Impact

While researching new releases for middle grade readers for a blog I contribute to, I came across an intriguing title for us slightly older readers. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences have Extraordinary Impact sounds like it is right up my alley. And a perfect lead-in for my own personal blog.

This is me with Linda Sue Park.

 

Linda is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve novels and nine picture books. She is also the winner of the 2002 Newbery Award, for her incredible story, A Single Shard.

This is Linda acting intimidating after I shared that having written a biography about a Newbery Award winner, which was daunting enough in itself, being given the task of introducing one at a children’s writer’s conference was even more so.

Then she tried to act scary, which cracked us both up.

This was a powerful moment for me. One, because she was impressed that I had written about Virginia Hamilton, and two, that she made me feel at ease, despite her status in the children’s literature community.

Linda proceeded to offer amazing insights and advice to all of us fellow writers. Read. A lot of what you want to write. Then write your own book. Play with your work to make it better.

Most of all, Linda shared that she takes advantage of the moments she has had available through her life to write. Every day.

Just two pages a day is what she writes. Every day.

I walked away from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Northern Ohio region filled with moments that inspired. And a new promise to write two pages a day.

I don’t want the wrath of Linda Sue Park coming down on me.

Photo credit: Michelle Houts

I just have to say something…

It’s raining outside, gloriously, as we need it in my corner of the world. The weather reflects the sadness in my heart, so bear with me as I share.

My sunflower posting on Monday was intentional. My silence was not a reflection of denial of the events from the weekend, just my Pollyanna syndrome kicking in. I always try to see things on the bright side.

I’ve struggled with how to use my words to address the horrific events of this past week. First and foremost, my heart goes to the family of Heather Heyer. No parent should ever have to bury their child, especially under such circumstances.

Hate is something that is taught out of ignorance and born out of insecurity. I cannot understand what motivation lies under such venom as I witnessed from the footage of the protests.

Fortunately I was blessed with parents who taught me to love everyone for who they are on the inside. I know I’ve passed those lessons on to our children. It is every parent’s responsibility to do the same.

The protest was an incredibly infused situation. It begs me to question what it was really all about, and encourages me to learn more. I’m challenged with the decisions to attempt to remove all statues that honor our past, for removing them doesn’t change our history. Where would we stop? Do we blow up Mount Rushmore? Do we eliminate statues of Lewis and Clark, as their expedition was supported by Jefferson and led to the expansion of our country and the massacre of Native Americans?

We can’t literally white-wash the past. We must learn from it, and not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.

And this is what scares me the most about Charlottesville. History is repeating itself.

The Pollyanna in me is hoping that love wins. It starts with each and every one of us.

Find your Voice

 

I hadn’t been on the tennis court for nearly two months, and even then, had slightly injured myself during the match. I was grateful to be back, yet, a little hesitant. Even though it was just a “Monday Fun-day” match, I felt a little intimidated. My playing partners and opponents were 3.5 and 4.0 players. Lovely ladies who can crush the ball. And, me possibly.

The first to arrive, I spotted the tennis pro, or maybe she’s the assistant, I’m not even sure, that’s how little I’ve played this year. We exchanged pleasantries, and I went into a litany of excuses as far as my expectations for my play.

“But you’re an athlete,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”

I don’t even know her, and here she’d summed me up as an athlete.

Those of you who know me, I would hope would agree with her assessment. My good friends and my daughter would probably slap me and say, “Of course you are!”

I remember a conversation with my daughter Kyle, an incredibly natural gifted athlete, years ago, when I offered I didn’t really consider myself athletic. Her response was like a cold splash of water on my face.

“Seriously Mom? I mean, you’re a great golfer, you do yoga, you bike, you’ve run a frickin’ (well she didn’t say this, but the implication was there) marathon, and you don’t consider yourself an athlete?”

Nope. It’s all about our self-talk and confidence. Sometimes, I just need a little nudge, a reminder of who I am and what I’m capable of to get me going.

Maybe you’re the same way.

 

I had a similar experience while attending the Highlights Foundation nonfiction writers workshop recently. I went into the experience unprepared. We were supposed to send 10 pages of a work-in-progress or a complete picture book manuscript. Life had gotten away from me, and all I had was a subject for a picture book biography, and this scene that kept running through my head.

I almost cancelled. I’m so glad I didn’t.

My mentor, Rich Wallace, is the former senior editor of Highlights Magazine for Children, and has written over 25 books for kids of all ages. He also happens to be an athlete.

