SECOND TO NONE

It’s been a while since I wrote a post, hopefully you missed them. 🙂  I had been dealing with a lot of firsts: my first birthday without my Mom, first Mother’s Day, first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and her first anniversary in January. It took (and still does) grief therapy sessions, prayers, wonderful family and friends to help me make it through them. Not only that but they reminded me of the grace and joy still in those very days.

In the midst of these firsts, I began my first major round of edits for THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, with my publisher. It excited and overwhelmed me. Excitement because I knew that meant I was on the road to publication. That said, upon opening the Track Changes editing program with its maze of lines and comments, I did what any dedicated author would do. I closed it. I Grabbed a paper bag and began hyperventilating into it. My one thought- I was not capable of writing an email, never mind a blog post, and certainly not a novel.

But, I then made a batch of crispy rice treats, hot cocoa (to soften the blow) and opened it again. I read one comment at a time, instead of all at once (I ran out of paper bags). My editors were so helpful with their comments and directives for new scenes. They also had a lot to say of what they liked-that renewed my hope.

An interesting thing about the timing of these edits, aside from having a tight deadline around the Christmas holiday, recovering from a pain flare, and researching for the new scenes(OK I did enjoy that), was I could visit with my mom once again. I looked through some of my research books and found notes of questions I had meant to ask my mother but never got the chance. But I also found information about her family tree that I had forgotten about.

I could hear the catch and tremble in her voice when she recalled the sad, horrific times. But I could also hear her voice retelling me the joyful loving events of her childhood. I could see the smile on her face and the love shining in her eyes. I remembered the long and tight hugs she would give me afterwards.

So as I approach the second Mother’s day without her, I realize that with each presentation I give, with each person who may read my book, with each hug I give to/receive from my daughter, and with each pain flare I get through, my mother’s love and perseverance are there. These realizations do not erase the ache of losing her. But knowing and remembering that she will always be with me, begins to fill some of the cracks in my broken heart.

the three Ishikawas

Happy Mother’s day Mom, with love from your daughter & granddaughter.

And Happy Mother’s day to all of you Moms out there!

Linking up at:

SPRING HAS SPRUNG AND SO HAS MY COVER REVEAL!

(Insert drum roll ….. and a loud WOOHOO!!!)

I am excited to share with you THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM Cover Reveal, which the fabulous blog iceybooks.com posted along with my interview AND a chance to win an Advanced Reading Copy of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM!! 🙂  So please follow the link and enter the Giveaway on the iceybooks.com site!

Q&A with Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM—Plus Giveaway!

Meet the Author: Kathleen Burkinshaw

As you all know, my novel, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, will be published in August-WOOHOO!! I am lucky to be a part of a fantastic group of debut Middle Grade and Young Adult authors all with books publishing in 2016. I’m very excited to share this blog post about me by Victoria Coe(debut author of FENWAY AND HATTIE 2/9/16) of the group THE SWEET SIXTEENS. This interview made me realize, IT IS GOING TO HAPPEN 🙂 Here it is…

The Sweet Sixteens

Kathleen BurkinshawKathleen Burkinshaw resides in Charlotte, NC.  She’s a wife, mom to a daughter in college, and dreading the reality of being an empty nester (most of the time), and owns a dog who is a kitchen ninja.  She also advocates for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy research. Writing has given her an outlet for her daily struggle with chronic pain. Writing Historical Fiction satisfies her OCD tendencies to research anything and everything.

Kathleen’s debut novel, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM (Sky Pony Press, August 4, 2016), is upper middle grade historical fiction. THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM gives a glimpse into a 12 year old girl’s daily life in Hiroshima during the last year of World War II. Shocking family secrets are revealed just as her entire world is about to ignite and become a shadow of what it had been.  This historical fiction novel is based on her mother’s life in Hiroshima.

Fun facts:

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STATIC

Do you remember what the screen looked and sounded like when a TV station would go off for the night? Yes, I know to some it’s hard to believe there was a time without 24 hour programming or infomercials. White noise bothers some people, but others use white noise machines to relax and sleep.

