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I’m going to blog every day this year!
Well, obviously I didn’t mean weekends.
::mutter mutter:: Look, that Downton episode was over 90 minutes long. These things take time! A LOT of time. Like, I’d have had to start writing in 1924 to have a recap ready to publish by Monday morning.
It’s ready to go live! Now I can get back to regularly scheduled blogging.
::small boy appears, wants to cuddle::
Hmm, maybe not quite yet.
(Photo taken by Rilla on New Year’s morning. Thanks again for the excellent gift choice, Godmother.)
I’ll be running the Downton posts at GeekMom this year. Episode 1 should go live today; I’ll post the link here when it’s up.
This is an incredible exploration of grief, family and identity and the pressures of expectations that come from each. The book opens with a death, one that nobody else knows about yet, the death of Lydia Lee; middle child of Marilyn and James and sister to older brother Nathan and younger sister Hannah. Lydia’s death […]
It’s been an exciting end to 2014 for 4eyesbooks. We found more readers for our ebooks and paperbacks than ever before. Our Christmas Owl was featured on Bookbub which gained us some valuable exposure and over the winter holiday break we started writing our next children’s picture book to be released sometime this spring.
We are so grateful for all of the support we have received and feel really lucky to be able to create imaginative, colorful stories for kids and parents to enjoy. There’s nothing quite like that quality time of sitting down with a little one and a good book. That time is precious and important. The curiosity of a child is a wondrous gift and so often that quality gets buried as we grow older. Adults become so busy with school, work, errands, raising a family, etc. that we often forget how to be curious. We start to ask How? and Why? less and less.
I’m not sure what 2015 will bring to us, but we hope to create more precious moments of curiosity, of silly laughter and of quiet quality reading time with lots of new little readers.
Apologies for the long silence (and for not visiting all your blogs) but my father's illness took up a lot of my time toward the end of 2014.
My facebook friends already know this, but my father passed away on December 11, 2014, exactly two weeks before Christmas. Those two weeks are mostly a blur at this point, but we did manage to celebrate Christmas, although of course the tears flowed freely.
Looking through my myriad photo albums, I realized I have many wonderful pictures of my father to help me remember him. This one is from my wedding, nearly 30 years ago.
June 22, 1985
One of my favorite memories of Dad is when he read to me or told me stories. He was terrific at all the voices. Years later, he continued the tradition by reading to my sons. So you can see that books have always been an important part of our family.
This is Dad reading to his grandson in 1988
For a book blogger, of course, the end of the year means looking back to see how many books I read. What about you? Did you reach your reading goals? Do you have any favorite books from 2014?
In 2014, I read 108 books, eleven fewer than the year before, but five more than in 2012. And although I do read adult books from time to time (I read Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, and cried through the entire book), mostly what I read is MG. Here are a few MG titles that gave me comfort these last few weeks (and which I highly recommend). Source for all was my local library and all synopses are from Indiebound.
What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren (Putnam, February 2014) Synopsis: Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can't keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther's family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin. Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but Esther makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck? My take: You may remember that I adore books about the Great Depression and this is no exception. A lovely story. Simply lovely.
The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer (Putnam, May 2014) Synopsis: After her mother's sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's never met. She can't imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home. My take: Since I read this the week after my father died, I found it extremely comforting. But I also loved Grace. She seemed so flawed and vulnerable and real and she really grew as a character.
Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion Books, August 2014)
Synopsis: A rambling old smuggler's inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books. My take: The synopsis doesn't begin to do justice to this entertaining, many-layered, deftly-woven tale that takes place just before Christmas (I read it just before and after Christmas so it was perfect!). Milo is an orphan, raised by loving adoptive parents who just happen to run a smuggler's inn. I totally guessed the "secret" of this book less than halfway through, but highly doubt an 11-year-old would. I also think it would make a terrific graphic novel.
Next week: A giveaway and guest post from author Dianne K. Salerni, whose book, The Inquisitor's Mark (a sequel to The Eighth Day) comes out on January 27, 2015. Add a Comment
The last time I wrote/posted anything of substance was back in June.
Six whole months I’ve neglected this blog.
To be fair, there really hasn’t been a whole lot to write about. I get up, go to work, come home, get through dinner (I’m finding that I hate to cook ANYTHING more and more), then collapse into bed, physically and mentally exhausted.
And the things that do happen, I can’t really talk about, or am cautious about writing about, because it’s work related and though no one I work with knows about this blog, I have crossed that fine line and accepted people I work with on Facebook so it might be a matter of time before they find this blog so I have to be careful what I write about because I’ve already offended someone in my family with my hot-headed blabber mouth, and/or fingers in this case and I really don’t want to offend anyone I work with because I see the people I work with more than my own family.
But life. She’s passing me by. She’s not waiting around for me. She’s trudging ahead and I’m left stumbling after her. Events, thoughts, milestones (we’ve had milestones? Yeah, I guess we have) are whizzing past me so that my life is fast becoming a blur of fleeting thoughts and impressions – it’s time I put the brakes on and slow Mother Time waaay down by attempting to capture snippets and pin them on this blog.
Should I start where I left off in June? I haven’t even told you about our Cruise to Alaska ALMOST TWO YEARS AGO.
Though the boys are still living with us, they have also gone through some changes.
And there’s the rental house, which still hasn’t been rented out yet.
Did you even know I’m using a new blog template? I actually bought this one so it will be sticking around for quite some time – though I can switch up the color schemes once in a while so I don’t got completely out of my head with boredom.
Did I mention my dominant arm, (I’m left handed), has been hurting like a Mother Effer ever since I got the damn flu shot in November?? I’m beginning to think I have damaged my ulnar nerve, or maybe carpal tunnel? (*shudder* Say it ain’t so!)
Have I mentioned that I’m nearly a half a century old?! And how that both annoys and terrifies me?
