Saturday, April 26, 2014

Coping Strategies for Teens and Tweens

Kids killing each other because they got turned down for prom. . .kids shooting up a school because they have been bullied. . .kids killing themselves because they feel isolated and alone. . .where do these strong feelings come from and how do we as parents see the warning signs or help create an environment where our children can cope with life's disappointments and discouragements without the sudden and devastating lashing out?

I have one child who tends to react quickly to emotion. She might explode when angry or frustrated but then five minutes later is over it and happy. My other child is the opposite. I can only usually get to her emotions and feelings after prying and questioning and she tends to hold onto her feelings longer.  We have taught them the basic, immediate coping skills of stopping and thinking before reacting, of counting to 10, of hitting a pillow instead of someone else, and breathing in the good energy and out the bad. Sometimes they work, but I find some of these other global coping strategies we use on a daily basis to get our kids to appreciate and interact positively with the world around them are just as useful. 

1. Talking with an older adult (other than your parents). It is such an important skill to be able to carry on a conversation with someone in a different generation. I work with the elderly on a daily basis and have learned something from just about each and every one of them. I hear their joys, their regrets, their life lessons they like to share. I see them in all aspects. From the well-loved and happy retired couple who spends time with their grandchildren and has their son in law mowing their lawn for them, to the isolated and alone widower who has no one to even give her a ride to a doctor's appointment. I hear how they got to where they are in life. I hear why they might be lost and forgotten. They give amazing perspective to the different ways we lead our lives and the attitudes that go into getting us where we want to go. Teaching our kids to reach out to them whether it be through church, through the neighborhood, or even in our own families is an important skill. Have them sit and have a conversation. A conversation where they are not just answering their questions, but also asking their own. "What was your favorite age? Where was the best place you ever traveled? What is the best book you ever read?" They will be enthralled with all the information they can learn with just a few simple questions. And then have them do something for them. . .offer to rake their lawn, bring them a meal, brighten their day with flowers for their kitchen table. 

2. Have a positive attitude. This seems so simple. Just don't let those negative thoughts permeate and ruin your day. I see how attitude affects people so strongly in their recovery from illness or injury. Those patients of mine who think positively and greet therapy with enthusiasm recover much quicker than those who let the negativity and anxiety take over. I once had a patient whose blood pressure was extremely high that day and found out that he was still reeling from spilling his coffee earlier that day. Another patient would spend 20-30 minutes of each therapy session venting about one irritation or another she had encountered that day from a phone call from a telemarketer to not hearing back from a doctor about her hundredth question that week. Redirecting her to what was important.  . .her therapy was nearly impossible. These types of patients take twice as long to accomplish their goals because we just simply can't get to them when they have difficulty dealing with the little things that overwhelm them. How we deal with these little hiccups truly does affect our overall health and ability to accomplish any other things in life. Another patient's wife was complaining how last year on her birthday her husband was near death in the hospital and this year he spent the day at doctor's appointments and with therapists. I told her that it certainly is a step in the right direction. She looked at me with contempt and said, "Do they teach you to put a positive spin on everything?" No one taught me. . .I just choose to, I told her. I can't change the way people think. But I can change myself and I can pass on lessons to my kids. When they get off the bus with the day's difficulties spilling from their mouths we try to find the good parts of the day as well but also try to sort out the problems one by one and turn them into learning moments. Look at why you got that bad grade. Look at how others did. Maybe it wasn't a valid measure of your knowledge. Maybe you messed up and studied the wrong information. Maybe you forgot to study. What can you learn from it and how can you improve for next time? So many kids just think that string of bad grades means they are a failure and start to give up. We can learn from each and every failure. What if a boy/girl you like doesn't like you back? It's only a brief moment in your long life. Soon you will like someone else. You are at an age where you are learning what type of person you fit with and that includes what type of person meshes with you as well as you mesh with them. A crush might just be based on a cute face or they way someone is liked by everyone else but might not be a right fit for you once you get to know them. Remembering that this is just one learning experience in a lifetime is a way to keep perspective and stay positive. The best is yet to come. 

3. Have faith. This is so important on so many levels. Believe in something bigger than yourself. So many people have fallen out of a church life because of the stigma associated with religions. True religion teaches love, respect, humility, selflessness, kindness. Find a comfortable fit with a church. You don't need to stay at a church that makes you feel guilty or uncomfortable…or that teaches judgmental attitudes. There are so many choices out there and the rewards of a church family are immeasurable. The loving embrace of Sunday School teachers, ministers, youth group leaders will help kids to have someone to turn to and mentor them through tough times. They will share life's joys and concerns with them and help them to have strength and forbearance to get through some of the toughest years of their lives. Opportunities to give back to the community and volunteer are innumerable in church as well. . .from babysitting in the nursery to serving meals to the homeless, to traveling across the country to build houses for those who have nothing. . .all can be accomplished in almost any church. 

4. Count your blessings. When the kids do volunteer and see a glimpse of those down on their luck, they are reminded of how lucky they are. Even if they don't get the latest iPad or Xbox or Uggs, they can learn to appreciate the fact that they have a roof over their head, meals on the table, clothes to wear, a family who loves them, friends who care about them. They have what matters the most. The rest is gravy. 

5. Keep perspective. The kids think I'm cheesy because I tend to throw out these cliches. As Scarlett O'Hara says, "Tomorrow is another day." Annie says, "The sun will come out tomorrow." The Jewish adage, "This too shall pass." After I had my car accident as a teenager and was dealing with the following emotion, my grandmother hugged me and said to me, "It will all come out in the wash." When as a teenager and having a heart to heart with my father who had heard of a recent suicide he told me, "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."  The latest devastation in their lives is just a temporary set back. Live is beautiful and long. Live it with joy and abandon.

6. Others don't judge you nearly as much as you judge yourself. Do you care how big your friend's thighs are? Do you care if the girl sitting next to you is wearing the latest fashion? I hope not. . .and I guarantee you that others are not thinking about you as much as you think they are. Why? Because they are just as self-conscious and self absorbed as you are. If they see you wearing a bathing suit without a care in the world, they will respect you more than if you are hiding behind 2 or 3 layers. Because then your self-consciousness becomes obvious and they have something to focus on. Teens like to feel better about themselves by relishing in other's discomfort. Sad but true! Be confident, be self-assured and no one has any reason to look twice other than out of respect. 

7. Speak up to a bully. If someone is being intentionally mean, tell them. Simply say, "that was a mean thing to say." And walk away. Then forget about it. That person is trying to feel better about themselves. Distance yourself from these people and wait for their mean phase to pass. Don't necessarily count them out as future friends. They are growing and learning too. After they have experimented with trying to have power over others, they may mature and realize it is more isolating and lonely than just being kind to one another and you may find a good friend in them sometime in your future. Holding on to anger and negativity toward them for something they did to you in the 3rd grade serves no purpose and keeps unnecessary negativity a part of your life. 

8. Learn to take care of another living thing. Whether it be a plant, a guinea pig, fish or puppy. . .focusing your energy on making sure something else is cared for and stays alive is an important skill to have. It reduces your inner focus and makes you fall in love with something. It makes you have empathy and compassion for a living object and you are rewarded with they grow, thrive and learn in response to your care. 

9. Read an inspiring book. We can't experience the entire world and the way they live but we can understand so much more about the history of our trials and tribulations through books and movies. Whether it be about slavery, the holocaust or modern day human trafficking. there is so much going on in the world that will shock you, but inspire at the same time. It will open your eyes to how safe and secure you are in your corner and hopefully provide that sense of perspective that your life is pretty amazing and special. 

10. Smile. Every day. Just do it.

These are just some strategies I try to teach my kids and use myself to maintain a positive attitude. I'm sure there are thousands of others. Please share what coping skills you use in your family and maybe I'll make a future blog post with your ideas! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

This is 40. . .and a half

On my 40th birthday last July, a dear friend of mine pulled me aside and gave me a quiet tidbit of advice. She said that 40 isn't really any different than 39 or 45, but what is different is the moment that you learn to stop caring about what others think. For her that happened sometime between 40 and 50.

