Reflections and Changing Seasons

This month has been very reflective for me in many ways. August 1st was my daughter’s first full day home from Japan after 4 months of attending Tokyo International University. Even though she needed to catch up on her sleep-just knowing she slept in her own bed under our roof comforted me and I could finally exhale.

Sara in front of A-Bomb mother Ginkgo tree in Shukkei-en Gardens

Sara in front of the Osaka Castle

However, my heart may have been happy, but my body was not. Increased pain in my left leg returned (surgeon said this might happen because the stent couldn’t fully open the vein) along with worsening osteoarthritis in my left hand. So, when Sara moved back to UNCW for her senior year (EEK! It doesn’t seem that long ago when I moved back to Stonehill for my senior year…) I had to give in to my pain and remain at home. I, of course, did the only thing I thought would help me almost as much as prayer-yup, I made some crispy rice treats to bring to my pity party of one. 🙂

I saved my reflection of August 6th for last. The memories of what my mom and my family went through on that day, as well as the years that followed live in my mind and weigh on my heart.  So, in closing, I’d like to share my guest post,Changing Seasons, I wrote for MG Book Village about my mom and her memories here

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The Last Cherry Blossom Blooming Anniversary #2

 

Two years ago, The Last Cherry Blossom, bloomed and a dream of mine came true. I’d like to thank all the readers, reviewers, students, teachers, and librarians that have read TLCB, or used it in their class with their students. To know that something I wrote about my mother has resonated with you all touches my heart (and still amazes me).

During the next 3 weeks, I will be doing another Blooming Anniversary Rafflecopter giveaway for a signed copy of TLCB, book swag, and if a teacher/librarian wins, I will also be happy to add a free 50-minute Skype visit 🙂

Throughout the month of August my posts will be dedicated to my Mom and all the victims of the atomic bombing 73 years ago. I will be sharing guest blog posts that published in June/July while I was recovering from my lovely surgeries/complications and unable to post on social media then.

On August 6th I will premier special book trailers for The Last Cherry Blossom! I did not make them-I can’t even do a selfie on my cell phone that isn’t a big blur 😊. The 6th grade students at Hiroshima International School (HIS) in Japan made the book trailers!

I Skyped with these fantastic students and their teacher Mr. Samuel Sheehy after receiving an email stating that they chose to use The Last Cherry Blossom as the book for HIS’s Action Week.  During Action Week the students develop projects that align with their school mission: “To provide international education that promotes integrity, excellence, cultural sensitivity and a life-long commitment to peace and a sustainable planet”.

The entire 6th Grade read TLCB. The day after my Skype visit in June, they visited Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. As part of their school wide campaign to read TLCB, they created the book trailers for their presentation to the Grade 4 and 5 students. This 6th grade class wanted to share the message of TLCB and how it inspired them. Mere words cannot describe how moved I am by their compassion and that they chose The Last Cherry Blossom. I wish I could give them all a hug in person. I know my mom and family must be smiling up in heaven. ❤

Here are the posts/dates:

August 2nd: Rafflecopter Giveaway Begins Today!

August 3rd: Reposting NPR Communique interview

August 4th: My ON THE RECORD (NC News Program on WRAL-Raleigh) interview (new)

August 6th: Premiere of TLCB Book Trailers by Hiroshima Int. School 6th graders!

August 7th: Middle Grade Book Village Guest Post

August 8th: Children’s Book Council Guest Post

August 9th: Repost my NC BOOK WATCH interview

August 10th: Repost READING WITH YOUR KIDS interview

I’m so grateful to my agent, Anna Olswanger and to my publisher Sky Pony Press. I’m so very lucky to have a lovely daughter, family, &friends who have cheered me on.

But, I’d like to say a very special thank you to my wonderful husband who has been so supportive of TLCB, from day one.  He is the one who pushes me in my wheel chair when walking is not possible. Sets up all the computer gobbledygook components 🙂  He drives me to interviews, conferences, and school visits that are too far away for me to drive. In fact, at the recent May Animazement conference in Raleigh, he drove all the way back to Charlotte because he/we forgot the bag with my laptop and info for my session that afternoon (5 hours round trip). Not only is he a great husband, but he is the ultimate Book Tour Roadie!