Have I mentioned that I’m finally, FINALLY, comfortable in my own skin and though I’m “technially” overweight and need to lose 30 lbs, I’m sort of okay with that? (Though I AM going to start back on the treadmill soonish – okay – like tomorrow – for reals).
Did you know that our 25th wedding anniversary is THIS MAY (what?? How did that happen??) and we won’t be going on our Hawaiian Cruise because money is tight and we’re being responsible people by putting it off another year, or two? (*sigh*)
I bet you didn’t know that Brandon is 19 and on his THIRD job, did you??
Christmas was one of the low lights of our year this year. Not because it wasn’t great, it was just .. meh. Every day is Christmas in our house. Truly. (Does that sound pretentious?) Since money is a bit on the tight side right now (rental houses don’t improve themselves, don’t cha know), Kevin and I bought each other one gift each (I bought him a fancy-smancy power strip/box thing for his band – did I mention the drummer and bass player quit and they’ve been working on replacing band members) and Kevin bought me a laptop cooling tray … thing … so I don’t scorch my fleshy thighs and … yep, that was our Christmas. We bought the boys all practicable things – such as pots and pans (and may I just say, NICE pots and pans from the Food Network – I got a deal on a set, two saucepans, two skillets, both regular and deep-dish style, a big pot to boil pasta and two cookie sheets), a toaster, a fancy-smancy one cup coffee maker (because Blake drinks more coffee than I drink now), bathroom towels, kitchen gadgets and silverware. And yes, the boys were as excited to receive all of these things like you were excited to read about them.
BUT – they will appreciate said gifts when it’s time to move out BECAUSE that’s our goal, well, that’s me and Kevin’s goal, to move the boys out into their own apartment THIS YEAR.
IF Brandon can keep this job after the holidays. He was hired on as holiday help. (There’s another story for another time).
Now that’s one thing I DID do right this year – I read my butt off. In fact, I have three gift cards to Barnes and Noble that I’m going to use on ebooks. Because I can’t even tell you the last time I’ve read an actual book – my Kindle is becoming a permanent body part. I’m trying to figure out how to convert a Nook ebook to a format that Kindle will recognize and I think I have it figured out. (Pst … I found this website that will convert it to a MOBI, which is what the Kindle recognizes. But don’t quote me on that yet. I’m buying a book tonight to see if I can make this work. If it doesn’t work, shoot the messenger, k?)
And I don’t buy books very often, either. I usually “borrow” them from the library, though I end up downloading them and transferring them to my Kindle because trying to read a library book in the two weeks the library sets up puts too much pressure on me and I don’t need anymore stress in my life, thank you very much.
Kevin is great. He still has his office and he’s still looking for “that perfect client, or five.” He’s been SUPER busy on the rental house and honestly, I couldn’t be more impressed with him. Is there nothing the man can not do?!? The house doesn’t even look the like the same house. (Note to self – brag more about the hubby).
I’m on a mission to give my professional life a kick in the butt. Either sweet talk my boss into allowing me to take the certified medical assistant certification early (will need to jump through some hoops to make that happen) and/or work on an alternative plan that quite honestly, scares the shit out of me but I think I could make it happen providing I can find the courage to actually take that first step.
And my nurse at work just text me (I left early today) to tell me that the CT machine is down and she had to cancel some appointments. AARGH.
It’s always something.
And that brings us up to date, sort of. Those are the highlights; I’ll see if I can’t do a better job of putting flesh on those bare bones.
Oh. I got to see a carpal tunnel suture removal today. I’ve never done the sutures, though I’ve taken quite a few staples out. It was cool. You just snip and then pull the sucker out. I’m rather spoiled on removing staples/sutures. My doctor has it set up where his post-op patients come in for their first visit two weeks after surgery, which is when they need to have their staples/sutures removed and the PA takes care of removing them so I rarely have an opportunity to remove them myself. I think that part of the job scared me the most when I first started doing this job – I would feel sick to my stomach when I had to do it. It still sort of weirds me out whenever it comes up, but I’m feeling more confident about it now.
I can admit, with all honestly, there is NEVER a dull moment in health care. NEVER.
When life throws you down a crooked track, hold close your family, latch onto new friends, throw up your hands and find something to smile about.
While 2014 was definitely a crooked track for us, I want to close it with a look to the good. Shortly after our diagnosis, I had a friend reach out to me amidst his own health crisis. My advice to him was, “Hear the negative, focus on the positive and know that God has both covered.”
Good advice? I think so – but much easier said than done. This world screams negative. We are bombarded with the bad. The nightly news covers everything wrong with our world first and longest before they throw in one human interest story just before saying good night. (If you missed Kylie on the news, you can watch it HERE)
While sifting through the ruins of this broken world, how do we see what is good? I have seen a lot of things in my 47 years. To borrow the movie title, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. I have driven a man out of the slum of Port ‘au Prince, Haiti and watched as he was given the keys to his new home. I have been fortunate enough to help put a roof on a hut in Swaziland for a family decimated by HIV. Beauty plucked from ugly, good snatched from bad. Both started with a choice to engage.
Despite my experiences, never in my life have I seen the good side of humanity than from the day Kylie was diagnosed with cancer. The flood of well-wishes, prayers, and support for our family has been as overwhelming as the diagnosis itself. When you hear the words, “Your child has cancer,” the temptation is to curl up in the fetal position, shut out the world and cry. When I was at my weakest, I found an abundance of arms to hold me.
Friends, family, our school and church rallied to our side.
The nurses, doctors, childlife specialists, and staff of the Aflac Cancer Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta became dear partners in this journey. We also found great care at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.
Organizations came alongside to help navigate and let us know we aren’t alone: 1 Million for Anna, Make-A-Wish, Cure Childhood Cancer, The Truth 365, Rally Foundation, Melodic Caring Project, The Jesse Rees Foundation, Along Comes Hope, 3/32 Foundation, Blessed Beauty, Open Hands Overflowing Hearts, Kingdom Kids, Lily’s Run.
