Staying Happily Connected

Hey everyone,

How are you? No really, how are you?

It’s the Eve of Thanksgiving so I’m just wondering: Are you feeling the pressure of baking pies, feeling the anxiety of gathering with family who can be judgmental, feeling overwhelmed as you navigate he grocery store crowds, panicking at the thought of cooking your first turkey? Or are you handling it all just fine?

If you’re anything like me, you’re feeling a bit of both.

Yesterday, I faced a heart crushing task. My aunt has been exteemly sick for quite some time—like for years. She’s weak, hardly eats—I wouldn’t be surprised if she weighs 70 lbs. She’s widowed, never had children, and lives alone. No matter how hard my mom tries, she won’t accept help, in fact she won’t answer the phone most days—or even the door.  She’s very much a loner and likes it that way. However, throughout her life, her dogs have been the children she never had and when her beloved shih tzu died several months ago, she instead on getting another dog.  Our entire family thought it was a bad idea—how can she care for a puppy when she can’t even care for herself? But my mom didnlt want her to be completely alone and so a new little shih tzu puppy named Chaplyn came into her life soon after.

They managed okay at first, (Chaplyn is just the cutest, most well behaved puppy ever), but as my aunt’s health continued to fail, and my mom and dad saw obvious signs that the puppy—although very loved—was not being cared for properly, they knew they had to act.

My mom agonized over the decision. She knew it would be like taking a child from its mother. But then yesterday, out of no where, my aunt called my mom and asked her if she could pick up the dog—caring for her had become too much. In fact, she consented to going to the hospital too if she didn’t feel better soon. So my mom and I drove to her house, gathered up Chaplyn’s belongings, and watched my aunt say good bye to her. I thought my heart might shatter.

As of this morning, Chaplyn is already settled into her new home. My sister and brother-in law and their three girls have taken her in and are beyond excited to have her. Their house is always bustling and they’ve been wanting a puppy for a long time. Even though I’m sad my aunt is without her dog today, it’s clear Chaplyn is in a better environment.

But what about my aunt, the one who says she likes to be alone, the one who is too sick to leave her apartment? She goes weeks without seeing another human being. How can that be a good thing?

If all goes well, and my parents can get through to her, she’ll go to a hospital or other facility where she can be properly cared for—where not only will she be safe from falls, and provided with basic care, but she will interact with other people. Nurses, doctors, and aids are wonderful people who want to help others, and though she desperately needs medical attention, I think right now what she needs more is interaction with other people–even if she doesn’t realize it herself.

Writing can be a very solidary activity. Is activity even the right word? As writers, we love to slip into our own worlds and let our characters drag us along on their journeys. I work at home and so I know how possible it would be for me to never see another person outside of my home (and grocery store and kids sporting events) for days on end if I let that happen.

Some say social media encourages fake relationships. I say they’re wrong. Facebook allows me to stay in touch (even with a like) with people who are or have been important to me at various times throughout my life. I like hearing their stories. I like knowing what their kids are up to and hearing about their accomplishments. Sure some posts can sound a little self indulgent even bordering on bragging at times, but I try to keep all that in perspective. Besides, reading Facebook posts are like reading mini short stories that my friends have written. I get a feel for their voice, learn what they’re passionate about, see the conflicts they face and even know when they reached a milestone or a personal goal. I feel connected to them that way on some level and that makes me happy. It makes me feel connected to a bigger place.

Twitter provides a different connection for me. I’m connected to so many more people there-most of them whom I’ve never met face to face. But to me that detail doesn’t matter. I’ve met amazing people this way who share my interests, goals, frustrations, and successes. I’ve also learned so much by staying connected on Twitter. I wouldn’t be half the writer I am, and my manuscript wouldn’t be half as good as it is if it weren’t for the topics I’ve learned there or the people I’ve met.

Communities and communication come in many shapes and sizes and what community you belong to or way you communicate with other people really doesn’t matter. I realized yesterday more than ever it’s just as important to belong somewhere—to a church, a school, a workplace, a grocery store, a writing group, a team, or even a small group of friends. Connecting with other people is the key to experiencing joy—in whatever form that may be.

I’m so thankful to be connected to all of you who know me through this site, or thorugh Facebook, or Twitter, or in person. You make my life better every day and it means the world to me. 🙂

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and hope it gives you the opportunity to connect with someone else too. I’m off now to make the pies—apple, cherry, and pecan. Well, I actually bought the pecan. (Shh, don’t tell.) I’ve never eaten pecan pie so really how can I be expected to make a good one? But I will go slave over the other two and hopefully resist the urge to eat them today!

Hugs to you all, my friends…see you next week!

 

 

 

 

 

Paris Light

Hey everyone,

Sometimes getting our thoughts down on paper is the only way to make sense of a situation—a dissapointment, or even tragedy. And that’s what I’m attempting to do here.

