Little and Often Makes Much

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I don’t run. But I am fascinated by people who do, especially marathoners and other long distance runners. It took me a while to figure out what all those “26.2” bumper stickers meant. Honestly, I briefly thought it was something political (26.2 more days of so-and-so in office?). Then a friend started training to run a marathon and…Oh! That’s what that means.

Of course runners do not start with marathons. Consistent training sessions with gradually increasing miles, over a long period of time, are what lead to success on race day.

And so many worthwhile things in life are like that. Sometimes a far away goal looms so large, and seems so unattainable, that we stop trying before we begin. That will never happen is a refrain that keeps us in place. But what if you do start trying?

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What if you did one thing every day that got you closer to your goal? One cookie left on the plate. One closet organized. One chapter of a book written. Over time, the little steps start to add up. It’s like seeing someone else’s child after all long time: we are amazed at how much they’ve grown! But to the parents, and to the child themselves, it was incremental. Tiny, everyday changes that go unnoticed in the moment can add up to something huge.

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Today I am celebrating a “my how you’ve grown” moment: finishing the first draft of my second novel. As I was working on it, I sometimes felt like a chicken looking for grain – peck, peck, peck. And then one day I realized I was past the half-way mark. Then I wrote the climactic scene. Then I was working on the last chapter. Step by step. Page by page. Line by line.

 

I'm also obviously a lover of Chinese food.

I’m also obviously a lover of Chinese food.

What will you choose to take one step towards today? It may not be a marathon. Or a novel. But whatever it is, you have the power to get there. Go for it!

 

Destiny

Retreat! Retreat!

 The Writing Retreat

A tricky plot, I’ve lost my thought

I need to clear my head

My characters stink and I can’t think

My muse needs watered and fed

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So I’m off, down the road, take a right at the lane

To a fireside ‘cross the bay

Gonna clear my noggin, and quick my sloggin’

Gonna breath, and write all day

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Good friends, good food, and a bottle or four

Close the door, shut it tight, lock and latch it

The first draft needs words, and a problem to solve

The revision just might need a hatchet.

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I’ll wrangle and tangle my story until

A thin ray of hope starts to rise

And that night I’ll drink deep from the well of content

My eyes will be back on the prize

*****

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Far from a cry of defeat, the word retreat actually can mean a purposeful movement towards sanity.

Making a conscious effort to give your goals a solid chunk of attention is a very powerful way to tell yourself, and others, what is important to you right now.

For the next four days, I’m off to the Fireside Retreat – a writing getaway of my own design. I’ll be surrounded by peace and quiet and the occasional laugh from the talented friends who are joining me. We’ll also be meeting with Newbery Award winning author Cynthia Voigt who has graciously offered to share her time and insights with us. And all of this is because I had an idea, and asked for some favors and some help.

Maybe it’s time for you to plan a girl’s or guy’s weekend so you can focus on treasured friendships. Or, perhaps you crave a prefab or self-designed retreat for writers, crafters,  fitness junkies, spiritual seekers, or whatever is your current passion.

Make the time, make the arrangements, make you a priority! Retreat!

I’m Thinking of You

 

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My husband never talks about his patients with me. (He’s the poster boy for the HIPAA law.) But when a call from the hospital comes in at night, sometimes I am privy to his side of the conversation. I might hear snippets such as the person’s age, or what tests they need to have done. I’ve learned which key words will lead to me sleeping alone that night (ruptured, perforation) and which will keep him snuggled next to me (elective, antibiotics).

Within thirty seconds of the phone call ending, my husband will be back to sleep. It’s a self-preserving skill he learned in residency.  But for me, it’s not that easy. Now I’m up. And now I’m thinking about this person who I know nothing about, beyond the fact that they are, say, 66-years-old and have a high fever and need an ERCP, whatever that is. Now that I know about them, and I’m awake, I do what I can for them. Which isn’t much, but I hold them in my mind, and I wish them well. I like to envision a little bit of the comfort I’m sending to them actually finding it’s way to the ER, or the ICU, or their room. It’s improbable, but it’s possible. So I go there.

Many, many nights, phone calls or not, I hold my husband’s hands in mine and offer a straight-up prayer. First it’s a thank you for all the times his hands have been safely guided to help in the past, then it’s a prayer for continued guidance and strength in the future. If my husband knew any of this, he’d be doing an eye-roll/gagging noise combination. He’s a man of hard logic and science. We’re quite a pair.

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Sometimes, one is on the receiving end of good thoughts. Two years ago this weekend, Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT experienced the unthinkable. The news trickled first into our local consciousness and then onto the national and international stage. And while I struggled with shock and fear and that sickening too close-to-home feeling, something strangely comforting started happening.

First, a phone call from my sister, 3,000 miles and two time zones away. When her first patient of the day asked, “Isn’t it terrible about what happened at that school in CT?” her stomach dropped, and she thought of me. Then a steady stream of friends, from all over the country, from all phases of my life, started checking in.