In Tokyo we were dazzled by all of the bright neon lights and digital billboards. At every subway stop in Tokyo there was an equivalent to the NYC Times Square. The neon lights were not limited to the famous Ginza shopping district.

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Once we exited the subway station in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, multiple digital billboards that talk at you greeted us. At a certain time every hour, all the billboards played the same commercial in unison as a type of surround sound not found in any cinema. I found it eerie-it seemed more like an episode of DR. WHO, when people on the billboards come to life and attack (I have no idea if there is such an episode, but there should be).

shibuya stationThe displays were mesmerizing yet overwhelming at the same time. I can relate it to the emotions that have been buzzing through my thoughts lately. Sometimes, all the concerns and anxiety I have just will not stop yammering.

Some thoughts are exciting ones like: I’m less than 9 months away from the publishing date when THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM hits the shelves! That’s August 2nd for those of you who don’t want to do the math 🙂 But that leads to: how will I successfully market the book? Will I physically be able to attend conferences? Will schools want to buy the book for their classroom? And lastly, will I be able to write anything else?

Other constant chatter involves my concern with my bad pain days increasing and that each RSD flare up takes me longer to bounce back to my “normal pain level”.

The static in my head feels as if my fight or flight switch that turned on 18 months ago from various losses and changes has been on for so long it doesn’t know how to shut off. I feel like I am supposed to put out a fire but I’m running (well limping would be more like it) in circles looking for my lost bucket of water needed to douse the flames.

Sometimes to feel better, I scream, rant, and cry (not necessarily in that order). But it is not always plausible to burst into tears. For example being in the produce section at the grocery store is NOT the best time. Not that I know this for a fact or anything…okay, yeah it happened. However, I do find that if I am in the car screaming or yelling, I don’t feel embarrassed because anyone that might see me may think I have a Bluetooth or am singing a really, really angry song.

I’m still trying to figure out how I’ll deal with the first major holidays without my mom. My grief counselor and various articles I’ve read about the grief journey discussed that there is no wrong way to celebrate the holidays. Celebrate in a way that is comforting to you and what makes you feel the most grounded amidst all the changes. Interestingly enough, a YA novel I recently read has been helpful with this sentiment.

In ORCHARDS, an award-winning novel by Holly Thompson, the main character, Kana, is trying to find meaning of a classmate’s suicide. She’s sent from the U.S. to spend her summer vacation with Japanese relatives on their mikan (orange) farm on the seaside of Japan. She is only half Japanese so many of the Japanese customs aren’t followed in her American home. I could definitely relate to that 🙂

Kana, stuck in her grief, wondered if she could have helped the classmate somehow and what she can do to help her friends deal with what happened. While in Japan she celebrates the Obon Festival (a carnival like celebration usually in August, but depends on the region of Japan and celebrated for over 500 yrs.).  Loved ones are remembered  with appreciation for all they had done for their family.

The family welcomes the spirit back into their homes with a special altar, sprucing up the burial area, sharing the memories of their loved one, and a bonfire to guide their family members back to their resting place.

Because of other lessons learned while living with her Japanese relatives and partaking in the Obon Festival to honor her Grandfather she becomes ‘unstuck’. Kana discovers a way to remember the classmate, heal her own heart, and help others heal as well. It is a wonderful novel and well worth reading to find out what other steps she took on her grief journey.

The sentiment that got through my white noise was that she couldn’t control one way or another what happened to her classmate, but she could control how she chose to remember her in a meaningful, loving way. So, I am continuing to pray that I am open to whatever God (one constant amidst the changes) places in my heart to offset the static in my head.

(Sending prayers to all who are grieving for loved ones or their loss of a sense of security and peace in Paris) ❤

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THREE WORDS SAID ON A PLANE…

(I apologize ahead of time, because this post is longer than usual. But once you read it I think you’ll understand why)

“Prepare for Landing” three words that are said routinely when a plane reaches its destination. My seatbelt does not have to be buckled because I am one of those people that even when seatbelt sign goes off I keep it clasped. I do begin to chew gum and grip the armrests in preparation for the bump (hopefully a slight one) when we touch down on the tarmac.

