Tell Me Something Good

Hi! If you’ve visited my blog before, I thank you and appreciate you taking the time to read my little ol’ words. Repeat readers may notice I’ve been working on a new “look.”

The truth is, I’ve been struggling to find a balance between staying informed and acting on the big, important, difficult things going on in the world, while also longing to occasionally rest and sit in some positivity. But when I turn to things that bring me joy, I worry that I’m not paying enough attention to the “right” issues. It’s hard to let yourself feel happy when you know someone else is suffering. (Why work on writing any fiction; what does any of that matter?) But I think I was forgetting a very important fact: sharing light is a great way to drive out darkness.

 

So, I’ve decided to create a space to share stories that say “look – here is something good!” Because while there’s a lotta darkness going on, there is a also a lot of light. And each one of us has the ability to create more light.

To that end, the blog portion of my website  has a new title: Encouraging Words! I’ll use this space mostly to highlight good people, good work, and good things happening in our world. I hope when you visit here you’ll always find some nugget of encouragement that may help your own little light shine brighter, too.

Today I want to tell you about an awesome national program: FAMILY PROMISE. Their mission statement is “to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence through a community-based response.” Their website shares the staggering statistic that this year in America, 2.5 million children and their parents will experience homelessness. Family Promise supports a “local response to this national crisis, helping families build new lives.” The goal is to identify the ‘newly homeless’ — people who have just fallen or are about to fall through the cracks of any other safety nets, and help them get back to sustainable independence quickly (families are usually in the program about six -eight weeks).

Here’s how it works:

1116 (2)

Photo credit: Family Promise

A network of volunteers from any faith-based community step up to open their physical building one week at a time, on a rotating basis.

“The resources are already there. In the community there are congregations that can provide space in their buildings to serve as temporary homes. Day centers, where families can take showers, receive case management and look for housing and jobs, can be located at a house of worship or agency. There are multiple options for transportation to get families from the host congregations to the day center and back. With volunteers giving their time, making meals, and sharing hospitality, family homelessness is addressed without the creation of expensive shelters. Across the country, people have realized that this innovative approach truly makes a difference for families experiencing homelessness—and more than 180,000 volunteers.”

A friend of a friend has worked hard and can now proudly say that her dream of a functioning Connecticut affiliate of the program is up and running. I’ve been working on a steering committee to help my own faith community explore becoming a Family Promise host. Let me tell you, it’s very encouraging to have something to do about an issue that feels overwhelming. So I’m hopeful we’ll be able to help, even if it’s just a few families at a time.

Just after learning about Family Promise, I got my hands on two ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of middle grade books which deal with the topic of families that are struggling to find secure and permanent places to live. Reading both of these beautiful novels really helped me understand how important even the smallest act of kindness can be to people who find themselves newly homeless.


JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS (Knopf Books for Young Readers) by Melissa Sarno is coming June 2018.

From the Penguin/Random House website:

An uplifting young reader debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz’s debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shantytown inside the Philippines’ Manila North Cemetery.

After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today.

When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.

With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.

I encourage you to preorder both books for yourself, your kids, or your local town & school library! I’ll be getting a copy of each to donate to Family Promise.

I also encourage you to look around for one thing you can do to help support the homeless in your own community. All over the country, there are many great organizations already in place and doing good work, but they always appreciate fresh volunteers and donations!

Have a good day, light-makers.

It Ain’t Easy Being Kind

beingkind

I know that many of you are with me in my quest to infuse Guerrilla Kindness into the world. I hope you’ve been inspired to be part of my mobile irregular force performing small hit-and-run acts of kindness.

But here’s the truth: it can be hard to be kind on purpose.

Exhibit A

My mom had the fantastic (GENIUS) idea of asking family and friends to perform an act of kindness in honor of my sister’s milestone birthday. I was pumped. This was my wheelhouse! This was going to be fun. But, I also knew I had to think of something really special. So…I procrastinated. Then the calendar turned and the countdown was on. One day, I had a long list of errands planned. I was determined that this would be the day for my ‘act of kindness.’ I put on my goody two-shoes and hit the road.