I nodded at that moment, thinking, I don't really care what others think now.

Or do I?

Since then I have been paying attention and have realized that I do care. Or at least I did. In the past 6 months or so I have felt tremendous personal growth and realization. Is it because of the age? Or the life experience? Or does that all coincide together? Suddenly I am more comfortable, happy, secure, peaceful. And I think largely because I've just stopped worrying so much about other people.

Some of the changes I have felt gradually. . .not intentional changes necessarily. . .but changes that I see in our lives versus where we were a year ago.

1. I don't feel it is necessary to accept every invitation. We won't be left out the next time just because we said no this time. Sometimes missing the party and staying home for a family movie night is the best place in the world to be.

2. I've stopped venting. . .as much. But aren't you supposed to vent when something is bothering you to get it off your chest? I've learned sometimes venting makes it worse. Because in my attempt to portray the situation to a friend or to my husband, I have elevated it to another level. But if I shrug it off and let it stew a day or two, I find the issue tends to go away on its own. Whereas if I have brought someone else into it, it will linger and sometimes is compounded by their reaction or attempt to give advice that may or may not make it worse. If after a few days, the issue is still bothering me, then yes. . .time to share with those I trust.

3. I hold secrets closely. I saw an episode of a sitcom recently where the father was enjoying laughs by sharing stories about his kids. He didn't realize that the kids were mortified by what he was saying and learned by the end of the episode to keep the stories to himself. But found himself at a loss for words in some awkward social moments and had to just smile and nod along. So, I don't think I have ever totally humiliated my kids with stories about them, but have I over-shared? Have there been things I have told friends about them that would embarrass them if they were in the same room? Oh definitely. We all do it. But why do we do it? For a laugh? For support? To make the friend feel less alone by letting them know it happens to us too? Recently I have found myself about to share a funny tale or a story my kids told me...but I have stopped myself and wondered if my child would be giving me permission or not to share it. If I want them to continue to trust me and tell me what's going on in their lives and what's on their mind, I have to keep their confidences. Believe me, this has been very hard. Just smile and nod. . .smile and nod. . .

4. I need people less.  I used to be a member of Mamapedia, the local moms club and other various on-line parenting groups. I would frequently ask advice and exchange ideas on parenting. Slowly over time I have let these memberships lapse, finding that the solutions or advice I would get would usually not work for our situation and what we would come up with as a family would end up working out best.  And when it comes to connecting with others through text and Facebook, I have found I am doing that less as well. My group of friends is a god-send and I couldn't ask for a better community. But lately I have been just at peace on my own with a good book or taking some quiet time by myself. I don't need to be texting or checking Facebook or calling someone or be in touch with another person every minute of everyday.  I found that the phone sometimes, now is in the next room, forgotten. I don't NEED that connection as much. I have me. It's a great feeling. And when I'm with my family I am devoting my full attention to them, not trying to have a conversation via text with a friend at the same time that I am talking to them.

5. I will continue to stand up for what's right. I tend to know a lot about what goes on around me; more than I would like to know sometimes. Sometimes in the past I have been afraid to speak up because of repercussions. Or maybe I have spoken up, but then retracted because the fallout wasn't worth it. It's scary to be the whistle blower because ultimately there is someone who is on the other side of the situation who will not like what I have to say. But if it is the right thing and I feel passionately about it, I won't sit by and I won't be afraid of the outcome. There is a lot to be said about flying under the radar too. It has to be a delicate balance. This is an area I think I will forever be struggling with.

6. It's ok to be late. I have always been on time to everything. Even early most of the time; until I had kids with other ideas. These are our most stressful moments - trying to get out to the door to make it on time somewhere. I've stopped worrying about it so much. I'm not talking about a disrespectful lateness to things but if making to to dance class right at 4:00 means that we have to scream and yell and rush around, it's not worth it. Get what we need to get done, get in the car and go. Ever since I have relaxed on this in our house, I've found that even with extra feet dragging and difficulty getting that bun in the hair just right, we are never more than 4 or 5 minutes late. Sorry to the teachers. . .but life is much nicer to not be so stuck on leaving at that exact minute we need to. And there is always someone still getting there after us. This doesn't work for the bus because it doesn't wait. But I have found that we rush, rush to get to the bus stop on time only to usually find out IT's 10 minutes late. If we miss it, I drive them. Whatever.

7. And obviously I don't care about what others think if I can still show my face in public after my husband's recent karaoke and blizzard videos. Lol. . .He stopped caring about others judging him a long time ago and just lives his life the way he wants. He's happy! Used to be that kind of stuff would  embarrass the heck out of me. Now I just roll my eyes and laugh with him. But he couldn't talk me into being on camera with him, so maybe I still care a little. . .

I have the benefit of being one of the youngest of my group of friends and I learn so much from the wisdom of the strong, beautiful women around me. I'm sure I will continue to make mistakes. I will continue to learn and grow. I might read this a year from now and think. ..Oh, I was so naive. I was such a silly 40 year old. But for now, these philosophies have come about out of necessity and maturity. They are me. And I am happy and fulfilled.

For now.

Welcome to 40 and a half.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Oh Summer. . .I will miss you. . .

The days are becoming shorter, the sweatshirts are now always close at hand. Backpacks and new clothes lay waiting for their time to shine. Summer is drawing to a close.

Summer is like an endearing friend. A friend who comes to visit once a year and stays for a couple of months. We try to cram as much fun together as we can...but knowing the visit has to come to an end soon and responsibilities have to return always hangs over our heads. When looking back it seems like just yesterday we said goodbye to the teachers and homework, but then when I think about how much we did accomplish, I realize summer's visit was just perfect again. We did almost everything we had hoped and wished.

Summer is when I get my kids back. It's when I can return to planning their days, setting goals that I can help them to accomplish, returning balance to our lives. I can make sure that their social, physical, emotional and academic lives are on track. It is my glory time of motherhood.

In June, we all sat down and made a cute sign in rainbow colors that everyone contributed to. What do you want to do this summer? I think ice cream made the list a few times in a few different ways, but also there was reading, cookouts, sleepovers, camping, hiking, beach time, friends, family time, drive-in movies, vacation to Kansas, math facts (ok...that was me), s'mores, parades, fairs, Wicked Broadway show, Mom's 40th birthday party, board games. . .

And yes, we did it all. We managed to fit in all the required fun stuff, and even ran across some unexpected new experiences. . .hiking with Grampy and Grammy in Maine, learning to rainbow loom, Pop Warner cheerleading, learning to sew, trail rides in the mountains (oh and the unexpected 104 degree fever in the mountains was definitely a new experience!).

But also had our projects to do....those projects you look at in February or April and say, "I'll have time to tackle that this summer." Like organizing the photos from the year before, donating old clothes and toys and making way for new things, getting the work done to the house like a new roof and fresh paint.

And to keep the brains from turning to mush, they have their academic goals to accomplish, this year they both had school math packets to complete, but I wanted them to have reading goals and writing goals as well. If they complete their goals there is a prize at the end of the thing they would like to it a souvenir of the summer. For Melanie this year it is a Cape Cod Alex and Ani. For Kylie it is her Beth Walsh dance jacket she has been wanting for years. 

Then there are the physical goals. What are the things the kids are struggling with that I can now have time to help them accomplish? Anything from learning to ride a bike to mastering a cartwheel. We set a goal, provide an incentive and usually are able to see it theough by summer's end. This year I set a goal for myself and the girls...a mutual fitness goal of running a 5k. We got a late start on the 8 week program, so it won't be accomplished by summer's end, but we are chipping away and I am hoping we will be making a decent showing at the October 20 Forestdale 5k.  (Which is huge because the three of us do not share Tom's passion for running...AT ALL). 

