Light the Lights and Ring the Bells

At this time of year, almost anywhere you may go, you can see holiday lights. Sparkling lights adorn the evergreen tree in the mall parking lot, as well as decorating doorways and front lawns in your neighborhood. Personally, I’m partial to the blue lights on our Palm tree in front of our house.bluelightspalm

Lights also play a major role in the Jewish celebration of Chanukah, the winter festival of lights.  In Japan, the celebration of Christmas is not necessarily for religious reasons, nor is it much of a commercial holiday.  However, their outside Christmas light displays are amazing.

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But lights are not just illuminating the outdoors.  Two weeks ago, I attended a remembrance service sponsored by the local hospice. Each of us that gathered there had lost a loved one. Some people had lost someone as far back as twenty years while some as recent as a few days before.

Inside the church four candles were lit- one represented grief, the second courage, the third one for our memories, and the fourth for our love. One of the hospice staff lit his individual candle, while saying the names of the people he was honoring and a fond memory about them. He then passed the light to the next person and we each in turn did the same. I’m not going to lie, it was difficult, yet very cathartic.

Inside my home, I lit candles the past 4 Sundays on our advent wreath. These lights remind me that a baby was born long ago to be with us, to save us, to stay with us.  Celebrating that miraculous birthday gives me strength and hope through each aspect of my life.adventwreath2

Our own birthdays are another occasion with candlelight.  My mom’s fell on December 15.  She loved éclairs more than cake. I remember the last birthday we celebrated. She was in a nursing home for physical rehab after her first hospital stay.  She finally had her appetite and I wanted to bring her an éclair.

It sounds easy enough.  However, around here, eclairs are not all made the same.  Some only have a fluffy, frosting cream instead of the yummy custard we had up north.  Anyway… I finally had found a bakery.  My daughter and I brought it to her, along with a little battery operated candle that she could make a wish on.  We sang to her, and kept the candle going the rest of the night. Little did I know, she would be gone in 4 weeks to the day of that birthday.

Last year, I was too depressed to celebrate her birthday.  But this year, I bought an éclair, lit a candle, and we celebrated my mom.

Glimmering lights and candles are used for remembrances and celebrations. In that sense, I feel that a person’s love for us can also be a light in our life.  When someone passes away, their light may flicker, but it is never really snuffed out. The source of the light is just a bit further away, and our loving memories keep the flame burning.

We are now about to usher in 2017. Many countries celebrate the new year with fireworks, firecrackers, and bells ringing. While I was growing up, my mother insisted that I always be home with her on New Year’s Eve. She believed that if the whole family was together at that time, there would be good fortune in the new year.  When I married, and moved further away, I would call her right after the ball dropped in Times Square and wish her happy new year in Japanese –  “Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu”. (One of the few Japanese phrases I know). I did this every year until she passed away. I so miss that. (I also miss the time when I could stay awake past midnight.)

In THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB), one of the featured holidays is the New Year celebration(Oshogatsu).  Yuriko’s Papa settled his business finances for the year, they cleaned the house, New Year decorations were put up, and Yuriko helped her relatives prepare their special food for the New Year celebration which lasted from December 31st through January 3rd.

I feel that the sentiment from this paragraph of Yuriko’s celebration in TLCB echoes what I hope 2017 will bring:

           I took Papa’s hand as the temple bell began to strike. It rang out 108 times.  Each toll of the bell was intended to symbolize the release of a sin or bad habit, giving a fresh start to the New Year. But with each bong I sat wishing, “Peace, peace, peace…”  

I wish you a peaceful New Year filled with much joy and light with your loved ones!

Also linking up at Coffee For Your Heart.

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Are you ready for Thanksgiving?

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Thanksgiving is only a week away- shocking, right? I still have Halloween decorations up-although I had no trouble putting away the Halloween candy :). free-halloween-clip-art-illustrations_098203_halloween2Some mixed emotions have made their way to the surface-Thanksgiving week 2 years ago, my mom began what would become two and a half months of hospital visits. But, it’s also when I signed my contract with Sky Pony Press to publish THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM.

This November, my daughter left her teen years behind and turned 20! I still can’t wrap my head around that one. I mean, there’s no way that I’m 20 years older… So, it makes me nostalgic for her younger years and of course my mom was also a big part of that.

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Then, I think way back to a Thanksgiving about 15 years ago, I mistakenly thought I had very little to be thankful for. My body betrayed me with unbearable pain. I spent most of my time at the doctor’s office, physical therapy, or in the hospital. I had to give up the career I worked so hard to achieve, and I didn’t feel that I could participate in my daughter’s life as much as other mothers did with their children. I went through quite an embarrassingly long pity party (one that even crispy rice treats could not help); until I realized that even though I lost opportunities in my life-I was alive (which was touch & go for a while), my daughter was healthy, and my husband loved me.

