Melton Lake Park, Oak Ridge

Secret City and Its Song

Melton Lake Park, Oak Ridge

Melton Lake Park, Oak Ridge

I had been wanting to write about my visit in May with the amazing students, school librarians, and teachers in the Oak Ridge, TN schools for a couple months now. But my father passed away and my pain flare ups prevented me from writing this until now. Because I didn’t want to have one really long post, I’ve divided it into three parts, with the 2nd posting tomorrow, and the last posting on Thursday ( I know, 3 in a row-you will probably never see me do that again 🙂 ). While writing about my Oak Ridge school visits, I read an article about a Japanese exchange student in the state of Washington, that I wanted to use as my introduction…

Back in May, a Japanese exchange student, Nonoka Koga, made headlines in US and Japanese newspapers. Ms. Koga spent the school year at Richland High School in Richland, Washington. She made news’ headlines because she spoke out about the school’s logo (the capital letter R over a mushroom cloud) and popular chant (“Proud of the Cloud”). Richland is near the town of Hanford – one of the locations for the Manhattan project and where they enriched the plutonium used in the atomic bomb, Fat Man, dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Nonoka Koga is from Fukuoka, Japan. But her grandparents lived about 30 miles from the town of Kokura which was the intended target for the atomic bomb that day. However, since it was a cloudy day in Kokura, her grandparents were spared and Nagasaki with clearer skies became the target city and over 80,000 people killed.

At the end of the school year, Ms. Koga wanted to give her thoughts on the logo and cheer. With the help of the photography teacher she made her comments on the short 3 ½ minute school morning announcements on Richland High’s YouTube channel Atomic TV.

Ms. Koga explained that she didn’t want them to change their logo/mascot, but to help them with another perspective about what that cloud represents. “…after the explosion the cloud is basically made up of things that the bomb destroyed…I’m here today because it was a cloudy day.”

As the daughter of a Hiroshima survivor knowing how much my mother suffered and lost under one of those famous mushroom clouds, I do wish that they would change their logo and chant. I understand the pride the school has for the Hanford workers who were doing their patriotic duty. I have no issue with that. What I take issue with is celebrating something that killed members of my family, innocent women, children, and the elderly. Perpetuating an insensitive chant dehumanizes the many innocents who suffered in the bombing. This is why the stories of the survivors need to be told so that the students/teachers can understand why people like myself find the logo and the chant offensive. I don’t feel that they are using this logo/chant to be cruel, they just may not understand what the mushroom cloud represents. (I want to make it clear that I do not find the students, teachers, or citizens offensive.)

If I can explain the damage, the loss, the death under that cloud, then students can understand what could happen to their loved ones, if events were reversed, and ultimately come to an understanding that no family should ever have to live through that again. Ignoring the effects of the bombing on the innocent confounds and angers me. We can/should be proud of the work Hanford citizens did for their country but not proud of the death and destruction a nuclear bomb caused. Both stories can co-exist with respect and peace. I know that because I experienced that first-hand just a few months ago when I visited another Manhattan Project site- The Secret City of Oak Ridge TN.

When I found out that the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) nominated The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) for the Volunteer State Book Award, I did my chair happy dance 🙂  Scot Smith, Media Specialist at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, TN invited me to speak about TLCB and my mother surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima to four middle schools in Oak Ridge and surrounding towns. I looked forward to my first chance connecting with students, in person, at Tennessee schools (I’ve Skyped with TN schools). I had no idea just how connected my mother’s story would be to that city. But, more on that tomorrow…

Homeward Bound

Bittersweet yet blessed describes my trip back to my hometown in Rhode Island for my dad’s memorial service earlier this month. I’ve been reading a lot about letting go in order to receive. I finally had to let go of my anxiety about traveling as well as letting go of the vice like grip I had on avoiding my feelings of grief. Grief not only in missing my father, or at realizing I’m an orphan, but also mourning my wishes that the relationship with him went differently after my mom passed away. I needed to let go of the anger that things didn’t go the way I planned/hoped. Once I loosened that grip (I still have a hold on it, just not as tight, but it’s a first step), I could begin to receive the comfort from my memories.