But then.

Well, here’s the story as I told it to my sister.

A Kindness for Jenny

(a comedy in four acts)

 

Act One: Target

umbrella

As I pull into Target to make a return, four fat blobs of rain hit my windshield. I decide to take my umbrella with me. Good thing, as halfway to the front door, the heavens open and drop a giant load of rain all at once. People are running and screeching in the warm, unexpected downpour.

I cue up in line to make my return. The person ahead of me is a mom with three boys. One, a baby, is perched quietly in his car seat. Another, a toddler, is curled in the back of the cart. He is whining and crying in a repetitive moan, the cry of a child who either skipped or skimped their nap. The preschool-aged big brother is trying to soothe the toddler, which makes him scream louder.

The mom hears the thunderous rain on the roof, and turns to see my soaked shorts and shoes. “Oh course,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Of course it just started to rain.”

Her returns are confusing, her receipts are kerfuffled, her kids are restless.

Finally, she finishes up, and I take my place at the counter. Roused from my standing-in-line stupor, a thought occurs: the act of kindness for my sister’s birthday! This mom is the perfect recipient.

I keep my eye on her as I quickly complete my transaction. She is trying to cover the baby and the toddler and her purchases with one small blanket. I ponder offering to get her car for her, but realize that would be weird. I’ll drive them to her car in my car? Also weird. Okay, how about I just walk next to her with my umbrella, at least helping keep a portion of her posse dry?

Finished, I turn to follow her to the door, where she is watching to see if there will be a let up in the rain. But a small crowd has also gathered there, and it’s hard for me to get up to where she is. I’m making my way, when suddenly she grabs her preschooler with one hand, her cart with the other, and bolts. Pushing past people, I race out of the store after her. My extended umbrella held aloft, I call to her that I’d like to help. But the rain is too loud, and she is so darn fast! What is she, a sprinter? I’m chasing her, and getting soaked, because I’m holding my umbrella out in front of me as if I’ll be able to shelter her from five steps behind.

Then, in my haste and distraction, I am saved by another shopper who stops me before I run in front of a car pulling into the lot.

Situation: fail.

Act of kindness has been done to me, not by me!

 

Act Two: Grocery Store

brokenglass

 

A chance to redeem myself. I’m on the lookout for another harried mom. I’ll never forget those days, when everything was made a gajillion times harder by the constant presence of my little charges.

And there, in the dairy aisle, my opportunity: the distinctive CRASH of a glass jar of pasta sauce hitting the hard tile floor, dropped by a toddler. His mom looks around, embarrassed. She is dressed in a security guard uniform. She looks tired. I spring into action.

Me: Let me go get help for you!

Her (already pulling son out of cart): No, that’s ok, there’s always someone from the store right around here.

Me: Let me leave my cart over the mess, and you take your cart and keep shopping!

Her: No, that’s okay, I’m sure it won’t be long.

Reluctantly, I let her get her own help, and watch her leave her cart to mark the mess. I’m thinking maybe she’s just a really chill mom, and honestly didn’t need my help. But, when her son tries to grab a can off the shelf they’re passing and she snaps, “You’ve already made enough of a mess!” I know that she’s human. So, I give her a big smile and move on. But, a big smile? That can’t be my act of kindness! Not for my sister! I give big smiles out every dang day. I will continue my quest.

 

Act Three: Grocery Store Parking Lot

shoppingcart

I had gotten a good spot when I pulled in. The first spot next to the handicapped one. And here now, loading her car next to me, is an elderly woman. Carefully, bag by bag, she is setting her groceries in her back seat. Elderly woman in the handicapped spot. THIS IS IT.

She has one bag left.

Me: Let me help you with that!

Her: Oh, that’s okay, I’m almost done. (Puts last bag in).

Me: I’ll take your cart back for you.

Her: Oh, you don’t need to do that, dear. I can manage.