Now I can look back and see how far I’ve come since one chapter in my life ended and I began to write new ones (figuratively and literally).

In early October, I had my New England Book Launch at An Unlikely Story Bookstore and Café in Plainville MA. Being able to discuss and sign my book with family, close friends who had known and cared about my mother for years, as well as friends I hadn’t seen in such a long time, made me feel so loved! I’m grateful that I had that opportunity and that they were so happy to share that moment with me. On top of that, the bookstore, (which you really should visit if you live near there-it’s magical), is owned by Jeff Kinney, author of THE WIMPY KID Series (yup, that Jeff Kinney) so he has some incredible NYT Bestselling authors that visit. I signed the same author guest book that Rick Riordan signed three days before I was there!

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While in New England, I had been invited to visit the public middle school in my hometown of Woonsocket, RI. I had never presented to 125 6th graders before, and they were a wonderful audience. I got back so much more from these students than I had given them.

A couple weeks later I was invited to do my first solo author session at the North Carolina School Library Media Association annual conference in Winston-Salem.I was nervous, but met so many great librarians, authors, and teachers.

Earlier this month, I participated in Charlotte Mecklenburg(CM) Library Foundation’s—EpicFest. Authors involved in this literary festival were award winning, New York Time Bestsellers, and me. I wanted to keep pinching myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. The CM Library arranged two fantastic school visits – my first high school-North Mecklenburg High School in Huntersville, and Wadell Language Academy in Charlotte. Both classes studied Japanese. Thankfully, they didn’t expect me to speak Japanese because they would’ve been sadly dissapointed. They know far more Japanese words than I do 🙂

The big CM Library celebration was on Saturday at ImaginOn in Charlotte. Over 2,000 children/teens were there to hear and meet their favorite author or illustrator. It was so great for me to meet and chat with these authors and illustrators, so I can only imagine what their fans felt like!epicfestimaginon

(with NYT best selling MG author,Tui Sutherland)

THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM was also on sale at the festival.  Being able to meet so many tweens/teens that wanted to read my book, or had read my book and wanted to tell me what they liked about it brought me such joy.

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Most recently I’ve been invited to book clubs. It’s been interesting visiting groups that have already read my book.

As I look back to all the events that led me to right here, recovering from a pain flare, one week before Thanksgiving, I’m truly grateful that my life didn’t go on the path I had originally thought it should. Because, if I hadn’t spent extra time with my mom and heard the stories of her childhood while I recovered, if my family didn’t have to move to a warmer climate because of my RSD, and if my daughter hadn’t asked her teacher if I could speak to her class about my mom’s experience on August 6th – I wouldn’t have a book. So because of some unexpectected turns, I can now meet and discuss my mom’s story with students (our future voters), about the danger of nuclear weapons, and the need to realize the “enemy” is not always so different from ourselves.

My mom had said that even though she experienced horrific events in her life, it eventually led her to having me and my daughter. She called us her life lines-we gave her new hope. I’m grateful for my mom’s love and support that she gave us all up until she passed away. I’m also grateful for all I’ve been blessed with in my life-detours and all. Wishing you all a blessed Thanksgiving -whether you’re where you expected to be or not & whether your Halloween decorations are still up or not 🙂

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On The Road to Libraries, Book Festivals, and Pain Flares

It has been a whirlwind of a month since THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM(TLCB) was published (I just need to pause a moment here, because every time I realize I’m actually a published author, I get giddy and giggle-okay I can continue now) :). I’ve spent a lot of time doing guest blog posts, sending emails to various schools, book festivals, and submitting conference proposals.

And two weeks ago we took TLCB on the road to attend the Mid-South Book Festival held in Memphis, Tennessee.magic school bus

On our way to the Mid-South Book Festival, we stopped in a little town named Ripley. My very dear friend Robin, (well she is more like a member of my family now), arranged for me to do a signing and presentation at the Lauderdale County Library. I hadn’t seen her since my mom passed away nearly two years ago. It was my first time visiting Robin in Ripley and it was a visit long overdue. The town may have been small but the southern hospitality was tremendous. Every single person was so welcoming and excited for me and my book. It was a wonderful, albeit, much too quick visit.

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The next day we headed to Memphis for the Mid-South Book Festival. Now, my mom was a huge Elvis fan. In fact, when she first discussed moving to NC, she wanted to know just how many hours away we were from Graceland! She became a fan when LOVE ME TENDER first debuted in Japan. She waited in a huge line with her Elvis shoe laces on her shoes, and then stayed all day and night to watch every single showing. So watching Elvis movies and listening to his music together were some of my fondest memories with her. But because it reminded me too much of her, I hadn’t listened to his music since she passed away.