I know what is normally expected when a plane lands and thankfully it has never varied. However, not so with life events. Because no matter how much I believe I thought something through and have a vision in my head on where all the pieces should land; there are still moments when I’m gripping the armrest expecting all to go as it should (well as I think it should) but then find myself tumbling off the seat and on to my bottom because I didn’t notice the seatbelt was broken.

This scenario happened when I was first diagnosed with RSD, when my mom was first diagnosed with Hepatitis C, and when she passed away in January. Events out of my control, which I fought but could not change the outcome that was part of God’s plan.

However, I found out that it can work in my favor as well. When we recently went to Hiroshima, I expected sadness. And there was that. Visiting the A dome in person and seeing the shell of a building with twisted metal inside its dilapidated walls encircled by crumbled cement and mortar, hit my heart’s center and broke it. The thought that so much death and horror engulfed this very spot where modern buildings now stood, took my breath away. It was only the first gasp of many that day as we toured the Hiroshima Peace Museum.

20150716_092615IMG_20150716_093401371hiroshima today from bridgehiroshima peace museum 1But, there was unexpected happiness. One moment happened before we toured the Hiroshima Peace Museum. I had an appointment with the librarian at the Hiroshima Victims Memorial Museum. She spoke relatively decent English (definitely better than I spoke Japanese). We had corresponded previously by email so I could apply to have my mother’s name and information of where she was at the time of the bombing, along with her Grandfather’s on the Memorial wall.

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The librarian and her colleague (who spoke no English) looked up information in old phonebooks and told me there was proof of my Great Grandfather living at the address in Hiroshima. All other paper documents were lost in the war so to have something concrete was like discovering him all over again! Also, they took the time to research old maps with current maps of city and pinpointed the area in Hiroshima where my mom’s house once stood. To my surprise, she lived much closer to the epicenter than she had described to me. She was about 2 KM away! A feeling of awe and amazement that even as close to the epicenter she was, she still survived. Definitely a living miracle in my eyes.

Armed with this newfound information about my family, we toured the Hiroshima Peace Museum exhibits. By this time in the trip, walking was no longer a viable option for me, so thankfully wheelchairs were available and we received our own personal guide through the museum.

When you enter the first wing of the museum, the walls are detailed like a brick building that had been hollowed out by the explosion. In these holes were pictures of the flattened landscape covered in smoldering building debris. As we turned the corner, there was a lifelike, wax depiction of the students who were in the center of town in the aftermath of the bomb’s detonation. Fire swirled and the children had skin peeling off their bodies. This brought tears to my eyes as I stifled a cry. My mother witnessed these scenes at the tender age of 12, too young to fully comprehend, yet old enough to NEVER FORGET.

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Some of the exhibits displayed fragments of clothing or other personal items left behind. In one area the actual steps from a bank where an eerie shadow is the only proof a person ever existed. (The shadow was left behind from the flash of the bomb as the body completely evaporated due to the extreme heat of the bomb). Other exhibits showed pieces of glass that were embedded in furniture and peoples’ bodies. My mother still had pieces of glass in her scalp from that day.

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We then stood in Peace Park in front of the cenotaph covering the stone coffin (where the names of the victims are inscribed after their death). The very stone coffin where my mom’s name will now be added next to her Grandfather’s. The cenotaph is an arch protecting the victims that could not be protected by any person that day 70 years ago.  I knew I would cry here. I planned for it with many tissues.

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And I used every one of them.   But, here is where the landing again did not go as expected—I felt a sense of peace. A sense of closure that she was where she wanted to be. I was so glad to honor her this way with my daughter and husband, whom she loved very much. I could feel her spirit with us.