Me: Really, I’m taking mine back, too. Let me take your cart for you!

Her: Well, how far is it?

Me: It’s just right over there (two cars away).

Her: Well okay, dear, if you’d like.

I return the carts, and get back in my car. No, I think. My special act of kindness for my special sister cannot be that I walked an old lady’s cart 15 feet for her, when she didn’t really even want my help.

I get in my car, grab a piece of paper, and start to write.

 

Act Four: Return to the Grocery Store

noteofencouragment

I’m wandering the aisles, clutching the note I’ve written, which is wrapped around a $20 bill. The note says something like this:

“This small act of kindness is in honor of my sister’s birthday. I saw you in the store, a hard working mama just trying to make a quick stop before dinner. You were so sweet to your son when he dropped the pasta sauce, even though I knew you were annoyed! Those were the hardest days for me, juggling work and small kids. This is for you, to treat yourself. Lunch out, coffee, whatever helps make your day brighter. From, A friend. P.S. Hang in there, bedtime’s coming!”

I finally find her, the pasta sauce mama, just in time. She’s next in line at the checkout. I catch her eye and hand over the note. “This is for you,” I say. “A little surprise. Have a good evening!”

Not knowing what it is yet, she still gives me a huge smile. “And you have a good evening, too!” I quickly leave, feeling so, so good and happy.

I had finally done it. I had captured the feeling my sister gives me and so many people in her life: you are important, you matter, I see you, and I’m here to help.

orangeflower

Being kind isn’t always easy, even when you’re trying. Sort of like how it can be hard to see goodness in the world through all the darkness that exists, too. But it’s there. And we’re here. Just keep doing the little things. After awhile, they’ll start to add up.  One candle does not dim when it lights another. Keep bringing the light, friends.

 

 

Guerilla Kindness

justbeniceIt has been a rough couple of weeks for this Pollyanna of politics. I’ve been thrust out of several bubbles I had been living in. And it’s uncomfortable. (I was the white lady reaching for the Xanax in that SNL skit about election night.) I thought that since the people I chose to surround myself with held values similar to mine, that meant that most other people did, too. It was hard to see how wrong I was about that. It was hard to imagine someone being able to ignore the ugly packaging and vote for what I believed to be a message of reversal of times, reversal of progress.

I spent the first few days after the election reading, reading, reading. Trying to understand. I know Republicans who are really good people, and some who aren’t. I know Democrats who are really good people, and some who aren’t. I know Independents who are good people, and some who aren’t. My chosen candidate has lost more than once in my adult life. But this was the first time the outcome of an election made me so despondent. I did not and still do not know how to reconcile the fact that the president-elect of our county embodies the antithesis of what I value most: kindness toward others.

I had to figure out what I was going to do next. After sitting on the couch under my blanket fort for a few days, I knew I needed to start acting. What I’ve decided is that now is the time for Guerilla Kindness.

I first learned the term guerilla warfare in 8th grade, when I was writing an essay about the Iran-Contra Affair (I was an overambitious English student). Before that, I had heard the term but had pictured angry gorillas flinging dung at one another. Guerilla warfare is the use of hit-and-run tactics by small, mobile groups of irregular forces operating in territory controlled by a hostile, regular force (Dictionary.com).

The idea of guerilla kindness came to me after hearing this post-election story: A woman saw a mother and son behind her in a fast-food drive thru line, pointing and laughing at her political bumper stickers. She made a split-second decision to turn her anger into action. She paid for their meals. You see? Guerilla kindness. And nothing they can do about it.

My call to action/forward motion:

safetypin After the U.K. voted to leave the European Union, incidents of racism skyrocketed, and people began donning safety pins as a way of showing their support for the immigrants living in the country, assuring that they’re safe with them. And I had noticed that the trend had spread to the U.S. after our election results similarly emboldened people to act even more overtly on their bigotry.