We have seen built a network of people who pray faithfully for Kylie. To be totally honest, I admit there are times when I cannot lift a word to heaven. Maybe a grunt, maybe an angry shake of the fist. Without a doubt, I know there are many people praying for my little girl when I can’t. That is incredibly humbling.
Then there is encouragement and love. Kylie gets cards and letters daily. At least a dozen young ladies have donated their hair in Kylie’s honor. People all across the country and literally around the world have been #SmileyForKylie. As of today, 87 countries have done it. Grown men have written it on their bald heads.
Between Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, we have received over 10,000 smiling selfies for Kylie. Unreal. We have gotten them from celebrities, athletes, and Kylie’s beloved Broadway performers. Idina Menzel made a video. Kristin Chenoweth made two pics and talked about her on a radio show. Laura Osnes posted a word of encouragement to her. She got a box of Broadway treats from Hunter Foster. She had pics from 9 out of 12 musicals nominated for Tony Awards, and the cast of her favorite show, Aladdin have reached out to her over and over again. Sometimes we can trace the web that led to the picture, but most of the time we have no idea how they happen – we have no line to these people. It’s just good. And it is out there – making a choice to engage with our little girl in a time when she so desperately needs it. A thank you will never be enough, but all I can offer.
Regardless of your view of the Bible, Philippians 4:8 gives us sage advice:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
I’ll not be able to change everyone’s mind. You can remain a cynic if you choose to. But the things I have experienced in 2014 prove to me that there is good in this world. I choose to think about such things – it is what has kept me going.
In 2015, we look forward to hearing the words: No Evidence of Disease and watching Kylie resume a normal life. That will be something worth throwing up our hands and smiling about.
Happy New Year from Portsong, your humble mayor & Kylie
Wrapping up 2014, the EU year of Workplace Reinvention, once again brings worklife balance (WLB) policies into focus. These policies, including parental leave, rights to reduced hours, and flexible work hours, are now part of European law and national laws inside and outside of Europe. For example, Japan has similar WLB policies in place.
The existence of these rights does not always, however, reflect the capabilities of individuals to claim them without risk to their careers, and even job loss, particularly when so many companies are downsizing. There is a gap between policies and practices, and, more broadly, a widening gap between aspirations for worklife balance—for more time for family, friends, and leisure activities—and the pressures for greater productivity and increased work intensity, alongside the growing numbers of insecure and precarious jobs. For men, this gap has become more tangible due to changing norms and expectations for them to be more involved fathers and the persistence of gendered norms around caring and earning in the workplace. Research, including the European Social Survey 2010, reveals that when looking for a job the overwhelming majority of men (as well as women), place a high priority on reconciling employment with family. They also show that majority of working fathers would choose to work less hours even if it meant a corresponding loss in hourly pay. Still, between 40-60% of them in European countries are working more than 40 hours a week (European Social Survey in 2010).
Firm and work organizational culture has become the central focus in worklife balance research, with a particular focus on increasing flexibility (flexi-times and flex workplaces) and telecommuting. Flexible working times, once a perk for the valuable worker, have been embraced by many firms as the hallmark of new management and work organization. It is a cornerstone in EU policy and discourse on WLB. In June, the UK granted all employees the right to request flex time. Flexibility is presented as the win-win situation for achieving WLB, allowing for changes over the life course as well as individual preferences.
But does flexibility actually increase one’s scope of alternatives and choice in worklife balance? This depends on the job/sector, the skill and education of the worker; gender matters, as do national statutory provisions and the practices at firms. Consider the following example. Flexibility in working times and especially the possibility to reduce hours has enabled many mothers to combine employment with family, but there are career penalties since part-time jobs tend to be considered “dead end jobs”. Can one adjust working times over the life course? The European Survey on Working Times (firm level data) show that only 18% of firms offer full reversibility (the possibility to move from part-time to full-time and from full-time to part-time).
Within the current debates on worklife balance and flexibility we see two cross-currents. On the one side, there are switch-off policy initiatives in France, which seek to set limits on the number of hours that an employee can be “linked-in” (accessing work systems and emails). In Germany, the Westphalia region is considering banning office communications in the evenings and during vacations, a practice that has already been established by VW, BMW, and Deutsche Telekom, which banned after-hours calls and emails to workers. On the other side, the solution to WLB is cast in terms of total flexibility with employees setting the pace of work and schedules and telecommuting rather than traveling to work. Work becomes an activity, not a place; rewards are based on performance and results, not on the hours you put in at the workplace. In this vision of future work, the workplace would become superfluous and employment conditional on evaluated performance. Is this a workers’ utopia that would enhance the capabilities of individuals for a better WLB and quality of life? Or is this a scenario with high levels of uncertainty, longer working days, the removal of boundaries between working life and other spheres of life, and lastly, the loss of community among workers who interact at the workplace?
Headline image: Seconds Out by dogwelder. CC BY-NC 2.0 via flickr
Eek…so I’m very excited to say I can now share with you all the new children’s book I’ve written and illustrated: ‘Shay and the Caterpillar’!! Now before I lose the interest of everyone above ‘child’ age and don’t have children I feel it’s important to say that 1) hello, one should never outgrow a love for picture books and art and 2)…
This isn’t just a children’s book, this is a book for anyone who’s ever struggled with the feeling that they weren’t enough. Because you ARE.
All Shay wished she could be was colorful. But it seemed no matter how hard she wished or how hard she looked for color, it wasn’t to be.
That was until the day the Caterpillar showed her just how bright she made the world.
Follow along with Shay in her journey to finding color, with a message and uniquely whimsical illustrations children and adults alike will delight in.
So even if you don’t have children yourself, I encourage you to take a read. Plus, I’ll bet you DO know a little girl or boy who does love a good story with kick-butt graphics. And parents, I doubly encourage you to make this one your NEXT bedtime, snuggle-time, anytime read.