But, knowing this, how could we be in Memphis and not visit Graceland? I had been having leg pain from the drive, and was walking slowly. However, there were many benches and the tour is not that long(Graceland is surprisingly small), so I got through it okay.img_20160921_185004944

My mom would have loved it there. I got teary eyed when I first heard one of her favorite Elvis songs, but it brought me happy memories of her singing along to it.

The next day was the Mid-South Book Festival. I participated in my first author panel(Yay!) I was extremely nervous. But I brought my entourage (my husband, my friend Robin and her daughter Katelyn) with me, so I’d have at least three people in the audience that knew me. 🙂 The three middle grade authors on the panel with me were fantastic.  The moderator asked questions that I could answer easily and sound like I knew what I was talking about. 🙂 A little over an hour later, I could relax and celebrate with an ice cream sundae. The only bummer was that my book was on backorder, so it couldn’t be sold at the festival. But it was on back order because the first printing sold out, so I can’t complain about that!

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(with Barry Wolverton,Sonia Gensler, Alice Faye Duncan)

We drove back home on Sunday, and I spent the next 11 days in my room with a pain flare up. So I’m learning the valuable lesson of pacing myself. After 15 years with RSD you’d think I would have that pacing thing down pat. But, my type A personality tried to kick in again and it is a frustrating battle that I lose most of the time. This was definitely one of those times.

But while I was stuck in bed surrounded by crispy rice treat crumbs on my comforter, I spent some time researching various venues to market THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM. Right before I left for Memphis, I found out that I won the Honor Award for the Society of  Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Book Launch Grant!! I was beyond ecstatic!celebration hooray pokemon yay

My hope is to present my mother’s story to various Japanese societies, schools, and nuclear disarmament organizations. Because of this grant I will be presenting to Peace Action Staten Island, and am working on a presentation date at the Japanese Embassy in Washington DC in the Spring! Between now and then I will be practicing my pacing skills. I’ve heard that crispy rice treats & a little chocolate really helps with that….

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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Do you remember this phrase as the first words when Frosty the Snowman first came to life from wearing the magician’s hat? Frosty was in awe and wonder at the world around him. Well, that was exactly how I felt when I woke up last Tuesday, August 2nd!!

Over the past six years and especially this last year I imagined how rewarding it would feel to see my name on a published book. But when my advanced, finished author copy came in the mail, all of my senses switched to overload. Except the sense of taste – I may eat my words from time to time, but not the ones on a printed page. 🙂

Feeling the weight of the hardcover book in my hands, seeing my name on the beautifully, haunting book cover, and the wonderful new book smell was intoxicating. The sound I heard – my mom’s voice the day she told me how much she loved the book. How amazed she was that people would want to read her story. And how much pride and love for me she felt because I did that for her, for her Papa.

The day began with wonderful emails, tweets, Facebook posts congratulating me and wonderful reviews for THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM. Later Tuesday afternoon, we went to visit Main Street Books in Davidson where my launch will be (This Saturday 13th 1-3pm) to see multiple copies of my book on display.

BEYOND AMAZING(A gazillion times better than I imagined)!

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After I took pictures (and made my husband and daughter take many pictures) I felt like skipping out of the store-not that I can skip, but you get the idea.

However, the icing on the cake (which would be chocolate, if you were wondering) moment happened just as we were about to walk out the door. A man came in and asked the clerk for a book his daughter pre-ordered, Yup, you know what’s coming…THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM!!!!!

I whirled around and exclaimed, “That’s MY book!!!” (cue wide goofy grin and sudden downpour of confetti).confetti He told me his daughter is planning to come to my book launch—did I mention it is this Saturday, the 13th in Davidson, NC? – I digress. He also said his she would have wished she came with him. So I asked what every writer dreams of asking…” Would you like me to sign my book? “spongebob excited

So, on the day my book was released into the wild, I signed my first autograph!!! Thank you, Lillian!! I pretty much floated out of the bookstore!

At the end of that magnificent day, I realized I hadn’t felt such true happiness or have my cheeks aching wonderfully from smiling  in a very, very long time. A piece of me is so happy that even though, I have such physical pain and at times feel betrayed by my body, my brain still worked. But the rest of me feels so gratefully, joyfully blessed, because people will read my mom’s story and learn about the events in her life that shaped her into the bravest woman I’ll ever know. Her bravery – only surpassed by her love for her family.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to your story, Mom!!IMG_0005

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CARING FOR THE CAREGIVER

As most of you know, I cared for my mom during the last few months of her illness. During that time, in addition to my emotional concerns I still had to assist in making sound decisions for her medical care. A major part of that meant knowing about her illness and knowing the right questions to ask. Although I do love to research, when it came to her illness, I did it but hated it. However, when you have a loved one who is ill you need to have someone be there advocate. The only one who can be sure papers get signed, test results get faxed to the specialist, and that the hospital respects the patient’s wishes to not have a certain test or procedure, falls to the caregiver.