My first act of guerilla kindness started small, with something I did to make myself feel better. I scrounged in my jewelry box and came up with a safety pin, which I affixed to my burse (my backpack-purse, which is a thing. At least it is to me.) I’m not sure what I thought this little piece of metal would accomplish, but somehow it helped me get my shoes on and out the door. You see, it was my first outing since the election, and my heart was heavy. But I had been waiting 6 months for a one-day-only mattress sale, so off I went to help stabilize our economy. The sales person who greeted me looked similarly glum. We’ll call him Abdelhadi (because that’s his name).

When I pulled my burse off my shoulder to pay, he saw my safety pin. And once my transaction was complete, he whispered, “My wife has not gone to work for two days. She can’t stop crying.” I told him I had been crying on and off, too. “You?” he said with surprise. “You cried?”

I told him it was hard being confronted with just how out of touch I was with the racial divide in our country, how painful it was to have the illusion that I had been paying attention be broken. “Now you know,” he told me. Then he reached out for my hand and said more softly, “now you know.” It destroyed me. Here was this Muslim man from Dubai comforting me about my sadness.

When we parted ways, we shared a lingering handshake. “Tell you wife…” I started, but I couldn’t finish my thought. Tell her what? What could I possibly say to her to make her feel better? Hadi came to my rescue. “I’ll tell her you cried,” he said. “I’ll tell her you cried, too.”

 

 

wabanakibook

Okay, you put a pin on your purse. What now? What else?

I’ve written before about a service organization called hawkwing, Inc (the h is not capitalized, no matter how much I want it to be).  They “provide essential services and support for the people of the Cheyenne River Lakota (Sioux) Indian Reservation,” and run an annual holiday giveaway that is organized in a warehouse near my home. “The Annual Giveaway brings joy each winter to some 2,600 children on the Reservation, many of whom would otherwise receive nothing for the holidays. Each child receives new toys, books, warm clothes and personal care products. We also supply dozens of Tribal programs and schools with equipment, supplies, coats, shoes and educational materials.” They are partnered with First Book and one of my favorite stations in the warehouse is the book corner. But I noticed a need for books for older kids, and when I saw WABANAKI BLUES by Melissa Zobel at a local bookstore, I picked up a copy and dropped it off at hawkwing. Stealth. Guerilla. Kindness.

 

cookies

Okay, you put on a pin, and you bought a book. What else? I thought about the Syrian refugee family, new to my town, sponsored in their transition by IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services) and supported by my place of worship. I had been meaning to say a formal “hello and welcome.” This would probably be a good time for me to take them cookies. Making the cookies was easy (and delish). Taking them to the door was harder. I wasn’t sure how much English they knew. Would they be confused about who I was, what I was doing there? Turns out holding a Tupperware of baked goods is the universal sign for “I’m here to say hello.” I got smiles. I got introductions. I got invited in.

I know there are many people whose opinions differ from mine on the topic of immigration and resettlement. I would implore those interested to read the Time Magazine article: This is how the Syrian Refugee Screening Process Works. “Of all the categories of persons entering the U.S., these refugees [people from Syria] are the single most heavily screened and vetted.” – Jana Mason, senior adviser to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Picture the kids from Aleppo you’ve seen, covered in ash from bombing raids. Now picture them living next to and playing on the Hubbard Green in Glastonbury, CT. Which would you want if it was your child?

We must put education before fear. We must see each other as human beings. Cookie-eating, book-reading, family-loving, human beings. My way of doing that is going to be with this idea of Guerilla Kindness. I’m going to be a mobile irregular force of small hit-and-run acts of kindness. And I’m going to be kind to you no matter who you voted for. Or how you worship. Or where you came from. Or who you love. And you can’t stop me.

Like a friend’s yard sign says:

“🇺🇸  we treat all people with dignity regardless of origin, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political views ”

 

Join me?

 

carmagnet

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Wishful Adoption

I met Addie last summer. She rode around in the car with me, and I fell in love with her 12-year-old self. She is funny, resilient, and in need of love and a stable home. I would have adopted her on the spot, if it had been possible.

