Why did I choose The Last Cherry Blossom for my title?

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Since the cherry blossom season is winding down in Japan, I thought I’d answer the question I get asked quite a bit. It’s also a question on the teacher’s discussion guide for the students to contemplate(shh….it will be our secret).

I have always loved the look of cherry blossoms long before I had an inkling of the importance they would play in my life.  I was 8-years-old when I first gazed at cherry blossoms while we were in Tokyo, Japan for a month. We were visiting the woman I knew (and loved) as my grandmother.

I wish I could post a picture of the cherry trees from that time. However, back in those days there were no cell phones, no digital cameras-but no dinosaurs either -I’m old but not that old 🙂 My dad had an 8-mm movie camera and a 35mm film camera. Can the kids today even imagine that we would have no idea what the movie/photo would look like until it was developed? Sadly, because of this and the fact my dad was not good at taking pictures; many of the photos taken did not come out. I have come across these 8mm films recently and hope to look through them this summer, hopefully catching a glimpse of the blossoms.

In Japan, sakura hanami (cherry blossom celebration) depends on what part of the country you live in. Hiroshima’s season was April 5-12th this year. A popular spot is still Hijiyama park with 1300 cherry trees and is where the main character, Yuriko (as well as my mom) celebrated cherry blossom viewing with her family and best friend. And now, unlike during WWII in my book, visitors can admire the pink blossoms dancing in the evening under the lantern lit, starry skies.

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Now,back to why I named my book The Last Cherry Blossom…

There are actually a few reasons. My mother’s favorite celebration was sakura hanami, it was the last celebration together as a family, and the cherry blossoms bloomed the Spring after August 6, 1945- showing their resilience and strength.

But I also think the cherry blossom in the title can have meaning in the present. Just as I know the cherry blossom’s bloom is short and will eventually cascade to the ground; certain events are out of my control and will happen no matter how much planning, worrying, or proactive work I may do. In the past, it was my mom being sick and leaving me so devastatingly soon.

But some recent examples for me were:

Several weeks ago, we went to Myrtle Beach for our family Spring Break vacation. As some of you may know, the beach is a special place for my daughter and me. We always get one beach day in together-not for the suntan (or in our case the sunburn) but for the company of each other. And we both love the sound and look of the waves lapping against the sandy shore. I feel very close to my mom there as well. So, we looked ahead at the weather, decided on the warmest day, and planned the week around it. When our beach day finally arrived, it was sunny but windy! We could not control being pelted-no exaggeration- by the sand. We tried to tough it out, but within minutes so much sand blew onto our towels it formed a small hill. No matter how much we planned, we weren’t getting our beach day.

An ongoing example- I’ve been marketing my book, which could be a full-time job in itself 🙂 I don’t always know what area to focus on and have not been very good at pacing myself in accordance to my pain levels. But even when I am, I still can be slammed with a two-week full-blown, stuck in bed with burning pain that no amount of crispy rice treats or chocolate could help, flare up. I also became so disappointed in my body all over again for betraying me.

Lastly, this past month, I was reminded that I can’t control when someone may continue to disappoint me. I can try to make excuses for the past, bury it deep, deep down but something can trigger it and there is no way of nipping it in the bud (see what I did there?).

And when that happens, I can only react and decide how I’m going to face that challenge. Sure, I can throw my plush ‘poo’ emoji (that’s a story for another time) against a wall repeatedly, but I can only do that for so long especially before it causes another pain flare (it’s a vicious circle).

In the case of our sandstorm beach day-we moved it to the indoor pool. We had a wonderful day just the same!

When the pain flares strike, I try to accept it sooner and let my body rest, telling my type A personality everyone needs a break-I’m still working on this one (heavy sigh..).

In the last situation, I keep the memories of the good times available, while also reminding myself I’ve done what I could and some people aren’t going to change. But, I can change how I answer myself when I’m questioning if I did the right thing.

That thought reminds me of the toast Yuriko’s Papa said to his family during what would be their last celebration together:

“Cherry blossoms are like life itself-so beautiful, yet so fragile that they bloom only a short time. A toast to my family and to enjoying our time together!”

