vacation of a lifetime, Harland decides to reinvent himself as a man of means, hoping to leave the small town behind. But he is not prepared for what he discovers on his unpredictable African adventure.

Of course, Virgil Creech Sings for His Supper contains a healthy dose of the lovable Colonel Clarence Birdwhistle, as he and Henry begin to rebuild the Lee family farm. All of these stories come together for another delightful romp through Portsong, the southern town halfway between Savannah and heaven.

 

From the back of the book, here is our new friend, Harland Gentry as drawn by Aprilily.

image

It is always rewarding to have someone read one of my books. But I was particularly excited to get a Five Bookworm Review on the first book in the series because it came from a kid, which is my target audience.  He is also not a family member!

You can read his take here.

 

If you haven’t had a chance to read Virgil Creech Takes a Swipe at Redemption, the ebook version is going to go free for a week sometime soon as publicity for the sequel. Of course, I’ll announce it here.

I wrote the final piece of the Portsong Series last year hope to release it fairly soon. I am now working on my first piece of adult humor and would love to put it out in 2015. We shall see if life gets in the way of that one as well.


Filed under: From the Writer

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14. Why hope still matters

By Valerie Maholmes


Someone asked me at a recent book talk why I chose to write about hope and children in poverty. They asked whether it was frivolous to write about such a topic at a time when children are experiencing the challenges associated with poverty and economic disadvantage at high rates. As I thought about that question, I began to reflect on the stories of people I know and families I’ve worked with who, despite the challenges they experienced, were managing their lives successfully. I also reflected on popular figures who shared stories in the media about the ways in which they overcame early adversity in their lives.

As I reflected on these stories, it occurred to me that a common theme among these individuals was hope. I began to see the various ways in which hope is a highly influential and motivating force in their lives. This kind of hope is not passive—it is not merely wishing for a better life, but it is active. It involves thinking, planning, and acting on those thoughts and plans to achieve desired outcomes. It is the driving force that keeps us moving despite the adversity and allows us to adapt and to be resilient in the midst of these circumstances. In reflecting on these themes, I decided that I wanted to tell these stories and to link the stories with theoretical frameworks that help illuminate why I believe hope is so important. Most of the theories and ideas I discuss are well known to those of us who study children and families. However, it occurred to me that practitioners and policymakers may not be so familiar with these ideas and may find them useful in planning their work with children and families. My goal is to foster understandings of hope and resilience in practical terms so that together researchers, practitioners, and policymakers alike can help more children and families manage their circumstances and chart pathways toward well-being.

I Hope You Dance. Photo by Lauren Hammond. (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.

I Hope You Dance. Photo by Lauren Hammond. CC BY 2.0 via sleepyjeanie Flickr.

So when I think about a response to the question “Why focus on hope?” — I respond “Why not?” Why not focus on strengths rather than deficits? Why not focus our interventions, legislative activities, and funding priorities on processes that will motivate individuals to strive for the best outcomes for themselves and their children? In so doing, we can formulate an action agenda on behalf of children and families that first assumes they can and will succeed in rising above their circumstances.

As I learned from the families I interviewed, success means different things to different families. For some, success is being able to keep their family together—have dinner together, talk with each other, and support each other. For other families, success means being able to be a good parent– to go to bed at night realizing that you’ve provided for your child emotionally, spiritually as well as materially, and that by doing so, your child might have an even better opportunity than you did to achieve success. These individuals are truly courageous. They have overcome many obstacles and are striving to continue along that path. There are countless other courageous individuals who may never have the opportunity to tell their stories or to have their experiences validated with concepts and theories I discuss from the psychological literature. I hope this volume will represent their lives too. I challenge those of us who work with children and families and who advocate for or legislate on their behalf, to have the courage to “ hope” and to allow that hope to be a motivating and unrelenting force in our efforts to foster resilience and well-being in these families.

Dr. Valerie Maholmes has devoted her career to studying factors that affect child developmental outcomes. Low-income minority children have been a particular focus of her research, practical, and civic work. She has been a faculty member at the Yale Child Study Center in the Yale School of Medicine where she held the Irving B. Harris Assistant Professorship of Child Psychiatry, an endowed professorial chair. She is the author of Fostering Resilience and Well-Being in Children and Families in Poverty.

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15. Over in Them Wetlands: A Summer Swamp Tour

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In June, we spent two weeks in Texas.  While my husband had some meetings the boys and I headed to Houma, LA, the second-happiest city in the US, and our home for three years. Ten minutes in to Louisiana, a roseate spoonbill, a native bird I’d never, ever seen, flew over our car, kind of like a state ambassador welcoming us back.