Months later, I’m still thinking about her. I’ve actually caught myself wondering how she’s doing. That might seem reasonable, except for the fact that Addie is not real.

She’s actually the main character in the middle grade novel WAITING FOR NORMAL, which I listened to on CD.

Normal

From Goodreads:

Addie is waiting for normal.

But Addie’s mom has an all-or-nothing approach to life: a food fiesta or an empty pantry, jubilation or gloom, her way or no way.

All or nothing never adds up to normal.

All or nothing can’t bring you all to home, which is exactly where Addie longs to be, with her half sisters, every day.

In spite of life’s twists and turns, Addie remains optimistic. Someday, maybe, she’ll find normal.

Leslie Connor has created an inspiring novel about one girl’s giant spirit. waiting for normal is a heartwarming gem.

I meet a lot of characters in books that I’d like to know in the real world, but Addie was and is special to me. One reviewer called her a “21st century Pollyanna” (like it was a bad thing!) which helped me realize why I loved her so much. She takes these crap situations life keeps throwing at her, and she never stops believing things might turn out okay.

I also fell in love with the two people who run the gas station across the street from Addie’s trailer. Both Sula and Elliot are well-crafted examples of how small acts of kindness can make a big impact on someone’s life. Addie’s stepfather is also a rock-star, someone you hope does exist in the real world, because you know he’s so needed. But most of the time, Addie’s mom’s erratic behavior made me want to reach into that book and pluck Addie out so she could safely stay with me.

Oh, Addie. Yes, I will adopt you.

The problem is, you will have to share a bedroom with 9-year-old Ada. Ada’s mom makes Addie’s mom look like a PTA committee chairwoman. Like Addie, I met Ada when she spent a few weeks riding around in the car with me. (Maybe my problem is listening to these stories via CD – I hear the character’s ‘voices’ and become convinced they’re real?) Again, we have a special child fighting crappy odds. But then WWII gets layered on. I became frantic wondering how I could fast track Ada’s adoption.

TheWar

From Goodreads:

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
 
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

Ada is the opposite of a Pollyanna. She never really expects anything good to happen at all. And when good things do happen, she is deeply mistrustful. Being treated with kindness is especially hard for her. The descriptions of how her caretaker Susan (who never asked for or wanted Ada and her brother) deals with Ada’s outbursts and anxieties are beautiful, and wild, and real. The author really does an amazing job of showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of what happens when someone opens their home and heart to a child who has been wounded emotionally.

I’m not sure I could have done as good a job as Susan in helping Ada, so it’s probably best my adoption plans did not go through. Plus, it may have been hard to time travel back to the 1940s. But in my mind, Ada lives at the horse farm down the road, and Addie is a just a few hours car ride away. I wish I could have them both here, so I could give them the hugs I’ve been saving up for them. I thank Leslie Connor and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley for writing these stories and introducing me to these two exceptional girls.

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

 

 

 

The Power of “Yes”

Ever notice a new pattern in your life, and wonder when and how things shifted?

IMG_3113

I recently noted that interesting things were happening to me, with some regularity. For example, I was asked to be an extra in a TV commercial. (Yes – random, unexpected, fun.) The morning of the shoot (look at me already using the lingo), I had a fleeting thought that I might meet another kidlit author that day. And I did. The actor in front of me in the “bank line” that I stood in for several hours told me all about his middle grade novel and his popular anti-bullying school visits.

Then, as I was reflecting on how fun it was to see the behind-the-scenes making of a commercial, I was asked to do an (unrelated) televised interview highlighting a local service I’d used and been happy with. Yes, I’m ready for my close up, I thought.

Before that, as I was sending my littlest off to school and contemplating next steps, I was asked to teach a few courses at the local university (UCONN). It was the clear-out-the-cobwebs/rejoin-the-adult-world kick in the pants I had needed.

I’ve also been asked to test and rate products, and have gotten paid to 1) eat crackers, 2) give my opinion on Lego toys, and 3) choose a decking material.