When John Bloom, 10, woke up on Monday, December 8, 1941, he woke up to the news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor the day before. America was now at war and John feels he needs to do something to support his country.
John thinks that forming a club with his friends Chewie and Joe so that they can do good-works projects is a good idea. His frineds agree and they name it The American Boys Club, or the ABC, for short. They decide their first project should be chopping firewood for a neighbor, 98 year old Mr. Hutchins who has been ill and unable to do it himself. But when Mr. Hutchins greets them at his front door with a pitchfork, they decide to prank him instead, by filling up his outhouse with snow.
John knows it is wrong to do but goes along with Chewie and Joe to save face. The next day, looking for something to do after their club meeting, the boys decide to go back to Mr. Hutchins's place to see if the outhouse was still full of snow. But when they get there, there is no sign of Mr. Hutchins anywhere, until John notices a hand on the floor. Breaking into the house, he discovers Mr. Hutchins unconscious on the floor. Chewie runs for the doctor while John and Joe stay at the house.
It turns out that Mr. Hutchins had fallen and is now required to stay in bed until he recovers, first in the hospital and then at home. But when John goes over to see how the old man is doing, he discovers that there is no food in the house and Mr. Hutchins hasn't eaten for a while. Perhaps John has not only found the perfect good-works project for The American Boys Club, but has also made a new friend who can help him do something else good for the war effort as well.
John Bloom and the Victory Garden is a real home front novel. Not only does it address the fears that most Americans felt at the outbreak of World War II, but it shows how quickly people responded to being at war. For example, John's father immediately goes to the Army recruiting office to try to join up; John deals with concerns that his friend Joe, who is Italian, will be sent to an internment camp with his parents and grandmother; America's first demoralizing defeats are acutely felt by the residents of John's town, Appleside, NJ.
There are other nice touches like how people really depended on their radios for entertainment and news; and that boys still wanted shiny new bikes for Christmas despite the war; and of course, there is talk about rationing, and expectations of food, rubber and metal shortages.
The characters are well realized, even the secondary characters have a feeling of depth to them. The community that John lives in is easy to picture and there is a helpful map at the front of the book to situate the reader in Appleside and the boys adventures all over the town.
There is a lot of talk about food in the novel, dishes made by John's mother and Joe's grandmother, so to satisfy the cravings that will no doubt result from the food descriptions, there are some recipes at the back of the book, including Nonna's Buttered Noodles, which I am going to make this week.
This is a book that any middle grade reader will enjoy, whether or not they are history buffs, mainly because the themes of friendship, loyalty and helpfulness are timeless.
As of this moment, my 2014 Cybils work is done. Well, except for hauling a metric ton of books back to the library. Whew!
Since October 15th, I have read 79 young adult novels. Seventy. Nine. So now you know why this blog has been so quiet. But ahhhh, here I am, ready to settle back in and, you know, put the B in CYBILs. (Children’s and Young Adult Blogger Literary Awards.) Consider yourselves warned.
For now, though, today, the day after Christmas, I’ll content myself with a few thousand words’ worth of pictures.
My wife sat at her laptop furiously compiling the lists for our four girls. She checked it once, then again while travelling to website after website scouring the internet for the best price and delivery. Items were added to baskets and carts checked out at such a frantic pace that I literally felt a warmth emanate from the credit card in my back pocket. Shopping at a fever pitch – Christmas delivered in two days or less. Not like most years, where she disappears for hours on end to find the perfect gift at the mall. She doesn’t have time for that this year because we got cancer for Christmas.
We didn’t ask for it. It wasn’t circled in the wishbook or written in red crayon. No one sat on Santa’s lap and begged for it. No, cancer just showed up unannounced and took our year away.
So rather than spending quality time with each of the girls to weigh their enormous wants against our limited budget as in years past, she spent Saturday morning hunting and pecking under great duress. Do they have the right size? Will it be delivered on time? Is that really something she will use or should we just give her cash?
At some point during the madness, I asked her what she wanted for Christmas. She paused to consider. Her eyes got red and her mouth failed her. She didn’t answer, but I knew. I knew what she wanted the second I asked the question and Amazon.com can’t deliver it, even though we are Prime members. It is the only thing either of us want.
We want our baby to stop hurting.
We want her to stop having to face treatments that make her sick and waste away.
We want her legs to work.
We want her to be able to go to school… to run, skip and play like every normal 12 year-old girl should.
We want her to stop coughing.
We want her hair to grow back so people don’t stare at her.
We want normal family time – not garbled, anxiety-laden, jumbled hodge-podge comings and goings where one is sick or two are missing for yet another appointment.
We want to relax and not worry.
We want to give cancer back.
I’ll take one of those please, Santa. Any size will do. No need to wrap it up because if you deliver it, the paper won’t last long. Oh, and you can ditch the receipt, I won’t be returning that gift.
I know many people are dealing with heartbreak and struggles. While Christmas is a season of love and giving, it also seems to magnify pain and loss. We don’t have the market cornered on hurt. I realize that.
It’s just that my wife loves Christmas so much. She loves everything about it, from finding the perfect, fattest tree to decorating every square inch of the house in some form of red and green. She loves the sound of the carols (save Feliz Navidad) and the smell of the baking, even though she is the one wearing an apron. She loves that, for the briefest of moments, the world focuses on the birth of our Savior. She loves taking a drive to see lights on houses and staying home with hot chocolate around a fire. She loves spending time with family, watching It’s a Wonderful Life, reading the nativity story, and candlelight Christmas Eve services. She loves the mad dash on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought… the joy and wonder on our children’s faces. She loves it all.
How do we do it this year?
Should we skip it?
Or should we cherish every moment together as the babe in the manger intended us to? Maybe, instead of focusing on what we’ve lost, we should hold on to the fragile remains of what we have – love, family, friends, and a newfound respect for the precious thing that is life. We should cling to our little girl, who, though frail, is fighting hard and encouraging others to do the same.