One way I indulged in these memories- visiting special, nostalgic places that my daughter and I associated with my parents. My husband patiently drove us to each one. Thankfully RI is a small state. 😊 I realized two things: 1. That visiting these places, didn’t make me sadder, but actually gave me a sense of contentment by reliving the happiness of being there with my mom and dad, and I could talk about these memories with my husband and daughter. I could allow these feelings associated with the memories of my parents to be forever imprinted in my heart. 2. A lot of these places involved food. Come to whatever conclusion you wish with that. 😊

A must have for me when in RI -NY style wieners(oddly enough never ate one in NYC)

I found joy in visiting the same grocery store (Stop and Shop for you New Englanders out there), that we shopped at many times with my parents. One special purchase there was Social Tea Biscuits (ones that we cannot find down south), which my mom always had in a crystal container on the kitchen table. Somehow physically purchasing them there to bring home, made them taste even better than when someone would be kind enough to send them to us. Now not everywhere we wanted to go involved just food. One place we had to visit was family owned Wrights Farm Dairy and Bakery-okay, it had decadent baked goodies, but there is more. My parents took me there when I was a child and I loved the greeting from the dairy’s mascot at the time, a friendly St Bernard. When Sara came along, they would take her there no matter what season, not just to buy the sweets and fresh chocolate milk, but to visit the cows (her favorite animal as a child) that provided the delicious milk. Going there was always a happy event, that just happen to end with yummy treats!

We also visited Newport, where my husband and I had taken many beach trips while we were dating. We also brought my parents there on day trips, many years ago we found out we were pregnant during a long weekend visit there, and once we had our daughter, we’d drive there, pick up a pizza (you knew food had to be involved somewhere), and sit in back of our station wagon facing the ocean and enjoying the sunset at Breton Point Park.

The family and friends that were with us at the memorial service, made a very difficult day easier because they filled it with love. Everyone at the service had known my parents for a very long time, so they could share special memories of both of them as well. I truly felt my parents being with us every step of our trip. All the anxious and fearful feelings I had about writing a eulogy for my father, how my body would or would not hold up during the trip, were replaced with a sense that I could let healing begin.

Military Honors for my Dad at the funeral home.

Military Honors for my Dad at the funeral home.

Of all the places we visited, there was one I could not even drive by-the house that I grew up in, that Sara spent most of her childhood visiting. Interestingly enough, it was right around the corner from the funeral home where we had the memorial service. Although I found it oddly comforting to know my parents’ home was nearby, I just didn’t think I could have handled seeing different cars in the driveway or different people living there. I just wanted to remember my mom at the front door holding their pet Shih-Tzu, Fuji, while waving goodbye with his paw. And to remember my dad in the driveway waving both hands and smiling at us, but especially at my daughter until our car turned the corner.

So, by letting go and leaning on the Lord, the love of my family, and friends (also now family) in RI, I gained the energy to push through, take in the moments, let the memories come and the inevitable tears fall. By letting the feeling of their love overtake any feeling of anxiety, anger, or guilt, I left RI feeling wrapped in a blanket of peace and contentment.

Last pic on way to airport (stopping for lunch,of course, in Wickford)

Returning home, I realized it will still take a while to heal physically and emotionally from this trip. I’m still on my grief journey, but I have taken more steps down this road and now know that I do not have to travel it alone. It’s okay to talk about the memories, and not hold it inside or worse, push them away.

**Three Extra Items(Most important is Number 3)**

1. While I was in Rhode Island I had the opportunity to be interviewed for a Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation podcast and was very grateful that they posted it on August 6th which is a very important day for me to honor my mom, my family, and all the atomic bomb victims of Hiroshima(and Nagasaki on August 9th).

2. This month of August happens to be the third anniversary of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM being published!!! So, to celebrate I am holding a Rafflecopter Giveaway of a signed copy of TLCB and all this adorable swag pictured here along with a 45-minute Skype visit to a classroom for two winners that will be picked at random on September 1, 2019.

You can enter at this link:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

3 I’m a little behind from traveling, but I do want to thank all of the people who have read my blog, TLCB, interviewed or invited me to speak, blogged about TLCB as well as all the teachers and librarians that have used TLCB. Because without all of you, my mother’s and atomic bomb victims’ stories would not be getting out there to our future voters. Thank you for helping me find and to be proud of my voice. ❤ 

Also sharing this post at Welcome Heart

WHEN YOU CAN’T PHONE HOME

Copyright The Japan News Yomiuri

Copyright The Japan News Yomiuri

As I attempt navigating the grief journey once again with the recent loss of my Dad, I think about a recent BBC podcast, Heart and Soul. The episode discussed a small town in Northern Japan-Iwate prefecture. It wasn’t about the horrible damage sustained from the earthquake and tsunami that took 2,000 lives in 2011. Instead, the podcast focused on the love that their surviving residents have for the loved ones they’ve lost. Even though their loved ones are not here physically, residents have a unique way to connect with them.(There’s also a great NHK program about this topic).