But it did not end there. Because as we stood in peace park, the wind picked up and we were reminded that “Oh, yeah there is a typhoon headed straight for Hiroshima tonight.” Yup, a typhoon. Now you may wonder why the heck we had forgotten this small little detail. Well, the weather that morning was beautiful and the people in town and at the museum were not fazed by the incoming typhoon at all. Very unlike in the States where we would have 24 hour coverage and urgent pleas to batten down the hatches but not before getting as much milk and bread off the grocer’s shelves as humanly possible (I exaggerate, but not by much) 🙂

We now had a decision to make. DO we go back to where we were staying on Miyajima Island(part of Hiroshima but a 10 minute ferry ride over to it as it sits in the Seto Inland Sea), or stay somewhere on the mainland of Hiroshima? We decided to take a cab to the ferry and we caught the last one back to Miyajima Island. (I chose the hotel on Miyajima Island because my mother had her naming ceremony at the Shinto shrine on the island).

By that time the wind was howling and we hunkered down for the night (I was in pain and emotionally drained so sleep came surprisingly easier than expected). We awoke the next morning to a cloudy sky, no rain or flooding, and only a small amount of debris washed up on the beach. We were prepared for the worst, yet we were blessed and protected. I am sure my mom intervened on our behalf as a guardian angel and sheltered us from harm in her hometown.

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before typhoon before typhoon 2

There was also joy in knowing that where I walked in Hiroshima and at the shrine on the island may have been the very paths she walked as a little girl before the bomb. I smiled as I viewed the panoramic scenery of the mountains surrounding the inland sea, thinking these were the views seen through my mother’s eyes of a home she once adored. In that moment, I felt the closest to her since she passed away. I was not prepared for that particular landing during our bittersweet visit.

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I am extremely grateful for that experience. I hope you can all take a few minutes tomorrow August 6th to remember the people under that famous mushroom cloud 70 years ago.  Because, they were someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, or child.  I will continue my mother’s prayer for peace so that it will never happen again.

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WAVES

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It’s funny how the same word can bring peace in one setting, yet anxiety in another.

My family recently had a chance to stay near the ocean during spring break. My favorite day of vacation is my beach day with my daughter. Now, neither of likes to swim, nor do we tan. We basically burn and peel, or get nothing because of the high-octane SPF we use. But, we both enjoy being together amidst the sights and sounds of the ocean.

When I am at the beach,a sense of calm fills me as I gaze out at the line where sky meets water and the foaming waves crash against jagged rocks near the shoreline. The gentle rhythm of the waves brings me a sense of peace. In that moment, possibilities seem as endless as the ocean and I feel wrapped in the warmth of hope in the future.

But to move toward the future, I know that some things must be left behind. For instance, I knew that this could be the last spring vacation the three of us took together. My daughter heads off to college in the fall -how did that happen? I made a concerted effort to be in the moment with my daughter-no phones, no email, and no distractions(more so on her end). It just so happened that our room had awful Wi-Fi reception. God even works in high-tech wondrous ways.

We spent time just chatting while we sat on the sand.  We walked along the shore looking for shells, as we have done every year since she could walk. Except this year I found myself just looking at her more, like etching that time in my memories. So much so, she kept asking me if she had something on her face!

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I foolishly attempted to leave my grief behind. Apparently grief did not get the memo. The first night I was so tired and stayed behind while my daughter and husband walked to view the sunset. I sat down, thought I should check in with my mom, and a tidal wave of sadness washed over me. The emptiness in my heart could not be ignored. Another time, I spotted someone walking a Lab on the beach and I blinked back tears. Not that Henry would ever dare walk so close to the ocean-he never liked swimming! I know a Lab who doesn’t like water, doesn’t seem possible. 🙂

I attempted to ignore the increased pain while on vacation. I pushed through the pain during the day-telling myself I’ll have plenty of time to be miserable at home. But at night and first thing in the morning, waves of pain and burning remind me they cannot be buried in the sand and left on the beach.

On the last day of vacation, my daughter and I took a bonus beach day. She wanted to do some sketches and I really wanted to write. I have had such a creative block. Last fall, I had begun working on another manuscript but when my mom fell ill, I did not want to focus on anything else but being with her. When she passed away, it seemed my brain and my heart just could not handle anything else.