Enjoy what you can-the rebirth, the new life of the season. And when the blossom falls, know that there will be a change-it may be good or bad, you can’t always control how it unfolds, but you can control how you view it. Papa’s words remind me that you can embrace what’s coming while also letting go. After all,

“The season changes when the last cherry blossom falls……”

 

Also linking up at :

In celebrating May as Asian American Heritage Month, VisitMulticultural Kid Blogs to register for Giveaway. Second Prize pkg includes a signed copy of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM!

Also on 5/6/17 will be linking up atDiverseKidLit

Bringing Historical Fiction to the Modern Classroom

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Please enjoy my recent guest blog post on KIDLITERATI Blog by clicking on the title below:

Reaching Readers Guest Post with Kathleen Burkinshaw

Today we’re fortunate to have debut middle grade author Kathleen Burkinshaw with us to discuss how she brings historical fiction to the modern classroom. Enjoy…click to continue

GETTING THE WHOLE PICTURE….

I remember one day coming home from school – after walking uphill both ways- (sorry couldn’t resist 🙂 ) and being mad at a girl in my class because of something one of my friends told me she said. To be honest, I have no recollection of what the issue was.  However, I do remember my mom asking me if I went up to the class mate and asked her if or why she said anything about me.  I needed to have a better understanding- needed to have the whole picture before making an assumption (and we all know what can happen when we assume).

One of the reasons that I chose not to start THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM on the day of the bombing, but instead give the reader a glimpse into Yuriko’s family life first, was to show readers that even though Yuriko lived in Japan she still had the same love of family, fear of losing loved ones in the war, and enjoyed being with her friends. She acted very similar to and had the same emotions as the children in the Allied countries. I hope that by discussing her family traditions and introducing the readers to a culture they may not know much about, I am giving them more than just a couple of paragraphs in a history text-book about the end of WWII in the Pacific. And by the end of the book, they could discover that the people we might see as the ‘enemy’ are not always so different from ourselves.

Which is why I’m so excited to be an Author Sponsor of Multicultural Children’s Book Day which is this Friday, January 27th!! Multicultural Children’s Book Day(MCCBD), co-founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen began on January 27, 2014. It is a chance for authors, illustrators, publishers, bloggers, librarians, and teachers to work together and introduce children to books that celebrate each other’s cultures and heritage. But just as important- to be sure these books are available in libraries and classrooms.

Please visit MCCBD’s website and check out the book reviews, reader activities, and book lists. There will be a Twitter party/giveaway of many fantastic books (including mine 🙂 ) on Friday at 9pm. Information can be found on Twitter under #ReadYourWorld.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day is a great start to introducing children to books that encourage them to look at the whole picture – a skill they can develop for years to come.

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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.

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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!

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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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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A New Year Ushers in a New Reality

As some of you may have noticed, I have been very quiet on the blogging front.
My mother, as I have mentioned in my last post, has been battling a serious disease. I have gratefully spent all my time and energy helping her on this journey of her illness. On January 15th, my Mother Toshiko, went to heaven. She gave me the gift of life some number of years ago. On that January day she blessed me with the gift of her last smile.

There is a new reality I must get used to. A new reality shadowed by emptiness and a broken heart.
My mother had to quickly adapt to her new reality of hospital stays and sickness beginning the week of Thanksgiving. But as sick and exhausted as she was, she certainly was never fragile. She exuded such mental strength. She knew how she wanted to treat her disease and made sure the doctors understood as well.

She worried about the grief I would feel and how that would increase my RSD pain after she left.
Once a mother always a mother.

However, she was not just my mother. She was a walking glimpse of history that inspired me and my writing. She lost so much at the age of 12 in Hiroshima. I will always be amazed and continue to say that she never lost the ability to love; especially when it came to my daughter or to me.

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I am grateful that she read the latest draft of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, and knew that it would be published.
She leaves an empty space in all of the upcoming first holidays and celebrations, but in time the cracks in my heart will fill with the memories of her love for me. I take comfort in knowing she is smiling down at my family and me, as she is reunited with hers in heaven.

If I can live my life with just half the strength and love that she lived hers, then I will truly be a success.
I miss you Mom and am so proud to be your daughter. I love you very much.

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