We aren’t alone. During the year, we’ve been welcomed into the country club no one wants to join – the childhood cancer community. While we are bound together by common tragedy, it is the warmest, most caring and wonderfully supportive group imaginable. It is the fraternity I wish I’d never pledged. Many of our new brothers and sisters are dealing with such incredible loss, and this time of year must certainly be crippling.
When referring to the promised coming of the child in the manger, Isaiah said, “…and a little child shall lead them.”
What if we took a cue from our little child?
Although she is the one feeling the pain, nausea, and side effects of cancer, she is also the one most excited about Christmas. Even though she only had the strength to stand long enough to put a single ornament on the tree, she admires the finished product and loves to be in the den where she can see it. She is the one who insisted on taking decorations out of town with her while she has to be gone for treatment. She is the one snuggling her elves, dreaming about Christmas morning, and soaking up every minute of the nearness of family and Christ at this time of year. She holds a compress on an aching jaw with one hand and draws up surprises for those most dear with the other. In a year of typically rapid growth for a child her age, she weighs 75% of what she did last Christmas, yet she samples whatever treats her nervous stomach will allow. While we fret over diagnosis and treatment, she savors joy, plucks smiles from pain, and builds a resume of contentment that few on this earth have ever seen. Perhaps she has it right and we have it all wrong.
Kylie hanging her favorite ornament
Instead of looking to health and prosperity for our happiness, what if, just for a moment, we set aside our problems – however overwhelming, and looked to the manger, toward a child – with gratitude for his coming and a longing for his return? What if we laughed in the face of the enemy, knowing that we are wonderfully cared for and uniquely loved? What if we hoped, even when victory was uncertain? What if we dreamed of a better tomorrow regardless of what it may hold?
What if we smiled more…
This joyous Christmas, our family holds on to hope. Together, we look to the manger, to Jesus Christ our Lord for strength and healing. We dream of the day when there is a cure – for our child & every child. We pray that next year, not a single family will have to unwrap cancer for Christmas.
The holiday season can be an insanely stressful time. Looking for presents, wrapping them, cooking, getting the house ready for visitors, cleaning before and after. Nothing like a normal Saturday night on the couch in front of the TV or with a couple of close friends. The holidays demand perfection. You see it all around you, friends are talking about how stressed out they are, how much they still have to do in just a couple of days. Hyper-decorated stores are talking in their own way. As you approach the 25th of December you still haven’t bought half the gifts you need to rack up for family members, the house looks like a bomb crater and you occasionally wish yourself back in the office with piles of work on your desk waiting to be completed. There are even times when you would exchange a chilly Monday morning and an 8 o’clock meeting for this nerve-racking time that’s supposed to be happy, fun and merry.
What many rattled folks forget in the midst of buying last-minute bequests for loved ones or checking on the unhappy-looking beast in the oven minutes before guests arrive, wishing themselves far away, is that as many as half of the population face a holiday season without their dearest family members. There are people who have lost their loved ones in gruesome ways. I can’t even begin to imagine how they must feel, as they approach every new upcoming holiday season. There are people who have lost their parents to old age, people who have gone through heartbreaking divorces, separations and breakups and people who are overseas defending their country because they have no other choice. The holidays will not be what they once were for any of them. And then there are the single parents, parents many of which have decent custody agreements that are “in the best interest of the children.” According to the US Census Bureau, there are more than 10 million single parents in the United States today. Each year millions among them can look forward to days of loneliness because the little ones they really want to spend time with are with the other parent.
When sane parents separate, many judges, thankfully, divide custody equally. Each parent gets his or her fair share of custody, if at all possible. Even when it’s not possible to share the time with the children equally, judges will usually attempt to divide up the holidays evenly. The kids spend every other holiday with mom and every other holiday with dad. It certainly is in the children’s best interest to get to spend some time with each parent. Most kids, with decent moms and dads, would prefer to spend every holiday with both parents. The precious little ones secretly hope for the impossible: That their divorced or separated parents will get back together. But despite their wishes, they adjust to the situation. They have no other choice.
Nor do the parents. As we face the holidays many single parents face a very lonely time. They may be with dear family members: parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. Yet they may nonetheless feel a profound pain in their hearts, even as they watch close relatives savor the pecan pie or scream in delight when they rip open their Christmas presents. Their own children are far away. In most cases the youngsters are in a safe place elsewhere, stuffing their faces with goodies or breaking out laughing when the other grandpa makes a funny face. In most cases single parents know that their children are enjoying themselves in the company of the other caregiver and his or her extended family.
Yet the children are missing from the scenery. Their absence is felt. “It hurts. It hurts every other Christmas when my kids are with their dad during the holidays,” says Wendy Thomas, a St. Louis, Missouri single mother of two girls ages 8 and 5. Thomas shares custody with the girls’ father, who lives in Illinois. “The first year was the hardest but I don’t think I will ever get used to it. Shopping malls and Silent Night make me shiver,” says the 38-year-old entrepreneur. This is her third Christmas and New Year’s without her children.
Each holiday a single parent truly misses his or her children on that one day that is supposed to bring delight to everyone. “It’s going to be a lonely, lonely Christmas without you” may just be tedious background music for the families that didn’t break apart. Each year, however, the oldie is causing a tiny tear to run quietly down the cheek of some single caregiver.
But could some of the reported agony over absent children during the holidays be the result of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance, a psychological mechanism we use to justify our choices and conflicting belief sets? For example, you choose to volunteer three hours a week at the local children’s hospital. It’s killing you. You can barely fit in everything else you have to do. But you tell everyone, including yourself, that volunteer work is truly rewarding and every (wo)man’s duty. Making irrational decisions seem rational is a way to preserve your sense of self worth.