In Iwate, a white telephone booth overlooks the sea in Itaru Sasaki’s yard. Yes, an actual phone booth with a rotary phone (not connected ). In Japanese it’s called “kaze no denwa” meaning phone of the wind. A sign greets you as you enter the phone booth with the words, “Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you.”

Sasaki-san actually began building the booth, when his cousin passed away in November 2010 and finished it shortly after the 2011 tsunami. Since then, over 20,000 people have visited to connect with their lost loved ones. I imagine that in such a digital age, the very act of using the rotary dial gives a calming mindfulness before sharing pieces of their heart.

Listening to the podcast, two memories came to mind. The first, took place when the woman I knew as my Grandmother passed away in Japan. My Mom and I would call my Grandmother’s number and just listen to the familiar ringing across the ocean.We pictured her picking up the phone and saying hello to us. It was our way to let her know we still were thinking of her. We needed a connection. I also remember the somber day when I called that number and heard the message that the phone was no longer in use.

My Grandmother & I, Tokyo. Copyright KathleenBurkinshaw

My second memory is that I saved one of my mom’s voicemails so that I can still hear her voice and ‘speak’ with her whenever I want/need to.

When my Dad passed away 11 days ago, my Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) pain flare prevented me from going up north to see him in the hospital. However, the wonderful nurses kept me updated by phone. More importantly, when hospice services commenced the day before he passed away, I had a God-Nudge(instead of a ‘God Wink’), for lack of a better word, to call him. When I did, the kind nurse held the phone to my father’s ear for a 15-minute conversation. Well, not exactly a conversation, I mostly babbled on about memories of my childhood with him and my Mom. He did respond and it was the last real conversation I had with him lucid. My daughter also had a chance to speak with him.

On the morning of the 31st, I called to check on him. I spoke only a minute or so with him. He was drowsy from medication yet, zealously enjoying an orange Popsicle. His favorite flavor. 😊

Later that day, I experienced another overwhelming God-Nudge to call and check on him. The nurse said all vital signs stable, he was resting comfortably, and nothing may happen until the evening or the weekend. Still, I asked if she would hold the phone to his ear so I could speak to him. She did and also held his hand, giving him the feeling that I was physically at his side. I had a chance to say who he’d be seeing in heaven and some things I didn’t get to say in the past few years we were estranged (his choosing not mine). I told him I forgave him (I meant it), loved him (I loved him, not his choices), and would always be his ‘little girl’. And to the shock of the nurse, he went to heaven right then and there.

copyright KBurkinshaw

As devastating as that moment was, I like to think that he waited for me to show how much I meant to him. To show me that he loved me despite some of his actions in the past. It’s a blessing for me and what I try to remind myself of when guilt for not being there rolls in. I am now dealing with anxiety attacks and the memories of the last few days with my mom have returned with a vengeance. It feels like I am losing her all over again along with my Dad.

However, the most difficult realization for me is that the two people who brought me into this world are no longer here. It can be like a punch in the gut without warning hitting me at any point during the day, or night. I know and cherish that I have my loving husband and daughter, a loving extended family and friends, but it’s not the same connection. There’s a hollowness in my heart right now, that I know, in time will fill with the loving memories instead of breaking from the trauma of losing them. I remind myself and find solace in knowing that Jesus knew me before I was born and is always with me.

 

So, I may not have a “kaze no denwa”, but that doesn’t stop me from talking to them during the day and/or night. I hope my messages of love and how much I miss them swirls upward to my family in heaven. I take comfort that someday in the distant future, I will hear my parents say, “Welcome, I’ve been waiting for you!” ❤

In memory of David Hilliker 12/29/1937 – 5/31/2019- Airman Second Class and Crew Chief of 90th bomb squadron, US Air Force, loving husband, Jet Mechanic/Quality Control,Park Caretaker, and loving Grandpa. But most importantly- my Daddy ❤ ❤

Copyright KathleenBurkinshaw

 

I’m also sharing this post at:  Welcome Heart.

 

4 Must Have Items On My Vacation Packing List

  1. Ibuprofen (Check)
  2. Clothes for any possible temperature(Check)
  3. Audio book downloaded (Check)
  4. Night-light (??)

Yup night-light. I’m not afraid of monsters under my bed, more of what goes bump in the night- like me- right into a bathroom door in an unfamiliar place.