Lastly, the most import thank you- to my Mom. She shared memories with me she never shared with anyone and trusted me to write/speak about them. Her strength and bravery has influenced me more than she realized. She would tell me that I (and later my daughter) were the biggest blessings in her life. I really feel that we were the ones blessed to have her love in our life.

On August 6th,I will be watching the Hiroshima Peace ceremony on NHK TV, and will be thinking of and holding my mom,family, and all atomic bomb victims in prayer. I will also be praying that nuclear weapons will never destroy families like that ever again. I hope you may join me by thinking and praying for that as well. ❤

 

(OH! By the way, if you have read TLCB(Thank you!!) 🙂 and have a few minutes to write just a 2-3 sentence review on Amazon and/or Goodreads, I really,really would appreciate it.) ❤

 

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There’s No Place Like Home

I have lost most of June and July to surgical procedures and complications. The surgical procedure was planned yet the hospitalization afterward, not so much. Well, that’s not exactly true, the doctor said it might happen sooo… with my medical luck I should’ve known I’d probably be hospitalized (my less than 1% rule) 😊. However, I did not plan for the intense myriad of emotions I encountered in that 24 hour stay.

My anxiety level was off the charts. All the helplessness and fear from 17 years ago rushed back in like they never left. The difficult memories of the hours spent at my mom’s bedside three years ago (during the last few months of her life) stopped in to chatter as well.

Some of you may know that hospital beds are not comfortable AND if you want to sleep, a hospital is a place to get better; NOT the place to get rest 😊 I felt very alone(even with the various nurses coming in and my anxiety to keep me company). I worried something else would go wrong and I’d be stuck with a longer stay(just like 17 years ago).

Thankfully, the surgeon discharged me the next day. I was thrilled to be home, yet I was on edge. I couldn’t sleep. I was in a lot of pain. When they found another blood clot in the Ilial vein 4 days after surgery, I realized I had no control of my recovery. Luckily no hospital stay, I just had to give myself Lovenox injections. The day I gave myself my first shot, the panic attacks began. (Thankfully my therapist will do phone visits with me, when I can’t easily leave the house). I wish I could say, I spent the time working on my manuscript. Sadly, I could not focus. That frustrated me to no end.

But, the Lord answered prayers(thank you everyone) over the last couple weeks, because the acute, intense pain from the Ilial vein blockage has started to ease(thank you stent), I’m closer to just my RSD pain level(can’t believe I’d ever be happy about that)😊, and my left foot’s blue shade has faded to a lovely aqua hue. I’ve started writing/researching again. My stamina is not where I’d like it to be yet, but I have an incentive to work toward…

My daughter will finally be home on Tuesday 31st!! (Yay!) 🙂 She completed her 4-month semester at Tokyo International University in Japan. It will then be a 2 ½ week mad dash until we bring her to Wilmington to start her senior year at UNCW! But she will be in her own bed at home with us for those 2 ½ weeks.

Sara and host family at summer festival wearing yukata(light summer kimono)

I would love to say I handled her being so far away in stride and that even when earthquakes were reported near Tokyo (there were two) I was calm, cool, and collected…Ha! Nope, more like tense, scared, and terrified. I worried and missed her A LOT. It took(and still will until I can hug her) a lot of praying and faith that she would be safe, meet nice people, enjoy herself-oh and learn Japanese at the same time! Although, it helped knowing she’d have angels watching over her-especially my Mom.

Sara thankfully, escaped natural disasters in Japan. However, a place close to her, my mother’s, and my heart-Hiroshima- has not. On July 6th heavy rains caused horrible flooding and mudslides in Western Japan affecting Hiroshima, Ehime, and Okayama.210 people are dead and 14 still missing. Extreme heat hinders the clean-up and searches.Last week 1200 people were still in shelters in Hiroshima and many homes were still without running water. The flood and mudslides damaged some schools. They’ve lost textbooks and supplies.

Hiroshima flood copyright CNN

I’m waiting to hear back from the school in Hiroshima that recently did something wonderful for THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM (more about that in a future post) to see how I can help them. Please keep the people in these regions and the people trying to help them in your thoughts and prayers ❤ ❤ ❤

(People have asked me if there is a way to donate money to this area. The US-Japan Council and Japanese American Citizens League have organized the Japan Floods Friendship Fund. If anyone wishes to make a tax-deductible donation, please visit this link: http://www.usjapancouncil.org/japan_flood_friendship_fund.)