Studies show that the hardship involved in raising children makes us idealize parenthood and consider it an enormously rewarding enterprise. In a study published in the January 2011 issue of the journal Psychological Science researchers primed 80 parents with at least one child in two different ways. One group was asked to read a document reporting the costs of raising a child. The other parents read the same document as well as a script reporting on the benefits of having raised children when you reach old age. The participants were then given a psychological test assessing their beliefs about parenting. The team found what they expected. Parents who had only read about the financial costs of parenthood initially felt more discomfort than the other group. But they went onto idealize parenthood much more than the other participants and when interviewed later their negative feelings were gone.
“How do single parents get through Christmas as painlessly as possible?”
Could cognitive dissonance explain why single parents feel empty-handed and depressed during holiday seasons without their children? St. Charles, MO, family counselor Deborah Miller doesn’t think that’s what’s going on. “This year it’s my turn to be one of those parents. I’ll be the first to admit that raising a child is not always a blessing. There are countless times when I feel more like a chauffeur or a waitress or a slave than a free agent with some real me-time.” She thinks the lonely-parent phenomenon evidently is not a manifestation of cognitive dissonance, as we don’t idealize away the pain of being without our children on Christmas or New Year’s. The heartache often doesn’t go away until we see our kids again in January and abruptly remember just how draining it is to raise a child. “I’ll finally get some time to myself, and I know my son will have a blast. But I’ll miss him immensely,” says Miller.
How do single parents get through Christmas as painlessly as possible? The solution is not necessarily to have a huge family gathering with your side of the family to ease the sorrow. A gala dinner on Christmas Day may have its advantages. You can hug your little nieces and nephews and maybe feel a bit of comfort as they open their presents in a way only children can approach surprises. You may feel a teensy bit of wonder (or is it jealousy) as you view your siblings and their spouses exchange loving smiles and their young ones take delight in the simplest of things. “It may work for some but there is a sense in which you will only be a spectator,” says Miller. She recalls her Christmas two years ago. “I felt gratified to be part of a functional family, and it was good to see my siblings interact with their children. I also remember being thankful that my parents were still alive and healthy and that they got one more holiday season with some of their grandchildren. But I also felt great sadness, because the dearest thing in my life wasn’t with me. I really missed my son that day.” This Christmas, Miller is getting together with a few friends. “Sure, we will still have Christmas dinner but there won’t be any children or presents or sacred family traditions. So hopefully I won’t be reminded of what I’m missing out on.”
Featured image credit: Christmas Decorations, by Ian Wilson. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.
I know, I know, I go dark for almost two weeks and then suddenly, what, four posts in one day. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in (ye gods) nine years and eleven months of blogging, it’s: if you have something to write, write it, and if you don’t, don’t sweat it. And following a related-links rabbit trail on the Huck post this morning led me through manymoments I’m glad I chronicled. So here’s an entry for the memory vault.
Of course the main reason for my silence has been my pile of Cybils reading, as we’re rapidly approaching The Big Discussion right after Christmas. I gave up maintaining my sidebar and Goodreads reading logs weeks ago, but after the madness is over I’ll use my Cybils log to catch up. If you are stuck for book choices I can make suggestions, boy howdy.
(I love this committee. It’s so good for mah brain to consume a megadose of YA fiction every couple of years. And my fellow panelists are so darn smart. It’s the book club of my dreams—fierce but fleeting.)
The other occupier of my time has been a glorious stream of company. ’Tis the season for visits from college friends. We had Kristen and her family for Thanksgiving (Krissy, did you get any good pix? Mine, not so much) and then a long-awaited, unremittingly delightful week with my friends Ron and Larry from Portland. I got to show them Balboa Park (the best part of San Diego) not once but twice: two long lovely afternoons there roaming through gardens and museums. One day with kids and one day without. Beanie and Rilla came with us to the SD Museum of Art, where the “Gauguin to Warhol” exhibit wowed us. I wasn’t surprised to be choked up by seeing a Frida Kahlo up close (Self Portrait with Monkey), but I didn’t expect the Jackson Pollock to move me the way it did. The scope of the thing, a whole massive wall of paint crammed with small stories.
Soon we’ll have my parents here, and Jane finished finals yesterday (with a paper on Prufrock, color me proud) and will be headed home in a few days. Fortunately she wasn’t planning on taking the train home today! Amtrak had to cancel the coastal train due to this crazy storm. Water, finally! More than this parched land can handle. Much worse in LA than here. We’re cozying up at home for now.
The other notable thing about our December is, of course, that it’s our biggest birthday month. So before I pour in a bunch of photos from Instagram and elsewhere these past few weeks, I’ll just leave you with this: Wonderboy is eleven now. Eleven!
before the rain
genius at work: the making of the annual grasshopper pie
Rilla’s Stampy Longnose paper dolls
shockingly, this did not end in a trip to the emergency room
I don’t care about the pageantry or the spectacle. I just get bored. A.D.D.? Maybe. Every time I’m stuck watching them, I can’t find an ounce of enjoyment – I just think about two dozen other things I could be doing. This couldn’t be truer than when I’m at Disneyworld.
My kids, on the other hand, love parades. So when people start lining the streets, they want to stop riding roller coasters and wait. UGH…
Wait for what? Floats. No thank you! If a float doesn’t contain root beer and ice cream, I don’t want it.
I figure with half of the eligible riders standing along the parade route, the lines to the cool things are shorter. Not my family. We wait – and not for the good stuff.
A funny thing happened on our trip last week. We were headed to a ride at the back of the park while people were lining up for the parade. No one with me suggested we stop to watch (miracle), so I powered into the street. We must have been the last ones let out before they closed the rope because we found ourselves about 20 paces in front of the parade with all of its flags and music.
Maybe it was the fact that I was pushing my daughter’s wheelchair, or possibly because I looked so stately and official, but it became apparent that the spectators thought we were supposed to be the ones leading the parade. We all realized it at the same time as they clapped and waved at us.