I don’t sleep well when away-extra pain from travel, bad mattress, etc.so when awake, I use the rest room. The bathroom wasn’t far and I didn’t want to turn the big light on and wake my husband (occasionally I’m considerate like that). I thought I’d walk in safely by doing -you know- the zombie walk- with arms (or for me one arm and a cane) out in front, and, BAM! Walked right into the door. Now, I needed ibuprofen that I unpacked in the kitchen earlier.

While doing my best Ninja impersonation sliding up against wall (to avoid anything that might be in my path) from the bathroom to the bedroom door leading to the kitchen, it dawned on me-my phone has a flashlight! Once again, I prove that owning a smart phone does not necessarily mean I’m a smart user. Anyway…

I knew I wouldn’t fall back asleep, so I decided to read in the living room. For Christians it’s the season of Lent and I brought the book, Whispers of Rest, by Bonnie Gray with me. I first discovered her blog posts on (in)courage and felt a connection through our Asian American heritage. Her words drew me in and keep me inspired. I enjoyed her short daily chapters that ended with reflection questions. I answered them in a notebook, and then extended it to writing scenes for my current manuscript drafts.

That morning’s journaling along with my recent door ‘incident’, had me realize that I was searching blindly for any remedy/solution for the extra pain from my newer medical issues. I desperately wanted to at least feel the age I am instead of 30+ years more and feared the progression of my RSD symptoms. On the writing front, I had been researching for my manuscript drafts, yet still not sure which direction I wanted to go with them. Instead of hitting the proverbial wall, I hit a door (you know I’ve got to be different) 😊 Not that morning’s actual wooden door kind, but the exhausted, anxious, conflicted, pain filled, and defeated door-which hurts a heck of a lot more. It’s harder for me to open and walk through, that’s for sure.

You see, before our vacation, I felt depressed and worried that I wouldn’t enjoy our daughter’s last Spring break with us (she’s graduating from college in May-Wait, WHAT?!) 😊 My pain level prior to it made it difficult to leave the house for doctor appointments, let alone going somewhere fun. Thankfully, Hilton Head’s temperatures were much warmer than NC’s and we spent more time just being together than going places. However, we did see Captain Marvel (AMAZING Movie!!) but more importantly all of the cinema’s seats were recliners, Y’all! Perfect to keep my leg from swelling!

This year our mom/daughter beach day tradition began with a light breeze, warm sunshine, and hardly a cloud in the sky. As I watched and listened to the swishing of the lightly foaming waves reaching the shore, my body relaxed, and I sighed. It was as if the refreshing ocean air pushed out all that fight or flight that’s been stuck churning inside me in that one exhale. That’s one of the reasons that the beach is my happy place.

I love that I can’t see what’s beyond the horizon-reminding me that possibilities are endless. Something I easily forget. Later we watched two dolphins jump in and out of the water, almost as if to remind us it’s okay to take time to play without any other porpoise (sorry, couldn’t resist) in mind. The quiet moments just sitting with my daughter on our beach towels cradled by the warm sand, are just as precious as our conversations. I marveled at the fact that she was no longer the little girl wanting to build sand castles, but a young woman about to graduate college and start building her own life (although she still relied on me to pack the sun screen, water and snacks for the beach) 😊

Lately, my paths shifted way too often from the direction I originally intended. I had no control over which doors would slam shut. But I’m starting to realize it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Even if it may feel that I’m blindly walking into doors when I could have used a flashlight to light the way. Hindsight is always 20/20. Some days it seems I’m failing at each opportunity I step toward, and I think maybe I should just stop trying, already. But if I keep stepping forward, (okay, more like stumbling forward), on a different course than what I’m comfortable traveling, somewhere along the wall I eventually find a door and choose to step through it.

Sometimes what’s on the other side of that door, may be a blessing/success others will notice, but the more important ones are usually felt in our heart. It might just refresh my soul-allowing me to create, not for perfection, but just to enjoy creating for myself in the moment.

This feeling of contentment may not announce itself with a parting of the clouds, or bright light “Alleluia!” moment. Instead, it’s in the quiet form of a hug from a loved one, lunch with supportive friends, an inspiring comment to a blog post I wrote, a student telling me the story I wrote about someone I loved touched them deeply, or the comfort of just sitting on the beach next to my family. I will have times when no matter how much I prepare or how frantic I may feel; I cannot control or foresee all possible outcomes to a situation-that’s where prayer(flashlight) comes in. Although, I still highly recommend packing a night-light.

What would be the top 4 items on your packing list?

 

I’m also sharing this post at:  Welcome Heart.