My subject was involved in baseball, and I would assume it was for this reason I was paired with Rich. The first night we met, I told him about my proposed picture book biography. Rich was intrigued. I told him I had nothing, other than this scene that kept nagging at me. I left the reception and holed up in my lovely room, fueled by the magic of fireflies dancing outside my window and tree frogs encouraging me with their rhythmic chats. The words tumbled out of my brain and onto my notepad.

The next morning at our appointed mentoring session time, I slid into my seat across from Rich at a round table in the little library off the kitchen in The Barn. The Barn is not really a barn. It’s a new building, built on the foundation of what once was one. Instead of animals being fed and nurtured, writers and their ideas are.

With a deep breath, I read my first scene, what I envision as being the first page-spread of this book.

He looked at me. “You wrote that last night?”

My eyes met his.  “Yes,” I said.

My heart raced and my palms were kind of soggy. I was glad I remembered to use my natural deodorant. I was feeling a little sweaty, kind of like before today’s tennis match. I didn’t know what his response would be to my late-night whipping up of these first pages.

“That’s very good,” he said. “Vivid, descriptive introduction to your subject.”

And, then, he said, “You’re a writer. You’ve got voice.”

Voice, for those of you who aren’t in writing circles, is something we strive for in this industry. It’s our own personal take on story, our perspective, our individual imprint on the presentation of our tale.

It’s like the way a pitcher holds the seams of the baseball to perfect his curve ball, or the uniqueness of each golfer’s swing.

My husband Brad has been telling me for years the same message Rich offered. I’m a writer.

And an athlete, apparently. My partners and I each won our matches 6-4. All it took was that little boost before my match, to remind me of who I am.

So, I offer this to encourage you to do the same. Go out there and do what you do, knowing that you’ve got this. Believe in what you know to be true.

Find your stride, find your voice.

Words, life and loss

Terrific. Radiant. Humble.

Perhaps these words sound familiar. They are the words that Charlotte A. Cavatica created to save her friend Wilbur from certain death.

Charlotte’s Web was one of my childhood favorites, and as this is a summer filled with reading the types of books I want to write, I decided to revisit this classic story of friendship.

I’d forgotten all the lovely messages presented throughout the tale of the little girl Fern who saves the runt pig and names him Wilbur. The grey spider Charlotte becomes Wilbur’s dearest friend, teaching him to build himself up, get plenty of sleep, chew his food thoroughly, and most of all, “never hurry and never worry.”

Charlotte literally changes Wilbur’s world through her words. She inspires him, encourages him, and enlightens him through the simple adjectives she spins on her web. E.B. White is an enchanted storyteller, and through Charlotte, he weaves tales and imparts his wisdom for all of us to enjoy.

There are lots of ways to change the world.

Kind, encouraging words are a great start.

I recently lost a dear friend who, every time I saw him, offered gracious words of support. He often commented on my Facebook posts, sharing that he was “honored to be my friend.”

When I said goodbye to him at hospice last week, I gave him one last kiss on the cheek, and told him I was the one who was honored.

Charlotte blessed Wilbur with her friendship, and Wilbur continued to honor her through his days on the farm, remembering her as being both a true friend and a good writer after her life ended.

I hope to continue to honor those I love who are no longer with us with my words, and those who remain, with my friendship.

In honor and memory of Richard Schroeder, a terrific, radiant and humble man. God bless your soul.

Roots

Darn roots.

That’s what I said to myself the other day when I tripped over one of the many spindly, long roots that run through the flood plain I’ve walked on daily for nearly twenty years. I almost fell after my shoe became entangled in the tuber that stretched across the path. My body responded automatically, with a rush of cortisol, rapid heartbeat, hands extended, preparing myself in this sudden battle with gravity.

In this case I won.

Once my heart beat returned to normal, I looked up the trail to see my two-year old Labrador trying to yank one of the long, woody obstructions out of the ground and off the path. I just cracked up. The root is still intact, but she keeps working away at it. It will soon be gone, saving some other hiker the same adrenaline rush of almost crashing to the ground when becoming entangled.

As I finished my walk, I thought about the significance of these knotty obstacles. If not for the complicated web of what I’m certain is miles of nature’s infrastructure, my sacred floodplain would not exist. I would not have been blessed to traverse the mile loop all these years, bearing witness to God’s work through nature. Sun rising, deer grazing, coyote roaming, skunk lumbering, ducks squawking, frogs peeping and a persistent hawk searching.

And me, just walking, and dreaming.

Heading back to what will be my home for just a short while yet, I thought about my roots. Those that served as my foundation, those I’ve grown in this community, the new ones that are springing forth.