I heard the news, and I thought of you. Are you okay? Are the kids okay? 

I heard from people I hadn’t been in touch with for years, from close friends, and from Christmas-card-only friends. All wished me well and expressed relief that today, this time, the tragedy was not ours. In the weeks that followed, sadness would wash over me in waves. But the comfort of being thought of and wished well by so many always pulled me to a safe shore.

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We can never know how many people are thinking of us, maybe right now, and wishing us well. It doesn’t take an anniversary for me to think of the Newtown families. A face, a name, or an image will come to mind, and in that moment I’ll wish them love and comfort. Imagine, for every time someone pops into your mind, or you hold someone in prayer, meditation, or good light, someone else could be doing the same for you!

Maybe the husband or wife of the doctor you visited last week is at home, doing chores, and sending you strong, positive vibes. And if you’re reading this, consider yourself pinged with positivity, because at this moment I could very well be thinking of you, and wishing you all good things, including….

best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.

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The Book Aunt’s Gift-Giving Guide 2014

If you’re casting about for gift ideas for your friends and family, I suggest you consider giving BOOKS! You might not steal the show at the holiday gathering, but later, when you have tired kids who want to curl up with the original hand-held escape, the glory will be yours. When the mid-winter relatives have cabin fever, and the book you gave is their salvation, you will be thanked. (If you’re worried about giving books as gifts in case they’ve already been read, just be sure to include a gift receipt!)

There are SO MANY great choices out there. This is a small sampling of some I’ve come across in 2014. In each case, I suggest a “pair with” gift and a profile of who the book may be best suited for. Happy shopping!

Picture Books (ages 0-5+)

Flora

FLORA AND THE PENGUIN by Molly Idle. This is a seriously adorable wordless winter tale of a friendship on ice. Young kids will enjoying “reading” it themselves, over and over. Great for kids who like interactive (lift-the-flap) books, ice-skating, and/or penguins. Pair with a stuffed penguin or a coupon to take the recipient ice skating.

Novak

THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. On the flip side to Ms. Idles wordless book, this book is pictureless. Perfect for the “little devil” on your list, the book goads the adult reader into saying silly sounds and words because “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” Pair with a whoopie cushion.

Middle Grade novels (ages 8-13ish)

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THE DIRT DIARY by Anna Staniszewski. The first in a series, this book introduces us to Rachel, whose imperfections make her perfectly lovable. Rachel is a girl who loves to bake, but to help out her mom, must clean toilets instead. Great for the kid who always seems to have good intentions that lead to bad results! Pair with a cookie sheet and baking mix.

Hattie

HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson. Another first in a series, this is perfect for Little House on the Prairie type fans. Hattie is a 16-year-old who leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. Pair with a pair of warm socks and/or a cat.

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DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, THE LONG HAUL by Jeff Kinney.  Kids simply can’t get enough of this series! A natural choice for reluctant readers, text and pictures intertwine to tell the latest adventure of Greg Heffley and his family as they set out on a road trip. Pair with one of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID book journals – a combination of blank pages and journalling suggestions – to get kids writing as well.

Young adult novels (ages 12 +)

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THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey. This book is perfect for your older sci-fi loving kid. In brief, it’s a classic “alien’s attack and take over the world” scenario, with fantastic pacing and lots of layers. I read it because I was vetting it for my own kid, and was surprised how much I liked it. There is a smattering of profanity, but it is used as needed, not gratuitously. Pair with an air-soft gun.

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ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry. I thought this was going to be another sci-fi story, due to the setting being a town called Roswell Station. But this haunting book is actually historical fiction. The main character, Judith, is unable to speak, yet you will never forget her voice. Perfect for older kids who will understand the nuance of mentally imbalanced adults, and the importance of sometimes sharing secrets. Pair with tickets to a local colonial village.

Fiction and Non-Fiction for the grown-up set

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UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the incredible story of olympian-turned WWII Lieutenant Louis Zamperini. Recently made into a movie, this book will appeal to the avid runner and/or history buff on your list. Pair with a WWII documentary, or movie tickets to see Unbroken when it opens.

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CASTING OFF by Nicole R. Dickson. This book tells the story of Rebecca Moray, who comes to an island off the coast of Ireland to research a book on Irish knitting, and how she and her daughter interact with the people there. Perfect for the knitter on your list. If they’re Irish, extra points. Pair with knitting needles/yarn.

I’m sure you know of several more books in each category that you’ve loved and could give as gifts! This year, I encourage you to do just that. Happy holidays, and happy reading!

A TIME TO DANCE – Interview with author Padma Venkatraman

 

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Have you ever read a story and wished you could ask the author questions about it? That is what happened to me while reading A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman. And guess what? My wish came true! A hearty welcome today to Ms. Venkatraman, who graciously agreed to give us a behind the scenes peek at how this beautiful book came to be.

