WILL’S WORDS: Interview with children’s author Jane Sutcliffe

WIlls Words final art 300

Welcome today to author Jane Sutcliffe, who, as luck would have it, graciously agreed to answer some questions about writing for children. Jane has written over two dozen non-fiction books for young readers, and is an experienced presenter. Her school visit … Continue reading

The Resolution I’m Glad I Didn’t Keep

Not all New Year’s resolutions are meant to be kept. Some years you make a really good one, and you keep it, and all turns out right in the end. I hope that is how 2016 will be for you!

But sometimes, we start down a path we were never meant to be on.

Sermon: God’s Way or No Way | We Your People, Ours the Journey

That’s why it’s important to watch for the signs that you’re not heading the direction you’re meant to. Then, give up that resolution and start another. There are no rules about what day you will resolve to be awesome. In fact, you have 361 more days to dedicate to being your best self.  IMG_3304In late 2014, I had some tough lessons. My bleeding heart is a trusting little pumper, and when faced with unpredictable and upsetting events, I have practically no defenses around it. Where others would stand fierce with resolve and anger, I tend to react with self-doubt and sadness. And it feels awful.

My warrior friends circled me with the protection I wasn’t able to muster myself. I wanted to be like that. I wanted to be like my lawyer friend, who calmly took in all the facts and reacted with clear counsel. I wanted to be like my bad-ass friends, who’s fuck that attitude was a Teflon shield held above me. I wanted to be all logic and toughness. No more Mrs. Nice. It just wasn’t working for me. The pain was too icky.

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So, along came 2015. And this was going to be the year. I was done with trust. Defenses were up. New people were to be regarded with an abundance of caution. Old alliances were under the microscope. I was hyper-vigilant and in full retreat. No way was I going to be blindsided again. I was going to be ready! I actually resolved to be less trusting and for God’s sake stop being so nice all the time. My cynical, logical, what-have-I-been-telling-you-all-along husband rejoiced.

And it felt good, at first. And then it felt awful. Even worse than the awful I was trying to protect myself from. It’s really hard work trying to be someone you’re not, too. It’s exhausting.

IMG_2606Also, I could not stop thinking about a woman profiled on Humans of New York in Sept. 2014. Cathy is the director of the Confident Children out of Conflict (CCC) Center in Juba, “a place where displaced children in South Sudan are given shelter, an education, affection, and a second chance.” This is the quote that would not leave my mind:

Often their trauma is so bad, that when the children first arrive, they can be very hateful toward me. But I feel blessed by the hate. Because I know it’s part of the healing process. And if they need someone to hate so that they can heal, I’m glad it can be me.”

Photo by Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York.

 

In the first few months of my ‘resolution,’ I thought she was on my mind as a warning: don’t be like her. She is going to drown in her own kindness.  But the more I began to question my new resolve to be less trusting and kind, the more her message turned into something I was supposed to learn from, not run from.

Life has been pretty picnic-like so far for me. And maybe that’s why I’m so tenderhearted…because I haven’t had to fight and claw against adversity. I had always thought that was a weakness of mine. But for the first time, I was starting to see that maybe I was supposed to be this way. Things were supposed to turn out for me so that I would have the openness to help other people.

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“If they need someone to hate so that they can heal, I’m glad it can be me.” That is bad-ass and Teflon tough.

So, I switched up my resolution. Spending so much energy trying to be something I’m not, in the hopes of not getting hurt, was depleting me. Just like Stella and her groove, I needed to get my nice back. I started consciously thinking of trust and kindness as strengths, not weaknesses. And, I started to feel a whole lot better.

You can protect yourself and be kind at the same time. Just remember that everyone is fighting their own battles. Maybe you could be the one that reaches out in love and puts a hole in their armor. And if that doesn’t work, walk away. And bring your bad-ass friends with you. You’re gonna need them.

IMG_4540This year, I hope you walk towards the person you were always meant to be. We all have a place, and we’re all needed. The bleeding hearts need the cynics to pull us up from the depths we plunge into. You tough ones need us Pollyannas to remind you that it’s okay to trust sometimes. 

If your resolution isn’t leading you towards what resonates in your core, give it up! I know I’m glad I did.