But my favorite part of summer? The lazy days at the text to all the friends, pack the car, sit in our favorite spot while friends show up throughout the running back and forth...disappearing for a few hours...appearing again with golden skin, sand in every crevice, growling bellies...Days that are endless and turn into evenings with more plans being made...the kids not wanting it to end with begs for sleepovers and moms shrugging..."sure...we have nothing else going on...." Moms picking up pizza, subs, or just stopping for ice cream, then sharing a glass of wine as the kids, with their endless energy run around the yard and house. Those days are harder to recreate as the kids have gotten older and the moms have all increased their summer work hours, and even the kids have more practice, cheerleading, dance. But when those days do happen haphazardly they are perfect and to be cherished and embraced. 

Now its coming to an end. Who wants to give all that up and return to the daily grind of up and out the door early with lunches packed, with the thought of 3 hours of homework looming  on the other  end of the day? Not me. But I can be encouraged by the thought of the fun that the school year can  bring. The new friendships, the fall beach bonfires, football games, Halloween costumes and  parties...not to mention how much easier my work schedule will be with a consistent schedule for the  kids. 

Summer? It's hard to say goodbye to a best friend. I am already thinking of next year and what fun we will have and what we will accomplish together. Next time I see you the girls will be another year older and several inches taller. But I don't want to rush it. Time is a beautiful fast moving thing. So I will embrace fall and the wonders and new experiences it will bring. I will put you away as a cherished thought and comfort of knowing you'll be back. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Tribute to our Jayhawk

It all started with a ficus tree. . .

As a new couple, Tom and I followed the recommended pattern of future parenting. When we first lived together in an apartment in Lawrence, Kansas our first joint, living purchase (besides the ill-fated fish that we shall not mention) was a impulsive decision to buy a ficus tree. I barely remember the day we brought it home, but I do remember how quickly it died in the corner of our kitchen. Depressed and unsure what to do with it, we set it on the porch outside where the Kansas winter buried it in snow and ice. I recall looking out over its dead branches throughout the months, thinking when spring came we would just toss the whole thing in the dumpster.

But then a miraculous thing occurred when the weather warmed. Instead of dead, empty branches, a new sprout of green leaves had formed off of the main trunk. Something was still alive in there despite being starved and frozen for months on end. Happily I pruned away the dead branches and pulled it back inside. When the time came for us to move to Massachusetts less than a year later, I remember Tom saying we should give it away or toss it. I was incredulous! No way. This was the miracle tree and it was coming with us! We made room for it and it made the 1700 mile trek in the back of the U-Haul.

That ficus stands in the corner of our kitchen to this day. . .18 (!) years later. It has lived in 5 different homes with us and a symbol of our lives together. When it starts to drop leaves every few months I panic momentarily, but then remember it will survive. Just like we have.

After our success with the ficus, of course the next step was to get a puppy. We had been married almost two years. We had bought our first home on Cape Cod that spring and had been talking about getting a dog. We both wanted one very much, but Tom was going away for an extended period of time for work in the month of June. Logic told us we needed to wait until he returned so all the puppy duties wouldn't fall on me alone. But once we had made the decision to get a dog, it was really tough not to scour the classifieds for possible leads. And of course once we saw the listing for black lab puppies not far from us. . .how could we not just go take a look?

So there we were. At a breeder's house in the rain. Standing in the mud room (and in this case it was a MUD room) looking at an adorable litter of six-week old black lab puppies all cuddled around their mother. We were just coming to look right? Strange, we just happened to have $400 cash with us.

I remember how cute they all were. There were puppies of all different sizes. They loved their mom and were trying to snuggle in as close as they could to her. They paid no attention to us.

Except for one.

One puppy was climbing over his brothers and sisters. Stepping on their bellies and heads to get to US. Wanted US. Forget all those other dogs and that mother dog. This one. . .the biggest of the litter with the biggest, roundest tummy wanted to check us out. He was clamoring to get closer, tripping and falling in his little puppy feet. Tom snatched him up while I went for a little, cute snuggly puppy that was barely awake. We snuggled and petted them for a few moments. I put one down, picked up another. Tom stuck with the big guy.

"I like this one." He said.

"Hmm." I considered the dog in his arms that was wiggling and squirming, just trying to get more attention from me and the person holding him. I remember thinking he was full of energy and hyper.

"What about a calm, sweet one?" I asked looking at all the quiet puppies at our feet.

"No. This one." Tom said, unwavering, trying to manage the grunting little ball of fluff.

It was true. The dog in his arms had the most personality and the most interest in us. After a few more minutes I was sold. We handed over the cash and listened to the instructions from the breeder on how to administer the deworming pills and other facts about the dog and his lineage. Then we were on our way. Proud parents of a cute black lab puppy.

I remember it took us awhile to come up with the perfect name. Should it be a tribute to photography? Nikon, Kodak? How about something reminiscent of our time in the midwest? We loved touring the Rocky Mountains together, hiking in the warmer months, skiing in winter. Rocky?

Cute but not quite right.

Something we both love and miss?

Our beloved Kansas Jayhawks. In Kansas, a dog named Jayhawk would be generic, confusing. Jayhawks everywhere. But here. . .it would pay honor to my home, the place we met, the place we fell in love and a way to remember our glory days at Allen Fieldhouse.

Jayhawk it is.

Who knew we would have to explain his name over and over throughout the years. "You named your dog after a helicopter? Is your husband in the Coast Guard?"

But it became a good story and we helped spread the word and educate these salty New Englanders about a tradition of college basketball. Now when our friends see a Jayhawk on TV or hear about the Jayhawks in the NCAA championship, they tune in and pay attention, thinking of us and our pup.

But back to the day our puppy arrived home. He was a sleepy guy. The energy and playfulness he exhibited at the breeder's seemed to be gone and he was almost lethargic throughout the afternoon and evening. When he did wake up momentarily it was to wretch and gag, revealing disgusting, white little squirmy worms all over our kitchen floor.

Uh-oh. Did we get a sick dog? We looked at each other sadly. The big tummy made sense now. We piled the dog back in the car and headed to the breeder's. Told him our concerns. He reassured us. "All puppies have worms. He's fine. He's healthy." Somehow he convinced us and we took him home again, making a bed for him in our downstairs bathroom, lining it with newspaper. As soon as we could we took him to the vet who put him on a new worm medication. That seemed to help and before we knew it the fat tummy was dwindling away and our dog started to grow!

Tom went away for his trip and I was extremely LUCKY to have co-workers at the rehab facility I worked out who were huge dog lovers. My boss had a lab of her own and she insisted that I bring Jayhawk, crate and all, to work each day while Tom was away. The patients would love him and I could continue the 2 hour crate training even while working. This was great! So for 2 weeks, Jayhawk came with me to work everyday. I would take him out for a walk every couple of hours and the patients got to love and frolic with a very rambunctious and playful little guy.

My parents came to visit their little grand-dog and during this time Jayhawk had his first experience with the beach. I remember my dad being nervous about letting him off the leash, afraid the current would carry him away. But Jayhawk loved it! Loved the sand, the water the birds, the wind. He was in puppy ecstasy. More, more, more became his mantra. He was relentless in his energy. Unstoppable! He also loved the people we would encounter. He would sail past other dogs and go right for the owners. Pet me, pet me, pet me. More, more, more. Love me. Aren't I cute? More, more, more. 

Sometimes Jayhawk's exuberance would bring me to my knees. He would not let up when he wanted something. He was a 15 pound bundle of energy. He wouldn't stop trying to bite my hands. Tears came to my eyes once in the backseat of the car and my dad had to shout from the front like he was an unruly child. The yell stopped Jayhawk momentarily but then he was back to his campaign to eat my hands. I felt like a child myself, wondering if I was in over my head.

Then Tom returned from his trip. I filled him in on all our adventures and it only took a few minutes of watching our out of control dog to realize that we were going to need some outside help. Call in Joe the Dogman.

Joe loved Jayhawk for his energy, but also seemed to laugh at us for our inept handling of him. We started puppy school and Joe continuously had me pinning Jayhawk down to show him who was Alpha Dog. Sure that calmed him for the moment, but then back up on the leash and I was a goner. We started with the simple chain collar, but soon Joe realized we were going to need to call in the big guns and graduated me to using the pinch collar. "Don't worry. It won't hurt him." He assured us. "Just a quick jerk and he will learn to stop pulling." This seemed to work. Sort of.