At least I thought my brain could not. My grief counselor gave me the advice to just start writing in a journal. I should just write about anything on my mind, any feelings of grief, anger, or confusion. She had advised me to actually not write anything relating to the manuscript at first. I am a people pleaser so I started writing(I know you saw that coming). Most of it consisted of random emotions and thoughts, but they were written random emotions and thoughts! I don’t always have it in me to do it every day yet, but it’s a start.

Since my Godfather passed away at the beginning or 2014, it has been wave after wave of sadness leaving no time to catch my breath. I am praying for low tide so I can attempt to savor these last months with my daughter at home; and allow myself the space and time to heal.

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Belated Thank you(s)

After my last blog post, Unconditionally, I received a lovely gesture from Carole Parkes.  She has a delightful blog from across the pond that I follow.  She nominated me for the Written Act of Kindness Award.  This award is given from one blogger to another to let them know their words bring inspiration.

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I am so very grateful to Carole and am sending a very belated THANK YOU!!  Your award definitely brought a smile to my face at a time I needed a reason to smile 🙂

Please visit Carole Parkes blog at: https://carolec55.wordpress.com/author/caroleparkes/

*******

Later that day, the wonderful writer at the blog Spoons, Sailing, CRPS, and Penguins, nominated me for the Liebster award!   The Liebster Award is given to introduce readers to newer blogs with fewer than 200 followers. Such a cool way to help each other out in the blogosphere!

Liebster

The Rules:

Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog

A truly heartfelt thank you to Sailing Penguin!!!!  She has a wonderful blog as well!

Answer the 11 questions sent by them.  So here are my answers to Sailing Penguin:

Favourite colour                                              Purple

Favourite car?                                                  It was a used Mazda 626, my Godfather helped me to purchase when in college.

Favourite place in the world?                     Japan

Any pets?                                                        Yes.  Well, you all read about my Henry.  We now just have the “other” dog, Scarlet.  I am still not quite sure who plays the ‘pet role’ in our relationship 🙂

Can you play a musical instrument?        I took piano lessons in middle school.  I can still play a tune or two on my piano.  Not that anyone ever has any requests… 

Any hobbies?                                                 Writing!  And when my hands allow, I love quilting and any craft involving a glue gun!

Favourite food?                                              Meatloaf-I know boring-but my mom made a GREAT meatloaf 

Tea or coffee?                                                  Definitely coffee in the morning, but I won’t refuse a cup of tea in the afternoon

Something you would never part with?     My family

Favourite bird?                                               Red Cardinal

Favourite TV programme?                           The third hour of the TODAY show with Kathie Lee & Hoda

Next, nominate blogs with less than 200 followers. The bad news, not all blogs list the number of followers, so I may have named a blog with 200+.  The good news, I love reading your blog! 🙂

Please know you do NOT have to participate.  I am happy for the opportunity to spread the word about your wonderful blogs! In no particular order:

http://wordwranglernc.wordpress.com/

http://painwarriors.wordpress.com/

http://girlseeksspoons.wordpress.com/

http://abodyofhope.wordpress.com/

http://lindamartinandersen.wordpress.com/

http://joanyedwards.wordpress.com/?wref=bif

http://carolec55.wordpress.com/

http://carolbaldwinblog.blogspot.com/

http://www.lindavigenphillips.com/blog/

List 11 questions for them to answer.  Here are my 11 questions:

  1. Favorite color
  2. Favorite book
  3. Favorite place in the world
  4. Any pets?
  5. Can you play a musical instrument?
  6. Any hobbies?
  7. Favorite food?
  8. Tea or coffee?
  9. What is one thing you would never part with?
  10. If you write, where is your favorite place to write?
  11. Favorite movie/TV program?

You’ll notice I am using all but two of the same questions I was given-why reinvent the wheel, right?

Let them know they have been nominated.  I most definitely will!

I am also extremely grateful for everyone’s comments of inspiration and support while I attempt navigation on my journey with grief.