I’m Still Thinking of You

I’m Thinking Of You

Today marks the three year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Last year, I worked through my sadness by writing a post titled “I’m Thinking Of You.” Today those words are on a field trip over on Mamalode.com. Won’t you please come have a look, and share the message?

I’m Thinking Of You

Like me, you probably have friends and family that are so often on your mind and heart that you can have whole conversations with them without ever picking up the phone. I truly believe there are more positive vibes in this world than negative events.

To anyone struggling with sadness and challenges right now: You are not alone. You’d be surprised how many people are thinking of you right now.

And to the families of Newtown: We’re thinking of you not only today,  but always.

 

 

Interested in turning your good thoughts into positive action? Click the links below to learn more.

Everytown for Gun Safety

“The reasons for gun violence are complex, but real change on a few issues could save lives.”

Text “ENOUGH” to 64433

Sandy Hook Promise

“I promise to do all I can to protect children from gun violence by encouraging and supporting solutions that create safer, healthier homes, schools and communities.”

Sign their petition to pass mental health reform here.

26 ACTS – Changing the World one kind act at a time

“Do one act of kindness for each of the lives taken at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

“Every action, no matter how small, helps us build safer communities and a brighter future. Together, we can end gun violence.”

Sponsoring Orange Walks to honor all of the lives taken by gun violence in America, and show just how determined we are to end it.

Other actions:

Consider writing your representatives in government to voice your concerns. Contact information is easy to find here:

Senators

Congressional Representatives

 

 

 

No Peeking!

The 5th Annual Holiday Contest!
christmas tree beautiful christmas tree beautiful christmas tree ...

This week I’m playing in Susanna Leonard Hill’s holiday contest: Write a children’s story, 350 words maximum, beginning with any version of “Rocking around the Christmas tree at the Christmas party hop.”

Here is my entry (y’all sing along now)…

 

NO PEEKING!

 

Sneakin’ around the present stash

At the bottom of the tree,

In stealth mode, got my ninja on,

Look how black-ops I can be!

 

I shouldn’t look, but too late now,

Hey, I think this one’s for me!

Later I might regret this choice,

But right now I’ve got to see.

 

Santa, please forgive me sir, it’s awfully hard to wait.

Voices saying, “It’s not Christmas – put that present down right now, Miss!”

 

Sneakin’ around the present stash

Is the most fun thing to do.

Parents are at their office bash,

If you were me, you’d peek too!

 

Here I go, I’m gonna open just one little gift.

Peel the tape slow, careful – don’t tear…

 

Jokes on me now, I got UNDERWEAR!

 

Wrap it back up, no time to waste

Hide this sneaky thing I did.

I’ll call St. Nick and plead my case,

“Please remember, I’m a kid!”

Presents

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

 

 

The Marriage Garden

IMG_4658I spent the morning in my pumpkin patch. I’m trying to grow a “biggest” one for a contest both as research and for fun.

It was time to prune vines and clip off some shoots in order to send more nutrients to the most hearty contestants. I was also looking for the main roots, where the vines originated, so I could infuse them with some good organic fertilizer.

It had been several weeks since I’d given the patch attention, so it took me hours to accomplish my tasks. Almost the whole time, a song my dad wrote for his parents on their 50th wedding anniversary was playing in my mind (the words as I remember them, anyway).

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[To the tune of the old hymn: In The Garden]

She works in the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses. Then her boyfriend comes, with his two black thumbs, and starts to trim the hedges. And he walks to her, and he talks to her, and he tells her what she did wrong…and the joy they share, as they tarry there, will last their whole life long.

It may have been this image of a couple working (and arguing) together that led me to flesh out the garden analogy when I was asked to speak at my brother-in-law’s wedding. (I know! Huge honor. Super scary.)

I told the bride and groom to be aware that marriage is a lot like a garden. In the beginning, everything is shiny and new. You clear your plot. You put in the best soil. There isn’t a weed in sight. With great excitement, you go pick out all your favorite plants.

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Your rows are straight and full of promise. You’ve heard marriage is hard, but just look at what you’ve already accomplished! In no time you’ll be enjoying a bountiful harvest. Easy.