Nothing was going to keep Jayhawk in check, we soon learned. He was all puppy. He was all energy, rambunctious, unyielding. Full of life and love. We put him in classes with other dogs and he would embarrass us with his pulling and want for all the other people in the class (Dogs? What dogs? Let me at the PEOPLE!!). No amount of petting and love was ever enough. More, more, more. He seemed to say over and over.

We continued going to Joe until we finally accepted that Jayhawk's personality was just as it was always going to be. "Don't worry the puppy stage only lasts a couple of years," Joe said, laughing. Um, Joe? Did you mean a couple of years or 14 years? Cause we're still waiting!

If you meet Joe on the street today and bring up Jayhawk, I guarantee he will remember him!

We soon found more loves for Jayhawk. "Fetch" tops the list. Of course. . .he's a retriever! He fully lives up to this name and would run 10, 100, 1000 times back and forth across the yard to get the tennis ball. This carried over into swimming as well. Toss the stick and he would swim miles if he had to, to get it and bring it back to us. Never tiring. More, more, more!  Hiking, running, walks on the canal. . .loved them all. The more opportunities off the leash the better. He loved to be free. He would run ahead, but always come back for us. Are you still there? Come on. Let's go. More, more, more!! He would catch sight of a stranger near us and his tail would start going a million miles and hour and he would run to them. "Don't worry, he's friendly." We'd always shout. He'd dart past their dog and head straight for their hands. Pet me, pet me, pet me. Oh yeah. More, more, more! 

After a couple of years, we realized we had somewhat successfully parented this crazy dog. Were we ready for the real thing? You guessed it. . . Melanie came along. Tom did what the nurses at the hospital told them to do. Take something of the baby's home so the dog can get used to the smell. He took one of the little hospital caps. Um, let's just say it was destroyed in about 30 seconds. We were sure that wasn't going to carry over to the actual baby, right? He sniffed her and was curious when she came home, but then full attention returned to us. I think this marked a time that he started to calm down a little. . .Melanie was never in danger around him. She was never knocked over by his exuberance and he pretty much steered clear until she was old enough to pay attention to him. Then she became another source of food. His favorite spot was under her high chair. Sniff, sniff, sniff. She would drop a stray Cheerio and he would scramble, knocking everything out of his way to get to that one tiny morsel.  After she was out of her highchair he would stick his nose in the seat and lick and clean and push the chair against the wall, getting every last crumb.

We have never had to worry about crumbs on the floor with Jayhawk around. Hair yes, crumbs no.

Their bond was really formed when Melanie was old enough to throw a ball. We taught her how to use the Chuck It, to keep her fingers from being accidentally nipped and slime free. Over and over and over again she would throw it. I would have to call from the back door to remind her to let him rest and get a drink of water. He seemed to be thankful for a break and would pant heavily in the shade, but only momentarily. . .then they were back at it. Joy and love as the ball would sail through the air, over and over again.

Kylie"s birth was another barely noticed blip for Jayhawk. He took it in stride, not minding the division of attention, seeming to know that someday this new person was going to be another source of food and entertainment for him. Now I would be in the backyard with them. Pushing Kylie in the baby swing, Melanie playing with him, back and forth in the yard.

Then one day we heard the unmistakable chime of an ice cream truck getting closer. An ice cream truck in our neighborhood?? Never had this happened before! We ran inside, grabbed a few dollars and out the front door. To our horror. . .there was Jayhawk, doing everything he could to get into the truck. Man with ice cream coming to our house? My dream come true! How could life get any better!! Let me in!! Melanie remembers him being successful, actually getting into the truck with the guy. I must have blocked it out because my memory says I got him before that happened. Whichever it was, we never heard those ice cream bells on our street again after that day. Oh, and the ice cream we bought? I think Melanie had maybe one or two bites before it somehow found its way into Jayhawk's eager jaws.

As happy go lucky as our big guys was, we learned that he also had issues with anxiety. Put him in a kennel for a few days and he became a barking, quivering, sleepless mess with severe intestinal distress. After a few very large vet bills and a hoarse, exhausted dog upon our return, we decided home pet sitting was the only way to go for him. Also, long car rides got his anxiety through the roof. Sure we could take him on a 3 day car trip to Florida. We'll just give him a bit of prescribed medication to relax him and leave late at night. He and the kids will sleep the first 8 hours of the trip, right?

Uh-huh sure. Five hours of non-stop barking later, he finally laid down in New Jersey. Kids cranky, mom and dad with excruciating headaches. . .

On the way back from Florida we scrapped the prescription meds and doubled up on the Benadryl and spray bottles. Worked much better!!

At age 6 Jayhawk was diagnosed with a mast cell tumor. Cancer! We had it removed and worried. He's too young! Not fair! Then more lumps started to appear all over him. At first the vet wanted to remove each one, but these weren't cancer! Yay!! We switched vets and stopped removing the bumps and learned to live with a lumpy, but healthy dog.

In recent years, his eyesight has diminished, his hearing isn't as sharp, his back legs give out now and then. He can't jump into the car or up on the bed. He doesn't catch the treat every time I toss it to him. He can't find his ball in the woods after we toss it. He stops at the bottom of stairs and barks for someone to come walk him up (I feel like he's one of my patients. . .needing "contact guard assist" to go up and down the stairs!) At times I have thought he wasn't going to have much time left. . .his bladder giving out suddenly a few times in one week, but then it just stopped happening. A strange new lump that grew out of a paw, but then it just went away. Vomiting his dinner two or three nights in a row and weight that seemed to be melting off of him, but then his dinner started staying down and his weight going back up again.

The vet calls him the "miracle dog." She said at his 13 year visit that she thought we should prepare ourselves for the fact that he's aging and probably wouldn't see 14. At his 14 year visit she said he looked better than he did at 13!

Brandi joined our family last summer. . .my mother-in-law's Scottie Dog. She is a funny little thing. They get along well and certainly get each other going. Brandi has learned to be more playful and Jayhawk has learned from Brandi when it's 5:00 (dinner time!!). She rushes through her dinner and dashes back to help Jayhawk with his.  He just moves over and lets her climb up and eat out of his bowl. We have to watch every second of meal time to make sure everyone stays in their corners!

I asked the family today, individually, what their favorite memories with Jayhawk are. Tom said right away that he always loved taking Jayhawk for runs in the woods. Kylie's answer quick too. "Throwing the ball to him in the yard." I have many that come to mind. I love seeing Jayhawk at his most joyful - at the beach - in the water - running circles around his family, then settling down panting and peaceful. But I also like those times when I know he'll always be by my side. I make the girls' lunches and cut up the cucumbers for them each day and he never misses it, knowing I will toss him the ends.

But Melanie wouldn't give me an answer. The girl who has known him every second of her 13 years. The girl whose room is a "Black Dog" theme. The girl whose main birthday gift last year was a portrait of her dog that her dad took. The girl who lays on the living room floor, using Jayhawk as a pillow. The girl who has assisted the vet with every shot given, every toenail clipped, every aspiration of lumps done. The girl who panics every minute Jayhawk is outside and she has lost sight of him. The girl who has thrown countless number of sticks and balls to him over the years. . .hours and hours of endless, joyful play. Instead of answering me, she asked, "Why are you asking? You're scaring me. What's wrong with Jayhawk? Why are you writing about him?"

She knows. She understands. But denial is strong. Jayhawk had a tumor removed last month and she was there for it. I explained with the biopsy came back positive for aggressive melanoma what that meant. I told her that we are going to give him a pill that should help delay it from coming back quickly, but it is aggressive and he is almost 15 years old. Treat each day as a special one with him. Remember all his good times. Love him every minute he has with us. Learn from his endless energy and true joy that lives in his heart, his never quiet tail, his large all-knowing eyes. Know how deeply he loves us and we him. And know that despite the fact that everyone who has ever met him thinks he's a bit crazy, we are so happy that we chose him to spend his years with us and to be an integral part of our family.