I was determined to go on a swamp tour while we were in town — something we never got around to doing when we lived in Houma (though we sure loved our swamp adventures). I scheduled a trip with Cajun Man Swamp Tours, invited some friends to come along.

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The super personable “Black” Guidry was our guide (check him out here in this Kia commercial). As there were French Canadians on board, Black gave the tour in both English and French, which was a lovely little Cajun bonus.

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Oh, we sweltered. But there was Spanish moss!

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And cypress knees (those little knobby things poking out of the water on the left-hand side)!

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Egrets!

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Even Leroy came to visit!

The tour felt especially personal knowing OVER IN THE WETLANDS, my picture book love letter to Coastal Louisiana, is coming out sometime next year.

A few days after the tour I stumbled on these gorgeous WETLANDS images from illustrator Rob Dunlavey’s studio.

The tour, that spoonbill, those illustrations, they were all like coming home.

 

 

The post Over in Them Wetlands: A Summer Swamp Tour appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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16. Fire-up your Summer with Mouth-watering Maple-Planked Stuffed S’Mores...


Sticky, gooey, melt-in-your-mouth heaven. I’m talking about S’Mores – one of the mainstays of camping and a first choice with kids around the campfire. Here’s an easy-peasy treat that takes five minutes to prep, fifteen minutes to make, and serves eight. And guess what? No campfire is required. You can create this treat in the comfort of your own back yard with your barbecue.

What You Need:
8 jumbo marshmallows
16 milk chocolate squares
3 tbsp butter, melted and cooled
½ cup of crumbled honey graham wafers (about 3) spread on a plate, plus 16 whole wafers for serving
Maple grilling plank, soaked in water for 2 hours

What You Do:
Preheat barbecue to medium.

Make a slit in the middle of each marshmallow end. Stuff each marshmallow with 2 squares of chocolate (one in each end), hiding chocolate inside. Lightly brush stuffed marshmallows with butter and roll in graham crumb to coat evenly.

Grill soaked plank for 2 to 3 minutes on each side (to help intensify smoky flavor and prevent warping). Once plank begins to smoke and crackle, place prepared marshmallows on top and close barbecue lid. Bake for 3 minutes or until marshmallows are lightly toasted and slightly gooey.

Remove plank from barbecue and set on metal pan. Serve marshmallows directly on plank with whole wafers for scooping and sandwiching.

ADDED BONUS – if you feel adventurous you can spread smooth peanut butter over the milk chocolate squares before stuffing it into the marshmallow. Trust me—it will make a peanut butter cup blush. Oh, and make sure you have plenty of napkins or wipes on hand. Enjoy!


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17. Prototype

Enter Wilhelmina. Older sister (by 2 yrs.) She likes to show off her reading skills. She dislikes her brother–very much.Filed …

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18. And suddenly it’s August

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Our 20-year-old niece flew out for Comic-Con and stayed a few extra days for some San Diego fun with her cousins. This turned into a delightful little staycation for us: Balboa Park, Seaport Village, Coronado Beach. She left last night, but our fun continues: another contingent of family just landed and will arrive at the house shortly. In between excursions, I’m trying to catch up on work that got shoved aside during SDCC. So not much blogging time this week, but I’ve been tossing lots of things up on Instagram. Poor old neglected Bonny Glen, I’ll dust you off soon, I promise.

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19. Saying Goodbye

It is hard to say goodbye to an old friend. I am currently having to do just that. Sometimes, things deteriorate beyond salvage and the relationship must end. I have had this happen before, not very often – but it has happened.

In my younger days, I was a bridge-burner. I just moved on. I left high school and kept up with very few friends, mostly the ones who went to the same university. After four fun-filled years at college, I left those friends with every intent of doing better. I did not. Oh, I tried. For a year or two I kept up with some. But we all got scattered around the country and once-close ties severed. I predate social media, so we didn’t have that easy connection to tether me to my friends.

I have had to end relationships since then, though not as frequently. It was much easier to end friendships when I moved cities. I have lived in the same city for twenty-five years now and have no intention of leaving. So I can’t pack up and forget to give a forwarding address. Also, the aforementioned social media makes ending a relationship a public event. You have to be sure it is the proper thing to do before you push “unfriend,” or “block.”

What are some causes of ended friendships anyway? Here are some big ones. It isn’t an exhaustive list, you might have experienced other issues.