I didn’t have time to post last week. I was busy helping my daughter, Danielle pack for her school trip to France. There were so many little details to take care of that my head was spinning. In fact, I really wondered if she’d ever get on the bus at all—like shopping, packing, making calls to the cell phone company, exchanging american money for euros, and so much more. It turns out though, that after all the planning and scurrying we did, she actually didn’t get on the bus. But as you can probably guess, the reason had nothing to do with her not being packed and ready to go.

Two years ago, when Danielle was in 10th grade , she had the opportuity to travel with her French class to Montreal and Quebec City. She had begged me to let her go—all her friends were going, they’d get to experience the French culture, see the French inspired elements throughout the city—and even speak some French. I admit, I was so scared to let her go. (Yeah, I am that mom.) But my husband and I agreed that it would be a fabulous experience- only 9 hours away, and much less expensive and scary than sending her to France.

Little did I know how amazing this experience would be for her. She reveled in the French culture and to this day speaks of the beautiful architecture, the fabulous sites, the dog sled rides, and fun times spent with her friends. After the trip, her French teacher, Mr. Thomas, assigned the kids French pen pals from a school in the town of Quimper, France—about 8 hours from Paris. Danielle and her pen pal, Maelle clicked right away. At first, I think it was beause they both loved gymnastics and shared their competition stories, and in the beginning, the girls simply exchanged letters, practicing writing in a foreign language. But eventually their communication evolved to social media. It’s amazing how Snap Chat can solidify a friendship—from even across the pond!

This past February, Mr. Thomas (the same French teacher she’s had for three years) talked to us about the school’s mini exchange program.  In April, the French students would visit NYC  for a few days and then visit Rochester. Each American student would host their pen pal in their home for a little over week. They’d go to school with them and live life exactly as an American teenager does. Then, in November, the American kids would would travel to Quimper, stay in their penpal’s home, go to school with them—live life as a French teenager for almost a week. Then, the Americans would head to Paris and experience all that the City of Lights has to offer… a dream come true for all of them!

Without going into too much detail, I initially told my daughter she could not go on the trip. I told her we would be happy to have Maelle stay in our home for the first part of the exchange, but I was just too afraid to let her travel overseas alone. The attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris had just occurred and I was fearful of what could happen. As you can imagine, my daughter was upset, but she seemed to understand.

And then in April, Maelle and her French classmates arrived.

That’s when everything in my eyes changed. I saw the world as it really is…a small place full of amazing people—kids who live so very far apart but who are really very alike. I saw kids who had much to offer each other and many experiences to share. But what I mostly saw was a whole bunch of French and American teenagers laughing and hanging out together like they had been best friends their whole lives.

At the end of their trip, on the morning the French kids boarded their bus for the airport, my heart was heavy. The kids were sobbing as they said their good byes, knowing that many of them would never see each other again. Sure maybe thier families would travel to Europe some day and maybe they would look each other up to meet for coffee, but they’d never all be together as a group like this again.

That’s when I changed my mind about Danielle participating in the French portion of the exchange. I realized the importance of her having this experience. But it was much more than just the exchange. Danielle’s best friend Siobhan was going on the trip and had been begging me to let her go too. The roomates for Paris were not yet set and she wanted Danielle to room with her—wanted to go on the trip with her and shop with her in France. How could I say no to two girls who had shopped together through their tweens and now had the opportunity to shop together in Paris and experience their culture? Besides, our whole family loves Siobhan and had grown to love Maelle and her best friend, Zoe too. The thought of Danielle never seeing them again made me so sad. And so I pushed my concerns and fears away (as well as I could anyway) and after much deliberation, my husband and I told Danielle—she could go to France.

So much happened over those next few months—track season, junior prom, a summer job to help pay for the trip, a new school year, applying for colleges—and all the while Danielle and Siobhan made their plans for France with their pen pals, Maelle and Matilde. They made plans with their French classmates and Mr. Thomas. They were incredibly excited—and I was really doing okay with her making the trip. I knew Danielle would be in good hands, experience the trip of a lifetime with such close friends, and I was truly excited for her.

Then, last Friday night, while Danielle and I shopped at the mall for last minute items, 6 days before her class was set to leave…we got the news: Paris had been attacked.

Most of you know the rest of the story. The events have turned our whole world upside down. People from all over the globe have been affected so profoundly…and it’s heartbreaking.

So why bring my daughter’s  story to light? Why even mention it at all? In the scope of things, I realize it’s really very small. But I guess that’s exactly why I feel the need to write about it.

Events like this are farther reaching than many of us realize and they can hurt in the most heartbreaking of ways. Of course, I know I’m so very lucky that her trip was cancelled and that she was no where near the attacks when they occurred. I know it could have been so much worse.

However, her story is still heartbreaking.