Oh, and I win things all the time. Annoying, I know. It’s always little things like books and baked goods. But still.

Things just keep…coming at me. Is this some kind of cosmic force I’m pulling to myself a la “The Secret”? (I never did read that book, but I know it talks about the ‘law of attraction.’)

No. I don’t think that’s it. It’s much more basic than that.

YesNo.php

I think it’s this: I simply started saying “YES.”

Yes, I will try this new random thing that scares me. Yes, I’d like to go somewhere new, and meet interesting people. Yes, I’d love to get out of my comfort zone for a bit…um, I think….yup, okay, I’ll do it. Yes, I’ll enter that contest. By saying yes, maybe I am sending the universe the message that I’m open to new ideas. I just hope it keeps answering. Because I’m having a LOT of fun.

What else, though, can we challenge ourselves to say yes to? It could be something small but significant, like: Yes, I will listen with an open mind to the varied opinions around my Thanksgiving table.

Last weekend I had to start with Yes, I will watch the news reports that are hard to digest, so I can know who needs our help the most. And how about yes, I am willing to learn about other religions and cultures, and open my heart and mind to their struggles? As I write this, people in Connecticut are arguing about our Governor’s decision to continue to welcome refugees from Syria. Really? If the tables were turned, and your family was casting about for a country to safely call home, wouldn’t you want to be given the benefit of a yes, you are welcome here? Honestly, if you are sitting on something comfortable as you read these words, you have so much more than millions of other humans on Earth. How simple your yes/no decisions would seem to them.

So many “No’s” come from fear, ignorance, and harmful generalizations: I’ll never succeed, why try? All Muslims are violent. People who don’t look like me don’t have the same emotions I do. One person can’t make a difference.

Let go the NO. What will you say YES to today? Tomorrow? Next month? Next year? I’d love to hear where your positive attitude takes you.

yesYouCan.php

If you’re interested, here is my small screen debut. I’m available for autographs, or to stand in line for you at the bank.

 

 

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.

I’m Thinking of You

 

IMG_1601

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.

IMG_4424

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.

IMG_4501

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.

 IMG_2262

Snowflakes Fall

IMG_4507

Last weekend was a difficult one for all of us.  The one year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary brought up emotions and memories that painfully juxtaposed against the normally joyful holiday bustle.   Images of angelic faces and devastated families swirled around me all day.  But I didn’t need a reminder to be thinking of the Sandy Hook community, because I haven’t stopped thinking about them.  I don’t think any of us have.  It’s like the whole world has reached out our arms to give one big giant hug to the grieving.  I hope they feel it.

My community, also a “small Connecticut town,” organized an event that encouraged the lighting of luminaries on December 14th.  We participated and I found the experience very soothing.  With my oldest, who is aware of some of the details of the tragedy, I slowly scooped sand into 26 bags.  As we carefully placed in tea lights, I brought up specific names as their faces flashed before me.  Snow was falling as we placed the luminaries outside, and I lifted up my face to feel the tiny pings, the gentle reminder of the cycle of the seasons, and life.  Snowflakes have become a symbol of hope and healing in Newtown, CT, and I like to think that maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that it was snowing in CT that day.

To show support and encourage healing, Newbery medalist Patricia MacLachlan and illustrator Steven Kellogg used the symbol of the snowflake to craft their beautiful picture book:

9780385376938

SNOWFLAKES FALL was written in response to last year’s tragedy.  It is a gorgeous book with a healing message.  From the publisher’s website (Random House):

“In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.

MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

In honor of the community of Sandy Hook and Newtown, Random House, the publisher of Snowflakes Fall, has made a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. Random House is also donating 25,000 new books to the national literacy organization First Book in the community’s honor and in support of children everywhere.”

“A snowflake.  A child.  No two the same – all beautiful.”

George Clooney and First Book

I think about George Clooney a lot, but it’s not what you’re thinking.  Well, sometimes it probably is what you’re thinking.  Because, really. But honestly, most of the time it is because of his philanthropy work, and specifically something he said in an interview a few years ago.