A trust violation – can be major or minor, equally damaging.

Priority shift – things become important to one and not the other.

Lack of support – a friend has stopped being there for you.

Selfishness – the friend who has all day to complain but has to go when it is time to listen.

Drift – Sometimes, friends just drift apart. It isn’t a willful decision on either side.

Friends can’t always be replaced. Depending on the length and emotional depth of the friendship, there can be a sizable void when the friendship ends. Pain. Regret. Panic, doubt, and second-guessing can even set in. Most of the time, there is even a grieving period when a friendship dies.

So it is with this friend. We’ve been through a lot together. There were entire days we spent together and I don’t regret them. They were good days… comfortable days. Never tight or strenuous, my friend and I got along perfectly. We fit together. I felt a certain contentment with this friend that I rarely feel. In fact, besides my wife, I’ve been closer to few others.

Why, do you ask, must this friendship end?

Is my friend moving? Did my friend betray me?

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No, due to old age, my friend’s elastic waistband ripped through the soft, cotton fabric and my favorite pair of boxers is caput. The friendship is no longer salvageable. I could save it for a dust rag or staining cloth, but that’d be weird… unlike writing a blog post about underwear.

 

 

Photo attribution: Bert Kaufmann from Roermond, Netherlands (Loneliness Uploaded by russavia)

 

 


Filed under: Learned Along the Way

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20. A Time to be Brave by Joan Betty Stuchner

Ever since the Nazis invaded Denmark, David Nathan, 10, and his best friend Elsa Jensen have been hungry, despite the fact that his dad is the best baker in all of Copenhagen.  But the Nazis have been helping themselves to whatever they want since 1940, and that includes anything that they fancy in Nathan's Patisserie

Now, it is September, 1943 and David is looking forward to Rosh Hashanah and his mother's special honey cake all month long.  The Jewish New Year is always a family celebration shared with Elsa's family.   If only he thought his sister might be there, but university studies keep her at school more and more.

Or so David's mother tells him whenever he asks about Rachel.  But on their way home from school one afternoon, Elsa tells David her secret - Rachel and Elsa's cousin Arne are in the Resistance, doing whatever they can to sabotage the Nazis.

That very afternoon, when he arrives at his father's bakery, David is asked to deliver 6 éclairs to Arne's house and to make sure all 6 get there.  But no sooner does David leave the shop, when he is stopped by two Nazi soldiers who insist on seeing what he has in his bakery box.  Seeing the éclairs, each soldier helps himself to one.

Finally, David is able to deliver the remaining four éclairs to Arne, who immediately dips his finger into each, finally pulling out a piece of paper from the last one.  All David can make out is the word train.  A few days later, David's father tells him that a train has been sabotaged by the Resistance, and David proudly realizes he had actually played a role in that.

And at last Rosh Hashanah arrives.  The longed for honey cake has been made, but when David and his father are sitting in the synagogue, the Rabbi announces that the Nazis are planning to round up Denmark's Jews that very night and advises everyone to go home and prepare for their escape.

Well, we know the end of this story because we know that Denmark's citizens did not allow the Nazis to capture most of that nation's Jewish citizens, and so we know that David and his parents escape to Sweden with the help of their friends the Jensens.  But, of course, young readers may not know this.

A Time to be Brave is a nice easy reader chapter book that provides a good introduction to what happened in Denmark in World War II.  It is the perfect book for a young reader who is not quite ready for Number the Stars.

The writing is simple. never condescending, the story is straightforward and the characters well-drawn. There is nice back matter, too, including a map of Denmark and Sweden, a World War II timeline, explanations of who Victor Borge is (yes, he in mentioned in the novel), the Resistance, King Christian X (an important figure to the Danish people during the war), and a recipe for honey cake (that I may have to try making).

If A Time to be Brave sounds vaguely familiar, it is because it was originally published in 2008 under the title Honey Cake.  I suspect it has been reissued under the new title because it now has "updated content that emphasizes Common Core and renewed interest in nonfiction" even though the story is fiction.  It is, however, based on a true story.