Sure, she may get to France again some day, but she will never experience France in this way again—with Siobhan and Maelle and Zoe and Mr. Thomas…and so many others.

So now you know why I’ve been quiet on the blog. My heart has just felt so heavy and sad. Sad for the victims, sad for the people who were there, sad for the kids who should have been there—under entirely different circumstances.

But in every tragedy and disappointment comes a light and this case is no different. Last evening, a local  business in our town hosted a French dinner for the kids. A local hair salon styled the girls’ hair and gave them manicures for the event. A local florist gave each of the kids flowers (an iris—the national flower of France) and created centerpieces for the tables, a local photographer took pictures,  and a local chef prepared a traditional French feast. The kids and their chaperones were treated to a spectacular evening that I’m sure they will never forget. Sure, there were tears—some for the trip that they were not meant to take, and some for the tragedy that has befallen people just like them in a land they long to see. But all in all, the event shed a positive, spectacular light and showed us that people are generous and caring and good. It’s lovely to see how people come together when it really means the most.

And so as we head into this next week of Thanksgiving, I realize how very much we have to be thankful for when it comes to my daughter’s trip to France. She and her friends are safe in their homes—both the American kids and their French friends—and thanks to this amazing exchange, they’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime from even across the pond. And that’s something very special to be thankful for.

 

 

 

 

Picking a Favorite Book

Hey everyone,

I have books on the brain today. Last night I finished a book I started reading over the summer: Kody Keplinger’s debut middle grade, THE SWIFT BOYS & ME. Sadly, I had to take a break from reading it just a few days after I picked it up. The break had nothing to do with the quality of the story and everything to do with having too much on my plate at the time.

But this weekend, as the pretty cover stared back at me from my nightstand, I knew I had to dive back in. I am so glad I did. I was reminded pretty quickly of why realistic fiction was my first middle grade love. Many of you know that LOVE AUBREY by Suzanne LaFluer and WAITING FOR UNICORNS by Beth Hautala are two of my favorite 5 MG books. I love the voice and I love the emotion that seeps through every single page of both books. Kody’s book is a lot like them too. It’s written with such heart and raw emotion—it’s even gut wrentching at times. But it’s full of happiness too—even when Nola, the sweet main character doesn’t even realize happy things are being thrown her way. I’ll be adding this fantastic contemporary coming of age middle grade book to the Book Nook soon, but I just had to tell you about it because the story just keeps swirling around in my head—it’s that good.

It got me thinking about book favorites though. I wish it were easy to pick one. I think it’s actually easier to choose several favorites and maybe favorite things about those books. There are many books in different age groups that I consider my favorites, but for today middle grade books are on my brain…

I adore AT YOUR SERVICE by Jen Malone and ALL FOUR STARS by Tara Dairman. Though not as serious in tone as the books I mentioned above, these two contemporary stories are still two of my favorites by far. I love the fun, the characters, and the unique premises of both.

I absolutlely love WHEN YOU REACH ME and FIRST LIGHT by Rebecca Stead also. Each is pure perfection in my mind. It makes me wonder why I haven’t read any of her more recent titles. I really must get on that! And though parts of both books are considered realistic fiction, parts of them would fall under science fiction as well.

I’m also in love with the MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY by Trenton Lee Stewart and all it’s wonderful puzzles, intrigue and adventure. My agent recommended that one to me this fall and I’m so glad she did. The other books in that series are on my list as well. Why aren’t there more reading hours in the day? I would classify this one as adventure, science fiction, or maybe a little of both.

BREADCRUMBS by Anne Ursu and SCHOOL OF CHARM by Lisa Ann Scott are two of my favorite magical realism titles. Both are set in the real world but each have that hint of magic that shoots the story into the stratosphere as far as I’m concerned. I love them both that much.

As you can see from the few books I’ve mentioned, I don’t have a clear cut favorite genre. You can also see that there are many amazing books that didn’t even make my list. Maybe that’s because I haven’t read them yet or because even though I love them, I don’t love them as much as one of my favorites. It’s all a matter of preference.

Hmm. Where have we heard this before?

Reading is so subjective and we all have our favorites. As writers, that’s a fact that we need to remember. Why? Because you may query a hundred agents before one connects with your manuscript. Your agent may query fifty editors before finding one that wants to make an offer. Your book may pass through the fingers of twenty five kids in a classroom before finding the one that turns to page two. But then, that one child will read on to page three and keep reading until reading time is up. Then she will open the book again on the bus ride home and then keep reading under her covers after her mom kisses her goodnight. And when she finally flips the last page to The End, she may even declare it her favorite book.

So with that in mind, I’ll keep writing. Because one day I hope my book will become a favorite for someone too. ❤

Have a great day, guys. I hope you have the chance to dive into a book today as well. I’m adding a few more titles to the Book Nook this week so be sure to stop back and check it out. 🙂