Thank you so very much. ❤

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On This Mother’s Day

Since my mom passed away, Mother’s Day seems to sneak up on me. I admit that I still turn the channel if a Mother’s Day commercial comes on-I just don’t have enough tissues in the house 😊.

This Mother’s Day is the first one (I’m sure of many) when I’m not with my daughter. We are still adjusting that she will be studying in Tokyo for another 3 months (although, the first month seemed to whizz by). But thankfully the ability to video chat and text her through the LINE app on our phone without any cost, helps a great deal!

I remember my very first Mother’s Day-my daughter was 6 months old and she sat up by herself for the first time-I of course convinced myself that she waited to do that just for me, on that day. I also remember my Mom thanking me that day for giving her a granddaughter to love.

I remember the Mother’s Day a few years later, after I had spent so much time very ill in the hospital with the debilitating blood clot, my then 4-year-old daughter gave me an adorable handmade card of a heart. Inside the heart she drew a picture of her and I holding hands-best stick people ever 😊 When she handed it to me, she hugged me and whispered in my ear, Thank you for not going to heaven. I can’t even……. ❤ I don’t think I could ever truly put into words how my heart felt at that moment.

On this Mother’s Day, the Japanese Wi-Fi refused to cooperate, and we could not video chat. Instead, we used our cell phones to have an actual conversation (seems like we use them for so many other things like texting or reading instead-I’m not alone in this, right?). Later that day, she emailed me pictures from her recent trip to Hiroshima with some classmates. One picture in particular- the Peace Bell in Hiroshima Peace Park stood out to me.

This bell designed by Masahiko Katori in 1964 displays a world without national borders embossed on the front.  The wooden beam strikes the atomic energy symbol carved on the bell, representing the end of nuclear weapons. Because each strike represents a message of peace to be heard in every heart around the world, there is also a mirror that reflects the person (their heart) ringing the bell. Inspiration for Yuriko’s words at the New Year celebration in THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, “But with each bong I sat wishing, Peace, peace, peace…”

Looking at that picture of Sara striking the Peace Bell with love in her heart for my Mom, the family members we lost, and all the victims touched my heart and gave me such a feeling of connection-like a warm hug from my daughter and my Mom.

Perhaps another reason this Mother’s Day snuck up on me is that I’m recovering from a surgical procedure. Turns out, having your Ilial vein constricted by your Ilial artery in your pelvis, is actually a thing. It’s called May-Thurner Syndrome.  Unfortunately, the angioplasty done last week, isn’t working as the doctor had hoped. So now the next plan is to put a stent in that vein in June.  It’s not an urgent matter, just means more time with the extra pain,swelling, and my foot turning a lovely shade of sea green(but, maybe an excuse to buy more clothes that will match it, yeah? 🙂 )  I haven’t exactly gotten past the frustration and disappointment about needing the stent, yet. It will probably take one more round of crispy rice treats…

However, I have an upcoming event that I’m looking forward to speaking at- Animazement in Raleigh on May 25 and 26th (which, if my husband is reading this post-is our 27th wedding anniversary weekend-just sayin’). Attending the event has been in the planning stages for several months and I’m honored that they invited me. Plus, waiting a few weeks until June, will give my body time to heal at the incision spot. I always fear that the RSD burning pain will develop at an incision site. But, so far so good and I hope that with some time in between to heal, it will be the same after the stent procedure.

Because of these recent events, I did not get cards out. So, I would like to say that I’m so very grateful for all the women in my life who have been(but are no longer here) and are like another mother to me now. I’m forever grateful that I had so many wonderful years celebrating my Mom on Mother’s Day with her and that I’m blessed with a loving daughter to celebrate Mother’s Day with me-even if this year it’s from the other side of the world with the striking of a bell.