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was provided by the publisher


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21. Staycations in the Countryside- What’s On Your Radar?

by Sally Matheny
   
 
Whether you’re short on time or low on money, don’t abandon a family getaway just yet. Instead of a vacation, consider a staycation or two.  Staycations can be fun activities, such as a luau, planned for your own backyard.  However, staycations also include day trips.  Even if you live out in the countryside, you may be surprised by the slew of possibilities you discover within a two-hour drive from home sweet home.
     Besides the obvious museums and municipal pools, here’s a few ideas to consider when checking what’s on your staycation radar.
     Perhaps some family members would enjoy creating their own Visitor’s Guide for the area. Include photos, drawings, and descriptions of interesting areas.
     Obtain a map of your county and surrounding counties. Make a copy of the map for each family member. Ask them to highlight the places they’ve visited before. Circle new places they’d like to visit. Highlight a road route they’d like to try. Pleasant surprises may lie on the road less traveled! One time our family visited beautiful, twin waterfalls. The only way to get to them was to park in a neighborhood of homes and hike from there. No one would imagine that majestic falls were nestled behind these little homes.
     Research the history of your area. Your local librarian or town historian can help you locate sources. Have any famous people lived in or visited your town? Were any movies filmed nearby?
     Visit visual and performing arts guilds. Several of these offer classes for adults as well as children. Are there other local artisans open for tours?
     Perhaps a social media survey asking friends about their favorites in the area would reveal a new farmer’s market or roadside ice cream stand to try.
     Google search for free or inexpensive things to do within a two-hour drive of your hometown. You may be surprised! Search for new restaurants to try. Find a new picnic spot.
     What about those historical landmark signs you drive by every day? Find out what important historical events occurred in your area. Visit antique stores. Check out some of the smaller museums such as car and farm equipment museums. Not only will your children gain an education of the past but perhaps a greater appreciation for the conveniences of today.
     Are there aspiring photographers in your family? Travel around and look specifically for great photo opportunities. A mulched path between tall, lush green trees presented a gorgeous backdrop for one of my daughter’s wedding photos. The path emerged between a mammography office and an assisted living center.

    You don’t have to live near a big city in order to enjoy an entertaining staycation.  A little investigation will provide plenty of gratifying locations. Be creative! Taking time out to do something fun together is what counts.    

Other things to consider:
airports to watch planes
bus tour group
tea room
farms & gardens
historical sites, battlegrounds, & battleships
water activities
visit & view various animals
try a new sport
try a new creative art
try a new food
play a new game

So, what's on your radar?


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22. El Deafo, by Cece Bell

After an illness at age 4, Cece loses her hearing.  She is soon equipped with a hearing aid that involves wearing a pouch around her neck attached to some "ear globs".  Cece is happy to hear again, but now has to learn how to understand once more.  To top things off, Cece now has to go to a new school.

A good thing about the new school is the other kids are wearing hearing aids too, and Cece is learning some useful skills like lip reading and using visual, context and gestural clues to help in understanding.  Cece is just finding her way, when her family decides to leave the city and head to the country, where she will be going to a regular school.

Cece gets a brand-new-BIG-for-school-only-around-the-neck hearing aid (The Phonic Ear) that comes with a microphone for her teacher to wear and is superpowerful.  What nobody expects is that it comes with the added feature of having a super long range, allowing Cece to hear not only her teacher teaching, but whatever her teacher is doing when she is out of the room as well (yes...even *that*!).

Cece has to negotiate the things that all kids go through at school - including navigating a friend who is not-so-nice, and getting her first crush.  Things unique to her situation include dealing with friends who TALK TOO LOUD AND TOO SLOW, and those who refer to her as their "deaf friend".

This is more than a graphic memoir - it is a school and family story for all kids.  Cece is an imaginative and emotional kid with whom readers will identify.  There is an accessibility to Bell's art that immediate draws you in and you can't help but cheer with her successes and cringe with her tears.  Fans of Telgemeier and Varon will readily scoop this up off of the shelves, and it *will* be passed hand to hand.  I am certain I will see many doodles of Cece and her friends in the margins of writer's notebooks this coming school year.  Do yourself a favor...get more than one!

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23. "Family Camp-In"


Illustrating for The Friend is not only a pleasure, but can be exciting as well, especially when one forgets about an illo only to open the newly arrived issue and discover it there! I never get tired of seeing my work in print! VERY satisfying, unless of course I wasn't pleased with the finished work, which happens, and then I cringe!
I had so much fun with this one, watercoloring it traditionally, and then sending it to Photoshop to add the final lighting etc. I still am struggling to get the techniques down, but am enjoying it as well, and appreciate the confidence placed in me now and then.
On to the next assignment! What fun!

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24. Between Two Worlds, by Katherine Kirkpatrick | Book Review

Travel back in time to the year 1900, and place yourself in the shoes of sixteen-year-old Billy Bah, who lives in the unrelenting wintry land of northern Itta, Greenland.

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25. Wordless Wednesday

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