I’M HERE

My daughter arrived home Sunday from college for her Christmas break. As her roommate’s car turned onto our street, I received a text of two words, “I’m here.” I had been waiting to see those words all morning. Once she was home, Christmas season for me, would begin. I’m sadly aware that this may be the last time she’ll spend the week before Christmas with us and wanted it to be memorable.

So, her text message flipped the switch on Christmas, I didn’t have to wait any longer. Advent had started nearly 4 weeks ago, and I continued to wait for some way to feel peace, even though I had extra pain (physical and emotional), been missing my mom, my loved ones who used to be around the dining table of Christmas pasts, and struggling for some creative spark. I recently found a picture that made me realize that my attempt to wait and look for it failed because the main source of peace had been here all along-even before Advent.

When I was 8-years-old, I received the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, not only on the same day, but on Christmas day! The reason why I hadn’t been baptized yet and finding my church would take another blog post. 🙂 I knew it would be a special day for so many reasons. My parents were elated as well, but let me tell you, finding a white first communion dress in December? Not easy! But, the very last store we went to (Ann and Hope outlet-which hasn’t been around for a while now), had, ONE dress! A blessing that it also fit me! As for the veil, we ended up at a local bridal store (my daughter would wear this same veil many years later for her First Communion). I remember saying to Father Dean (assistant pastor, that my family greatly admired),” Now, I would have Jesus in my life”. He smiled and said, “While these sacraments are very important, you don’t have to wait for Jesus to be a part of your life. He was with you before you were born, loving you, and waiting on you.” (You can see why we admired him so).

I didn’t think much of the profound meaning of his words over my teen years. But in these last five years I experienced personal losses-some expected and some not-in fact, the very church that I celebrated my baptism/first communion that Christmas day and 14 years later, my wedding (also officiated by beloved Fr. Dean) closed a few months ago. I found myself pondering his words during this Advent. I realized the blessing of people in my life that got me through those heart wrenching times-especially the times that I didn’t have a clue how I would move on,were all moments when Jesus was with me.

I just needed to open my eyes, choose to open the door of my heart, and let him in. I needed to be reminded to trust that joy prevails. Hope and peace filled moments (OK,sometimes nanoseconds), exist even with the uncertainties in my life. In the quiet early hours of morning when I cannot sleep because my body feels like one big throbbing blob of pain, I retreat to our family room. I flip the light switch illuminating the lights on our tree that casts a glow on the Manger my parents gave us for our first married Christmas and on the one that my daughter made out of clay in elementary school, and hear his promise-“I’m here.”

Wishing you all a joyful holiday season and many moments of a peace filled New Year! ❤

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Behind the Mask

(Halloween/Fall wreath I made last year)

One week out from Halloween, a day when people put on another face or personality, I thought about how much we sometimes pretend to be something that we’re not-or when we push something to the side instead of facing it(okay, it’s really about how much I do this). It’s been my theme for the past 12 months after the spinal cord stim (SCS) surgery(October 2017). With each medical procedure (to bring you up to speed, there were 3), I expected to be a step toward feeling better. Yet, other physical issues cropped up and a few visits from my old friend DVT(a.k.a. blood clots), had pretty much zapped away any strength or writing focus I have been grasping in my cold arthritic hands.

Please don’t get me wrong, I did have some fantastic news (TLCB being nominated for N. Carolina and Tennessee book awards!) and opportunities (most recently-my 1st time as an Author Moderator at ReadUp festival, SC) in 2018 amidst the various health issues, of which I’m very grateful. But pain has drained my energy and for each fun opportunity, my recovery period lasted longer than the time before. This is one of the reasons, I haven’t written a blog post in so long. I didn’t feel very creative and I didn’t want to sound so negative or ungrateful. Usually I like to share how I’m dealing with the difficulty and quite frankly I am still searching for a way to get through all this.

Being able to honor my mom while discussing The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) with students and knowing that I may have played a small role in their understanding that nuclear weapons should never be used again brings joy and meaning into my life. I have no regrets devoting my energy to that. However, I’ve also come to realize that when I’m doing school or conference visits, I’m unable to devote quality time to research and writing. I must confess that I’m disappointed that I can’t do both, as I originally intended. If I’m really honest with myself, I’m extremely ticked off that Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) brought my career to a halt 17 years ago and now that I thought I found something I could do, the progression of RSD may take that away as well. (it seems that my RSD pain is spreading to the incision site of the stent implanted in June-heavy, heavy sigh).

There have also been other factors causing me to question how I will proceed with writing. As some may know, this past spring the parent company (Skyhorse Publishing) of the imprint that published TLCB (Sky Pony Press), reduced the number of books it will be publishing annually, and their reorganization laid off the editorial staff of Sky Pony Press. So, my hope of a sequel to TLCB, to which I was devoting my time and energy, when I had it, is now looking less certain.

Any self-confidence I had evaporated. Insecurity and the awful feeling that I’ve let people down quickly swooped in to replace it. I’ve been pushing these feelings aside for the past months and pretending everything is going well. I mean, if I say something long enough, it becomes true, doesn’t it?  Sort of like if I keep saying when you eat crispy rice treats straight from the pan, there are less calories-don’t judge. 😊

I do have other ideas for manuscripts and have even started researching/writing them. Yet the story my heart yearns to tell is the one of my main character, Yuriko. How she is trying to find meaning for her life and dealing with symptoms of PTSD, while living among the soldiers of the US Occupation forces and without her Papa.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to acknowledge the fact that my health may not get any better than it is right now-and may even be getting worse. I’ve been praying. I’m reminded that with God all things are possible and that He is made stronger in our weakness (I know I gave Him one huge energy booster shot over the past year). I don’t like change-but then again, who does? So, I decided to write this post while I’m still in the mess of it all. The feelings are no longer put aside and hidden with a smile.

(EEK! A mask on building in Izu from our visit in 2015)

I hope I can gain a little more of my pre-surgery physical and emotional strength back. And you can be sure that I will keep visiting with students (I just may have to do more Skype visits). But I need to work on accepting the fact that an instant solution to all this will not arrive gift wrapped and tied with a sparkling bow-oh, but wouldn’t it be cool if it did?! 😊 So, the mask is off, and hopefully I won’t scare anyone away while I’m waiting.

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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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