Wishing all Mom’s and people who are “like a mother” to someone they love, a belated, yet a very Happy Mother’s Day along with a warm hug! ❤

 

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IN RARE FORM

A unicorn in rare form-w/cherry blossoms-one of my writing mascots 🙂

The month of February had me feeling like I moved backwards-and I don’t mean just a couple steps backwards. No, I’d say it’s more like giant leaps in reverse where my health and my writing were concerned. I’ve tried to do what I thought would help me, expecting one outcome and then it didn’t go the way I really thought it would/should(perhaps I’m a smidge of a control freak,yes?). Sometimes I can pick myself up and move forward. At other times, well, let’s just say crispy rice treats, chocolate, and a few muffled screams in the linen closet are the only remedy. February was definitely a month of  “other times”.

So, it’s fitting that last Wednesday was #RareDiseaseDay on the last day of February. Rare Diseases Europe (EURORDIS) and the Council of National Alliances began this movement in 2008(a leap year, which is also rare-hence the play on the name) to raise awareness and represent 30 million people affected by over 4,000 rare diseases worldwide.

Rare Disease Day in Hiroshima 2018

The United States began participating in 2009. In the U.S., a rare disease is defined as affecting fewer than 200,000 people. I’ve mentioned before that if there is a less than 1 percent chance of a medication side effect, then you can bet I will experience it. So, the fact that I have a rare disease like Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy is probably not a surprise to most people who know me.

RSD is also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS-or as I sometimes call it- “the craps” 😊). But since I’m old school and have lived with it for 17 years, I still refer to it as RSD.

The theme for this year’s Rare Disease Day is right up my alley-RESEARCH! Hopefully, by raising awareness that these 4,000 diseases exist – more funding will be made available, patients would get diagnosed earlier, and more clinical trials could begin to ease the symptoms or better yet, cure the rare disease!

I’ve had many, many, many visits with various doctors over the past 17 years. Most have been very compassionate and helpful. However, there were a few that insisted it was either “all in my head” or that “I’m a malingerer”. It seemed that if that physician hadn’t heard of RSD, then it didn’t exist. I would leave there thinking well, if it didn’t exist, how does that define me? If they wouldn’t take the time to learn about my symptoms, or about RSD- how could they possibly understand what the pain had taken away from me? I had become a shadow of my former self, and now they wanted to make me completely invisible.

However, since I’m more shall we say… experienced, I’m not as afraid of speaking and standing up for myself. I can look back and see that after the diagnosis, God blessed me with a different path. A path that has many wonderful new possibilities, but also can be quite rocky at times.

I have been stumbling along on the rocky path since my spinal procedure in October, I haven’t quite yet gotten back to my “normal” pain level. There have been issues with medication side effects early on and two weeks ago some new ones cropped up (perfect example of my less than 1%). These debilitating symptoms prevented me from doing anything but hurt, so I had to switch back to an older medicine that I knew I could tolerate(Warfarin), even though it meant routine blood tests and other accommodations. As they(whoever “they” are) say, sometimes newer is not always better.

Because of the newer side effects, I withdrew from a conference in early February, which I was really looking forward to speaking at/attending. It bothered me a lot because I hate giving in to the pain. I’m slowly getting some energy back and look forward to presenting for the first time at the South Carolina Association of School Librarians next week(March 16th 8:30am at the Hyatt Regency in Greenville, SC-for any SC school librarians who might be reading this) 😊

Recently, a few things helped me navigate my rocky path: two friends each gave me beautiful, timely devotionals, and I received a letter sent to me by a student in New York. I love getting snail mail and it was handwritten-a twofer! It wasn’t just that he read the book and liked it a lot (although I do take some pride in that-not gonna lie), but that he took the time to write me, and had discussed scenes from the book with his teacher that he found impactful.

I’m so very grateful for the rare gems sprinkled in between the jagged rocks that encourage me to continue striving so that I may be in rare form (in a good way) despite my pain.

I have some people in my life and there are also way too many people lately in the news that are dealing with an overload of rocks in their path, so I’m going to do my best to find ways to be that rare gem and maybe give them some inspiration knowing that they are being heard and are loved.

“We know that reading-and reading widely-helps breed empathy. We know that children find comfort in books. That they seek refuge in fiction and poetry. And we know that literacy skills are essential to helping people make sense of the world.” From LITERACY DAILY blog, if you would like resources on how literacy can help stop the hurting: literacyworldwide.org/safeschools  or  Letters to Parkland and Beyond.