I thought about how life is like those darn roots. We can either let it trip us up, or we can embrace it as we stumble our way through, catch our breath, and move on.

Or, you can take it a step further like Luna did. Clear the path to make it easier for others to follow.

I can only imagine

Brad and I have been discussing doing some cosmetic updates to our home. We’ve been here for 23 years, and some of our furniture just as long. Almost. Almost.

At least that’s been my stance as far as our green leather, brass tacked, reclining sofa and love seat are concerned. Now that our son has inherited the basement furniture, it’s time for the leather furniture to make its way there. Brad maintains that we’ve only had them for six or seven years. So, just like Nancy Drew, I got out my flashlight and investigated.

October 31, 2000.

As I looked at the receipt from the local furniture store, my first reaction was to share it with Brad, because of course, I was right. The pieces were as old as I thought.

My second thought was disbelief. Our daughter Claire had died just months before. How was it that I was shopping for furniture then? How was it possible that at a time I could barely make it through a day, that I could make a conscious decision about a major purchase?

The answer is the same one that applies anytime I wonder how I’ve managed to put one foot in front of the other every day for the last sixteen years.

Friends. And Family. And sometimes complete strangers.

I had a friend who was an interior designer and helped me through the process of updating our family room then.

I’m sure it wasn’t easy for her.

For years, I’ve heard, “I can’t imagine” when sharing our story.

This morning it dawned on me that I can’t imagine what it has been like to be the one literally holding my hand, making me dinner, helping with my kids, or assisting my efforts to get Claire’s Day off the ground, and me right along with it. I can’t imagine it has been easy hearing my pain rise from my gut and out from my soul. I can’t imagine it has been easy bearing witness to my grief journey.

But, because of all of you, I’ve slowly made it to the other side. The pain will always be there, but it no longer knocks me off my feet. It’s been replaced by joy, gratitude and purpose.

Because we’ve all worked hard together through this journey, now we get to rejoice in what my end-goal always was; to keep my family intact despite how we had been broken at our core. Claire’s Day served as that vehicle to help me grieve, all the while holding on to Brad, Kyle and Ian.

So, with that, I raise my cup of late afternoon tea to all of you who have been with us, through the downs, and now the ups, as we celebrate exciting news. Kyle and Ian are both settled into the start of their new jobs and lives in Atlanta and Columbus. Brad and I are doing great. Luna, our amusing Labrador, is healed from her surgery. Claire’s Day is expanding to three different dates and locations this year. And Claire’s Day has been featured in an article in this month’s Reader’s Digest. How cool is that?

I can’t imagine what all you’ve been through, any more than you could me.

But I’ve imagined, wished and hoped for all this goodness for a long time. Thanks for helping me get here.

Life events

“You’ve created a life event for children.”

These incredible words came from Linda Feagler, the Senior Editor at Ohio Magazine. Linda was in my adopted hometown of Maumee yesterday, meeting with business owners, seeing historic sites, and generally rediscovering why our city is so special.

I was asked to meet with her to share our Claire’s Day story, and the amazing growth of the organization and event. I was joined by Jeanette Hrovatich, our Executive Director, and John Jezak, the Administrator and Safety Director for Maumee.

When Linda made this statement regarding our C.A.R.E. Awards, our special reading awards given to children chosen as the most improved readers in their schools, we all just looked at her, stunned by the strength of her statement.

“Life event. I like that,” Jeanette said.

I do too. So much so, that of course, I had to write about it.

No matter how much time has passed, it is still a little hard to tell the story. But every time I do, I get a little nugget of admiration, of inspiration, of gratitude that carries me through the tough parts.

Sometimes I lose sight of the impact we’ve had on children’s lives through Claire’s Day and our Claire’s Awards for Reading Excellence program. At times it is even difficult for me to comprehend the significance of what we’ve accomplished; Brad, Kyle, Ian and our hundreds of volunteers, and now staff. I tend to downplay our magical remembrance, honestly humbled by what we’ve created in Claire’s honor.

And then, with words like Linda’s, it smacks me upside the head and strikes right to my heart.

What we’ve done has had such an impact on the lives of thousands of children. We have created a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our C.A.R.E. Award winners. To think that they get to choose their very own book at the festival, and then to have it personally signed by one of our authors and illustrators. That’s just pretty darn special.

And now, having been that author on the other side of the table, as that child looks at me with huge eyes filled with joy, excitement, and sometimes a bit of shyness, well, that’s a life event for me.