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The truth is, some years of your marriage will seem easier than others. You’ll plant your seeds, give the garden a few passing glances, and in the fall have a bumper crop. But other years, it seems that despite all your efforts, it’s all you can do to get a few tiny tomatoes to grow. You’ll look around and think, “Man. Am I sick of weeding!”

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Over time, you’ll learn that a steady blend of good soil, gentle rain, and constant care will yield the most consistent results. But most of the time, the work doesn’t look anything like the models you see in the Plow & Hearth catalog. There are no wide brimmed hats and soft kneeling pads. There is dirt-streaked hair, stinky sweat, and manure. Lots of manure.

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However, over the years your soil will become richer and able to handle a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. The garden will grow beyond it’s original plot. You’ll always have plenty enough produce for your own family, with leftovers to share.

Back in my garden this morning, I struggled to find those darn roots. Where had these vines originated, anyway? The temperature had spiked quickly, humidity squelching my desire to stay out there and work. But I knew, like I know with my marriage, that a little extra effort would go a long way.

And funny thing, my patch has only two pumpkins that will likely amount to anything. One is pretty big and hearty already, the other is a bit smaller and is going to need some special care. And there is a point where their two separate vines are twisted and bound so tightly together that there is no way to differentiate who’s getting nutrients from which root.

So I dug into the ground around all the roots I saw, and worked in lots of fertilizer. My hands were filthy. My back hurt. But my pumpkins are worth it. IMG_4789

And marriage is worth it, too. You pay the bills, you share your fears, you schlep the groceries and you clean the toilets. You sit and listen to the “bad day” rants, and get your turn to kvetch, too. You send out little tendrils and cling to each other, hanging on with all you’ve got.

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Then, come harvest time, you’ll get your payback. Your crops will exceed your greatest predictions. Your heart will overflow with the fruits of your labor. And, you’ll have all the energy and motivation you’ll need to do it all again next year.

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Now Read This!

I’m enjoying a growing trend in Middle Grade reading: novels in verse.

book love

These stories have a narrative arc, and character development, and all the things you’d expect from a novel-length work. But, they are told through the medium of poetry rather than prose.

Two of the main things I love about this type of novel are the beauty of the language, and the accessibility of the stories. This style of writing is particularly well suited for people who claim to not like poetry, or kids who are reluctant readers. There is a lot of white space in poetry, which can be very welcoming to readers who feel stuck when they see a page full of words.

Brown_Girl_Dreaming-200brown girl dreaming (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books 2014) by Jaqueline Woodson (newly named Young People’s Poet Laureate) won the 2014 National Book Award.

Through a connected series of poems, Woodson chronicles her life growing up in the 1960s and 70s in both the North and the South. I gained a much deeper appreciation of the landscape of our country at that time while reading her touching, often funny, and deeply personal story.

My favorites were the “how to listen” poems.

how to listen #3

Middle of the night

my grandfather is coughing

me upright. Startled.

***

how to listen #7

Even the silence

has a story to tell you.

Just listen. Listen.

***

Give yourself the chance to listen to her words. They’re beautiful.

Cover of The Crossover by Kwame AlexanderThe Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) by Kwame Alexander was this year’s Newbery Award Winner.

The Crossover is a heart-pumping story of basketball phemon twin-brothers Josh and Jordan Bell. But as the jacket flap says: Josh has more than hoops in his blood. He’s got a river of rhymes flowing through him – a sick flow that helps him find his rhythm when everything’s on the line.

This book is a natural summer reading pick for sports lovers. The word play, especially during scenes that describe basketball games, is really fun.

From Dribbling:

…Be careful though,

’cause now I’m CRUNKing

CrissCROSSING

FLOSSING

flipping

and my dipping will leave you

SLIPPING on the floor, while I

SWOOP in

to the finish with a fierce finger roll…

Straight to the hole:

Swooooooooooooooosh.

FREE Basketball Camp for 3rd & 4th Graders

However, it’s not exclusively for sports fans. There’s a tender story of family at the heart of this novel that will appeal to all readers.

Basketball Rule #1

In this game of life

your family is the court

and the ball is your heart.

No matter how good you are,

no matter how down you get,

always leave

your heart

on the court.