First, a bit about the story itself. Here is an overview, from Goodreads:

Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.”

Bharatamatyam is a classical dance form of South India. Here’s an example:

As I read A TIME TO DANCE I was especially carried away by the description of the dancing itself. So, the first question I asked was:

Nancy: What is your experience with Bharatanatyam dance? As I was reading, I was guessing you must have personal experience. Am I right?

Thank you for your time and for sharing your process with us, Padma! I encourage all readers to make time for A TIME TO DANCE. It’s gorgeous.

 

Halloweensie: Snip, Snap, Crack

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It’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s annual Halloweensie contest!

Rules:  write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkinbroomstick, and creak in any form.  

Here’s my entry:

 

SNIP, SNAP, CRACK

 

In a deep dark corner, an old lady sits.

She cackles, and snarls, and frantically knits.

 

Click clack go her needles.

Snip snap go her bones,

As she rocks and she creaks

and her kitty cat moans.

 

She conjures up spiders, and pumpkins, and ghosts

All spun from her yarn –

“I’m so wicked!” she boasts.

 

Don’t dare approach her,

She’s all trick and no treat.

What are you doing??

Come hither, my sweet.

 

Get away from that broomstick! Skedaddle! Shoo!

You’re tiptoeing closer??

Snip

Snap

Crack

BOO!

 

Please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog, because there will be tons of fun and scary weensie short stories for Halloween. Or play along and add your own!

 

Book Bravo: The Meaning of Maggie

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Have you ever wondered what Clementine, Ramona, or Junie B. would be like in middle school? I hope they would stay spunky and turn out a lot like Maggie Mayfield, the main character in Megan Jean Sovern’s THE MEANING OF MAGGIE (Chronicle Books, 2014). In any case, I know they’d be friends with her!

Maggie is someone I was rooting for from the minute she wished her hospitalized dad would wake up so they could split a Little Debbie. (She’s willing to eat the whole thing herself, but she’d rather share). Then, I just – plop – fell in love with her when she was describing how amazing her first day of sixth grade was, including this:

“And lunch was the best because I got a whole table to myself so I spread out my notebooks and went to town on a stack of syllabi.”

She’s quirky, she doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care! She has much bigger things on her mind, such as her report on Sandra Day O’Connor, and her new friend, Clyde, “the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen.”

Underneath this layered, interesting character is a story of family bonds that are tested by parental illness.  From the jacket flap:

Eleven years old. The beginning of everything!

For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she’s one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo. It’s time for her to pull herself up by her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude Dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing’s impossible when you’re future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola, right?

Maggie’s position as youngest child and her own personality leave her somewhat oblivious to the true reality of her dad’s worsening struggle with multiple sclerosis. She doesn’t have much time for her “hot, but not on a school night” older sisters, Layla and Tiffany, but we as readers can see how they  help shelter her from their dad’s illness and mom’s return to work.

This is a serious book on a difficult topic, but the author makes you laugh out loud along the way. Maggie’s inner dialogue, highlighted by footnotes, made me feel like I was visiting with a real kid every time I picked up the book.  And there is a clever connection at the ending, which made this a “clutch it in your arms and sigh when you finish reading it” kind of book for me.  I recommend this book for kids in grades 5-7 ish, (or anyone who loves realistic middle grade novels.) It will  be especially meaningful to readers who have been touched by MS. Ultimately, the unpredictable and relentless nature of the disease is woven into a story of strength and hope.

Don’t miss MAGGIE!

*Special thanks to  Alyson Beecher and her wonderful book-based blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, for offering a copy of TMOM as a prize via Chronicle Books.*

 

 

What’s your “always”?

Tomatoes

“You always have tomatoes on your windowsill.”

“I do?”

“Every time I’ve been here, there’ve been tomatoes up there.”

Huh.  I’d never thought about that.  But to one of my nieces, who usually visits during tomato season, it is a truth universally acknowledged.

I wonder what else is an “always” in her eyes?  Hopefully it is that I always light up when I see her. And that I always remember to put a little sweet treat on her pillow and have all the fixin’s for s’mores on hand. And that I always have time to listen to her stories and take her berry picking.

A friend pointed out that a lot of our “always” memories from childhood probably stem from occasions that only happened once, but were memorable. I’ve tested this with my own family:

“Didn’t we always go to Disneyworld, every time we went to Florida?” (Truth: more likely only 2-3 times).

“Grandma always took me out for lunch, and we always got Reubens.” (Truth: one time).

“We always sat down as a whole family for dinner, every night.” (Truth: not exactly).

The fact is, you never know when one special trip, one special moment, or one windowsill of tomatoes is going to become someone’s always. 

It’s a very encouraging thought that even in the face of life’s imperfections, we all have the power to make our always something beautifully memorable.

What is your always?