 

Seeing with our hearts

“Oh, Betty, you’ve just got to see it with your heart and your eyes!”

These words stuck with me throughout our recent incredible trip to The Last Frontier, Alaska.

They came from a 75-year-old adventurer, Sally, to her 85-year-old friend, as she struggled to get her camera working properly while we were up on a glacier near Denali.

Yep, Betty and Sally flew up with us on a de Havilland Otter, a turboprop plane operated out of Talkeetna by K2 Aviation. As eight of us loaded into the plane, Brad and another taller gentleman were instructed that they could sit anywhere but the back. My assumption was that even though the aircraft is the quintessential bush plane, and has incredible STOL (Short takeoff and landing. Good in case moose happen to be on the runway. Seriously. It happens there), a heavy tail doesn’t help.

As I strapped on my seat belt, I got a little nervous seeing that the plane was manufactured in my birth year. Granted their turbo props had been upgraded, but I was still a bit anxious, knowing at this age sometimes my body doesn’t want to fully cooperate. I said a silent prayer, hoping that today this plane’s systems were all in working order for our flight.

As I was untangling the cable to my headphones, I heard my daughter Kyle’s voice behind me.

“You just press the headphones in at the top to make them fit,” she said.

I turned around to see that she was helping Betty and Sally. It both warmed my heart to see Kyle assisting them, and to see their gratitude in their eyes.

Take-off was quick and easy. It was a beautiful, sunny day, so we didn’t experience any turbulence from heavy, low-lying clouds. We flew up from the base at Talkeetna, the launching pad for many of Denali’s climbers.

We were flying a popular route, both for drop-off of hikers at base camp, as well as for those of us ultimately landing on a glacier. I’m grateful I didn’t discover this information from an FAA Denali flight information guide until just now: This can be a very high volume route during May and June. Aircraft are leaving Talkeetna and flying the most direct route to “base camp” on the Kahiltna Glacier. Watch for “One Shot Gap”: minimum altitudes 8500 ft MSL, listen, stay right, watch diligently for opposite direction traffic, listen for reports of downdrafts and turbulence. Don’t get caught with no way out.

I’m sure Betty and Sally were glad not to read this before our trip as well. Kyle might have been helping them with more than their headphones.

The Denali peak, at 20, 320 feet, was clearly visible throughout our flight. It is majestic, snow covered, incredible and almost beyond words. As we flew around the mountain, it gave me an even greater appreciation for those who scale the monster. Over 100 climbers had reached the summit the week we were visiting.

We flew through a section called the “747 Pass.” The name was reassuring, because from my perspective, it seemed as though it was just wide enough for our small plane to fly through.

The pilot brought us down a few thousand feet before landing on Ruth Glacier, in an area known as the Mountain House. Yep, there is a small cabin, built by a famous pioneer aviator, Donald Sheldon in 1966. We could see the house on the rock outcropping, with the outhouse nearby, seemingly on the edge. Wouldn’t want to take a wrong turn on that early morning trip.

We unloaded from the plane, one at a time, carefully on to the softened snow below. We all stumbled over the tracks from other plane landings, our sun-protected eyes still blinded by the glaring sun and bright blue sky.

Kyle and our son Ian threw snowballs at each other, Brad and I hugged, simply in awe.

And Betty and Sally tried to take pictures with their camera. I felt sorry for them, knowing that for all of us, this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

That’s when Sally offered her sage advice.

So true.

We should take in everything with our eyes and keep it embedded in our hearts.

Our time on the glacier was up entirely too soon. Our pilot ushered us back into the plane. Betty was having a bit of a challenge walking across the snow back to the plane, so I offered her an arm. Then, with an apology for getting a bit too personal, I pushed on her backside to help her up into the plane. She giggled at my comment. Or maybe at my goose, I’m not sure which.

Before we took off, Brad gave Sally one of his business cards, suggesting she email him, and he would be happy to send her pictures he had taken up on the glacier. Her eyes glistened as she accepted his card and offer.

Our flight back was smooth, no apparent downdrafts or turbulence and certainly didn’t experience the “no way out.”

We landed safely, and the adorable ladies, gushing with their gratitude, were kind enough to grant my request of taking a picture with them before we went our separate ways.

This Alaskan trip was symbolically our last frontier, as it was our 50th State to visit with our children. It was the completion of a mission we began in earnest after losing our daughter, Claire, in 2000.

I know I will hold on to all the big and small memories of all our journeys forever in my heart.

And just maybe I’ll share them all with you some day.

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