But she's not ready to answer. Her answer is too complex. Too deep and too personal. When she's ready I expect she'll share some of her more special memories. Or maybe she just can't because every moment has been special. And she just wants, more, more, more. . . 

A dog is like an eternal Peter Pan, a child who never grows old and who therefore is always available to love and be loved.   -- Aaron Katcher 

Friday, May 11, 2012

A letter

Dear C -

I hate you.

I can honestly say that. I don't think I can voice the same strong opinion about anyone/anything else in my life, but you I can easily and wholeheartedly say I hate you without guilt or remorse. I was raised to not hate anyone. . .to give everyone the benefit of the doubt and keep an open mind. But no, can't do that for you. You, I hate with a passion.


You have always been in the background throughout my life. My grandfather knew you and you made my mom cry when he passed away. My best friend met you and had to deal with you during some of the best years of her life and you have changed her in ways that can never be remedied.

Along the way you have taken my father-in-law's voice and his ability to swallow food. You have made his life so difficult and everyday he has to think of you and be reminded that you could come back at any point. Changing forever a man who has devoted so much of his life dedicated to building a garden that could feed so many hungry residents of his state - growing food that he himself cannot even enjoy.

Then the unthinkable. You came into my father's life and made his worst fears come true. My dad who was a giver of all things. . .a Sunday School teacher, a volunteer at the prison - making a difference in so many people's lives, a community leader, a volunteer after Hurricane Katrina, helping rebuild houses. Despite all that you snuck in and took him away from us, from all those people that he had helped and all those people he had yet to influence. Gone.

The hatred for you at that point was almost beyond bearable.

 A year later you found your way to another family member. You snuck in while no one was watching. While we were mourning the sudden loss of my step father-in-law (from undoubtably an evil friend of yours), you laid claim to his wife, my dear mother-in-law. A nurse, a caregiver, a woman loved so incredibly deeply by everyone who has ever known her. Hiding deep, waiting for the moment that your presence in our lives would once more be confirmed. Our grief had to be put on hold while we addressed you again. Now everyday is a fight against you. A war for life. Good news will be celebrated (The numbers are down!! Yay! Things are looking up!!) to be deflated only days later with your new path of destruction.

And another family member is under attack. A sweet, young cousin who just got married last year. Just starting out on her life's journey. Now in the battle to be able to see her twin baby nephews grow another day. The roller coaster isn't forgiving. The doctors say they are amazed at how great of a fighter she is and how well she is doing, only a few days later to find herself in the hospital at your mercy again.

Can we just get a minute of peace from you?

No. Then you hop in to visit my brother. He deals with you swiftly and effectively, but not before you have created havoc in his family life in ways that can never be repaired. Yes, I will blame you for this too.

Now how can we live without being in constant fear that you will rear your ugly head somewhere else? Every ache, pain and weird sensation by any family member and automatically our thoughts fly to you. We wonder why we can't just walk into a body scanner and be checked to be free of fear from your hidden attack. The airports scan for bombs and sharp objects on terrorists better than we can check our own bodies for the ultimate death threat. You kill 600,000 Americans every year whereas terrorists killed about 15 in 2011. Why aren't we fighting for better diagnostics and treatment for the war against YOU? (I am fully in favor of every step taken to fight terrorism, but wish we would be as aggressive in keeping you at bay as well!)

Our family's fight with you is not over. But be assured C. You will NOT win. Our family will prevail over you. We will continue to do good works and be good people and live each day of our lives in pure happiness and joy. We will save every negative feeling and energy and give it all to you to eradicate you from our lives, leaving only love, happiness and blessings from here on out. You will not rule over us and keep us from living each day to its fullest, capturing every moment of joy and bottling it up to hold onto during those moments when you try to take over. We will not be your victims.

You try to take life. But we are taking it back.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dotting all my I's!

It's no wonder I can't get any writing done. Besides the job, kids, activities and sleep time, the rest of my time seems to be filled up with something that is supposed to make our lives easier. . .

iPods, iPhones, iPads, iTunes and one Galaxy Tab thrown in.

The girls have our old iPhones without phone service to use as iTouches. These are like the first generation iPhones and are starting to act their age. They move slowly, they crash and they don't work right most of the time. Therefore, they get handed to me quite often to fix/trouble shoot/update. Last week I spent hours trying to get some new songs on Kylie's iPod and today it was all about retrieving their lost text numbers (apparently if you don't text for awhile your text number gets tossed and you have to start from scratch). Once I got Melanie rolling and texted all her friends with the new digits, she tells me her Instagram isn't working either. An hour later I have it working and have added a whole bunch of followers. . .oops, forgot for a minute I was on hers, not mine (I have to fill her in on all the photos I just liked for her).

So why is it that most 12 year olds know more about their devices and computers than their parents do, but it is reverse for me? Melanie could really care less how many Instagram followers she has (while her friends are striving to reach goals of 100, 200, 300!) She rarely texts (as evidenced by the lost number) and she has to be reminded to check email (I actually gave up on that a long time ago). Never has she asked to have Facebook and when I download books onto the iPad for her, she refuses to read them. (In fact she snuck home Catching Fire from her classroom even though it's paid for and loaded for her on the iPad). She only has a few photos on Instagram and one of them is, "Life was much easier when Apple and Blackberry were just fruits." Ha. . .guess she's trying to tell us something.

My routine when I am on the verge of boredom is to pick up my phone and check and write some email, make a few comments and updates on Facebook, like some photos on Instagram, pin on Pinterest, furrow my brow on Words with Friends (that in itself could take an hour!), draw some crude pictures on Draw Something, read USA Today, check the hourly forecast, text a few peeps, then viola. . .enough time has passed to start over with email! Plus I have my work device (the Galaxy Tab) that is good for a few emails per day that I will read as I walk past.

Having the phone does have several pluses to it.
1. It's good for those 15 minutes here and there that need to be filled. . .while waiting at the orthodontist/doctor/dance/water to boil/movie previews/homework/before my next patient, etc. . .
2. It makes me smarter. Ask me anything! Anything!! I can have an answer in seconds! (Why do my eyes water when I pee? How many people died in the Boston Molasses disaster? What are the words to "There Was a Bear?" Where is Dubai?)
3. It's great to catch me up in a movie when I doze off or get distracted (usually a text!). I often find myself missing some the plot, then in just a few seconds on Wikipedia or IMB, I have caught myself up with the plot synopsis of any movie without having to rewind. Amazing. Just have to be careful not to read too much of the plot synopsis, because sometimes I decide I don't like what's going to happen so I tune out completely!

But what are the phone downfalls? My attention span and deep thinking have declined. I don't focus as deeply on any one thing, yes being busy is part of that too, but instead of waking up with a story on my mind or a book within reach, I wake up and within seconds have the phone in my hand and am on to the first emails of the day.

What did I do with all the extra time in pre-iPhone days? Let's see. . .that was about 4 years ago. . .I think I was writing!

My daughter is on to something. I read less books and therefore I think less. My mind is constantly occupied by social media and apps. Therefore, I am making this pledge. I will vow to somehow, in someway distance myself from the phone/iPad. It will be tough. But it's my first goal and first step in trying to get the creative juices flowing again. . .

Wish me luck!

I'll get started right after I check my email/facebook/instagram/pinterest/words. . .

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Moment of Inspiration

Last post Feb, 2010? That can't be right! Wow. I knew I had been busy. . .

All the excuses for not blogging/writing/marketing are there. Working a lot (ever want job security? Be an OT. . .more work than you ever want or need). Kids in too many activities and homework that takes too long. Husband who is busier than ever as well. . .leaves little time to let the mind wander and explore ideas to write about. Oh they are there, but are so fleeting that by the time I've grabbed ahold of them, it's time to move on to the next project.

And not to mention anything that seems worthy of writing about is difficult. The family has been through a lot over the past few years and touching on any of the subjects of death or illness or problems are not something I am inspired to document. . .yet.