My kids became confused.
They grouped together.
“Should we pull off and get out of the way?” they wondered.
The oldest asked, “What do we do?”
Of course they looked to me, the leader, the head honcho, the alpha male for direction and what did they find me doing?
With a dopey grin on my face, I waved back at all of my adoring fans.
When life puts you at the front of the parade, smile and wave!
The kids laughed at me, but it caught on. All of us began waving to the crowd.
You know what? Everyone waved back. The people didn’t think we looked out of place – they just waved at us. I wonder what they thought when the real parade came and they realized we didn’t belong. Oh well, we were gone by then. We walked over half of the parade route unencumbered by the bustling crowd until we got near the ride we wanted. Then we simply ducked into the masses and became one of them – anonymous once more.
I still hate parades… But for a moment, I was the grand marshal.
Ink and Ashes by Valynne E. Maetani is Tu Books’ first New Visions Award winner. Seventeen-year-old Claire Takata discovers a secret about her deceased father that should have remained a secret.
The New Visions Award, modeled after LEE & LOW’s successful New Voices Award, is for unpublished writers of color who write science-fiction, fantasy, and mystery YA or middle grade novels.
Ink and Ashes is set to be released Spring 2015!
Claire Takata has never known much about her father, who passed away ten years ago. But on the anniversary of his death, she finds a letter from her deceased father to her stepfather. Before now, Claire never had a reason to believe they even knew each other.
Struggling to understand why her parents kept this surprising history hidden, Claire combs through anything that might give her information about her father . . . until she discovers that he was a member of the yakuza, a Japanese organized crime syndicate. The discovery opens a door that should have been left closed.
The race to outrun her father’s legacy reveals secrets of his past that cast ominous shadows, threatening Claire, her friends and family, her newfound love, and ultimately her life. Winner of Tu Books’ New Visions Award, Ink and Ashes is a fascinating debut novel packed with romance, intrigue, and heart-stopping action.
Thanks to the following blogs for participating in the Ink and Ashes cover reveal:
For this American, my favorite holiday has always been Thanksgiving. Why? I have an image in my mind of Native Americans and colonists meeting and sharing food together; they share knowledge and stories. In the midst of their concerns about each other, they found respect for each other. Their spirit of sharing is a great inspiration.
As an economist in this upside-down world of people stressing over their future and present, I find answers in that image of Thanksgiving. People eventually survive by sharing with each other as a community. The poor are fed. The sick are cared for. The struggling are helped, and communal ties are strengthened.
There is a term in economics, social capital. This term refers to the cultural interactions within a society forming cohesion, coordination, and cooperation that allow an economy to function better. An economy relies on people from diverse backgrounds talking, sharing concerns, negotiating, making plans, and working toward common goals. The social quality of their communication determines the true strength and potential of their economy.
When the Native Americans and the colonists met and shared, I see social capital being built. The society became stronger. People would be better able to have their needs met. There would be less conflict and more enjoyment of work. The societuy would be able to grow in potential.
The focus of my research as an economist is in the area of labor share, which is the percentage of the income from production that is shared with labor. I research how changes in labor share affect such things as potential production, employment, productivity, investment, and even monetary policy from a central bank.
In almost all advanced countries, even in China where labor share was already low, labor share has fallen in an exorbitant way since the turn of the century. What has been the effect of labor receiving less share of a national income? Potential output has fallen. Unemployment will be higher than before. Productivity growth will stall much quicker, or even fall as in the United Kingdom. Nominal interest rates from central banks will be stuck near 0%.
The fall in labor share represents a problem in the social capital of advanced countries. Labor is being excluded from economic development. Their concerns are not being heard, while corporate profits extend to new records. Labor’s wages are expected to fall in order for companies to be more competitive globally.
Stop. Take a moment of silence.
Acknowledge the growing problem of inequality, and return now to celebrate this holiday of Thanksgiving. Within this day exists the answers to our economic concerns. As societies, we only need to share more. And in sharing, we show our respect for the value of people within society.
A man can’t get rich if he takes proper care of his family.
The Navajo, or Diné, have a saying: “A man can’t get rich if he takes proper care of his family.” The wisdom embodied in this saying is immense. The wisdom not only assures the strength of each member of the community by building social capital, but it assures a stronger economy.
Now we need to answer the question: Who is family?
Here comes the true meaning of Thanksgiving: We are all family. The poor, the rich, the uneducated, the educated, the powerful, and the powerless, as well as those of different races and cultures. Families, friends, and strangers are invited into our homes to celebrate Thanksgiving. The abundance is shared and ties of respect are celebrated.
The extent to which a society can see everyone within the society as family determines the potential of their economy and eventually the quality of life. So Thanksgiving is a moment to celebrate how different people can embrace each other in a spirit of sharing. In that sharing, a broader vision of family is cultivated. In that vision, sick economies can be healed.
Featured image ‘Home to Thanksgiving’ litohraph by Currier and Ives (1867). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
The Enchanted Castle. E. Nesbit. 1907. 291 pages. [Source: Bought]
I really enjoyed reading The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit. I had started this one at least twice before, but, I had never been in the right mood to properly appreciate this children's fantasy novel. I was in the right mood this time.
If you enjoy adventure fantasy novels, you'll probably enjoy spending time with Jerry, Jimmy, Cathy, and Mabel. Jerry, Jimmy, and Cathy are siblings. When these three first meet Mabel, they mistake her for a princess. At the time, they are having an adventure looking for an enchanted castle. So finding a princess within that castle makes complete sense! Mabel is actually the niece of the housekeeper. She confesses that a bit later on. That first meeting is magical enough! She shows them a secret room behind a paneled wall. This room is fabulous if you're looking for treasures. While in the room, the children find (and pick up) a ring. This ring is central to all their further adventures. And Mabel is their new best friend. She's always part of the group.