 

 

 

 

ESCAPE PLAN

I recently visited an escape room for the first time. If you haven’t been it’s a venue where you choose a theme location you would like to attempt your escape from. Being a fan of mystery novels, shows like Psych, Murder She Wrote, Columbo– basically anything on Hallmark Movies and Mystery Channel-I chose a murder mystery theme (I’m nothing, if not predictable). We arrived early and while we waited, I glanced around the reception area’s walls decorated with signs of the success rate of each room- ours was much lower than I anticipated.

In addition to that, we were only 3 people, so we joined a party of 5(all younger than us and some who had done an escape room before). But I wasn’t too worried, I mean, as I said I’ve watched every episode of Psych, Murder She Wrote, Columbo-more than well, let’s just say a lot, and as a child,I wanted to be Nancy Drew😊

I also knew that if we were stumped, we could request assistance. They (in this case employees) also watch you the entire time, can hear your discussions, and will jump in if they suspect you’re really stuck and too stubborn(embarrassed?) to ask for help. Oh! An important fact- you have only one hour to solve and get out of the room. Now, an hour may seem like a long time (like when waiting for brownies to bake), but when you are racing against a clock trying to win something it goes by as quickly as the flash of lightning that started off our murder mystery. And yes, the lights went out after our initial blast of thunder and lightning. Lights came back on, butler dead, and told that you must figure out who did it and how; or else you’ll be the ones arrested when the police arrive in one hour.

You start searching for clues, and some gave access to a couple of secret rooms-which was super cool! One thing I will tell you-if you need reading glasses-Y’all know who you are-remember to bring them-no I didn’t forget to bring mine with me. But I did forget them in my purse- in the locker outside our room (my husband, the Eagle Scout brought in his). And wouldn’t you know there were at least 5 places you needed to read combinations in teeny tiny letters/numbers. So that took my friend and I out of those clues entirely-not to mention making you feel older than you already do. But I digress….

Today they’re so many ways we can reach out to people all over the world, yet, we are mostly by ourselves and rarely engage face to face with others.  So now, you want to have fun, no phones allowed (which I liked), but also must work together with people you do not know. You must depend on hints they find and have confidence to state yours.

I found myself not always speaking up until I realized that it was me, they were going to arrest-yup, always be suspicious of the woman with the cane wearing cute shoes. Luckily, since they were watching/listening and the people we were with were very close to solving, we received an extra 2 minutes. We escaped and could say we (well, to be fair, the other 5) conquered that room!

I guess that’s kind of how I could sum up the months of January and February. I made it out. But only with the help of loved ones and with God watching over and guiding me through it all.

This past January marked 5 years since my Godfather (who was like an older brother to me) passed away, my husband’s grandfather passed away (a wonderful man who was 102 years old), and it all centered around my mother’s 4th anniversary. If that wasn’t enough, the cherry on this sundae of grief:  being ushered into a decade that I wasn’t really looking forward to entering. I spent a good part of the last few weeks in constant fight or flight mode. I felt uneasy, had panic attacks, and lost a lot of sleep (to dreams of my mom’s last moments in hospice).

This Valentine’s Day marked 18 years since a romantic restaurant dinner turned into peanut butter crackers and a can of soda in the ambiance of an emergency room. The Deep Vein Thrombosis(blood clot) with an easy 5-day hospital stay morphed into 31 nightmarish days and ended with a diagnosis of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD)*. The horrible dreams that kept me up this month were about my time in the physical rehab hospital. Because at that time I was one of their youngest patients, staff placed me with an elderly woman and asked to watch her for them. Being a people pleaser, I of course, said yes. Let’s just say that the day I caught her smoking in our bathroom-did I mention she was on oxygen?  I lost it. All I could think was I survived a DVT in two places that nearly killed me only to be blown to smithereens at rehab! True story.

I also know that 2019 is a big year for changes. Not just my age, but my daughter is graduating from college and most likely will move away for a job. I worry about my new pain issue that the stent didn’t alleviate, and I need to find a focus for my writing. However, I have hope that I will walk through (okay limp through) this season of change and escape to the next year successfully, because of the people in my life and the strength God will give me.

❤ Thank you to my family, my friends near and far for their love, birthday wishes and going out of their way to make it a special time for me. I love you all very much. ❤

*RSD (also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) is a chronic, progressive nerve pain disorder. The sympathetic nervous system and immune system go haywire causing burning pain long after initial injury/damage has healed.

Also will be sharing at: Welcome Heart.

 

 

 

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! ❤

Also sharing my post at Welcome Heart.

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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