So, happy thoughts only!

What has inspired me today? I just finished reading a great book by a first time author, Tracey Garvis-Graves. I had been browsing through the Kindle website, looking for a good read. I sampled a few here and there and then hit the Kindle top 100 paid. Usually I look for something to spark an interest and I don't know what about this book jumped out at me, but once I read the synopsis, I was hooked. Maybe because it had a familiar ring to it. . .and as an author I could relate to her line of thinking. Or maybe it was the affordable price of $2.99 or the fact that she had almost 500 reviews or maybe because she was self-published and made it to the Kindle top 100. (In the top 20 or so!). That is quite an accomplishment for a self-published author and for me a must read! The title is On The Island and once I started reading it on Wednesday I couldn't put it down.

The world of publishing is changing at a rapid pace. Two years ago, you mention self-published to some people they would give you a cursory smile, say, "oh, that's nice, congratulations," and then move on, never even considering the book worthy of reading. But now, as authors like Tracey Garvis-Graves have proven, self-published is the way of the future. Who needs an agent or a publishing house anymore? If you have the time and are computer savvy, all you need is YOU! Just write the book, edit it (professional editing helps), upload it and then VOILA. You have a published book. But how do you go from that to what Ms. Garvis-Graves has accomplished?


And if it is a good book, then people should read it, but they won't read it if they don't know about it.

Here's where the hard part comes in. Marketing.


I would much rather write than market, but I know if I'm ever going to get my books in the hands of a greater number of people I need to get better at it. That means blogging, reading blogs, facebook updates, blogging, blogging, blogging, oh and begging for reviews. Once someone has read a book, it needs a star rating and review in order for it to gain more readership. And it needs a word of mouth following.

Here's where you come in. If you are reading this, then you are probably at least interested in my books. Maybe you've read them already and are waiting for more, or maybe you are interested in reading them someday. If any are the case, then do me a favor. Share the page with your friends and family and ask them to do the same. Oh, and write a review! Please! (that's me begging).

Visit the websites to the side. . .I've made it soo easy. Just click on a book, you'll go straight to the page to purchase it.

Oh, and do me another favor. Read On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves. You'll like it.

And then write a review!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Year Has Passed

I'll never forget that last conversation I had with my Dad. It was on a Thursday at Disney World. . .Magic Kingdom. Supposedly the Happiest Place on Earth.

Mom had called and said Dad wasn't doing very well. It was only a matter of time, really. Even the most optimistic mind (which I had clung to) and the denial (which was also a familiar friend) couldn't battle the fact that we were losing him - and sooner than expected. We were in line for the Winnie the Pooh ride and after I disconnected from the call, I fought tears. Tom told me I needed to call right back and talk to him. Mom had said he was awake for the moment which was getting rarer and rarer.

"Not now." I said through the tears. "It's too loud here."

"Now. You need to do it now. You may not have another chance."

I didn't want my last conversation with my dad to take place at all. I didn't want to admit that it was going to be the last time to me or him. I was the one who was holding onto hope. But for the last conversation to take place at Disney World didn't seem right to me. He would hear all the happiness in the background and for that I felt guilty. We should be there with him, not off enjoying ourselves.

I don't remember if I actually went on that ride or not, but I do know that soon after I was sitting alone on a bench just opposite the Dumbo ride where it seemed to be quietest, making that phone call with shaking hands.

"Mom, is he still awake?"


"Can I talk to him?"

She handed the phone over and the conversation was typical for us. He talked about such normal things it was hard to believe that he was in his final hours/days/weeks. He was watching something on TV. Something to do with snowboarders and remarking how it was amazing to see such ability in people when he was stuck in a hospital bed. I had to laugh at him because I reminded him that in a bed or not, I don't think he would have been joining them on the mountain. An extreme athlete he was not.

He asked me about Disney. Was it busy? What rides had we done? What were our plans for the rest of the day? His voice was hoarse and weak, but even with the music, merriment and screams of laughter around me I could make out every word. Then he said in a broken voice, "I wish I was there with you."
Images of being a 5 year old girl in a Mickey Mouse shirt and painted face on my dad's shoulders flashed before me. "I do too." I whispered. Then I broke down in a burst of sobs. He was quiet on his end. "Love you Dad." I said and the phone was handed back to my mom. She said he was tired and needed rest.

And yes, that was the last time I talked to him. The next two days he was barely awake at all. Tom and I spent hours on the computer analyzing flights, wondering if we could get there in time, planning different senarios. But on Sunday the doctor said his feet were cold and that he might not survive the day.

It was during the Daytona 500. We were back in Cocoa Beach at Tom's parents house. They were hosting a Daytona party. We were surrounded by family and friends, but the mood was somber. Everyone knew the situation back in Kansas and was sensitive to my feelings. I was restless, pacing, distant. . .

Then when I sat down on the couch, someone handed me a piece of Red Velvet cake. I had never tasted this type of cake before and tried to force myself to take a bite. Halfway to my mouth my phone buzzed in my pocket and I shoved the cake at Tom. He had looked at me quizzically and all I could say was, "my phone."

I hopped up and stepped outside on the screened porch that overloooked the beautiful Banana River, the only place in the house that got good cell reception and was quiet.

I knew right away before I even answered what my mom was going to say. I don't remember her exact words, but the message was clear. He was gone.

Tom was there, taking me in his arms with all the guests looking on from the inside of the house. He asked if I wanted to get out of there and I nodded. We walked to the beach, but once we got there I didn't feel like walking. We just stood, watching the waves crash onto the shore and letting the windy day rip through our hair.

Back at the house I was surrouned by all the love from our friends and family. They were so incredibly supportive and caring. I broke the news to the girls and comforted them in their tears and sadness. Tom and I retreated to our room to begin to make those flight arrangements, make calls and get things in order.

Somehow we got to Kansas and over the next week I did the hardest thing ever. I said goodbye to my dad. I listened as one by one, guests at the visitation told me how he had touched their lives. Then again the day of the funeral speeches were made by people I had never met - people who said my father was their greatest inspiration. He was such a good, kind and giving person - the question of the day from everyone was, "Why him?" I'm not sure we came up with a good answer other than God needed him to do his good works in Heaven. And He needed someone else to step up and take my father's place. He was so important in the lives of so many from the prisoners he was a mentor to, to the church goers who were lost and needed to find answers, from the dozens of people who benefitted from his good works through Kiwanis (and enjoyed his very famous pancakes) to the people who found their faith through his work with the Gideons. All the people in Mississippi who benefitted from his help with rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina. And all his close friends and family who would miss his insight and knowledge of just about every subject under the sun. . .politics, astronomy, religion, insurance, finances, science, gardening, math. . .the list is endless.

A year has gone by. . .it has been a year of reflection and sadness, of getting used to a new kind of normal and adjusting to not being able to call him up to answer my most difficult and profound questions. It has been a year of trying to find the answer to "why?" and trying to understand how I could carry on his legacy. My answers aren't clear or resolute. But I am going to start by just being what he wanted me to be - a good person with a good heart and a good conscience. Someone who knows right from wrong and will step up when called upon to help others in need. Someone who will raise their children with good social and moral conscience and will be educated and curious about the world around them. It's a big, daunting task and I'm taking it one day at a time.
Tomorrow we head back to Florida for our annual trip. This time mom is joining us in the Sunshine State. It will be a time of renewal and rejuvination for all of us. And while we won't be at the Magic Kingdom this time around, we are making plans to go to Epcot - a place of education and curiousity - a place Mom has always wanted to visit. And our tickets to Epcot? They were free because we gave a day of community service to earn them - in Dad's honor.

Miss you Dad and Love you. . .


Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Help

When my friend Amy passed along this book to me I knew I was in for a treat. Her mother had already raved to me about it and how she took it everywhere she went until she finished it, raking in every word. Then Amy read it and did nothing else until she too had absorbed each and every page in a record amount of time. So I put aside the 3 library books I had checked out and the 2 books I had bought at the used book sale and dove right in.