I have a wonderful friend, Joan Edwards whom I met through Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Carolinas. Her previous book, FLIP FLAP FLOODLE, and her work in progress, LARRY THE TERRIFYING TURKEY are children’s books.

However, I recently read her latest book, JOAN”S ELDER CARE GUIDE (4RV publishing April 2016). Joan’s book would have been so helpful to me when my mom was ill. JOAN’S ELDER CARE GUIDE is more than a wonderful reference compendium, it supplies inspiration. Joan wrote this book after 14 years of taking care of her own mother, Ethel.joancover

The very first sentence of her book says it all “The purpose of this book is to empower you and your elder to be happy while you care for her at home, in a hospital, or in a living facility.”

Joan’s book isn’t just about caring for your loved one, but also for the one taking care of the elderly person. Being a caregiver herself, she realized that a caregiver is the one less likely to focus on themselves and push through the situation at hand. I bet many of you are nodding your head in agreement.

The caregiver also can be plagued with questions that replay in their head such as: “Did I do the right thing? What will I do as her illness progresses?“ Or, “Should I have been able to prevent the horrible day my sick loved one had?” Having been in that situation myself, her advice brought consolation: “Love and accept yourself as you are right at this moment. Accept that even with the best planning in the world, unwanted experiences can happen again.”

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Joan has been the voice of inspiration for so many of us in SCBWI, during our writing journey. In fact, I wouldn’t have my blog without her guidance. Joan is a retired elementary school teacher. She has given numerous presentations at our SCBWI Carolinas conferences as well as other writing conferences. Now she can inspire and educate caregivers.

Joan gives practical solutions and appendices with charts that can be used when you take your loved one to the doctors or to leave detailed plans for other caregivers for respite care- so you can recharge. As well as for assessing and recording the elder’s needs and capabilities.

Knowledge gives you power. Joan gives a list of questions such as: “Why is she taking these medications? Are there side effects? Will insurance cover them?” There are times in the doctor’s office that if I didn’t have questions written out ahead of time, I would forget to ask.

What I also loved about this book was that she made sure that you keep the reactions and concerns that your loved one has in the forefront. They physically may rely on you and may even want you to make their medical decisions, but they still have a right to understand the care plan or express their concerns.

Sometimes a caregiver can be so wrapped up in making sure their loved one’s needs are met physically one can forget to include them in the discussions. She reminds readers to take moments to just be with each other, laugh with each other—it energizes both the patient and the caregiver. Joan used her personal examples such as how she used to sing childhood songs with her mother to calm her, as well as herself.

The last few chapters deal with hospice, end of life, and ways to celebrate the elder’s life. She discusses these delicate yet critical issues. Joan not only gives the reader valuable information, but comfort as well.

Because I had a background in health care administration, when my mom was ill, I knew what to look for, how to deal with physicians, and insurance companies on my mother’s behalf. Having been through this situation, and then reading JOAN’S ELDER CARE GUIDE, I knew that Joan took great care and diligence in her research. Joan leads you to resources, as well as ways to improve communication, and solutions to difficult challenges involving medical, financial, and legal documents. Her end notes also supply you with an additional bevy of resources.

But to me, what stood out the most from the cover (which is taken from pictures of her mother) to the last chapter of JOAN’S ELDER CARE GUIDE, she wrote from her heart as a caregiver and a loving daughter. ❤

Below are a few questions I asked Joan as well as how to reach out to her &  where to purchase JOAN’S ELDER CARE GUIDE:

  1. Could you tell me what was the most difficult aspect in writing Joan’s Elder Care Guide?
    The most difficult aspect in writing Joan’s Elder Care Guide was making sure I didn’t repeat things. Some items are appropriate for many chapters.
  2. Did you propose the idea for this book to your publishing company or did you have a manuscript you submitted to them first? I wrote the manuscript and then submitted it to 4RV Publishing.

  3. Did you find writing Joan’s Elder Care Guide cathartic in dealing with grief after your mother passed away? Each time I found a resource to help caregivers be more informed and better able to meet their needs and their elders, I smiled. When I retold the story about the ending of Mother’s life, it was cathartic. I cried. I still cry every once in a while. Crying is healing. It helps you level out your emotions that have built up inside. I explained the steps to give peace to others when that time comes for their loved ones. To me, it’s amazing how God placed people and circumstances in my life to help me care for Mother. I’ve seen him do that for others who are caring for their loved ones, too.

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You can purchase JOAN”S ELDER CARE GUIDE at:
http://www.4rvpublishingcatalog.com/joan-y-edwards.php
http://www.amazon.com/Joans-Elder-Care-Guide-Empowering/dp/1940310407/
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/joans-elder-care-guide-joan-y-edwards/1123707963?ean=9781940310398

Official Video for JOAN’S ELDER CARE GUIDE:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvMauKAqqQ4 Joan’s Elder Care Guide

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!

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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!