 

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Waiting for the Light

 

Happy 2018 everyone!

It’s been quite a while since my last post. I hope you have missed me 🙂

At the end of the year people tend to take stock of what the previous year was like, and determine what they wish for the upcoming new year. Instagram compiled my top nine posts together in one display.

There were definitely some awesome moments captured. But, one memorable moment for me is not documented anywhere online, until now.

My family and I lit this Advent wreath each Sunday as we waited to celebrate the birth of Jesus-our light to shine in the darkness. Key words here are waiting and light.  

This homespun wreath is not the epitome of craftsmanship, but it is a reminder to me of my time in a holding pattern close to 17 years ago. After one of my hospitalizations, I needed occupational therapy to strengthen my hand muscles (atrophy as result of a medication reaction). Recovery was slow, and I was very impatient (shocking, I know). In September my physical therapist suggested that I choose a craft to strengthen my hands. She knew I loved using my glue gun. But did I choose something simple with the glue gun?

Nope. I chose to construct an Advent wreath that required using an ivy leaf stencil on two different colors of felt, cutting out that shape, stuffing with a little batting, and then hot gluing them together. I then used pins to arrange them on a Styrofoam craft wreath (btw, it’s not as easy to stick them in as you might think) and glued a little red pom-pom onto the leaves.

A time-consuming and arduous process to say the least. I didn’t just want to rehabilitate my hands-I needed to prove to myself that I could still accomplish something-something other than having the less than 1% reaction to most medications known to man.

To have it ready for the first Sunday of Advent, I knew I had to make a decent effort each day. Also, my daughter looked forward to coming home from pre-school and checking out the homework her Mom completed. I couldn’t disappoint her, especially with the guilt I had for being away from her so much when I was in the hospital.

Amazingly, I finished it in time-well barely, but finished. I learned that even though events were not happening in the time frame I wanted, I could still have something to show for it. As a side note-make sure you have someone carve notches in the Styrofoam for the candles before you cover it with the ivy leaves. Not that it happened to me of course, I had this friend…. 🙂

So, fast forward to this year. As I unpacked the wreath from the storage bin, it struck me that my life had hit the big ol’ pause button once again. This year’s moment in November when the ultrasound tech confirmed I had a blood clot, events from 17 years ago flooded my memory and anxiety floated to the surface. Once again, I’m up the creek without a paddle, although if a had a paddle, I couldn’t grip it since my hands are worse now, anyway—I digress.

After my new blood clot diagnosis, I dreamed about my hospital stay 17 years ago which brought back the feelings of isolation, fear, and the need to hoard cranberry juice (that’s a story for another day). That was the first of many sleepless nights and re-emergent panic attacks. It didn’t help that my recent blood clot diagnosis came the week of Thanksgiving. That same week three years ago, my Mom’s health began its downward spiral before she would pass away a mere 3 months later.

I guess you could say I was dealing with my own form of post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). It prolonged the time that I couldn’t focus on any writing/researching my work-in-progress, reading for my own pleasure, or marketing The Last Cherry Blossom-which already were on hold because of my October surgery.

So, looking at the Advent wreath a couple months ago, I remembered the painstaking hours making it, and that eventually I completed it. So, I applied that to my writing and started journaling. Very rudimentary, sometimes just list of emotions I felt, and sometimes full sentences. A few days later, it dawned on me that my character, Yuriko will be dealing with PTSD.

Although I may have different reasons for mine, and my reaction may not be as intense, but I could understand some of the feelings her actions will be based on. So maybe I am accomplishing something after all and I’m not stuck on pause. That moment of revelation (this is where the light comes in) won’t show up on any top 2017 list, but it helped set the stage for how I’m approaching 2018.

Wishing you all peace and light this 2018!

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Bringing a Peace of Hiroshima to North Carolina

At the home I grew up in, a stately evergreen tree towered over our front yard. This pine tree gave shade every summer. It’s the spot where my father would sit while he made sure my best friend and I did not drown in the pool that we spent hours in-until my friend’s lips would literally turn blue. 🙂

It’s the spot where we all sat on a swing while the smoke from the mosquito coils (remember those?) swirled around us as we ate watermelon or ice cream at the end of a fun- filled summer day. I treasure these childhood memories.