I knew it was about the 60s and about civil rights. But what I didn't realize is how much more there was to it. This book is about social status. About hierarchy. About women. About relationships and about friendship. It's about how hard we are/were on each other to maintain what is right and proper. About how we strive to be part of the "in crowd" or the "clique." And it is about why that is all so unimportant.

This comes after reading the book Odd Girl Out - The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. A book that was recommended to me as being required reading for all mothers of girls who are about to enter tween-hood. It was a book that made me wonder why girls and women have to treat each other so poorly.

From an early age our daughters are taught about what is cool and not cool. They love Hannah Montana when they are 5 and that makes them "cool." But if they still like Hannah by the age or 7 or 8, they are laughed at, made fun of and teased. But you go to a Hannah Montana movie or concert and it's filled with pre-teens who do still love the music and story, but who would never admit that to the "cool" kids.

They all think they have to have Uggs, North Face and Abercrombie to fit in. Their parents are holding them back if they don't. The girls who don't know anything about these fashions are the ones who are whispered about or excluded.

It may be subtle. "You can't sit there." Or, "No, I don't want you in my group." Simple statements that are hurtful and set the tone of who exactly is in charge. Eye rolling, whispering, dirty looks, turning a back - they are all subtle signs of quiet bullying that occur everyday in our schools. They are statements like, "If you don't give me your eraser then I will tell three boys that you like them." Or how about this conversation:

P: Throw that away for me.
Q: No. Throw it away yourself.
P: Ugh. If you don't throw it away I won't invite you to my birthday party.
Q: Fine.

All real conversations and occurences that have happened just this past week in my daughter's 4th grade class among different girls, witnessed by my daughter. Or how about the girl in another class who is handing out treats at lunch and purposely skips over one girl who says, "Can I have one?" The answer was a sharp "no" as the girl walked on. The witness to this situation knows that girl is always excluded, but has no idea why.

And it continues through the teenage years. We all remember the fear of missing out on a party or gathering that everyone knows about but you. We all know what it feels like to have girls whispering something, but then stop talking when you enter a room. We all have been there. Even the cool kids. In fact the popular kids are the ones who worry the most. Because their fear is that they will walk into school someday and there will be someone else there who has taken their place at the top. The two worst, most stressful positions in the school? Those who are at the top and those who strive to get there.

So why do we as women treat each other this way? With all the women's rights movements we have had in this country and we look back at history and see how far women have come, it would seem like we would stick together. It would seem like we would have a central bond with one another. We are women. We understand one another. We are the best companions we will ever have in our lifetime. And we need to be teaching our daughters. It doesn't matter if we have the cool clothes, or the cool house or if our parents let us stay up till 10:00 and watch rated PG-13 movies. It doesn't matter if we have a cell phone, email address, facebook or an iTouch. What we need to be teaching our children is that what matters is what is inside - it's what is going to be with us forever. Our gadgets will stop working, our bedtime can get taken away, but what is with us forever is who we are and how we treat one another. It will be the basis for our futures and our lives.

Do your children know who they are? Do they know kindness and respect? If they do and they are true to themselves, they will be fine. They will grow up to be strong and independent. They won't have any reason to worry about whether or not they have all the right "stuff" to fit in because they will have a deeper understanding of what is important in life. And they will have friendships with other women that nothing will compare to because the women who have a deep understanding of themselves will attract and befriend other like-minded women. And those bonds can never be broken.

Some important messages from The Help:

"Wasn't that the point of the book? For women to realize, We are just two people? Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I thought."

And this (possible spoiler alert if you haven't read it):

"Baby Girl," I say. "I need you to remember everthing I told you. Do you remember what I told you?"
She still crying steady, but the hiccps is gone. "To wipe my bottom good when I'm done?"
"No baby, the other. About what you are."
I look deep into her rich brown eyes and she look into mind. Law, she got old-soul eyes, like she done lived a thousand years. And I swear I see down inside, the woman she gone grow up to be. A flash from the future. She is tall and straight. She is proud. She got a better haircut. And she is remembering the words I put in her head. Remembering as a full-grown woman.
And then she say it, just like I need her to. "You is kind," she say, "you is smart. You is important."

Do your girls know they are kind, smart and important?

I'm going to stop blogging now and go tell mine. Then I'm going to tell them again tomorrow and the next day and the next. . .


Friday, December 25, 2009

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Our Christmas Letter

Every year we write a family Christmas newletter to send to family and friends with our Christmas cards. With the advent of facebook and blogs we really don't find a reason to send out letters to everyone. Really, how much information about what we're up to do you all really care about??? BUT, I do have a collection of these letters in my girls' baby books and in our family Christmas album. It's a way we can look back on where we've been and how far we've come. I imagine my girls grown up, sitting with their children and reflecting on their childhoods by reading the yearly summaries. Also, there are actually friends and family members NOT on facebook or really on-line for that matter. They always enjoy hearing what's happened to us throughout the year.

So, I continue to write the letter. This year it's a downscaled version. I wrote it in plain old letter format instead of the usual newsletter stories with photos. And I'll put it here on my blog for those of you who don't get the letter in the mail or maybe have missed a few things along the way and would like to know what we've been up to this year. :-)

Dear Friends and Family –

Hope this finds you all well this holiday season. 2009 went by so fast it’s hard to believe it’s already December.

This year was a sad one for us. I lost my dad in February to cancer. We had been in Florida, visiting Tom’s mother when we got the news and left from there to go to Kansas for the services. The line for visitation was out the door – some waited over an hour to shake our hands and give us their condolences. I met so many people whom Dad had touched one way or the other; either through teaching, insurance sales, church, Kiwanis, Gideon’s or prisoner ministry. The services the next day were another amazing tribute to him with guest after guest standing to speak about how Dad had inspired them.

Tom has been busy, constantly analyzing, re-configuring and experimenting to stay on top of this rough economy. He has stayed busy and continues to book future business and everyday I am thankful for what a great sense for business he has. The amazing photography doesn't hurt either! He is considering training for another marathon if he can stay injury free this winter. Keep your fingers crossed!

Melanie is thriving in 4th grade. She still loves school and loves her social life. She is involved in jazz dance, piano, Junior Girl Scouts and now is starting to play the flute at school (My mom’s old flute from her HS days!). She will be playing the role of Mary in the church pageant.

Kylie is a full day first grader now and has transitioned very well. She has made many new friends and is now 7! She has taken up ice skating this year and was a baby angel in the ice Christmas show. She also continues to take dance and is in Daisy Girl Scouts. There are so many more things she wants to try and do, but there are only 7 days in a week!

I am working more now that Kylie is in school all day. I try to get in 4 days of work a week if the facility is busy enough. I am still per diem so I have the flexibility to continue to have the same schedule as the girls. I am leading both the Daisy Girl Scouts and the Junior troop along with a friend of mine. The rest of the time I play mommy chauffeur. I still love to read, but have not written much this year. (Although, I do have some new books listed on that I have written in the past. Check them out if you’re interested. Just do a search for Kelli Mustard-Davis. Become a fan on facebook and spread the word!)

Any family updates and photos you would like to see can be found on facebook as well as on my blog. . . I have to say I love facebook and the fact that I have found so many of my friends from Kansas as well as how easy it is to stay in touch with relatives who live far away. Tom has booked a ton of business just from facebook as well.

We had a very nice Thanksgiving this year. Tom’s cousin, Robin from Australia and her husband Ian visited the states for a surprise for Ian’s 50th birthday. They started out in California and made their way East, eventually to Cape Cod for Thanksgiving where Tom’s dad and Donna were able to join us.

Merry Christmas to everyone! Miss you all!

Love, Kelli, Tom, Melanie and Kylie Davis

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Note For My Readers

I'm guilty of it whenever I read a book. I always imagine the author in the role of the main character, even if I have never met them. Stephanie Meyer is Bella, Margaret Mitchell is Scarlett (and a little bit of Melanie), Henry Winkler IS Hank Zipzer. I try not to, but can't help it. What they are writing is a window into their secret thoughts. Some of it is real, some of it is completely fabricated creation. I can imagine for those who read my books and KNOW me to find it difficult to separate fact from fiction as well.