***

Happy Reading!

Poems for Your Pocket

Today is POEM IN YOUR POCKET day! How does one celebrate? By carrying around a poem or two in your pocket, and then sharing them with someone else.

My Grandpa Bill had a love of words and an incredible memory. When we visited, he would come to the bedroom door to say goodnight, and without preamble, would recite for us THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT by Edward Lear. I can still see his silhouette outlined by the hall light, and hear his gentle voice. Isn’t that a nice gift to send someone through life with?

One of my all time favorite kid poems is by Ogden Nash:

THE RHINOCEROS

The rhino is a homely beast,
For human eyes he’s not a feast.
Farwell, farewell, you old rhinoceros,
I’ll stare at something less prepoceros.

There are many fun and funny poetry collections for kids. Here are a few that won’t steer you wrong:

Hilarious characters like Snerry Jake speak a language all their own in this billy sook.

Hilarious characters like Snerry Jake speak a language all their own in this billy sook.

If you like Shel, you'll love Jack. "Watson Watts, upon his legs, balanced forty ostrich eggs..."

If you like Shel, you’ll love Jack. “Watson Watts, upon his legs, balanced forty ostrich eggs…”

Find a kid  to give a poem to today. I sent my seventh grader off with a poem and an eye roll this morning. It is a love poem I wrote just for her. I’ll take the eye roll, she’ll take the poem, and with any luck we’ll meet up on the other side of junior high.

For more information about how POEM IN YOUR POCKET day originated, as well a great selection of downloadable poems, click here!

You may also enjoy visiting the website of poet Jason Tandon. I’m a fan.

PeRsPeCtIvE

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It took me quite some time after graduate school to find my first paid position as a speech pathologist. What didn’t take long was figuring out why my employer, an inner-city rehabilitation center, had used the word “unique” in their help-wanted ad. The majority of patients there were under 50, and missing at least one limb (due to complications from untreated diabetes). An overpowering stench permeated the building. But what really stood out was the volatility that hovered over every interaction. Outbursts were common, and the whole atmosphere was loud and unsettled. Early on, I was charged by a screaming, arm-flailing man because I had turned down his television set (never did that again!).

One day I sat across from a middle-aged, toothless man. We were working on his expressive language skills, including speech intelligibility, after a mugging had left him brain damaged. Just before our session, I had learned he would be heading to his mother’s house the next day.

“Are you excited about getting out of here?” I asked him. After all, I cried in my car every morning before walking into work, and assumed that actually having to stay there would be a horrible experience. But his answer surprised me.

“Oh, I hate to leave,” he told me. “The bed is so soft and clean. And the food is so good. I’ll be back on the streets soon, and I’ll be hungry again now.”

After we finished, I wished him well and then escaped into the dark back staircase, one of my regular hiding spots. I stood on my tip-toes so I could see out the cinder-block sized window, and I cried. But this time it was not because I was scared and overwhelmed, but because I hadn’t seen any goodness in this place before that. I had assumed this was the bottom – the worst case scenario. And that man’s words showed me how naive I was, and how much worse things could be.

IMG_1130Years later, I was teaching an introductory speech and language course at The University of Connecticut. I was my first college teaching experience, and I was very anxious for everything to go smoothly. When I walked into the building on the first day, I noticed a large group of students standing outside the classroom I’d been assigned to. I immediately panicked. It was an 8:00 a.m. class, and I didn’t have a key. I had no plan B! Then, I noticed a second door to the room, further down the hallway. I walked over to it, opened it, and went inside. The students followed behind me and the class proceeded. On the way home I laughed at how thin the line can be between student and teacher: the teacher is sometimes just the person who tries the second door!

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It seems that where we are on life’s journey often determines our perspective. Don’t we all, at some point, feel like we’re at the bottom of the heap? During those times, all we can do is look up, and see others who have achieved what we had hoped to by now. But don’t forget, there are people behind you, wishing they were as far along as you are. Reach back with encouragement, and look forward in hope. Take some time to adjust your perspective: maybe where you are right now is where you are supposed to be.

So, appreciate what you have. But, don’t forget to look for that second door. It’s probably sitting there, unlocked, waiting for you.