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

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….

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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UNCONDITIONALLY

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The first 3 months of 2015 have been very difficult for me.  It involved losses that led to change, and I do NOT like change (I know I can’t be alone here).  As you know, I lost my mom only 2 months ago.  I am still reeling from that especially since the sickness came on so quickly.  That meant I had no time to prepare, research, or wrap my head around the whole situation.  I could only trudge through the events that dictated my every move.

One week after my mom went to heaven, we found out my beloved Chocolate Lab, Henry (my favorite as listed in my Bio) had bone cancer.  I went from hospice for my mother to palliative care for our family dog.  Henry was more than just a furry companion.  We bought him from a local breeder in the midst of my multiple hospital admissions.  I had learned of my RSD diagnosis and was mourning the loss of what I had known as my “normal life”. During the day when my daughter was at preschool and my husband at work, I had a difficult time moving around and was lonely.   

Henry kept me company and we were nap time buddies.  Since he was a puppy he could sleep on my chest and we’d snuggle.  I could talk, yell, cry and the same loving look shone in his eyes accompanied by the wagging of his furry tail.

Henry’s comforting, huggable presence got me through the weeks I lay in bed with a pain flare after my mom passed away. (Of course, my husband and daughter did as well-but they couldn’t be there 24/7).

My Mom adored him too.  She called him a mini cow, instead of a dog.  She lovingly referred to him as her ‘Henry Boy’. Henry had amused her with the way he always offered his paw to anyone who would pet him.  We would laugh at his funny antics—he was afraid of well, everything.  He once tried to jump in the air when he heard some pans drop onto the floor.  He couldn’t quite jump off all four paws so he did this warrior type yoga pose.

We have another dog, (the one who’s antics would fill her own blog post) that always wanted to play.  But by the time we rescued her, Henry had turned 8 and wanted nothing to do with a one year old pup with endless energy.  He responded to her by hiding behind the couch.  My husband (who loved Henry), had once said, “Even when he is by himself, he is not the alpha dog.”   I hated to admit it but it was true. But Henry was exactly what I needed.

I miss hearing the ’thump, thump’ of his long fuzzy tail between the back of the sofa and the wall when we mentioned his name. I miss the way he seemed to know when my hands were burning more than usual and would lick them.  Or the way he sensed my sadness and would put his head on my lap.

I titled this post “Unconditionally”, because that word has been on my mind.  A mom will love you no matter what.  You do not have to be a ‘perfect’ child to earn her love.  There will never be someone that can replace that same hug or the loving look reflected in your mother’s eyes.

A loving pet (for me it was Henry) trusts and would do whatever it felt would please you.  Pets are always there for you- and they can’t talk back (try that with teenagers).

When writing, I am so wrapped up in my character and his/her personality that I feel a similar unconditional feeling.  I love the character I created- even if I have to make him/her the antagonist.  This probably explains why it pains us if it turns out you really need to kill your character or rewrite your story without him/her.  This also could pertain to removing a particularly flowery phrase I think is literary genius, but not essential (or at least I heard that can happen).

Each person will experience grief in their own way and time frame. One fact I have learned from my grief counselor- the perfect grieving process does not exist.  I have to admit I am still grieving and it feels horrendous.  It paralyzes me from doing other things.

I guess I am just waiting for this big hug from God saying it is okay.  You did your best.  Your loved ones are safe and they watch over you.  It is okay to look forward and enjoy things in your life.

I have faith that when I am ready to receive this, I know God, who loves us unconditionally, and has been waiting patiently, will do just that.

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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.

Mom and Grandfather
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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Two Words….

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THANK YOU!

Thank you to all who supported the FIGHT THE FLAME 5k this past Sunday in Charlotte NC! Thank you to my husband, family, and friends. And of course, to my daughter and some of her cross-country teammates/parents that ran/walked or donated their money/time to help out at the race itself. You all helped raise over $17,000 (full tally not in yet) for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy awareness and funds toward researching for a cure.
My body is still recovering from the chillier than normal temperatures this past weekend, so this post is the best I can do 🙂