I have written 9 books, 7 of which are on Lulu open for public viewing right now. Each book has a little part of me in it. Maybe there is one scene that mirrors something that happened in my life. Maybe it's dialogue between a mom and daughter that is similar to dialogue I have had or witnessed. But the characters are not me and all the occurrences in the book are strictly fiction.

Try to keep this in mind when reading anything I've written. One of my more recent books may be more difficult for you to do (When it Rains. . .) because the main character is an occupational therapist and she has two daughters. The thinking behind this. . . .I had just written In the Weeds which took a lot out of me. I was ready for something fun, easy and smooth.

Why an OT?

1. I had written about being an Olympic swimmer, a movie star, an investigative reporter, a minister, a mom, and teenagers. I was ready to include a profession that I actually knew a lot about and wouldn't have to research.

2. You never see stories about OTs in main stream literature. We get a little excited when we see what we do in print.

3. Most people I know have no idea what an OT does. Read the book and you'll understand. I am being faithful to my profession by writing about it.

And why two daughters?

1. Again I was looking for a quick, easy, fun book to write. With two energetic girls running around me as I write, how can I not include some of the crazy things they say and do?

2. A successful author once gave me advice. Write down everything your kids do when they are little. They will make great characters in a book someday and you will never remember the dialogue that made it perfect if you don't write it down.

3. My girls are not Izzy and Katie - their personalities/ages/interests are different than my kids, and there really isn't anything specific in the book that actually happened. But really, it's more of just a feeling of the kids. If I wrote about boys it just wouldn't feel as "real" to me.

Outside of the character being an OT, living in a fictional seaside community (in CT) and having 2 daughters, there are no other similarities to my life. Tom does NOT appear in this book at all (or really any for that matter). I make sure to keep him out - his privacy is important to me and him. Things said between us never appear in my books. It is all completely fiction. I have never met a sexy drummer in a band, a balding, debonair attorney or had an attractive co-worker/boss in my life. In fact 98% of the people I work with are women. And the other 2%? Well, they are not Rick. Fiction, fiction fiction. . .

So do me a favor. If you know me well, please as you would do with any book you read, lose yourself in the characters. Take me out of it. Otherwise it would be weird for you to read it. And if I knew you were putting me in the story I would feel weird about it. It's a novel written by someone you have never met before. K? And if you can't do it - skip reading When it Rains and read In the Weeds instead. There are NO similarities to me in that story other than the main character moving to a small fictional town in Kansas (again, you never see KS in main stream literature and we Kansans get a little excited about it when it does occur).

Happy reading!!!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

When it Rains. . .

Time for some blatant self-promotion. And time for you, my friends and family to dust off your reading glasses and catch up on some warm, cozy winter reads. I have updated my site and have a few new novels for your enjoyment.

For Fun: When it Rains. . .

Cali Kincaid is in a drought. A man drought. Ever since she threw her husband out three years ago she hasn't even kissed a man. Hearing the stories of the love lives of her best friends convinces Cali it's time to get back in the dating scene. Once the word gets out that she's looking, she suddenly has an abundance of men. Keeping her family, work and her new dating life straight leaves her overwhelmed and wishing for the quieter days. When it rains. . .it pours.

Oh and did I mention Cali is an OT?
And check out that cool cover photo taken by none other than Tom Davis. What a great team we make!

For inspiration: In the Weeds

Marti Mitchell is at the top of the paparazzi radar. After a life of alcohol, drugs and turbulent relationships, the actress can’t go anywhere without a camera in her face. So when her husband is caught cheating with a country music star and Marti is left abandoned, she decides it’s time to make some changes. She ends up in a small town under the assumed name of Becky Perkins. Here the media has yet to find her and she can live the life of a recluse. But before she knows it, she has started forming some relationships with some special people including a neglected six year old girl, a nurse who is desperate to have a baby and a roofer who can’t keep his eyes or his hands off of Becky. But the most important relationship is with the local minister, Blaine Thompson. She quickly learns that he can be trusted and is the one person in the world she can share all her secrets with. Blaine has secrets about his own past and together they form an unusual friendship.

Did I mention Marti's small town happens to be in Kansas? It's a fictional town based on the town where my grandparents lived and where my mom grew up, inspired by my trip there 2 years ago for my grandmother's funeral.

For the teen (but all women will like it too. . .you read Twilight right?): Boy Crazy

Crushes, boyfriends, first kisses, romance. . .16 year old Jenny Baker has spent her entire life daydreaming about guys, but has never actually accepted a date with one. She seems to find something wrong with every guy she meets and when she does happend to get close to one, she freaks! Now the pressure is on because Jenny's best friend's older brother, Chad is back in town from college and has suddenly developed an interest in Jenny. And Jenny can't find anything wrong with him. Along the way, Jenny's mother has started dating again for the first time since her divorce from Jenny's dad. And it just happens to be with Jenny's hot science teacher. At the same time, her best friend Erica is considering sleeping with her boyfriend for the first time. Jenny finds herself doling out relationship advice to both her mom and her friend when she herself has never been kissed....

Another for the teen: Butterfly Girl

Young adult version of Golden Rain. When 17 year old Jessica Martin attends an intense summer camp for elite swimmers, she finds herself immersed in the toughest competition that she's ever experienced. A novice coach, Brad Davenport believes Jessica's got what it takes to follow in his footsteps as an Olympic champion. They try to ignore a mutual attraction for each other as gossip begins to swirl around the camp about their relationship. Jessica struggles to fit in with all the girls and has to fight to prove herself as a powerful competitor to win the respect of her peers. Suddenly she and Brad are thrust into the spotlight when events beyond their control occur.

And some familiar favorites:

My best selling novel to date (and my Mother in Law's favorite!)- Crossroads

Corruption, scandal, murder - Anne Stone deals with these issues daily. She has run from abuse at the hands of her father to become a successful reporter. A call from her sister threatens to disrupt Anne’s career when she finds out that their mother has been diagnosed with cancer and is refusing treatment. Anne has to dig deep within herself to go home and find compassion for a woman who is in denial about the past. Anne tries to work on her relationship with her mother and often is tempted to give up. But something helps convince Anne to stay in Colorado and it has nothing to do with Anne’s family. Enter Kaylee - an imaginative six year old who is battling leukemia for the second time in her life and brings joy to their shared chemo room. Beside Kaylee is her dad Jake, a man whom Anne grew up with. As children they skipped rocks, climbed trees, teased siblings and skinny dipped. Jake knows all about Anne’s history and may hold the answer to being able to put the past behind her.

And a quick read: Cape Bounty

Maggie Baker has the perfect life - two gorgeous little girls, a devoted husband and a nice home on Cape Cod. In one tragic instant, her life is changed forever and leaves Maggie lost, alone and confused. Matt Bennett is the new doctor in town. Moving from New York City to become a family physician, he plans to work on his marriage and start a family with his wife, Judy. When old flames Matt and Maggie meet after 18 years apart, they are taken back to a time when life was not so complicated and remember what it is like to feel love from another person.

My first novel and the one that still holds a dear place in my heart. After all it did take me 10 + years to write the crazy thing. Once that was finished the rest came pouring out:

Golden Rain

Golden Rain is the coming of age story of young swimmer, Jessica Martin. When Jessica attends an intense summer camp for elite swimmers, she finds herself immersed in the toughest competition that she's ever experienced. A young, novice coach, Brad Davenport, discovers Jessica's hidden talent and takes her under his wing. Together they find a budding romance as they take the swimming world by storm. Brad believes Jessica's got what it takes to become an Olympic champion. A tragic setback turns Jessica's world upside down. She must find a will to survive and battle back against all odds. Along the way she meets Jon, someone completely different than anyone Jessica has ever known. Now she has many tough decisions to make including whether she wants to follow true love or follow her dreams.
Happy reading all my faithful friends!