This one was a very fun read. It reminded me of why I love E. Nesbit in the first place. It wasn't a perfect novel. But flaws and all, it worked well enough for me. It was a joy to read of their adventures and misadventures. The ring gets them into trouble more often than it gets them out of trouble.
“Go then, and be not more naughty than you must.”
“If we were in a book it would be an enchanted castle — certain to be,” said Kathleen. “It is an enchanted castle,” said Gerald in hollow tones. “But there aren’t any.” Jimmy was quite positive. “How do you know? Do you think there’s nothing in the world but what you’ve seen?” His scorn was crushing.
“I think magic went out when people began to have steam-engines,” Jimmy insisted, “and newspapers, and telephones and wireless telegraphing.” “Wireless is rather like magic when you come to think of it,” said Gerald. “Oh, that sort!” Jimmy’s contempt was deep. “Perhaps there’s given up being magic because people didn’t believe in it any more,” said Kathleen. “Well, don’t let’s spoil the show with any silly old not believing,” said Gerald with decision. “I’m going to believe in magic as hard as I can. This is an enchanted garden, and that’s an enchanted castle, and I’m jolly well going to explore.
“I am so hungry!” said Jimmy. “Why didn’t you say so before?” asked Gerald bitterly. “I wasn’t before.” “Then you can’t be now. You don’t get hungry all in a minute. What’s that?”
“Well, then — a detective.” “There’s got to be something to detect before you can begin detectiving,” said Mabel. “Detectives don’t always detect things,” said Jimmy, very truly. “If I couldn’t be any other kind I’d be a baffled detective. You could be one all right, and have no end of larks just the same. Why don’t you do it?” “It’s exactly what I am going to do,” said Gerald. “We’ll go round by the police-station and see what they’ve got in the way of crimes.” They did, and read the notices on the board outside. Two dogs had been lost, a purse, and a portfolio of papers “of no value to any but the owner.” Also Houghton Grange had been broken into and a quantity of silver plate stolen. “Twenty pounds reward offered for any information that may lead to the recovery of the missing property.”
You know pretty well what Beauty and the Beast would be like acted by four children who had spent the afternoon in arranging their costumes and so had left no time for rehearsing what they had to say. Yet it delighted them, and it charmed their audience. There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs for ever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real. And when once people have found one of the little weak spots in that curtain which are marked by magic rings, and amulets, and the like, almost anything may happen.And what more can any play do, even Shakespeare’s?
She finished the last round of high-dose chemo on Thanksgiving Day of 1997. We ate Boston Market turkey and stuffing in the hospital playroom while her meds finished running. There were two more years of low-dose chemo to go, but we expected to spend most of that period as out-patients. When we got home that night—home, where we hadn’t spent more than ten days in a row since March—it was late, a cold, clear night, with as many stars as a New York City sky can muster. I remember thinking I couldn’t imagine ever being more thankful for anything than I was to be carrying that little girl up the stairs to our apartment that night.
I love the way award-winning author Debra Tidball describes her view on valuing connectedness across the generations. I also love the sentiment in celebrating people’s personal histories and appreciating who they are now, and then. Having had a grandmother with whom I had a strong bond, ‘When I see Grandma’ really resonated in my heart. […]
I came across a photo today and figured I’d tell you about it. Blog fodder, you know.
This is me five years ago, after throwing batting practice on a hot night:
It was the eve of the championship game for the 10-year-old All-Stars. Bethlehem vs. Colonie. I remember it clearly. My son, Gavin, got the nod as starting pitcher that day (I was coach, not manager, and did not make that decision), mostly by virtue of his being rested and available. He wasn’t our best arm, but on that day he was cool and in control. Gavin hit his pitch count limit after five innings and we had to pull him. Our team was ahead against a very resilient group from Colonie, leading 8-5. Time to go to the bullpen. At that moment, everything that could have possibly gone wrong, went wrong. Three outs from an elusive championship, those poor boys got smoked. It still makes me shake my head in grim wonder. We ended up losing by 10 runs, after one of the most brutal innings I’ve ever witnessed. I’ll never forget that game. I wanted to win, and I genuinely wanted for those boys to experience that championship feeling. Alas, and oh well.
It often amazes me how these games can linger in memory. When I wrote Six Innings, back in 2008, I was struck by how clearly I remembered Little League games that I had played back in the early 70s when I was 9-10-11 years old. It gave me the conviction to write the book in the first place. The games meant something to these kids. That I can vividly recall individual plays across 40 years is a testament to that fact. I can still see that ball rolling through Don Cognato’s spindly legs.
This is a place in life where these boys live. Where a lot of life’s momentous events are played out. It’s a cliche to say that a player leaves his heart out on the field, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I know I left my heart on a lot of ballfields across the years, and I wasn’t the only one.
There’s a moment in Six Innings when I try to capture that feeling. Well, not a moment, exactly; I try to achieve it throughout the entire book. But there’s one particular moment when I suppose I try to elevate the language a bit, try to lift off above the turf. The staccato rhythms give way to longer, more poetic sentences. It happens after a thrilling play at the plate in the top of the 5th:
In that instant, everything freezes, a DVD on pause, then explodes into action. Both teams, the fans, the coaches — shouting, cheering, hooting, protesting — every emotion galvanized at once, a kinetic charge of energy rising up through the five layers of the earth’s atmosphere, their cries and dreams climbing from troposphere to exosphere, soaring into the velvet void of deepest space. A roar that happens on Little League fields every day, in every town, city, state, and country all over the world, from Logansport to Osaka, San Cristobal to Little Rock. The sound the game makes when it is played passionately, with young hearts.
Hey, how’s this for cool? The cover of the Korean translation (uh, it’s the one on the left):
You can enter to win a signed hardback copy of The Christmas Owl December 4 – December 12. Two lucky winners will receive a copy of these beautiful keepsake books and the hardbacks are only available here. Visit a Rafflecopter giveaway to get your entries in.
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