Sadly, some years later, that majestic evergreen had to come down-I don’t quite remember why. The front yard looked so lonely with just a grounded stump in the middle. My mom decided to fill that void with a graceful Japanese Maple sapling. She loved the idea of having a tree that reminded her of the ones in the yard of her Hiroshima home.

This stroll down memory lane, leads me to the event I alluded to in my last blog posts. Since my novel, The Last Cherry Blossom, introduces readers to the culture of Japan in the last year of WWII, I wanted to bring Hiroshima to the state I’m living in when my book published. Last year I found a program called Green Legacy Hiroshima, which was started by two friends: Nassrine Azimi and Tomoko Watanabe. Green Legacy Hiroshima is under the umbrella of the United Nations Institute of Training and Research (UNITAR).

Green Legacy Hiroshima(GLH) cultivates and sends seeds from trees that miraculously survived the atomic bombing on August 6th, also known as A-bomb trees. When we visited Hiroshima two years ago, we viewed these trees and it was a remarkable sight to behold.

GLH has sent seeds to 30 countries to be cultivated into saplings that would then be planted in memory of the victims of nuclear weapons and to spread the message of peace. Currently in the United states, only six states have these saplings. North Carolina will now become the 7th state. (In the future, I’d really like to work on having an A-bomb tree planted in Rhode Island. It is the state I grew up in, and is the first state my mom moved to when she came to the United States and lived in for over 50 years before moving to NC in 2013).

So, in late 2015, I contacted Nassrine Azimi and discussed my wish to partner with GLH and a university in North Carolina to plant a sapling from an A-bomb tree. In July 2016, she connected me with a couple in Atlanta, Georgia (Steve and Elizabeth Leeper) that had nurtured a Ginkgo sapling. This would save time and paperwork normally needed to procure and quarantine the seeds that arrive from Japan. I’m very grateful for the elimination of that process. My husband and I drove to Atlanta last July and picked up the sapling.

The A-Bomb sapling grown from seeds of Mother Ginkgo tree to be planted at UNCW

http://www.lang-arts.com/survivors/shukkeien.html

The Mother Ginkgo tree at Shukkeien Gardens after atomic bomb.

http://www.lang-arts.com/survivors/shukkeien.html

Mother Ginkgo tree today,Shukkeien Garden

My daughter, Sara, attends the University of North Carolina, Wilmington(UNCW) and is minoring in Japanese. It seemed like a great fit. I contacted the coordinator of the Japanese Minor and Senior Lecturer of Japanese at UNCW, Kano-sensei. She loved this idea as well and would work with me to make this happen.

This past spring semester, Sara joined the newly formed Japan Club at UNCW. She discussed having a fundraiser for the dedication plaque for this Hiroshima A-bomb tree. The Japan Club jumped on her idea and set up fundraisers within a week. The Japan Club, with the help of some other donors had raised the funds needed within a few months. The Japan Club members, Kano-sensei, and UNCW have been fantastic. The Japan Club is currently planning the dedication ceremony.

UNCW Japan Club Members

UNCW Japan Club GLH cookie sale

Kano-sensei invited me to speak at the North Carolina Teaching about Asia Network Seminar being held at UNCW on Saturday, September 30th. The dedication ceremony will take place after this seminar.

I’m so grateful to my daughter, her professor, the Japan Club members, and UNC Wilmington. Their enthusiasm and dedication to this cause truly touched my heart.

I do have one other very important reason why I feel that UNCW is a perfect fit. In the summer of 2014, my mother toured only one college with my daughter. And yes, that college was UNCW. 😊

I hope that whenever someone walks between the UNCW Student Union and the pond near Leutze Hall, they might find respite from the heat of the Carolina sun under this A-bomb tree. And while sitting there, would read the plaque, be reminded of what happened on August 6, 1945, and the wish for peace that these trees bring. I pray that these Hiroshima A-bomb trees are the last ones that will ever need to be planted to remind us of why nuclear weapons should never be used again.

When the A-bomb Ginkgo tree is dedicated to the Ishikawa family, on September 30th, I am sure my mom will be smiling. Just like she did whenever she looked at the Japanese maple in our front yard.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

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