Really, I'm only in it for the philanthropy!

Really, I’m only in it for the philanthropy!

The reporter asked him how giving back came to be such a large part of his life. And George (I’m assuming he’d want me to call him that) said that from a young age, his father always took the kids with him whenever he was volunteering for something.  When the reporter asked if he’d enjoyed this, George answered honestly and said something like, “No, he dragged me kicking and screaming.” But he admitted that those early experiences helped influence how much he commits to philanthropic endeavors as a grown up.

I think of this every time I drag my own kids on do-gooder adventures.  It would be SO much easier to leave them home.  And it might even be more productive for whatever group I’m trying to help if they weren’t there.  But little by little, I see them moving into the asset column, and being less of the kicking-and-screaming liabilities they once were.  And always, I hear George whispering in my ear, “this is going to pay off later.”  (No, he doesn’t whisper other things…get your mind out of the gutter!)
~
Recently we had the opportunity to help out an organization based in our town called hawkwing. From their website: “hawkwing is a Native American Federal non-profit 501(c)3 organization created to offer cross-cultural education while assisting the people of the Lakota (Sioux) Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota meet their basic human needs.  Each year, we conduct a major collection drive in order to bring basic need items to some 3,000 children and 500 Elders on the Cheyenne River.”
~
The scale of this effort and the way it is organized is astounding.  We showed up at a warehouse that was packed with supplies and well-trained volunteers, and were greeted by hawkwing founder and president, Rochelle Ripley.  Each year in the late fall, Rochelle oversees the organizing of supplies and packing of a large truck, which then makes its way out to South Dakota for distribution.
Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

Rochelle Ripley, the brains and heart behind hawkwing

As volunteers, we were given a sheet of paper which detailed the needs of a specific family group.  We then took an empty box and worked our way through the warehouse, picking out personal care items, toys, clothing, and sometimes shoes for specific people.
New toothbrushes went in every box

New toothbrushes went in every box

My kids had a lot of fun in the toy section, being directed to pick out “a toy for a 5 year old boy,” or “something for a 12-year-old girl who likes to draw.”  This made the idea of who we were helping very tangible for them.
IMG_2131

IMG_2132

Donated clothing items and outerwear were brand new, and each area had a trained volunteer that helped make sure we were picking out the correct sizes and items.

IMG_2137

Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

Many of the hats, scarves, and mittens were handmade

And then we came to MY toy area, the books!  It was just so thrilling to pick out books for the children, especially after learning that some areas of the reservation do not have libraries. 

Look at all the books!

Look at all the books!

The “book corner” volunteer had everything sorted according to age and reading level, and gave advice with the wisdom of a librarian (she probably was one!).  I saw many new books that I’d have loved to have gotten my hands on myself.

Middle grade/YA books

Middle grade/YA books

Picture books

Picture books

Knowing what kind of shape my children’s books are in when they get around to being donated, I asked where so many pristine, new books had come from.  The answer was that several of the books were purchased, at drastically reduced rates, from the organization First Book.

From their website: “First Book provides access to new books for children in need. To date, First Book has distributed more than 100 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families throughout the United States and Canada. First Book is transforming the lives of children in need and elevating the quality of education by making new, high-quality books available on an ongoing basis.”

And while I’m tooting First Book’s horn, as many of you know there are other equally great programs that are working to get new books into the hands of kids who might not otherwise have access to them.  Some of my favorites are: Book Train, which works to “[help] foster children discover great books – and keep them!” and Reading is Fundamental.

Rochelle pointed out that it is especially helpful when people donate money to hawkwing, because she can use that money to get so many more books through First Book than she can if the same donor bought books from a traditional retailer.

There are so many organizations and people using their powers for good in this world.  Pick one and get involved! Donate or volunteer!  You might just meet George Clooney!*

Also, if you are interested in current Native American culture,  I encourage you to check out Sherman Alexie’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, about growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  It’s a fantastic and eye-opening read.

*This is probably not going to happen. Sorry.